Great news rolled in today. Leanplum, a Techstars Seattle alumni, just closed a series A round. Leanplum is out of the Techstars Seattle 2012 class. The two ex-Google founders Momchil and Andrew worked immensely hard during the three-months program, or as they call it “our ninety day week”. It initially paid off with a $825k seed-round raised upon Demo Day, and now an additional $4.8m from Shasta Ventures.
I am for economic growth. Now, this shouldn’t be an earth-shattering surprise to you, few people are against growth. However, you might encounter people who are for economic growth, but against immigration. Here is why that is a juxtaposition.
In many ways, immigration equals economic growth. Don’t take my word for it, look at the facts:
- 40% of fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children (source).
- Immigrants start ¼ of technology and engineering companies in the U.S even though they only represent ⅛ of the population (source).
- In 2012, immigrant-founded engineering and technology companies employed 560,000 workers and generated $63 billion in sales nationwide (source)
These are impressive numbers. To top it up, here are three concrete examples of successful immigrants:
- Jan Koum, born in Ukraine, and co-founder of Whatsapp, which was recently sold to Facebook for $19 billion.
- Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo and born in Taiwan. Yahoo’s market cap: $37 billion
- Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google and born in Russia. Google’s market cap: $379 billion.
This country is built on immigration, our history and our heritage has created a culture and a narrative that is unparalleled by any other nation. The U.S. is where smart people from other nations come to prove themselves, and this brings economic growth for everyone. But, we don’t just need talented immigrants to start companies, we also need them to meet the huge demand from already established American companies.
More than one-fourth of science and engineering firms already report difficulty hiring, and this is only going to get worse. Over the last 10 years, jobs in STEM have grown three times as fast as jobs in the rest of the economy, but the number of Americans studying STEM is growing by less than 1% per year (Source: ESA & McKinsey). The U.S. is facing a projected shortfall of more than 200,000 advanced-degree STEM jobs by 2018 (Source)
As a country, we can’t compete on salaries levels, but we can compete in terms of knowledge and innovation. Unfortunately, the current immigration laws are inhibiting our competitiveness. The latest round of applications for H-1B visas for high-skilled workers exceeded the annual limit within a week. 172,500 H-1B petitions were filed for 85,000 visas, the highest number ever recorded for H-1B demand (Source). Keep in mind, these are company-sponsored visas and thus a reflection of a real demand.
FWD.us and The Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) are working on convincing Congress to accelerate an immigration reform and keeping America’s tech sector competitive. As part of this effort, FWD.us and PNAE are organizing 12 events all over the country during the last two weeks of April. Techstars Seattle is hosting one of these events.
Join us, and local entrepreneurs, investors, and leaders for a conversation on why immigration reform is critical to the tech and start-up communities in Seattle. The event takes place on Tuesday April 22 from 6pm - 8pm at 511 Boren Ave N, Seattle. See who is on the panel and register here: http://pnae.us/icodesea
If you can’t attend, help us spread the word on Twitter (click to tweet), and if you are an entrepreneur or an investor, sign the letters urging Congress to advance immigration reform.
If we succeed, an expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 10,400 new jobs in Washington by 2020.
I recently had coffee with an entrepreneur whose first company did not succeed. He was a bit down in the dumps...understandably. My advice to him was as follows:
- Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. And do it relatively quickly.
- Decide what you're going to do.
- If you need a job, determine that fact and start looking. If you want to try another startup, you're probalby more likely to succeed. Step up and start taking the steps to building a company.
- Navel gazing does not move you forward.
- Depression does not move you forwad.
- Be sure to exercise regularly .
- Get a consulting gig : it buys you time, pays you and gives you current market knowledge (of some market).
I've long been interested in schwag. Below are three photos of schwag from a recent event I went to. Uniqueness and food are the winners when it comes to schwag. I'd choose the ping pong balls but you got hand it to Liquid Planner candy bar folks (below)
I forget whose t-shirts these are....and you can't read the name so I'm not sure how useful they are as schwag.
White Pages in Seattle produced this ingenous schwag and associated it with the company ping pong tournement (a good recruiting tool).
Liquid Planner used the tried and true M&M and pen combo. Not very creative but effective!
It was a great first day at Code Fellows yesterday. I managed to sit in on the kick off orientation in the morning. The energy in the room was high and i thought the instructors did a great job. I'm really excited to see how this company evolves over the next few months. There's lots to be done! I've been describing the company in the following way.... codefellows is bootcamp for engineers. The comapny is a combination of hands on programming instruction, mentoring, community and networking to cool jobs.
I've been having having breakfast with Aaron Bird, CEO of Bizible pretty regularly since TechStars. His company raised 1.7MM in capital in November 2012. The company has historically been focused on he calls, "closed loop marketing" for the SMB marketplace. Closed loop marketing connects leads from different sources of marketing to sales so you have much more effective marketing spend than you would otherwise. At breakfast today, he stated that his goal was to get cash flow break even on the money he raised. I think it's possible that Aaron and team might be able to achieve this goal. However, after listening to him for a while, I suggested to him that his focus as founding CEO should not be on getting to break even -- rather he should focus on the following in this order:
- Nailing product market fit in a big fast moving market
- Nailing the unit economics of his business
- Getting to cash flow break even
It's important to note that these goals are not mutually exclusive. Rather, solving one often leads to the second and third. But, ranking these priorities in this way has the founding CEO focused on the thing that requires the most psychic attention and testing.
Did you know -- Apple has single handedly become the largest manufacturer of cameras in the world. The camera in the iPhone and the iPad is (more than) sufficient for most consumer uses of camera and video. Apple didn't set out to dominate and transform the camera market.
I'd argue Apple's dominance in the camera market is a direct result of the introduction of the iPod in 2001. There was no camera on the device. In my opinion, it was the introduction of the iPod in 2001 that led to the rapid adoption of the iPod as a music platform in the minds of consumers, that provided the product and consumer adoption foundation for the introduction of the iPhone in June 29, 2007 and the subsequent introduction of the iPad on April 3, 2010.
Canon and Minolta are the reasons why you should care about innovation at your company. The evolution of Apple's camera dominance makes me wonder what the executives at Canon and Minolta thought about when they first saw the iPod. Did they think that this music device would lead to the elimination of their business' revenue? And what did they think about when they saw their first iPhone? And what do they think about their situation now? I'm sure both camera companies had smart and competent managers that just didn't see, couldn't believe that they were under such a serious threat by Apple. And even if they did see the threat, what could they have done?
These are awesome questions that if I had time, I'd want to go and interview the management and board of directors of each company. I think this kind of market evolution will increasingly happen in the next decade or two as technology companies like Apple disrupt traditional markets. And moreover, I think the rate of speed of the transformation of markets makes it more imperative for companies like Canon and Minolta to prioritize the search for innovation.
When one thinks about the implications of this market dominance from a business strategy perspective they are profound.
I received a call on Friday from an entrepreneur I've known for a 7 years. He's a few years younger than me and has a company backed by venture capitalists. He's raised approximately 6MM dollars and has been trying to strike lighting -- professionally speaking -- for about 3 years. He started the call by saying, I've got a situation and thought I'd phone a friend.
He proceeded to tell me that he had already pivotted the company once about 1 year ago. He's since come to the conclusion that the path he's put the company on is a losing one. He's torn between two choices:
- Pivot again -- to something bold and he isn't exactly sure what that is
- Return capital -- Of the original 6MM raised, he still had 1.5MM
I empathized with his predicament....and his instinct to phone an entrepreneur (friend).
It was approximately 6 years ago that I made a similar call to a entrepreneur friend of mine name Tom Higley. I remember it vividly. It was a Friday night. I was CEO of Judy's Book at the time. We had pivoted once and had not caught lightning in a bottle. On that call, Tom asked me what my gut was. I told him I thought that I should shut the company down and return $0.50 on the dollar to my investors. By Tuesday of the following week, that's exactly what I did.
I did two things on the call with my friend. First, I asked this entrepreneur the same question that Tom asked me. I asked him what his gut thought he should do. Like most of entrepreneurship, there's no right answer to situations like this. Second, I told him the story of Judy's Book, what I did and what I learned with the benefit of hindsight. I told him I was glad I was decisive and acted on my guy but if I had a re-do I wish I had persevered. I think the fear of failing is worse than actually failing and in the situation with Judy's Book many things happened in the market after we sold the assets that would have totally changed my perspective. The iphone and twitter became phenomena providing the market context for Judy's Book and local search to take off. I could never have known these market externalities in advance. Ahhh....hindsight is 20-20 :-)
It was a fun call. I don't knwo what my entrepreneurial friend is going to do. I gave him some shared experience that I am sure he'll consider as he weighs his gut and his options. It's moments like this that make entrepreneurship so exciting and profound of a choice. There is no right answer and he's a meaningful player in determining a positive or negative outcome. He's on the field of life and business!
My friend, Dan Levine, introduced me to a nice young Jewish boy named Grant, the 21 year old. Grant is going to graduate UW in May 2013 and wanted some life advice. Grant emailed me and asked me if he could bring his friend, Tony, the 22 year old who graduated in May 2012. I scheduled to meet them this week at Zoka, a local coffee shop for 30 minutes. We were scheduled to meet at 4PM. I showed up at 4:10 and Grant and Tony were sitting by the door. We had never met but I knew it was them that I was meeting. They jumped up and introduced themselves. I got a soy latte and sat down with them. Grant started to talk. I wasn't sure exactly where the conversation was going to go but it was the end of the day and their enthusiasm was engaging. It became clear -- 3 minutes into the conversation -- that they wanted to talk about their mobile app and business that they had been working on for the last 6 months. I heard about the founding of the business -- Tony had started it while he lived in San Diego. He had moved back home to Seattle and had partnered with Tony while Tony was finishing up at UW. They weren't making any money yet. But they had this little business and were trying to figure out whether it was worth continueing to pursue. I'm not going to divulge their business idea -- but in the past 6 months they clearly demonstrated some learnings from the market. I was impressed with what they had figured out -- and I was more aware than them of what they didn't know that they didn't know. But in the end -- I end up staying and talking with them about their idea for 2 hours. Trying to help them and give them tips so they might actually turn this thing into a success. At the end of the coffee meeting, I reflected and realized I had learned at this meeting...
i) Naivete and enthusiasm are an entrepreneurs friend. These attributes can be a HUGE asset and what may seem impossible ...may in fact not be.
ii) Writing down ones key assumptions and figuring out what tests one wants to run is the entrepreneurs job. The definition of the test reflects the frame or lens of the entrepreneur. These assumptions and tests point the direction of the most likely learning that will be obtained. A lot of the learning that one actually does in these market tests can not be known a-priori.
iii) Listening AND selling are equally critical skills to accomplishing the entrepreneurial goal.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how naming a company is a real pain ....but never mentioned the results of our naming efforts. Well, in this post, I'm happy to share with all of you that RevenueLoan is now LIGHTER CAPITAL.
Why Lighter Capital, you ask?
- We’re about more than RevenueLoans
- We're a lighter financial institution, as in fun and lighthearted
- And we plan on making raising capital lighter, as in easier and faster funding for small businesses
We’re about more than RevenueLoans
As we worked with small businesses over the past year, we realized there’s a lot more opportunity to disrupt the small business growth capital and lending incumbents. We intend to be the team that causes that disruption. What’s screwed up about small business capital now? That really merits its own post, but…let's just say there's lots that's screwed up and if you're an entrepreneur with a business that is growing getting access to capital to grow your business is way too hard and the process success. Getting money takes too much time, hassle, and work and the investors ask for too much (equity, control, interest rates, etc.) Lighter Capital changes all that -- and we do so with a deep understanding of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Lighter, as in fun and lighthearted
We aren’t your father’s local 3-6-3 bankers. We don’t wear suits. Our offices don’t smell of rich mahogany. We know building a business takes hard work - getting funding shouldn’t make your life harder. So we wanted our name to represent our focus on keeping business upbeat and lighter. And even it we don't fund your business, we want to do so with respect and a smile and leave you feeling like you haven't wasted your time or had to dress up to be someone your not. We like quirkiness and appreciate weirdness and generally want to have fun building this company as you should have fun building yours.
Lighter, as in lightweight funding
I’ve been in both the entreprenuer’s shoes and the financier’s shoes for long enough to have seen where taking outside funding can get painful. Under the right circumstances, taking bank debt or VC funding can make sense, but we’ve seen a lot of companies where those sources of capital start to weigh-down a company instead of lifting it up. RevenueLoans give companies more flexibility without demanding your first-born-child. And we’re working to make it faster and simpler to get our money, so entrepreneurs can focus on what they do best – building exciting new businesses.
Expect to see some of these changes in our company and loan process in the coming months. I’m psyched out of my mind about some of the work our team is doing, and this name change is an exciting step in the direction we’re taking.
In the interest of being open and light – check out this video of our team debating the name change:
Had my best revenueloan meeting yet last week. Can't tell still if it's because we're making real progress or drank too much during the meeting. I must admit that I've become a fan of baord meetings with booze.
I had an entrepreneur in my office that I've been working with for a few years. He's took a small angel round that I'm an investor in. The business has taken longer to get off the ground and in the last 6 months they're really starting to make strides. That said, the company is running out of cash and is about 10 to 15K per month from breakeven. Yesterday, he was in my office talking about raising 50K to get him to breakeven. I told him he should try to raise 200K so he can play for success. The terms of the 200K are going to be tough to the company and existing investors. The entrepreneur is doing all the right emotional things to make the company a success. He could easily throw in the towel and call it a "lesson learned". Instead, he wants to plow ahead. In the meeting, he told me he was committed to seeing this company through to success. In that moment, without knowing the terms of the deal, I told him that if he was in -- then I am committed to participating in this next round (personally and not as a fund). It was the right thing to do. And fortunately, I'm in a position to be able to do that. In that moment -- money equaled relationship and support. And fortunately for me -- I didn't miss the moment. There have been plenty of times where other friends I've worked with in the past have asked me to invest and support their ventures financially and for whatever reason -- I missed the moment when money equals relationship. This is a rare and important moment when even a little money gives the right emotional support and solidarity to help an entrepreneur. I suspect that this applies to famliy matters as well -- but tomorrow -- time willing, I'll write about instances where I have missed this opportunity...and how it bums out the asker as well as me.
I'm on a diet and have lost about 10 pounds. It's been a gradual weight loss. The diet is simple.
- No pasta
- No bread
- No snacks after 7PM
Superbowl weekend was a bad diet weekend. I had all three of the above. Ate some pizza, spaghetti, corn chips with salsa, and some chocolate at 9PM. Both days were lost.
Then it occured to me -- dieting is about the present and future, not the past. Woke up yesterday and got back on the routine. Feel on it today.
And that's where the metaphor of entrepreneurship begins. Entrepreneurship starts with 3 simple rules. You make them. Stick to them. When you fall down and feel like shit -- start over. It's that easy. That's an Andy Sack line :-)
Why is dieting so hard?
The following is a question and answer I found on Quora in the first 2 minutes of using the site. I am blown away by the quality of content and community on the site. I am reposting but must attribute the content to Quora and Isaac Hall, Founder of Recurly.
Question: Why is Dropbox more popular than other tools with similar functionality?
"As a co-founder of Syncplicity, a service that competes with Dropbox, this question has been on my mind for years. We launched within a few weeks of Dropbox, we had multi-folder synchronization & read-only sync, and we were a few years older than the Dropbox kids. I'm very proud of the service we put together and am happy to see the service shift towards businesses, yet Dropbox kicked butt. Here's why:
Before launching their service, Dropbox created a video that had tons of geeky references. It showed off a product that wasn't finished and had a few flaws. It showed a binary diff sync of an image... binary diff is great, but it only works if the file isn't compressed. So, it only works on bitmaps and who the heck is sync'ing bitmaps? The video spread quickly and got their name out before anyone heard of our company. Instead of making our own video, we were upset that binary diff wouldn't do anything for JPEGs or other compressed formats that consumers tended to use. Who the heck is sync'ing images saved from Microsoft Paint?
Next, we had issues getting the press excited at launch. We built a fantastic Windows client. 3 years ago, everyone was running Windows*. We were so excited to show the press, yet they *all* had Macs. Walt Mossberg wouldn't write about our product because it was PC only. Months after we hired our PR agency, we found out that they had never even used our product... because they too only had Macs. It's pretty hard to pitch a service when you haven't used it.
* Actually, I had a Mac and wrote all my code in a Parallels VM on my Mac. It always made me a little sad that we didn't have a native Mac client for a long time. Thankfully, the company has a Mac client today.
For a while, we couldn't believe Dropbox was so viral while we weren't. We opened our beta so anyone could sign up while people had to beg for a Dropbox invite. The closed beta worked incredibly well for Dropbox. We opened up our beta at the insistence of our PR agency -- "No way the New York Times will write about you if you have a closed beta". (It turned out that the NYT also doesn't write about you if you're PC only.) If your service is really popular, having a closed beta helps you create pent up demand and control the number of users joining on a regular basis so you can scale the backend appropriately.
In the end, it really came down to one incredibly genius idea: Dropbox limited its feature set on purpose. It had one folder and that folder always synced without any issues -- it was magic. Syncplicity could sync every folder on your computer until you hit our quota. (Unfortunately, that feature was used to synchronize C:Windows for dozens of users -- doh!) Our company had too many features and this created confusion amongst our customer base. This in turn led to enough customer support issues that we couldn't innovate on the product, we were too busy fixing things.
After I left Syncplicity, I ran into the CEO of Dropbox and asked him my burning question: "Why don't you support multi-folder synchronization?" His answer was classic Dropbox. They built multi-folder support early on and did limited beta testing with it, but they couldn't get the UI right. It confused people and created too many questions. It was too hard for the average consumer to setup. So it got shelved.
If you're starting a new company, the best thing you can do is keep your feature set small and focused. Do one thing as best as you possibly can. Your users will beg and beg for more functionality. They will tell you their problems and ask you to fix it. My philosophy is that they're right if their feature request is right only if it works for 80% of your customers. Until you have a lot of resources, stay focused on your core competency.
The best part about having a simple product is that it's easy to sell & easy to support. If your product is too complicated, you'll spend all day on customer support & bug fixing. I've been there -- it's no fun.
In closing, I want to give props to my previous Syncplicity co-workers. They worked their butts off competing against Dropbox. They're crazy smart and we built a great service together. They're still working on it and they've got a great business solution. As for Dropbox... Drew, Arash and the rest of the team are absolutely brilliant. Their success is no accident. File synchronization is incredibly difficult. Building a product that millions of consumers can easily understand without RTFM is even more challenging. They're my inspiration for my current company.
If you want to understand more, read everything you can about the lean startup movement. And have at least one seriously amazing product person on your staff if that's not you."
If you're mind isn't blown yet -- I don't know what will blow your mind in terms of first experiences. Go logon now to Quora
I thought I'd share this from an inbound email inquiring about the possibility of a RevenueLoan:
"We are not interested in dilution at this time, we have no venture and would prefer to keep it that way. Hence, flexible financing against our future subscription payments is very attractive. We have a major product launch (product is entering beta) at the end of this year and this will require additional funding upfront."
On the surface, this sounds like there may be a fit....look forward to talking to this entrepreneur!
Below is a very smart job posting written by comrade Randall Lucas for RevenueLoan. I'm sharing it with you all so you can of course refer candidates...but more importantly I think it's a great example of how to attract quality candidates to your startup. You have to stand out and be creative from the get go!
Holy ***, you're good!!
You are a smart and aggressive jack-of-many-trades (but Marketing particularly tickles your fancy).
We are a small startup arrogant enough to think we are a threat to the $96.4 TRILLION dollar global banking industry.
(Yes, it's a long-shot. But we're the good guys, and Goliath loses in the end. In the meantime, David needs a posse, and you need a challenge.)
We should talk.
NON-NEGOTIABLE JOB REQUIREMENTS. You:
... must not possess a top-tier MBA.
... never worked at a big company (or hated it if you did).
... got A's in classes you liked, and C'd in ones you didn't even show up for.
... have a Mac laptop.
... speak French, Russian, Esperanto, and Pig Latin.
... hate typos and prefer the Oxford comma.
... are amazing at finding info with Google.
... are amazing at getting info from strangers on the phone.
... could land a 737 if the pilot and co-pilot both order the fish (oops).
... can sweet-talk your way into getting discounts for your employer.
... once took 2nd place in a Karaoke contest.
... can tell when to ignore "requirements" and fake it 'till you make it.
(You're also smart enough to know that most startups are broke. However, we're more handsome and charming than most startups, so we've banked a round of financing from top-tier investors. Don't worry, we can pay you, but reluctantly and not very much, and only as a part-time contractor right now.)
Scared off yet? Wait till you hear about the work environment. You'll work with our team of three in the middle of a basketball-court sized shared space, along with 15 other companies. (And/or from home, if you/we want.) It's noisy and chaotic. But that means you'll be schmoozing, boozing, and/or
flirting with 15 CEOs, including ours, which you think is pretty cool.
You thrive on challenge and ambiguity. Improvise and expedite. Perfect is the enemy of the good. Real artists ship, and all that. We're lovers, not fighters (respect to the fighters). But we gotta give it up for how Eldridge's squadmates answered his questions on dealing with ambiguous
"well, handle it ... it's your call, buddy."
"be smart, make a good decision."
If you can put up with this much weirdness, then you're probably strange
enough to come be overworked helping us do:
- marketing communications
- Web site content
- Web analytics, keywords, SEO, etc. etc.
- finding and setting up conferences, events, speaking engagements
- beautiful print and Web collateral
Oh my God, I'm already excited for you. You're going to have so much
fun and learn so much. Email quick!
T.A. McCann of Gist fame spoke with the TechStars founders today and shared some solid ideas about building products with the customer in mind. One key takeaway that I felt was especially relevant as the founders dig into the product development phase was:
Your elevator pitch should follow a simple "ad-lib": We focus on ______ (target customer) who need _________ (market need), so we provide _________ (feature set) and we charge them ______ (business model). This standardized elevator pitch actually simplifies some of the challenge that the founders have been facing in explaining their business to mentors. His idea is to adjust the answers to the blanks until the statement feels exciting and feels like it accurately describes what you do. I couldn't agree more and hope the founders take this to heart as they hone their business plans.
Thanks to T.A. for coming by!
In the land of startups, bad news happens. And it happens a lot. Hiding from the bad news is not the right answer -- it almost never is. I endorse identifying the bad news....asking the hard questions and sharing. Put the bad news out there with your co-founders, your customers, and your investors. Don't hide from it.
I learned that Bill Lovely Sr. died this past week. Made me sad. I will remember him fondly.
During the summer of my freshman and sophomore year at Brown University, I received an internship from on of my parents friends -- Bill Lovely Sr. He was one of the managers at a brokerage house in Boston, MA named Kidder Peabody. I was into the stock market and wanted to learn more. I don't remember much from the internship other than the commute from S. Easton to Boston in the morning and at the end of the day. Bill was a charming, charismatic Irishman who could bend a tale about the history of Boston, the banking industry, and politics with the best of them. Each morning he drove me to and fro work -- and would talk about life. I was bushy taled and hung on every word. I'll never forget he used to tell me that "you'll lose your liberalism when you lose your baby fat". Hasn't happened yet and my baby fat is long gon -- but I loved the quote. At route, I always felt like Bill Lovely Sr. liked me -- and that meant a lot to me. I'm not sure why he liked me but the approval of an elder man other than my father was important personally and professionally. Thanks Bill. Rest in peace.