Why founders fail to scale (come to SCALE SCHOOL)
Jason’s List: 42,220 members http://launch.co/
Listening to: David Bowie, Changes
TL;DR version: founders ‘fail to scale’ because it’s harder than new features & speaking gigs
Next event: SCALE (school): launchscale.net Oct 23 & 24
55 days ago I wrote “Startups are about scale,” [ http://bit.ly/1xvaJVB ] with the basic premise that “Building a great product is table stakes in 2014, leaving scaling a startup as the elite skill.”
This isn’t to say that “building a great product” is easy, it’s really f—king hard of course.
The “Age of Excellence” piece [ http://bit.ly/1cx7jFU ] I wrote 887 days ago is dated. Y’all read that and got obsessed with perfection and now there are just too many of you deft product builders!
So, why do so many products “fail to scale?”
There are five reasons.
[Click to tweet: http://ctt.ec/bf1U0]
1. Founders choose to focus on features
It’s much easier to sit in a room and dream about the killer feature that will save your startup. I’m going through this right now with Inside.com, and I see my other startups work on this as well. It’s fine to explore new features, test things, and even “build for yourself.”
In fact, one of the best things to do is “build for yourself.” However, there is a point in time where you’ve created 5, 6, 7, or 10 features for your product and it’s time to say “enough” and start studying the metrics, doing user interviews, and testing.
As far as I’m concerned this happens at 1,000 daily users for a consumer product and 250 daily users for an enterprise product. At that point you have enough users to solicit feedback and break people into two groups to do A/B tests.
We are getting thousands of daily users at Inside.com and we are very focused on two things: a) figuring out what behaviors increase people’s time in the App and b) figuring out how to get new people into the product.
2. Founders don’t invest in metrics & community
In order to really grow a startup you need to increase your knowledge of how your product is being used. There are two basic ways to do this: study people’s behavior and talk to your users.
In terms of metrics you need to figure out how people are using your product with analytics packages like Localytics (mobile), Google Analytics (web), Chartbeat (live web; disclosure, I’m an investor) and Mailchimp/Sendgrid/Dyn (mail open rates, conversions, etc.).
In terms of talking to users I created three groups for Inside (alpha, beta, and delta) in the early months using a Google Group for each. I solicited members for these groups from inside the Inside.com app (literally said “email us to join our beta group to talk about new features!”). Everyone on our team joined these lists and listened. It was eye-opening: our users were wildly more sophisticated than we thought! They were really interested in very, very specific features and they were super loyal to us. Huge win.
3. Founders don’t budget properly
I don’t know what the proper budget is for startups, but I actually think growth should be at least 25% of your budget after the product is completed — perhaps 50%.
The problem is that you need this huge group of people to launch a product, and after the product is done you need half that amount to maintain it.
Of course, hiring 15 people for six months of building the 1.0 and then shifting gears and firing five in order to put that money to work on buying installs, ads, and doing marketing is really not practical — it’s mercenary and would kill your culture.
So what most folks do is they burn $150k a month on 15 team members and an office, and once the product is in market they say “we have no budget left for marketing this awesome product!”
Then they look at their resources, the team they do have, and they default back to the “feature race,” adding more features.
A startup should basically fund itself with an expectation that they will spend 2/3rds of the eventual monthly budget building (say $100k) and then pop in the $50k a month in marketing in month seven when they launch and learn how to spend it effectively (or if they even should market the product — they might not want to if it’s a dog!).
4. Founder paralysis: search for a pulse
Founders get really scared right after their products launch because of the very typical “launch bump” and the eventual “pit of despair” when the press and social media stop caring about you.
You have to fight the urge to be paralyzed and “search for a pulse.” Is there a “sign of life” in your product? Do folks like it enough that they can’t live without it?
There is an easy way to find out: ask them. One way to phrase it is: “how much would it cost to replace my product — in time or money — if we didn’t exist”? Another way is to say “What would you replace us with?” or “How did you solve this before you found us?”
If the product was, say, Thumbtack.com (I’m an investor) it would be something like, “Well, I would have to spend five hours: first calling 10 house painters, then getting five to call me back, three to visit and two to give me quotes.”
That answer means, “f@#k, life without Thumbtack.com would really suck.”
With a consumer product, this can be hard to judge sometimes: questions like “what would life be like without Calm.com or Vine.com?” might elicit the answers:
“Well, I wouldn’t meditate regularly, if at all, without my Calm.com App,” or, “I wouldn’t laugh as much without Vine — I would miss it!”
Those are valid answers, but it’s sometimes hard to put a cost on something that is just delightful. What’s the cost of losing the funniest guy at your poker game? Well, you have a boring game and folks say “I wish Pollak were here!”
5. No dedicated growth positions
Sure, everyone should be thinking about growth, but do you need a specific person in each company focused on this? When I have a growth person at one of my companies, they are solely responsible for seeking the truth around the brutal inevitabilities all founders face: “why are we not growing?” or “why is growth slowing?” or “why are we shrinking?”
In order to plan for growth you need to have someone build that plan, execute that plan and study the results so the next plan can be 20% better. You need someone obsessed with this.
Worse than this is a startup that does have growth positions, or positions with growth responsibility, but they are not given the authority to “grow.” Second guessing folks who you’ve hired to grow the product is worse than not having growth people — because you’re getting all of the costs and none of the benefits. Listening to the growth team is as critical as having them.
What techniques are there to scale?
There are at least 250 viable scaling techniques my team has discovered at Inside.com and LAUNCH.co by interviewing folks from Zillow, Thumbtack, Uber, Pinterest, Twitter, Square and Reddit.
We’ve started to put them in “question format” on a google spreadsheet here: http://bit.ly/1C11USX
You can add your questions here: jc.is/scalequestions
We are inviting 50 of the most important VPs, CMO, Founders and Directors (mainly NOT CEOs, since they hire folks to do scale for them) to speak at my latest event SCALE taking place on Oct 23rd and 24th.
They are going to answer at least 100 of these questions in a confidential meeting (no press, no public videos).
SCALE SCHOOL would be a better name for the event, because you will learn a ton. We’ve invited 700 founders and CTOs to the event and 450 said yes (the other 250 were out of town or have lost their minds!).
We have 50 tickets left and three presentation slots left.
This will be the best event I’ve ever hosted in 20 years because it is going to give a detailed roadmap for your startup. I’ve had my team on this for six months and it has literally cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars to put this event on — a massive expense.
If you want to come you can buy a ticket here, and if you learn one thing at the event to grow your startup it’s worth the ticket price ($5,000): use promo code email25 to get 25% off: http://bit.ly/10gwpa2
There are scholarships for not-yet-funded startups (my portfolio companies all got three free tickets, a couple got free speaking slots if they were awesome — part of the value of being a LAUNCH FUND startup!).
If you or a friend’s startup is failing, come to this event. It will turn it around I’m certain — or at the very least help you get prepared for your next one.
Every seat is classroom style and you can work from this two-track event all day. All paid participants will get access to the complete video series.
If you want to talk about scale with us visit scalechat.com
100 important things you’ll learn at SCALE school (launchscale.net):
How can I increase email open rates?
How do I select my startup’s next market?
How do I handle traffic spikes after media exposure?
How do I keep my architecture stable at scale?
How do I simplify my API?
How do I create a brand voice for my startup?
How do I attract service professionals to my marketplace?
How can I increase month-to-month retention for my app?
Which press outlets drive downloads?
Are byline articles in Pando, Business Insider, TechCrunch, and LinkedIn worth my time?
What do I do when a customer is unhappy?
How do I recruit senior designers and developers with limited funding?
How do I speed up my release cycle?
How do I price my product for maximum growth?
How do I know when to pivot my business model?
How do I reduce customer churn for my SaaS company?
How do I make my hardware and software work seamlessly?
How do I build a push notification CMS?
How do I market to a younger demographic?
How can I quickly build an effective referral program?
How can I scale my user acquisition with FB ads?
How do I maintain a sense of community with my users while scaling?
How do I get my crowdfunding campaign featured?
Are infographics expensive to build? Do they drive business & how do I measure their effectiveness?
How do I increase my rank in the app store?
How do I write tweets that increase app installs?
How can I identify new sales people that fit my culture — and won’t quit in 6 months?
How do I reduce churn in my sales team?
How do I streamline my manufacturing?
How do I avoid liability and lawsuits?
How do I onboard independent contractors?
How do I test marketing techniques with a small user base?
How do I best use remote workers?
How do I train my devs on both ios and android?
How do I recruit senior designers and devs with limited funding?
Do I need to hire a growth team?
How do I get actionable feedback from my users?
How do I manage beta groups to test new features?
How do I teach new users how to use my app?
When do I censor my startup’s community?
How do I take market share from a bigger competitor?
Should every part of my team grow equally when scaling?
When’s the right time to get acquired?
How much should user feedback change my product?
Where can I find testers in the very early stages of a minimum viable product?
How do I get featured by Apple and Google in the App and Play stores?
Should I focus my limited resources on pleasing existing customers or gaining new ones?
Who should my first hire be when scaling?
Should new hires have experience scaling?
How quickly can I scale from one new market to the next?
How do I develop strategic relationships in new markets?
How do I find mentors for my startup?
How do I source leads on Linkedin?
How do I source candidates on Linkedin?
How can I create tweets that convert to sales?
How do I create brand loyalty through email?
How do I acquire users in a new market?
How can I prepare for seasonal spikes in traffic?
How do I partition services to limit risk of a security breach?
How do I transition new features from test to production environments?
How do I develop strategic relationships in new markets?
How do I hire a city manager capable of running a new market?
How should I organize my engineering team?
How do I prevent my website from crashing from too much traffic?
How do I maximize my marketing budget?
How can I use data as marketing material?
How can I increase month to month retention for my app?
How do I push notifications to millions of users?
How can I increase high quality influencers on my twitter handle?
How do I use AdWords to market my startup?
What are the most scalable channels for customer acquisition?
How do I find early customers that could become champions of my product?
How do I make an awesome product video?
How do I get good Yelp reviews for my startup?
How do I train my devs on both ios and android?
How do I limit excess inventory in manufacturing?
How do I manage a remote team?
How do I quickly implement user feedback into my next release?
How do I develop a windows app?
How do I create new apps while maintaining the quality of my core app?
How do I get my revenue model right?
How do I expand internationally?
How transparent should I make reviews of my users?
How do I take advantage of the economic environment?
Should I scale on multiple platforms at once, or focus solely on my strongest?
Should I try to scale as quickly as possible?
How do I monetize free users?
How do I get press for my app in a crowded market?
Should new hires have experience scaling?
How do I keep users’ credit card info private?
How do I prevent DDoS attacks?
How do I market to the college demographic?
How do I build an effective street team?
How do I get people to comment on my pins?
How do I email users content they actually want?
How do I get users to stay on my site longer?
What percentage of my marketing budget should go towards advertising?
How do I get a celebrity to talk about my product on Twitter or YouTube?
How do I leverage Vine, Instagram and other short video apps to scale my products?
How can I reduce the number of 1 star reviews for my app?
Add your question by hitting REPLY or entering it here: jc.is/scalequestions
Apple crushed it today.
Bottom Line: Apple will be the first company to hit a trillion dollar market cap.
Six Point Recap
[ Click to tweet: http://ctt.ec/m06k_ ]
1. Apple Pay will add $100B in market cap
Tap your phone or watch to a base station and pay with one click. You sign with your fingerprint reader. There are no credit card numbers stored into the phone so the person at the counter can’t steal them.
People were doing this five years ago in Tokyo and Seoul when I was rolling with Masa Son and the Naver crew. Why the frack did this take so long to make here? Doesn’t matter. Apple gets credit for taking something ordinary in Asia and making it “extraordinary” in the U.S.
Losers: Google Wallet, PayPal (toast if they don’t get a product CEO — FAST!), Square (seriously at risk).
Winners: @jack at SQUARE, as Google and PayPal need to buy it NOW. Bidding war, goes for $4B.
2. Apple Watch will add $100B in market cap
The Apple Watch will cost $75, maybe $100, to build. It’s got a $349 price tag — to start. Apple will make at least $250 for the base model. 20% of iPhone users will buy it in year one. 25–50M sold in year one, easily. $10B in cash money. Profit. Bank it, baby.
Oh yeah, they got one made of gold and you know they will launch partnerships with brands like Gucci, Prada & Jay Z. Those will be blinged out in diamonds and precious metals and have $1k-5k in profit. They’ll sell a couple of million of those per year as well. And you’ll be able to replace the chips on the inside (a first for Apple), so you can feel fine about your 50-year investment in a watch that you’ll give your kids.
[ “and now I give this watch to you…”]
3. iPhone 6 Plus catches Apple up
We’ve all been dogging Apple for not getting this product out two years ago, when Samsung started taking high end users from their ecosystem with the Note. That absurdly sized phone, or phablet, is LOVED by geeks who gave up their iPhone for it.
They love to torture Apple users with it and now they’ll all come back to the iOS ecosystem with their tails between their legs — and the rest of us can’t wait to bust their chops!
Samsung’s biggest advantage over Apple was the larger screens and that just went “poof!”
Apple was religious about sizes because a) Steve Jobs and b) they didn’t want to torture iOS app developers with adapting their apps for multiple sizes.
Steve would have changed his position on sizes, and convinced us all that he supported the idea early on. Man, do I miss Steve. I mean, not personally — we weren’t taking long walks around Palo Alto like Walt did — but professionally.
He’s smiling right now knowing that he built a kick-ass team that is “doing it their way,” not his way. They’re crushing it on their terms with swagger. Not worrying that someone leapfrogged them, but rather that they hit their internal standard.
Apple is not over.
Apple is as strong as ever. Today proves it.
4. U2’s free album is Beats By Dre teaser — more to come
Tim Cook is our charming uncle who we can’t wait to spend time with, and Bono fawned over him as such. Tim was so proud of U2 and excited to help them get their album to the rest of the world and capture the record for the largest distributed album of all time.
I’m guessing Apple paid $10–30M to get the exclusive rights to give every iTunes user a copy of U2’s new album. I mean, U2 sold 1.1M copies of their album “No Line on the Horizon” from 2009, so at $8 net (not retail) price that’s $8.8M.
Why not reach 727x your audience and get one check from Apple?
Oh wait, that’s a new f-ing business model. Apple could simply buy the exclusive rights to the top five albums every month for $20M each. That’s $1.2B a year for 60 albums — or the cost of selling 4.8M watches with a $250 profit margin.
So, why not do that? That’s probably what the Beats by Dre model is all about: Apple as a label. Just buy the albums and promote the fuck out of them. Everyone wins: free music for us, another selling point for Apple & artists get absurd exposure through sampling.
Ticket sales will certainly pop, as folks don’t want to go to the concert without knowing the lyrics right?
Apple saved the album today!
5. Startups Killed: Pebble, FitBit, Voxer & …
Pebble and Fitbit I love you. I love all founders who innovate and create amazing products, but when Apple comes into your market like they did today, well, even Nike gets out of the way!
[ Nike shut down their health band last April ]
Apple or Google/Nest should buy both companies now. Get those teams and step up the fight with Apple.
6. Dave Morin of Path.com in front row? Sold!
Dave Morin was chilling in the first row of the event two seats from Johnny Ive and — I think — next to Dr Dre. That means one thing and one thing only: Path and the team are going to Apple. You don’t get that first row seat by accident. Path would jump from an exclusive club to jumpstart Apple’s non-existing social presence, which has been well-documented from Color to Ping.
Apple’s new iMessage, which does what Voxer, Snapchat and others do, is super clever, so why not leverage Path as a better name and interface? Or at the very least a second platform.
No reason that every Apple user couldn’t automatically have a Path account and opt out in the iCloud settings. This would be a master stroke by Tim Cook, who desperately needs a social mind in his brain trust. Dave Morin, Cue, Cook, Dre, Iovine, Schiller and Ive? Boom!
Alright, that’s all I got.
Big day for Apple.
Google & Samsung, what’s up? What you got?!
PS — The LAUNCH Scale event is coming up [http://events.launch.co/scale] and we are giving 10% of the tickets to women and minorities so we can help change the ratio in the industry. My team is awesome that way. Apply here for a scholarship: [http://events.launch.co/scalescholarship]
PPS — LAUNCH Festival is March 2–4 in San Francisco: [http://festival.launch.co]
PPPS — This Week in Startups is blazing like a bonfire! Subscribe in iTunes here [http://bit.ly/TwiStA] for Audio and here [http://bit.ly/TwiStV] for Video. And follow us for updates and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks on Twitter & Instagram: @twistartups
PPPPS — Download the [ Inside.com ] app to get the best curated journalism in real time. https://appsto.re/us/WwA3Q.i
I’ve invested in 70 companies.
To do this I have a secret process that involves nine full-time staffers that I’m not going to reveal right now. Perhaps when I hit 250 investments and I’m “done” (as in, 50 years old) I’ll write a book about it.
Here’s a little peek into the process: I generally meet with 10 startups a week during lunch and for coffee. This is absurdly efficient, as I need to eat lunch, I like to drink coffee and I don’t like being alone.
Given that, I wind up investing in 30 of the 500+ companies I meet with per year — however, those 500 meetings are chosen from a pool of literally 5,000+ possible startups.
My team and my network narrow the 5,000 to 500 and I narrow it to 30. That means 10% of folks my team look at get to meet me in person and ~5% of those get funded.
Or, about 1 in 200 startups my team looks at gets funded.
Wildly efficient, yet I still find that some markets are not being addressed.
[Click to tweet: http://ctt.ec/6puHP]
Given that, I’m going to start a new email feature: “RFP: Request for Prototype.”
The rules are simple: build a prototype based on a business we think should exist in the world and if it’s exceptional — and you’re exceptional — we fund it. *
* Exceptional as defined by me.
The Big Market the Crash Killed
I’m shocked that more folks don’t want to take on one of the biggest markets in the world: real estate.
I hardly ever hear about anyone with an innovative idea these days. I guess the market was so hot, that after the RE bubble burst folks were scared to wade back in.
Zillow, Trulia and RedFin were awesome innovations and since then, well, the well is dry it seems.
However, having just moved this month to San Francisco, I’m in the middle of selling, as well as buying (renting), a home.
Los Angeles homes stay on the market for 3-6 months and San Francisco ones for 3-6 hours.
Literally, I called to make an offer on a house in Glen Park — an up and coming neighborhood that is a full 7% as fancy and delightful as my current home in Brentwood — an hour after seeing it on the first day it was being shown.
It was sold an hour earlier — while we were touring the house!
So we tried to put an offer on a house BEFORE it went on the market and they wouldn’t take our money. The offer was all cash and 15% over the asking price (I feel like an absolute idiot for even sharing that).
Anyway, the market is red hot, but that’s not the point.
I can handle a hot market and frankly I don’t see a startup being able to change supply and demand (or maybe I do … but we’ll save that for another email).
My Big Aha! Moment:
No one is fighting for the people buying houses. Everyone in the business is driven by one thing and one thing only: closing sales.
If houses get sold, brokers on both sides get paid and the world keeps spinning. Ads flow to listing sites, inspectors get paid, mortgage brokers get commissions and home improvements continue.
No one is incentivized to STOP you from buying a home.
No one is trying to PROTECT the buyer from making a bad decision (I know, brokers are supposed to … but they don’t get paid unless you buy!).
This becomes super apparent when you look at the descriptions of homes.
Everything is “charming” and a “compound” and “gorgeous” in the descriptions, but when you go see them they are “depressing” and “dark” and “small”!
So here’s a super simple idea: reviews that tell you, in brutally honest fashion, if you should move into this house or not.
If it’s a fair price.
If it’s a horrible block, if it has a bad landlord, or if the methadone clinic is hopping at 3pm when your daughter gets home from school!
But How Will it Make Money?!
I honestly never worry about this. If a product solves a small problem for a large number of people, a major problem for a small number of people, or a medium-sized problem for a medium-to-large-sized audience it will make money.
As an angel, job one is just knowing that a product will be loved.
Well, this angel would have LOVED to get an honest review of a house I had looked at. In fact, I would have wanted this 10x in my life, long before I was an angel.
You’ve wanted it too, unless you haven’t moved out of your mom’s house (mom’s gets a great review, hands down).
In cities like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco these reviews would kill. The nastier and more bitter, the better. I want someone to just crush these shitty homes and bullshit artist realtors trying to sell them.
I want an angry journalist or reviewer to just take these places out, because if there were checks and balances two things would happen:
1. the listings would get cleaned up because people would fear getting ripped to shreds in my new app
2. some listings wouldn’t get cleaned up and we would protect those buyers
A huge win on both fronts.
Who Wants to Build this?
I tweeted about this last week and got some folks putting up designs, and some of them are a solid start. Most are coming at it from a bells and whistles format, which is kind of a mistake when building a product.
The first thing you want to do is to perfect one simple function. In Uber’s case, that was getting a car to you fast. In Thumbtack.com’s case, it’s getting you a really detailed quote from a high-quality service provider. In the case of Calm.com, it’s getting you to meditate and reduce stress.
Here, we simply want to review a home for people.
You hire someone to review homes and let folks comment on those reviews.
If you want to do this business and you build a sick prototype I will invest in it. If you are a writer who wants to start it here in San Francisco but you don’t have technical chops, well, just write me a couple of samples and I’ll try and find you a technical co-founder.
Basically, look at this as an RFP: “request for prototype.”
You build it and if it’s awesome I’ll put in the first $25-100k.
If it is really awesome I will syndicate it to AngelList and get you another $200-500k.
Couple of notes:
1. this is not a contest
2. since this is a not a contest there are no rules
3. if you make something awesome you’re under no obligation to have me fund it — go ahead and steal this idea
4. if you make something awesome and tweet it and someone else does your idea and I fund them, well, tough luck. Ideas are not important, execution is. If you don’t want to respond to my “RFP” then don’t.
Bottom line: it’s a free-for-all. This is some Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale gauntlet I’m throwing down (the movie The Hunger Games was stolen from).
P.S. – The LAUNCH Scale event is coming up [http://events.launch.co/scale] and we are giving 10% of the tickets to women and minorities so we can help change the ratio in the industry. My team is awesome that way. Apply here for a scholarship: [http://events.launch.co/scalescholarship]
P.P.S. – LAUNCH Festival is March 2-4 in San Francisco: [http://festival.launch.co]
P.P.P.S. – This Week in Startups is on fire. Recent fan and statistical favorites include Eric Hippeau, former HuffPo CEO and media mastermind [http://goo.gl/xSiLxs]; Daniel Kim, Lit Motors CEO and inventor of a new class of vehicle that is part car, motorcycle, and spacecraft [http://goo.gl/bCG0WV]; and Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse, who gives job seekers behind-the-scenes access to companies and their cultures, and shares her experiences as a female founder and entrepreneur. [http://goo.gl/l2fc4q] Subscribe in iTunes here [http://bit.ly/TwiStA] for Audio and here [http://bit.ly/TwiStV] for Video.
Angel investing is a brutally hard job …
… said no one ever!
[ 1,600 words on the topic below. Click to tweet: http://ctt.ec/_G49d ]
I’m absolutely loving being an angel investor. It’s a blast to meet smart folks with killer ideas who want to change the world — and then I get to write a check and give one out of every 250 of those ideas a try!
In the past year I’ve invested $1.95m in 30 startups from the LAUNCH Fund (from my $10m angel fund). We are now 19.5% invested in 13.5 months. We’ll invest another $4.05m in the next 24 months for a total of $6M/60% invested, keeping back the last $4m to keep our pro rata in the winners.
I’m told this is a savvy plan by my much, much savvier friends.
You may remember that I wrote a blog post 6 months ago about how excited I was to invest in Swell. [http://goo.gl/wwdEGL] Recently there were some reports in the news about Swell and that technology company we all love soooooo much in Cupertino. [ http://goo.gl/nlyYqE]
A company which, I might add, is performing at an absurdly high-level while evolving their strategy ( <—- shameless suck up).
Anyway, we got a “quick win” for my fund and I’m super happy for the founders of Swell. Great things to come from Apple+Swell combo I’m certain.
During the past four months we syndicated nine of the LAUNCH Fund’s deals to our AngelList Syndicate for a total of $3.18m invested. In those deals the LAUNCH Fund did a total of $550k, while the Syndicate came in for 4.78 times that amount for $2.63m.
Our average Syndicated deal was $353k, with $61k on average coming from the LAUNCH Fund and $292k come from our Syndicates.
Two out of nine deals are closing as I write this, so that $2.63m will be slightly higher if we continue to be vastly oversubscribed.
The LAUNCH Fund will do three deals a month and ~30 a year. If we syndicate 20 of those deals, we are on pace to put $7.67m a year to work.
This is the revolution and no one in the mainstream press seems to have caught on yet (despite me telling them: “hey, you might want to look over here … something is brewing.”).
A couple of years ago my level of angel investing would be significant on a number-of-deals basis (two or three per month), but not very important or significant on a dollar basis.
Well, I’m able to lead a round of funding, set the price with the founder, and perhaps even take a board seat. (In most cases we get the option of a board seat, even though I really don’t have the time to sit on that many boards.)
Bottom line: when I wrote about AngelList 11 months ago, and said a bunch of ‘outlandish’ things [http://goo.gl/N7cDa8]; this was all very speculative. Most folks thought that AngelList wouldn’t be able to attract real fund managers, and that those fund managers wouldn’t be able to get access to A+ deals.
Those questions have been answered, and folks like Gil Penchina (serious angel), and Tim Ferriss (serious thinker, author and personality, and developing into a VERY SERIOUS angel investor), have proven that they can bring real deal flow to the platform.
What AngelList Syndicates has done for me most of all is to make me more helpful to founders. Instead of having to manage another dozen angels, they can just manage a relationship with me. Not only that, they get 99 folks on their team who have a literal, vested interest in their success (the members of the Syndicate).
That’s 100 folks for one mention on your cap table. One hundred affluent and connected folks who might tweet out a job posting, or hopefully refer someone to you. Or intro you to a partner or possible client. Or another investor. It’s a big deal.
Moreover, AngelList has given many ‘civilians’ (folks who don’t typically have access to these types of deals), the ability to put $1,000 to $10,000 into deals they would never even hear about until they were well-funded.
There is no guarantee of success, but this is a huge step in the right direction.
99 Limit Throttles Everything
The crazy thing about the massive performance to date of syndicates, is that it has all been done even though only 99 people can invest in a syndicate. This is an SEC limit, I believe intended to protect the rich (only accredited investors can participate in this type of deal flow), in some aggregate way.
Brad Feld talks about it here: http://goo.gl/xNqt7Z
I get that the SEC wants to throttle the potential fallout from a deal going belly up, but the entire point of angel investing — at least the way I do it — is for 7 out of 10 deals to go belly up! We want deals that are so risky that there’s only a 1-5% chance that the startup will have an absurdly big outcome.
For example, if you invest in 50 quality Silicon Valley startups (real deal flow, not second- or third-tier deal flow) you might have 30-40 return little to nothing. Big zero.
You might have 10-15 return a small amount and have one or two have 50x+ outcomes — with the lottery ticket chance that you catch a unicorn like Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Airbnb, Dropbox or Box that could return 100-3,000x.
[ Lottery ticket is the key phrase in that paragraph above. Expect one in every three or four lifetimes. ]
In truth, 500 folks investing $1,000 each is safer than 100 folks investing $5,000 each. For me, well, I think people should be able to invest and spend their hard-earned money however they want. I don’t think there should be a category of “accredited investors” vs. “non.” I think that is actually a very class-based system where the rich get richer and the “poor schlubs” (as which I spent 80% of my life being classified) need to be protected from investing in the next Facebook or Twitter.
Poor folk should be allowed to place a $1,000 bet on LinkedIn or Facebook if they think it’s the next big thing — just like they can place it on a roulette wheel in Vegas.
That being said, the 99 limit should be something like 500 so that we can keep the American economy moving. Rich people are simply NOT investing their money, and getting them to take it out of bonds, second homes, and JetSuite memberships — and into angel investing — is critical to our sustained growth as a nation.
Other countries have fewer rules and they will benefit from them. Let’s stop trying to protect the rich from investing their money in startups, and start trying to build more startups — because startups create jobs. Most of them, in fact.
Should you Angel Invest?
I get this question a lot. As far as I’m concerned if you keep angel investing down to 1-5% of your net worth, well, you’ve controlled the risk.
If you put that modest percentage to work in 50 deals, that means, in the most aggressive 5% model, each investment is 10 basis points of your net worth. If you were worth $5m in this example, 5% of your net worth would be $250k. In 50 deals that’s $5k per deal. If you did 2.5% of your net worth, it would be $2,500 in 50 deals.
Well, that’s sort of the sweet spot for angel investing through a syndicate on AngelList, or some of the emerging competitors. That list includes MicroVentures, Crowdfounder, FundersClub, and CircleUp, among a growing list of options.
Again, if you are not an “accredited investor” as defined by the government then you’re too simple or too irresponsible, I guess, to invest your own hard-earned money. #sarcasm
More to Come
I’m going to keep updating folks on my education as an angel investor and Syndicate. I’m in a unique station in life, in that I’ve put 25 years into being a journalist and entrepreneur in technology, so I’ve got a heck of a network and a ton of experience.
It’s making angel investing really pleasurable so far, but of course in a market this hot everyone looks like a genius. I’ve been through two brutal, brutal tech corrections in my career and I’m guessing there will be a third some day — perhaps in the middle of my first fund.
I can’t control that, but I can control the checks I write, and I’m writing them based on big, crazy ideas by passionate people who are executing at a very high level.
If that’s you, well, you know how to find me (and if you watch This Week in Startups, you’ll know what impresses me).
P.S. – If you want to join the Syndicate, angel.co/jason
P.P.S. – This Week in Startups is my podcast: www.thisweekinstartups.com
P.P.P.S. – The LAUNCH Festival is March 2-4 at Fort Mason. 12,000 folks will be there, save the date.
Startups today are about one thing: scale.
As in getting big and doing it fast, like: Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, Snapchat and a couple dozen others.
In this post I want to accomplish two things:
1. Explain why SCALE is so critical today.
2. Get ideas from you on topics and speakers for the LAUNCH SCALE event I’m hosting.
[ LAUNCH SCALE: Oct 23-24, San Francisco -- http://events.launch.co/scale ]
“But wait Jason,” I can hear one of you tweeting me, “didn’t you say just two years ago that we are living in the ‘age of excellence’ and all that matters is how good the product is?” [The Age of Excellence: http://blog.launch.co/blog/the-age-of-excellence.html ]
That was 27 months ago. Things have changed radically in that time, and what has changed most is that “startup alchemy” has given way to “startup science.” If you look at all the aspects of building your company, it has become productized:
– We have MailChimp teaching us — heck, forcing us — to do email perfectly. Ten years ago we had to spend entire days per month sending emails. Now it’s minutes.
– Amazon Web Services, Dyn, and Rackspace are letting folks build their infrastructure perfectly and quickly. Years ago it tooks months to get your stack up and running.
– InVision is letting us build flawless mock-ups, and HipChat is letting us communicate 24/7 across mobile and desktops.
– Marketing is as easy to implement as buying books from Amazon was ten years ago. Non-technical folks can launch campaigns on Twitter and Facebook’s marketplaces in hours, without ever needing to hire an agency. With AdStage it gets even easier.
– You can go on Dribbble or Behance and sort and surf through killer designs — made by people in South America, Asia, and Eastern Europe — that are indistinguishable from folks in the United States!
– Finally, the accelerators are filling in a ton of the gaps in building your product.
What’s left if every aspect of a startup is being perfected and productized?
The Questions to Ask Yourself
Given a year or so of capital/time you should be able to build a solid product that some group of users find value in. If you can’t, there are two reasons:
1. You’re probably trying to do something wildly complex or far out there in terms of even being possible (think an electric car, artificial intelligence).
2. You suck and shouldn’t be an entrepreneur.
If your problem is #1, well, then just pivot to the “next best manifestation of your vision based on what you learned.”
If your problem is #2, simply go work for someone brilliant for two to five years and take a LOT OF NOTES.
If you have built a great product, but it’s not growing, ask yourself the following:
I. “How much time and money are we spending in total as a company each month?”
II. “How much of that time and money is going directly toward the growth of this product?”
III. “Is our team aligned around the goal of growth or not?”
In my case, I told our team that we would build Inside.com to the point of having a core group of thousands of daily users who love the app, and if we succeeded then we would focus on growth.
We are in the process of looking at our budgets and time, and literally putting as much behind the SCALE of our product as we can.
There are two primary growth types:
a) Adding new users
b) Getting existing users to use your product more
So we are pursuing both of these with content, social, targeted ads, PR, and most importantly, product design.
It’s HARD to make a news product viral, but we’re trying!
Help Me Help You!
Now that I’m in the middle of trying to SCALE Inside.com, it’s the perfect time for me to bring 250 of y’all to learn together.
That’s LAUNCH SCALE, and I could use your help with the following:
– Speakers: We are looking for executives who specialize in growing startups, and have had great success in doing so. Think backwards from high-growth startups (Uber, Airbnb, Box, Dropbox, etc.), as well as from the function areas (PR, viral loops, UX, paid, social, street teams, community, content marketing, etc.).
– Join us: You can buy a ticket with the 30% FOJ discount code (“friend of Jason”) that is good for the next week.
– Diversity: All of our events, in addition to my podcast and investing, are working hard to present tremendous diversity on the stage and in the audience. Our team believes that our events and products benefit greatly from lots of different perspectives. With that in mind, please help us find speakers and submit them here: http://events.launch.co/speakerformscale. Also, if you know of anyone who would benefit from a scholarship, we reserve 10% of our seating for folks striving to take it to the next level (like many of us did in web 1.0!).
– Sponsor: We are doing two types of presentations at LAUNCH SCALE:
1. Startups that have scaled
2. Companies that provide tools that help startups scale. So if you are a company that makes money providing tools for companies to grow, well, you should sponsor the event and show your product/case study. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
We have the following presentations already lined up:
1. Steve Huffman, Co-Founder – reddit & Hipmunk
2. Marco Zappacosta, CEO – Thumbtack will explain how thumbtack got 70,000 paying customers without a salesforce, and raised $50M.
3. Andrew Johns, Head of Growth & Revenue – Wealthfront will talk about how they attracted $1B in assets under management with a tiny marketing budget.
4. Patrick Cheeseman, Head of Customer Experience – HotelTonight will discuss how to use support to drive product innovation.
5. Ryan Mannion, CTO – POLITICO will discuss how to grow from 0 to 100 Million monthly pageviews.
6. Christopher DePatria, VP of Revenue – SignPost will explain how he grew their sales team from 5 to 100 in 2 years, and signed up 93k SMB customers.
7. Aaron Magness, VP of Marketing – Betabrand will tell us how they use crowd-funded emails to never have unwanted inventory again.
8. Craig Zingerline, Sr. Director of Product – Red Tricycle will tell us how they grew to 750,000 emails without spending a dollar.
9. Arjun Naskar, Growth Manager – Homejoy will discuss how to expand into 31 markets in 2 years.
Think electric motorcycles don’t sound badass? Definitely don’t tell Harley-Davidson; they’re testing one. And definitely don’t watch the video of BRD Motorcycles street racer in action. Founder Marc Fenigstein won’t tell us what the company name stands for, but it’s clearly all about speed, maneuverability and performance. Yes, electric vehicles are getting sexy.
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Every couple of years, folks like me say retail is dead, and the stats on malls seem to be proving that out — with 15% estimated to close in the next 10 years. The stunning pictures of malls in transition, including this strip mall parking lot converted to an urban farm, are the stuff of science fiction. Dystopian rebirth –– the street finding its own use for the past.
Yet we’re all still shopping like crazy. People still like to go out of their houses, despite the hype around the Oculus Rift that Zuck just bought for 1.3% of their stock.
As much as I love to set up “subscribe and save” on Amazon Prime, never having to think about coffee beans, soap and razors, I still like to get out of the house and take my four-year-old daughter somewhere on the weekends.
Retail, local and payments are all in massive transition.
When I sense something like this, I do two things:
1. Start writing checks as an angel investor
2. Hold a conference: www.launchbeacon.co
With regard to number one, I’ve invested in seven local-ish plays to date (about 10% of my investments): Gowalla.com (sold to Facebook), Signpost.com (software for local businesses), MyTime.com (book any appointment), Thumbtack.com (find a service provider, like I just did for tennis), Uber.com (urban logistics, not just cabs now that they launched Uber Rush in NYC), Red Tricycle (what to do with your kids(redtri.com) and StyleSeat.com (software/services for salons and such). Links to each of these founders on This Week in Startups at the bottom of this announcement.
With regard to the conference, on June 16, I will host a one-day event in New York City (I’m coming home!) at the Metropolitan Pavilion on W. 18th Street (where I used to host Silicon Alley 99, 2000, etc).
Simple agenda: I will do demos with 10 startups that we hand select for awesomeness (not my investments FYI), two keynote/fireside chats and four partner presentations (keeping the lights on baby!). Then we will have an intimate dinner for 150.
This is a tiny event, but we hope it has great density of people who care about these issues.
How to be involved:
a) If you want to attend you can buy a ticket here: http://goo.gl/8g5h4S
b) If you work at a retailer in transition please ping us for an invite & feedback at email@example.com
c) If you want to speak at the event you can apply here: http://goo.gl/0s5aQI
d) If you are broke and a founder/technologist with passion, we have 15 scholarships available for pre-funding startups: http://goo.gl/3Zsa3v
e) If you want to help keep the lights on and be one of the four presenting partners email firstname.lastname@example.org
f) If you are working press — on assignment covering the event — apply here: http://goo.gl/ePjsDn
g) We will not be live streaming the event, but some content will be released as This Week in Startups episodes: www.thisweekinstartups.com
Thanks to my friends at Pivotal Labs for partnering with me on this awesome event.
best @Jason Calacanis & the LAUNCH team
Related founders on the show:
Gowalla 12/3/2010: http://youtu.be/SGVp7XoYRaU
Dwolla 9/17/2013: http://youtu.be/BFeSgN1cQhg
Uber (1) 8/16/2011: http://youtu.be/550X5OZVk7Y
Uber (2) 3/4/2014: http://youtu.be/u_Baur8sT_8
StyleSeat: not yet, but we’re booking Melody soon!
Disney is in talks to acquire Maker Studios for $500m, according to Recode’s Peter Kafka. The entertainment giant’s recent acquisitions focused on IP: Marvel, Lucasfilm. Maker represents YouTube stars like PewDiePie and iJustine, which could dovetail nicely with Disney’s youth-focused TV programming. For Maker and its investors, the time is ripe for sale, with so much traffic reliant on YouTube and little distribution of its own outside of Google.
It’s going to be a big year for tech IPOs. Add to the list of companies expected to start public trading: Eventbrite, King Games (maker of Candy Crush), and China’s multibillion internet giant Alibaba, which could raise $15B. That will also be a big boon to Yahoo which has ~20% stake.
Bing LAUNCH of the Week: Imitone software turns your humming into electronic music, a Boston hospital built a Google Glass app to read patient data through QR codes, and Omaze wants to raise money by raffling off experiences with celebrities. This week: enter to win time with Arnold Schwarzenegger, crushing stuff in his tank.
Plus, are diversity problems specific to journalism and tech? And how valuable is the SXSW conference for techies?
Sarah Lacy of Pando Daily and Rafe Needleman of Yahoo Tech sat down with me for the This Week in Startups news roundtable.
Thanks to our great partners — show your love for the show by thanking them on Twitter! Click here to tweet your support (can edit before sending): http://ctt.ec/X93V8
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In 20 or 30 years, what will we look back on and say “That was the issue of our time?”
I ask hyper-intelligent people this question from time to time, and the answers are frequently similar: environment, equality, employment and wage disparity are common.
I believe employment and wage disparity are the critical issues of our time.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly and glaringly than in San Francisco. Rents in the city have skyrocketed and social unrest between the haves and have-nots has reached a boiling point. (Most recently, we saw protesters throwing a rock through the window of one of Google’s luxurious private buses.)
It’s hard for people not to hate technologists when faced with the absolute loathsomeness of three now-infamous industry executives: Peter Shih, Greg Gopman and Bryan Goldberg.
In three separate blog posts over the past year, these spoiled techbrats have shown the absolute worst qualities of the elite: a lack of empathy and class, combined with horrible entitlement — and the absolute inability to write.
Peter Shih, a startup founder, wrote that San Francisco is a city with a “pathetic excuse for a public transportation system,” where ‘I pay 80% of my salary to live down the street from crackheads and meth addicts” and which is home to “some of the craziest homeless people I have ever seen in my life” (his solution: “just hand them a handle of vodka and a pack of cigarettes, it’ll save everyone some trouble.”)
His bile was followed by Gopman’s post which claimed:
“The difference [between SF and elsewhere] is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay…
You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different…”
Not to be outdone, millionaire Goldberg — the most successful of all these executives, having sold the widely-regarded-as-spam site Bleacher Report — did a ‘satirical piece’ that showed a complete lack of awareness, intelligence or ability to compose satire. Salon dubbed it “rock bottom” in “tech’s culture war.”
Where to begin.
First, all three of these executives should be thankful they were born in a time when the ability to write code and understand technology was so absurdly rewarded as compared to the other crucial work of the world. Important things like teaching children to be productive citizens, running into burning buildings, protecting citizens from crime, doing CPR on people in cardiac arrest, and going to war and risking having your legs blown off by an IED.
In another age, say one where the ability to use a sword was the most in demand skill, these specimens wouldn’t have had the resolve to make it out of adolescence alive.
Second, if you are lucky enough to be absurdly rewarded as compared to the rest of society, a solid default position is to shut up and enjoy your epic rewards — not to taunt and abuse those less fortunate than yourself.
Third, if you have been delightfully rewarded for building websites — websites!!! — as opposed to digging ditches 10 hours a day, six days a week, perhaps you should look at those less fortunate than yourself with compassion and — gasp! — do something to help them?
Fourth, if your ability to write tops out at the Christmas card level, perhaps it would be wise for you to hone your skills before tackling the most sensitive and pressing issues of our time?
As my Tae Kwon Do teacher told me in me in my developing years, when I was prone to speak first and think second, “an empty can makes the most noise.”
These noisy individuals do not represent the technology industry within which I’ve built my career. No, the technologists of true success and merit develop and execute strategies to make society more just, fair and joyful for all.
Bill Gates gave up three or four delightful decades of working on building one of the great technology empires of all time to do things like eradicate malaria, provide clean drinking water and reinvent the condom so people would use them more often.
Mark Cuban dedicates his time to investing in startups that will never return even a small fraction of his wealth, while silently helping wounded soldiers and the poor (the details of which are largely unreported).
Elon Musk risked his entire fortune — and pushed himself personally to the brink — to get us off carbon and he’s still driving himself at an inhuman pace to “back up Earth” on another planet. (I’ve encouraged him to pace himself many times, but it’s just not how he is wired.)
Jeff Skoll has produced media — at great loss and risk at times — in order to expand people’s consciousness about important issues. Fast Food Nation, An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc, Darfur Now, and his new TV network, Pivot, which aims to package up serious issues for millennials.
The list of technologists doing great things for humanity is endless, but the media is obsessing over these pathetic, visionless grandstanders– and I don’t blame them. This level of stupidity and vileness is editorial manna from above. How could the media not focus in on it?
A society can best be judged by how the most privileged regard and treat the most vulnerable and weak.
I have a challenge for these three individuals: invest in HandUp, a wonderful startup trying to actually help the homeless and distraught individuals in San francisco (and eventually beyond, I’m sure). If you each invest $10,000 in Handup I will match each of you. (Note: I’m already an investor, having invested on the spot during my talk with Rose: http://youtu.be/h9PSGHg2Vl0).
[ Sidenote: It’s a B (as in ‘benefit)’ corporation similar to stuff like Tom’s Shoes or Ben & Jerry’s, which aims to build a sustainable business by making a platform to help organizations focused on the homeless and poor. It’s “kickstarter for the homeless” and I say that with pride, not as a joke. Note: any profit I make from this investment I will donate to the homeless. ]
It takes only a cursory amount of reading — start with the mayor’s offices multiyear study on the cities ~6,000 homeless — to understand that a large percentage of the homeless are suffering from depression, mental illness, substance abuse and/or the elimination of their jobs.
And keep in mind that the “disruption” that is so lauded in our industry is largely one that removes inefficiencies, frequently defined as a “humans” working in “jobs.”
I’d argue that society’s issues around job loss are largely attributable to the massive change brought on by the technology we are building, and the wealth we are creating for a small subset of society.
This fact is indisputable and I believe it puts the responsibility for the weakest in our society on us — the technologists and investors — who not by happenstance are benefiting from this change.
On a strictly pragmatic basis, if you’re rich and privileged in our violently changing society, ask yourself if the last couple of bitcoins or homes you own are worth having a brick thrown through the window of bus you’re riding on.
It is completely possible that in the next 10 years, the streets of San Francisco and Manhattan will be filled with riots and protests by disenfranchised individuals–oh wait, that was the last three years: http://youtu.be/8yXSC0U9M6c
What is the point of this ever expanding “long boom” if we leave so many behind?
What a shallow victory we will have wrought if so many suffer so greatly while we benefit so exorbitantly.
all the best, @jason
PS – Sorry to have not written the followup piece to #googlewinseverything, but I felt that this piece needed to come now–before another ‘techbro’ decides the world needs to know how stupid and insensitive they are. Second, I’m on deadline for the Jan. 23rd launch of www.inside.com, as well as the LAUNCH Hackathon (Feb 21-23) & LAUNCH Festival on Feb. 24-26th (http://festival.launch.co).
PPS – If I get a moment I’ll follow up on this piece by expanding the final two points–or perhaps someone with the ability to write like @paulcarr, @lons, @jasonpontin, @karaswisher, @hblodget, etc. could take on these two concepts:
a) What responsibility does the Tech Industry specifically have to the people it has made redundant?
b) Wouldn’t it be a better world for everyone if we used just a small portion of the massive profits being made to ensure that everyone had a place to live and eat, so our cities weren’t overrun with poverty, hunger and desperation, making American cities like Los Angeles essentially Third World nations?