My Next Act: Democratizing Venture Capital

I’ve been lucky enough to participate in almost 20 venture capital funds as an LP — limited partner — over the past decade. 

Unfortunately, these funds have historically been impossible to access, even as a person of means.

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They are raised quietly and deployed slowly. 

If you miss the window of when a fund raises, which typically occurs in months, you have to wait years for the next fund to be offered.  

You are invited into these funds if you can provide value to the firm’s general partners, typically because you have expertise in a vertical, influence, or a network they benefit from having access to.

In my case, it’s because I invest in angel and seeds rounds, which means I’m on the cap table before later-stage funds invest. So this lets me provide warm intros and insights to them — namely, which startups they should pay attention to. 

On the margin, the two podcasts I host are helpful as well. 

Having helped drive the democratization of angel investing with my book (“Angel”), TheSyndicate.com, and course, Angel.University, I’m now setting my sites on venture capital. 

Investors must be accredited to participate in VC funds. In the United States, 10% of households are considered accredited investors and 1.5% are considered qualified purchasers. However, the funds with the most established reputations have been sold out for decades with the same institutional LPs (think university endowments, foundations, and retirement funds). 

With my fourth fund, LAUNCH4, I’ve decided to allow potential LPs to hear our pitch over Zoom. I hosted three webinars last month and had over $40,000,000 in interest across 1,000+ RSVPs. 

These RSVPs came from members of our angel syndicate, a couple of tweets, and a mention on my two podcasts.

I’ve been able to do this because we elected to do a public fundraise for our 4th fund under the 506(c) designation. Previously, we raised under 506(b)

You can read more about this designation here, but essentially they require a bit more work by our team to verify that our LPs are qualified to invest (under 506(b), individuals can self-certify). 

So why wouldn’t all funds select 506(c) over 506(b)? Two reasons: first, they fill up, so they don’t need to, and second, the extra work it takes to certify. 

In my experience, these 10+ year vehicles have the potential to be a fantastic way to participate indirectly in company formation long before startups are known or go public. While past performance is not a predictor of future results, as an asset class, venture capital funds have historically done well over long horizons (you can read more about returns here).

Investing in a venture capital fund can also give individuals a window into the future economy on an ongoing basis by having access to GPs and their teams as they place bets on where the future is headed.

If you’re interested in joining us for a webinar, and you’re an accredited investor or qualified purchaser, email us and let us know if you’ve been an LP before and tell us a little about yourself at calacanis@launch.co. 

I look forward to meeting you! 

best, jason 

Social Media Addiction: Why I’m taking a Twitter break

For the second time in the past five years, I’ve decided to take a break from Twitter.

I’m a functional Twitter addict, getting all of my work done and maintaining important relationships while spending far too much time on the platform. 

When I wake up, I check Twitter before my email and Slack.

Before I go to bed, I thrash among Twitter, podcasts, audiobooks, and playing chess.  

All day long, be it a workday, the weekend, or on vacation, I’m sucked into my replies, trending topics, and Twitter feed. 

I love it, but sometimes I love it too much. 

While I don’t regret the time spent there, it is a blocker to getting other things done, and while it’s worth it on so many levels, the truth is it can put even the most optimistic person in a foul mood. 

The amount of trolling and dunking, which can be entertaining, can sometimes become exhausting. 

So, I decided this week to focus on two media channels for the rest of the year: my podcasts and my next book. 

I’m still checking Twitter, and I will retweet things and like them, but I’m not going to reply to folks OR start new tweets. 

I will automate the sharing of podcast episodes and blog posts to Twitter, so folks know when new content lands, but for now, I’m going to clear my mind and focus on getting my passion — This Week in Startups — to consistently publishing 5x a week. 

Oh yeah, I also do the All in Podcast weekly now, so that means I’m doing six podcasts most weeks. 

Now, for most humans, six podcasts a week seems like a lot, but for me, it’s like going to lunch or dinner six times a week with the most exciting people in the world — in other words, it’s nothing. 

That’s a lot of cognitive work.

My current plan is to take the rest of the year off Twitter and focus on the podcasts (TWIST & All In) and the book while growing my two startups, Inside.com and the LAUNCH fund. 

The last time I took off six months, I got the book ANGEL done, traveled the world to support it, and that little niche book sold tens of thousands of copies and was translated into 10+ languages … and my angel investing club (thesyndicate.com) grew from 1,000 members to 8,000. 

So, it’s time to write the book. I’m not ready to talk about the details yet (and I haven’t even sold it), but it’s going to be a barn burner.

Candidly, I’m more excited with you reading the book in the spring of 2022 than I am getting using Twitter right now. So, I’m going to follow my heart.   

best Jason

Note: I did a short audio piece on this decision last night on Racket.com

Rad Power Bike Review: it’s fun!

On 2021 startup valuations

Some folks in our angel investing club (thesyndicate.com) have asked me for my thoughts on the surge in early-stage valuations.

The market is scorching hot, with startups across all growth stages getting funded faster and at higher valuations. 

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The dollar amounts raised are often staggering, but so are the exits — which are driving this.

When there is a large number of meaningful exits — from Uber to Airbnb to Coinbase — investors get enthusiastic about investing in the next wave of unicorns.

This causes valuations to quickly double and triple, with investors reporting, “the valuation doesn’t matter if this becomes the next unicorn!”

Of course, it does matter since most companies go to zero, and you can invest in three startups at a $10m valuation for the same price you would pay for one at $30m. 

Three swings at bat dramatically increases your chances of hitting an outlier.

Now, if you could invest in Uber or Airbnb’s angel round, Series A, or Series B, you would certainly do it, but there is no way to know which startup is the next Uber or Airbnb (at least not with certainty). 

Our firm and investment club are adjusting to this moment to focus on four things:

  1. We are investing in high-quality startups at reasonable prices, as we have always done. 
  2. We are investing in select, very high-quality startups at these higher valuations. 
  3. We are helping existing portfolio companies raise money during this frothy market.
  4. We are meeting with as many startups as possible and noting when we pass because of the valuation so that we can meet with them again in the future. Many times a startup will “catch up” to a high valuation, and the next round will allow us to engage at a more defensible valuation. 

We invested in Calm, Uber, and Thumbtack for ~$15m — combined. 

While the $5m Seed round may be over for now, we have seen several pre-launch startups command $15m to $50m valuations. If those startups are led by a serial founder, it’s justifiable, but most of the time, they are first-time founders. 

We are content to sit out these Seed rounds and wait to see if the startup gets to product-market fit. If a pre-launch startup raises at a $50m valuation, for example, and then gets product-market fit and hits $1m in yearly revenue, the valuation is likely to be $10-25m in a normal market. 

This “filling in the valuation” strategy is acceptable for founders who have discipline, but it does carry the obvious risks of a down round if they don’t. Most founders seem to understand this, with many telling me, “I know this valuation is crazy, but we are taking advantage of this moment.” I would do the same if I were them, so no judgments — just make sure that you have the runway to fill in that valuation. 

For investors, you don’t have to hit every winner to be a big winner. In fact, you only need to hit one. 

In a hot market like today’s, we encourage members of our investment club to evaluate their goals, pace themselves, consider making adjustments to their strategy, and always remain disciplined — by focusing on great founders, quality products, and delighted customers.

Great founders.

Quality products. 

Delighted customers. 

Those things don’t happen by accident. 

Best, Jason
PS – Join us next week for Meet Our Fund, where 25 venture funds are pitching thousands of founders https://live.inside.com/meet-our-fund-j

Republic CEO Ken Nguyen on making early-stage investing for everyone | E1199

Top Takeaways

  • Ken’s worldview: crowd investing is a powerful way to give people around the world access to high-growth opportunities and give companies a way to raise money while creating a deeper connection to their community.
  • Startups are staying private longer, so platforms like Republic are the only way for the average person to get access to private companies.
  • Ken’s goal is to make it easy for people to begin investing for as little as $10. Republic achieves this by streamlining everything related to organization, legal, & compliance.
  • Republic uses a Crowd SAFE, which essentially groups all investors together as one line item on the startup’s capitalization (cap) table. This makes it easy for the company raising money to manage.

Listen on Apple Podcasts


Ken Nguyen (also appeared on E856)

  • Ken & his parents emigrated from Vietnam to California when he was in elementary school, which partially influences his mission to allow people from all over the globe to invest in great startups.
  • Co-Founder & CEO of Republic (2016-Present)
    • Equity crowdfunding platform
    • Republic empowers everyone to invest in the future they believe in by providing access to startups, real estate, crypto, and video game investments.”
  • Previously:

Republic’s Funding (more than $70m to date)

  1. $2.1M Seed AngelList, Upventures & others (Dec 2017)
  2. $12M Early Stage VC led by Binance Labs & NGC Ventures (Jun 2018)
  3. $36M Series A at $137M Post led by Galaxy interactive (March 2021)

Republic Stats

  • 1 million investors on the platform
  • Avg. raise is ~$600k

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Why is crowd investing a new thing?

  • After the Great Depression, Congress enacted legislation that only allowed “accredited investors” (read: millionaires) to invest in private companies
  • All non-accredited investors were deemed unfit to invest in private companies and were banished to the public markets and index funds
  • Investing and financial services continue to be highly regulated.
  • In 2012, Barack Obama signed into effect the JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act), The JOBS act went into effect in 2016 allowing for some equity crowdfunding
  • Republic focuses on Reg Crowd Funding (CF) and Reg A, these regulations were changed in March 15th, 2021 allowing for more investment:
    • CF: $5M max raise (previously $1.07M, set in 2016 Jobs Act)
    • A+: $75M max (previously $50M, set in 2016)
  • Republic is shaping laws – was referenced over 20 times in 2021 SEC ruling
    • The SEC is moving much faster than Ken though possible (still slower than private companies to protect investors).
    • Ken thinks President Biden’s SEC will move slower at loosening regulations than Trump’s because there is a different focus.

What it takes to raise on Republic

  • Diligence is required to list on Republic, but legal and accounting fees for new startups to raise is less than $15k (for most it is much less).
  • To use Republic to raise money, companies pay a fraction of the amount they are raising (on average):
    • 6% in cash
    • 2% in stake of the company (this gives Republic upside in the company and an incentive to make sure only good deals come on the platform)
  • Companies that have a large audience and bring investors to the Republic platform will pay a lower fee. You can think of them in two groups.
    • Those looking to find investors from the community that invests on Republic (Low fee)
    • Those with large following that will use this infrastructure to make it easy to raise (High fee)

Recent big raises on Republic

  • Sahil Lavingia (E1188 ) & Arlan Hamilton (E1080, Angel S2 E5, E772) both raised $5M rounds
    • Gumroad – Sahil Lavingia
      • Crowd SAFE: $5M raised at $100M valuation from 9346 investors
      • Co-investors: Naval, Jason Fried put in $1M as anchor investors
      • 8x price to earnings, over $10M ARR, growing 120% year over year, team of 10
    • Backstage Capital- Arlan Hamilton
      • Crowd IPA: $5M raised – for 10% of future earnings of Backstage capital (~10% carried interest & 10% management fees) from 6958 investors

“My question for VCs criticizing this model is: If your assessing a b2c business that has such a relationship with his customers that these customers would part ways with 500 bucks, not getting anything back [except equity], just on the belief that one day this company is going to succeed. Is it a good signal or is it a bad signal if a company can convince 10,000 customers?”

Ken Nguyen

How power is shifting to the crowd

  • When people are invested in a business they become evangelists for a product. This is especially helpful when a product becomes commodified (like Skyy Vodka Ken used to work for).
  • In 5 years of data from Republic there have not been instances of fraud (this doesn’t mean all investments worked out).
  • There are more reasons than purely financial why people invest on republic.

“Our tagline is aligning profit and passion. The smaller dollar amount that you enable someone to invest the passion bucket is going to be more and more important in their decision making process.”

Ken Nguyen
  • Republic’s social component:
    • People can write reviews on the platform, saying why they invested (it also shows amount invested if they check that box).
    • A co-investor is highlighted with their track record of investing.
    • There is a space for discussion on republic
    • See Review Screenshot & Co investors section

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Insights from Giggster Co-founder Hank Leber on building a location marketplace for creators & content production | E1196

Top Insights

  • Building a business on top of another platform is risky, as revenue can go to $0 overnight by no fault of your own
  • Adding simple and easy solutions to archaic industries and business processes can result in rapid adoption
  • Giggster filled their marketplace supply-side first: once there was a large volume of high-quality supply, demand generation was much faster and mostly organic
  • When all sources of revenue are on the line, even archaic industries like film production can adapt quickly
  • Since Giggster has been operating successfully before raising money, they know their unit economics and are comfortable putting together an aggressive growth plan

Intro / Problems with building on other platforms

Guest: Hank Leber | @hankleber

  • Co-Founder & Head of Growth, Giggster (April 2019-Present)
  • Website: https://giggster.com
  • Hank previously was CEO of GonnaBE a planning social media app (they presented at LAUNCH Festival). The concept of planning socially wasn’t embraced by users.
    • Lesson learned: if you put out your plans publicly and no one comes you look like a loser.

“You have an idea that everybody thinks sounds great, then there’s an ugly cultural truth somewhere that makes it not a real thing.”

Hank Leber
  • Hank also had a company called Vytmn which was a “growth as a service” tool built on top of Twitter
  • Twitter shut down one of their key features, the ability for to automate actions like DMs, which killed their revenue ($1M ARR at peak)

“… do not build on the back of another platform, if they can kill you, they will, it’s not your money. That’s their money that you’re stealing.”

Hank Leber

Giggster’s founding story

  • Hank and his Co-Founder Yuri Baranov were not from the film industry, they are tech entrepreneurs
  • How they discovered the market opportunity with Giggster:
    • Yuri is LA-based and lives in a nice house near the water
    • One day, a production scout knocked on his door and offered him $70K to shoot at his house over two days for CSI: Miami
    • The process included door knocking, clipboards, paper contracts and excel spreadsheets
      • this “business flow” was terrible for a $70K transaction, so Yuri told Hank about it and they started doing some research on the production location industry
      • After realizing the location industry had been run this way for decades, they started Giggster
  • Giggster is a two-sided marketplace for video production, meetings, weddings & events. Think Airbnb for production locations and events.
    • Larger clients would be Netflix, HBO, Hulu, large production companies, etc.
    • Smaller clients would be TikTokers, YouTubers, Vloggers, etc.
  • How Giggster differs from Airbnb and VRBO:
    • Short-term rental platforms do not allow production shoots because they require more overhead: insurance, more people per location then allowed, production parking, waivers, etc.
  • Giggster added a services element because some film production teams need higher-touch support (above $2500-$3000 a day) these services include:
    • Logistics
    • Permiting
    • Power
  • In California, you can rent your home for up to 14 days per year tax free
    • Giggster has some client who shut down their listing after being booked for 14 days for this reason

Creating the marketplace supply-side first

“What we’ve found is, chicken and the egg, locations matter first. As long as we have the supply we can generate the demand.”

Hank Leber on starting a marketplace

Giggster has almost 10,000 locations on the platform

  • In the early days, they filled the supply-side inventory by:
    • partnering with Hollywood agencies, who already had direct relationships with private property owners
    • they also knocked on doors for early customers
    • filling the supply-side first turned out to be a good decision, as it created an immediate flywheels with renters
  • Customers needed a lot of education, so Giggster built out detailed FAQs and comprehensive signup flows
  • Demand has been strong and scouts are now loading their locations onto Giggster
  • If a major client (Netflix, HBO, etc.) needs a location that does not exist on Giggster, they will hire location scouts to go find and matching location and on-board them
  • Giggster saw an opportunity to expand with cheap inventory from pandemic disruption (commercial real estate, restaurants, etc.)

Pitching at Remote Demo Day, raising via Jason’s Syndicate

” (Regarding Jason’s Syndicate), the money is actually secondary to the quality of the network.”

Hank Leber
  • Self-funded for 3.5 years while they figured out the business
    • Took ~3 years to build a solid base and infrastructure, and now they are seeing rapid growth
  • Yuri (Hank’s Co-Founder) told him to go try and land Jason Calacanis as an investor, so Hank started reaching out to mutual contacts and eventually got a slot in a Remote Demo Day session over the summer
  • Remote Demo Day format:
    • Seven founders pitch thousands of investors over Zoom
    • Pitches are three minutes each, with a two minute Q&A with judges after
    • After all pitches are finished, the judges vote on their top three and the audience members (accredited investors) vote for their #1 company in a poll
    • One day later, all 7000+ members of Jason’s Syndicate get an email with the recording and a sheet where they can pre-commit a dollar amount to invest
    • Any companies that receive over $200K in interest are syndicated!
  • Giggster was The Syndicate’s largest investment ever
    • According to Hank, the quality of the network of investors created additional value beyond the capital invested

Giggster’s use cases and emerging content business models

  • Giggster collects 15% from the final host payout as a service fee
  • Daily rates for a shoot range $2-30K per day depending on how high-end the location is
    • the average is around $8-10K
    • Larger long-term deals will hit 7 figures
      • example: ABC renting a mansion for The Bachelor for three months
  • Production came back online quickly during the pandemic, the film industry was really aggressive and inventive about their protocols
    • Even in an industry resistant to change, all of the money drying up overnight caused people to change their minds FAST
  • Giggster holds production companies accountable and cares a lot about reputation.
    • Location marketplaces need to maintain a good relationship with cities & neighborhoods so they can continue to operate
    • Typically the professional production companies have outstanding reputations for taking care of properties, however, a new potential business model is more uncertain…

TikTok content houses are a new media business model

  • Sway & Hypehouse are the most famous TikTok houses
    • These are new media operations that have very different needs and filming styles than traditional production.
    • They don’t have big camera crews but are also notoriously crazier than a film studio.
    • It’s not cut and dry how to service these creators yet, so that’s where Giggster is attacking the opportunity:
      • They are working to pick the right locations (areas with more space and fewer neighbors), and figuring out the insurance needs to service these new smaller-scale customers

Scaling Giggster

  • The importance of network relationships and trust is key for B2B. Cold emails work worse in this category.
  • Since Giggster has been operating successfully before raising money, they know their unit economics and are comfortable putting together an aggressive growth plan

” [once] you get dollars in the door and deliver real value with product-market fit, adding money to scale is a math equation instead of trying to paint a picture and tricking people into buying your vision of the future.”

Hank Leber

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Joanne Wilson’s Top Insights | Angel S5 E10

Top Insights

  • Raising at a juiced valuation can have devastating downstream consequences for a startup.
  • Recent momentum in funding underestimated founders has helped firms realize the opportunity of having a diverse team of investors.
  • It is harder than ever to be a “generalist” investor. To succeed in today’s market you need a thesis.
  • Portfolio management near the peak is key to thriving in a down market.

Background / Intro

  • Joanne Wilson is a blogger, businesswoman and angel investor with 130+ investments.
    • She mostly invests in women and underestimated founders.
  • Back in the 1990’s, Joanne was Jason’s top sales executive at Silicon Alley Reporter and taught him a very important lesson: sales solves everything. “If you have a great person who can sell, everything goes in the right direction.” – Jason Calacanis

Spotting a bubble, impact of juiced valuations on startups

“… we’ve seen it so many times over the past 20 years. (Founders) end up with a down round even though (they’ve) done a good job.”

“(After raising a down round) that company is damaged. And then institutional investors have moved on into something new and something else and you’re f****d.”

Joanne Wilson
  • How raising during a bubble can create downstream issues:
    • Founders raise at an inflated valuation, and then have to put up crazy numbers to justify a higher valuation in their next round of funding
    • So, even really good companies can “get ahead of their skis” and fail to justify their mid-bubble valuations
    • If a company then raises a down round, that puts a black mark on their resume that is hard to erase, especially if VC money starts drying up
      • or, as Joanne puts it: “You’re f****d.”
  • There is a direct correlation between media sales and the strength of the overall economy
    • According to Joanne, you can check the thickness of each issue of her four decade Vogue collection to see how the economy was doing that year
  • Ad-based companies should bank as much revenue as possible (and even create new inventory if necessary), because high demand won’t last forever

Positive changes to diversity in venture capital over the past 15 years

“There is a whole group of amazing black founders that no one who is a white investor has ever seen. It was the same thing when I started investing in women, there were all these amazing women out there but no one wanted to meet them…” – Joanne Wilson

  • More women and people of color are starting companies and becoming venture capitalists, so the industry is being changed from both sides
  • It’s been 15 years in the making, but the venture industry is finally starting to see real change with funding dollars moving in the right direction
  • Seeing a team page with a bunch of white males on it is an immediate red flag for some investors
  • Investors are funding and hiring people of color for different reasons:
    • some are doing it because they care about making real change
    • others are ashamed at the lack of diversity in their portfolio and on their team
      • both reasons are helping drive change

Difficulty of being a “generalist” investor in 2021, portfolio management in a bubble

“…as an angel you need to take money off the table when it has gotten silly.”

Joanne Wilson
  • Being a generalist investor was great 15 years ago when there were fewer startups overall
  • To be a generalist investor in 2021 you need a team of people around you for market research, diligence, etc. since there are so many startups doing similar things
  • Portfolio management in a bubble:
    • Some greener VCs have never seen a down market
    • Selling a percentage of your winners at or near the peak is a great way to hedge against a rapid downturn
    • For example, Joanne’s husband Fred Wilson lived through this during the dot-com crash of 2000

Watch/Listen to the full episode:

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Snack App’s Kim Kaplan PLUS 3 key metrics for consumer, enterprise SaaS & marketplace startups | E1195

Top Insights

“Every 8 to 10 years there’s a new dating app that kind of enters into the space and Tinder’s now nine years old. So it is the right time for that next dating app to come in and usurp them. And I fundamentally believe that’s what Snack is doing with a video-first approach.” – Kimberly Kaplan

  • Snack was created to optimize a single dating platform for Gen Z
    • What was the problem?
      • Users, especially Gen Z, would match on Bumble or Tinder and immediately move the conversation & interaction to other apps like Snap & Instagram
      • On those platforms, users would reply to each others’ stories and casually flirt, rather than carrying on in a more high-pressure DM conversation on the dating apps
  • Learning different lessons from different Match.com properties:
    • Tinder: design-driven
    • Match: marketing-driven
    • Plenty of Fish: data-driven”Match has done a phenomenal job at working with different companies and acquiring different companies.” – Kimberly Kaplan
  • It has been significantly easier to raise capital for Snack post-Bumble’s IPO.
    • A sector can become stale to investors, especially after being burned repeatedly.
    • Proof of a publicly traded challenger company makes picturing startups’ success easier.

Ask Jason

From TWiST Slack member Alan from (msb.ai):

Aside from a PR news wire or DIY PR methods, how else can a company with over $1M in revenue let people in VC know about us?

Jason’s Answer:

  • Celebrate your wins, write a short blog post when you hit milestones (300-500 words).
  • Content Marketing on Twitter, LinkedIn (social media), start following VCs and engage with them. Host conversations where you can share your expertise.
  • Run targeted promotions of your best blog posts to VCs and like-minded individuals.
  • Send monthly updates to non-investors.

From Jacob:

As a new investor – what key metric would you look for in these 3 different types of startups: consumer subscriptions, marketplaces, b2b saas?

  • Consumer Subscriptions (Calm, Netflix, Spotify)
    • What is the user profile of your top users, and what is the retention and churn like for those top-tier users?
    • Customer acquisition cost
  • Marketplaces (UberEats, Doordash, Zillow)
    • Frequency of use (transactions per customer)
  • Bottom-up Enterprise SaaS
    • Land-and-expand, or net dollar retention (NDR)
    • NDR measures impact on revenue generation from existing customers
    • If your net dollar retention is over 100%…
      • It means your startup will grow revenue only from its existing customer base, without needing to acquire any new customers
      • It also means you have achieved net negative churn:
        • which is when revenue gained from existing accounts exceeds revenue lost from churned accounts – (see David Sacks on churn)
        • an example would be: more existing Slack customers expand from free to paid accounts then churn or downgrade from paid to free
        • According to David Sacks, the master of bottom-up SaaS, this is a great signal for your B2B company

Kimberly Kaplan

  • CEO & Co-Founder, The Snack App (Nov 2019-Present), launched in 2021
  • Website: https://www.thesnackapp.com
  • Funding
  • Formerly worked at Plenty of Fish (2009-2018)
    • Started as VP Marketing & Advertising (3rd person at company)
    • Became VP Product Management, Revenue Optimization & Marketing
    • Grew Daily Active Users (DAUs) from 1M to over 4M and Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) from $10M to over $100M
    • sold to Match Group for $575M in 2015

The Snack App

“You shouldn’t have to date across two platforms. That’s why we built Snack to pull the best of the two together.” -Kim Kaplan

  • A video-first dating app that asks users to create a video and post it to a feed.
  • Users can scroll through a feed (like Instagram) and when someone likes a video, it opens up the ability to comment.
  • Once two users have liked each others’ videos, DMs are open.
  • She reached out to a Gen Z focus group to name the app and come up with the logo. Snack is a Gen Z term for cute/attractive.
  • Snack is not a static app where you update 5 photos. Snack has more dynamic profiles to show off and interact.

How Kim got the idea

  • Saw that people were trying to date on TikTok (making a video with bio about themselves), 13B views of #single on TikTok
  • Users, especially Gen Z, would match on Bumble or Tinder and immediately move the conversation & interaction to other social media like Snap & Instagram
  • On social, users would reply to each others’ stories and more casually flirt, rather than carrying on in a more high-pressure DM conversation on the dating apps

Dynamics of modern Dating Apps

  • Snack app is breaking out the gender categories to better reflect society.
  • Snack is looking more toward social media instead of what the legacy dating apps are doing.
  • Most dating apps are now using a freemium model where people can pay more to get more features or matches.
  • Match.com is the dominant company in the dating apps space:
    • 10.9M average subscribers
    • $2.4B in revenue
    • Brands include: Tinder, Hinge, Match, Meetic, Pairs, BLK, Plenty of Fish, OurTime, Upward, and Chispa
  • Bumble has been a strong competitor and allowed more investor confidence for dating apps challenging Match’s dominance.
  • Kim learned from each different portfolio company in Match.com
    • Tinder: design-driven
    • Match: marketing-driven
    • Plenty of Fish: data-driven
  • Facebook is a massive channel for dating app acquisition
  • Apple is stingy about dating app approvals, Kim had to pull strings to get it approved. Apple has a high quality bar for these apps.

Startup vs. Large company

  • In the early days of Plenty of Fish “we could sit around a table and drink wine in the afternoon because there were only 6 of us.”
  • There are clear changes in how an organization feels at 30, 60 and 90 employees.

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Paul Judge on helping lead SoftBank’s $100M Opportunity Fund, the future of VC & more | This Week in Startups Blog

Top Insights

  • Investing over zoom expands the top of the funnel and lowers the barrier to entry for all founders
    • Investors can take 2-5x more meetings with founders from anywhere in the world
  • Paul’s thesis: Investing in overlooked founders will likely generate outsized returns
    • The American Southeast and Midwest include 44% of the US population but only receive 14% of VC funding
    • Despite this, 36% of last year’s Inc. 5000 reside in these regions with a median growth rate of 161% year-over-year
  • The “either-or” debate between making existing firms invest in underrepresented founders from their main funds OR raising “opportunity” funds that are specifically focused on underrepresented founders isn’t helpful, both are necessary to make VC funding more equitable
  • Jay-Z had the best Q1 2021 of any entrepreneur or investor
    • Tidal was acquired by Square for $297M, he sold 50% of Ace of Spades to LVMH for ~$300M, launched $10M cannabis-focused fund to back black founders, Oatly filed for IPO


  • Paul Judge, Ph.D. is Managing Partner of Panoramic Ventures, a VC fund that invests in “underserved geographies and overlooked founders” prioritizing the American Southeast and Midwest. Paul is also Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Pindrop, an information security company that provides risk scoring for phone calls to detect fraud and authenticate callers). Pindrop’s most recent valuation was $900m in 2018.
  • Paul also serves on the investment committee for SoftBank’s $100m+ Opportunity Growth Fund to invest in Black, Latinx and Native American founders
  • Paul is based in Atlanta, but has become a Miami regular.
  • Atlanta’s startup scene is heating up:
    • Airbnb just located it’s East Coast engineering team there
    • Local Unicorns: Calendly ($3B), Greenlight ($1.2B, consumer fintech), Rubicon ($1B, recycling technology), SalesLoft ($1B, sales software)
    • Strong talent pipeline from Georgia Tech

The virtual-first investing paradigm shift

“I see more companies than I would have seen otherwise, the top of funnel is wider. From the entrepreneur’s standpoint, it’s easier to get a meeting with an investor than it was traditionally. That means a whole new generation of entrepreneurs that wouldn’t have had access, now have more access to venture capital funds & angel investors.”

Paul Judge
  • Paul has made 25 investments in 2020, all over Zoom. He has met 2 founders in person, but only after investing.
  • Being an active investor in 2020 required going virtual. Most investors never considered this a viable method prior to the pandemic. Both Paul & Jason discovered that virtual investing offered a new set of benefits:
    1. Investors can take 2-5x more meetings because intro meeting times went from 2-3 hours to 20-30 minutes. How?
      • Commutes and pleasantries are eliminated, and everyone gets down to business ASAP.
      • Conversations now start with hard numbers. Entrepreneurs have become more direct in their approach, making the information needed to diligence an investment up-front in their first email.
    2. Investors now have much greater access to founders outside their city. Travel and cost of living in the Bay Area are high and are no longer an obstacle for founders.
      • By taking more meetings from broader geography, investors are able to reduce their bias.
      • With more meeting slots available, it’s easier to take a chance on a founder you wouldn’t have met with pre-COVID.
    3. Virtually, the pattern-matching necessary to be a great VC becomes more about assessing the founder based on their performance, rather than by charisma or presentation skills.

How Paul Judge invests

  • Paul’s Techsquare Labs was focused on backing top talent (students & professors) from local universities like Georgia Tech, funding founders at the pre-seed and seed stages.
  • He is now expanding to be involved at Series A & B both at SoftBank and Panoramic Ventures, which just launched a $300M fund.
  • Paul knew 2/4 other members of the Softbank Opportunity fund’s investment committee from being a part of the 2016 class of Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Fellow Program.
  • Panoramic’s thesis: investing in overlooked founders will generate outsized returns.
    • The American Southeast and Midwest receive only 14% of VC funding even though they include 44% of the country’s population.
    • 36% of last year’s Inc. 5000 reside in these regions with a median growth rate of 161% year-over-year.

How to make investing more equitable

“Black founders are not just solving black problems, they are solving some of the most meaningful problems that exist.”

Paul Judge
  • The “either or” debate between making existing firms invest in underrepresented founders out of their main funds OR raising “opportunity” funds that are specifically focused on underrepresented founders isn’t helpful, we need both to make venture capital more equitable.
  • VC firms typically don’t change their partners often (turnover typically occurs with a new fund every 3-7 years), so adding new diverse partners to existing firms is a slow process.
    • The industry needs to evolve in this way, while also meeting fiduciary responsibility to limited partners who invested in the fund.
  • Purpose-built investment vehicles like SoftBank’s Opportunity Fund have a clear mission and can make an impact right away.
    • Another benefit is creating an ecosystem where some of the top underrepresented entrepreneurs can support & inspire each other.

Jay-Z’s groundbreaking Q1 2021

“I was just talking with somebody about who had the best quarter, Chamath or some other venture capitalist and I was was like, ‘No, I think Jay Z had the best, he just sold half Ace of Spades to LVMH.'”


“I love that love Jay-Z’s going after industries that have traditionally been unfair to the people that have been creating value. The music industry is traditionally unfair to the creators, so he did Tidal. In food and beverage, the Crystal CEO got shot himself in the foot, so [Jay-Z] went after that. Then if you look at the cannabis industry, I mean, it’s not exactly tech, but it’s creating tens of billions of dollars of value. It’s one of the most valuable crops that this country’s ever seen. But if you look at everyone that’s going public, there’s no diversity, but we all know this country was built on the backs of blacks tending to crops.”

Paul Judge

Companies Paul shouted out during the episode

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Kevin Rose’s product philosophy, Reddit & Digg’s inverse journeys & Twitter’s new product innovations | This Week in Startups Blog

Kevin Rose

Top Insights

  • Products must begin with only 2-3 key features. Once there is traction, you can prioritize what features to build next by asking users for feedback.
  • Fewer features allow you to launch quicker, at a lower cost, and actually determine if there is product-market fit.
  • Replacing a founder with “professional management” to commercialize a business often kills the product and company culture. (See Tobi’s Rule EP 1184)
  • Twitter’s new product roadmap offers an antidote to the chaos of text-based social media, a natural extension that compliments their core product.
  • NFT & blockchain technologies will revolutionize the ways we manage rights & ownership, despite most projects in the space likely being worthless.


  • Kevin Rose is a partner at True Ventures, a consumer-focused venture firm with early bets on Peloton, Fitbit, Blue Bottle, Ring and more. He hosts the “Kevin Rose Show” Previously, he founded the social news site Digg, the intermittent fasting app ZERO, and the meditation app OAK.
  • His most notable investment include: Twitter, Facebook, Zynga, Square, Medium, Foursquare, Nextdoor, Blue Bottle Coffee, Clever, Ripple, Oura.
  • Kevin’s past This Week in Startups appearances:

Experience as a founder vs. investor

“Nothing beats the rush when you launch a new product. The ultimate peak as a founder is to have people using something that you created.”

Kevin Rose
  • Some downsides of being a founder include managing people, making hard initial engineering hires, fighting for talent, and having difficulty sleeping.
  • Kevin prefers building a product in the early stages over trying to scale a growth-stage startup.
  • A common mistake founders make is not asking for help when they don’t understand how to do something. Great founders seek out mentors and soak up information like a sponge.
    • For instance, when Mark Zuckerberg visited Digg in the early days of Facebook, Kevin was surprised at how unafraid Zuck was to ask questions and be vulnerable.
  • Investing is fun because you get to identify companies early on and try to imagine how it could become a multi-billion dollar business (and sometimes that happens!).
  • There will always be a randomness in investing:

“Some investments, I really did a good job getting the deal done. I tracked down Jack [Dorsey], I had him on my podcast, I convinced him to be an Angel in Square. But the crazy thing is that I’ve had cryptocurrency investments outpace that return, just because somebody asked ‘hey, do you want to throw in some cash on this crazy new up-and-coming project?’ and I put a little bit of money in and it returned a boatload.”

Kevin Rose

Product philosophy

“Pound for pound as product person [Kevin is] part of an elite top 10 alongside Elon, Steve Jobs, and Alex from Calm. When [Kevin] makes a product it just comes out great.”

  • Creative people are filled with ideas, but you need discipline to boil it down to the simplest version of your product vision.
    • Pick only two or three things that absolutely must exist and do them really well.
  • Building fewer features shortens the development timeline down to just a couple of months versus 6-8 months.

Case study on Kevin building Zero Fasting

  • Problem: Kevin read promising research on intermittent fasting from Dr. Valter Longo at USC. There were human placebo, double-blinded, “gold standard” studies showing autophagy, improved glucose levels, and reduced chemotherapy side effects. In short, fasting was helping people live longer with less disease.
  • Market Research: There was nothing on the App Store dedicated to fasting. Using your phone’s timer was inadequate because it didn’t track historical fasting data.
  • The essential features: Timer + Calendar. Allowing for historical performance, average fast duration, streaks, etc.
  • Kevin’s subtle fingerprint on Zero: Showing the live number of simultaneous fasters on the platform in order to create a feeling of community, due to the difficulty of fasting – especially in the early stages. “570,345 people are fasting with Zero”
The Zero app, note the “active faster” count at the top
  • Essentialism creates a clear user value proposition & lets you bring it to market quickly.
  • Once you have traction, there is an opportunity to add the other features you wanted to build. More importantly, your community is going to start telling you what they want.
  • Digg would survey 1 in 100 users, asking them to stack-rank the list of features the Digg team wanted to add. By combining the team’s product insight with the input from users, the community was engaged and excited.
  • Kevin invented the “Like” Button on Digg (called “diggs”).
  • Don’t get high on your own supply as a product person. Keep trying and keep iterating.

“If you try and fail as many times as I can, you will get some home runs from just the sheer number of times you’ve had the at-bat.”

Kevin Rose

Lessons from Digg & Mahalo

  • Jason saw Digg early in 2004 and was impressed with how quickly it became a top source of traffic for his company Weblogs, Inc
    • Jason got a verbal OK from Weblogs investor Mark Cuban to try to buy Digg for $1M.
  • Jason’s idea for Mahalo was 10 years too soon: “I knew that search would change from 10 blue links to what it is now. I even came up with that name, ‘comprehensive search.’ What if the images and the video and content were mixed with the search results? -Jason
  • Branding Mahalo: Jason considered which companies and products had the most beautiful logos. Thunderbird and Firefox came to mind, so Jason tracked down the designer Jon Hicks.
Mozilla Firefox & Thunderbird Logo
Mozilla Firefox & Thunderbird logos
  • There was a 6-month wait due to the demand for Jon’s design genius, so Jason made a series of aggressive offers to jump to the front of the line. Jon’s Mahalo logo was an instant hit amongst “product-people” like Kevin Rose.
Mahalo Logo
  • Beware of relying on one source of organic traffic: Mahalo was making thousands of dollars per day from ad revenue. But when Google released the Panda update for search, 90% of Mahalo’s traffic went away overnight. Even with influential connections at Google, Jason was told search was a “black box” and nobody was able to help.
  • Professional management” can destroy a product and the culture around it: Digg’s 3.0 redesign made it more commercial, prioritizing publishers instead of the content the community loved. The goal was to become a bigger business, but it destroyed the core product value and eventually led to Kevin’s departure.

Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse

  • Not needing to download a new app reduces friction and it’s easy to get “40 blue checkmarks in a room” on Twitter, since influential people are already there.
  • Twitter has been slow to add features or change the core product, which they have been lambasted for by power users. However, it’s also a secret sauce to success. Reddit is in a similar boat with their product history.
  • Twitter Spaces is a natural extension the platform. Audio has the power to create a meaningful dialogue to offset the “dunking” and tensions created from the current lack of tone/context on Twitter.
  • Social media founders didn’t set out to create chaos online, and these new features can help realize an idealistic vision of an at-scale social product. “I think that you’ll use text until you feel misunderstood or the conversation devolves significantly and someone says ‘you guys should talk it out in a Twitter Space.'” -Jason

NFT & blockchain technologies hold promise & potential pitfalls

“I’ve been tracking NFTs for a long time. I believe there’s going to be a lot of garbage in the space when every artist with Photoshop can become an ‘NFT Master’. But there’s a lot of really credible projects reimagining rights, distribution and ownership.”

Kevin Rose
  • Tokenized ownership can allow the creator of an object to receive a portion of the proceeds every time the asset changes hands.
  • Some potential revolutionary use cases:
    • Unisocks has dynamically priced socks where the token can be exchanged for the physical product (it’s silly because these are socks but imagine them as Yeezy’s or other high-end collectibles). This allows for price speculation on objects without needing to hold physical inventory.
    • Backing early musicians, where the owner of the token is entitled to residual music royalties.
    • Media licensing on the blockchain, where every artist/creator can set the price to license their creation.

If you have your own notes, tag @twistartups on twitter and we will link them here.

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