Introduction to the San Francisco Startup Community Presentation via Ahmed Siddiqui
Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem
Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams
I use it as my gas, so they say that I’m gassed
But without it I’d be last, so I ought to laugh
-Kanye West, Last Call
Post Accelerator Motivation
Its Monday, October 22nd, 2012 and I am feeling motivated and encouraged. I’m pursuing my entrepreneurship goals fresh out of YCombinator Startup School this past weekend. I had this same feeling earlier this year after attending my first TED conference in Long Beach. Now starting to hit my stride in San Francisco after spending a few months heads down focusing on what I am going to do next after leaving the startup accelerator, NewME Accelerator, that I co-founded. Yes, if you did not know, I left in May a little over a year it launched. We went through two cycles of startup founders who dropped everything to move to Silicon Valley to turn their startup dreams into a reality. They worked to developed their product, gained valuable insight from first class mentors who live and breath the valley and then demoed their products to VC firms and press. It was a great experience and hard to believe that I launched a startup accelerator. One of my friends mentioned the other day that I may be one of 50 or so people who can say they have launched an accelerator in Silicon Valley. More on why I left in a future blog post — there is more to what people saw on the CNN documentary that followed us last year.
Before launching the accelerator in 2011 until now, I’ve learned a lot about the culture of Silicon Valley. Now that I live in San Francisco, I have an entirely different perspective on what investors look for, the tech community and better ways to help entrepreneurs outside Silicon Valley.
When I first left NewME, I was on the verge of launching an online “readiness” program; a pre-accelerator for tech entrepreneurs. Notice I did not say it was for “minority” entrepreneurs but for all entrepreneurs regardless of race and gender. I had talked with leading Silicon Valley venture capital firms and national programs such as America21 and Startup America. We all agreed that as more first time entrepreneurs are considering applying for accelerators and seeking venture capital, there is a need for an online mentorship and feedback platform. I was putting together a small team in San Francisco and was going to start the program under the Simplistic Labs brand. But despite already advising and co-founding two previous startups, I wanted to launch a successful company / product in Silicon Valley. That lead to creating PitchTo.
Problem Solving With A Purpose
PitchTo solves multiple problems not only for the entrepreneurship community but for investors as well. PitchTo is a mobile development lab which builds tools for investors to make smarter decisions and help entrepreneurs deliver exceptional pitches. The vision of PitchTo came to me from four problems that I experienced first hand.
1. Entrepreneurs/Founders need a better way to collect and manage feedback on their product and pitch before meeting with investors.
2. Associates, analysts and angel investors spend countless hours on the phone, in-person meetings, attending demo days, hackathons and pitch events listening to pitches without a streamlined process to collect, rate and manage pitches real-time on mobile devices.
3. The feedback loop among entrepreneurs and investors could be vastly improved.
4. Various pitch events, conferences are using outdated methods and loosing data that could be valuable for both the entrepreneur, journalist, judges or investors.
After brainstorming on the problem, I knew I would need a team to start building a product. I sent a few emails and tweets to developers I knew and reached out to some talented people I’d met via AngelList. Then I organized a one day hackathon to start working on the first PitchTo MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
Team Building Lessons Learned
After the PitchTo hackathon, if you would have asked me where we would be at by October, I would have almost guaranteed that our first product would be ready for beta testing. But it’s not. One common question many entrepreneurs ask is how to find a technical co-founder. If you are looking for a technical co-founder or any co-founder, finding one is just half the battle. Here are a few question and suggestion you should consider:
Best platform – Once you know the platform, you can determine the best language.
Before agreeing to become a team, make sure everyone is on board to see the product launch through the good times and not so good times.
Vet technical co-founders via their github profile, contributions to open source projects, stack overflow engagement, previous projects and personal referrals via word-of-mouth.
Regardless of skills needed, make sure you can work well together and the potential co-founder is a culture fit.
After a few months of project managing and going through “startup life” hurdles with the team, I decided to part ways. Luckily while attending the Google Ventures BBQ I was able to recruit another developer and keep PitchTo’s development going. While the initial focus was on a web app, I have the developer focusing on the mobile platform. I continue to build out the app design, web platform and UI/UX along with doing customer development with potential customers several times a week. Basically everything it will take to launch the company’s first product.
During the early stages of PitchTo I knew that keeping things legit was important. This is where having a good law firm comes in. Getting incorporated can be the easy part but having to deal with equity, vesting shares or co-founder changes can be a challenge.
Customer Development with Investors
I have talked with over 50 angel investors, venture capital firms and incubators about the process of evaluating pitches, what they look for in a startup and current processes in place to communicate with founders. It has been a great learning lesson and I can tell you that if there is an industry ready for disruption, it’s in the venture capital and investment space.
From the beginning of PitchTo, I knew I would need to do tons of customer development to gain insider knowledge of how investors in Silicon Valley and San Francisco operate. I already relationships with a number of investors across the country before coming out here to launch my accelerator but moving to the Bay Area made it easier to expand that even further by attending local events, conferences and pitch events aimed at the tech startup community. No matter what product you are building, make customer development part of your development process.
Finding Mentors and Advisors
I cannot say enough good things about my official and unofficial mentors during this experience. Being able to meet with amazing people such as Bill Campbell, Mitch Kapor, Stephen Adams and others has been priceless and a great resource of information, encouragement and honest advice. As an entrepreneur, you need a few types of people around you:
That is what mentors are for.
Finding mentors can be as difficult as finding a co-founder. My advice is after you set your goal to launch a company, start reaching out to potential mentors for coffee. Once the coffee meeting happens, ask for feedback and if it sounds constructive, ask it’s ok to keep them informed on your progress. Do not just ask, “hey can you be my mentor” on or after the first meeting — that’s lame and will send the person running the other way because everyone is busy. It’s about building a relationship first.
Seeking Entrepreneur in Residence Opportunities With Venture Capital Firms
During the customer development process, I realized that one way to improve the launch traction of PitchTo would be to partner with a venture capital firm so I decided to reach out to a San Francisco based VC firm that I had a relationship with. I talked with one of the partners about joining the team as an EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence). I met with the partner and made my “pitch” to join the firm. He then asked his partners to meet with me. I was excited! After a phone meeting, about 15 emails and a face-to-face meeting, they decided to not to offer me a position. That process lasted about a month.
Not being the one to give up I reached out to another VC firm on Sand Hill Road. Now these were two firms I felt strongly about because of their history in the valley, their portfolio companies and because of my connection with the partners. This time would be different; I had a good referral and just knew it was going to work out. I scheduled the meeting and made my ask with the partner; I had already met with other partners and team members to learn as much as I could about the firm and this partner. I practiced my talking points on how I would value, my insights to date on specific startups and so on. The partner meeting was short and I was passed on to another partner. Looking good! It took about a month of waiting for the next phone meeting which I hoped the call would be about negotiating the terms of my employment for the position but instead it was a “we do not have the budget call”. Talk about a disappointment! I’ve heard that venture capitalists don’t want to tell entrepreneurs their product or idea is bad because you don’t want to discourage them. Hearing this about the budget being a factor felt the same way. As I walked back to my Zipcar in the parking lot, I looked for a little pebble to kick but found none. What now?
I kept turning over what had happened and tried to see it from another perspective. What went wrong here? During my customer development interviews with investors, I constantly heard they were looking for new deal flow from within the Silicon Valley community and outside the Bay Area too. Since the CNN documentary aired, I am constantly receiving pitches from entrepreneurs looking for capital or advisors. This exposure has led to some pretty amazing opportunities as well like the African mobile app initiative to connect the growing Africa entrepreneurship community with mentors and advisors internationally.
I’ve been in the startup scene since 2002 with a well connected social network, having co-founded two companies and an accelerator, plus with my seriously strong UI/UX design skills, I would be great asset to any startup or venture firm.
As I continue to get PitchTo ready for launch, I am going to continue my customer development with VC firms and incubators to partner with for this product. Whether or not I am brought in as an EIR or analyst at a venture capital firm in the Bay Area is still an unknown variable but certainly not null.
2012 Experiences and Opportunities
As this year comes to a close, I look back and see it’s been a year of personal and professional growth beyond anything I could have imagined coming from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Here’s a mini review of my 2012.
January – Keynote: National Black Student Leadership Conference for the Williams Leadership Education Foundation
February – Moved to San Francisco, CA and Attended TED (not TEDx)
March – Spoke at SXSW, received award for Top Ten Blacks In Technology, NCAA Final Four
May – Spoke at Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference & Expo, Left the NewME Accelerator and founded PitchTo, held the PitchTo Hackathon
June – Spoke at Startup Day on the Hill in Washington, DC
October – Attended Pipeline Fellowship Conference on Angel Investment, attended YC Startup School
I was able to attend various startup conferences and events such as:
TechCrunch Disrupt, Twilio Con, Google Ventures BBQ, Box Works, Mashery API Conference, the TechCrunch August Capital Party. Speaking of TechCrunch I have published two articles on TechCrunch as well.
October – Astia Panel during Global Entrepreneur week
December – Mentor, Lean Startup Conference
Value And Opportunities… Let’s Talk
Launching a business is not an easy task. Just ask any successful founder. It is a struggle and the lessons from those struggles are what can make you a great founder. I am constantly learning and yet I know what value I bring to the table regardless of not graduating from, or for the cool kids, dropping out of an Ivy league school. I don’t have any additional letters after my name like PhD or a certificate on my wall. I’m from a small town with a population of less than 300 in North Carolina but have grown my network through hard work, honesty and a willingness to help others. What I have learned is that to be successful in San Francisco, It’s a question of of not “if” I can raise venture capital or work for certain firm but “when”.
“Don’t Lose Faith”
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle
. — via Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address
Open For Business
Even though I’m working on PitchTo and with the recent outcomes of not landing an EIR position I have time for some consulting projects. My experiences ranges from but not limited to UI/UX design, HTML, CSS, project management, social media marketing and business development. You can view my LinkedIn profile here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/waynesutton and be reached at email@example.com.
Today I’m attending the first Bay Area Pipeline Fellowship Conference. The Pipeline Fellowship Conference is an all-day event on angel investing open to the public. Speakers include serial entrepreneurs, experienced angel investors, and VCs.
The Pipeline Fellowship trains women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring, and practice. Fellows commit to invest in a woman-led for-profit social venture in exchange for equity and a board seat.
— Leanne Pittsford (@lepitts) October 5, 2012
Some data on the current angel investment community is that 12% of Angel investors are women and 3% are angel investors are people color.
Below is the Halo Report a collaborative project between Silicon Valley Bank, Angel Resource Institute & data powered by CB Insights. This project highlights angel group investment activity and emerging trends throughout the United States and provides much sought after data that has not been previously available to entrepreneurs or early stage investors.
Among the detailed findings of the study:
- The advent of the new lower-priced tablets in late 2011 brought in a new crop of tablet owners. Now, just over half, 52%, of tablet owners report owning an iPad, compared with 81% a year ago. Nearly half, 48%, now own an Android-based device; about half of them, 21%, Kindle Fires. iPad owners, however, stand out from Android owners: they use their tablet more often in general and more often for news. Android users are more likely to use social networks and follow news that comes from friends and family.
- Rather than replacing old technology, the introduction of new devices and formats is creating a new kind of “multi-platform” news consumer. More than half, 54%, of tablet news users, for instance, also get news on a smartphone; 77% get news on a desktop/laptop; 50% get news in print, and a quarter get news on all four platforms. Among smartphone news users, 47% still get news in print, while 75% get news on the laptop/desktop device and 28% get news on a tablet.
- There is growing evidence that mobile devices are adding to how much news people get. As many as 43% say the news they get on their tablets is adding to their overall news consumption. And almost a third, 31%, said they get news from new sources on their tablet. The increases in news activity is heaviest among those who use all four of the major text-based media for news-computers, smartphones, tablets and print. And when people are asked to recall time spent, the evidence suggests multi-device users spend as much time on each platform as other news users-not substituting one for another.
- People who get news on both a smartphone and a tablet may carry added appeal for news organizations. These people tend to be more engaged news users than those who get news on just one device. They are more likely to read deeply (fully 82% sometimes or regularly read in-depth articles on their tablet compared with 62% of those who get news on just the tablet), to send or receive news through email or social networks and to read past issues of magazines. And, while the numbers are still small, dual-device mobile news user are also more likely than others to have paid for digital news content.
- Similarly, those who get news throughout the day on their mobile devices are more engaged news consumers.People who get news on their devices multiple times per day, on either the smartphone or tablet, tend to turn to more sources, get news from new sources, read in-depth news articles, watch news videos, and send and receive news through email or social networks. Tablet news consumers who get news more than one time during the day are also twice as likely as those who get news once a day to have paid for news on their tablet (10% versus 4%).
- Two distinct news audiences have emerged on tablets-new-found digital customers and customers who also remain loyal to the print product. Nearly a fifth of mobile news users, 19%, have paid for a digital news subscription of some kind in the last year, and a third of tablet news users with digital subscriptions have added new subscriptions since they acquired the device. But even more mobile news users, 31%, have print-only subscriptions, and three quarters of these have no plans to give them up. These print subscribers also prefer their app-based news to be more like a traditional reading experience rather than to have high-tech features. For the news organizations, this brings both the potential for new audiences as well as the challenge of accommodating the differing styles and approaches of these distinct audiences.
- People notice ads on mobile devices and may be even more likely to click on them than they are to click on other digital ads. Half of mobile news users (49% of tablet news users and 50% of smartphone news users) sometimes or often notice ads when they are getting news on their mobile device. Following or acting on these ads is less common: Roughly 15% click on ads when getting news on one of the mobile devices and about 7% actually buy something. These figures, however, outpace other digital click-through rates. A recent study by Ad Age finds click-through rates on browser-based display ads to be less than 1%.
- There has been movement over the last year toward using the browser rather than apps for tablet news consumption. Fully 60% of tablet news users mainly use the browser to get news on their tablet, just 23% get news mostly through apps and 16% use both equally. In 2011, 40% got news mostly through a browser, 21% mostly through apps and 31% used both equally. But as was revealed in the 2011 survey, app news users-and those who use both apps and the browser equally-remain in many ways more engaged and deeper news users than those who mostly use their browser. The browser is preferred on the smartphone as well (61% get news mostly through a browser, 28% mostly through apps and 11% use both equally)
via Journalism.org the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism report The Future of Mobile News.
Last year I was sitting at my desk in North Carolina watching Ron Conway Partner, SV Angel give his list of what he calls defining entrepreneurs at Startup School 2011. In his list Ron mentioned Jack Dorsey, Dennis Crowley and more. Ron along with other successful founders such as Drew Houston, Founder of Box, Stephen Cohen, founder of Palantir, Matt Mullenweg, Founder of Automattic, and of course Paul Grahman spoke at the event. My favorite talk in terms of value was Drew’s.
I applied last year to attend Startup School but wasn’t accepted. Yes, if you didn’t know Startup School is an invite only free one-day event held at Stanford. As you can see Startup School features a list of experts speaking about startups from their own experience. The 2012 list of Startup School Speakers include the following:
Partner, SV Angel
Partner, Andreessen Horowitz; Founder, Opsware
Partner, Y Combinator
Founder, StackExchange, Fog Creek Software
This year now a San Francisco resident, I’ll be attending Startup School. I’m excited to learn from a great list of successful founders along with networking with other Startup School attendees at Stanford. Last year Startup School was live streamed online and if you have a chance to watch I recommend you do so. I’ll share my Startup School experience here on this blog and have a goal of one day be invited to speak at Startup School.