This post is by Kaitlin Ratliff from Startup Grind - Medium
A free, 3-week virtual conference running Nov. 30 — Dec. 18
re:Invent 2020 is poised to offer three weeks of cutting-edge content, coveted by developers, builders, and the generally cloud-obsessed. And while we won’t be physically together this year to bustle between busy meeting rooms, Keynote stages, and the expo halls, 2020’s digital experience is shaping up to serve you all of the energy, intrigue, and latest releases that you’d expect from re:Invent.
All of this content will be available for you to take in from the comfort of your home office — and possibly your pajamas. If you haven’t had a chance to attend re:Invent before, this is your opportunity to get the full scoop with “Ask Me Anything” sessions featuring startup leaders and AWS technical experts, Keynote product launches revealing all that is coming from AWS, and over 500 content track sessions where you can deep dive on specific categories that are of most interest to you.
If you have attended re:Invent in years past, rest assured, we’ve lined up an incredible experience featuring fan favorites such as Jams, Game Days, and of course, DeepRacer — as well as a plethora of additional content you will not want to miss!
So, what is re:Invent?
re:Invent is the world’s premier cloud learning event, hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the global cloud computing community. Traditionally an in-person conference taking place in Las Vegas, this year’s re:Invent is entirely virtual, and free of charge to attend. It’s a technical conference with mostly technical sessions that describe how some of the smartest startups, SMBs, and enterprises in the world are building what they build best. They’ll dive deep into what works and where they went wrong. Do you have to be a startup jockey to get something out of these sessions? No. You just need the drive to operate at the speed and scale that the fastest growing companies do. And who doesn’t want that?
Now, let’s be honest, between executive Keynotes, leadership sessions, and over 500 track sessions, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start and where to focus your attention, even while navigating virtually. With that in mind, we’ve broken down the must-see sessions and events into this handy guide. Final assembly of your re:Invent experience is up to you, but this guide should help get you started.
First, register here and start building your schedule. The re:Invent session catalog is now live!
Next, pick the sessions and events that are of most interest to you. Events have been linked below for you to register to attend. All sessions have been tagged with their session ID numbers, so you can easily search and add them to your schedule.
Hear from the Biggest Thought Leaders in Cloud Technology
Re:Invent Keynotes — The heavy hitters of re:Invent
Join executive Keynote sessions to be the first to hear the latest from AWS. We’re kicking off with Andy Jassy’s Keynote live from Seattle, sharing the latest news about AWS customers, products, and services. We’ll also feature an AWS Partner Keynote, where you’ll learn how AWS is helping partners modernize their businesses to help customers transform, along with our first-ever Machine Learning Keynote with Swami Sivasubramanian, VP Amazon AI. The Keynote features will wrap up with Peter DeSantis, SVP of Global Infrastructure and Customer Support, where he’ll review how AWS has optimized its cloud infrastructure to run some of the world’s most demanding workloads, and how you can leverage this optimization to give your business a competitive edge.
Leadership Sessions — Learn, Foster, Grow
You’ll hear directly from AWS leaders as they share the latest in AWS technologies, set the future of product direction, and dive into compelling customer success stories. From Analytics to Training and Certification, you’ll learn what’s next on the horizon from AWS and how it can help your business.
Need answers to some burning questions, or want to learn from other innovative, cutting-edge startup founders? Try these interactive sessions.
Startup Central Community Lounge — Join us in a centralized virtual hub where you can learn from some of the world’s fastest-growing startups and consult with AWS startup experts one-on-one to get your questions answered.
Ask the Startup Expert — The Ask the Startup Expert event series allows startups to get their burning questions answered live by AWS experts and speakers from fast-growing startups. Each session will provide opportunities to dive deep on topics including: Accelerating with AI/ML, Getting Started with AWS, Go-to-Market Strategies for Startups.
Sessions and Events for Startups: Start on the Right Track
Links to registration pages for startup events have been provided below, and Session ID numbers have been provided next to each re:Invent session so you can easily find, and add these sessions to your schedule.
Early-Stage: Just getting your startup off the ground? These events will provide the most important info you need.
StartOut Demo Day — Demo Day is an opportunity for the most innovative LGBTQ startups from the StartOut community to demonstrate their product, discuss their go-to-market strategy, and pitch for future fundraising rounds in front of a panel of angel investors, venture capitalists, and brands.
Mentorship — Are you an early-stage startup? We’ve got Amazon experts to answer your questions on topics ranging from building your first sales team to perfecting your pitch deck, building your MVP, and fundraising best practices. Apply for a mentor session to get your burning questions answered.
Female Founders Event and Pitch Competition — This two-day event kicks off with a fundraising and go-to-market focus, featuring sessions about knowing your worth, conquering bias, and overcoming common challenges. We’ll conclude with a live pitch competition with Women 2.0. Inspiring female founders, who will pitch their ideas and receive live feedback from VCs for a chance to win a cash prize.
How OpenSesame accelerated time to market on AWS — Join us for a virtual event with OpenSesame Media, Inc. as we explore the advantages of AWS serverless technology to create the quickest path to production while utilizing event-driven processes to keep costs to an absolute minimum.
Everything FinTech Startups Need to Know about Driving CX Success — Whether you are a founder, developer, product manager, UI/UX manager, or are simply curious about how to convert customer data into meaningful actions in the Financial Services Industry, this event can help enhance your CX strategy by debunking the most common industry use cases for you.
Startup CFO Panel: Managing Recovery and Getting to Growth — This unique CFO panel from early-, growth-, and late-stage companies will discuss financial reporting and analytics in times of uncertainty, optimization strategies, insights on fundraising, and finance technology investments that deliver an ROI.
APN Global Startup Success Panel — Hear from leading AWS Startup partners who are leveraging the APN Global Startup Program to power their growth and bring their innovative solutions to enterprise customers. Founders and CXOs from top startups will be discussing what it takes to be a mid-to-late-stage startup, what keeps them up at night, what has worked for them individually and at scale, and how to most effectively engage with the APN and its many benefits.
The Full Machine Learning re:Invent Release Guide for Startups — If you’re an ML startup, this talk is for you. Join us for a comprehensive overview of the most powerful machine learning product releases you’ll see at re:Invent — tailored to startups. From data to deployment, learn about new features that will make your ML team more productive, more efficient, and more effective.
Growth-Stage: You’ve gotten through some of the major hurdles in getting your business off the ground — now what? These sessions are focused on establishing an infrastructure that promotes scalability and long-term growth. Search by session ID number to locate these sessions in the platform, and add them to your schedule.
• STP204 — A bigger plate: Swiggy’s growth on AWS
• STP203 — On the money: How Paystack champions African businesses
• STP207 — How SkyAlert prepares for disaster prevention using AWS
• ZSC301 — Make the Leap! How wefox switched over to AWS
• ZSC202 — How Dream11 created India’s biggest fantasy sports platform with AWS
• ZSC302 — On-demand testing environments that engineers will love
• ZSC206 — How cloud robotics can protect employees and customers
• ZSC208 — How Airtable safely runs custom user scripts
• ZSC207: Skydio: Scaling autonomous flight for enterprise with AWS
• ZDC302 — How CATCH FASHION built a serverless ML inference service with AWS Lambda
• ZDC301 — The journey of an AWS CloudFormation template to AWS CDK
• ZDC205 — No more idling: Creating parallel builds using serverless CI
• ZDC204 — Understanding multi-account management
• SVS401 — Amazon API Gateway HTTP APIs: Beyond the proxy
• SVS310 — CI/CD for serverless applications
• SEC317 — Ten easy and effective ways to secure your AWS environment
• OPN303 — SaaS boost: Using open source to accelerate SaaS adoption
• BSI201 — Embed analytics in your applications with Amazon QuickSight
• ARC212 — Lessons learned from COVID-19 cost optimization efforts
• API302 — Building event-driven applications with Amazon EventBridge
• API301 — Application integration patterns for microservices
• AIM308 — Choose the right machine learning algorithm in Amazon SageMaker
• AIM209 — Get started with Amazon SageMaker in minutes
Late-Stage: You’ve secured funding, achieved scalability, and are ready to take your startup to the next level. These sessions are just what you need.
•STP206 — Elevating customer experience with Decibel
• STP201 — The business case for serverless with Stedi
• STP202 — Kurly transforms with AWS to adapt and grow
• ZSC205 — Operational BI: Executing ML models at speed and scale
• TRV203 — How Just Eat Takeaway is building resilience for the long run
• SVS301 — Analyzing data at any scale with AWS Lambda
• INO207 — Two-pizza teams: Organizing for innovation
• INO205 — Amazon.com’s use of AI/ML to enhance the customer experience
• CON213 — Optimize costs and manage spend for containerized applications
• ARC213 — Adrian Cockcroft’s architecture trends and topics for 2021
• ANT318 — The right tool for the job: Enabling analytics at scale at Intuit
• AIM406 — Implement MLOps best practices with Amazon SageMaker
• AIM314 — Train and tune ML models to the highest accuracy using Amazon SageMaker
• AIM304 — Detect machine learning (ML) model drift in production
Non-Tech Sessions: Need a break from the technical sessions? Check out these talks.
- ZWL207 — Empowering Entrepreneurs through Eco-initiatives
• ZWL201 — Leveraging technology to scale sustainable community development
• ZWL209 — Making Tech Inclusive and Accessible through AI
• ZWL205 — Gamification for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity
• ZSC201 — Girl Geek Academy Is Gearing up the Next Gen of Gals in STEM
• WPT201 — Emotional Resilience: How to Thrive in Stressful Times
• INO207 — Two-Pizza Teams: Building innovative teams that scale
• INO206 — Working Backwards: Amazon’s approach to innovation
• INO201 — Amazon’s Culture of Innovation
This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium
Shortly after finishing a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship from USC, Ciara Imani May had a realization: the pain and discomfort she and millions of other women experienced while wearing plastic-based, and chemically-treated, synthetic braiding hair wasn’t necessary. In doing research on the manufacturing process, she also learned about the severity of the environmental impact petroleum products like this caused.
Her solution? Starting Rebundle, which offers braiding hair from non-toxic, biodegradable plants that are free from harmful chemicals, and most importantly, safe and painless for the customer.
Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars
Once she had her startup idea, Ciara quickly began benefiting from USC campus-based entrepreneurial resources, but the pandemic and resulting LaunchPad Fellowship in the Summer of 2020 proved pivotal. “I didn’t come from a family of business owners, so the networks and resources made available to me through the Fellowship were key,” she said. This 8-week virtual mentoring program included support and opportunities made available to her (and 49 other student entrepreneurs) by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Techstars, and Future Founders.
Those selected received $5,000 in non-dilutive grant funding, coaching sessions with LaunchPad Campus Directors, mentoring from Blackstone Campus Ambassadors and Techstars entrepreneurs during a Fellowship ‘Mentor Week’, as well as the opportunity to learn directly from seasoned entrepreneurs. Speakers included Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown, Co-founder and Vice President of Product for CareMessage Cecilia Corral, Techstars co-founder David Brown, and SparkCharge founder (and LaunchPad Alum) Josh Aviv during the LaunchPad Summer Speaker Series.
Her results — in 56 short days? Wildly impressive. By the end of July, Ciara had connected with a high-school classmate and technical team member, Jessica Sanders, beta tested an early product prototype with four stylists, and began a relationship with a manufacturing partner. Ciara remarked, “Access to these programs really refined my skills and legitimized me as the entrepreneur that I’ve always wanted to be.”
But her success hardly stopped there.
Venture for America
Before Ciara even completed the LaunchPad Fellowship, she was selected for the Venture for America (VFA) Accelerator this past fall. Created to give Fellows the time, space, and support they need to turn their side projects into full-time ventures, the VFA Fellowship is a four-month program that concludes with a Demo Day and the chance to win $10,000 in prize money.
Since the accelerator immediately followed the LaunchPad Fellowship, Rebundle’s momentum only intensified and provided Ciara with a greater network to get their products to market.
Much of her time in the VFA Fellowship has been focused on market validation and gathering user feedback. According to Ciara, one recent Zoom conference call with some early Rebundle testers, “was probably one of the most valuable customer discovery conversations I’ve had!
Including our customer’s voices in this work is key to our success, and we are so grateful for their support!”
By the time December arrives, all her hard work the past six months will truly pay off. At that time Ciara will begin accepting pre-sales for the delivery of her new product scheduled for January 2021. Rebundle already offers a mail-in program for used plastic synthetic hair for recycling. “Environmental conservation and sustainability have always been important ideas to me,” said Ciara. “But since braid extensions are primarily worn by Black women, and we’re generally not included in the conversation on sustainability, that kind of intersectionality hasn’t really been extended to this consumer product yet.”
Recent Recognition and Relocation
Finally, and most recently, Ciara was selected for another opportunity in late October 2020 that will take her from Charlotte, NC to Saint Louis, MO for a year or more. Ciara and Rebundle were one of 19 “high-potential startups” selected for a 2020 Arch Grant, a $50,000 equity-free grant that will enable her to gain a stronger presence in the Midwest.
Becoming an Arch Grants recipient validated the work we had done to prove there was a need in the market and that our team was best fit to solve this problem. We’re excited to contribute to the St. Louis ecosystem and provide jobs within the green economy.
Maintaining the Connection
Going back to her Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars roots, Ciara is now excited to leverage the Startup Grind membership, available to all LaunchPad Fellowship alumni. Through this exclusive opportunity, student and former student entrepreneurs receive access to Startup Grind events (including happy hours, hackathons, round tables, and more), additional mentorship opportunities, curated content for young, early-stage founders and student entrepreneurs, and the chance to collaborate with fellow Startup Grind members from all over the world.
“In every step of this process, I have been supported by some entrepreneurship organizations. Whether it’s grants, networking, pitching, mentorships — pretty much everything I’ve done has been enabled by someone invested in my success, and it’s given me a lot more exposure than I would have had without these programs. I’m sure Startup Grind will be no different!”.
Where to follow Ciara & Rebundle
In early November, the Rebundle team wrapped up their first marketing campaign photoshoot in the Los Angeles area that they’ll be using to rebrand their website and to begin pre-sales! To be notified of when presales are available, subscribe to their newsletter here. Similarly, if you’re a hairstylist and interested in trying Rebundle’s plant-based braiding hair, visit the Braider page on their website.
For Ciara Imani May and Her Startup, Rebundle, Opportunity Abounds was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium
Madison McIlwain is an Associate at Defy, where she works alongside her team to source, invest in, and help amazing companies grow. She’s passionate about retail innovation, supply chain, and consumer technology.
Formerly a product manager at Gap Inc, Madison managed a team of over forty engineers to modernize Gap’s order management system and customer communication channels. There, she drove numerous technology initiatives, such as enabling SMS communication for customers and launching the first website-wide chatbot. Before Gap, Madison worked at Rent the Runway and an AI start-up working to create a shoppable virtual closet.
Read on to learn more about Defy’s mission and the most important question Madison asks herself before committing to an investment!
— What is Defy’s mission?
Being an entrepreneur means questioning everything. It means pushing back on all the smart, well-meaning people who tell you you’re wrong. At Defy, our mission is to help entrepreneurs Defy convention and expectation. We’re an early stage venture firm focused across consumer, enterprise/saas, and deep tech. We love people who are positioned to uniquely disrupt the industry they’ve grown up in. We hope to back and empower the next generation of startup leaders who defy all odds and build impactful, enduring companies.
— What was your very first investment? And what struck you about them?
The first investment I sourced for Defy was Thrilling. Thrilling is bringing vintage retailers online and enabling consumers to shop vintage from the comfort of their home — all while enabling more sustainable shopping and the circular economy. Honestly, I was drawn to the founder, Shilla, and her magnetic energy and passion for the problem. Shilla herself is an avid vintage shopper who wanted a better experience finding vintage treasures online. She’s built a marketplace that supports small businesses and reduces waste on our planet by leveraging technology to digitize thousands of single SKU items. From my time at Gap and Rent the Runway, I knew SKU management for resale was very challenging and believe Shilla will be the one to turn these challenges into scalable solutions.
— What is one thing you’re excited about right now?
I am really excited about the circular economy and how technology is enabling a more sustainable supply chain. I explored this in detail recently here. When I was at Gap, return rates were better than the average but still sad. What most customers don’t realize about returns is that they are unprofitable and unsustainable for retailers in a myriad of ways. Retailers lose on shipping items back and forth. They also lose on the restocking labor. Worst of all, retailers usually have to mark down inventory once it’s returned to them because it’s often no longer in season. Returns are a side effect of a burgeoning ecommerce ecosystem. With innovation in reverse return logistics and end of clothing life management, we have an opportunity to disrupt the returns status quo.
— Who is one founder we should watch?
Kimberly Shenk! I want to be Kimberly when I grow up! Not only is she a kick butt founder as CEO of Novi Connect, but she is also a thoughtful, compassionate and kind person. With Novi, she is powering ingredient and supply chain transparency. Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency around what’s going into all of the products they touch, eat, wear, etc and the many companies that make/sell all of these products are struggling to deliver. Novi’s software solves this problem through a SAAS-enabled network. I’ve learned a lot from her by the way she breaks down big problems into small manageable pieces and works her way back to a solution.
— What are the 3 top qualities of every great leader?
— What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?
The question I always ask myself is “would I invest my own savings into this business?” If the answer is no, it’s a signal to me I don’t have enough conviction on the product, market, or team.
— What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?
What is one key objective I’m hoping to get out of this meeting? It might be funding. But more often than not a first meeting is a stepping stone to establishing a relationship with that investor and firm. Capital may come, but this person might be helpful in other avenues as well; customer introductions, hiring, or connections to a more suited firm.
— What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?
- Building product and culture
- Hiring great leaders
- Retention both of customers and employees
— Favorite business book, blog or podcast?
Is it cheating if I say my podcast? The Room is a podcast with your favorite founders and founders where we discuss what it was like to be in The Room where it happens. Our target audience is first-time founders and young funders. My co-host, Claudia Laurie and I are both curious digital natives navigating our careers in the Valley asking the same questions as our listeners. We felt there was an opportunity to bring to life the conversations and the creation stories which historically happen behind doors closed to groups across age, gender and race. If you like How I Built This, our podcast is for you!
— Who is one leader you admire?
Sally Gilligan. Sally is the CIO of Gap Inc. Sally gave me my first job as a product manager in Gap’s supply chain. At our company all-hands and during our one on ones, she taught me both how to command a room and make an individual feel worth listening too. She continues to lead Gap Inc. through a compelling digital transformation with her keen insights for where the future of retail aided by technology is heading.
— What is one interesting thing most people won’t know about you?
Most people wonder how I have so much “energy”! I think it baffles people because it’s pretty relentless and honestly sometimes I exhaust myself. I think my energy comes from being an extreme extrovert. I genuinely derive the most energy when I’m around others. Thankfully, in venture, my job is to talk to people which consistently fuels me, hence the energy.
— What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder?
Lean into curiosity and stay determined to build a better experience for your customers.
Ready to make a pitch? Startups looking for an opportunity to pitch Defy or other great funds can apply here!
This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium
Claus Drennig is the Managing Director at Bluebuy and joined Bluecode in 2016. Bluecode is based in Switzerland, Austria and Germany and operates from a multinational team of employees towards a genuine European mobile payments solution.
— In a single sentence, what does Bluecode do?
Operates a mobile European payments scheme.
– How did Bluecode come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?
No European payments solution available, only Islands of country based solutions. No truly anonymous payments method until now.
— What sets Bluecode apart in the market?
Ease of use, availability for Android and iOS. Truly anonymous, wide range of uses cases (POS, E-Commerce, Unattended).
— What milestone are you most proud of so far?
Building EMPSA, the European association of mobile payments schemes, with Bluecode as a founding member.
— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?
Yes, we did through private investors and an EU programme.
– What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?
Number of users; Number of transactions; Number of acceptance partners.
— How do you build and develop talent?
Mainly by onboarding new, skillful team members.
— What are the biggest challenges for the team?
Coordination of activities for 50+ multinational people.
— What’s been the biggest success for the team?
Developing additional countries apart from Austria, like Germany with Spain, Italy to follow.
— What’s up next for Bluecode?
Improving acceptance of mobile payments solutions, DACH region is strong at cash based payments.
This post is by Jen Pilcher from Startup Grind - Medium
Imagine trying to start a business while moving homes every few years. Jumping from community to community, leaving established entrepreneurial networks or storefronts behind — essentially, starting over time and again. That’s the harsh reality for both veterans and military spouses who try to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality while constantly relocating from base to base.
As a military spouse and CEO of Patriot Boot Camp, I am vastly aware of the entrepreneurial support gaps the military community encounters. I have also seen many talented veterans, service members, and military spouses overcome these challenges to start and scale massive businesses across the country.
The military community is an important, but underrecognized, demographic that plays a critical role in advancing the US economy, with veteran-owned companies creating 5.6 million jobs and generating $1.1 billion in sales in 2017. The military serves as one of the best entrepreneurship training programs available, as skills gained in the military translate well into business ownership. In fact, 49 percent of World War II veterans went on to own or operate their own businesses. From my experience as CEO of Patriot Boot Camp, here are a few of the reasons why entrepreneurship works for the military community:
Remote work works
While COVID-19 has clearly wreaked havoc on small businesses across the country, one silver lining has been the increased flexibility to work remotely, with 94 percent of workers reporting productivity as the same or higher than before. For digital-first businesses, work can be conducted anywhere — not only benefiting entrepreneurs but also their employees.
Take military spouse Erica McMannes, for example. As founder and COO of Instant Teams, a tech-enabled talent services company that builds high-quality remote customer support, Erica and her cofounder set out to solve a problem they were all too familiar with: high military spouse unemployment. Instant Teams operates a fully remote organization of 160+ team members (94 percent military spouses, 4 percent veteran, 2 percent civilian) spread across the globe. In just four years, Instant Teams has grown to become a successful, multi-million dollar business with over $2M in venture capital funding.
Virtual education and networking is available
Support is critical when you’re a founder entering a competitive marketplace. An enormous benefit of entrepreneurship is the community that comes with it — and in today’s climate, it’s available virtually. A networking community serves as a support system, offering expertise from those who’ve been in the same shoes, a sounding board for new ideas, and occasionally, a compassionate ear with which to share grievances. No entrepreneur finds success on their own.
There is a vibrant digital community for veteran and military entrepreneurs — whether it be an online course, entrepreneurial boot camp, accelerators, and more. Some resources include the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans from Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Patriot Boot Camp, and the SBA’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV). And of course, accelerators like Techstars, Y Combinator, and 500 Startups offer entrepreneurs valuable skills, with many offering training and events virtually during the pandemic.
Entrepreneur and military veteran Bart Lomont launched Robin Autopilot, an emissions-free robotic mowing service, after graduating from a boot camp. He was then accepted by the popular television show Shark Tank. He credits the advice and camaraderie from the boot camp with helping him turn Robin into a $4 million business, which gave him the confidence to go franchise. Today, Robin processes more than 2,000 inbound requests per day for franchising, is on a path for revenue growth while taking zero upfront investment, and was successfully acquired in 2019.
Structure and discipline carry over
Members of the military are accustomed to structure. The military provides a job, training, a steady paycheck, and a physical regiment that offers a sense of security that early entrepreneurship does not. The structure and discipline learned during the time spent in the military translate well into entrepreneurship. Mapping a course, creating a plan, and sticking to it are skills that every business owner needs to succeed.
For these reasons and many more, veteran entrepreneurs are well equipped to overcome the challenges of starting and growing a company. There is more to learn about how to better equip veteran founders to succeed — and what organizations and decision-makers can do to better support them. To better understand the barriers that veterans face and the common pathways that help them overcome challenges that are specific to their experience, check out Endeavor Insight and Google for Startups’ latest report.
Why Entrepreneurship Works for the Military Community was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
This post is by Christoph Janz from Point Nine Land - Medium
What can we learn from nuclear physics to make pro-rata discussions less radioactive?
One question that inevitably comes up in every investment round (except for a startup’s very first one) is whether existing investors participate in the financing, and if so, to what extent. As Fred Wilson wrote a little while ago, it’s become an increasingly controversial question in recent years and has led to many arguments between founders, early-stage investors, and later-stage investors.
If you’re not familiar with the topic, here’s a quick primer. If you know the basics of pro-ratas, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs.
If a company raises capital by issuing new shares to a new investor, the total share count of the company increases, and consequently, the ownership percentages of existing shareholders decrease. That process is called “dilution”, a term that, before raising my first VC round in 1998, I only knew in the context of homeopathy. Homeopathic dilutions are typically so extreme that not a single molecule from the original substance remains in the solution, which means that homeopathy is a $5 billion business of selling nothing (but water and alcohol). The amount of dilution in a VC round (or any equity financing) depends on the valuation of the company and the investment amount and is typically in the 15–30% range.
As a general rule, all shareholders in a company have the right to participate in a new financing round on a pro-rata basis. So every shareholder can decide to invest more money to partially or completely offset the dilution or not invest and be diluted accordingly. The amount that a shareholder needs to invest to completely offset the dilution can be calculated by multiplying the total volume of the round with the shareholder’s ownership percentage before the financing.
That amount is the shareholder’s “pro-rata amount” or just “pro-rata”. Note that if the company’s ESOP is increased as part of the financing round, as is often the case, the shareholder will still end up with a lower ownership percentage after the round. Pro-rata rights usually don’t protect from this type of dilution.
The right to participate in new financing rounds on a pro-rata basis, the “pro-rata right”, is a fundamental right that protects the interests of minority shareholders e.g. in highly dilutive financing rounds. In many countries, pro-rata rights are enshrined in the law, i.e. shareholders, by default, have a pro-rata right in these legislations.
The problem(s) with pro-ratas
That, in a nutshell, is what a pro-rata right is. So what’s the problem? There are two very different scenarios:
The company is doing OK but not great. Fundraising is somewhat difficult, and to avoid negative signaling, the founders want existing investors to participate. This can put existing investors in a situation where they would prefer not to invest more money, but doing so might send such a bad signal to prospective new investors that it could jeopardize the financing. As you may know, we’ve addressed this issue with our “Series A pledge”. Whenever we make a seed investment, we commit to participating in the Series A to avoid any potential concerns around signaling from the get-go.
In this scenario, the company is doing well and is becoming “hot”. In these cases, there is usually “too much money on the table”, i.e. the new investor(s) want to invest more rather than less in order to reach their ownership targets, and existing investors would like to participate, too.
This is the scenario Fred Wilson wrote about:
“In the last ten or so years, companies, lawyers, boards, management teams, founders, and in particular late stage investors have been disrespecting the pro-rata right by asking early stage VCs to cut back or waive their pro-rata rights in later stage financings. […]
I think this is bad behavior as it disrespects the early and critical capital that angels, seed investors, and early stage VCs put into the business to allow it to get to where it is. If the company agrees to a pro-rata right in an early round, it really ought to commit to live up to that bargain.”
Here’s an example:
- A new investor, which the company is keen on getting on board, insists on getting a certain percentage of the company, say, 20%.
- The founders don’t want to get diluted by more than, say, 23%.
- As a result, only 13% of the round (3/23) is available to existing investors, even if their pro-rata right amounts to much more, say 30% of the round.
In this situation, existing investors are often asked (sometimes urged, and occasionally more or less forced) to give up their pro-rata rights, or large parts of them, to make space for the new investors. As Fred says, this can be extremely frustrating for existing investors for whom the pro-rata right might have been an important part of the initial deal. Things get particularly nasty if existing investors are treated differently, especially if larger existing investors use their voting powers to waive pro-rata rights for all existing investors while securing allocations for themselves.
Giving up pro-rata rights in your best-performing portfolio companies is particularly bad if you consider that investors often end up participating in financings of companies that aren’t doing so well in order to support them (see Scenario #1 above). This effectively means adverse selection — you have to participate in companies that aren’t doing well, and you cannot participate in those that do well.
At the same time, it’s rational that founders want to give a larger allocation to new investors: Existing investors will continue to support the company whether their stake gets diluted or not. Therefore, founders would rather use a larger allocation to get new investors on board and incentivize them. In a way, allocations can become a currency to get value-add from investors.
If a company raises several rounds of funding, pro-rata rights can become a real burden. Imagine that at some point, investors own 60% of a company. If that company wants to raise, say, $30 million and all investors take their full pro-rata, $18 million will come from existing investors, and only $12 million will be available for new investors. That might not be enough for the type of investor which the company wants to bring in at that stage of the journey.
What could a fair solution look like?
It’s a situation in which all stakeholders — founders, existing investors, new investors — have legitimate interests that can’t be fully aligned. What could a fair solution look like?
There is a spectrum of opinions:
On one end of the spectrum, there is the view that pro-rata rights are sacred because they are, well, rights. Pacta sunt servanda, “agreements must be kept”. 😉 I can relate to that view, but I don’t think it can be applied categorically. As explained above, ever-increasing pro-rata rights can become a massive burden for companies.
On the other end of the spectrum is the view that pro-rata rights can basically be ignored and must be waived whenever there’s not enough space in a financing round. This is the most convenient solution for the company and maximizes the founders’ ability to use pro-ratas as a currency for getting value-add, so it has some merits. However, if a company doesn’t want to deal with pro-rata rights, it would be more honest and straightforward not to grant them in the first place and have the hard conversation before taking the investor’s money.
What if pro-rata rights had a decay rate built-in?
Here’s an idea. What if participation rights faded out over time? What if investors had a full pro-rata right in the round following their initial investment, but in each round thereafter, their participation right was cut in half? Like a radioactive element that loses 50% of its energy in each half-life.
So a seed investor, for example, could do 100% of their pro-rata in the Series A, 50% in the Series B, 25% in the Series C, 12.5% in the Series D, and so on. Likewise, a Series A investor could do 100% in the Series B, 50% in the Series C, and so on. To a certain extent, this is how things often play out naturally anyway. But I’m wondering if agreeing on it upfront could make it more predictable for everyone, and make the sometimes explosive pro-rata discussions less radioactive. 🙂
When I shared this idea with Tilman Langer, he rightly pointed out that there would be various practical difficulties. But the current standard — investors keep their pro-rata rights (almost) forever, but frequently it’s a right that exists only on paper, while companies are burdened with an ever-increasing stack of pro-ratas — doesn’t look particularly smart. So maybe the radioactive approach is worth a shot?
This post is by Christoph Janz from Point Nine Land - Medium
If you’re an early-stage SaaS startup, still in the process of getting to Product/Market Fit, or doing your first experiments to attract and convert leads, you shouldn’t worry too much about customer lifetime value (LTV or CLTV) and related metrics. Sooner or later, you have to develop a good understanding of your LTV, though, since your LTV determines how much you can spend on acquiring a customer. In this post, I’ll look at a few different ways to estimate LTV and will try to explain why your LTV might be higher (or lower) than you think.
The simple LTV formula
The simplest formula to calculate LTV in a subscription business is (Customer Lifetime x Gross Profit), where customer lifetime is (1 / Customer Churn Rate) and gross profit is (Average Revenue per Account (ARPA) x Gross Margin). So you get this:
The math behind the customer lifetime formula is explained here. If your customer churn rate is, say, 2% per month, your ARPA is $100 per month, and your gross margin is 80%, you get to a customer lifetime of 50 months and an LTV of $4000.
If you want to get a bit more advanced, you can replace customer churn rate with revenue churn rate, so the formula becomes (Gross Profit / Revenue Churn Rate). This way the formula factors in account expansions and contractions (e.g. due to upgrades and downgrades), which gives you a better approximation of LTV. In this formula, gross profit should be based on the ARPA of your new customers (AKA “Average Sales Price” or ASP), since account expansions are already factored in in your revenue churn rate.
These formulas are a good start, at least if you keep in mind a few basics:
- I’ve seen many LTV calculations that were based on revenue instead of gross profit. That makes no sense. Use gross profit.
- If most of your customers are on a monthly plan and some are on an annual plan (typical for SMB SaaS), don’t mix them together when you determine your churn rate. This is particularly important if you’re early and/or growing fast. In this case, the number of annual plan customers you’re adding is much larger than the number of annual plan customers coming up for renewal, so your monthly churn rate across the entire customer base is deflated by all those customers that cannot cancel ⁽¹⁾. So if you have a mix of monthly and annual plans, calculate the LTV for each of these two segments separately.
- If you have a very wide ACV range — let’s say some customers pay you around $3000 per month and others pay you around $100 a month — it doesn’t make much sense to calculate the average LTV across the entire customer base. Instead, try to estimate your LTV for each of your customer segments.
Negative churn leads to a (luxury) problem
The simple LTV formulas have serious limitations, though. One of them relates to negative churn. If your revenue churn rate is negative, first and foremost, congrats! Second, ping me if you’re pre-Series A. Third, you will have noticed that the simple (Gross Profit / Revenue Churn Rate) formula breaks down for negative revenue churn values.
The underlying issue is that with perpetual negative revenue churn, the revenue stream of a customer cohort would keep getting bigger and bigger forever, which is obviously not realistic. In his excellent article “What’s your TRUE customer lifetime value”, David Skok explains how the formula needs to be extended for negative churn values. I highly recommend reading the full article, but the TL;DR is that if you have a negative revenue churn rate of, say, 12%, you should look at it as the result of two variables:
- Customer churn of, say, 10% annually
- Growth of your remaining customers’ spend by, say, 22% of the original contract amount every year
The “trick” is to (a) assume a positive customer churn rate (which makes sense, because customer churn can’t be below zero and is almost always above zero) and (b) assume that remaining customers will increase their spending by a certain % of the original contract value. This way, revenue lost from churned customers will eventually offset account expansions from remaining customers. That solves the problem of the simple formula, where negative revenue churn meant infinite, exponential revenue growth.
David also suggests that you should apply a discount rate to future revenues, which makes sense, arguably even in the no-interest world we’re living in, since future revenues are associated with uncertainty.
Smiling cohort charts?
Another scenario in which the classical formulas can be inadequate is if churn isn’t spread linearly over the customer lifetime. In other (simpler) words, let‘s say that within the first lifetime month of a customer cohort, you lose 5% of MRR to churn; in month 2 another 5%; in month 3 another 3%; and from month 4 onwards, your churn rate drops to 1.5% per month. A high churn rate in the first months of a customer cohort can be the result of factors like poor onboarding, signing up of non-ICP customers, or customers who view the first months as an extended (paid) trial. This is not an unusual pattern in SMB SaaS.
In consumer subscription businesses, the effect tends to be even more pronounced. As Mr. Consumer Sub Nico Wittenborn pointed out here, consumer subscription companies typically lose 50–60% of their subscribers in the first year and another 10–15% in the second year. What can make these companies great businesses nonetheless is if most of the 30–35% of subscribers who “survive” the first two years remain customers for a very long time. If some of these loyal users upgrade to a more expensive plan over time (or you’re good at re-activating/winning-back customers that churned), you’ll get one of those nice smiling MRR cohort graphs.
If you look at the monthly churn rate of a business like this and use it to calculate LTV, the result can be way too low or too high depending on the size of the business, the speed at which it’s growing, and the resulting mix of older and younger cohorts. How can you estimate LTV in this case?
One quite simple option is to restrict your definition of „customer“ to include only those customers who survived the initial drop-off and calculate LTV using the post-drop-off churn rate. As a consequence, you will have fewer customers according to the new, tighter definition, but those customers have a higher LTV. Since you care much more about those customers than about the ones that leave within a few months, looking at it this way can make a lot of sense. A corollary of a tightened customer definition is that your CACs will be higher because you’ll divide your sales and marketing spend by a smaller denominator, but again, it may well be a better reflection of the reality of your business.⁽²⁾
This solution works really well if you have a steep initial drop-off during the first few months, followed by a relatively constant churn rate over the rest of the customer lifetime. If your churn rate decreases more gradually, it doesn’t work well, since it would be hard to decide where to draw the line for your restricted customer definition.
The ultimate way to estimate LTV 🙂
What you can do in this case is to take the revenue retention data of your existing cohorts, extrapolate each cohort’s future revenue development, and calculate LTV based on the NPV of the projected revenue streams:⁽³⁾
In fact, this is my favorite way of approaching LTV in almost all cases.
Here’s a Google Sheet with some sample data and a cohort-based LTV projection. I’ve recorded a Loom to explain in some more detail how the calculations work:
If you’d like to use the template, create a copy or download the sheet and replace the sample revenue retention data (first tab, rows 82–99) with your own data. If you’re a ChartMogul customer, all you have to do is go to Reports > Cohorts > Net MRR retention, select “MRR” from the “Show” dropdown, export the numbers to a CSV file, and import them into the template.
A mouse hunter, a rabbit hunter, and an elephant hunter
Let’s look at three fictional companies and the LTV estimates produced by the different approaches:
Fit.ly (data) is a mobile fitness app that charges end consumers $10 per month, making the company a mice hunter.⁽⁴⁾ Fit.ly loses lots of customers in the first lifetime months, but its churn rate stabilizes after around nine months. What’s more, over time more and more of the remaining customers upgrade to a more expensive premium plan. The result is what I’ve mentioned above, a smiling cohort MRR chart:
What you can see in Fit.ly’s KPI sheet is that if you had calculated the company’s LTV in September 2019 using the simple formula, you would have gotten $41. Nine months later, in June 2020, you would have gotten $56. Not because anything fundamentally improved in terms of retention or ARPA — it did not –, but just because of the different mix of older and newer cohorts. The cohort-based LTV forecast, on the other hand, gives you an estimate of $217, which I think is much closer to the truth. Remarkably, if you had looked at the cohort-based LTV forecast in September 2019, the model would have calculated an LTV of about $137, again much closer to the truth than the $41 produced by the simple formula.
Cario (data) is a SaaS solution for car repair shops. The company is an example of a rabbit hunter. Customers pay around $100 per month, customer churn is at 3% per month, and there’s some expansion revenue when customers subscribe for extra features.
In the case of Cario, there’s not a big difference between the simple (LTV = Gross Profit / Customer Churn Rate) formula and the cohort-based LTV forecasts. The reason is that at Cario churn happens almost linearly over the customer lifetime, and that’s exactly the scenario in which the simple formula works well. Note that the formula based on revenue churn rate produces a number that’s too high, though.⁽⁵⁾
Acmentir (data) is a business intelligence solution for enterprises (AKA elephants) with an initial ACV of $72,000. All of Acmentir’s customers are on annual plans, so there’s no churn within the first 12 months. After the initial contract period of one year, 90% of Acmentir’s customers renew. Acmentir’s customers increase their spend over time, in particular when contracts are renewed.
Acmentir’s case shows one of the limitations of the simple revenue churn rate based formula that I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post: Since Acmentir’s revenue churn rate is negative, the formula produces a negative value LTV, which obviously doesn’t make any sense. Using the cohort-based approach, and assuming a 101.5% m/m revenue retention rate from month 18 onwards, you get an approximation of $1.26 million. Note that in contrast to Fit.ly and Cario, it’s hard to estimate Acmentir’s LTV within the first twelve months because you don’t have much data on your renewal rate and contract expansions until a few cohorts have come up for renewal.
All right, this has been quite a lot to process, so let me try to summarize the key takeaways:
- Don’t use revenue instead of gross profit to calculate LTV, and don’t mix monthly and annual churn rates (AKA avoid the LTV rookie mistakes 😜).
- If your churn doesn’t happen linearly over the customer lifetime, the simple customer churn rate based LTV formula doesn’t work well.
- If you have negative revenue churn, the simple revenue churn based LTV formula doesn’t work.
- If your churn is heavily skewed towards the first few lifetime months, consider removing customers that canceled within the first few months from your customer definition.
- The best way to approximate LTV is to take a close look at your cohorts. In the beginning, this might feel like an overkill, but cohort data can give you lots of insights, so you’ll need that data anyway.
- Don’t forget that all LTV calculations, no matter what formula you use, are always just approximations. You won’t know the precise LTV of a customer cohort until the last customer of that cohort has left. 🙂
Any feedback, let me know!
(1) For customers on an annual plan, you calculate the annual churn rate by taking the number of customers that didn’t renew in any given month and dividing it by the number of customers that were up for renewal in that month. If you want to make the annual churn rate of your annual plan customers comparable with the monthly churn rate of your monthly plan customers, you can convert a monthly churn rate to an annual churn rate using this formula: Annual Churn Rate % = 1-((1 -Monthly Churn Rate %)¹²). If you want to predict the churn rate of annual plan cohorts before they’ve come up for renewal, see you can identify at-risk customers by looking at their usage activity.
(2) What about the gross profit generated by the (non)-customers who fell out of your customer definition? I like to think of these gross profits as a positive side effect of your sales and marketing spend and would therefore recommend that you consider them as a contribution to (i.e. a reduction of) your CACs.
(3) NPV = Net Present Value. If you’re not familiar with this, here’s a primer on DCF (discounted cash flow) calculations.
(4) If you’re wondering what kind of mice I’m talking about, have a look at this post.
(5) If you’re curious, the reason is that the revenue churn rate based formula implies a revenue churn rate that is constant over the customer lifetime. That is not the case for Cario: While the company’s customer churn happens linearly over the customer lifetime, its revenue churn increases slightly over time.
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Why your LTV might be higher (or lower) than you think was originally published in Point Nine Land on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
This post is by rich from Tong Family
OK I spend so much time making new companies or non-profits these days, it’s useful just to have a quick checklist for things to do:
- Pick a credit card that you will use for this that is easy to separate from your personal expenses, this will make taxes much easier!
- Use Namecheap to get a great domain name. Try to find something that is three syllables and easy to pronounce. Beast mode is a good way to look through 400 top-level domains (TLD) to get something cool. Turn on creative spellings there too and add a suffix or a prefix (like https://gethugo.io as an example). Get a bunch of related ones. You can save a few bucks by using cashbackmonitor.com and joinhoney.com to get some discount codes.
- Get an Admin Gmail account. Once you have bought your name, then it’s time. So a name like https://restart.us, you might get
- Signup for Google Voice on that accounts. Pick a cool number, use the number search find a favorite. This will be your main number for the organization.
- Go to 1Password and create a new organization. Dump your passwords there using that new Gmail account as the creator. The Family membership is a great way if you are a startup to keep costs down. Make sure to keep that secrete key somewhere safe, preferably in another 1Password account.
- With 1Password on, you can now go back to Google and add 2-factor authentication to the @gmail.com account and put it in there.
- Create a Namecheap account for the organization using a new Gmail account and transfer ownership of the domains you bought to it. Add two factor and put it into 1Password
- Signup for a netlify account this will give you a DNS. Use the @gmail.com account as you don’t yet have a Gsuite account. Add 2FA and put into one password. And then setup the Google MX Records for the next step that is coming.
- Sign up for GSuite. If you are a non-profit, sign up for Google for Non-profits to get free hosting of mail etc. This does mean Techsoup will have to authenticate you but is worth it.
- At Gsuite, create an email@example.com so that you have a central place for everything to land and use your firstname.lastname@example.org account as the backup.
The above first steps are to get you to the bootstrap where you have an email account and can now start doing things.
- Now create a Github organization. Go to your personal Github account and create a new organization.
- Create an admin login using the email@example.com and make them a team member. You always want two of everything.
- Now you can create your website and everything else with Netlify CMS. The easy thing to do is to start with Netlify CMS and then in one click, you will have a website
The post Quick crib notes and checklist for creating a new entity or company appeared first on Tong Family.
This post is by Jenna Birch from 500 Insights
When Stackshare founder Yonas Beshawred first graduated from college, he joined one of the world’s largest consulting firms, Accenture, and quickly discovered the surprising way Fortune 500 companies were making tech decisions at-scale. They’d enlist a research firm called Gartner, Inc., which issued high-level PDF reports covering all the potential technologies you could choose from […]
The post How Yonas Beshawred Built StackShare into a Critical Tool for Developers appeared first on 500 Insights.
This post is by The Startup Grind Team from Startup Grind - Medium
Christiaan Burner and Akshay Singh are the cofounders of Quicket Solutions, which delivers a cloud-based workflow automation, storage, and analytics platform for public sector organizations. Over 100 government agencies that collectively serve millions of people utilize Quicket to reduce manual data entry, enable real-time collaboration, automate services for residents and visitors, and eliminate costs associated with managing server infrastructure.
Read on to learn more about Quicket and the team!
— In a single sentence, what does Quicket do?
Quicket Solutions delivers a cloud-based workflow automation, storage, and analytics platform for public sector organizations that tackles core functions including justice & public safety, finance, community development, licensing & permitting, and more.
— How did Quicket come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?
Christiaan Burner and Akshay Singh met while attending the University of Illinois. Their prior experience working with government enabled them to see up close how agencies were “drowning” in data with paper-based workflows and antiquated software. Christiaan and Akshay realized that there was an opportunity to develop a SaaS big-data platform that eliminated paperwork and data silos that could enable automation and improve collaboration and analytics.
— What sets Quicket apart in the market?
Quicket provides the only flexible SaaS platform that manages diverse government workflows/regulations while significantly reducing engineering resources required for implementations. Customers are most excited by the elimination of upfront costs and immediate positive ROI plus a dramatically improved user experience. The combination of proprietary tech and elimination of upfront costs significantly compresses the sales cycle and enables agencies to ‘sole source’ rather than conduct a lengthy RFP process in most circumstances.
— What milestone are you most proud of so far?
Every new customer is an exciting milestone for the company. Since our standard contract is 5 years, a government agency selecting Quicket results in a long-lasting partnership that will fundamentally change how government provides services to its residents for years to come. It’s truly a privilege to be trusted to manage the workflows and data of core government functions that collectively serve millions of people.
— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?
Quicket has received funding from industry executives and family offices and is seeking it’s first institutional partner for its Series A-2.
— What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?
With a powerful ecosystem consisting of multiple modules of the Platform available, Quicket has a ‘land-and-expand’ strategy. We are seeing substantial growth both with new customers and with existing customers significantly expanding the scope of their contracts.
As the company develops more modules and as we tackle larger and larger agencies, average ARR is also trending significantly upwards. With a powerful Platform ecosystem across platform modules Finally, we have had almost a 100% retention rate, resulting in strong references driving additional growth. We have also had zero cancellations or delays in payments as a result of COVID-19.
— How do you build and develop talent?
Beyond our initial team from the University of Illinois, which is one of the best engineering programs in the Country, Quicket worked closely with a recruiting firm to identify seasoned engineering talent with experience tackling large-scale cloud-implementations, enterprise-wide software deployments, and more. In addition, our sales team was recruited from leading enterprise-SaaS companies. Our team loves Quicket because of how our product directly improves our communities by making government services more accessible, equitable, efficient, and transparent.
— What are the biggest challenges for the team?
Deploying the first several customers is entirely different than building scalable technology. As the company has grown, we have ensured that we have built a highly-scalable and flexible solution to reduce the risks with accumulating tech debt. We have ensured that our mission-critical applications are highly reliable and secure, as government counts on us 24/7/365.
— What’s been the biggest success for the team? How did you celebrate?
Upsell wins oftentimes feel like the biggest wins because its an existing customer coming back to the company and expressing their total satisfaction with their existing module(s) that have been purchased and wanting to add more to drive more value. We have one customer in particular that has added multiple additional contracts with an ARR now above $100k.
We celebrate through company-wide recognition of those the contributed to the deal, including the selling and deployment.
— What’s something you’re constantly thinking about?
State and local government is the second largest aspect of the US economy yet receives minimal attention from institutional investors. Quicket has proven that it can significantly reduce the typically lengthy sales cycle and implementations with an innovative business model and proprietary tech.
— What advice would you give to other founders?
“Government is too complicated.” Oftentimes the most valuable companies are able to simplify and standardize complex processes. Quicket’s scalable platform has proven that it can be sold and deployed faster than any company in space and the market is large enough for a new ‘giant’ to be the global trusted leader for managing government software and infrastructure.
— Have you been or are you part of a corporate startup program or accelerator? If so, which ones and what have been the benefits?
Quicket was a graduate of the EnterpriseWorks incubator at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Quicket participated in the program for two years before moving to Chicago, IL.
This post is by Ayush Jain from Startup Grind - Medium
5 Lessons Learned From Building a Marketplace and Failing At It
Two years ago I started on a journey to build an exclusive marketplace that made it simple for founders to build remote teams — RemotePanda. Our exclusiveness lay in better screening, personalization, and support during the project.
We did over 50 engagements, big and small, over the last two years.
We got acquired by Mindbowser Global Inc. I and the full RemotePanda team joined Mindbowser and luckily there were no job losses.
Still, I call it a failure because we ultimately fell short of the scale we hoped to achieve when we started. 50 contracts may seem like a lot, but for a marketplace it didn’t leave much revenue since we were only getting a part of the transaction and not the full amount. I want to share my experiences and what I might have done differently if I could. Hopefully, it helps fellow founders to build bigger and better.
#1: Standardize the Offerings
To start with, here’s what RemotePanda is/was: RemotePanda is the saner, calmer, and organized way to build your remote team. Our concierge service means you have someone to take care of your needs right from recruitment to hiring and throughout the project. We set the KPIs for the work and build accountability within the process for the remote worker.
Our real value is the last part: “We set the KPIs for the work and build accountability within the process for the remote worker.” We took responsibility for the gig’s outcome and not just connected people like our competitors.
That was a lot to take on. We were taking responsibility for the outcome of an IT project without having control over the execution. Since the work was getting done remotely by a freelancer or a team and not by us, it was really difficult to manage the outcome.
The problem was that for good work the team would get the credit. But for bad work, we were the one held accountable. Additionally, assessing good or bad is really hard in software outsourcing since projects are complex with many layers. On top of that, problems in software can’t always be fixed by replacing it with another software or new people. If it’s crappy, well, it’s a long night for you.
It's not like shipping a book or an item which you can just take back and issue a refund.
That’s the first lesson: Create a marketplace for things that can be standardized (like the way Amazon started with books). Things that can be replaced easily so that the marketplace can really fulfill the guarantee. And if standardization is not possible, make sure that switching to another vendor is easy for the user (like building a telehealth platform).
If the above isn’t possible then don’t make the guarantee. Now I understand why Upwork, TopTal, Fiverr do not provide a guarantee of anything.
#2: Don't Try to Sell Too Many Things
The next lesson comes from our growth stage. While our stronghold was development work, we also took on all kinds of contracts from testing to digital marketing and ads campaign and lead generation. At the time, we thought it was a great way to get a foot in the door with contracts with the idea that one kind of work will lead to another kind of work. But that didn’t happen because every contract also required us as the guarantors to really go deep in that area. Wherever we failed, the contract failed.
Don't spread too thin. For at least the first few cycles, just keep the marketplace for only those items which you can really optimize and swear by. We jumped to different offerings too early. Don’t do that.
#3: Count your profit and not revenue
For a marketplace, revenue and profitability are far apart. While our revenue crossed 100K within a quarter, we were still not profitable as we were not getting that money in our account. We were only getting a small percentage out of it. Connecting back to lesson #1, this meant while we took the responsibility to execute, we did not get enough reward out of it.
Also, I learned that profitability can be higher only when we really control a bigger part of the chain.
We did a few contracts where we ourselves hired people and let them execute the work. This led to both better control and high profitability. I understood why Amazon Basics exists on Amazon.
When looking at money don’t go by the revenue, but by actual profit created because you would only have that money to pay your people. Always think of moving up the supply chain by adding more indigenous offerings. Look at opportunities within the marketplace where you can yourself offer things rather than relying on vendors.
#4: Create Identifiable Value for Vendors and Customers
Marketplaces do have leakages and vendors hate paying you your percentages or the platform fees. They feel entitled to work directly with the customer. Hence, there should be enough value that you create so that all parties feel important within the ecosystem. This can be done with contracts, size, opportunities available, predictability, and so on.
Make sure your value offering is clear and enticing enough for the customers and vendors to stick to the platform. In our case, the responsibility of execution was a really strong value that attracted our customers.
#5: Go early for funding
For Marketplaces the only way to succeed is to go big — or else got to go home.
There ought to be enough suppliers and demand. As compared to a conventional business where you can grow linearly, a market place has to grow like a cohesion of two or more forces.
To strike this balance you need to fill in from your side whatever is lagging. You will have to find press, publicity, and growth hack all at the same time.
Money is important for all of these to happen. Hence I suggest if building a marketplace, go for funding at the appropriate time because you will need to hire really good people, get a board in place, and retain suppliers and vendors till a critical mass is hit.
Would I Do It Again? Absolutely
With all being said, Marketplaces definitely remain one of the best business models- AirBnB, Uber, Amazon to name a few.
The best part of solving a difficult problem is that if you solve it, you have a substantial advantage over others. Marketplaces are unique models where you have to balance a lot of different forces together.
While I take a bow, I remain a learner and an enthusiast of marketplace models. In my new role as CEO of Mindbowser Global, I continue to work with entrepreneurs helping them build marketplaces. Mindbowser is a full-stack design and development agency providing services in-app and web development, IoT, data science, data visualization, and RPA.
Happy to have a discussion or lend a hand to plan your marketplace strategy. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
5 Lessons learnt from building a marketplace and failing at it was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.