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AngelList is a platform that connects entrepreneurs to angel investors to raise seed stage capital.
Out of the $1.5 million dollars in angel funding we've raised for Socialize, over $1 million came from introductions made on AngelList. We were very early AngelList users under our AppMakr brand, with Brendan Baker doing a detailed analysis of our use of AngelList in his Anatomy of a Seed project. I also wrote a lengthy manifesto about our fundraising experience, and when AngelList was very new I interviewed Naval Ravikant, one of the AngelList founders.
Recently, using AngelList has changed the way I've been fundraising. Where traditionally, I've had to dedicate a block of time to fundraise full time, I can now fundraise passively, meaning just by focusing on having an optimized AngelList presence and a few specific techniques, I don't have to spend blocks of my time finding high quality angels. That is a game changer for us -- fundraising is an incredibly distracting process, and it's especially hard to innovate and iterate on your startup when you're distracted by bolstering the company's bank account. Being able to have angels come to me has given me a freedom as an entrepreneur that's just fantastic.
As I was talking to my friend Ben Young, CEO of Nexercise, about this sea-change in fundraising, I offered to critique his AngelList page to help him optimize it for this type of inbound passive investment.
UPDATE: I've posted lots of updates since I originally wrote this blog 2 years ago. If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, check out this post comparing Betterment vs. Wealthfront ETFs and this one on Peer to Peer lending.
My wife Sue and I have been mulling over how to most effectively deploy cash in the current economic climate to generate decent returns without taking outsize risks. We've honed in on six main strategies, which I outline below in descending order of risk.
Since everyone has a varying amount of cash to invest, I'm going to specifically call out ways to deploy small amounts of cash in some of these strategies, as I want this post to be really actionable for anyone. The most important part is to just get started, and the biggest barrier to doing that is you thinking "I don't have any money to invest." So get yourself out of that mindset and jump into the world of being an investor, even if it's just with $25 (yes it's possible, below), $100, or $1,000 or $10,000, or whatever. I also recommend putting money aside every month to invest; that's a great way to get started.
Riskiest: Angel Investing
Almost everyone I know is busy as hell. Running companies, contracting, doing creative work, and keeping a huge mix of projects going on.
Keeping busy is good, but sometimes it turns into a tragedy where you've got your head down doing work and duties, but you never get some of that real juice out of your life that you're wanting.
And many of the busy people I know -- myself included -- periodically have a day where they snap back to reality and really feel it for the first time in a while. "Oh god, I'm out of shape, my energy is low, I feel like crap, I'm not doing some of the key projects I love, I'm passing up a lot of really big opportunities stuck in the grind, I'm neglecting my hobbies and what I want to train... and for what?"
This applies just as much to entrepreneurs as people on salary, maybe even moreso. It's very easy as an entrepreneur or executive to get caught up in running around, getting stuck in the "errands" of business, dealing with what's on fire, and really neglecting the really expansionary projects that aren't urgent, your health, and maybe worst of all -- forgetting to have fun.
Is there an answer? Read on...
this post about what I know to be true
In this past election, I did something I now really regret: I voted 'yes' to Proposition 30.
Getaround is a car sharing service like Zipcar, except that it uses people's private vehicles instead of a fleet. It's a bit like AirBnB for cars. Getaround is part of the "collaborative consumption" movement, which believes that if we could share things we don't use most of the time it would be better for us in a lot of ways. Sharing cars means less cars on the road, which means less pollution, and generally less "stuff."
I'd never used Getaround and a few weeks ago I was trying to figure out why. I pinged Jessica, one of the founders, and told her that what I'd realized was that I didn't want to have to go to someone's house and "borrow" their car. The thought of actually interacting with the owner of a car was awkward enough that it had kept me from trying the service.
Jessica told me about a new type of rental they now have called "Instant," where I can use the Getaround mobile app to rent a car instantly and unlock it with my phone, meaning I wouldn't have to meet the owner or wait for approval. (This dovetails really well into my recent blogs about the power of mobile and apps to transform businesses, and how Fortune 1000 CEOs are going to get fired for missing it.) Getaround Instant was exactly what I was looking for, so my brother-in-law Dal and I decided to give it a try.
I had a few hiccups that Getaround is still working through (for example, Getaround verifies a driver's driving history with the DMV in real-time, and since my last name has a hyphen in it, but the DMV doesn't account for hyphens, my rental request initially broke Getaround's booking system. But both Jessica and Matt were very proactive at resolving these speed bumps). Overall the process was incredibly smooth:
Over on my entrepreneur + tech blog, I post about an area I'm very familiar with: Technology & startups.
Now, I'm embarking on a much bigger challenge: Fatherhood.
Yep, I'm going to be a dad. Here's a picture of our daughter, who will be joining us sometime in late October 2013:
For now, we're calling her "Baby DROdio."
Achieving strong product/market fit as a startup is arguably the most important thing a startup needs to get right, as early on as possible. One big barrier to doing that successfully is often finding customers that care enough about what the startup is doing to spend time helping the startup optimize its products for the customer's needs.
This gets especially hard with the Fortune 1000. Startups and behemoth companies couldn't be more different -- like oil and water. A startup lives in dog years, a large corporation in glacial years. Not only that, but corporations have to protect their existing revenue streams, which usually happens with a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. But therein lies a dilemma: A profitable business today may become irrelevant tomorrow. History is littered with mega companies that failed to adapt: Kodak, Blackberry and Nokia, to name a few. Even the obscenely profitable Microsoft just axed its CEO for missing innovation in mobile.
So how does a big company spur innovation while not jeopardizing its existing business? Time Warner came up with an innovative program called Media Camp. Big props to Balaji Gopinath, the VP of Emerging Technology for Turner, for originally championing this concept at Turner Broadcasting.
My startup, Socialize, went through Media Camp at Turner last year, and we also participated in a Warner Bros TV program called the Brand Innovation (a big thank-you to our investor Chris Redlitz for turning us on to that one). These experiences allowed us to get an investment from Time Warner as well as sign a commercial agreement with them. That was invaluable to us as a startup, but it's also given Time Warner the ability to become very forward-thinking around social & mobile. It's truly been a symbiotic relationship.
I get so many entrepreneurs telling me that their product isn't ready to be launched. While you definitely have to have something to launch, you almost surely don't need something as good as you think.
As a reminder, here's what the Amazon.com site looked like when it launched:
You might say, "but that was a long time ago. the world has changed." Oh yeah? Here's what Twitter's site looked like in 2006 when it launched:
CEOs are busy. It's easy to be distracted with competing priorities coming from all directions. But there's one darkhorse mega-trend that I believe will catch many CEOs by surprise, and even cause some of them be fired by their boards for missing it: The Mobile Crush.
Two years ago, I did an in-depth screencast describing why I believed mobile would be way bigger than most people realize. And now the crush is starting in earnest.
There's a great quote by Mark Pincus, the CEO of Zynga in an article today by the New York Times:
I just read this post about how the startup Level Up has raised $41MM but may now be running out of cash, and according to the article is down to half its previous employee count. It got me thinking about a big mistake I see startups make, which is over-extending before finding true product/market fit.
I was well aware of this danger at Socialize, and we still made that mistake. At one point in early 2012, we were up to 16 employees. When we sold to ShareThis, we were down to six. It's not that six employees was too few -- it was exactly the right number and type of employees for the stage of our company -- it's that sixteen was way too many. We didn't absolutely need that many people to build and sell our product, even though we felt at the time that we did. The six employees that ended up forming the core of our company in the year before we sold it were all very key employees and are incredibly productive, and that's what we needed to find product/market fit.
So if a CEO is acutely aware of the issue and still falls into the trap, I can't imagine what the siren call of rapid expansion does to CEOs who aren't watching out for it. But it is possible to get around it: On the opposite side of the spectrum you see companies like instagram that sold for $1 billion with just a dozen employees.
So I've come up with a mental framework to optimize the outcome of a new startup dealing with this issue.
Daniel's Framework For Optimizing Product/Market Fit: