I haven’t been posting for quite some time, a fact that I know has caused much consternation to both of my readers. Anyway, the reason has been that I launched a startup! I’ve decided that I am going to shift my blog and write a bit about my experiences as a founder, dealing with investors, managing time, and everything else I’ve learned. The best part is that the story isn’t written yet, so we don’t really know how it is going to turn out! Will we flame out? Will we become the next billion dollar company? Will we get acquired? We will see! If you want to know how this story ends, you’ll have to keep reading!
Since this is MY blog, I’m not going to use this as a marketing platform for our tool. (It really is amazing… not just saying that) I’m also not going to be writing about individuals on my team, employees, investors etc.
This will be a raw account of what it’s like to build a company from the ground up, from my perspective as CEO.
Now, you’d have to be crazy to leave a good paying job to launch a company in a very competitive market. Despite what you may have heard, the odds of successfully pitching a VC are insane. According to an article in Corporate Finance Institute (https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/how-vcs-look-at-startups-and-founders/) the odds of successfully pitching a top tier VC are something like 0.7%. Top VCs receive something like 4000 pitches per year, of those a few hundred (like 200) are looked at seriously and of those maybe around 20 get funded. So why?
The answer to that question is that I’ve had this idea that I couldn’t let go. I’ll talk more about the specifics in future posts, but suffice to say, I was getting increasingly frustrated in all the companies where I worked, because everyplace I was working I was seeing the same problem. I felt like a doctor who had a patient that kept coming back with a headache. After speaking with the patient, the doctor found out that the patient kept hitting himself on the head with a cast iron pan. The doctor kept telling the patient stop hitting yourself in the head, and you won’t get headaches any more, but the patient wouldn’t listen.
Secondly, I got tired of dealing with really crappy analytic tools. I am a big fan of Larry Wall, who famously said that the attributes of a great programmer are laziness, impatience and huberis:
Laziness: The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it.
Impatience: The anger you feel when the computer is being lazy. This makes you write programs that don’t just react to your needs, but actually anticipate them. Or at least pretend to.
Hubris: The quality that makes you write (and maintain) programs that other people won’t want to say bad things about.
Larry was spot on in this, yet despite him saying this at least 30 years ago, this message has not been taken to heart in the data world. Most of the data analytic tools I’ve used are ugly, and work like they were built by someone who has never done data analysis in their lives. Often, I have to work harder to use the tools than if I built my own tools. Furthermore the fact that data scientists are expected to code at all, in my view is a MAJOR issue. More on that later.
After working with crappy tool after crappy tool, I decided that I had enough and wanted to have a go at building my own. Yes, I know it is difficult. Yes I know the odds are stacked against me. But as my friend Ben Schwartz used to say, you don’t regret in life the things you do, you regret the things you don’t do. I decided the time was right and I should go for it! There was one small problem…
I had no idea what I was doing or how to get money
The one thing that had been keeping me back from launching a startup for the last few years was that whole money thing. If I was right out of college, had no family to feed, I’d have no problem living off of ramen noodles for a year or so, staying up until all hours of the night working on the tool. Alas, I do have a few kids to feed and a house to pay for so quitting my job, buying the year’s supply of ramen wasn’t really an option.
A few years ago, I left a great company, Booz Allen Hamilton, to join a not-so-great company which had a startup incubator. The way this company worked was that you’d spend 90% of your time doing government contracting and the company would “give” you 10% of your time to work on a startup project. In exchange, the company would get equity in the company. Needless to say, this is not a recipe for success. I was miserable there, the incubator was a joke, so I left.
In the DC metro area, there are all kinds of startup-y stuff and pitch events, but the amounts of money you could get were peanuts. For a long time, I was really discouraged and thought that the only way that I could bring my idea to fruition would be through my job, by being a so-called intrapreneur.
I tried pitching my idea at Deutsche Bank. While they loved the concept, it wasn’t really part of my job and I didn’t get anywhere with it. I tried at JPM, but that didn’t really work out either. I was getting really discouraged about the whole thing when… you’ll have to come back next week to find out what happened next.