Is there any better way to reign in this amazing milestone than with a Texas-sized birthday party? Last Thursday, June 6th, the tech community rallied together to celebrate our 10 year anniversary and the immense growth of Texas innovation through the years. It was a wonderful sight to see thousands of supporters, staff, mentors, members and investors joined together.
We’ve come a long way from where we were in 2009. However, we take pride in consistently staying focused on people and the meaningful connections that form between them. We’ve been committed to meeting the best entrepreneurs in Texas and introducing them to their first investors, employees, mentors and customers. Our birthday party actually marked the end of our J.P. Morgan Texas Startups Roadshow — an epic 3-day event where some of the country’s top tech investors and innovators received an exclusive statewide tour of what Texas has to offer.
This means that guests from across the U.S. were able to get together with our vibrant startup community and celebrate in true Texan fashion! The party featured some special groups who shared their exciting tech with everyone including: a Holographic DJ on the 8th floor provided by Holocryptics and Augmented Reality dodgeball on the 1st floor brought to us by Cyberpunk Sports. There was also a gigantic robot cake (that we’re still trying to finish off), live t-shirt screen printing, robot caricature drawings, liquid nitrogen ice cream, baskets full of flavored popcorn and a delicious donut wall courtesy of J.P. Morgan!
Congrats @CapitalFactory on celebrating your 10th Anniversary and for the conclusion of the Texas #Startups Roadshow. Was amazing to witness how much the ecosystem has grown, last night.
We couldn’t throw a party in Austin without some great music. A local band named Ghost Jam Players started off the evening with their Bluegrass tunes which then transitioned to an awesome silent disco for everyone to groove at their own pace! Capital Factory’s own DJ Ryan Gray was also playing catchy beats throughout the night in the 16th floor’s VIP Lounge. As if that wasn’t enough to keep you entertained, 8 foot tall robots were spotted showing off their dance moves on all floors — we promised y’all robots didn’t we?
In the end, Capital Factory had an incredible 10th Birthday Party! Here's a short little clip of what we had the pleasure of experiencing with them, definitely one for the books! Thank you for having us once again ☺️🙏 🎉 #holocryptics #holo #dj #capitalfactory #Hologram #Robots https://t.co/xewDs8vv6c
Recently, we introduced the Texas Startup Manifesto. Its goal is uniting the state of Texas into one startup ecosystem and helping entrepreneurs recruit talent, find customers and attract investors from across the state. We will continue making strides towards creating an even larger, impactful ecosystem in Texas that will produce leading ideas and innovative technology that can make a real change in our society.
Thanks to all those who have supported and believed in our mission throughout the last decade — we’re excited to continue being the center of gravity for entrepreneurs and keep pushing boundaries in tech!
Interested in joining our community? Reach out today!
Two robot buses full of dozens of venture capitalists and family office investors from around the world traveled for three days around the great state of Texas from Dallas to Houston to Austin.Last week I took to the Texas highways with dozens of other investors from around the country and around the world on an epic three day adventure from Dallas to Frisco to Houston to Austin. These two buses represented billions of dollars in capital that is interested in investing in the Texas region and we matched them up with local investors, entrepreneurs, and community leaders in each city that we visited.
This is all part of the Texas Startup Manifesto which is about uniting the state of Texas into one startup ecosystem and helping entrepreneurs recruit talent, find customers, and attract investors from across the state.
The roadshow was a successful trip that we will definitely repeat in 2020. Not only was it productive at building relationships between investors and driving direct investment, but it was also a lot of fun, too! Follow @TexasManifesto on Twitter to find out the dates for the next one or visit TexasStartups.com!
Thank you to Alton McDowell, Frank Medrano, Ben Halliday and the rest of the J.P. Morgan for having the vision to see the possibilities and the patience to work through getting J.P. Morgan to approve a robot bus with their logo on it!
Here are three, 30-second clips that capture the best of each day in each city.
We started the morning off at Old Parkland in Uptown Dallas, which is “the Capital Factory of private equity” — a community where many of the wealthiest family offices in Texas have offices together. We were welcomed by Harlan Crow, the creator of Old Parkland and icon of Dallas investors. We heard from President Benson from the University of Texas at Dallas, Duane Dankesrieter from the Dallas Regional Chamber, and Trey Bowles from the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.
North Dallas is the financial center of Texas. All of the big companies in Texas that are not energy-related are headquartered in Dallas and Frisco. Dallas is a major transportation hub in the center of the country that is home to American Airlines and Southwest Airlines as well as Toyota. It’s also the home to AT&T, Capital One, and Texas Instruments. Dallas is also known for retail and fashion, sports and entertainment, and proptech. It even has one energy company that happens to be the biggest company in the world — ExxonMobil.
Then we headed to Capital Factory in Uptown Dallas to hear from Mance Harmon, the CEO and co-founder of Hedera Hashgraph. After that we went upstairs to the kitchen for Epic Office Hours — a massive speed dating event between the investors on the bus and local entrepreneurs and investors. Every 15 minutes a bell rings and everyone changes seats — but it’s not just random — our team spent hours and built algorithms to carefully match based on stage and interest.
Pretty amazing to watch @EpicOfficeHours - speed dating for investors and startups. We will be doing this in every city of the Texas Startups Roadshow. Follow along @TexasManifesto
After that we got on the buses and headed up the road to Frisco to visit Neighborhood Goods, an innovative new concept for retail that lets brands test out new concepts and markets. From there we went to the Dallas Star complex to visit the brand new Gamestop Complexity Gaming eSports training facility and also the Dallas Cowboys. We learned about what the University of North Texas is doing to invite innovation in Frisco and had drinks in the Cowboys Club before hopping on the buses to Houston.
In Houston, we started the morning off at WeWork’s downtown location where we heard from serial entrepreneur Misha Govshteyn about why he’s building his company in Houston again. Then we heard Blair Garrou from Mercury Fund, Doug Erwin from Red House, Paul Hobby from Texas Monthly, and Sandy Wallis from HX Fund talk about Investing in Houston and heard Emily Keeton from WeWork, Gaby Rowe from Station Houston, Lawson Gow from The Cannon, and Gina Luna from Houston Exponential talk about the Houston startup ecosystem.
Houston has traditionally been home to dirty, dangerous, industrial startups that service the oil & gas industry and also digital health and biotechnology startups that sell into healthcare institutions. Houston is the US headquarters for about 25 oil & gas and energy companies — most all of them. This is slowly expanding focus to cleantech and smart cities. Houston is also home to the Texas Medical Center — the largest collection of hospitals (and patients) in the world including the largest children’s hospital and cancer center. If you want to sell into healthcare, Houston is the place to be.
Then we broke into another massive Epic Office Hours speed dating session with Houston entrepreneurs and investors before getting on the buses for a backstage tour of the robotics programs at NASA Johnson Space Center. Space is the third thing that Houston is known for and a massive opportunity for startups that work with rockets, satellites or sensor data.
From there we drove to the Texas Medical Center to join the dinner showcase for the end of the TMCx Digital Health cohort where we met a dozen digital health startups from around the world. Finally we got on the buses to head to Austin but made sure to stop at Buccees Gas Station on the way there!
On the final day, we stayed at Capital Factory in downtown Austin starting things off with Hugh Forrest from SXSW followed by Kendra Scott, creator of the jewelry unicorn that bears her name. After we heard Kendra’s story we all smelled warm cookies as Tiff’s Treats were delivered to the audience and founder and CEO Leon Chen took the stage along with Genevieve Gilbreath from Springdale Ventures and Robert Gauntt from Capital Creek. The message — Austin is a CPG powerhouse and the rest of the world doesn’t seem to know it yet.
It’s the one thing that everyone in Austin knows but the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to yet. Austin is one of the best places for launching a startup focused on consumer packaged goods (CPG) and food products.
With Whole Foods, Sweet Leaf Tea, Deep Eddy Vodka, Siete Foods, Waterloo, Outdoor Voices, Tiff’s Treats, P Terry’s, Veggie Noodles, and so many other success stories there is now a robust ecosystem of experienced entrepreneurs, angel investors, support organizations, distribution channels, and professional investors.
Then we headed upstairs to the Star Wars floor for our last round of Epic Office Hours speed dating with Austin entrepreneurs and investors. This always my favorite part of the day — there is nothing better than the energy in the room when 50 different meetings are happening at once and nothing more real than an entrepreneur pitching her heart out to try and convince an investor to believe.
After those meetings we headed up to the new Center for Defense Innovation floor anchored by the Army Futures Command and Booz Allen Hamilton to learn more about their mission and what some of the investment opportunities are. We heard from real warfighters about the technology challenges they are facing — particularly around simulation and training using virtual reality. Then five startups with potential solutions to Army problems pitched to the Capital Factory investment panel and we picked Zpeg compression technology to win the $100,000 investment prize.
The Army Futures Command is working with the startup community instead of traditional defense contractors because they are looking for “dual use” applications of technology that has been developed for commercial use but can also be used by the government.
That night, the trip culminated in the Capital Factory 10 Year Anniversary Party as thousands of members of the Austin startup community turned out to celebrate. There was a robot cake, a silent disco, augmented reality dodgeball, augmented reality DJ, a Texas bluegrass band, robot characterture drawings, liquid nitrogen ice cream, a donut wall, and yes, of course, the dancing robots on stilts!
This story was originally published on TOWERS.net. Content Warning: This article contains graphic language, most of it heard firsthand on the streets of Austin.
Almost every woman in Austin has a list. Mine includes the guy who hangs out near my office and tells women who walk by, “I know you like to party with a dick in your mouth.” Then there’s the group of men on the Capital Metro Route 2 bus who talked about my anatomy and what they’d like to do with it for six stops. There’s the bros who caught up with me on a scooter, making jokes you might expect about “riding.” Men in cars making “blow job” signals towards me on Congress Avenue as I was texting my editor about this story. This is all from the past few weeks alone.
I was first harassed while walking on the street with a female neighbor in St. Louis at the age of 12, by a man in a Jeep commenting on our developing figures. At the time, I felt largely agnostic towards this sort of behavior — I knew deep down it wasn’t ideal, but I was also conditioned to think male attention was a good thing. Growing into womanhood in the late 2000s, women and girls were sold the idea that desirability to men should be their end goal, and attention from fast-moving vehicles was part of this narrative. Magazines and TV shows told women their highest purpose was molding themselves into this patriarchal vision of womanhood, no matter the cost.
One of these Cosmopolitan covers is a parody, the other’s real. Takes a second to figure out which is which, doesn’t it? Images: Hearst Communications / Remiel / Flickr Creative Commons
By contrast, today is an exciting time to be a woman. We can wear what we want, love who we want, and weigh what we want — and compared to a decade ago, popular media and advertising now more often tells us that anyone who thinks differently is not worthy of our time. It’s a powerful feeling to shed the unintentional effects of growing up under this male-centered perspective, and even more powerfully, this new vision of womanhood is shared by my peers and by women I look up to.
This realization, alongside my ever-growing list of personal harassment experiences, led me to follow the example set by women in other cities and begin documenting the narratives of Austin street harassment victims on Instagram at ATXStreetHarassment.When I first created the account, I uploaded all the pictures describing interactions from my past few weeks right away. A male coworker laughed at me for releasing the material all at once instead of spacing it out, but my fellow females and I just shook our heads — the content on this topic is unfortunately endless.
(Please follow the account if you’ve experienced this issue, and consider submitting your own stories — let’s make sure these incidents get attention.)
The concept of street harassment — also sometimes known as “catcalling” — has several slightly different definitions, but a commonly accepted version includes “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent . . . directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation.”
This definition accurately describes my experiences, and those of many other Austin women — according to a 2014 report by the nonprofit organization Stop Street Harassment, 65 percent of women have experienced street harassment, 86 percent of them more than once, with 68 percent of women saying they’ve worried verbal harassment would escalate into something worse.
I’m a planner by trade, as well as a recently-appointed downtown commissioner, and though locals discuss many of the urban problems facing our city at length, the one we don’t talk about nearly enough is street harassment. I’m not saying it takes precedence over housing and transit (please fix those first), but harassment still holds Austin back. Despite its name, street harassment often happens in other places like public transportation and parks — and from an urbanist perspective, it should be considered an issue that harms the equity of the city experience.
This harassment is largely directed towards transit users, pedestrians, women, minorities, and other underrepresented and vulnerable populations — and when these citizens are made to feel unsafe in urban spaces, they’re less inclined to engage with the public realm, more likely to prefer the privacy of a car over public transportation, and even sometimes reluctant to travel down certain streets. That’s not even mentioning the potential impact of such experiences on female tourists, who might think twice about spending their money here after the fact.
Per one of the most comprehensive harassment surveys available, 48 percent of black respondents and 45 percent of hispanic respondents have experienced verbal harassment, compared to 36 percent of white respondents. 57 percent of LGBTQ respondents have experienced verbal harassment, compared to 37 percent of heterosexual respondents. 70 percent of harassers are single males.
Street harassment happens multiple times to most people, with 86 percent of harassed women and 79 percent of harassed men reporting multiple incidents. Most women I know would guess their lifetime incident count is in the hundreds. Studies have found that harassment or the fear of harassment can influence victims to change their clothing, transportation choices, or even their jobs — and to lose trust in their communities, leading to social isolation and poor mental health outcomes.
The most common change reported by harassed people is a constant assessment of their surroundings. Personally, there are certain streets I avoid and places I won’t go at certain times of day, even if they’re on the most direct route. Women report that harassment ruins their ability to relax in the public realm, such as while exercising or taking a lunch break. The ability of citizens to move about the city freely and utilize urban areas is a huge goal for Austin — we spend millions of dollars designing quality public spaces and functioning transit systems, and it’s clear that large portions of our population are uncomfortable using them.
Residents of my neighborhood, Swede Hill, apparently don’t appreciate my harassment reports using the #swedehill hashtag on Instagram — street harassment is probably not very good for “neighborhood character.” Image: Meghan Skornia
Others have taken the time to wade into the dark world of male ego and explain why harassment happens, but it’s clear this isn’t an Austin-only problem — or even a United States problem. Women worldwide are subject to so much harassment that the United Nations is increasingly bringing the topic into discussions of women’s health, and U.S. cities barely crack the top 16 worst cities for female transit riders.
It’s easy to dismiss such a prevalent issue as unsolvable, but what’s unique about confronting harassment is that it doesn’t take big changes to have a major effect locally. It’s a problem that (hopefully) most of us can agree should be addressed in some way, and it doesn’t require updating the land development code or convincing the state legislature to give us a break. Compared to more divisive conversations about Austin’s many urban challenges, stopping harassment is politically popular and potentially something almost everyone in the city could get behind, with the City of Austin itself positioned to start the conversation if its leaders choose to do so.
There are a wide variety of international precedents available for Austin’s leaders to review while crafting potential local policy on this issue. A low-cost, tactical approach from Mexico City in 2016 provided subway-riding women with whistles to embarrass harassers — though this approach is not without its critics. Last year, Washington D.C. passed an unprecedented anti-harassment law, which creates an advisory committee and works to define the issue by surveying citizens to understand harassment’s local breadth. College campuses have recently worked to solve the problem by providing support to harassees and strengthening pedestrian safety programs.
A poster from a recent anti-harassment campaign by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Capital Metro could implement a similar project here to combat harassment on its system. Image: WMATA
Since I started working on street harassment, Capital Metro has been incredibly responsive — and I’m glad they’re taking it seriously. Representatives tell me the transit provider is currently planning an anti-harassment campaign for city buses, and also encourages riders to report specific incidents to its community outreach team, which determines security measures specific to each route based on these reports.
I often get questions from men about what they can do if they witness harassment — and I always tell them they should speak up if they can! Tell the harasser their behavior is not okay, and ask the harassee if he or she is okay. You’ll find some other specific recommendations in this article, and they’re all great approaches to better support one another as we work on making Austin’s streets safer for everyone.
How Parade Media used AdInMo to get their TV products in front of elusive audiences.
Like most media companies, independent TV distributor Parade Media relies on a multi-channel distribution strategy to engage those audiences that just don’t watch traditional linear TV anymore. The popularization of on-demand TV has isolated a whole consumer segment of ‘cord-cutters’ and ‘cord-nevers’ from advertising by siloing them within subscription services.
Thanks to subscription fees, these services are not reliant on advertising and they are definitely in no rush to push their customers toward competitor content. That forces companies like Parade Media to be much more creative in pursuit of this incredibly influential customer demographic.
Given the sizes, backgrounds, and profiles of the global on-demand TV and mobile gaming audiences, there is a clear crossover between the two. Multiple research studies provide evidence for that crossover. According to Nielsen, 49% of Gen Z audiences are watching on-demand video content every day. If you then factor into your calculations that over 75% of Gen Z audiences listed playing games as their ‘ favorite hobby ‘, the resulting Venn diagram shows an extremely large shared intersection.
Games provide advertisers with a direct line into the lives of linear and non-linear TV viewers — putting brands in front of consumers when they are at their most engaged and amenable. Recognizing this opportunity to build out their existing distribution strategy, Parade Media got on board with AdInMo in 2018 and set to work taking advantage of its unique engagement proposition.
At time of writing, AdInMo-integrated games are averaging 3–5 minutes of brand interaction per user per session. That figure blows the impression stats of other ad formats — in both games and other media — completely out of the water:
At an individual impression level, AdInMo tracks everything that a brand needs to know in order to diagnose their strategy and profile their audiences. Logging everything from device right down to OS, and country down to precise zip code geolocation, AdInMo delivers information back to its advertisers that shows which users are most and least engaged at every moment of the game.
The new real-time brand recall function of the updated AdInMo SDK demonstrates the impact of our ads. Across all markets and games, AdInMo ads were found to achieve a recall rate 4x better than traditional interstitials among our players. At the very top end, the comparison showed an amazing 5.2x difference vs video ads.
That penetration, coupled with our targeting functionality, convinced Parade Media of the worth of adding AdInMo to their marketing mix. When advertisers get on board with us, they dedicate a set budget and tell us where their target markets lie. With that information in mind, we then place their ads across a range of games that we know — from analysis — to be performing especially well with players that fit the desired demographics.
Matthew Ashcroft, CEO of Parade Media, said: “The majority of the advertising that we do is around geo-specific brand reinforcement. By promoting our content to games audiences that line up with target demographics for any given show, in a way that is proven to be considerably more effective than other formats, we can demonstrate huge value in leveraging AdInMo’s in-game ad channel for our marketing requirements.”
After a successful first iteration, we are very pleased to say that we will be advertising Parade Media’s programmes in a whole host of new games going forward.
Kristan Rivers, CEO of AdInMo, said: “Our collaboration with Parade Media has returned great results across all the usual metrics, but their specific requirements allow us to showcase one of our best unique selling points. Our unique ad inventory gets brands directly in front of supposedly unreachable audiences, and distinct subsets of those audiences.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this series/ebook, over the years I’ve noticed that I tend to frequently share certain Lucky7 posts with entrepreneurs we’ve backed, team members at data.world, or other startup investors I know. In totality, these posts are at least as long as most business books. So I’m packaging the best of them up for you here in a new series called The Entrepreneur’s Essentials. This series/ebook will be at least 20 posts long, and I’ll add some commentary on how I’ve personally applied the lesson on my sixth startup, data.world, to bring them “up to date”.
For the eighteenth selection of The Entrepreneur’s Essentials, I’m going with recency bias once again. Yesterday I was having a discussion with one of our executives on the strength of network effects inherent in the data.world business model. This led to a far ranging strategic discussion that got us both really excited about the huge potential of our business. Our mission is “to create the most meaningful, collaborative, and abundant data resource in the world.” There is a lot to unpack there and we have a multi-year roadmap that I look forward to us unveiling over time. data.world is the most exciting and ambitious business I have ever worked on. It is going to make writing this chapter a little more difficult as I can only unveil so much about data.world at this time, but I’ll do my best!
So here we go with the eighteenth lesson from The Entrepreneur’s Essentials. This lesson was first shared at Lucky7 on January 15, 2015. I made very few edits to the original post, mostly in the area of readability and grammar (not in substance of content). After the original post, I’ll write about how data.world and some of our more recent investments map to this:
Sometimes startups we meet with (I’ve personally seen over 1,000 pitches in the last two years) talk about their network effect in a hopeful way. But most of the time it is just that — hope, and hope is not a strategy. But Bazaarvoice actually has a working network effect that benefits all participants: retailers, brands that sell through those retailers, consumers that shop at those brands and retailers, and Bazaarvoice and some of its partners. In other words, the more participants that are on the Bazaarvoice network, the great the effect of that network for the benefit of all. I wrote about this in detail in my first annual shareholders letter after Bazaarvoice became a public company.
I believe the single best report released from Bazaarvoice to describe this network effect with hard data is The Conversation Index, Vol. 8, which was released earlier this week. I encourage startup founders or anyone interested in social commerce to read it:
When you think about Big Data Applications (a term coined in 2012 by Raj De Datta in this TechCrunch article), Bazaarvoice is one as Raj points out in his article. I’ve also heard BDAs called SaaS 3.0 although the SaaS 3.0 term has evolved to become muddled since I first read what analysts in 2011 meant by it. This, by the way, isn’t very different from how the term social commerce became muddled after Bazaarvoice first started promoting it in 2006 to describe what we do — unfortunately, social commerce morphed to mean solutions like Facebook eCommerce stores offered by numerous small vendors who are now mostly no longer in business. In contrast, our definition of social commerce meant social media, or word of mouth, applied in a commerce environment.
When we consider investing in SaaS startups at Hurt Family Investments (34 SaaS startups and counting in our portfolio), we always look for natural network effects. I use the word natural deliberately because it is far easier to build solutions that will offer network effects if your market is actually wired that way. As Michael Dell said recently in an interview with Walter Isaacson (author of Steve Jobs and the new book The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution) that Josh Baer and I attended at U.T. Austin, the level of difficulty in changing an industry’s behavior depends on how long that industry has been engaging in that behavior. In Bazaarvoice’s case, the market was, fortunately, wired for brands and retailers to collaborate in a kind of grand bargain. The retailers were to provide the audience — and therefore the sales — that the brands needed. The brands were to provide the market-development funds (MDF), or the co-op advertising, to support the retailer in that endeavor (co-op advertising dollars are as high as $50 billion in the US to a staggering $520 billion worldwide according to sources that The Altimeter Group has cited). Brands would get higher margins but lower revenues while retailers would get lower margins but higher revenues (generally speaking, with Apple being a notable exception owning both sides of that for much of their sales). So it was natural for Bazaarvoice to tap into this network effect and provide solutions for not only retailers but also the brands that sold through them. You can see one of the ways how this network effect works for Bazaarvoice and its clients in this Bazaarvoice Connections video.
I believe that SaaS startups we’ve invested in (either as advisors or investors, or both), such as AlertMedia, Clarify, Edgecase, eRelevance, Fashion Metric, NewComLink, OneSpot, Onor, OrderGroove, Pivot Freight, RealMassive, and ShelfBucks, have natural network effects, some inherently stronger in their industries than others. It is one of the key ingredients we look for. I think any SaaS startup would be wise to identify if their B2B market has a natural network effect to tap into. This past Sunday, for example, I engaged in a brainstorm with a SaaS startup that wasn’t sure but by the end of the session we had all convinced ourselves (and not hopefully, I might add) that indeed a natural network effect existed. That made all of us much more excited about the business than ever before.
A SaaS startup without a natural network effect can still be successful. For example, there are replacement-market SaaS businesses like Salesforce.com, who started out by disrupting a massive market (Siebel and CRM) with a better, cheaper, faster, and ultimately more function-rich solution (because they were building on a single platform versus spreading their R&D over a multiple of client computing platforms and armies of installation consultants). Workday is a more recent example with them running the same play as Salesforce.com did against Siebel, but in this case it is Workday against PeopleSoft/Oracle. In fact, replacement-market SaaS businesses have grown much quicker than nascent-market SaaS businesses because the market already existed and can therefore be easily sized and disrupted (assuming great execution). Their success is about execution in sales, services, and feature parity … and then eventually superiority (again, due to that single platform to rapidly evolve on advantage). But now that the SaaS as a superior-business model as compared to enterprise software secret is out of the bag (Workday had a monster IPO and Salesforce.com is the most valuable SaaS business in the world), these replacement SaaS startup opportunities are few and far between. Meaning that most new SaaS startups we see are, in fact, nascent and therefore are trying to create their own demand, which requires a lot of evangelism and education. I’ve written quite a bit about how to evangelize in a nascent market — for example, check out The Entrepreneur’s Essentials #14: Selling to the “Cool Kids”, and I suggest hiring some great evangelists as full-time and part-time employees and also as Advisory Board members — check out The Entrepreneur’s Essentials #1 on that front). The bottom line is that when we see a SaaS startup pitch us, natural network effects in their industry (or the lack thereof) is one of the first things on my mind. It doesn’t mean they will be successful if their industry has the embedded advantage of a natural network effect, but it will certainly help. Reed’s law on networks is a good resource to really nail this home.
In investing in B2C, we also look for network effects but usually those are created rather than natural. For example, Apple created a network effect by the integration of iPhones and iPads to the App Store to iTunes. Apple then tried to extend this network effect into social with the launch of iTunes Ping, which was one of their biggest failures in recent years. Amazon created a network effect by the launch of Prime and the subsequent launches of Prime Instant Video, Prime Photos, Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, etc. Facebook created a network effect by the launch of Facebook Login, allowing it to proliferate everywhere, and they also tapped into a natural network effect by launching at select universities (where students were naturally connected, the way it has always been) and expanding out from there. LinkedIn tapped into the natural network effect of professionals working together at companies (both as peers and as partners). And so on. B2C startups we’ve invested in like ROIKOI and Thread are tapping into network effects — and they are both natural, like Facebook’s or LinkedIn’s.
So that is the end of the lesson as I wrote it over four years ago on Lucky7, with some edits and updates (like the number of SaaS deals we are involved in). You can see the original post here, and the long comments thread below it.
How does this lesson resonate with me over four years later, after having more experience in startup investing and also co-founding and leading data.world?
Well, natural network effects are present throughout the data.world business model. For example, the network effects between the Associated Press and their many newsroom customers have existed for a long time prior to us coming along. We’ve been proud to work with them to accelerate the democratization of data across these newsrooms, leading to very effective reporting and journalism awards. Our case study outlines that work in detail. And we have a natural network effect that exists between open data and the corporations that would love to use it, such as US Census data (businesses like Ancestry and Zillow, for example, are highly dependent on US Census data). And a natural network effect that exists between some of our customers, such as several Fortune-size consulting firms and agencies, and their clients (as they deliver data and analysis to them via our platform). And natural network effects present in many of the organizations that are members of our community (the world’s largest collaborative data community) and their various stakeholders. And a technological network effect underlying in the data itself, as my co-founder and our CTO, Bryon Jacob, outlined in this blog post (the most read blog post we have ever written at data.world). There are other networking effects that we will be unleashing, both natural and technological, as we progress through our multi-year strategic plan. I really look forward to seeing the impact they have in the world.
As angel investors, we’re always thinking about this when we evaluate new startups but it doesn’t mean the business will be successful. Some on the list above in my original post did not turn out to be successful, unfortunately. It does mean that their chances of success are higher. Great execution is still required — and a good dose of luck too (timing luck, especially).
I would love to hear your thoughts below. What are the network effects in your industry? Are they natural? Did this chapter inspire you to go look for them in your startup or investments?
Let me first start by getting a bit vulnerable with you:
During the last 12 months, as I was ending my 20s, my life started to feel like a whirlwind. Things started breaking, really slowly, yet abruptly and in the blink of an eye. You see, I thought I had it all figured out: myself, my personality, my strengths/weaknesses. I was this one type of person I labeled myself to be, and conformed to that label and let that be my reality. My work was my life and that was my defining characteristic for the past 6 years of my life.
As an entrepreneur in my 20s, I became a slave to work and the grind. My thought process? If I want to become “successful,” I need to sacrifice everything now to my work. I felt like I was in a lonely place, against all of the odds, with something to prove. That chip on my shoulder of having to prove my worth kept me going. I was hit with rejection left and right: rejection from investors, rejection from closing big deals, rejection from hiring great talent, rejection from support. I became numb. Binge drinking every weekend was my escape, and then back to the hustle the following Monday. I’d stay up late into the night working or researching, and wake early in the morning to check emails before even getting out of bed and brushing. As I would hurry off to work, my mind would be consumed with what I need to do that day to inch closer to attaining the “success” I had defined for myself. I felt a sense of responsibility as the CEO of Roomify to carry the burden on my shoulders, to suck it up, to be a “man” about it.
For some context, Roomify is a brand where we make it easy for millennials to get everything for their dorm room or apartments, all in a box. Our business is highly seasonal, where we make 80% of our revenue during June- August. We prep all year for our season year over year.
After five years of building Roomify with my cousin, Sagar, lightning struck in June 2018. We plan all year for this super bowl moment, making sure we design and manufacture the best products & collections, create intense digital marketing/inventory forecasts, get our CX reps trained and ready for the intense call volumes, and so forth. Our suppliers didn’t deliver our products in time for back to college season. As a result, we had thousands and thousands of orders delayed because our fulfillment partner couldn’t keep up. Students moved into their dorm rooms without their bedding and other core essentials for weeks. Customers and their parents flooded the internet with bad reviews. They went as far as finding my personal cell phone number/email and began overflowing my personal inbox/voicemail with threats and refund demands. The money that was supposed to be in the bank as sales turned into large sums of refunds. Money suddenly got really tight. Our CX team had more calls/tweets/emails than we even anticipated or prepped for because of these delays. I walked in to the office one day with some CX team members crying and in a state of shock. I empathized with them. I searched far and wide for options and solutions. Sagar and I did everything we could to resolve this, but our hands were completely tied. I remember going home, feeling depressed, hiding immediately under my sheets, just trying to wrap my head around what all was happening. We were all terrified. The leadership team abruptly started dissolving. One by one, our team quit on us during the season. By August, there were just two of us left: Sagar and me.
This was one of the most horrific experiences I have faced. I felt like someone was punching me in the gut over and over again, right where it hurt. I mentally checked out. Ironically, this was all happening at the same time that Sagar and I were recognized on Forbes 30 Under 30. We were getting congratulated by everyone and we were perceived like we were kicking ass. I downplayed it to my well-wishers by saying it wasn’t a big deal. It really wasn’t. With all of this going on, people only saw the glam of entrepreneurship and it didn’t feel right to be recognized when all of this was happening. There were days I just didn’t want to go to the office; and when I did, everything seemed too negative (having to start hiring again, facing customer issues, emails with vendors/partners, etc). Oh, the cherry on top was a break-up with my long-term girlfriend, whom I was planning to take the next step of life with. And if that wasn’t bad enough, my dad was suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis (horrific pain to witness). Life was a mess. I felt extremely dismantled.
One of my best friends, who I was roommates with at the time, asked to sit down with me to talk, because he was upset with me. He was upset that I never made time for us, that I was selfish in a lot of ways by not making time for my friends, for not caring about anyone or anything besides work. I reacted poorly. I felt that true friends would just understand that my career requires my everything, and that entrepreneurs have the right to opt out of almost everything because you know, work. I didn’t interpret his words as legitimate concern. I just thought that he didn’t get it.
For years I tried to be strong and take the punches because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. But I couldn’t do it anymore. I sat in a room with Sagar and my other cousin, Kavish, and just broke down. I cried and cried and cried, admitting that I hadn’t been happy in a very long time. I was so consumed in the business, that I forgot about what made me happy: what my hobbies were, what I stood for, what were the little things that made me who I am. That was the first time I broke down in front of my guy friends that candidly. They immediately hugged me. They took active steps to encourage me to find a hobby, to make sure I wasn’t alone, to distract me from all the pain I was going through.
I took the time to finally get a therapist so I could get help. The first session in, I already felt a sense of relief talking to someone. We dove in deep about the issues I was masking since I was a child and were just now catching up to me. During the second session, my therapist asked me a simple question that was very difficult for me to answer at the time: “What makes you happy, Shanil?”.
“Wanting my parents to be healthy and to live a long life” I respond.
She said, “No, I asked what makes YOU happy”.
I then responded, “If my ex-partner and I get back together and are strong again”.
She said, “No, again, you didn’t answer my question”… “you see, what makes me happy is waking up late, sipping on coffee, having no one bother me while I relax and have breakfast and lounge around”.
She encouraged me to go home and think about this question and come back to her. I remember driving home feeling confused and nervous that I wouldn’t be able to answer her the next time I saw her. That whole week I spent time soul searching, writing a list one by one, slowly until I got into the rhythm of it. I finally had a meaningful list to present to her. I realized at that moment of completion, that I hadn’t done most of the things on my list, since I was 22.
I came to a point where I needed to pass the baton off to my calculated-half, Sagar, to lead the company. I needed to move back to Dallas to help my dad get better. I needed time for myself and my family. Everything else felt toxic.
Fast forward a month later to December 2018, I went to Dubai for a friend’s wedding. I saw most of my closest guy friends on that trip and took the time to let them know all that was happening with me. I felt like I had no more in me to hide things and felt vulnerable to just tell them openly about my situation. They really stood by my side through it all, encouraging me to go on a trip across the French Riviera I wanted to do after the wedding by myself. They made me book it, pushing me to get out and escape for a bit. I appreciated them for it. I remember one of the nights I was laying in bed writing in Spain, thinking about why my roommate had said what he said. I finally understood. Working hard is never the problem. The problem is that I let the business and the struggles that come with it consume me and my being. I let it affect my relationship with the ones dearest to me; I let it take me away from personal happiness and growth; I let it drain me to the point where I didn’t know who I was anymore. While pondering about all of this, I decided to email a group of my closest friends, apologizing for all the times I was selfish and didn’t make time for them. I was so caught up in my life, clouded by my wants, my desire to succeed, that I forgot about those who helped shape me into the man I am today.
My short email to them:
Next thing you know, the replies start trickling in. I was shocked.
You see, this wasn’t an easy story to share publicly. I paused before posting this and asked myself if this is too personal to share. I had feelings of shame and fear. Having a tough conversation with one of my best guy friends when we were rooming together made me feel inferior. Breaking down crying in front of my two guy cousins made me feel extremely broken and weak. Emailing my closest guy friends, apologizing made me feel exposed and vulnerable.
You see, us men, are conditioned to act tough, to hold things in, be rigid, to protect our image and how people perceive us. Others call people like me, who attempt to open up or express feelings as “sensitive,” which is perceived as weakness and soft. We live in this picture-perfect Instagram world of filters where we put on a facade and want others to see our strengths, successes, happiness, and conquering the world. The reality is, most of us men are hiding our true emotions, our fears, our insecurities, our vulnerabilities. We all want to be loved and praised for the shiny parts (e.g. being recognized on Forbes, having a startup, traveling the world, etc). Truth is, we as men are scared to reveal our true selves. We are terrified to be our authentic selves. There was a survey in the 1970s in which men were asked, outside of their wives, who are the men you are most likely to tell your deepest secrets to: Number 1, bartender; number 2, barber; number 3, priest; number 4, a family member; and a close friend was number 5. As men, we would rather share our deepest secrets to outsiders versus the people closest to us to avoid feeling judged or made fun of.
With what I encountered in the last 12 months, I want to pass the message that we have confused vulnerability for weakness, when in reality, it’s our ultimate strength. Crying, talking about your fears, expressing insecurities, expressing personal weaknesses with your male peers are all acts of courage. When you start to do that, you start to feel that vulnerability is freedom. You will start to open up doors for more dialogue and make it more comfortable to have these conversations, even when they seem difficult. Just last weekend, for a close friend’s birthday, three of us guys sat down for dinner and took turns answering what our biggest fears in life were. Talking about these types of topics and opening up show humanity and ultimately, that’s power.
I encourage you all to watch this, as it’s helped me feel even more comfortable with this subject:
Something for all of us to leave with:
“The greatest of human emotions is love. The most valuable of human gifts is the ability to learn. Therefore learn to love.”
*Thanks to my friend Irfan S. for editing this story.
Capital Factory is hosting a Cybersecurity Showcase, which will be a day of programming focused on Cybersecurity and technologies within the space including: blockchain, AI and many other related fields. This event will feature a pitch showcase displaying some of our top cybersecurity companies at Capital Factory.
It’s no secret that here at Capital Factory we strive to support and promote all significant developments in tech. It’s an exciting time, particularly in Texas, to witness the rapid expansion of new technologies. However, our increased dependency as a society on both technology and the internet leaves us with potential openings for hackers to exploit. As the tech industry advances, so do cybercriminals and their ability to create elaborate strategies to target companies, networks and entrepreneurs at all stages.
In today’s startup ecosystem, cybersecurity means: being alert, risk aware and creating a culture throughout your networks that can handle cybersecurity effectively. With Texas having four of the ten fastest growing cities in the United States, we are well suited to continue seeking solutions and be at the forefront of cybersecurity innovations.
On that note, we are excited to announce that we will be hosting a Cybersecurity Showcase on June 18th at Capital Factory + The DEC in Dallas, Texas. Our implementation of the Texas Startup Manifesto has driven many crucial events and summits in Dallas to continue fostering their startup community; we intend for this showcase to push even more boundaries. This pitch style event will be displaying some of our top cybersecurity companies at Capital Factory, including those involved with blockchain, AI and other related fields in the tech space.
The Cybersecurity Showcase is being presented by our Innovation Council partners. The Capital Factory Innovation Council is an assembly of qualified corporations that bring together corporate leadership, startups, mentors, events, our accelerator program and the rest of the Capital Factory ecosystem to improve collaboration and growth on all sides. We’re looking forward to developing even more programming in the future together, and helping bridge the gap between startups and corporations.
What does Showcase Day look like?
Starting at 3:30pm there will be a catered happy hour followed by a pitch showcase from a notable group of cybersecurity companies in our Accelerator portfolio. After each startup gives their pitch, there will be a brief Q+A session opened up for any follow-up inquiries from the audience. Happy hour will then continue shortly after the showcase is complete.
Interested in developing your startup with a Cybersecurity focus? We’d like to share a cybersecurity framework provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that can help guide entrepreneurs who are thinking of entering the field. Check it out here! (See page six for: “Framework Core Structure”)
Investing in Cybersecurity Panel, Dallas Startup Week 2019. Left to right: Ross Mandel, The Tony Scott Group; Harold Collum, Cyber Future Foundation; Richard Delgado, Lavabit; Helena Krusec, Capital Factory.
When we launched FileCloud in 2012, it was an ambitious venture given the competition in the Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFFS) space. The likes of Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and Box made the competition formidable. But our mission was unique.
Aside from being a filesharing solution, we set out to create the next-gen file services platform that becomes the system of record for companies to organize all their data regardless of network or location. And we did it by bootstrapping our company.
Raising Money Isn’t Really The End Goal Of Business
Instead of concentrating on raising money, we decided to focus on making value and serving our customers. In 2008, I was working on Tonido, a private file access, sync and share solution that essentially turned any private computer into a cloud server.
During this time, I ventured out to Silicon Valley to talk to venture capital firms about raising money but I realized a few important things:
Raising money can help in many different ways, but it’s only part of the equation
The onus is on you to establish the product market fit
It’s not a requirement to raise money
In 2012, we pivoted to create a business version of our current product born out of a deep understanding of what our customers wanted. We spent a lot of time, fine-tuning the product by listening to what our customers were saying and quickly iterating to add new features.
As time went by, we sustained a focus on building a better product, a better business and solving for customer needs. Our growth was organic because our customers kept coming back. We didn’t prioritize raising money but instead put all of our efforts into our work. Each year since, we’ve been rewarded with growth — without taking any outside funding.
Soldiering Past The Disconnect
Any entrepreneur knows that when you have an idea you think is going to change the world, it can be frustrating to talk to others that don’t see what you see. There is a disconnect between what you believe in and the process for bringing your dream to fruition.
While it’s not possible for every company to bootstrap, I want to emphasize that just because a VC says no, that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be successful.
As a technical founder, I had the necessary skill set to do what we needed to do without having to acquire money to hire additional engineers to build out and execute. Many times, entrepreneurs don’t have the skill sets needed to build a business from scratch so they go the typical VC route — raise capital, hire talent and build out from there.
For us, however, with my engineering background, we could build a minimum viable product (MVP) with minimal capital and to move quickly, enabling our team to generate cash flow from the start.
For an entrepreneur starting out with a clear vision, if your business can generate cash off the bat, you have the option to bootstrap.
Bootstrapping Now Doesn’t Mean You Have To Stay Bootstrapped Forever
Opting to bootstrap at the beginning doesn’t mean you can’t branch out later. For FileCloud, the position we take focuses on two things: making our product better and offering customer-centric support. If, in the future, outside interests align with what we want, that’s great.
Right now, many doors are open to us and as we hone in on rapid growth, we plan on spending resources accordingly. Investment, at any point, is like rocket fuel. You better make sure your systems are ready to handle the firepower. We are ramping up.
Thank you to the Austin Technology Incubator at UT Austin for creating the Austin startup scene as we know it!This is no exaggeration: Austin’s startup community would not have taken off without the solid foundation laid by the Austin Technology Incubator, the longest running active tech incubator in the United States. When I came to Austin in 1999, ATI was one of the only organizations supporting entrepreneurs in Texas. We’re extremely fortunate to be where we are today as a company because of ATI’s influence; they’ve paved the way for entrepreneurs, incubators and accelerators and their impact has rippled through generations of startups since they started 30 years ago.
I had the privilege of attending ATI’s 30th anniversary celebration this week at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, where they announced Capital Factory as the recipient of the Laura Kilcrease Civic Entrepreneurship Award. This prestigious recognition was given to all of Capital Factory for our work in helping support the Austin startup ecosystem, and it’s the first time it has ever been given to another organization instead of a person. It was quite an honor to be in the company of previous awardees which include Michael Dell, Pike Powers, Governor Greg Abbott, Manoj Saxena, Dr. Matt Winkler and many other outstanding leaders.
It meant a lot to me that Laura Kilcrease was there in person to present the award which is named after her as the founding Executive Director of ATI. She is an icon of the Austin technology and investor community and not someone who seeks the limelight — she’s always lifting others up and tonight was no exception. Thank you Laura for everything you’ve done to create this community that I love so much and for staying connected year after year.
I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the impact that ATI has made towards entrepreneurial innovation here in Austin and across the world. ATI was founded in 1989 by entrepreneur and tech ambassador Dr. George Kozmetsky and first led by Laura Kilcrease. ATI is a tech incubator affiliated with The University of Texas at Austin that serves student and faculty entrepreneurs, as well as those in the greater Austin community, to explore deep tech solutions that address the world’s challenges. During the late 80s there was simply nothing else like ATI on the playing field, and the concept of an incubator was virtually unknown. Fast forward 30 years — they’ve now successfully graduated over 300 companies through their program, raised over $1.7 billion and have contributed $3 billion to the overall economy.
No organization lasts for decades by being rigid and staying the same. Everything must evolve and ATI has stayed relevant by evolving too. Semiconductors, IT, health, cleantech, water, energy… ATI has always been looking “where the puck is going” as hockey legend Wayne Gretsky would say. In 2018, ATI made a shift to focus specifically on deep tech. This means that they are working hard at finding solutions to big problems while taking the time to nurture ideas and make real change in the world in areas such as Healthcare, Mobility, Energy and Circular Economy.
I know that ATI will continue to grow and thrive under the leadership of Mitch Jacobson. He brings a fresh perspective and has worked hard to find synergies with other entrepreneurial organizations at UT Austin and in the state of Texas. It’s been a pleasure working together with him on companies that transition from ATI to Capital Factory, from SEAL to Longhorn Startup, and in the reverse direction as well. I love seeing ATI companies and SEAL students working at Capital Factory, Longhorn Startup students working at the Blackstone Launchpad, and Capital Factory startups participating in Texas Venture Labs. Collaboration on campus is at record levels and it’s in no small part due to Mitch.
Some of ATI’s most well-known success stories include Favor, Smarter Sorting, ICON, Spredfast and Xeris Pharmaceuticals. ATI has also helped develop organizations in the industry such as Austin Technology Council (ATC), Central Texas Angel Network (CTAN), Tech Ranch Austin and many others. It’s safe to say that Austin wouldn’t be a tech town if it weren’t for ATI and Capital Factory wouldn’t be here either.
On behalf of everyone at Capital Factory — thank you ATI.
We all would like to extend a huge thank you to Austin Technology Incubator for this award, and for creating the Austin startup scene as we know it today. This award is an incredible honor coming from an organization that has so immensely helped shape our identity in this city. It’s also a testament to the collaborative, rising-tide mentality of Austin. Austin is a place where it is safe to try new things. We want to continue working alongside our peers in order to encourage growth in Austin’s startup ecosystem, and support as many bright entrepreneurs as possible. Now is the time to focus on Austin’s potential to use technology to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges in a way that starts locally and scales globally.