An Interview with Na’ama Moran, CEO of Cheetah, Alchemist Class 2


Na'ama Moran came to the US from Israel to study economics, math and political science at Cornell. After school, Na'ama joined NYC’s emerging markets hedge-fund, Greylock Capital Management, as an analyst. She left finance to pursue her dream of building products that make people's lives better with technology. She moved to Silicon Valley where she concurrently took classes in Computer Science at Stanford and co-founded Zappedy, a services platform enabling local businesses to close the loop between online marketing and offline sales. The company was acquired by Groupon in 2011. While working at Zappedy, Na'ama encountered a large variety of restaurant owners and food entrepreneurs. She discovered the hardships of running a restaurant and was surprised by the lack of transparency and ease-of-use in such an important marketplace. She decided to do something about it. Na'ama met cofounder Peretz Partensky while camping together at Burning Man. The two started working on what would eventually become Sourcery and raise $5M in funding. Her experience at Sourcery  led to her founding Cheetah Technologies to be the easiest, fastest, and most affordable way for small-medium businesses to get their daily supplies and services. In her spare time, Na’ama loves to practice yoga, hike the beautiful Bay Area trails, and read science fiction books.

What exactly is your startup bringing to the marketplace today?

My company today is like an Instacart for small businesses. We enable businesses to order their daily supplies from their mobile phone, anytime and from any place, and connect to a large network of local and national wholesale suppliers.

What was the impetus behind starting that? What made you think this is a good idea? What was the inspiration behind this venture?

I've worked with small businesses for the last couple of years, initially with restaurants in my previous business, Sourcery. What was really interesting about this market is the lack of transparency and the lack of a convenient way for small business owners to manage their daily purchasing and know product  pricing in advance. The way they manage their businesses is very antiquated. By accessing wholesale suppliers that are priced transparently on our app, and building this alternative supply chain, we’re enabling small businesses to have access to both local and national vendors, and benefit from a very convenient same day or next day delivery.

Can you talk a little bit about your background before the startup?

I worked in finance in a hedge fund for a couple of years right out of college. Then I moved to the Bay Area and I've been doing my own startups since then. For the last couple of startups  I've run, I've been working with small business owners primarily in the food service space. That gave me insight into the types of problems they were having.

Is there any previous experience or situation, either personally or professionally, that you felt helped prepare you for this startup? Was that working in finance or working with food services? Is there one thing that helped prepare you for what you're going through today?

I don't know if there was one thing. I think it's the connection of all the different businesses I’ve been doing for the last ten years. All of those startups taught me something different about finding product-market fit, building a scalable business, building and scaling a team. At my previous company Sourcery, which is the company that was enrolled in Alchemist, is when I got most familiar with the problems of small restaurants and small businesses in the food service space. It gave me deep familiarity with the problem and the impetus to come up with a solution.

On the topic of Alchemist, what made you apply to Alchemist?

I really like Ravi and his focus on the B2B space.I thought they had a very strong network of mentors.

Now that you've gone through Alchemist, what do you think was the most valuable thing you took from going through it?

It has a very strong network of mentors and alumni that is valuable for early stage startups. Especially people who are creating very large businesses in the B2B space and have a lot of knowledge and experience to share. The preparation for the demo day was very useful as well.

What is the most challenging matter you guys are currently facing? Fundraising, talent recruitment, product development?

I think recruiting in the Bay Area continues to be a very challenging endeavor, because the environment is so competitive. I would say being able to recruit top talent continues to be our biggest challenge. Our business is operations heavy and therefore, the various challenges we are facing have to do with scaling operations.

Can you talk through one of the highest highs and lowest lows of the last month?

We've grown our topline by more than fifty percent on a quarterly basis, compared to last quarter. This is definitely one of the highlights. One of the low moments we had, had to do with  recruiting. We gave offers to people that we really wanted to bring onto the team and they we were not accepted. This was pretty disappointing.

Looking to the future, what constitutes success and what are your goals in the next twelve months?

Being able to meet or exceed our goals would be a strong indication that we had a successful twelve months. We have certain projections and they're pretty aggressive so being able to, as they say, “meet them or beat them” would be really good.

What entrepreneurial lesson or skill do you think took you the longest to learn or are you still continuing to work on?

I think there is a skill in finding product-market fit. Unless you get lucky, you need to develop this skill in a very methodical, focused way. I believe I have been able to develop this skill over time, but I'm sure there is still a lot to be learned. Today, with my current company, I think we have a proof that we have found product-market fit and the biggest challenge is to scale the business very rapidly and be able to confront very strong competition in our markets. The challenge is different. The challenge is really about scaling a business and being able to sustain it, rather than figuring out if we have product-market fit.

And so if you could hypothetically go back to yourself on the first day of your startup, what advice would you give yourself?

Be able to let go of bad ideas and bad people faster.

Is that similar to the Silicon Valley saying, “Fail quickly, fail often”? Is it better to get through a bad idea and move on to something good than to hold on to it?

Yes. Being able to let go of bad ideas or bad strategy or bad people a lot faster probably would have made me successful faster than I have been.

Do you personally have any advice for founders who are not from the US?

It’s all about the network you build here. For people who are not from the US, it might be a little bit harder to build their networks. Being able to build a network as fast as possible is probably the biggest advice I can give.

Has there been anyone specifically that helped you get to where you are today, that you think you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them?

There are various people like that. Some of my investors have been incredibly supportive and informative in helping me to get where I am. There have been people I work with and colleagues that have been instrumental in helping me get to where I am today. I don't think there is one person. There are multiple people, between investors, colleagues and mentors, that I can point to.

How did you get in contact with soe of these people and develop that relationship? That is something a lot of founders struggle with, building networks and trying to get to know these people. They find it really hard.

It’s a good question! It's just a matter of always trying to make connections or initiate meetings. Even if the meeting doesn't necessarily work out to provide you what you want, ask the person to introduce you to other people that could be useful. Just constantly build that network with every meeting that you have. Be able to build a network through friends. I went to Stanford for a certain period of time, I met some people there. I went to Alchemist and YC, these are networks I am a part of. All these different organizations are ways to build those networks.

Of all the jobs you can have, startups are more on the intensive side. The types of people that start companies, tend to have a passion for it. For you, whether it be five or ten years from now, what constitutes success for you personally and this venture? What would make you feel this was all worth it at the end of the day?

I think it would be the impact I end up having on the lives of my customers and employees. Hopefully, I will see some significant monetary return for my efforts as well. I'm doing this  to really have an impact and change the way people are doing business, and change the way our employees are living their lives. Creating wealth for both my customers, employees is my number one goal and inspiration.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures/year. Learn more about applying today.

An Interview with James Cham, Partner, Bloomberg Beta


James Cham is a venture capital investor with Bloomberg Beta, a firm focused on investing in the future of work. James invests in companies working on applying machine intelligence to businesses and society. Prior to Bloomberg Beta, James was a Principal at Trinity Ventures and a VP at Bessemer Venture Partners, where he focused on consumer services, enterprise software, digital media; and served on the boards of CrowdFlower, Open Candy, LifeLock, ReputationDefender, Sonic Mule, and BillShrink. He was previously a management consultant at The Boston Consulting Group and a software developer. James received an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management and Computer Science degree from Harvard.

How did you get into the world of Venture Capital?

After the startup that I was a part of got acquired, I went to business school. A good friend of mine introduced me to a firm called Bessemer, where I got my introduction to venture capital and how I ended up investing in startups.

And before Venture Capital you were a software developer?

That's right, I was a software developer in the late 90s to early 2000s. I was part of that transition from client-server over to web-based, enterprise applications, and I wrote a bunch of mediocre code and made a bunch of bad design decisions that other people suffered for as a result. So I’ve been through enough cycles to least understand what that feels like from a potential customer perspective.

Why did you invest in LaunchDarkly?

Let me take a step back. When we raised money from Bloomberg to start the fund nearly five years ago, one of the core claims was that we are living in a world where everyone's a knowledge worker. In that world, we should look at the best knowledge workers around. We should copy their techniques to find ways for them to scale what they're doing. And of course, the best knowledge workers in the world are software developers. This is in part because some of the best software developers are a mix of lazy and smart -- they spend all their time avoiding working on applications and instead work on frameworks and systems infrastructure. So broadly, that is what we’re excited about.

LaunchDarkly is exciting for two core reasons: One, there was an immediate sense of recognition of a problem. When I first heard Edith pitch the idea, I thought “Oh my goodness! I wish this existed when I was being yelled at as a software developer or when I was managing projects.” There's a sense that this should exist and this is the right way to do something. I think most software developers do this. You build your own bad bug-tracking system or slightly lame issues-tracking system. And I had done something like a features flag product for some other project, but I didn't call it that. There was a sense that Edith understood this and saw this more clearly than I did. That’s one excitement.

And then there's the other reality which is the excitement of seeing a leader like we did. There's a point when you meet her and say, “Oh, she's not just someone who has built something interesting, but she’s someone you can see leading something important.” That’s another important part of what made it exciting for me. As I've gotten to know her better, that’s only been validated more and more.

You met LaunchDarkly through Alchemist. What are your thoughts of Alchemist in general?

The thing that is most helpful about Alchemist is that it’s more systems driven. The people around it are quite credible and thoughtful. You look at the set of advisors: These are people who aren’t really famous and lightly involved, but rather accomplished and very deeply involved. From my perspective, that makes the process of diligence and validating people much easier.

There’s always a sense about Alchemist that you’re being as positive as possible about the opportunity, but at the same time you don’t lie. That's an important thing for an investor and really helpful.

What is the approximate size of your fund? How does that compare to other funds in a similar stage?

As the markets are fragmented, even in the earlier stage, judging how we compare to other funds does become more complicated. But the core physics of our first fund was $75M, and the second fund is also $75M. Our first check sizes range between $100K to $1M, and we participate anywhere from friends and family rounds to right before the Series A.

Does your fund have a specific vision or focus? I know you've touched on the future of work prior, but is there more to that?

We talk about the future of work, in part, because historians of science would say that it takes two generations of managers for any new technology to really make an impact on the economy. At the start of our fund, we were twenty years into the Web -- networked computers, which is another way to think about it. We were convinced that it is only now we’ll see massive changes in the way people work, because now you have a bunch of people creating businesses that are suited for the Web.

Within that vision, we have a focus both on productivity for knowledge workers -- we see a lot of opportunities to integrate and learn from developers -- and the way software ends up changing the way that people do business. New tools will be required to support this new kind of business, which include developer tools up to enterprise software.

We also believe that machine learning, model building, and AI in general are different than normal software development. I think they have profound implications that we haven’t understood yet, not just on all the cutting edge research we’ve done, but especially around the way that people make good software and machine learning models. Machine learning model building is different than software development. The economic characteristics are different, meaning machine learning will give rise to new business models. So somewhere out there, there’s going to be a person that is the Bill Gates or Marc Benioff of machine learning. They are going to do a mix of marketing, technical, and product insights and come up with a different way of providing machine learning or AI-driven businesses in a different light. They are going to charge in a different way or sell it in a different way. That’s the innovation or change in the way that people do business that we’re most excited about, and where we spend a lot of time.

How does your fund differentiate itself from other funds?

On the one hand, the money is a commodity. The money is the same, and so the way you differentiate is you bundle different services along with it. Some of that is the personality of the partners and the way that they relate to other people. A part of that is also a set of things that we focus on. I think, we think through more than other firms ways that founders can make a dent in the universe through the way they talk about themselves. On that side, we’ve thought a lot out. And we work with our companies a lot around that.

So much of it depends on the specific relationship that each partner has with the founder that that investor has invested in, especially at the seed stage. There aren’t magic formulas.

How do you individually differentiate yourself from other individual VC’s?

The right way to compete along those lines is not to compete. Instead, I’m most interested in angles that people aren’t thinking about yet. And I’m most interested in thinking through angles that are poorly understood.

So if someone has just another generic SaaS company that’s growing at a certain percentage, then I'm probably not the right person for them. An old friend of mind would say that there’s two types of VCs. There are VCs that if they weren’t VCs, they’d be bankers, and others who are VCs because they spent too much time pitching. I’m definitely part of the second camp. There are a whole set of ideas that should be enabled and would be if someone stuck their neck out and said they believed this founder could create something special and make the world better. And that’s what I try to do.

​What makes an investment compelling for you? Is there something in particular that makes an investment more compelling than not?

There are all the things that people talk about: traction, the team’s experience, potential, etc. I think those things are all really important, but the thing that might be under appreciated is that core insight. Sometimes the founders don't understand what the core insight is. There is nothing quite as exciting as sitting with a founder and discovering together what actually makes them special. And oftentimes that core insight can be communicated in a paragraph or it could take a lifetime to get there. For me, that’s what I'm looking for that. It’s going to be in areas where I have enough preconceived notions that someone could surprise me.

What is the number one red flag for you that would make you pass on an investment?

The moment I feel like I can’t trust someone is probably the number one reason why. When it’s close or we thought we should have invested, that tends to be the number one surprising thing about most folks that we pass on. Investing in a company is not something you take lightly. We take it very seriously and it’s a relationship we take very seriously as well.

What separates the great founders who get an investment from you vs. the good founders who don't quite make the cut?

There’s a way in which the best founders help you believe. Whether it’s helping the investors believe or first customers or the first employee or the co-founders. And that way of getting someone to believe, it comes in all sorts of ways. It’s not generic. It comes in many sizes and forms, but that ability to impose your will on the universe. It only works if you can convince other people.

Would you be more likely to fund a very experienced team with a mediocre idea or a team of novices with an amazing idea?

Nuance matters a lot here. I think that there are plenty of times when the very smart, experienced team can take a mediocre, initial idea and because they are so customer-oriented or technically visionary that they end up building something better, smarter, or more interesting. However, generically, I hunt for people who have extraordinary insight and how they get there. The insights do not have to manifest themselves with the first product, but they manifest themselves somehow that makes them extraordinary.

Is there any piece of advice you would give founders who are fundraising that you think does not get shared enough?

I think founders forget how much power they have in a situation. There are cycles that founders get in where they end up feeling like this is just another boring sales call. But what the founders are doing is they're sharing their most precious things. They're sharing things that they probably care more about than almost anything else in the universe. When they pitch, they should treat it that way. That investors are lucky to get a view into this. The moment the founder forgets that, humans can smell it. You have to continue to be resilient and continue to believe because investors, although we do it through a financial instrument, at the core, we’re declaring we have faith in someone and we have enough faith that we’re putting our money and our goodwill behind it.

If you think about Edith and the way that they were together and the way that they communicated and seemed to take what they do seriously, even when things are difficult, that’s the sort of thing that an investor is looking for.

What areas are you excited about now and in the future?​

I’m excited for when things that we call AI-related start being machine learning-related and get boring. When everyone understands how to engineer a bunch of problems, things get boring, and that's when you end up with a lot of product innovation. I’m very excited about that!

An Interview with Toni Schneider, Founding Venture Partner, True Ventures

A Swiss native who studied computer science at Santa Barbara City College and Stanford University, Toni Schneider started his career as a software engineer working on NASA virtual reality simulators. He went on to become a startup founder and CEO, and an executive at Yahoo!, before joining the True team as a founding Venture Partner. Toni is well known for his role as CEO of Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com. He helped WordPress become a globally known brand that powers over 30% of all sites on the internet. For his work, Toni was recognized at the Crunchies as CEO of the year.

When he is not running one company or advising another, you can find Toni in his VW van crossing the US with his family, coaching San Francisco Little League baseball, or tinkering with old cars.

How did you get into the world of venture capital?

I got into it first as an entrepreneur and founder, raising money from VCs. I did that for three startups. Then I switched to VC while also still being CEO of a startup. True Ventures is the only VC firm I’ve ever been with. One of True’s co-founders, Phil Black, was a close friend of mine. He was thinking about starting a new VC firm and asked me if I would be interested in being part of it. So when he started True together with Jon Callaghan, I said yes and dove in to learn from them how to raise money from limited partners and make venture investments as we pulled together True’s first fund in 2006.

That’s so interesting to be on both sides. You began on the entrepreneurial side pitching to VCs and now you are a VC. How do you think that transition helped prepare you? Does it help you identify what you are looking for in a company that you want to fund? What a red flag would be, that sort of thing?

It's probably both good and bad. The good part is that I was able to bring a founder’s perspective to how we structured True. Our goal was to be very founder friendly. I could share honestly what it was like to sit on the other side of the table from a VC. That helped in creating a firm where we really think of founders and entrepreneurs as our customers and where we do everything we can to provide a good service to them.

Another advantage is that when I look at startup teams, I have a good hands on feeling for their abilities because I’ve run several startups and hired and managed many startup teams.

The disadvantage is that it comes with biases. I had a certain experience as an entrepreneur and certain things that worked for me and certain things that failed. That very much shaped my thinking around startups. While it gives me a good point of view, I also have a harder time going outside of my own experience and being open to different approaches to starting businesses.

What for you personally makes a startup look like a good idea? What is something compelling to you as a startup you would fund?

For me it always starts with the team. I look for strong founder qualities, which in my mind are the ability to be very charismatic, and to have a really exciting, big, long term vision combined with flexibility when it comes to everyday execution that's going to be very zig-zaggy for a startup. There will be new challenges every day. So you look for somebody who's comfortable asking for help and being adaptable near term, but has an audacious long term vision that they don't waver from. The charisma and communication skills will help attract a lot of people to their startup.

Finally, someone who has a lot of depth in their area of expertise. This is something I always look for. As I dig into an idea, do I feel, “Wow, this person is three steps ahead of me and has really thought it through and knows everything about the space they’re about to get into”? Any good idea is going to have more than one team chasing after it, and I want to bet on the team that has a lot of depth.

There's a lot of emphasis for future founders on idea generation, but it honestly sounds like the idea comes second to more of the team, from what I just heard you say...

First step is to be in the right place at the right time for your skillset. There are other factors that play into it, but without the right people, none of it is going to work.

The second step is the product and the idea. The product needs to be unique and truly compelling and have a story that can be articulated in a simple way. What does the product do? Who is it for? What makes it unique? It's surprising how often founders can’t answer those three basic questions in a straightforward manner. I want to invest in a product that gets me personally excited, that I believe will have a positive impact on the world, and that will make customers say, “Wow, I want that, that’s different. That’s a totally new approach.”

For the third step, like everybody else in the VC business, I look at the market. Is this something that if it works out - there can be a ton of risk associated with, frankly we want a ton of risk - but if it works out, could it be a very big business? Is it a big market that seems ready for a massive change? That has to be in place as well, otherwise you can have an amazing team with an amazing product, but without big growth and revenue potential it won’t be a VC scale opportunity. That's not what we’re in business for.

What was the number one red flag that would caution you away from investing in a team or a startup?

On the people side, it's teams that don't seem to have the right chemistry or the right understanding of what their roles are going to be, or teams that don't have a track record together. That for me is maybe not a red flag, but definitely a yellow flag.

The biggest red flag usually comes up during initial due diligence. It happens quite a bit that I'll think “Wow, this is a really good idea, I'm going to dig in,” and when I do, I realize that there are already a bunch of teams doing the same thing and the idea quickly doesn't seem so original. It feels like more of a rehash or tweak of another idea. That usually throws cold water on a project for me. That’s the biggest red flag, that an idea isn’t that unique.

It's only one percent of startups go on to become really big. You really do have to filter out ones that you don't think are capable or have a clever idea.

Yes, and even when everything fits, even when you check all the boxes that I just described, it's still hard. Because nothing ever plays out exactly the way we plan and hope. Another filter we use at True is that we focus on one type of deal. We do two to three million dollar seed rounds. That’s it. If it’s something that is a really good idea with a good team, but two to three million dollars is not enough to get it off the ground or it’s already past the seed stage, we won't do it even though it might be a great opportunity. We are really trying to stay focused on one stage of investing, do it well, and have a whole portfolio of companies that go through the same stage so they can all learn from and support each other.

Seems like True has a specific focus on seed round innovative companies, what else do you look for?

We’re not thesis investors. We don’t have certain sector or certain type of business that we look for. We’re not a “SaaS fund” or a “Crypto fund”. We invest behind great founders and then double down when things are working. For example, we were early investors in Fitbit, a couple of years before hardware startups and connected devices became a trend. We weren't looking for that trend, we just liked that team and particular idea, and when we saw it working for them, we followed on with a bunch more hardware investments like Ring and Peloton. We follow wherever our founders take us. Recently, we've invested in robots, satellites, and biotech, which are all new areas for us. We try to be very open-minded about what the subject matter might be.

You really do try to treat founders and startups that work with you very well. Is that how your fund differentiates from others? There are certainly quite a lot of VC funds around here.

One thing that makes us different is that we invest earlier than the majority of VCs. We're really close to an angel stage, but we're a full service VC firm. We are there in the very beginning, often when it’s just two or three people with an idea, and we have our founders’ backs all the way through. Most VC firms want to see revenue traction and product-market fit before they even look at something.

The second thing we do that differentiates us is we are focused on the personal needs of a founding team, not just the business needs. We know what you will need as a founder, as a leader, to get really good at your job, to get through the ups and downs of doing a startup. If something goes wrong, we want to be your first phone call. We don't want to be the kind of investor where you feel like, “Oh God, something went wrong, how do I break this to my investors? I don't want to talk to them.” We hope to have a trusted relationship so that even when things don't go well, we're going to be there and help you through it.

Part of how we do that is to connect all the founders within our portfolio and they help each other improve. That's our founder network and platform. We have events and tools that facilitate direct, open, and honest collaboration. It’s optional, but most of our founders take advantage of this amazing peer network. I think it’s super valuable and quite unique among VC firms.

What made you to want to invest in Laura and her startup, Atipica? What made them stand out from the pack of other investments you were evaluating at the time?

Laura and Atipica really hit a lot of the boxes I mentioned earlier. She’s a very charismatic founder with a big vision, a great communicator with deep knowledge in the area of diversity, inclusion and hiring. She had spent several years working on the idea and product, talking to a lot of companies about their needs, so she had depth of expertise. We started working together a little bit over two years ago. It was still early days in diversity and inclusion tools and she was well ahead of many of the people we talked to. She had a small team, pre-revenue but she already had some pilot customers. So it was the right stage for us and we felt like our seed investment could help her build out her team, get the product launched, and get to the next stage.

The hiring and recruiting sector in particular was interesting to us at the time. We had just had a successful exit to LinkedIn with Connectifier, and I was and still am on the board of another investment we made in this space called Handshake. They’re in the college recruiting space and doing very well. So I was personally excited about hiring tools and got quickly interested in Laura’s vision to make the recruiting and hiring process become more fair and inclusive and help companies understand why they're having such a hard time building diverse workforces.

Is there any piece of advice that you would give founders who are up and coming next generation founders that you don't think get shared enough currently? Something that people are failing to focus on when they're thinking, “I want to become a founder”? Is there some aspect you see time and time again they forget and you would caution them to focus on?

Try and get as much perspective as possible. When I was an entrepreneur raising money, I felt that I knew and loved my team and my business, and I could pitch them all day long. But when I went into VC meetings, I was new at it and had never heard any other pitches. On the flip side, those investors had heard tons of them, yet I had no idea how I stacked up. I've definitely seen founders come through True who think they nailed it but they didn't. And I’ve seen founders completely hit it out of the park with us and were like, “Was that OK? I have no idea!”

My advice is to connect with other founders and see other pitches, or at least get some information on how high the bar is. I think that's how you get better. Don't try just work on your own idea, on your own pitch within your own bubble, but really try and see what else is going on out there, who's doing really well and connecting. How are they doing it? What's the subject matter?

A lot of what you're describing was actually the impetus behind why Alchemist got started. The founder, Ravi, felt the same thing, a lot of startups didn't really know how to compare and weren't really swapping notes and sharing. Alchemist has become like a community where you can share ideas, help each other out and that everyone is trying to get the best out of everyone else.

Exactly. The most worthwhile part of being a part of a program like that is learning from each other and getting perspective.

Then the last thing I'm really curious about is seeing how you get to see all the upcomings startups, tech products and services. What areas do you personally think are going to be the most exciting and you are most excited about in the upcoming near future?

I get that question a lot and actually I don’t know. Literally someone will walk through the door tomorrow with an incredibly exciting idea that we couldn't anticipate. All the super interesting things we have gotten really excited about are little bit out of left field. We're trying to be truly open to new people and ideas because our next great investment can come from anywhere.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.

Emotional Triggers and Investing

Directors like James Cameron, James L. Brooks, and Steven Spielberg are masters when it comes to understanding human emotion. In just a few short scenes, they can leave a whole audience in tears. They aren’t doing anything magical. They’re just appealing to the same human emotions we all have. As an Alchemist Accelerator Partner, I teach founders how to apply the same principles to fundraising. Get an investor emotionally excited and investment comes naturally. Try to beat them to death with numbers and figures, and you’ll just spin your wheels. Investors see thousands of pitches a year and fund a handful. If you want to win, you have to get them excited and snap them out of their default behavior of “no.”

Luckily for founders, investors are human too. So naturally, they have common emotional triggers that spark excitement, and ultimately, investment. In working with hundreds of founders, as well as raising $5.4million in seed funding for my own startup, I’ve identified eight emotional triggers nearly all investors respond to. By focusing on conveying these points to prospective investors, founders stand much better chances of raising capital and ultimately building great businesses.

The eight emotional triggers are:

  • Big Market

  • Rapid Growth

  • Why Now?

  • Unfair Advantages

  • Founder Strength

  • Founder Bond

  • FOMO

  • Confidence

Big Market

Investors live and die by their returns. The only way to get big returns is to invest in companies that have potential for big exits. For most investors, big market is a fairly binary measure: “Is the TAM (total addressable market) large enough to get me outsized returns on my investment?” they’ll be thinking. If the TAM is over $2B, you’ll get a check and if it’s less than $2B, they’ll likely have to pass—even if they really like you. So make sure you help your investors know exactly how big your market is by helping them do the math. If an investor is asking questions about how many customers are in your space or how big you think the market is, don't make them guess at the answers. Give them all the data they need to help them understand the TAM. This is especially important if there's a general perception your market may be too small.

Rapid Growth

The only thing that separates a startup from a small business is rapid growth. It’s literally the definition of a startup. The easiest way to demonstrate a rapidly growing company is to, of course, be growing rapidly, which typically means you’re adding users, customers, or revenue quickly. However, if you’re pre-revenue or pre-launch, growth projections can also help to convince an investor that your business is about to take off. If you've done the work in Excel to know you're adopting the best business model, now is the time to use it to convince someone else.

Why Now?

The why now question is really a two-part question of movement. Why has this business never been possible until now? What has changed now to make this business possible for the first time? After all, fresh ideas are nearly impossible so chances are others have come before you and failed. You need to explain what has changed that will make your vision succeed. Market movement creates opportunity. You see it. They see it, but only you know how your business can best seize the opportunity to create billions more for the benefit of both of your organizations.

Unfair Advantages

Investors recognize there are lots of smart people in the world, so becoming a successful company in a crowded marketplace requires more than just efficient execution. Describe precisely how you're creating a new earnings engine as well as any unfair advantages you may have. For example, if you have extreme domain knowledge around analyzing very large datasets or have worked in the industry you're targeting with your new product (e.g., healthcare), you should highlight that in your pitch.

Founder Strength

Building any successful company is hard. Building a multi-billion dollar company is nearly impossibly hard. When investors invest in your business, they can’t just believe in your idea. They have to believe in YOU. The best way to convince them is to show them a history of exceptional achievements. For example, if you have a new security technology, are you already an inventor holding patents or do you have a CISSP? Name drop. Make connections to your market. Mention achievements and show off logos. Be sure to share all of your founding team strengths.

Founder Bond

Co-founder conflicts are among the top reasons startups fail. It’s not talked about every day on TechCrunch, but investors see it all the time in their portfolios. So when a potential investor asks, “How did you and your co-founder meet?” he or she actually doesn’t really care about your cute story of growing up together and your mutual admiration of Pokemon. What the investor really wants to know is if you and your co-founder are committed to each other enough to stick it out through the ups and the inevitable downs of startup life. Founders who have bonded because they've known each other awhile often have an edge because (presumably) their relationship has already weathered some turbulence.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

In the public markets, investors pay big money for the privilege of investing in stocks at a future date, at a current known price. It’s called option trading and it’s a multi-billion dollar market in the U.S. alone. In the private market, investors get “free options” all day by telling founders simple things like “We’re still discussing things internally” or “We’re still working through diligence items.” As a founder, it’s your job to move these maybes to real answers. The best way to do this is by appealing to what we all fear, which is missing out on something that might be amazing.

Confidence  

Investors are looking for founders with confidence. After all, if you aren’t confident in your own business, why should the investor be confident in your ability to make it successful? One of my fundraising mentors, Michael Carter, used to remind me, “It’s your job to be confident.” That haunted me during my own fundraising process, but it also provided a healthy reminder that confidence isn’t an emotion. It’s something you can project through tone, body language, and deliberate actions—even if deep down inside you feel anything but confident.

Emotion stays with us, making the discovery of the right human connection a significant factor in an evolving investment strategy. Talk. Uncover. Discover. Emotional triggers have the power to accelerate your funding success.


About Michia Rohrssen

Michia Rohrssen

Michia Rohrssen is the CEO of Prodigy, the fastest growing auto startup. He is also a founder/blogger at B2BFounder.com, providing actionable insights from a founder in the trenches. Before Prodigy, he served as Head of Growth at VentureBeat and CEO of Smarter Solutions. Learn more at https://getprodigy.com.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.

How to get Momentum when Fundraising


The most powerful tool you have in closing an investor is fear of missing out (FOMO). FOMO only occurs when you have momentum in the round. Once you get that momentum, you start closing investors and a virtuous circle begins, increasing FOMO and carrying you to a great round. Here’s three ways to build momentum when you’re fundraising for your startup.

Low Round Targets

Setting a low round target does 2 things: first it broadens the number of investors who can participate in the round, increasing competition. Second, the round looks almost closed with even a small amount of investment. You can always increase the size of the round later as demand catches up. The only cost of this approach is creating a credible business plan for each successive target.

For example, you only need one investor with $50k to be half full in a $100k round. Conversely, if you tell an investor you’re raising $3M and have $50k raised, the situation seems less attractive. When you start getting yeses you can increase the size of the round in stages and still have the majority raised at all times.

Reserving Space

You can also build momentum by getting smaller investors to earmark parts of the round. This usually comes in the form of new, angel investors and existing investors participating with their pro rata (or more). Ask the investor if they’d like to reserve a spot while they decide? If you get a verbal yes, you can’t give that space to another investor and thus more of the round is now ‘earmarked’, ‘spoken for’ or ‘wrapped up’.

For example, say you’re raising $500k and currently have $150k committed. When talking to a new and interested investor, Investor-A, you ask their usual check size, which is $100k. Next, ask if they want you to hold that space for them while they decide, as the round is filling up. If Investor-A says ‘Yes’, then going forward you can’t offer that space to any other investors. Thus, your round is now half full.

Maybes are worse than Noes

One of the hardest parts of fundraising is hearing noes. Your fear of these noes can hinder momentum. All great companies get a lot of rejections during fundraising and being willing to push for a decision will actually help your process. Leaving a potential investor for weeks in the maybe column will almost certainly result in a no. Follow up regularly with updates but don’t blast everyone with fake success to push for an immediate decision.

To avoid hassling a deciding investor without cause, your follow ups should be focused on good news. Provide updates on new investors, or reservations, in the round, customer wins and product launches. At the end of each email you can ask if they’ve decided or need anything else. Eventually, you have to give a deadline to avoid dragging out the conversation too long. Even if that leads to a ‘no’, it’s still progress.

Hi Joe,
Wanted to quickly share some great news, the team closed Hooli today and the contract should be signed next week. Let me know if you have any questions or if you’ve come to a decision?
Thanks
Ash

Raising money for your startup is a grueling test for any founder but it gets better once you have momentum. Making use of these strategies makes it easier to get started and increases your chances of getting the round you need.

Thanks to Duncan Davidson, Pejman Nozad, Mar Hershenson and Kaego Rust for reading drafts of this.

Cofounder & CEO @SendHub (Cameo Global), Faculty @AlchemistAcc. Alum@YCombinator@UniofOxford. Prev: @Klout (Lithium), @OneRiot (Walmart). IG: ashrust

Re-tweet post - 

10 Due Diligence Points When Selecting a Startup Accelerator

Last week Samir Kanji (First Republic Bank) published a blog with a list of the accelerators ranked by graduates who received more than $750,000 in funding.  Cromwell Shubarth of the San Jose Business Journal pointed out a change in the rankings for the Alchemist Accelerator.

Game Changers Silicon Valley had a chance to catch up with Ravi Belani and Danielle D’Agostaro from the Alchemist Accelerator a few weeks ago.  This interview, conducted for the Game Changers Silicon Valley show, as part 1 of a two part show.  Here is a 2 ½ minute segment from the interview with the Alchemist Accelerator.

Accelerators provide an Education in Entrepreneurship

Accelerators are very similar to educational institutions, and it is important to separate “the signal from the noise” to allow company to identify the best fit among the many accelerators.

The Alchemist Accelerator admits only companies that monetize from the enterprise and who have established technical teams.

A focus on the enterprise allows companies to identify customers and generate revenues from the enterprise which improves the viability of the startup.

The classic enterprise entrepreneur is the person with 10 years of experience, although there are very disruptive companies who have never worked in the enterprise space.

Valuable learning can be gained from the mentorship via coaches and experts, every companies has a CEO coach, a Sales Coach and Goal coach plus domain knowledge experts.

There are five venture capital investors and five corporate investors who provided the working capital of the Alchemist Accelerator.

Both segments of the Alchemist Accelerator can be viewed at the link for Game Changers North America

Take-away considerations for entrepreneurs:

Not all accelerators are created equal:

Founding teams should review and qualify accelerator program in your geographic area.  Most of this information can be taken from blogs and articles.  Some of the areas for a general assessment should be:

  1. List the terms of the accelerator program including program duration, working capital provided, common stock contribution to the accelerator, physical work space, frequency of meetings, and training sessions such as pitch training and business plan reviews.
  2. What is the reputation and value proposition of the accelerator?  Most accelerators have a mission statement, a primary value proposition and an operating plan ( number of classes per year, number of companies per class, and a list of participating investors at their demo day)
  3. Does the accelerator have domain expertise via mentors or coaches in the markets or the technology areas being addressed by the startup?
  4. Does the accelerator do an in-depth review and qualify companies applying to join the program?
  5. What is the level of investor interest, traction and engagement with companies during the program, ideally there should be engagement well before the demo day.


Once a startup company narrows the list of accelerator programs that would be a fit, the founders should conduct their own due diligence on the accelerator.  The following our list of starting points:

  1. Contact companies who completed the program, including both companies who received follow on funding and those who did not receive the follow up funding. Speaking with co-founders of companies who did not receive follow on fundingwill provide insights into the perceived reasons funding was not obtained as well as help verify the quality of the program.
  2. Review the alignment of the accelerator’s domain and mentor expertise to your company and the founder.
  3. Review and evaluate if the listed investors who invested in previous graduating companies are the appropriate type of investors for your company.
  4. Review the connection and relationship maintained by the accelerator with post graduate companies, can a company who has completed the program continue to draw upon the resources and advisors connected to the accelerator.  
  5. Review published videos from the demo-day presentations.  These publicly available sources provide insight into the type, status ( pre-revue, revenue) and quality of the companies in the various startup accelerators. Some accelerators have a webpage listing their demo day presentations, or do a quick search on YouTube for “accelerator_name demo day”.

Summary

The first decision is to determine if an accelerator will materially promote a startup company's progress both in development and execution of the business plan and engagement with potential investors. 

Choosing the wrong accelerator can result in a disappointing experience.  All accelerators will quote metrics on the average follow-on funding received as a result of the program.  However, the average funding percentages for companies in past programs represents only one data point. Conducting additional due diligence can significantly improve your chances for the right decision as well as a successful engagement and outcome.

For more Game Changers Silicon Valley shows: http://www.GameChangers.tv

Facebook: Game Changers Silicon Valley

Twitter:  GameChangersX


Jim ConnorExecutive Producer at Game Changers Silicon Valley; Angel Investor

Use Hacker News to Source Engineers

Hacker News can be a great source of finding engineering talent for your company. Here are few ways I have found on HN to source great talent for my own startup:

Ask HN: Who is hiring?

“Who is hiring” is a monthly thread where companies can post technical job openings free of cost. A new thread is featured on HN homepage on first weekday of every month. For example, this is the “Who is hiring” thread for July 2016.

You should also check out a this cool interface for Who is hiring threads byMicah Wylde.

Ask HN: Who wants to be hired?

Unlike “Who is hiring”, where companies post job opening, “Who wants to be hired” is a monthly thread where active job seekers post about themselves. Majority of job seekers are remote workers but you can also find candidates who are willing to relocate.

Here is the google link to find past threads for “Who wants to be hired?”

Ask HN: Freelancer? Seeking freelancer?

This monthly thread is dedicated for freelancers only. Here is the google link for past threads.

Bonus tip: follow “Show HN”

Show HN is a place where hackers post their interesting projects and showcase their skills. Check that space regularly to connect with smart people who are working on technologies relevant to your company.

Why Startups Fail

“90% of startups fail.”

You’ve probably heard that before. But what does it mean?

Over the past couple years, I’ve :

  • been the founder and CEO of multiple startups
  • raised money
  • been acquired by a public company
  • participated in the world’s top startup accelerator programs,
  • failed and watched others fail
  • succeeded and watched others succeed
  • and ate a lot of ramen noodles #truth

Given my experiences, I thought it would be valuable to share my views on why startups fail.

If you understand why startups fail, you will be more likely to succeed.

In school, we’re taught history to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Similarly, as entrepreneurs (practicing or aspiring), we should understand why startups have failed so we can decrease our own chances of failure. After reading this, you will understand the main reasons startups have failed in the past, making you more likely to succeed.

Defining Failure

Startups fail when they can no longer operate -> Startups can't operate when they run out of money.

Understanding this may seem basic, but it’s important. I’ve heard many times that, “the reason a startup fails is because they run out of money.” That’s not a reason. That is the result.

Failure = No Money.

If we can agree that in most cases startups fail because they run out of money, then to truly understand startup failure we need to understand why startups run out of money. Make sense? Great, let’s dig deeper.

Top 3 reasons why startups run out of money

Lucky for us, all we need to know is the top 3, because those 3 reasons account for over 80% of startup failures. I definitely just made up that statistic, but it’s probably in that ballpark.

    Reason #1: Building something nobody wants

Over the years, it has been clear that if a startup doesn’t build a product/service that people want, they will not be able to generate revenue.  

Revenue = money; no revenue = no money; no money = fail.

In one of Paul Graham’s famous essays, he wrote about this topic and why startups need to “make something people want” (http://paulgraham.com/good.html). It seems so obvious, but in reality it’s not.

Entrepreneurs need to think differently and see the future. While doing this, many assumptions are made because there isn’t enough information to make decisions - if there was enough information, someone else would already be doing it. One of the worst assumptions entrepreneurs make is that people will want their product. The problem is that this should not be an assumption, instead, it should be a hypothesis. Having a hypothesis that people will want your product means that you need to prove it. The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is: they don’t prove people want their product. What ends up happening is founders skip this step and go directly to building products, hiring people, finding partners, then trying to sell. “Trying” is the key word here, because after they realize they can’t sell, it’s too late and they’ve run out of money.

Learning Point #1: Prove that people want what you’re building. 

Before building anything, prove to yourself and your team that people actually want what you’re building. A trick I’ve learned over time is to start with designs. Create your designs on Photoshop or Sketch and use a tool like InVision. This will help you simulate your product without having to write a single line of code. It’s easier, faster, and cheaper to iterate on designs than code.

    Reason #2: No Focus

From my experiences founding and mentoring dozens of startups, I’ve seen that focus and prioritization are necessary to achieve success (and avoid failure). Again, doesn’t this sound obvious? It’s not. In a startup, you’re being pulled in all different directions. Founders think they have to do everything at once. They are meeting investors, partners, mentors, customers, building products, figuring out a marketing strategy, going to all the conferences, and blah blah blah...

In reality, there are only 1-3 things at any given time that actually matter. Ideally, you’ve identified and prioritized those things, then distributed the responsibilities across your team. Time is against startups, so it’s important to focus on what matters and optimize your time. Many startups make the mistake of prioritizing raising money from investors. This is because that’s what everyone else is doing and it seems like the cool thing to do. They end up wasting so much time because the company isn’t ready to raise money. Either they don’t have a good product or have low traction, and often they don’t know why they’re raising money in the first place. In the end, they waste months talking to investors, and in that time they could have been proving that people want their product, building it, and selling it.

Learning Point #2: Prioritize, then focus.

Figure out what are the most high value areas you need to focus on. Here’s a prioritization order that applies to most B2B startups:

1) Prove people want what you’re building

2) Build it

3) Get early customers

4) Raise money

5) Hire smart people

6) Sell to more customers

7) Raise more money

8) Hire more smart people

9) Make your product better

10) Sell to more customers

At any point, you should know what stage you’re at, and therefore, what you should be spending most of your time on. This focus will lead to stronger execution and catalyze your growth. Without focus, a lot of money will be wasted and chances of failure will be higher.

    Reason #3: No Passion

A lot of people have this notion that starting a company is the dream. It’s no surprise given all the recent exits and IPOs. Startups have become sexy. As a result, I’ve seen many people start a company because they think they’ve stumbled on a great idea. Heck, I even did this back in university.

Whenever I meet a founder, I ask: “why did you start this company?”. This is the single most important question I’ve learned to ask founders. If you asked me that question when I started my first company, I would have said, “because I think it’s a good idea and the market is huge!”. The problem is, I had no passion. That company failed. There was nothing driving me behind the idea. Similarly, many startup founders I meet have no real passion or a deeper reason why they started their company.

If you’re starting a company without passion for the problem, then during the hard times you will be less motivated to power through them, and your chances of failure will be higher.

Learning Point #3: Do something you’re truly passionate about

I heard this saying somewhere: “Attitude is Altitude”. In my personal experiences, I’ve found this to be true. When you’re faced with hardship, either professionally or personally, staying positive will always increase your chances of success. It’s easy to get mad, depressed, and/or stressed, but try to control your emotions and stay positive by remembering why you started in the first place.

Having real passion is essential to get through hard times with your company. To get through the hard times, you need motivation. I’ve found that passion is the strongest motivator. When founders are extremely passionate about the problem they’re tackling, they figure out how to solve the issues at hand. The best motivators I’ve seen are:

- The founder(s) experienced the problem themselves

- The founder(s) believe in a future that may not exist unless they create it

- The founder(s) have close family and friends that have been affected by the problem

Putting it all together

Whether you’re working for a big company, thinking about starting a company, or already founded a startup, it’s worth reflecting on the lessons we have learned from past failures.

1) Build something people want, and prove that they want it.

2) Have focus at all times by prioritizing high-value initiatives.

3) Be real with yourself and do something you’re truly passionate about.

The interesting thing is, these 3 areas also apply to big companies. But, instead of the companies failing, individual products fail. There are multiple examples of products failing in big companies because they didn’t build something people want, or they lost focus. Learn from the past, make new mistakes, and remember, "Attitude is Altitude".

Lastly, Snapchat.

I’ve found that Snapchat is a great way to talk about these topics. Everyday I try posting interesting content on my Snapstory. Don’t wait for my next post on LinkedIn, follow me on Snapchat. Add my username: nav1d

By adding me on Snapchat, you can watch me talk about a variety of startup topics. In the past, I’ve talked about Marketing & Sales Tactics, Raising Money, and Staying Motivated. Add me and share with your friends and coworkers.

#learnfromfailure #startups #innovation #product #studentvoices #leadership #entrepreneurship #businessstrategy #bigideas 

Picks — What I’m Spending Time on Now

I’ve been having a blast since we sold StackStorm to Brocade.

As promised in my last post (the 4Ps of Picking), in this post I’d like to share with you a little bit about what I’m seeing in the market.

Like many, I see a greater gulf than ever between the frontier of what is possible and the performance of the average enterprise. You can see this gulf when you measure metrics in terms of operational agility — such as deployment frequency or deployment lead time (time spent in the queue before production).

And you can see the gap in outcomes in studies such as the Puppet Labs sponsored State of DevOps survey here:

http://resources.idgenterprise.com/original/AST-0147237_2015-state-of-devops-report.pdf

One of my favorite (hello StackStorm and auto-remediation!) is that the MTTR for super high performers is 168x faster than average performers.

So with that as context, here are a few of the spaces into which I’m looking:

Storage:

Given my background having helped create the open storage and software defined storage space, storage is a natural for me albeit one that is under incredible pressure and stress these days in part thanks to too much venture investment chasing what is a large but mature market. I have a bunch of friends and colleagues in storage and am confident in my picking skills in this space.

Cloudian:

I’m really proud that Cloudian has invited me to join their advisory board.

Cloudian has a unique offering in the storage space — it is a massively scaleable 100% compliant on-premise S3 cloud that includes far better metadata than does S3 for use in management (thanks in part to an early bet on AWS and Cassandra). They are achieving great outcomes for their customers both by saving them money on object storage (speeds, feeds and dollars per GB!) and, more importantly, by improving the productivity of IT teams all the way up to and including the development teams.

They have spent literally years perfecting their object storage with customers like NTT hosting and tier one financials. And now the word of mouth is spreading.

Cloudian is a much later stage company than some of the others I advise. It’ll be in the news quite a bit in the weeks and months to come thanks to their well deserved accelerating momentum.

System Z:

This is the first of a few stealth mode start-ups I am advising. This one is looking at the coming impact of 3D memory. I cannot reveal much other than to say that putting many many TBs of non-volatile memory next to the CPU at nearly memory speeds is insane and wonderful. By the time this company emerges I’m not at all sure it’ll be seen as a storage company; storage as a space has been utterly transformed and yet storage companies are too often in my opinion stuck in the speeds, feeds and $/TB mindset of the early 2000s.

Machine learning and data science:

This is an incredible area to learn about. There is so much hype and yet also it goes without saying that some of this deep learning stuff is getting awfully useful. I am not an expert here, unlike storage, and yet I’ve made it an area of focus in my networking and learning. I’m starting to grok the various camps in machine learning in large part with the help of many of the companies I mention below. I’m also getting hands on with my limited Python chops. Fun stuff.

My sense is that those companies that best focus their AI or machine learning on specific pain points will flourish and that many of the opportunities for platform companies that provide for example “data science as a service” have faded away.

With that in mind I’m extremely excited to be supporting TextIQ. Apoorv, Omar, and the entire team at TextIQ are harnessing cutting edge machine learning to address some real pain points in the legal industry. They have tremendous traction and when you meet Omar and see the demo it is easy to see why — clarity of vision, tremendous energy, high CPU, and yet active listening and more. This a rocket ship on the launch pad; yes — slightly hyperbolic and yet I could not be more bullish on their prospects.

They are hiring — and picking their next handful of proof of concepts and production deployments as well. http://textiq.com

I’m also working with Andy and Xavier at Data Fellas. This team has a track record implementing data science pipelines for some of the larger users in Europe and are leveraging this experience to build related software. They are also prime drivers for the now widely used Spark notebook. You can see Andy’s activity on GitHub here: https://github.com/andypetrella

As the name DataFellas and the tag line “we make offers to data they cannot refuse” both suggest, these guys are fun and a little bit irreverent. More importantly, each time I chat with them I come away more impressed by their understanding of what it is like to deliver an distributed data science pipeline to enterprises. They have spent so much time helping actually drive outcomes for customers that they truly feel their pain.

DataFellas are close to getting their product out in alpha / beta form — and in the meantime are doing workshops with folks doing data science at cost in return for getting additional product feedback. Back in March O’Reilly picked them to do their on-line training “Building Distributed Pipelines for Data Science using Kafka, Spark, and Cassandra” — so their expertise speaks for itself. Get in touch with them now — Andy is speaking in NYC this week and is scheduling chats and at least one training now: http://www.data-fellas.guru

In both cases, as you dig in, you’ll find incredibly energetic teams that have survived rigorous PhD programs and are now doing the real work of building great companies. I’m hugely proud of the progress both teams have already made.

Somewhat in the space as well — although not yet deploying machine learning — is CareerWave. At the highest level CareerWave is sort of like uber for career and business coaching. However it is more than that — we are all told these days to “own our own career.” Ok, but how? Not everyone can afford thousands of dollars a month for a coach and yet study after study suggest that coaching helps lead to happier and more successful people. And maybe more importantly for companies, unhappy people under perform and eventually leave. What if we can apply software and machine learning to the problem? That’s the gold standard of coaching, and it’s CareerWave’s approach — they are signing up betas now and also coaches.www.careerwave.me

There is yet another company in stealth mode that is looking to leverage machine learning for support related tasks. Stay tuned.

DevOps Automation:

  • System X
  • System Y

Yes, sorry, these are two stealth stage start-ups. Each of them intends to help enterprises better measure and automate their operations — and so at a high level they may seem like the Nth monitoring or orchestration or continuous delivery solution. And yet, each are different in part by explicitly focusing on enterprise adoption as opposed to primarily on community usage. The DNA of these companies, much like StackStorm, merges deep DevOps experience with company building and enterprise operations experience as well.

The founders of both of these systems are already gathering around them an incredible team and some great early adopters as well. I’m bullish on both. And I will share more as their founding teams are ready for me to do so.

Other:

I’m now spending about half of my time meeting new companies, attending meet-ups and so forth. The other half is split between helping existing companies and doing some hacking and preparing for various Spartan races.

A couple of other machine learning related companies I’ve just gotten to know are again characterized by brilliant technical teams that are drilling into specific pain points. I think the entire team at Alchemist Acceleratordeserve a lot of credit for helping these teams iterate towards product / market fit quickly — while also shared a lot of otherwise very hard earned knowledge about company building. While I’ve just gotten to know these companies, I think they are both interesting:

  • DataCulture — here Karthik and team have drilled into a specific pain point in ecommerce that they are addressing with AI powered software and services. They are about 5 days away from revealing their MVP here:http://supply.ai
  • Relato.io — Russell is a well known agile data scientist — after all he wrote the O’Reily book of that name — with a track record building out such capabilities at LinkedIn and elsewhere. He’s now applying and extending his capabilities in order to drive waste out of the sales and business development processes. http://www.relato.io/index.html

If you are interested in someone like me helping you out — or at least hearing you out — please do get in touch. My network of friends and of people that seem to trust me has expanded quite a bit over the years. I’m looking for founders and later stage companies that could use my particular insights, relationships, and drive.

Speaking of drive, one thing I’ve learned since selling StackStorm is that I’m definitely not done yet. I’m having a blast and feel every bit as competitive as I ever have.

Community hackathon:

Last and likely least I’m also shooting for some upcoming hackathons to test and stretch my Python skills. Here I’m most interested in apps that help support community engagement and that shine a light on our governments. The deeper I dig into my local government the more I see the need for transparency and innovation.

I’m also proudly volunteering time as a member of the Vestry at St Matthew’s Episcopal in San Mateo. It is a warm and welcoming community with inspirational leadership.

My ask for you is — what am I missing? What do you think about my areas of focus? If you were me, what would you do differently?

Please keep in touch.