Ryan and Josef talk about the Weber brothers’ long history, with Ryan tracking Mynul since they took classes together in college.
He talks about his journey as a first-generation immigrant who came from Bangladesh to St. Cloud, MN.
His biggest lesson for founders? “Never run out of cash.”
He shares how his “hobby” turned from Plan B into the only plan, and the importance of going all-in. Mynul is heads-down, and shares some great advice about maintaining and creating capability while discussing people, systems, and processes with Ryan.
Full Transcript Below:
Well, welcome, everyone. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Bonnie spear McGrath. So thanks for joining me today. As an entrepreneur, there are few things I enjoy in life as much as hearing the story of other entrepreneurs. And today, I’m super excited because we’ve got two entrepreneurs in the house lined up for this session. Both are graduates of St. Cloud University. So I want to put in a big plug for St. Cloud University, because there’s a lot of social pressure on all those Ivy League colleges. And that’s not necessary. So and they’re both highly successful entrepreneurs, I first I’m going to introduce Ryan Weber, I met Ryan and his twin brother, Rob A few years ago, and I love their story. They’re both from St. Cloud, went to a cloud University, started their own kind of bootstrapped ad tech company, that they later grew to $70 million in sales and made a lot of money for their investors, which is always a good thing to do. And after doing that, they decided they wanted to start helping other entrepreneurs. And they they did a little bit of on their own. And then strat started Great North labs, which is where I met them and became an advisor and investor. And I’m super impressed with them, and their integrity and authenticity. So big plug for Great North labs. And one of the people that they helped early on was my new old con. So I’m super excited to invite my new look here. As I said, he did study at St. Cloud University, but he’s not from St. Cloud. He’s originally from Bangladesh, and came all the way here to study computer science, and later decided to stay and start field nation, his company that he founded any CEO of in 2008. And field nation matches company projects with freelance technicians. And that might sound very simple. And it’s a simple idea, but it’s a super successful private company in Minnesota in which we can be so proud of, they now have over 200 employees and offices in Minneapolis and Bangladesh. So that’s pretty cool. And I always say it’s good to hear the behind the scenes story about how something happened in terms of idea, and especially in terms of financing. So the conversation today between Ryan and Mike Newell will be very interesting, including any secret insights that they want to share that maybe Rob Weber, who’s also on the call doesn’t know yet. So welcome, gentlemen, thank you so much for being here today. Thanks for having us, Bonnie.
Yes, thanks, Bonnie. So my name is Ryan Weber here. We’ve known each other for over 20 years now. It’s it’s over half our adult over half of our life, not just our adult life, pretty much our entire adult life. But I’m really excited, longtime friend, and then a great classmate and advisor to current projects that were involved in, but maybe manual for the audience, you could start off by telling us a little bit about field nation and what you do.
So So fuel nation is the simplest way to explain it’s, it’s like Uber for Field Services, right? What we do is we connect businesses that need field service work done with with the technicians and engineers in the field, who have that skill set to get that work done. So think about, you know, all these retail stores, they need point of sales, to cabling to networking, all sorts of technology is getting deployed in retail, banking, QSR, quick serve restaurants, offices, and, you know, how do you how do you find this technicians? How do you deploy them? How do you know that they’re qualified? How do you manage the project, all of this is built into the Philadelphian platform, you know, we help businesses connect with the right technician in the right place, and help them manage the whole project from the start of the planning all the way to payment, back office management, all that kind of stuff. And when did you start field nation? I started field nation in 2008. That was March of 2008.
You know, I I think that people would love to hear a little bit about your background, being a you know, from Bangladesh originally and coming to St. Cloud State University to study. Could you talk a little bit about, you know, your background prior to field nation?
Yeah, so I’m originally from Bangladesh. I came here for college for my bachelor’s degree, I went to St. Cloud state. Usually when people hear that Bangladesh to St. Cloud, they immediately the follow up question is how you ended up in St. Cloud? And the answer is, when I was looking for colleges in the US, I learned that there is only one state that was at that time was at least offering in state tuition to foreign students from day one. So the taxpayers were, you know, graciously paying for part of the tuition for the foreign students. So as you can imagine, when you are Bangladesh’s, literally the other side of the of the of us, it’s literally 12 hours time difference. Growing up, I knew, you know, Hollywood and New York and LA, and never heard about St. Cloud, probably not even Minnesota, growing up, right. But then, as I was doing my research into what college, you know, and everything is expensive, you know, especially when you come from the other side of the world, a developing country. It’s like, okay, I can’t afford to go other places. And St. Cloud gives a great deal. And that was really the primary reason to come to St. Cloud sent out state. But very quickly, I just, I just loved everything. I just loved the school, the teachers, the community, the friendship, that right that I built, you know, my plan, or a general plan was, I’ll just do, you know, two semesters of, you know, general education courses and then go somewhere else. But then, you know, that never happened, I just really love this place and love the community love the school and decided to stay here. So right after college, what actually do you know, in the last semester of my college, I had the opportunity to do an internship with a startup called Ebro in St. Cloud. And, you know, I think I was probably the I don’t know, you know, fourth or fifth employee, you know, at a bureau. And that’s kind of where I really saw got the sense of, you know, what it takes to build and the fun of, you know, building and taking something to the market, the uncertainty. And I remember, the first day I went to Ebro, they were in this big, you know, quest building, there was no desks, chairs and stuff like that, you know, a couple of people are building product and stuff like that, I just love that. And so I never grew up thinking that I would have, you know, I would start my own business, but I just loved the whole process there. And, and then I started the first company, back in 2004, called technician marketplace. It’s really first version of field nation. I started that in 2004. And that company also grew fairly quickly. But I ran into cashflow problem, and had to shut it down. It took a year off, got married and promised my wife not to start another company, and that lasted a year. But of course, with our blessing started field nation in 2008. So that’s that’s the whole story, Ryan, all the way from Bangladesh to Phil nation.
In during this these early years, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced with starting a business?
You know, that for me, you know, the biggest challenge was that I didn’t have a network, right? Do you need a you need, you need to know people to start a business like, you know, people who can advise you people that you can actually hot, you know, not even higher, but say, Hey, would you work with me on this project. So my network coming from monitors, my network is really, really small. So that was, you know, that that was one of the biggest challenge, me being an immigrant had its own unique challenge, because I couldn’t just leave my full time job and do do this thing, because that’s that non meal wouldn’t be legal. So I always have to have a full time job, I would, you know, you know, do my eight to five, job. And then in my business, my entrepreneurship would be up part time after hour and weekend thing. So those are those are, you know, a few few challenges that I had to face. But, you know, I was I was very fortunate that the small network that I had, was very, very, very, very effective. You know, people like you, Ryan, I reached out to you when I first started my business, Phil nation, Rob and a small network of people that that I I grew up, you know, and the university was part of the company from the beginning.
Well, thanks for sharing a bit about the background. You know, I remember that those early years very well, a few years there later, I think we obviously we connected, interacted a little bit in computer science, I think a lot of computer science students do. I think at the time, we were very analytical, and kind of not a lot of social, social, not a lot of partying even though thing club seats sometimes gets that reputation. We were kind of the Nerds working in the labs. And so I think we got to know each other a lot more as we started to do business together. So flash forward to, you know, the beginning of field nation and the early years, what was different? What, what did you learn from your first experience? And how did you go about supporting and scaling the early years of field nation?
So so the, the biggest learning from the first one is that never run out of cash? Cash is really important. And that’s one area that I know, finance. And accounting is one area that I, I, I enjoy all parts of the business, finance and accounting was always a drag for me. And I always kind of wanted to avoid debt. And, and the biggest lesson is that, you know, cash is the lifeblood, and you run into that you’re dead. It was literally dead. And so that was the biggest lesson there. Scaling up, you know, starting field nation. I’ll tell you another another good lesson for me. When I had my first job, I never had the confidence to go all in with my business. It was, you know, partially, you know, I never saw people are on me to do do successful. I mean, of course, I saw you guys, but not in my family. Growing up, business wasn’t a thing that you do. It’s the the people who cannot have a job. Go start their own business. And so I grew up thinking, you know, you go for good, good employment. Something something safe. So, so starting the business was always like, it’s it’s sort of my hobby. My friends and family would tease as it’s my hobby, I mean, old doesn’t have anything else to do. So after hours and weekends, I just, you know, like you said, No, no partying, no, no life, no social life. And so what do you do you just go do your second job. But what happened in 2008, I was laid off from Ebro. And I remember that long path, long drive back from St. Cloud to Plymouth. I was living in Plymouth at that time. And I just felt rather than being scared, I was scared. But I felt more free. I felt like, great, there is no plan B anymore. It’s just plan A The only plan that just make filmnation happen. And it was just absolutely freeing experience. Because I was always trying to juggle the ball. And, you know, if, you know business, if it doesn’t work, it’s fine. I got another job. But the job that I have, that’s really important. Don’t screw it up. I’m going to need that. And when I when I got laid off, it was like, No, there’s, there’s a plan B, there’s just one plan. Let’s go go all in and make it happen. That was That was really good. That worked for me.
It’s really interesting. You talk about the kind of the culture a little bit of starting a business and going all in you know, we both were classmates in the Department of Computer Science at St. Cloud state and not I remember being called into the office by the department chair one day Sarnoff, that who you know, Dr. ramnath. And, you know, he asked, he asked me about my business, I thought he was calling in to reprimand me about something and then all of a sudden, I just decided, you know, I’m, I’m opening up, you know, I was going to talk about my my work, you know, in class and with faculty and everything changed, you know, at that point in it. And I remember when we met you were talking about we had been just a few years ahead of you and in building what was freeze calm and became native x. And, you know, it was those relationships. You know, in St. Cloud, we connected with a lecturer at Rob’s entrepreneurship class, Brian schoenborn who connected us with with somebody that had a lake home on his Lake, maybe you can share a little bit about the background. I guess, you know, I joined field nation a year before this gentleman as an advisor, you know, when you reached out to me, we hadn’t talked in a while. I didn’t really know what you were working on, but it was similar, like, maybe similar experience when I had with Sarnoff. You know, when you reached out to me, I was very interested and I was very much wanting to get involved in but until you opened up and kind of reached out I never knew you know really what you were up to and And even though I wasn’t invested in eat Bureau, you know that you talked about that. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that getting, you know, our angel investment and advising round together along with this gentleman and how that impacted your early years.
Yeah, Ron, I don’t know if I, if I told you this story. So I started the business in 2008. And a few months into into the business, I realized that I need not only I need some investment, I need some people who knows, who can tell me what I’m what, what I don’t know. And there was, there was a lot of things that I didn’t know. And, and literally, I started searching my LinkedIn at that time, I’m like, you know, I gotta find people that I know. It is a very, very small network, right? I just all of a sudden, I remember like, I do have a rich friend it, Ryan and Rob, let’s, let’s see, that’s out. Let’s ping them and see if they’ll, if they want to meet with me, and you were very gracious to meet with me, I remember us having lunch. And I was telling you, you know what I’m doing and stuff like that, and you’re giving me advice. And then we decided to stay in touch, because I think you liked something that I was doing. And we decided to stay in touch. And we I think we and since our kind of the first meeting outside the school, we probably talked probably for few months, maybe six months. And then I said, Look, I’m now ready to take some angel investment. Although my company didn’t have a lot of overhead I was I was always very resourceful in terms of doing stuff. So, you know, company was was was generating income and stuff like that. But a company was growing. Without a balance sheet. There’s no no no money in the balance sheet. But the company know the revenue and all that stuff started to flow. And it just made me really uncomfortable. I keep the nightmare of cash flow. from my previous company kept coming back. I said, I need to, I need to get some cash in the in the bank. And so I reached out to you and and you’re interested and quickly, you introduced me with young son, and young, I think you’re talking to young les comment in St. John’s, and he got interested in Phil nation, and you both decided to invest. That was my first investment into the company that was probably back in 2009. And at and you guys invested. And also you decided to stay involved with the company and time to time I’ll just call you up and say, here’s what I’m thinking. And I need people in this key roles and you are very, you know, gracious to, you know, help me connect with a lot of people and a lot of people are still with Phil nation, the people that you introduced me holidays.
Yeah, for everyone listening that, you know, young stone was a early connection that we made. Through his wall tap home near St. John’s young, young was a CEO of a tech company called Old technologies and lived in the same neighborhood was Steve Jobs. But we just were very fortunate that somebody in the community Brian shone bar and introduced us early on and, and young served as a mentor to Robin my business freeze calm. And when we began our family office, angel investing, we tried to model our behavior of, of young and young brought his friend in Pradeep madonn, who’s the third partner in our current venture fund, Great North lab. So we tried to when we Angel invested, we tried to lean in and provided any support and guidance, we could just like we were receiving from our Silicon Valley friends, thanks to Brian. But you know, those years, I remember, everything is just flashing back in front of me as you talk about, you know, this time period, because at the time, you know, we didn’t have a lot of active angel investors in many funds in Minnesota, if any that were doing this seed stage or or pre seed stage investing. And, you know, I think we were so you know, we’ve always looked for people that can execute, you know, and we love to find entrepreneurs like Mike Newell, you were working on your business and clearly had some traction yet, you know, you had to learn, you know, you had some hard, hard times in the early years and had to recover. But maybe, can you talk about how and I also remember, when we gave you the money, I thought you were going to spend it but it seemed like it never left your bank account. So that was maybe that gave you more confidence with scaling. But I’m really interested to hear more about when did you feel like things were really starting to hum and what were some of the major milestones, as you began growing after the after that period.
I don’t know if I can tell you one major milestone two kind of breakthrough moment for us but Well, I do have one aha that I always like to share. Yeah, which is, I was so naive, when I started, I thought, you know, you build a product and you do some Google AdWords and stuff like that, and all of a sudden things gonna just everybody start to sign up. And I was so naive, and and I waited and waited, you know, for for few months, and there was literally nothing. And I don’t know if this was a problem with a business model or, or what. And then I think towards the end of 2008, we had one bot customer sign up, just all by there is no sales for somebody signed up, one company signed up and did 20 work orders on our platform, our our platform is mostly work order driven, like somebody create a work order, and then they find a technician and deploy the technician in the field. That’s kind of how the system works. And, you know, by end of 2008, I waited six months and then end up to those and eight, somebody signed up, created 20, work orders found 20, technician nation, you know, distributed all over the nation. And I got so excited. I thought this is it, this is the moment that tells me that I’m on the right path. Now, looking back now, you know, last year, we did a million workorder, you can see that the scale of the company is very different. But there is nothing more meaningful to me than that first 20 workers that just just that was the lifeline for me, that just gave me this desperate validation that I needed. in those early days that it is the right, I’m working on the right problem. And people find value through my, through my product. And that then it was a question of, you know, the How do I figure out the sales and, and distribution and all that kind of stuff, which is an ongoing process that never ends, that we still have the same same discussion that that we had 12 years ago. But that that 20 work order was so sweet memory in my mind, I still if anybody asked me, what’s a breakthrough, that was the breakthrough? I don’t know if that didn’t happen. And I didn’t see any worker coming for a few more months, I would just, you know, shut down and say this, it’s not worth doing. I don’t know, I don’t know, what would have happened. But that is really big.
Yeah, it seemed like, you know, I just remember observing in it seemed like, you know, you had some very large enterprise customer interests. And in part of the, I think getting, building that confidence, you’d see it, you know, with every order almost in every meeting we had, and, you know, during the scale up, and it just seemed like the conversations, you know, the types of companies and the traction, you were seeing continued to increase as your confidence built, and kind of, I think more and more people believed in field nation, and it was a competitive space it you know, what, while you were starting, wasn’t it my No,
it was a competitive space, we had a, you know, very well funded competitors. And we did things very differently and not having money, I sometimes I say, you know, one of the one of the best thing is that don’t start with too much money. I mean, you need some money, so you’re not running out of cash, that’s a, that’s a different problem. But too much money could be the same problem. It could be, you know, a bigger problem, because you’re wasting someone else’s money without knowing whether you have the right product, or you have the right distribution, what not, and I’ve seen some of my competitors made that mistake of raising too much, I mean, the promise of a, you know, Uber, like model, and right now, you see everything is becoming Uber eyes, right. It’s the Uber of this and Uber of that delivery, and, you know, hotels, and everything is overpriced. And when we started in 2008, this idea of you know, getting on demand workers to go do something was new people would, investors are very bullish back then, as they are now. And so a lot of a lot of my competitors got raised a lot of money and they try to scale quickly without figuring out the you know, the market maturity and, and all that kind of stuff. And, and wasn’t wasn’t very successful. But you know, one thing I would say, the timing matters, right? So when we started people would compare us, Phil nation as the Craig’s Craigslist, they would say, oh, you’re like Craigslist. We are not we, you know, ABC Company. We’re enterprise. We don’t deal with Craigslist, right? And now it changed so much. It seems like everybody is more comfortable staying at Airbnb and riding an Uber. It’s the new normal, like, of course, you know, you get something on demand, that’s the way it was. It’s whether it’s a cloud on demand, or whether it’s a technician on demand on a driver on demand, it’s everything on demand.
That’s maybe a great kind of topic to follow a little bit, you know, we I know, you went a long time before raising, you know, any larger financing. And I remember working with young, young, young, young, everybody is now the Chief Strategy Officer at Samsung, he’s been there for six years. So quite, quite an amazing journey, you know, for the people involved in associated with that time, you know, going into that big financing. Do you want to talk about, you know, after you scaled for some time, you were in a position of strength, but how, what were you thinking about, you know, in terms of the next chapter, as you prepare for, you know, that your later financing, if you could share a little bit about that?
Yeah, you know, what, one thing we didn’t want it to do is raise a lot of money, too quickly. And because we were still, we were figuring it out at that time, like, what is the right market? What is the right customer? How do we scale them up? How do we scale our business and stuff like that, and there was, you know, we just didn’t want it to raise a lot of capital that comes with the, with the constraint of build it 100 people sales team and sell, sell, sell, you got to fight, you know, you know, you get to do that, you know, product market fit, you got to figure out the distribution channel and stuff like that. And so we waited, you know, we waited, and then we were adamant to find somebody who was genuinely passionate about the market we’re in and the problem that we’re trying to solve, and be patient, like we are, we know that it’s a slow maturing market. For us, it’s a slow maturing market, it is still taking a long time for us to, you know, see the market maturity, because we are working, we are working with enterprises and not consumers, it doesn’t turn, like the way you see GameStop it’s done. Yeah. enterprises move in a different pace. So we wanted to make sure that our investors are patient, they will stay with us and not not have that undue burden that, you know, do something because we got an exit, we got to figure out an exit in next, you know, next year or something like that. So when we raised our capital, that is, you know, end of 2015. By that time, we were on in 500, multiple times, fast 50. And so there was a lot of calls, we’re getting a lot of VC and private equities are coming from east and west coast. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any anybody from the, from the Midwest at that time. But I remember our CFO and I, we met 70, some VCs at that time, as part of the interview process. And then we finally found someone, a company private equity, called SAS corner growth equity. We immediately like those guys, because of their flexibility in the, in the capital and the life, the the time horizon, they have, they literally don’t have time horizon, if they’re like a business, they hold it, and they can have subsequent rounds, and stuff like that. And, and so we decided to raise capital at that time, you know, and up to those.
I remember always hearing you say that, you know, this is the startup you see yourself working on forever, you know, and it’s been, you know, I never thought you would, I never thought it would be come forever, but you still have the same excitement and patients it seems and continue to grow. And it’s been exciting, you know, following your journey, maybe we could kind of shift gears and talk a little bit more about the broader kind of gig economy, you know, and, you know, when when we started the fund, with experience investing in these gig like services quite a bit as angel investors, you know, we, you know, we’ve done SAS and marketplace, businesses, consumer and enterprise, as a fund. But, you know, we were excited to win starting the fund to get a group of operators as advisors of scaled tech companies, including yourself, so you know, having, you know, having then seeing in the portfolio, we start seeing a wide variety of, of people working on Uber like services for other markets and including one that you helped with diligence on early I remember, it was just so, so amazing to see this, this founder, Patrick O’Reilly at factory fix, you know, request a meeting with our fund and in his deck as he’s going through it. He says the comps he was highlighting was field nation as a major success. I was like Yeah, that’s my buddy, my Neil from college. He’s like, What? He’s like, yeah, I asked him if you mind if my noodle gets involved in reviewing this deal with us? And he said, Oh, sure, of course. But, you know, and that’s, you know, you know, your perspective as an operator, scaling a good leg service, and seeing different strategies play out has been invaluable, you know, in supporting our evaluation of such opportunities as factory fix. But do you want to talk a little bit about, you know, what you see as some of the different strategies and in, you know, that are working or not working with these types of services? With with kind of gig economy, kind of, yeah, what challenges and in what, what seems to be what are some of the key takeaways you see from people that have been successful and not successful in? How does it vary by market?
Yeah, I think the, on the consumer front gig platforms are really, really successful. I think the laggers are the enterprises. Unfortunately, we are in the, in that in that group, that enterprise will, but that’s, that’s catching up. Usually, that’s always the case, people in their personal life will experience something, and then they’ll they’ll think about, you know, how does it apply in their businesses and stuff like that? So, you know, there’s a lot of, you know, kind of consumer centric gig platforms from Uber and Airbnb to, you know, grub hub to everything else that you can you can think of, but the next frontier is that enterprises, the enterprise is thinking, you know, how can I reduce my capex and OPEX? and make it more variable? Right? I mean, and, you know, if you remember, Ryan 2008, was a great recession. Yeah, it was, it was good. I mean, it was good for us to start at that time, because everybody was thinking outside the box, like what, you know, any, any financial crisis kind of creates that sense of thinking outside the box, like, we got to change, right, the status quo is not good enough. So 2008, we saw a lot of, you know, SM B’s was whether, because of the need for survival or whatnot, they were thinking outside the box, and we saw great adoption, you know, since 2009, till, you know, many years. And what we are, we are we are seeing is that this crisis, the crisis we are in the pandemic crisis is shaking up the enterprises, and they’re thinking like, Okay, we got to think outside the box in terms of, you know, variable labor. And that’s the, that’s the next wave in the I’m talking more specifically about the labor platforms like Phil nation, and others. And, and they’re much more comfortable in their understanding of the labor model. It does has its its challenge, though, you know, you know, and the biggest challenge is that the worker classification in this country, there is literally to classification and none really fit well, with the gig workers, we have the W two model the full time employees, and you have the independent contractor model. And the challenge is that, you know, some states are trying to push gig workers to be classified as employees, you’ve probably heard, you know, Eb five, assembly bill five, buy from California, although, I think there is a proposition that that got passed last November that AV five didn’t go through ultimately, but if I would have made every gig worker, employee, but that’s not gig workers want, you know, they don’t want to be employees, they want the the number one thing that gig workers really enjoy is, is the flexibility and employment, you know, full time employment doesn’t give that. So there needs to be a new type of legislation to accommodate for this new class of, you know, workers, and they do need some safety, they need benefits, they need, you know, fair treatment. But but that’s the, you know, making everybody a full time w two is not the solution. So, I would say we think that we’ll see some legislative changes, you know, next, you know, few years, hopefully, will be a more common sense approach than say, you know, move everybody make them everybody don’t. Yeah, it’s not a solution.
Yeah, it seems that regulations are struggling to keep up with the pace of technology. And this is a shining example of that, but I think I think it’s really interesting what you said about the enterprise market and in today’s environment as well. I know, we’re running up against time here. And I just want to say thank you for, for your friendship and for sharing this journey together. It’s been amazing and appreciate you being one of our first guests on on the show. And I will turn it over to Joe to take us through the next section. Thanks.
Yeah, thanks so much. My new will in a second, I’ll open it up to everybody for q&a. But I just like to kick it off with the first question. We’ve been asking everybody who comes onto our podcast? Are there any founders or startups or like organizations, or people you see supporting founders and startups that are really executing? Maybe people here? Haven’t heard of them? Maybe they have heard of them? Maybe it’s someone where, you know, maybe it’s a branch or something that everybody’s heard of, but is there anyone in particular that you see that you think is really, really just killing it?
Joseph? that’s a that’s a great question. I can’t answer that with with a lot of firsthand experience. I do hear people, you know, join young presidents. I don’t know it is a club or some some Association there is, you know, people go and get advice and stuff like that. And, but in Twin Cities, I haven’t been part of anything that that, that I could say.
Well, thanks. Yeah, well, we’ll open it up to everybody here. If you guys have any questions, or just want to pop on your video, pop off your microphone and chat a little bit. Feel free to talk ask wave for any questions for my Newell and Ryan.
And one question, I was just gonna ask my Newell, you know, you went through a lot, you know, with the immigration process, you know, what do you think of the current kind of regulatory environment on immigration? And I guess, do you have any, you have a solution that you think would work better in terms of American immigration policy? You know, after having gone through the whole experience that you had?
Yeah, it’s also a very sensitive topic, isn’t it? Look, I think, I think we need to have a common sense approach to immigration. It’s people try to, you know, make it a binary problem. Nothing is a binary problem. It’s way more complicated than this, this right. And, look, I can tell you that a smarter approach would be looking at industry by industry and look at what kind of, you know, workers we need. This country needs, high skilled workers to notes, no skilled workers. I mean, it’s every everything in between. and but there is no, there is no systematic approach to address that problem. It gets a it becomes a very slogan type of approach. Rather than, you know, this dramatic market based I would make it a market based approach, you know, what is what is very difficult for me to get my head around is that think about some of my friends, we went to St. Cloud state we got institution because the taxpayers the Minnesota taxpayers paid for our some of our tuition right under there was a great help. Many couldn’t stay in this country, because of the complexity of immigration, guess what some of them went back to India and other parts of the world and working for, you know, Google and, and Microsoft sort of the world and paying taxes in those countries. So and so there is a vicious loop for us and a virtuous loop for other countries, meaning the US companies cannot find talent here. They’re gonna go wherever the talent is, whether it’s in other parts of the world, and that talented, they cannot stay here, guess what, they’re gonna go somewhere else, you know, and, and the companies will follow the talents and, and those talents will, you know, pay taxes and enrich their community and stuff like that. So, you know, market driven approach would be my, my approach my my recommendation.
I know. And Ryan, I have a question if I if I could, so I often hear people talking about entrepreneurs putting the flame on with their ashes. What I mean by that is, they hang in there they sit, they can start things very well. But growing something that’s already started, we spend a lot of time talking about startup enterprises and businesses and we all love that. But what’s the difference in skill sets and even growing as an entrepreneur from the startup mentality, to wait a second, I have a business and I want to grow it. Are there differences? Or is it the same skill set, shed some light on that for all of us?
Well, I think the differences are enormous, you know, when when you’re starting up a business, you are a missionary, you are an inventor, you are just kind of, you’re you’re hustling and you’re trying to get get the product out, you’re the sales guy, you’re doing everything that needs to be done to get going. Right? When the company starts to scale, that’s a different, that’s a lot of lot of management and leadership. And sometimes, and I can tell you, it’s true for me, sometimes hard to get, you know, not to be involved, but to lead and to manage and hold people accountable, find the right people, you know, think about the organizational design, rather than just the the solving than the specific customer problem. Beyond the every sales call, which I used to do, now, stepping back and say no, you know, we got to figure out how to scale the sales, I used to be in every product decision, but rather now, you know, how do you design an organization that the organization can design the product. So it goes from, you know, being, I still like to be missionary, but missionary in terms of the mission of the company, not, not in the ground. And and just like you said, just doing everything, and and as you do when you’re, you know, you know, startup founder in the very beginning stage of the company. So skills are very different. And I can also tell you, Brian, is that it may not be right for everybody, you know, what you like in the earliest stage is, as a competence, start to scale, those things are not there anymore in the company. And and you may not like the new company. And if you try to, you know, hold on to those old things, the things that you really enjoyed, you may be holding back the company to scale up. And that’s that that is not good for the founder, not good for the company.
Do we have any more questions? Anybody can feel free to jump in here. We got a few minutes left.
I’ll ask a question. Hi, my name. I’m Kristen Danna. Well, I’ve got a HubSpot implementation consulting company. So we help our clients implement HubSpot and use the software. And we’re kind of in that stage that you just spoke about. And so I was hearing like the choir sing behind me. But then in respect to like, when you get to stage when you’re scaling up, in terms of your advisors who are advising you and the people that you’re speaking to, I think that’s something you constantly do through the lifecycle of your business. But when you get to that point, when you’re ready to scale up, and you want to create, like an advisory board or something like that, and you’re not necessarily looking for investors yet. Can you talk to us about that process? Did you do that? Or do you recommend that?
Absolutely, absolutely. I think that advisory group could be very helpful. And some of the things to think about for from the advisory standpoint. You know, we have advisors that are more technical focus, because that’s one area, we wanted to make sure that we know how to scale the technology stack of our company we have, we have advisor that comes from the domain expertise from our, our industry. And I personally have a CEO coach, a couple years ago, I decided, you know, how do I know I read a lot to see, because I always feel every year, I feel like, I’m probably not ready to be the CEO of this new company. Because as the company grows, the complexity grows. And, and I never been there, I never been there in that new company, CEO, the new stage of the company. And so I read it, but then a few years ago, I realized that, you know, having a live, you know, conversation with somebody who been there done that. It’s an amazing, it’s an amazing thing. So I do have a CEO coach and his his awesome. And, and I think a lot of times you hear the comment that you know, the it’s very lonely at the top. And, and having somebody that can be a sounding board and you can just be all open up and vulnerable and tell everything, all the stupid questions. It can be very, very freeing experience and and especially if you can talk to somebody who had done that. They can guide you in the right direction and say the thing that you’re working Worried about that’s really not a thing you should be worried about. Worry here, you got to really think about this. I
think we have time for one last question here. If anybody has a question for Mike Newell, or maybe Ryan,
if I could jump in? I have a quick question. It’s Simon here. This is a partial question from an old but it’s also could be one for Ryan two, which is what keeps you awake at night? Like, if you think about this people systems and process of scaling your business and evolving your leadership that you’ve described? What What keeps you awake at night? What’s the thing? Is that one thing or several things that are sort of most on your mind when all that? And then I guess the related question to Ryan, which is, as you scale the fund, is that similar? You know, is it different kind of business growth challenge as other things that you kind of think about? A lot?
That’s a great question, Simon, you know, what keeps me awake at night? If he asked me that question, last April, that would have been a different different answer, because I was I was, I was really worried, you know, as everything started to shut down, you know, not knowing, you know, where the market is going in, in a shutdown economy. But we recovered pretty well from that crisis. And we’re off to a really good start for 2021. It’s a rhetorical question, but you know, I don’t, I sleep really well. But, you know, in 2021, one of our key goal, you know, scaling one part of our market segment. And in any given year, we pick one or two areas, in the last last year was, was, you know, we created five different product packages, that was transformative for our company, it actually took took us 24 months to get that get those packages out the door, and implement in a rolling, implement, and then roll it out. And that I was, that was one thing on always on top of my mind. So now that’s all done. That’s now part of our muscle, that’s, that’s, you know, and so every year, we pick one or two things that are kind of transformative for the company, for either the product or our market, or, you know, our organization as a whole how we do it. And I tried to focus my time, in those couple of areas that are kind of still new, where we are trying to build that capability, the muscle, because it does require a lot of lot of lot of focus and attention and, and a lot of nurturing maybe the right thing, because, you know, as a CEO, I want to make sure that the new stuff that’s not part of the company’s muscle or DNA yet, and I’m hoping that I’m helping in that area to build build it. Ryan, anything you want to add?
Yeah, that’s really interesting. Simon people systems and process, I think about all three on a day to day basis, but probably the one that keeps me up at night is really people I think, you know, we’re a lot of these companies that we’re investing in, and they know, their business models, checkout, strategically, they look good, they’ve got some early wins and victories with customers, but you know, they, these organizations, the type of people in the in the way they need to evolve the people in that exists at the company and the people they need to bring on, it’s a biggest challenge. I think that all of these companies face more than a strategic or process challenge. I think that at different stages, if they if you don’t keep up with, you know, the system or the process, they’ll bite you. But usually, if you if you can get just a little bit of the right people in the in on the bus at the right stage, you can do it in, you know, I have seen, you know, there’s always outliers, right? Like, there’s a, there’s a portfolio company, we I won’t name any names or anything, but they, you know, sometimes the the process that the, like the board or advisors want to put in having not really been operators at different stages, they, they think about it, like, Oh, we need to operate like this is a 200 person company when two people, you know, in the way they’re conducting board meetings, I’m just scratch shaking my head, like, and I’m usually empathetic to the founder and trying to like, hold on, that’s that maybe this is a little much here, guys, let’s like, let’s give them what looks like, you know, like, push back, let’s like relax a little bit on the process. You know, let’s just, you know, take it one step at a time, but when I think people but I think it’s not just the the management teams, it is that advisory group, and that an extended network, it goes all the way around and I think, you know, it’s it’s really easy, you know, a lot of founders want to be, you know, or you know, want to succeed and have the drive in it. But if they don’t get the right, you know, advisors and team together, it’s just not going to happen
and I think that’s really well said my my own experiences, the hardest thing to do really well is what Manal described, which is because as an entrepreneur, you’re spinning a mini unplayed to index an enormous amount of energy to get something going. But what are the one or two things that really make a difference at that stage? Right, then if you can focus that enormous amount of energy, and leverage the people around you that you know, and be self aware enough to know where you can delegate and where you need to focus. That’s, that’s the key. Well said both of you.
Thanks, everybody, for coming here today. I did have one quick question. I wanted to ask my know, what do your family members say about your hobby now?
Oh, you know, life is more normal. Now. You know, I don’t have two jobs. So and we have two boys. And you know, we spent plenty of time just, you know, with the boys and it was fun. And I think he did a lot of energy and and the sooner in your life, you you have the energy and you get some of those crazy entrepreneurial start down in life is probably probably good. Good idea.
Great. Thanks so much. Thanks, Ryan. Thanks, everybody for asking questions. Thanks, Mike Newell, for coming on and having this conversation with us. And thanks so much to Bonnie spear McGrath for hosting this event.
Thanks everyone for coming and spending the time and asking good questions. And it was just as much fun as I was anticipating. So well done.
Rob and Josef talk podcasts, and comes clean about his awkward intro to Nick Moran.
Nick talks about his path to becoming a General Partner of New Stack Ventures and the host of The Full Ratchet podcast. We talk decision-making as investors, and advice for founders, including the most common mistake: building a product then trying to find a market for it. Then dive in to address the problem of matching opportunities to investors, whether it’s founders pitching VCs, or VCs pitching institutional investors.
Rob and Nick connect as founders-turned investors, while Josef jokes about the Insane Clown Posse in a truly additive and valuable fashion.
Who does Nick see executing? He calls out two companies that have pushed through the pandemic, Flamingo and Tripscout.
Full Transcript Below:
Welcome to execution is king, the Great North ventures podcast. Today we’re joined by general partner of new stack ventures, Nick Moran. He’s also the host of the full ratchet podcast. With me today also his general partner of Great North ventures Rob Weber. Thanks for having me, guys. This is such a pleasure to be here, Rob. Always good to see ya. Thanks
for joining us, Nick. First starters, talk a little bit about how you became a venture capitalist. And also tell us about a little bit about your work with the full ratchet.
Yeah, you got it. I mean, we’ve talked in the past, it was a bit accidental. This is my second career. So I started out in corporate America, doing m&a, you know, scouting out early stage tech companies to buy through a roundabout series of events, I ended up being an entrepreneur within this organization taking a product to market over three years, working with a large r&d team of 30. And we had sort of extraordinary success with that product. I was a beneficiary of that success and was able to sort of leave corporate america and, and figure out my next path in life as a young man when I was about 32. So I moved back to Chicago with my wife, I started angel investing and, you know, fell down this rabbit hole of venture and startups and, you know, how do you build the next transformational multibillion dollar tech company? And yeah, through that series of events launched the full ratchet, I think it was, maybe at best a clever hack to network with some folks on the coast. At worst, you know, it was just kind of a fun program for me to learn. And it really worked out. I mean, I think I was early to the podcast thing and got lucky. The audience sort of exploded, you know, before there were 1000s and 1000s of podcasts. And that resulted in a lot more deal flow than I knew what to do with and sort of snowballed into this investing for newstagged. ventures.
And you’re up to almost, is it almost 300 podcast episodes so far? Is that right?
Yeah, I think so. It’s probably more than that between we do these special segments in between episodes. So I can’t imagine how many we have total. But I would bet how it gets it’s more than 500 at this stage.
Yeah, it’s really impressive. I was just talking with Nick before the show about these great episodes he does with investor stories, that are just great little bites. So if you have a minute, check out the podcast, that episode I’m talking about the last one is about 11 minutes long. And it sees for investors giving post mortems on these companies that failed. And it’s just as super interesting, especially like the example around the one that failed due to COVID. Because it just this excessive headwinds and stuff. But there’s some great points from Great Investors on that podcast, urge you guys to check it out.
Yeah, I think part of the context that makes your experience, Nick, as he talked about it, you know, so interesting is having been on both sides of the table, you know, building a product, and then spending all this time interviewing all these investors, and then, you know, actually running a fund. But you know, especially as we think about, like, the product side, that’s kind of the background that my brother and I had before we started getting more adventures, you know, after, you know, spending so much time in this space. What are some of the takeaways you have, you know, for new founders, you know, in terms of product development? What are some of the common mistakes that you see, or what advice would you have, and I know, your fund is kind of in the pre seed seed stage was very early, in fact, earlier than probably a lot of other venture funds. What would be some of the advice that you would give to, you know, a first time founder who’s building their first product?
It’s a good question, I think, sort of classic mistake that still the majority of entrepreneurs make, even though we’ve we’ve said this advice over and over again, Rob, you and I have talked about it is, you know, they build a product and then look for a market later. Actually, just last week, we were talking about this episode I did with Dharmesh stacker from battery, right. And he was saying one of the weaknesses with doing investments in serial entrepreneurs. So folks that started and had success with a tech company from a previous generation is often those types of founders from you know, that learned in an old generation of tech, they often want to build super powerful tech, and then go out and you know, find a market for it. try and convince customers that this is the solution to all their problems. And in the modern world, in the modern tech world. That’s just not how things work. You need to prove value up front. You need to deliver ROI and value super fast. I think Dharmesh, his rule is in 90 seconds or less, you know, the end user needs to understand why this is transformational for them and makes their life better. And so we’ve seen this big shift to a focus on customers focus on needs, you know, what are the key problems that you’re facing in your work life or in your consumer life? And then how do we reverse engineer a solution that really delivers on on that problem? So if I were to give advice to the early stage founders, it would be you know, become obsessed with your customer, find your ICP, your ideal customer persona, spend time in a market, discover the key insights, you know, what are the key challenges facing that market, and then figure out how to build a solution that meets the need, you know, don’t just just because you’re a developer, and you’re a talented builder, that doesn’t mean you should go out and build some super powered tech, and then just assume that the market is going to love it.
Do you think that’s a consequence of tech really exploding out of, you know, the confines of being its own sector, and just kind of taking over every sector? that that that shift away from just being able to build something great, and then figure out a way to sell it, versus having to build to actually fulfill these needs?
Is that Yes, I think so. Joseph, I think it also goes a little deeper. I think it’s a mindset issue. And I think it’s, it’s the victim of arrogance, right. So we all have a bit of confidence, and maybe maybe a shred of arrogance, some more than others. But when you are arrogance, you believe the world operates like yourself, you believe that the mindset of the consumer base is much like yourself. And so you think that if you can build something, that’s your ideal product, right? That’s your ideal technology that ever the market will come? Right? If you build it, they will come? The reality is that, you know, if you’ve met one consumer, you’ve met one consumer, right? There’s a lot of shapes and sizes, there is no one size fits all anymore. That just doesn’t work. And so you need to figure out, you know, what are the segments within the market? What are the consumer groups, or the buyer groups within b2b that have a similar philosophy or ideology or buying behavior or need set, and you need to you build products that really serve a problem and serve a need. So I think it’s a problem of mindset. And it’s folks thinking that the rest of the world operates like themselves. And that’s just not the case.
It’s interesting, I do think there’s a sort of fine line between self confidence and being open to feedback, right. And I think in entrepreneurship, like you kind of have to have a balance, I think the best entrepreneurs app have developed that strong customer empathy. So they can kind of wreck, you know, they can take the feedback loops, and kind of, you know, bake that into their product development. It does take a degree of self confidence, though, because you can’t have every, every single feedback session or artifact, you know, can completely push you off your strategy. So it’s kind of a fine line of being a good listener, but also having, you know, some confidence in finding the right path forward. Right. And when you are building out your products in the past, like how much do you stock? Do you put in just like the systems for startups? Like, are your real vocal proponent of kind of lean startups and all the, you know, systems behind that? Or are you kind of take a more like open approach to, you know, in terms of the systems that these entrepreneurs are utilizing to kind of bake their strategy or their product development?
Yeah, that’s a tough one, I would say, Yes, I am a proponent of the lean startup, but more at the theoretical and philosophical level, I think some entrepreneurs can get maybe too caught up in the tactics, and you know, the details with that and chase their tails a bit. I mean, to your point before, you can’t be so wishy washy, that all feedback from customers finds its way into the product. Right? We like to say that when we’re selecting founders, or we’re investing in founders, we like to find people that are incredibly stubborn about their vision, but incredibly flexible about the path to get there. Right. So you need to have a really strong vision, here’s where we’re going. But you need to be incredibly receptive to the market in the customers and how the product actually manifest in the path. To tie this back to my experience with the product. I’ll give you a simple example. Right? I was building a handheld device, right? It was a handheld device for measuring compounds in drinking water. So things like monochloramine or chlorine or nitrate or iron, right. And a huge number of the customers That I did testing with said, I would like this to be touchscreen. Right? We launched this product in 2013 ish timeframe. And there was a big proponent of customers that said, I really need this to be touchscreen, right in the markets that we’re testing. Well guess what the reality is, there’s a lot of cold weather climates, where people are doing this testing on the back of a pickup truck in sub zero degree temperatures in places like Minneapolis, or Chicago. And they’re doing it with huge gloves, and big parkas and a hat and goggles. And you can’t have a touchscreen device in that environment. So this is just one simple example of the overwhelming feedback was we want touchscreen. But when you look at the markets we’re going to sell this product into it was not a viable decision for the product, right. And so that’s just one small thing. Like you need to collect all the different information from the customers, but it’s the job of the product manager to decide on the solution. Right? It’s the customers that surface the problems, the product manager needs to find a solution that most appropriately services the market.
That’s really interesting. Well, yeah, bringing up, you know, kind of the Midwest in Chicago. I know, that’s where you’re based. Can you describe a little bit about your experience, since you moved back to Chicago? What is the startup ecosystem like there? For those who are unfamiliar?
It’s exploding. I mean, I’m not on the ground in Minneapolis, I’m sure you’ve seen things really develop and evolve in your ecosystem. But in Chicago, I got back in 2012 2013, in 1871, had just opened, which is sort of the incubator startup Mecca. Within Chicago, we were really just finding our footing on becoming, you know, a real sort of call it a second tier tech ecosystem, not not on the level of San Francisco, New York, but a major player, right, we had had some big exits, we had some big successes, and that had spurned some talent in the ecosystem that went and started more companies. So now, you know, during the past almost 10 years, geez, it’s developed quite a bit, you know, there’s more venture capital firms than ever before. There’s more startups being funded than ever before. we’ve really seen the ecosystem progress for the better, and sort of hit its stride. So I think Chicago is only going to go from here. But you know, if you go back to the time I started investing, there was very few pools of capital. And we kind of, we had our choice of the startups we wanted to invest in now. It’s, it’s, it’s more competitive, which is better for everyone involved.
I was really impressed. When I went back to Northwestern in February, pre COVID. For venture capital events. I had gone to school at macdill. So I haven’t spent a lot of time at Kellogg, but when I went there, they have this fabulous new building, which they were just building when I was at Northwestern. And it was just a beautiful setting right there on the lake, the field. And it was full of all kinds of people. Betsy Ziegler was there from you mentioned 1871, some other people, all kinds of great funds represented there, mingling with just these top level up and coming VCs, out of Kellogg, and just being in that spot. And that’s not even that’s up in Evanston. That’s not in the heart of anything, which, from my experience is more towards 1871 would be kind of the heart of a lot of this action, while at least downtown in general will be more towards the heart of it. But it was super impressive. It really gave me some hope for what what we can aim for here. You know, like getting that vision, getting that idea, that vision for Minneapolis and what the ecosystem can aspire to be.
Yeah, it’s really great. I mean, you’ve cited the university’s Stanford and MIT their efforts are well documented and the stratix accelerator at Stanford, you know, one of the most prominent in the country. But look, look at Northwestern, you mentioned them, they’ve got the Wildcat challenge and look at Chicago Booth. They’ve got the NVC the new venture challenge, which I believe kicks off tomorrow on the third of June. This has become the Chicago Booth one has become one of the preeminent accelerators in the country. That ranks right up there with the YCS and Angel pads, right? The successes from that program, you know, the winners of Chicago, Booth NVC, our grub hub, Braintree tovala, I mean, you know, hundreds of millions, if not billion dollar companies that have been enormously successful. So it’s it’s really nice to see that the academic academic institutions have structured themselves in a way to really promote true Entrepreneurship, that is the challenge when you get into academia, you know, is this going to be more of a research or learning exercise, there’s this really, you know, a capitalist endeavor. And I think what we found is the Chicago based institutions have figured it out, and, you know, created some really transformational, you know, large scale tech companies. So we’re looking forward to meet and some more tomorrow at the competition, and at a future Northwestern event as well.
I think it’s really interesting, Nick, I’ve been building software companies, either as an was started off as an entrepreneur, and then an investor, the last, you know, I don’t know, 15 years, but 25 years as entrepreneur, all in Minnesota, and really, you know, from when I got started, there was very little support, there weren’t organized, you know, communities for startup competitions, accelerators, you know, maybe there was one or two venture funds, you know, now there’s, you know, just in the Twin Cities market, there’s well over a dozen early stage funds. And then we have, you know, it’s a little different in Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, I think it’s a little over 10 years old, we have a Minnesota cup, which is actually kind of built for all startups in Minnesota, it sort of lives, you know, on the campus of the University of Minnesota, but it’s not just for the U of M students. So it’s kind of interesting, I think it’s, it’s evolved a bit differently. But in many respects, I think the last decade is really brought just incredible wealth of support for entrepreneurs starting to build things. Of course, I think one of the main areas that entrepreneurs that are looking to get discovered are looking for support is on fundraising. And you know, despite the emergence of what 1500 plus venture funds around the country, you know, getting that first round of capital for many is still really challenging. And I know you’re, you’re one of the few funds that you know, invests in kind of pre seed, and then also what I’ve called, like, really early seed stage companies in the Midwest, I know you invest all around the country, what are some of the signals you look for? Or what are some of the things that you would in terms of advice would pass along to founders, you know, in terms of raising that first round of venture capital?
Well, first of all, you need to know where to aim. Right? Like before you launch a process, and before you start pitching. And before, you know you do your dog and pony show with a bunch of investors, you have to understand your ICP. Just like if you’re launching a product into a market, right, who’s your ideal customer persona. And for a fundraise is the same Rob, you just mentioned, like in the Midwest, there are seed stage investors series A investors pre seed, some will do pre traction, some won’t. Some will invest in hardware, others won’t write some, like consumer, some have a preference for b2b. We’ve got a whole crop of Life Sciences folks, right? There’s a lot of shapes and sizes to these investors. And if you just roll out of bed with a really cool product, and you know, a little bit of sales, and do your rounds in sort of Minnesota ecosystem with whoever you can get an intro to, you’re probably going to find some mismatches, right? It’s like the dating app. And you know, you’re you’re dating somebody from a different culture that doesn’t speak your language. And it’s like, where do we even begin here? So you kind of have to know where to aim. Figure out what type of startup you’re building, right? What are the sectors you appeal to? What are the technologies that you’re building around, you know, Ai, blockchain, etc? Who are the markets that you’re serving? Right? Are you serving certain demographics with your startup, let’s say, the boomers or Gen Z, for instance, or you know, maybe your startup is focused on women. And then the stage, of course, the stage is important, the geo is important. So there’s all these filters and structures that investors use to kind of think about your startup. Here. Again, it’s like sector, market technology, geo stage. And if you are honest with yourself about which boxes you check, you can find the ideal set of investors that is just well designed for your startup. Right. There are generalists that just invest in Minneapolis startups, there are specialists that just invest in AI powered startups, right, you need to know who those investors are first. Rob, you and I have discussed this tool that we built VC dash rank.com. It’s a simple questionnaire that startup founders can fill out in five minutes or less about their startup. And they generate a customized list of all the ideal early stage investors for their startup. I think we have somewhere from 15 to 30. Startups filling that out every day. So it ends up being you know, you add those up over time, there’s a lot of startups out there looking for investors, but if you’re aimed in the wrong direction, you know, you’re gonna waste a lot of your own time. In founders time is the most important thing when you’re building an early stage startup.
I think that that’s a lot a source of a lot. VC hate that you see, I mean, there is plenty of legitimate criticism about VCs, there’s there’s bad behaving VCs, don’t get me wrong. But I think that that point you just made, that it just being a mismatch, that people going into every what should be a speed date with the intention that they want to get married, without actually realizing that they need to make sure that that’s going to be a good match. I think that that manifests itself and justly so in people getting incredibly, you know, frustrated by that process, and then taking it out against just the industry in general. It kind of obfuscates a lot of the legitimate criticism of the industry, though, and and makes people you know, it makes it harder to uncover. Because when the problem is that source, what’s the real problem? It’s hard to uncover when it’s just simply a mismatch from the beginning.
100% Joseph, and I’m getting a taste of my own medicine, right, because as we embark on on raising our next fund, we’re not raising currently, but as we do that, we need to meet with the right investors for us, right. In our industry, we call them LPs limited partners. But I need to know who are the institutions that like to invest in emerging funds, right? Who are the institutions that like funds in the $50 million size range? Who are the institutions that have an interest in the middle of the country investing versus coastal, right or international, right, if I don’t do my homework, on my own ICP, then I end up spinning my own wheels with a bunch of folks that you know, want to cut billion dollar checks in the multi billion dollar funds that are focused only on San Francisco, and I’ve just wasted their time in my own. So, you know, this, this has got many different levels of extra abstraction, whether you’re a startup selling a product, you know, founder trying to, you know, sell your business, sell equity in your business, or a venture capitalist that’s, you know, trying to raise a fund.
And just some advice to anybody out there who’s going to turn around and Google ICP to figure out how to proceed, ignore the first results, or any results with pictures of crazy clown makeup. That’s the wrong result for you. Wow, flashback there. Now we’re showing our age.
It’s really interesting, Nick, when I was a sort of founder turned investor, you know, I was like you as an angel investor for a while, while while I was sort of founder, took the success as an angel investor became a VC. And the number one request we have, from founders we back is, can you help me complete my round? Or can you help me connect other capital sources, and to me is like a founder turned investor, it’s like, the least interesting thing I could help a founder with, is just finding more capital, I’d rather go deep on like product goes to market, you know, human resource and operations, like how do you scale the growth of the company? Not so much like, Hey, can I i’ve this spreadsheet, I started with 200. Plus, it’s just people in the last four years that I’ve talked to you that are involved in the VC game, and I did use the VC dash rink comm tool that you built for internal startup we had been incubating called next jam, it’s really, really useful to kind of filter down across these different dimensions, who are the funds that we should be talking to? And I think a lot of founders, it’s not even so much as like getting an intro to the funds, like, I know that a lot of the funds that we should be talking to, but they weren’t necessarily the ones top of mind for me. So just having a filter to say yes, these are the ones that based on, you know, some kind of database are probably the ones that are right for you and make some ton of sense to me. So I think it’s super valuable. I’d love to see more startups using this. And it wouldn’t solve this, like signal and noise issue when what you really want is like relevant deal flow that can make right you know, the speed for fundraising faster, right. 100%.
I mean, it’s, it’s amazing to your point, how network driven and opaque the whole fundraising landscape still is, it’s always based on referrals. And you have to have the right networking etiquette. I mean, if you go back to the origins of VC, it was a little cottage industry, you know, country clovers, and people that were insiders, Sharon deals. And that’s kind of where this industry began. But, you know, as we move forward in time, it’s institutionalized. I mean, tech is no longer, you know, a footnote in the asset class universe tech is sort of leading and driving the returns, both in privates and publics. And so I think we’re gonna see our industry, our asset class, really professionalize and become more tech fold. Right? It shouldn’t be this old insider game of who you know, and who can I get an intro to and, like, you know, can I can I get the royal treatment from the investors at benchmark I mean, amazing, firm, right benchmark, but they they don’t have a website, right? You have to know somebody to kind of get in there. And honestly, I think that’s the model of the past. I think it’s gonna die. The future is about you. Technology Solutions media, you know, having a systematic process, it’s it’s not about who you know, it’s about what you can build.
And increasingly, it’s not about where you’re located either. I mean, that’s starting to not matter at all, which used to be hugely important for VC. And even when you look at VCs who do business all over the world or across the country, you know, that geography that they do more deals, where they’re located, then states further away, like if you’re based in DC, or even if you’re based in Chicago, you know, there might be a way more deals in Silicon Valley, but you’re going to be doing more deals in Chicago, just because that’s who you run into. But increasingly, that’s becoming less and less important.
Well, I think, you know, one of the effects of COVID is no longer do I have discussions with investors that say, oh, middle of the country, investing the Tam’s too small, like the outcomes aren’t going to be big everyone? Well, not everyone, but the vast majority of folks out there realize, wow, there’s talent everywhere, you know, whether it’s talent that left the coast that moved other locations, or just the reality that great, huge, multi billion dollar tech companies are being built everywhere. We’re seeing that more and more every day, which is, it’s nice not to have to face that objection anymore. Oh, Minneapolis. Oh, yeah. No good tech companies are gonna come out of there. Chicago. Yeah. You know, you guys have your strengths, but it’s not technology. Yeah. Okay. Let’s look at you know, the cameos of the world and, and you know, these other huge successes. So it’s no longer an objection, we really have to face which is nice.
So Nick, I know, you take a very systematic approach to venture capital, kind of pioneering how to use tools and technology to make the process more efficient. I saw this survey a few months back that ranked from founders seeking capital, the number one criteria or attribute that they cared about the most was speed. Yeah, and I know you’ve interviewed a lot of funds, are there, you know, from a systematic standpoint, are there certain things you found to really speed up the investing process? Or is there any any other venture funds that, you know, obviously speeding, making a quality decision that times are enemies of each other? Right? Like, you know, how do you have you? Have you found ways to move faster in decision making, or across the VCs that you’ve interviewed? Any that really stand out to you on this dimension of speed?
Wow, that’s a tough question. Yes, we have implemented a lot of systems and processes, I can talk about that when to your ladder question on any VCs in particular, I would say that the VCs that stand out, as being great at making decisions quickly, are solo capitalists, largely, you know, when an individual is doing the meetings with the founders and can decide at first meeting or second meeting. Look, this person has the right ingredients, you know, like you’re taking all these data points, they’re mixing up in your head, we talked about this abstract concept, pattern recognition. But honestly, a lot of at bats in this industry over time, you start to figure out here are the things that I like, and you process all these data points, and you make decisions. So it’s the solo capitalists that can move quickest, because, you know, there’s no infrastructure, there’s not multiple people, there’s not, you know, a whole series of diligence. When it comes to our firm. We are not that, right. So we have a number of people at our firm that can do deals. It’s not just Nick Moran, right. And I’ve been very clear with my folks here in New sec from the beginning, this will not be the Nick Moran show. This is newstagged ventures, we are building a scalable venture capital firm. And so what we’ve had to do is get very, very clear about what we’re looking for. We kind of divided up into three segments. So when we’re looking at a deal, we look at the who, the what, and the how. So the who is the foundation, that’s the people behind it, the talent, their raw capabilities, their you know, their raw mindset. The what is kind of the business is the business, the industry, the sector, the product, is it, you know, scalable? Is it venture scale is an interesting does it have tailwinds and then the How is sort of the framework that the founders are using to access that market, build the right product. Think about you know, how we wedge into the market? How are we focused on customer needs? To that point, we did you know at the top of the interview or are we tech first. So the How is like the process that the founders are going about to access the opportunity. And then you know, at New stack we think very specifically about what are our must haves. What are important to have and what are nice to haves and across each of those three, the who, what and the how we’ve been very specific about what those three are. So we have must haves on every deal. If a must have Isn’t there we pass, we have our important hands on every deal, if a certain percentage of important to haves aren’t there, we pass. And then we have our nice to haves as well. And so that’s our attempt at taking all these patterns and all these factors that we’re vetting for, and actually codify them into a process that can be taught to young folks, you know, as we have this fellowship program of 20 young folks across the country, undergraduates, and it’s too hard to spend the next you know, five years with all of them and try and teach them all these abstract patterns, we have to codify them, we have to get very specific about here are the factors to be looking for, so that their learning curve, you know, moves quicker. And the end effect of that, Rob, is that we should be able to make a decision on a founder, and investing in that founder in less than two weeks, hopefully, less than one week. But if we know what we’re looking for, and who we are as a firm, and you know, what types of founders are positioned to succeed in a partnership with the SEC, then we can move more quickly.
I just said one more kind of a more narrow question around this process and system you have I know, one of the things they talk about in venture capitalists kind of decision making is this notion. It’s like a psychology notion of, they call it confirmation bias. And I know I’ve experienced I’ve had to sort of fight myself against is that time where I see it, even in our partnership, like the more time you spend on a deal, there’s a tendency to look for evidence to support, you know, your initial interest in that deal. And so you have this self fulfilling kind of confirmation bias to do a deal as you dig in more and more and more. Have you had any, you know, with this sort of more in this sort of system that you have? Do you have any sort of guardrails against like confirmation bias? Or have you ever felt like you’ve experienced that? And, you know, or how do you avoid confirmation bias?
It’s a good question. I don’t know, if we have an answer to that, if I’m being honest, I do know that we’ve gotten incredibly late stage in diligence on deals. I mean, I even flew with, with my deal lead to Colombia, the country to do diligence on a deal and spent two entire days, you know, in the field, like meeting with customers and whatnot, we ended up passing because something came up late stage and diligence that violated my staff. And we had to have a real honest conversation about that. And, you know, as I think about scaling this firm, I think about, you know, we need to use these moments as teaching moments of how we got to make decisions. And even if it’s even if it’s so much easier to proceed with the investment at that point, because the sunk cost is there. And the confirmation bias, is there. the right decision, if we really want to build a best in class firm, that’s going to produce great returns, and teach folks how to say no, even when you’re over committed, is you got to say no, when, when it’s right to say no. And I learned that the hard way working for dinner for years in m&a, a very aggressive acquire My god, I would do diligence on 1000s of companies, I would spend, in some cases multiple years, getting to know founders of different companies and visiting them in Spain and Italy and all around the states. And then those deals would fall apart. And so yeah, that was a painful reality in our business. I mean, we’re meeting with founders, you know, for weeks or months. And so to pull the plug on those for me is like, you know, that’s nothing. It might be harder for the younger people. But for me, it’s nothing compared to multi year. relationships.
Yeah, totally. You bet that your prior experiences is super helpful in that regard. So I think Joseph, you had a kind of a final question, right? Oh, yeah.
Yeah. So our last question here, like to ask all of our guests who come on the show, can you tell us about someone or a startup that you’ve observed executing at a really exceptional level, maybe someone in your portfolio or someone outside of your portfolio, but someone you’ve seen maybe who isn’t getting recognition for that, but who’s really killing it? There’s too many to choose from.
Maybe I’ll pick a couple that were slammed hard by the pandemic. I mean, terrible categories for the bat pandemic. One is Jude chewy, he runs a company called Flamingo. Flamingo serves the multifamily property industry. And it’s a it’s an events focused platform. And that thing, I mean, the events out of the business went to zero effectively last, I think, April or May. This guy is just a rock star. He built a SaaS business alongside his events business during the pandemic, grew it to the size of the events business. I mean, remarkable MRR and now the events have come back and so now he’s got I mean, it’s kind of amazing but he’s got a you know, two sided, you know, dangerous multifamily software business that does both events and, and software as a service, which are super complimentary for what he’s working on. And it’s just been amazing to see the resiliency. I mean, it would have been very easy for him to shut it down. And many of my LPs reached out and said, Is God gonna survive? And I said, if you ask him, there is no quit here. There is no, you know, pulling this business up and just super proud of him. Another one is Conrad Wallace Xu scheme in MDX at at a business called trip scout. This is a travel business that serves consumers and just got crushed, absolutely crushed by the pandemic. Many travel companies went out of business, many large travel public businesses just are on the ropes like the TripAdvisor is of the world. And these guys have just made magic of, of the situation. It’s, it’s unbelievable, how they doubled down created more content and special guests. You know, created a almost like an Anthony Bourdain, like series on travel during the pandemic, travel from home, you know, everyone’s stuck inside. How do you get the experience of being on a trip when you’re at home? And coming out of the pandemic? they close? I think they recently closed 4 million bucks from accomplice, I mean, tier one VC there. I mean, they are on this upward trajectory, like I haven’t seen. And it’s it’s kind of amazing. You know, there was never quit, there was never hesitation. There was optimism, despite a really tough situation. So those are two I would, I would just, you know, tip my cap to them. I’m glad and proud to be an investor in people like that more so than than anything. Trip scout and Flamingo. We’ll have to check those out. All right. Well, thanks
a lot for joining us today, Nick. It’s been a pleasure and best of luck as you continue to grow, you know, new stack and thanks for you know, launching VC dash rank.com. And the other work you do to support entrepreneurs and founders and of course, the podcast, which is one of my faves. So thanks for joining us today.
Yeah, thanks, Nick. Make sure you check out the full ratchet, visit the new stack website. They’ve got some great tools for founders on there.
Such a pleasure to be here guys. Thanks for having me and love the pod Keep it up. Can’t wait to see who the next guest is.