Jessica Alter | May 15th, 2013
David Murray and Brett Larkin are members of FounderDating. They met through FounderDating and have started their own company – GoalSponsors, a coaching and monetizing platform for non-medical health practitioners.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
David: It was kind of a cultural norm at Google that you’d “graduate” from Google to go run your own, successful startup. And being a product manager on GMail I often felt autonomy and it starts to give you the confidence that you can do it on your own. Beyond that I also believe there are 3 facets to life 1) mood, 2) pleasure, 3) meaning in life. I felt like I had the first 2, but the meaning was lacking and entrepreneurship has been the way I’ve found meaning and purpose.
Brett: I was really interested in freedom and building something I truly care about.
WHY DID YOU APPLY TO FOUNDERDATING?
David: I originally heard about FounderDating from Josh Merrill (a friend and fellow entrepreneur) who heard about it from Manu Kumar (K9 Ventures). When I started I was doing everything by myself. And I quickly found that there are a lot of things stuff that a) I wasn’t good at and b) I didn’t enjoy doing. I not only wanted help with those things, but also I was lonely. I actually worked at an office and had other people around, but that’s not the same thing as working with people. But I didn’t have anyone to share successes with or support me in the struggle (more importantly). When things don’t go well, you have no one to console with. Sure, you can call a friend or a loved one or something, but it’s not the same – they don’t the struggle and they aren’t as attached to it.
Brett: One of my mentors and a repeat entrepreneur, Larry Braitman, recommended it to me. He knew it was essential to find the right cofounder. It completely changed things for me.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR “DATING” PROCESS.
David: At first I took it slow, but then I reached out to probably 15 people and met with about 5 for coffee just to start a conversation and see if there was even initial interest in even working together. I originally reached out to Brett because I saw on her FounderDating profile that she had a gaming background and was interested in wellness now. We started by skyping becuase we lived about 45 minutes apart.
Over time I realized that the small distance didn’t matter given that everything else – chemistry, complimentary skills, working styles – came together.
Brett: David emailed me over Christmas time and I got excited. We ended up skyping 2-3 days in a row. We then met up for 4-5 hrs and were just talking. Nothing got built right away. After that, we started to meet very regularly for 6-7 weeks.
He met my mentor and had to pass that “test.”
I was actually talking with someone else from FounderDating and we explored all working together. But David just didn’t gel with the third person. They had different motivations, styles, etc. That was actually helpful, because David’s reaction to the other person helped clarify for me what was important. What was important – stage of life, methodology, personality, division of labor. ThingsI knew but was trying to see past because I saw that he had certain skills. I wanted the shoe to fit but the skills were not enough and it ultimately would not have worked.
David I and worked together for 6 -8 weeks before we drew up official paperwork
TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPANY
Brett: It’s been great working together because we were working on separate projects and after coming together we merged our projects conceptually but started building from scratch. There was definitely an evolution and learning.
GoalSponsors is a platform for health practitioners to privately coach and manage clients at scale. This includes lead gen, payments, scheduling and automation tools.
It’s a coaching and monetizing platform for non-medical health practitioners. Right now, it enables mental health professionals, personal trainers, nutritionists, dietitians and more, to privately coach and manage virtual clients across all their devices (phone calls, texts, email), instead of or in addition to in-person appointments.
SIGNS IT WORKING?
Brett: The key metric we track is revenue and we’ve had 64% average monthly revenue growth and we have 700 practitioners have signed up. It’s been awesome to see.
We raised a small angel round from Larry Braitman and a few others (on track to raise more) and we’re working out First Floor Labs.
WHAT’S YOUR HOPE FOR THE COMPANY?
Brett: All health practitioners will be using the platform and it will allow them to scale their business and have a global/virtual practice. These are people who have amazing knowledge and expertise but aren’t good at marketing themselves. We can help them with that.
David: We want to disrupt the appointment model and make it easy to be in touch and always on so more people can get help.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO FUTURE ENTREPRENEURS REGARDING COFOUNDERS?
David: Open every door that is available to you. Apply to programs you think you’d never get into, make cold calls to people you think would never listen to you. Even the small percentage of things that pan out have accelerated our growth or spawned incredible introductions. Be honest about what you really need and want to be happy, even if it’s not what you think is popular. That is key in finding the right person to be your cofounder.
Brett: Get a cofounder and not just any cofounder, one who is right for you. The minute we found one another all these doors opened – not only did people want to fund us but accelerators were open to us. Of course there are obstacles, but it’s better to have one another. Beyond that, be authentic and be yourself. Don’t try to be something you’re not, your business is you and vice versa.
Jessica Alter | March 19th, 2013
SxSW has long been thought of as a place where up-and-coming creatives could perform their craft for appreciators and gain exposure. But, like almost every other big company (cue: Xerox, Yahoo!) SxSW has grown so big that they’ve lost the core of who they were and the people they originally aimed to serve. It’s left me asking if it’s really worthwhile for early stage entrepreneurs?
We went to SxSW this year with the goal of both celebrating entrepreneurship and allowing entrepreneurs who couldn’t afford to go – with ticket, flight and hotel it’s probably $2K just to get there. Let’s say 2 people go from your company. That’s 8 company outings or 20 paid traffic experiments.
We contacted Ransom Notes – the UT Austin A Capella group. Within 2 weeks we planned an A Capella performance with a medley of songs that celebrate entrepreneurship. They put in overtime – practicing everyday for nearly 2 weeks (side note: they are awesome, check them out). And we were excited to be able to do something different, entertaining and non-exclusive. But when these 18-21 year olds starting singing in the Hilton Lobby at 12:15 on March 9th, before people could even gather round, security guards and hotel management descended upon them and within seconds called the Austin Police Department.
Why? Were they offending people? Were there complaints? Nope.Was it a slow crime day in Austin? Nope – actually, over 30 crimes were reported within an hr of planned performance. It was quite simply because SxSW runs the hotel for that week and it was sanctioned by them. Or rather, we didn’t pay SxSW so if we kept singing we’d be ARRESTED (yes, the cops actually showed up even though the UT Austin students stopped singing within 20 seconds).
SxSW Is A Corporation.
You don’t need not look far to understand what SxSW has become. “South by Southwest is run by a company, called SXSW Inc., that plans and executes conferences, trade shows, festivals and other events,” so it says in the second paragraph of their wikipedia page. And I understand it. I’m not complaining, I’m stating a fact. 30,000+ people descending upon a city. Collectively, SXSW is the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy, with an estimated economic impact of $167 million in 2011. I’m not naive, I get that.
The question is, what does it mean for early stage entrepreneurs? Is it worth going and what should you expect? It’s several thousand dollars to go to SxSW for one person.
If You Go – Hack It.
- Do not pay for a ticket. I really wish I could end it there but I’ll give a bit more detail. You have two good options: 1) get on a panel = badge is free 2) go, but don’t buy a badge. I didn’t buy a badge this year (nor did countless other people I know) and it literally didn’t stop from going anywhere I wanted to go or doing anything I wanted to do.
- Get in the flow – by that I mean, most of the interesting stuff happens in the lobby of some hotel where people are just hanging out or over dinner with a group of people you barely know. You can’t schedule everything and if you’re uncomfortable with this stuff and following up afterwards, send someone who isn’t.
- Set up meetings – have a list of people you want to meet but more importantly, try to set up some meetings beforehand. SxSW is a great “reason” to reach out to people or follow up with someone you’ve been trying to connect with and suggest meeting up at SxSW.
- Pay for anything official – SxSW SXSW Interactive 2013 was sponsored by Miller Lite, Monster Energy, Esurance, IFC, Yahoo!, American Express, PepsiCo, Pepsi and The Austin Chronicle. And those are just the official sponsors. Your budget as a startup is a rounding error to these guys. Don’t try to compete with that. Save your money – take your team out. Experiment with paid traffic. Pay a deserving team member more.
- Succumb to FOMO – fear of missing out is strong. Really ask yourself if you have people to meet with and if this is a good use of your company’s money and time. The later stage startups that do pay, don’t seem to get much out of it. I had a ball at several of the parties but I’m not using anyone’s product more as a result.
- Launch anything there – I mean, seriously. Do you really think this is the best place to launch? It’s noisier than an Ibiza rave.
Exceptions – notable exceptions to the above:
- Touching > looking – companies that have a physical product they need people to touch and fall in love with. See: Leap Motion.
- Solving mass chaos issues – companies like Uber, Sidecar, Hangtime, Highlight all help make things easier when there are large amounts of people descending into one place. Just make sure you’re ready for prime time when you hit SxSW.
Like any big corporation, SxSW has come to embody the very people and industry they once aimed to disrupt. They’ve made spontaneity illegal (literally) and lost that sense of passion and experimentation. That doesn’t make it bad, but it doesn’t make it right for early stage startups either.
Huge shout outs to: the entire Ransom Notes crew, Lexi Bixler and Caroline Khoury who are fearless leaders and Dave McClure and Sheila Goodman for all their support.
admin | February 28th, 2013
It’s easy to become stuck in the routine of a day job and lose sight of the interests that truly invigorate you. Side projects are an incredible outlet to tap into your passion, scratch an itch and most importantly, they are the best way to start working with people to figure out if you’re a good potential team. Even if your project never materializes, what you learn during the process is more important. You can see where you flourish and where you fail. See who you work best with and who you can’t stand. In fact, you might be surprised to hear how many companies have bloomed from modest side projects. Here are a few:
- Sugar Publishing - Lisa Sugar turned her obsession with celebrity gossip magazines into a blog that she wrote as a hobby. PopSugar is now the flagship in a growing publishing empire that amasses over 20 million unique visitors per month.
- Texts From Last Night - Ben Bator and Lauren Leto used to shared funny texts from the previous night anonymously with a group of their friends. When they opened up that option to a wider audience, the idea took became a diary of Gen-Y nightly escapades.
- Twitter - While struggling with Odeo, Jack Dorsey and a small team started working on a service that used SMS to communicate what you were doing in real time. And thus Twitter was born.
- Yammer - Genie employees needed a way for staff to communicate internally – Yammer was created. David Sacks spun it out as a separate company, and it was recently acquired by Microsoft for $1.2 billion.
- 9GAG - Ray Chen, the co-founder of the popular user-generated site, says it started off as just a “fun side project.” Now millions of people share in the fun.
- Dogster -While working full-time on a company called One Match Fire, Ted Rheingold and a small team with no external funding started a side project that would become Dogster and Catster. After reaching 2M unique a month, they were acquired by SAY media in 2011.
- Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg famously started Facebook from his college dorm room, and it’s become a ubiquitous way to connect and stay in touch.
- Formspring - Ade Olonoh started the site for fun, but when he saw over a million users register within the first 45 days he knew it was time to turn it into a full-time gig.
- Craigslist - What started as a fun side project in Craig Newmark’s living room in 1995 stayed that way for four years. In 1999, it finally became it’s own company and has since grown into one of the busiest sites on the internet.
- Dwolla - Ben Milne owned a speaker manufacturing company when he realized how much money he was losing to payment interchange fees. He set out to create a service that would eliminate these fees, and now Dwolla is successfully challenging the credit card industry.
- Instapaper - Marco Arment, then CTO of Tumblr, wanted to solve a simple problem of not being able to read web articles on the go during transit. He created Instapaper while still working at Tumblr full time, but eventually he transitioned to Instapaper as it went from side project to full-fledged success.
- FounderDating - Yes, it’s true. Jessica Alter and Saar Gur originally started FounderDating as a side project after lamenting about how most people surround themselves with similar people and needed to find compliments to start companies. It struck a nerve in the Bay Area and is now on a mission to enable entrepreneurs everywhere.
Your side project might not become your full-time company. So what. What it will do is allow you to experiment, learn and start working with people to figure out if want to start a company together.
Know of any other companies that started as #sideprojects? Comment/tweet to us or better yet, go start one.
Jessica Alter | September 4th, 2012
So you’re interested, even passionate about in education and learning. You know there are problems and you’d like to help solve them. But where do you start? What are the unique set of challenges? What’s working or not working in edtech? Well, here’s your chance to discuss and get answers. We are coming together tonight with, NewSchools Venture Fund and Teach for America and several aweseome edtech entrepreneurs for a virtual fireside chat that will answer the wide ranging questions around education and edtech.
On the hot seat will be Michael Staton, Cofounder of Inigral and representing NewSchools Venture’s Seed Fund; Jesse Pickard, Cofounder and CEO of MindSnacks (they just raised an impressive round); and Audrey Watters, Founder of Hack Education and tech journalist, as well as Nick Punt, co-founder of EdSurge. The impetus for the open conversation was all three organizations separately seeing a surge in the number of people interested in education startups, but not necessarily having a good forum to talk about issues or ask questions. “There are a ton of individuals passionate about education and learning, but they don’t necessarily feel like they have the right people to ask questions to or gain subject matter knowledge. Tonight’s chat aims to be an open and honest forum about the issues in education/learning and starting a company in the space,” said Jessica Alter, Cofounder and CEO of FounderDating.
Michael Staton said that he expects questions to be wide-ranging from: “Should we even try to sell into schools?” to “What’s the right team make-up for starting an edtech company?” to “Do charter schools work?” But nothing is off the table and given the backgrounds of the hosts it promises to be an interesting conversation.
The Fireside chat is also a lead up to tonight’s deadline to apply to FounderDating Education – a direct expansion of the FounderDating platform to help the growing number of innovative entrepreneurs in the education sector by connecting them with one another to find cofounders. FounderDating Education, was also born out of bottom-up demand. The team noticed that despite not being listed as an option on the site, applicants were writing in “education” as an interest area on their profiles. “We saw bottom-up demand,” explained Alter. This increased interest in education entrepreneurship was also being felt by Teach For America’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. “How and where to find complimentary cofounders is one of the most frequently asked questions from our alumni entrepreneurs,” said Managing Director of Social Entrepreneurship at Teach for America, Chaula Gupta.
How do you participate?
The main event will be this evening from 5-7 PST. They’ll be answering questions live on YouTube and you can chat and submit questions there. You can join here http://www.youtube.com/user/founderdating to listen and/or participate.
Can’t make it tonight but still have questions? We’re taking questions all day leading up on twitter - just use the hashtag #edlive. Spread the word and take advantage of this opportunity to talk to leaders in the education space!
Jessica Alter | August 30th, 2012
This FounderDating guest post was written by Mandela Schumacher-Hodge for our FounderTalk series. Mandela is the Co-founder and COO of Tioki, the premiere online professional network for educators (formerly known as DemoLesson). Tioki is backed by Kapor Capital, 500 StartUps, and Imagine K-12. A former 6th grade Teacher and Teach for America alum, Mandela holds a Masters in Education Administration and Policy, and was a Doctoral student at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Sciences. She can be reached/followed here.
The whole freaking system was broken! And they expect little old me to be able to help fix it? Improbable. No, actually flat out impossible. How did this even happen? How could things have gotten so bad? Who’s to be held responsible? Where can I even begin to help? These questions flooded my mind and so did the harsh reality that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this. This was by far the most difficult thing I had ever attempted in my life, and I seriously contemplated just walking away. No, ”this” wasn’t entrepreneurship in The Valley, rather it was teaching 6th graders in South Central Los Angeles.
I came into my first year of teaching in South Central ready to take on the broken U.S. education system and do my part to close the achievement gap and provide all children with equal access to a quality education. I drank plenty of the “Kool-Aid” at the Teach for America Summer Institute (aka teaching boot camp to the umpteenth degree of intensity). The liquid courage left me feeling emboldened to apply my leadership, organizational, and creativity skills to the setting of a classroom in one of the poorest, most gang-infested neighborhoods in the country. Not unlike the feeling of starting your first company, I was brimming with “I can make this happen” excitement and eager to take on the challenge.
The Lock Down
Then came my first “Lock Down.” Unfortunately, the community was plagued with heavy gang-activity and violence. Whenever there was a threat to the students (e.g. a police chase, shooting), the school would be locked up with everyone inside of it – students, teachers, staff, and parents – and we would all be required to secure our classroom doors, get on the floor, and remain there until we received the clear notice. This happened at numerous times during my first year teaching, but I’ll never forget my initial reaction. Whereas I felt utterly terrified inside, most of my students (10 and 11 year-olds) appeared calm and unfazed. They had done this before I realized – in elementary school.
The obstacles seemed literally stacked against me:
- Unprepared – The majority of my 6th grade students came in reading at a 3rd grade level (yes, that means my 10 and 11 year-olds reading at the proficiency level of a 7 year old.)
- No support – Few of my students had parents or guardians who could assist them with their studies; they were working their second or third job, they didn’t have the content knowledge to assist, or they didn’t speak the language
- No money – Many of my students’ families did not have enough money to purchase a full-year’s worth of school supplies, nor did they have the money to invest in duplicates of the school uniform, resulting in many of my students wearing the same clothes to school every single day
- No resources – The violence of the neighborhood also caused the school to close its gates promptly at 3:30pm everyday, refusing entry to anyone into the building, and giving the students no opportunity to participate in after school tutoring or extracurricular activities.
- No stability – By far the worst reality of all, though, was that several of my students were homeless, living in cars or moving from place to place.
How could I possibly expect my students to do their homework when they didn’t even have a desk or a counter to work at? How can I help my students catch up with their studies if there’s no place for me to tutor them? How can I honestly change these students’ lives when there are so many things that are out of my control? The challenges appeared insurmountable, and had I decided to walk away, any rationale person would have understood, consoling me with the “oh well, at least you tried” line. But just as that overwhelming sense of defeat began to take hold something, or rather someone, came across my desk, renewed my hope, and reinvigorated my spirit.
Three Truths and A Lie
At first glance, Edgar looked like most of my other 6th grade students. About a half a foot shorter than I, his face still carried the baby fat of his former years, and his personality was one reminiscent of most other 10 year-old boys in the school. The first one out the door to play at recess, resistant to tucking in his school uniform t-shirt, a skateboarder and X-Games fan, a Diary of a Wimpy Kid reader, and just another one of the many boys starting to get these weird fuzzy feelings towards girls. Edgar did have his unique qualities, though. He was always on time to class, rarely missed homework assignments, got straight As and Bs, and was always willing to help his classmates out. Overall, Edgar had a kind disposition, great work ethic, and was the type of student that teachers listed under the “a pleasure to have in class” column in their grade books.
Although happy to have him in class, for most of the first semester, I did not pay particular attention to Edgar or spend any time with him outside of the structured class periods. I was wrapped up in the storm of surviving my first year of teaching and the “sink or swim” high-pressure atmosphere meant most of my extra time was spent reprimanding those who were misbehaving, and providing remedial instruction for those performing poorly on tests.
That was, until, our first week back to school from winter break. I had an agenda to help the class get to know one another better. To start off, I began with a little game called 3 Truths and a Lie. Each person took a turn announcing three truths and one lie about themselves, and the audience had to guess which one of the four statements was the lie. We got a kick out of learning new things about one another while racking our brains trying to decipher the lies from the truths. When it was Edgar’s turn, he said:
“I am named after my father.
I used to be in a gang.
I want to be a chef when I grow up.
My favorite superhero is Batman.”
Huh? The wheels started turning in my head, but before I could process, several students’ hands shot up. “You lied when you said you used to be in a gang,” the first contestant blurted out. “Nope,” Edgar calmly replied. “That’s true.” Several mouths hit the floor, including my own. I remember calling on the next person to give it a go, but I don’t remember listening for their response. I was already consumed with my own thoughts, trying to grapple with what I had just heard Edgar say. Edgar – well-behaved, high-performing, “normal” 10 year-old boy – Edgar used to be in a gang?!?! I couldn’t believe it. What did that mean? What had he done? How did he get out? My mind was racing with questions. “Uh, sorry Edgar, what did you say? What was the lie?” “Batman, Ms. Schumacher-Hodge. Batman is not my favorite superhero. Spiderman is,” he clarified.
I didn’t sleep much that night, as my thoughts were still on Edgar’s ”truth.” Ever since I started teaching, I had seen and heard so many things about the gangs of South Central. It terrified me to think of what a 10 year-old could be doing and learning in a gang. My heart and mind were heavy with concern and the next day I asked Edgar if he’d come into class during lunch to talk
“Edgar, What did you mean when you said you were in a gang?” “I used to be different Ms. S-H. When my family and I were living in Texas, my life was different,” he replied matter-of-factly. concern egged me on to delve deeper. “When was this? What happened? Do your parents know about this? Edgar, I want you to know I am asking you these questions as your teacher and someone who cares about you. Telling your classmates and I that you used to be in a gang is a heavy statement and in order for me to make sure you are OK and safe now, I am asking you to share with me what happened.”
“O.K., Ms. S-H.” And then he confided in me…
His father was a notorious gang leader in Texas for years. He recalled his family home being filled with gang members, weapons, and drugs. As he got older and wiser, he was able to start comprehending what was going on. The transactions, the meetings, the plans being made, and by age 7, his dad was sending him on delivery runs. He explained that he followed orders and never opened the packages to look at what was inside them but that he knew that most of the times it was money; a few times it was drugs. At age 8 is when things got really serious. He had to do and see things that he didn’t feel comfortable sharing with me. He just summed it up as “really bad.” But one thing he did confide in me was seeing his father’s brother shot right in front of him. That day, his father was arrested and sentenced to 25 years minimum in prison. When asked why his dad went to jail, he replied, “He made some poor choices and now he has to pay for them.”
He went on to explain that after he saw what happened to his dad in Texas, he realized that choices have consequences. His dad’s choice to be in a gang resulted in him doing bad things, which further led to his incarceration, which now has left Edgar’s mom without a husband and Edgar and his siblings without a dad. Edgar said that his mom moved the family out to South Central to live with her family and that since coming here last year, he’d grown close to his grandfather. He said his grandfather teaches him to not be ashamed of his past and what he’s been through because it’s made him who he is. More than that, though, his grandfather teaches him that life is all about choices. You can choose to be happy or you can choose not to be. You can choose to be angry or you can choose not to be. Everyday you have the ability to choose what you want to think about, what you want to do, and who you want to be. But whatever you ultimately decide will dictate what happens in your life. And so that is why Edgar says he always tries to smile, even when he’s not having the greatest day. “I’m making the choice to look at the good, think about the good, and just try to be happy.”
Wow. I was floored. 10 years on this earth, and this young man exuded a maturity and self-awareness that far exceeded his age –maybe even my age. I kept thinking, if this young man can go through such horrific experiences and come out the other end as a better, stronger, happier person all because he’s making the decision to be this way, then so can I, so can anyone.
That day, for those 20 something odd minutes during lunch, a shift occurred inside of me. Edgar made me realize that our lives are the result of the choices we make and how we choose to view them. My life is not a movie script and my students are not paid actors. Life in South Central pretty much carried on as usual for another six months until school let out for summer vacation. A few students still dropped out to join gangs, others never made the academic improvements I had hoped for. However, there is no doubt in my mind that I became a better teacher to my students, and as a result, several of my students made incredible progress, both academically and personally
Bring On the Obstacles
However, the lessons Edgar taught me lived on far past my year teaching in South Central. When I left the classroom three years later to start building my edtech company, Tioki, with my Co-Founder, Brian Martinez, I soon realized that I would again be tested in many of the same ways I was that first year teaching. We began with a sheer desire to solve a problem and make things better, but were immediately confronted with the reality of being under-resourced, under-prepared, and completely overwhelmed. Most of my friends and family wondered why I was dropping out of my Ph.D. program, cashing out my retirement plan, and maxing out my credit cards, in order to invest my full time attention on Tioki. But one thing I understood, thanks to Edgar, was the impact choices have. If I was going to make it through the rough terrain of building a successful startup, I was going to have to make tough choices. I was going to have to choose to make sacrifice, dedication, and hard work the mantra of my life; I was going to have to choose to believe in my team’s ability to succeed, despite the myriad of obstacles that lined our path.
Even now, having successfully expanded our company there are still constant challenges. When it feels like the odds are stacked against us (and it often does), I think back to my time in the classroom in South Central, when I had to make due with so few resources and tools that progress seemed improbable. As a cofounder, I’m rarely in complete control of the circumstances in which I am working. The economy, education policy, market trends, etc. are all factors that greatly impact my company’s ability to succeed. However, what I learned from Edgar four years ago is that I get to choose how I am going react to and work with those circumstances. No matter what the “facts” are or how dismal the odds look, choose to believe that it’s possible and then choose to take action. A 10-year-old taught me that.