In 2009, I was at a party in San Francisco and had a chance to talk with Keith Rabois about startups and why certain ones succeeded, while others failed. As someone who’s invested and been involved with some of the best companies (Square, Slide, PayPal, etc.), his insights were extremely profound. One of my favourite anecdotes was that most great companies are started in an economic downturn.
Over the years I’ve had different mentors.
There was Brian who I met when I found myself in jail at 16 years old, and others like Gerry who I reached out to 10 years later when I was weeks away from going bankrupt running a $1.2M dollar company.
They showed up when I needed them most. Some refer to them as their “Yoda’s,” others call them their teachers. I like the word mentor, even though I’ve never asked them to be, or called them that in person.
As the world evolves to one of “instant gratification,” it seems that doing business has as well.
Even though I believe in moving fast and creating value for customers as quickly as possible, I do believe that we should take a long term view on building a business.
Long term means you invest the time to find the right employees that share your values. It also means finding partners that make you look good and are going to be around in 10-20 years.
Short term is all about optimizing for near term gains. Either pushing your team to exhaustion or always sucking the value from any deal to be all one sided.
Roy Williams once said, “The risk of insult is the price of Clarity.” I truly believe that.
Below are 7 questions that I’ve answered on Clarity using our Answers feature and I thought my responses could provide some Clarity (pun intended) to your startup.
Starting a full blown company is a scary endeavour… that’s why I’ve always started very small. My approach is very intuitive. At each step I’m trying to prove if there’s a “there there”. Or better yet, “Will the dog hunt?”, “Does anyone want this?” I also start off with a few contradictory assumptions:
I first heard of Google Helpouts on July 24th. It made perfect sense seeing that their video product – Hangouts – has been their “silver bullet” of social, it’s only logical. However, it’s not new. What they’re offering (consumer focused / expert video chat) has been tried in the past. In 2006 Skype launched something similar, only to shut it down. Since then there’s been a half dozen startups to enter the market offering something similar to Helpouts. Even eBay has a new service they’re testing in the UK.
All that being said, as someone who has a dog in the fight (i.e. expert network / advice as collaborative consumption), I think there’s some interesting aspects worth discussing. So here goes.
Almost a year ago I asked for a favor – a birthday wish – that everyone entrepreneur I know donate 1 hour of their time giving advice to another entrepreneur over the phone. That was the seed that has now grown into Clarity.
Since then we’ve
- Retooled the product and launched publicly in May
- Completed over 12,000 calls
- Connected entrepreneurs from across 47 countries
- Signed up over 7500+ experts & advisors
And today things continue to grow!
Today I’m super excited to annouce that Clarity has raise $1.6M in a round of funding from some of the best investors from Silicon Valley & across Canada.
I believe that it takes more than innovation to succeed. It requires a great product experience. Apple definitely set the standard, but many new companies have embraced this trend and the bar has been set higher.
Product design will be a huge differentiator going forward especially when it comes to mobile and consumer applications.
Mobile web, displays and browser technologies have all elevated what’s possible now online and the expectation of our users. They expect more.
.. and I want to give it to them.
I was born on December 26th, 1979. Today I turned 32, although I still feel like I’m 17. Turning 30 was tough, but the past few years have been the most rewarding times of my life. Last summer I got engaged to a beautiful women and two weeks later we signed a term-sheet to sell Flowtown to Demandforce. Looking back to the successes I’ve had over the years, I realized that it wasn’t my upbringing or education that were critical in my achievements, but in the quality of the advice that I got from some amazing people along the way.
Have you had any of these types of conversations?
That’s why four weeks ago I started a company call Clarity that would enable this activity regardless of someones social status or geographic location. Clarity makes it easy to connect with others looking for advice over the phone. The service is all mobile, is private and secure, has some amazing features that make it fast and delightful.
So for my birthday this year I have one wish.
I’m asking every business owner, community leader and entrepreneur out there to offer one hour of their time – for free or for charity – to give 6 entrepreneurs 10 minutes of advice around their expertise or passion. Each call takes only 10 minutes. All calls are off the record, private (Clarity takes care of connecting both parties) and are filtered for quality.
Here’s how to commit your phone time:
1) Create an account
2) Block out an hour in your calendar January 5
3) On that day, promote your availability on Facebook / Twitter
There’s already 300+ of the world best entrepreneurs, venture capitalist and marketers who’ve taken a pledge to give back and I would ask that you consider joining them. It’s only through advice from those who’ve been there before that we truly gain insight into the challenges we face as entrepreneurs.
There’s nothing that would make me happier then to end this day, my birthday, with a 1000+ amazing entrepreneurs giving me the best present I could imagine – their time and advice – for others to enjoy. Please take 10 seconds to sign-up for an event that will certainly move and change their life forever.
Remember: It takes a village to raise an entrepreneur.
Man, it feels good to finally get that out! As most of you know, I’m an open book with most things and keeping this great news private for the past 7 weeks has been extremely hard.
Too many people to thank
First off I want to thank my amazing team – Ethan, David, Assaf and Jerome. Most people don’t realize that we’re only small team of five. Ethan and I have always believed that a small / talented / focused team could out innovate and execute better then one that’s bloated with sub-par people just to “get things done”. Even when we had 35,000 registered businesses on Flowtown – we made it work. The even cooler part is that everyone on the team is an entrepreneur. Everyone, before joining Flowtown full-time had their own companies or projects on the go, and they we’re willing to put their dreams on hold to be part of the Flowtown story. Today I’m proud to be able to publicly thank them for believing in us and our vision.
Why I’m excited
We found a place where we have 10x more resources to execute on a shared vision to improve marketing for small businesses all over the world. Demandforce has thousands of customers in several verticals and delivers millions of marketing messages a month. Our technology has already started to be integrated into their platform and our team is currently working on new and innovative ways to push the marketing envelope.
Two amazing people
All that being said I need to mention two amazing people, Renee and Ethan. Last August I became the luckiest guy on earth when Renee said yes! She’s been so supportive as we’ve been heads down on building out the company. Secondly, I want to thank Ethan for being an amazing co-founder and a best friend. Two weeks after getting engaged, I got a call from Ethan letting me know that paperwork was finalized with Demandforce. That was easily the best month of my life.
So what’s next?
Why do people love to ask me that question? The answer is who knows. I’ve been working with the executive team at Demandforce for the past few weeks and I’m really impressed. They’ve created an awesome company and I’m getting an opportunity to learn new and interesting things. Regardless of what the future holds, you can rest assured that whatever I do next – it will leave a dent on the world. Anything less is not worth getting out of bed for.
Founded in 2003, Demandforce helps small businesses thrive in the Internet economy. The Demandforce D3 software-as-a-service application is used by thousands of customers to grow revenue, keep clients coming back, and manage operations more effectively. Demandforce’s flagship product, Demandforce D3, connects Demandforce clients to over 72 million consumers via email communications, text messaging and online services. Demandforce has achieved 24 quarters of over 80% year-over-year quarterly growth and is led by a management team with over a decade of experience developing and delivering web-based applications that drive real, tangible business value. Demandforce, Inc. is headquartered in San Francisco, CA. To learn more visit www.demandforce.com.