Archive for category Awesome

Bread and Circuses: Great Article by Jolie O’Dell

http://jolieodell.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/bread-and-circuses-the-state-of-web-app-startups/

I couldn’t agree more with her. One of the great things about Giv.to is that we built the product with helping the world in mind. Of course, there has been a push from outsiders (who shall remain nameless) to make it into a product that serves brands instead of organizations, that has features that cater to the private sector.  I have impressed upon the Founders that I think Giv.to should remain, or that we should maintain, a product that is geared toward helping others.  That I think we should provide the service free or near free to nonprofits.

But I dont know if this opinion is compelling or what the end result will be.  I think many start ups also face this dilemma and as a result go through a shift in vision, strategy, and objectives on the road to funding.  There is pressure on startups to follow the ‘fad’ and make something ‘viral.’  But what about non-fad, non-viral, world changing stuff? I know an aerospace engineer who thinks he can build a model (or at least demonstrate) that will increase highspeed rail travel by double or triple.  He worked in Navy Air, he went to MIT, and he’s brilliant… but he can’t find anyone to fund him in the USA, because VCs are mostly interested in twitter apps (like ours). I told him to move to Japan.  And I also vowed inwardly that if I end up making any money off of Giv.to, or any other start up I end up doing, I’m going to invest in his idea.

And I confess I haven’t always thought this way, or don’t always think this way now. But I do think Giv.to is a great brand, with a strong message and good name, with products that really help organizations ‘figure out’ social media. Working with a tiny budget in a nonprofit that needs every dollar to accomplish its mission, they appreciate things that are easy, free, and can outsource a campaign to the followers (which is what Giv.to does, plus other cool stuff). We’ve had a lot of positive feedback and we’ve learned A LOT from our customers – and we implemented changes along the way accordingly.  I’m thankful all the time for the DC non-profit community, and firms like Convio, because there is such a spirit of cooperation and so much passion for diverse causes.

I retweeted Jolie’s article, and I really hope others will too. The more people who get this message, the better.

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Why Chris Sacca is Awesome

So, last week I went out to lunch with a small group of Georgetown students and Chris Sacca was there to chat and give us free advice (free! advice! from Chris Sacca!) and some of the things he said really struck me as being a true evolution in the minds of venture capitalists, and one that I think is 1)necessary and 2)welcome and 3)awesome.  The message was a recognition that for many founders, although our company is ‘our baby’ and we sacrificed thousands of hours, months/years, possibly relationships, the overriding concern is money.  Too often, entrepreneurs sell out or give up at precisely the wrong moment. I could make up a bunch of reasons why this is, but let’s be real here, it’s about the money.

But not in the way most people think. We are not just money-loving bastards, wanting to make a buck.

On our own startup, givto, there have been ups and downs. At one point, one of our founders had to literally ask for money from his parents. And his friends. And wasn’t eating, or sleeping, ever. We all have debt, and I don’t mean $4 and change, but literal mountains of student loans to pay. Plus the debts we’ve taken on for the company. Plus our housing, cars, and food. Although Giv.to is now profitable, no one is living large. There have been definite sacrifices in time, in money, in relationships, in “fun” for the company over the last year and half. Sometimes, it feels we are snailing our way down an endless road to nowhere.

But we did all of that because we love Givto, and we have a vision and purpose and we believe in it. That being said, if someone offered to buy us for $2 million dollars tomorrow, would we (could we) refuse?  I don’t know. For Mike and Adam, it’s been a definite struggle to find talent and resources. For me, having another job and doing an MBA and doing a start up leaves me little time for other important things, like seeing my family. Or sleep. Our other partner, Michelle, is in law school full time and could definitely use the money.

I know many start ups are in similar or worse positions – strapped for cash, exhausted, but elated they’ve made something from nothing, thrilled that someone (anyone) else thinks it’s a great product. Unless they were born millionaires, every founder is faced with the inevitable choices of giving up, selling out, or holding on for just one more day.

This is why I think Chris Sacca’s viewpoint on giving founders smaller amounts of money to “tide them over”, and/or buy a small amount of their shares for immediate cash, is a fantastic idea. For a relatively small amount (say $5000), startup founders could feel less like they are in a financial nightmare. I’m not talking about Dom Perignon and nights at Nobu – I’m talking about the ability to pay for server costs. For business cards (at one point Givto was too poor to pay for business cards…). Or for just peace of mind.  Through a veil of desperation, it’s hard to make wise decisions about the future of a company, especially when getting out of it looks (at times) like the only option.  VCs tend to think the only money that “moves the needle” so to speak is a $100k investment, but that isn’t the case. I think it’s the smaller amounts that say more, if only because it acknowledges a true understanding of the startup dilemma, and I think it also generates a level of trust between the founders and their investor.  As foolish as it sounds, Founders want to know that VCs care about more than the product, they care (even just a tiny bit) about us too.

This is also why Chris Sacca is (so far) my favorite guy out there. Not only does he understand the founders dilemma and is working to spread his theory on small cash infusions to start ups to other VCs, he also legitimately seems to care about “the kids”. His response (read it here), was not important in the sense that it was ‘a response to Ron Conway’. What was far more important were the ideas embedded in the email, and I urge every founder and VC to read critically and give these some thought.  After meeting with him (which was prior to Angelgate), I know this response is not just words but a firmly held point of view, and one that he talks about with passion. And that’s awesome.

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