It is a silly (meta) question, and my gut says it is a bad idea. But, would you launch your product listing site on a competitors product listing site? And even pay for it? Somewhere, it makes sense because this is where most of your audience hangs out. On the other hand, it feels dangerous and could maybe harm your project? Or, waste your money.
It’s happening slowly but surely. With every passing week, more venture firms are beginning to announce SPACs. The veritable blitz of SPACs formed by investor Chamath Palihapitiya notwithstanding, we’ve now seen a SPAC (or plans for a SPAC) revealed by Ribbit Capital, Lux Capital, the travel-focused venture firm Thayer Ventures, Tusk Ventures’s founder Bradley Tusk, the SoftBank Vision Fund, and FirstMark Capital, among others. Indeed, while many firms say they’re still in the information-gathering phase of what could become a sweeping new trend, others are diving in headfirst.
To better understand what’s happening out there, we talked on Friday with Amish Jani, the cofounder of FirstMark Capital in New York and the president of a new $ 360 million tech-focused blank-check company organized by Jani and his partner, Rick Heitzmann. We wanted to know why a venture firm that has historically focused on early-stage, privately held companies would be interested in public market investing, how Jani and Heitzmann will manage the regulatory requirements, and whether the firm may encounter conflicts of interest, among other things.
If you’re curious about starting a SPAC or investing in one or just want to understand how they relate to venture firms, we hope it’s useful reading. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.
TC: Why SPACs right now? Is it fair to say it’s a shortcut to a hot public market, in a time when no one quite knows when the markets could shift?
AJ: There are a couple of different threads that are coming together. I think the first one is the the possibility that [SPACs] works and really well. [Our portfolio company] DraftKings [reverse-merged into a SPAC] and did a [private investment in public equity deal]; it was a fairly complicated transaction and they used this to go public and the stock has done incredibly well.
In parallel, [privately held companies] over the last five or six years could raise large sums of capital, and that was pushing out the the timeline [to going public] fairly substantially. [Now there are] tens of billions of dollars in value sitting in the private markets and [at the same time] an opportunity to go public and build trust with public shareholders and leverage the early tailwinds of growth.
TC: DraftKings was valued at $ 3 billion when it came out and it’s now valued at $ 17 billion, so it has performed really, really well. What makes an ideal target for a SPAC versus a traditional IPO? Does having a consumer-facing business help get public market investors excited? That seems the case.
AJ: It comes down to the nature and the growth characteristics and the sustainability of the business. The early businesses that are going out, as you point out, tend to be consumer based, but I think there’s as good an opportunity for enterprise software companies to use the SPAC to go public.
SPAC [targets] are very similar to what you would want in a traditional IPO: companies with large markets, extremely strong management teams, operating profiles that are attractive, and long term margin profiles that are sustainable, and to be able to articulate [all of that] and have the governance and infrastructure to operate in a public context. You need to be able to do that across any of these products that you use to get public.
TC: DraftKings CEO Jason Robins is an advisor on your SPAC. Why jump into sponsoring one of these yourselves?
AJ: When he was initially approached, we were, like most folks, pretty skeptical. But as the conversations evolved, and we began to understand the amount of customization and flexibility [a SPAC can offer], it felt very familiar. [Also] the whole point of backing entrepreneurs is they do things differently. They’re disruptive, they like to try different formats, and really innovate, and when we saw through the SPAC and the [actual merger] this complex transaction where you’re going through an M&A and raising capital alongside that and it’s all happening between an entrepreneur and a trusted partner, and they’ve coming to terms before even having to talk about all of these things very publicly, that felt like a really interesting avenue to create innovation.
For us, we’re lead partners and directors in the companies that we’re involved with; we start at the early stages at the seed [round] and Series A and work with these entrepreneurs for over a decade, and if we can step in with this product and innovate on behalf of our entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in tech more broadly, we think there’s a really great opportunity to push forward the process for how companies get public.
TC: You raised $ 360 million for your SPAC. Who are its investors? Are the same institutional investors who invest in your venture fund? Are these hedge funds that are looking to deploy money and also potentially get their money out faster?
AJ: I think a bit of a misconception is this idea that most investors in the public markets want to be hot money or fast money. You know, there are a lot of investors that are interested in being part of a company’s journey and who’ve been frustrated because they’ve been frozen out of being able to access these companies as they’ve stayed private longe. So our investors are some are our [limited partners], but the vast majority are long-only funds, alternative investment managers, and people who are really excited about technology asa long term disrupter and want to be aligned with this next generation of iconic companies.
TC: How big a transaction are you looking to make with what you’ve raised?
AJ: The targets that we’re looking for are going to look very similar to the kind of dilution that a great company would take going public — think of that 15%, plus or minus, around that envelope. As you do the math on that, you’re looking at a company that’s somewhere around $ 3 billion in value. We’re going to have conversations with a lot of different folks who we know well, but that’s that’s generally what we’re looking for.
TC: Can you talk about your “promote,” meaning how the economics are going to work for your team?
AJ: Ours [terms] are very standard to the typical SPAC. We have 20% of the original founders shares. And that’s a very traditional structure as you think about venture funds and private equity firms and hedge funds: 20% is is very typical.
TC: It sounds like your SPAC might be one in a series.
AJ: Well, one step at a time. The job is to do this really well and focus on this task. And then we’ll see based on the reaction that we’re getting as we talk to targets and how the world evolves whether we do a second or third one.
TC: How involved would you be with the management of the merged company and if the answer is very, does that limit the number of companies that might want to reverse-merge into your SPAC?
AJ: The management teams of the companies that we will target will continue to run their businesses. When we talk about active involvement, it’s very much consistent with how we operate as a venture firm, [meaning] we’re a strong partner to the entrepreneur, we are a sounding board, we help them accelerate their businesses, we give them access to resources, and we leverage the FirstMark platform. When you go through the [merger], you look at what the existing board looks like, you look at our board and what we bring to bear there, and then you decide what makes the most sense going forward. And I think that’s going to be the approach that we take.
TC: Chamath Palihapitiya tweeted yesterday about a day when there could be so many VCs with SPACs that two board members from the same portfolio company might approach it to take it public. Does that sound like a plausible scenario and if so, what would you do?
AJ: That’s a really provocative and interesting idea and you could take that further and say, maybe they’ll form a syndicate of SPACs. The way I think about it is that competition is a good thing. It’s a great thing for entrepreneurship, it’s a good thing overall.
The market is actually really broad. I think there’s something like 700-plus private unicorns that are out there. And while there are a lot of headlines around the SPAC, if you think about technology-focused people with deep tech backgrounds, that pool gets very, very limited, very quickly. So we’re pretty excited about the ability to go have these conversations.
You can listen in on more of this conversation, including around liquidation issues and whether FirstMark will target its own portfolio companies or a broader group or targets, here.
Disclaimer: This is not a get rich quick feel-good stories. We are not newbies. We have invested over 20k in courses, books, tools, and more than two years of failure that amounted to “nothing” before a huge step up.
I am grateful for the setbacks and failures because it gave us perspective and knowledge. The tools give us the bandwidth to scale and hop on to new opportunities.
- Why we failed for years
- Our Strategy for the launch
- Our next steps to growing the agency
Why we failed for years
Before all of these happened, my partner and I were serving the military. For the past two years, we embarked on many dead-end projects. That had us wondering why we were not making as much as we want to.
My partner was an SEO expert. He ran an adult fetish site pulling 30,000k monthly view but could not monetize it. On the other hand, I was somewhat decent at generating business leads and doing sales calls. I ran a b2b lead generation company that could not scale.
It was not a skill issue.
Things were also pretty rough then, with the army taking up most of our time and mental space. We spent all of our time working on our “side-hustles”, skipping out on parties, gathering, and all the stuff.
I had this constant fear of not succeeding because it only meant two options. I had to either find a job or go back to school once my service ends.
Neither option was appealing to me.
Things continued to be a complete train wreck. The Covid-19 locked down happened nearing to the end of my service. It gave me time to focus and move as we were under stay home orders.
However, we were not moving in the right direction. It felt as though we were still banging our heads against the wall, this time harder and faster.
Before I knew it, I was out of the army. The direction was still murky, but with every failure and reflection, things started to click. Things were difficult and glim because we did them backward. We were solving problems before they even happen, such as information retention, tracking … etc. You can read my other post here.
I took the risk and canceled my university admission. I wanted to focus on making this business work.
It dawned on us that we were not out there at all. We were so focused on building the right service or product that we did not put it to test in front of the market. We had the skills, tools, and knowledge to scale but we could not because we have not gotten past step one.
What is step 1?
You need two things to make sales.
- Having an offer that your market wants
- And getting your market to see your offer
As stupid and generic as it sounds, there are no secrets. If you want to validate your idea, create a landing page with a sales copy and put it in front of your target audience.
Our Strategy for the launch
- Find an idea traffic source
- See what the are our competitors were offering, then make it better
- Compete based on price point to get the volume
We found a local listing site where people list their services or items. We researched all our competitors and decided that we could offer a simple web design service. There was not much competition as our competitors were not copywriters and their listing creatives were terrible(Funny how they are designers LOL).
Next, we created a customer avatar based on the listed services, Reddit threads, local Facebook pages, and so on. This process helps us craft a sales copy that speaks directly to the market.
We built a landing page, put in the copy, and threw in some illustrations from our tool stacks, and we have a minimum viable landing page ready to go.
Branding and positioning matters, as your ideal customers buy based on the impression and general vibes you give them. So you have to stick out like a sore thumb.
Lastly, we priced ourselves just below our competitors. Pretty sure this is counter-intuitive to what most Gurus preaching to charge your worth.
Word of advice is to drop your ego, get the cash in hand, and prove your worth later. Leaving the table with money in your bank account is better than going home empty-handed. Moreover, you never know who this client can refer you too. Relationship building is of the utmost importance when it comes to the agency, so do not burn bridges.
The service was up and live shortly after that. Duplicated our listings a couple of times to maximize exposure and also understand how the platform algorithm works.
It was around the mid of the second week where we noticed a spike in leads. I was getting incoming calls almost every day.
The leads were all over the place. Most were enquiring about services we do not offer but had the skills and knowledge to fulfill them.
Out of the 25 total discovery conversations we had, we filtered down to 5 serious candidates. We closed all 5 of them over a 30-45 minutes video conversation with prices ranging from $ 399 to $ 6,000.
Having a sales process is extremely important. Most consultants would spend hours talking to clients that would not pay for their service and products.
I would structure the sales process with a 10-minute discovery conversation at the start. The initial call helps me gauge the prospect’s level of commitment, budget range, and decision-making process. I would then schedule a strategy session. However, if they sound fishy or the deal did not felt right, I would disqualify them. (Always stick to your principles.)
The strategy session is a 20-40 mins video conference where we find out if the prospect is a good fit. During the session, we understanding their pains, agree on the price and handling objections.
One tip here is to collect a deposit instead of asking for the full price. We would then schedule a kick-off (onboarding) call where we meet them and get into the details and collect the whole sum.
Why? Because this lowers the resistance and prevents a buyer’s remorse. If the prospect is willing to pay you a deposit, they are committed and would pay you the full amount after onboarding.
The other reason is that you are leaving your cash flow to factors of the unknown.
For example, a client might commit to paying you after the onboarding session seven days away. Something might happen during the week and cancels the engagement. It always happens, so always secure a deposit and remember cash on hand is king.
The onboarding process makes or breaks your relationship with your prospect. I have seen too many gurus talk about closing sales in one phone call and all that BS. Having a great sales process and a shitty onboarding process is like getting catfished on a dating app. It would not do good for your reputation and affects your future businesses.
A well thought out onboarding process instills confidence in your client. One scenario that happened during the kick-off session was that the client was not exactly sure about engaging us because we were young (22-year-olds)in Asian culture. But after the onboarding session, he was extremely impressed with it. He told us that we knew our craft and felt confident in our capabilities that reflected in his firm handshake as compared to before.
During the onboarding process, set the right expectation by understanding your client’s goals, address their concerns, and formulate an action plan of deliverables to achieve the set goals. Do not make promises out of thin air and results, show transparency by helping your client visualize how the actionable deliverables would lead to the outcome they envision.
What is our next step?
… And we just rented an office last week.
We are on track to hit the goal to hit 10-15k MRR within the next four months. After that, it would be just scaling, funding other ventures, and ultimately build an agency that can run without us.
Here are our key movers:
Optimize our presence (offline and online) to exist in multiple places to receive opportunities.
Hiring and building an internal team.
Improve our lead generation through strategic partnerships (networking)
Building out internal structure to scale(Financials systems, Work tracking, Goal setting)
I hope you enjoyed this post. Do follow me if you are interested in more business insights. Full post here.
Marco Financial, a new Miami-based startup, is looking to take a piece of the roughly $ 350 billion trade finance market for Latin American exporters with its novel factoring services business.
Small and medium-sized businesses in Latin America can have trouble getting the financing they need to launch export operations to the U.S. and Marco said it aims to bridge that gap with new risk modeling and management tools that can make better decisions on who should receive loans.
“For smaller businesses in Latin America, accessing trade finance to export their goods is a major concern and a top reason why many don’t succeed,” said Javier Urrutia, director of Foreign Investments at PROCOLOMBIA, an organization that promotes foreign investment and non-traditional exports in Colombia, in a statement from the company. “In Colombia alone, a 1% increase in exporter productivity in our textile industry would result in 500,000 new jobs for the country.”
The company is backed by a small seed round from Struck Capital and Antler and over $ 20 million in a credit facility underwritten by Arcadia Funds.
“As a former owner of a small business in Latin America, I saw firsthand how difficult it is for SMEs in this region to access trade financing that will let them export their goods while retaining enough capital to keep their business running,” said Peter D. Spradling, COO and co-founder of Marco, in a statement. “Access to trade finance is one of the greatest hurdles in business operations and the traditional system dominated by banks is simply not working anymore, disproportionately hurting SMEs and further restricting economic mobility and job creation in emerging markets. Equity funding and a material credit facility let us serve this underserved market in Latin America and help build a healthier, more equitable trade ecosystem reflective of an increasingly borderless global economy.”
Spradling met his co-founder Jacob Shoihet through the Antler accelerator, a Singapore and New York-based early-stage investment and advisory services program that connects entrepreneurs and tech operators to launch new businesses.
Shoihet, a classically trained musician who fell in with the startup scene in New York through work at Yelp, was eager to launch his own company and connected with Spradling over shared interests in intermittent fasting and sports.
Small and medium businesses have a hard time receiving loans from traditional lenders thanks to tighter regulations and capital controls dating back to the 2008 financial crisis, according to Marco’s founders. And the long periods that companies have to wait between when goods are shipped and orders are payed can put undue pressure on business operations. Factoring solves the gap by lending to merchants based on their receivables.
Marco said that it can reduce the length of the loan origination process from over two months to one week and provide funding to approved exporters within 24 hours.
The company is initially focused on Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and Peru, and chose those markets because of Spradling’s previous experience as an importer and exporter across the region.
“We look for companies that not only target massive, sleepy industries but also for ones that are led by management teams with fresh perspectives and asymmetric information that position them to upend incumbents,” said Yida Gao, partner at Struck Capital, in a statement. “In short order, Marco has assembled a world-class team to tackle the multi trillion-dollar trade finance market in a post-Covid time when SMEs around the world need, more than ever, reliable capital to fund operations and growth. We are excited to be part of Marco’s journey to support the suppliers that are the backbone of global trade.”
I am not looking for any advice here. I would just like to hear your thoughts and feelings about launching in a small market (whether you have done so or not). My startup is very close to launching and I am very excited but also a bit anxious about launching in a small market (once again after leaving my last venture). In this case by small market I mean our startup will serve a specific geographic region with a fairly small population that may not be able fully support our business venture but this isn't an issue because we do plan to do a slow expansion after we have our system figured out and scaled.
We are a nimble team building a customer support software (like Zendesk, HelpScout) from last 5 months. We are about launch our first public beta and it will be invitation only.
I'm little nervous because this is my first SaaS launch ever! Do you have any suggestion for me to not freak out ? 🙂
As an entrepreneur, what is your 'go to market' strategy?
Really appreciate your feedback.
Becoming an entrepreneur comes with its fair share of unknowns. Taking the leap alone is a daunting feat. Along the way, there will be plenty of lessons learned and ah-ha moments; some of which you may have wished you’d learned earlier! But as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Without experiencing something, setbacks and all, you wouldn’t have gained the perspective you have today that is contributing to your long-term success.
What better way to prepare for the future than to gain insight from seasoned founders who have gone before you, in the trenches of starting a business? Here are their stories and pieces of advice to serve as inspiration as you take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
StartupNation exclusive discounts and savings on Dell products and accessories: Learn more here
Know your why
“Starting a business is a big undertaking; one that no one is truly fully prepared for. It will require every ounce of your energy and more, but if you get into business for the right reasons, business ownership can be incredibly fulfilling.
In speaking with other business owners over the years, I’ve seen how critical it is to know your ‘why.’ Reasons like, to have a better life, to make more money or to have a flexible schedule are not enough, especially on the longest and most trying of days. For those inevitably tough days – when you doubt even yourself – you’ll need to put in more work than anyone else, and that’s when your ‘why’ carries you through to the finish line.
Having a meaningful reason as to why you started your business will help carry you forward, allow you to be more creative and help you be proactive in reaching your goals.”
— Will Bartholomew, founder and CEO of D1 Training, a leading fitness franchise concept utilizing the five core tenets of athletic-based training
“With new business ventures, you’re constantly seeking the advice of others to learn from. And while everyone tells you how important the location of your business is, you never fully realize it until you wish you had.
Though the location of our first business worked fine, looking back, I wish I had taken more time to research the surrounding market more fully – location is priority number one, two and three. When you’re starting out, it’s easy to feel like you have to do everything on your own, but I’d advise you to consult with a professional who is familiar with the market you’re interested in entering so you can be sure it’s the best move for the future growth of your business. Make sure there are enough potential clients in the area so as you gain stability, you can be confident that there will be plenty of clients to service.”
— Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, founder of Nikita Hair, one of Europe’s leading salon chains expanding throughout the U.S. through franchising
Understand your financials intimately
“You should know where every dollar is coming from and where every dollar is going. If you don’t stay on top of your cash flow, you are ultimately putting your business at risk. Start by establishing a budget and make sure you stick to it – keeping in mind that it must be adjusted on factual data as you grow. You need to break financial goals down into attainable and measurable ones – set smaller milestones along the way to keep motivation and confidence high.
Don’t forget to keep reserves, for both personal and business purposes. You never know what can happen when starting a business, so it is best to prepare yourself for when emergency situations arise. As a business owner, you now have full responsibility of your employee’s income, as well as your own, and that includes retirement for yourself, too! Take things into consideration like health insurance, Roth IRA and other investments. The more you plan and prepare, the more equipped you’ll be in risky situations.”
— Brandon Ezra, founder and CEO of Grand Welcome, the leading vacation rental management franchise
Let your passion guide your culture
“Not only do you need to start your business for the right reasons, but you have to be passionate about what you are doing. Passion is what will guide you in building your company’s culture, and it is that culture that will propel your success.
The Walk-On’s story began while I was a walk-on for the LSU basketball team. During my travels, I realized a need for an elevated dining experience that blended quality food with exceptional sports viewing. Despite having little business experience and less financial background, the traits of a walk-on athlete – hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence – carried the vision of Walk-On’s to life.
I realized this ‘walk-on’ mentality really shaped our brand’s identity – it was time to lean in and let that guide our company culture. When it boils down to it, your culture will be the differentiator in the success of your brand.”
— Brandon Landry, founder and CEO of Walk-On’s, a destination known for offering elevated Louisiana-inspired food alongside an unparalleled sport viewing experience
Reflect on your journey
“As I reflect back on being in business for 16 years, the one piece of advice I wished I knew back then that I know now is the importance of your story.
As a founder, you are the visionary of your business and someone who aspires to change the world. I wish someone had told me to start and/or keep a journal. Starting a business and growing it is an adventure, both personally and professionally. I wish I could go back to my 25-year-old self and look back on the memories of when the Waxing the City story began.
It’s never too late to start journaling, and it’s a practice I’ve just begun. Journaling helps me to establish future goals, problem solve, express myself, tap into my inner creativity and helps to shape my personal growth.
As I continue to grow as a person, I use these experiences and my voice to continue to help shape the company today. You are where the story begins. Remember this as your business takes form and all of the complexities that come along with it.”
— Summer Vasilas, co-founder and director of training of Waxing The City, a 110-unit franchise devoted to the art of waxing, catering to both women and men
The post 5 Founders Share the One Piece of Advice They Wish They Knew Before Launching a Business appeared first on StartupNation.
A new Los Angeles startup is betting that enough consumers are interested in paying between $ 69 and $ 149 per year to receive lessons in life and sports from celebrity athletes like Maria Sharapova and Shaun White to make a billion-dollar business.
Founded by E. Omer Atesmen, a former renewable energy entrepreneur whose last company, Clean Energy Experts, was acquired by SunRun for an undisclosed amount. The Skills aims to bring coaching lessons from life and sports to subscribers in a MasterClass-style format.
With a roster that includes Sharapova, White, volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings, All-Pro football player Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Phelps, the former competitive swimmer who won 28 medals in his Olympic Games competitions, The Skills has managed to ink athletes that were among or at the top of the competitive field in their respective sports.
The idea that consumers are willing to pay for aphorisms, homilies and expert advice from the best practitioners of a particular craft propelled MasterClass to an $ 800 million valuation earlier this year, so The Skills’ pitch is not without precedent.
“There is so much research into the value of sports participation at an individual level. Sports is linked to improved mental health, enhanced social skills, better physical health and success in other aspects of life,” said Atesmen, founder and chief executive officer of The Skills, in a statement. “We launched The Skills because millions of people around the world want to learn from superstar athletes, but access is often limited to rare, offline opportunities. We want to share our athletes and their knowledge and skills they’ve learned from life experiences both on and off the field.”
The company’s course catalog contains over 20 sessions ranging in length from roughly two to five minutes and combines observations on life skills with lessons on technique. The more universal (or generic) advice covered by the sessions will include building confidence, leadership, mental preparation and self care, according to a statement from the company.