Tag Archives: Angel Investing

How China’s Tech Industry Dies

The Chinese Communist Party has launched a severe crackdown on the technology industry:

  • Didi Chuxing, the Chinese equivalent of Uber, had its app removed from all Chinese app stores shortly after its US IPO
  • ByteDance, parent company of TikTok, shelved its IPO plans under regulatory pressure. Its CEO has resigned.
  • Over 30 tech companies have been hauled in for meetings with regulators
  • Ant Group, a financial company founded by Jack Ma that would’ve been among the largest IPOs in history, had its IPO in China cancelled after Ma criticized authorities

This crackdown makes it nearly impossible for Chinese companies to list their shares in the US, removing one of the main ways that venture capitalists cash out. This will cause venture firms to shy away from investing in Chinese companies.

Why does this matter? Let’s take a look at how venture funding works:

1) Company makes product
2) Company pitches investors
3) Investors give company money
4) Company uses money to hire engineers and make a better product, and…
5) Acquire users through ads and/or building their sales team. Next…
6) With more users and revenue, company comes back to VC’s to raise more money at a higher valuation. Then, they do more of 4-5
7) After repeated rounds of VC funding, the company either gets acquired or goes public. VCs cash out.

But Chinese companies cannot go public in the US for the forseeable future, and even a listing in China may not be possible, as Ant Group proved. And if the Chinese authorities think a US listing brings security risks, surely the acquisition of a Chinese tech firm by a US company would be even riskier and thus also off limits.

What does that leave in terms of exits? Acquisition by a Chinese tech company, which means a lot fewer and smaller potential acquirers. The only other option is an IPO in China, providing the company doesn’t offend anyone. But the Chinese stock market is just 1/4th the size of the US one, so the payoff may be much smaller.

No exit means no investment. For VC firms, the exit is the entire point!

Unlike in China, firms in the US and elsewhere will be able to choose whatever exit is the most lucrative. That means they’ll be able to raise venture capital much more easily. That money will let them hire the best engineers, build the best products, and acquire tons of customers, leaving Chinese firms in the dust.

A couple of years ago, I thought the Chinese technology industry might overtake the US. I don’t think that anymore. With the government’s hand ever heavier, I see Chinese technology falling further and further behind.

The Chinese people have proven they have the skills to compete. But will their government let them?

More on tech:

CHINA IS KILLING ITS TECH INDUSTRY

WHY I JUST INVESTED IN GAUGE, THE BEST WAY TO SELL YOUR CAR

WHY I JUST INVESTED IN CRAFTER, MAKER OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ARTS AND CRAFTS KITS IN THE WORLD

Photo: “Vice President Xi Jinping” by nznationalparty is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave your comments at the bottom.

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Why I Just Invested in Gauge, the Best Way to Sell Your Car

If you have a car to sell, you generally have 3 options:

1) Craigslist. You can get a good price, but buyers are flaky and the process takes forever. If you can sell it at all.

2) Dealer trade-in. Easy but the price is terrible.

3) Sell to a used car lot. See # 2

Now, there’s a much better option: sell your car with Gauge. Gauge is a Salt Lake City-based startup that gets you the highest price for your car, easily. When you list your car with Gauge, you get competing bids from multiple dealers. You pick the offer you’re happiest with, and that’s it!

Selling with Gauge avoids the hassles of shady Craigslist buyers, and the competitive process gets you a better price than taking the car to a dealer.

But what about Carvana?

What about them? Carvana buys your car itself, which means their incentive is to give you the lowest price possible. While Gauge does buy your car directly from you, it does so on behalf of dealers and buyers who want to bid on it. Gauge only makes money if you decide to sell your car on their platform. If you’re not happy with the bids you get, you’re free to sell your car elsewhere. So Gauge has every incentive to get you the best price possible.

This model is working so well they’ve earned a stellar 4.7 star average on Google. Sellers love the great customer service with no fees. Dealers love Gauge too, because they can get better quality cars than at most auctions. And not having to show up at an auction in person is a huge time savings, not to mention being safer.

Gauge is growing very fast, and I’m super excited to be an investor! They only list cars in the Salt Lake City area at the moment, but they’re expanding rapidly, with several new markets already in the works.

If you’re in the area with a car to sell, I don’t think you can do better!

More on tech:

WHY I JUST INVESTED IN CRAFTER, MAKER OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ARTS AND CRAFTS KITS IN THE WORLD

7 COMPANIES HAD 3 MINUTES EACH TO PITCH US. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED.

INSIDE A STARTUP ACCELERATOR DEMO DAY

Photo: “Corvette Stingray” by pyntofmyld is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave your comments at the bottom.

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

This Hoboken-Based Rocket Company Could Revolutionize Space

In the shadow of New York City, I walked down a quiet street beneath an overpass. I came across a squat brick building with no windows. On the door, a small sign was the only indication of what’s inside: Hudson Space Systems.

Founded by graduates of the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hudson Space Systems (HSS) is working to make cheap, reusable rockets available to everyone. The microgravity (weightlessness) that being high above the earth provides is critical to research in medicine, physics and materials science. Cell cultures grow faster, physics experiments are simplified, and materials are tested like nowhere else.

But this invaluable scientific platform has a problem: waiting lists for launches are long and costs are high. HSS’s 3D printed, resuable rocket aims to bring the cost down by 40% and increase capacity until booking space on a rocket launch is as easy as booking a dinner reservation on OpenTable.

SpaceX proved rockets can be reused. What SpaceX did for launching satellites, HSS hopes to do for launching science experiments.

Hoboken, New Jersey, with its density and proximity to New York City, might seem like the last place where you’d find a rocket company. But it’s one of the most educated cities in the country, with over 80% of the population holding bachelor’s degrees or higher, and has a technical university right in town. Tech companies often grow out of universities, as this one did.

Will HSS be able to realize its vision? That’s anyone’s guess, but they have already raised $100,000 in 2020 and are $162,000 into a $250,000 raise that closes in a few days. Since they are currently working on protypes and don’t yet have a product in market, this company is earlier on than the startups I invest in. But if you like getting in on the ground floor, and especially if you have expertise in this area, it could be a great opportunity.

Best of luck to these hardworking men and women on their exciting new business right here in the Garden State!

More on startups:

Photo: “Antares Rocket Launch (NHQ201610170114)” by NASA HQ PHOTO is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Why Austin is #1 in Attracting Tech Workers

Austin, already a significant tech center, is the biggest beneficiary of tech workers being able to live anywhere and work remotely:

Austin is the top beneficiary of tech-related migration in the past 12 months, according to data from Microsoft Corp.’s LinkedIn profiles. Nashville and Charlotte also saw noteworthy migration rates.

Why is Austin #1? Tech workers are finally able to live where they want, and it turns out they have similar preferences to other Americans. The southwest has seen a huge influx of people in recent years, regardless of their occupation. Sun, warmth and cheap housing are powerful draws.

The typical house in San Francisco is nearly 3 times the price of the average Austin house. If you moved to SF for a job and the job no longer requires that you be there, you may leave and pocket the difference.

But there are lots of cheap sunbelt cities. Austin wins due in large part to the presence of a major university. This is something all major tech centers have, whether it’s San Francisco, Boston, New York, or Beijing. Companies often grow out of these universities, and college towns tend to have amenities that attract educated workers. Miami lacks a first rate university, hampering its prospects of competing with the likes of Austin.

Even before COVID, I noticed a strong trend to remote work in the tech sector. I worked in medical software for nearly 15 years. At the beginning, working from home was never allowed. By the end, I was remote 75% of the time.

The tech sector has reconfigured itself during COVID to operate remotely and is unlikely to go back. As an investor in startups today, I’ve seen venture capital firms start to hire anyone regardless of where they live. Will they fire these employees or force them to move once COVID is over? Not likely. Also, investors are finding they can meet with a lot more companies over Zoom than if they had to travel between offices. These efficiency improvements aren’t going away.

What venture firms do affects the whole tech sector. Many often required startups they invested in to move to SF. But that’s a thing of the past.

I’ve actually never been to Austin, but I hope to soon! I took a class at UT-Austin online this spring, and it was superb. Austin has clearly invested in education, and now it’s reaping the rewards.

Dig into these posts for more on tech and startups:

Photo: “Austin Texas” by adactio is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

One of the Hottest Tech Startups in the World Calls Hoboken Home

In the birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra, on a quiet street near the waterfront, lie the offices of one of the hottest tech companies in the world: Attentive.

We’re used to thinking of the tech startup scene as confined to the Bay Area. Maybe a few in New York City proper, maybe. But one of the most significant new tech companies of today is right here in the Garden State.

A tech startup is a big deal when it becomes a “unicorn,” or reaches a valuation of $1 billion. Of all US companies that have reached that holy grail in 2020 and 2021, Attentive is the 4th largest. Its current valuation is $6.97 billion, a staggering sum for a company that’s only existed for 5 years.

Attentive is a messaging platform that helps companies communicate with their customers. It allows businesses to send personalized text messages that help drive sales. E-mail inboxes are overflowing and promotional e-mails tend to get lost in the shuffle, but customers are a lot more likely to notice a text message. After all, that’s how they communicate with family and friends every day.

Attentive is not the first unicorn this single square mile has produced. Hoboken-based e-commerce site Jet.com was sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion in 2016.

Why has this tiny town of only 50,000 people produced two giant software companies in just a few years? I think the reason is that over 80% of residents have at least a bachelor’s degree. Indeed, Hoboken is the 35th most educated city in the country. If you look at the other cities on that list, you see quite a few tech hubs, such as Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Cupertino in California.

The more we can promote higher education, particularly in STEM fields, the more of this type of success we will see. It makes me prouder than ever to be a New Jerseyan. I only wish I had been an investor in this one!

Have a great holiday weekend everyone!

Dig into these posts for more on startups:

Photo: “New Jersey – Hoboken: Washington Street Brownstones” by wallyg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

India Is Soaking Up Venture Capital Like a Sponge

It’s not just about the Bay Area anymore. Indian startups have raised venture funding at a record pace this year, on track to double from 2020:

Startups raised total investments of $7.8 billion in the first four months of this calendar year, which is almost 70% of the overall corpus of $12.1 billion raised in entire 2020 and more than 50% of $14.2 billion raised in 2019, data from US-based research firm PitchBook shows.

More here.

The average deal size is also near record highs, at $25 million. The most valuable venture-backed startup in India is Paytm, a payments and e-commerce company, at $16.7 billion.

India has seen 13 companies reach unicorn status this year ($1 billion valuation and up), an impressive figure. The US remains far and away the leader, with 288 total unicorns as of last month. China has 133, and India is third at 32.

As a US-based investor, I see a lot of companies pitch, but not those from India. The American and Indian VC markets don’t seem well connected. I’m not sure how to fix that, but I’m eager to have access to this big crop of quality companies. The most active VC firms in India are a mix of American and Indian organizations. With numerous people from India staffing (and starting) US tech companies, I hope to see more connections between our markets in the future!

Dig into these posts for more on startups and venture capital:

Photo: “Agra – Taj Mahal” by micbaun is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Inside a Startup Accelerator Demo Day

Yesterday, I attended the Remote Demo Day for the latest class from the Launch Accelerator, a startup accelerator run by noted investor Jason Calacanis. We hear a lot about accelerators (also known as incubators), from famous programs like Y Combinator or Techstars to small, local outfits.

One thing most of them have in common is a demo day. This occurs at the end of the accelerator program and gives the startups an opportunity to pitch their company to investors.

So what goes on at these demo days?

Seven companies had three minutes each to present. A panel of judges (investors at venture firms) and members of The Syndicate (Calacanis’ investment group) submitted questions. Founders then had two minutes respond. Finally, both the judges and syndicate members voted on their favorites.

Here are some interesting trends I noticed from the meeting:

1) Business-to-business companies got a better reception than business-to-consumer companies. Business customers are less fickle and more likely to remain customers once acquired. They also have deeper pockets, and if you can show them that a technology clearly saves them money or gives them an important new capability, they’re likely to buy. Consumers are harder to pin down.

2) Startups are very diverse now, in terms of race, gender and geography. Two of 7 founders were female, and two were minorities. This isn’t equal representation, but it is progress. The companies came from all over America, from the usual suspects (Bay Area, NYC) to the South and even Europe.

3) It’s not all software companies. My favorite was actually a beverage company. Show investors some substantial recurring revenue and fast growth, and you may find checks flying back at you. What’s more, so many companies these days have a tech angle. This company sells their beverages online in a subscription model.

4) Everyone’s nice. Despite stereotypes of grizzled money guys telling you “It’ll never work!” the reality is that reputation is critical in this industry. Expect specific questions that might be hard to answer, but don’t expect (or tolerate) jerks.

Expect specific questions that might be hard to answer, but don’t expect (or tolerate) jerks. #startups

5) Even early stage companies fresh out of an accelerator have real products and revenues. There were no companies just trying to get an idea funded or still working on a prototype. They wouldn’t have made it into the accelerator in the first place, and even if they had, they wouldn’t have attracted any investor interest. Investors help business scale. They don’t help ideas become products.

So, who got funded? That remains to be seen, but if there’s enough interest from syndicate members, several could potentially get the nod. I know I’m interested in investing in two of the startups I saw.

We are so fortunate to live in a country that produces incredible entrepreneurs with such regularity. This was the 21st class to go through the accelerator, and there will be many more!

Congrats to all the great founders that presented, and a happy weekend to all my readers!

Dig into these posts for more on startups:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/Facebook/etc. using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too!

Photo: “Great white shark” by Gussy (Luke) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How Do You Know If a Startup Is Getting Traction?

Investors look at a lot of startups before laying a bet. But how do we know if the company’s product is catching on, or has failed to find traction? And as a founder, how do you know if you’re headed in the right direction or…nowhere?

In a recent episode of the superb podcast This Week in Startups, investor Jason Calacanis and guests Craig Zingerline and Allen Chen broke down a key metric: customer retention.

Do you have product-market fit? There’s no one better to answer that question than the people who use your product every day. Here are the customer retention numbers to look for, over a 6 month period, for different types of startups:

  • Consumer social (think Instagram): 25% is good, 45% is great
  • Consumer transactional (think Uber): 30% is good, 50% is great
  • Consumer SaaS (think Netflix): 40% is good, 70% is great
  • Small and medium business (SMB) and midmarket SaaS (think Freshbooks): 60% is good, 80% is great
  • Enterprise (big company) SaaS (think Oracle): 70% is good, 90% is great

As you can see, business-to-business products should be a lot stickier than business-to-consumer ones. Consumers are fickle and their investment is minimal. At the other end of the spectrum, major corporations don’t adopt new software lightly. It’s a process that sometimes takes years and costs a fortune. So they don’t switch often, either.

The panel emphasized that you don’t have to get to these numbers right away, but that they should be a goal. Good luck!

For more on startups, check out these posts:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/Facebook/etc. using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too!

Photo: “Jason Calacanis” by jdlasica is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This Is How Vlad Tenev Built Robinhood

“You can break down Robinhood into a series of small steps, the first one being start Robinhood, and every subsequent one being some variant of don’t stop and keep going, right, and you end up where we are today. “

In his mid-20’s, Vladimir Tenev lived in New York City. His apartment was tiny and spare. All his time went into his high frequency trading startup. Then mom came to visit.

When she saw his shabby surroundings, she began to cry. She told him she had a friend who worked at Macy’s. Maybe, she could get him a job there.

It must’ve taken great fortitude for Tenev to push ahead with his own business, despite few signs of success and the anguish it caused his family. But push ahead he did. Today, the company he built, Robinhood, has over 13 million users and plans to IPO soon at a valuation of around $40 billion. Tenev’s net worth exceeds $1 billion.

Tenev came to the United States as a child from Bulgaria and attended the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which US News ranks the best public high school in the entire country. What would’ve become of Tenev if he had stayed in Bulgaria? He might have had a very normal life. But giving this smart kid a superb education and access to a great entrepreneurial ecosystem turned him into a billionaire executive.

Tenev didn’t stop learning when he finished school. He taught himself to write iOS apps by watching free Stanford courses online while commuting on the Caltrain. It really shows you what a person can accomplish learning on one’s own for nothing now that knowledge is much more freely available.

Robinhood faced numerous obstacles along the way, but Tenev and co-founder Baiju Bhatt blasted through them. It took two full years of constant work to build their product. Venture capitalists were highly skeptical of their business. How could they make money without charging commissions? How could they beat giant competitors like Etrade and Charles Schwab? And could a couple of math guys make a beautiful consumer product?

But they kept pitching, and ultimately raised $250,000 from Google Ventures. Tenev couldn’t even get a job interview at Google 4 years prior. What if he had let that discourage him from ever approaching Google for an investment?

Just days before a meeting to approve a critical license Robinhood needed to operate, they were still $500,000 short of the required capital. Only the birth of an executive’s baby saved them by providing an excuse to postpone. By the new date, Tenev had raised the money.

A key lesson for startups: Robinhood didn’t worry about monetization until it achieved a large user base. It was confident that, like Instagram, winning enough users would give them all the opportunities for revenue they’d need. And they couldn’t put the cart before the horse.

What sticks out to me most about the Robinhood story is Tenev’s perseverance. At first, his business looked laughable. Later, it gained a bit of traction but faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles in fundraising.

But he just keep pushing, day after day. Now, 11 years after he started his first company, he sits at the helm of one of the hottest startups in the world.

For more on startups, check out these posts:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/Facebook/etc. using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too!

Photo: “File:TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016 – Day 2 (26902081436) (2).jpg” by TechCrunch is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Everybody Thought I Was Crazy”: How Brian Armstrong Built Coinbase

“Everybody thought I was crazy.”

That’s Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase. When he started the company in 2012, it was a small and quirky startup. Bitcoin had only been in use for three years and remained relatively obscure.

But now, it’s safe to say not many people think Armstrong is crazy. His company just went public yesterday and its valuation currently sits at $66 billion. Coinbase holds $200 billion in cryptocurrencies, around 11% of all crypto in existence. So how did Armstrong go from lunatic to visionary?

Armstrong had to build interest in his new product. He settled on a cost effective and attention getting marketing tool: send people free money. But not just any money; bitcoin, of course! He sent tiny amounts of the cryptocurrency to countless people. One of them was angel investor Garry Tan, who became one of Coinbase’s first backers. His $300,000 bet turned into $2.4 billion yesterday.

In an interview with Jason Calacanis on This Week in Startups, Armstrong emphasized the importance of entrepreneurs being scrappy and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. His original approach to investors, repeated countless times, paid off in a major way and Coinbase was accepted to Y Combinator, the most prestigious startup accelerator in Silicon Valley. Armstrong’s resourcefulness and persistence definitely inspire me.

To build a major business, Armstrong had to make sure not to run afoul of regulators. Unlike, for example, a social media app, finance is heavily regulated. Armstrong ditched the anonymity most people expect from cryptocurrencies, abiding by “know your customer laws.” In turn, he offered users a much more secure way to store their cryptocurrencies:

The selling proposition here is security—security conspicuously lacking at some of the exchanges with which Coinbase has competed. The Mt. Gox exchange in Japan went bust in 2014 after hackers spirited away coins worth $480 million. Customers of QuadrigaCX, which was one of Canada’s largest exchanges, have been unable to retrieve $150 million in crypto since the founder supposedly died suddenly in December 2018, holding the only set of keys to unlock their money. They now want the body exhumed.

Armstrong wasn’t afraid to reimagine the crypto business in a way that could grow big, and he doggedly pursued anyone who he thought could help him do it. I find his extraordinary career quite instructive.

For more on Coinbase and crytocurrencies, check out these posts:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/Facebook/etc. using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too!