Why hello startup nation, the Early Stage Podcast rolls onwards! It's great to be back in the saddle for a whole new set of episodes.
It's been a while since I hosted panels, I was invited to moderate the Pre-Traction Fundraising panel at Startup Boston at 1:30pm on September 12th at CIC Boston. If you ever wanted to say hi or give me a hug in person, well, this is your opportunity.
I usually edit most of my episodes to around 30 minutes, but I had such a hard time figuring out what to cut here that I just left most of it in. This interview with Zac Sheffer, Founder & CEO of Elsen, is a little longer than most episodes, but a full listen is definitely worth it.
Zac's started his career in entrepreneurship making $40/day hawking candy bars from his lock in middle school. After writing an iPad app that overlaid technical indicators on top of real-time Yahoo Finance data, he fell in love with the financial services space.
Our convo shifts from finding market validation for Elsen to riffing on value proposition, tips on working with large companies, having an obsessive customer focus, and the 20+ hour cooking challenges with his friends that have become his zen.
Listen in to learn how Elsen is enabling anyone to harness vast amounts of data to make better decisions and solve the worlds most complex problems.
\When I started the pod, one of the things I was super excited about was tracking entrepreneurs closely as they went on the rollercoaster journey that is startup life. The 1-year lookback podcast with RateGravity was so great I decided to do it again.
Stephanie Rowe has been hard at work as Founder & CEO of Boston-based IoT startup Joulez, which is reimagining STEM for every girl by designing experiences that inspire them. The company was founded to build fun, fashionable products, starting with room accessories, that encourage girls to explore engineering and programming and built confidence to compete for tomorrow's tech jobs.
Since we spoke on Episode 2, Stephanie pursued and won a prestigious Phase 1 SBIR grant, only 11% are accepted -- and she won it on her first try! A second product, which is still under wraps, is being developed alongside her first product, an IoT lamp for the bedroom.
In this conversation we discuss:
- Why she's been under the radar when some of her peers have gotten loud
- Where she sees the evolution in STEM toys for boys and girls
- Who she is looking for in a co-founder
- How often doubt creeps in, and how she copes
- And how to deal with family tragedy as a startup founder
Identity. Vocabulary. Skills. Tribe. These are the four tenets underpinning every decision she makes for her company, and for the millions of young girls she serves.
Ride alongside as we dive in.
Today I bring to you an awesome conversation with Blake Bartlett from OpenView Venture Partners. Born and bred in Southern California with a penchant for warm weather and analyzing businesses from a holistic perspective, opportunities at Battery Ventures and now OV have led him to meticulously maintain his growing beard, stock up on winter parkas, and make a number of exciting investments in expansion-stage B2B startups.
In our wide-ranging chat, we discuss the keys to making the leap from venture associate to partner, OpenView investment focus areas and peer differentiation strategies, ascertaining the core DNA of a startup, and his personal goals for 2018.
Enjoy today's conversation with Blake.
Why Hello Startup Nation, and welcome to Episode 36 of the Early Stage Podcast. The sun is finally out in Boston, the weather is getting warmer, and the scent of burgers can be detected around the neighborhood. Summer is officially here!
Today's conversation with true tickets Co-Founder and CEO Matt Zarracina gives us insight into running with a strong early application of a burgeoning technology, in this case blockchain.
The idea for leading the ticketing world onto the blockchain came when white-boarding blockchain applications with a subject-matter expert and later getting a call from his friend on exactly the same concept. Once the product vision and a friends-and-family round came together, Matt and his Co-Founders Steven Dobesh and David Piskovich set on a path to make trackable and verifiable event ticketing a reality. Let's catch up with Matt to check in on true tickets's progress to-date.
And, while things may be slowing down a bit in the office, the startups of Early Stage have been achieving incredible milestones. Digital health startup Wellist from Episode 7 just closed a $10M Series A funding round, led by Summation Health, Cedars-Sinai Health System, and .406 Ventures. Night Shift Brewing from Episode 31 just announced Night Shift Lovejoy, a brand spanking new brewpub on the first floor of Converse's HQ near Boston's TD Garden. Anna Jobe, called out in the podcast by Co-Founder Michael Oxton as an unsung hero, will manage the new location.
An SEC filing from May 10 shows cybersecurity startup CYBRIC from episode 32 receiving almost $500,000 in follow-on funding. Vesper, the startup building miniature microphone technology from Episode 15, just picked up $23M in Series B funding, led by American Family Ventures, to help them scale the mass production of their microphones and support R&D and sales. Congratulations to all on these incredible milestones and achievements!
Following a successful 1-year lookback podcast with RateGravity, we're running it back today with Liz Asai from 3Derm. If you're interested in the full backstory, make sure to check out Episode 10 as well.
Wow, what a difference a year makes. For Liz and 3Derm, the last twelve months brought a bigger team, bigger markets, and more strategic partners. Artificial intelligence, just a gleam in their eye back then, has now come to the forefront.
A few important AI papers came out since my last conversation with Liz showing how a few researchers using open source neural nets trained on skin photos from the internet were more accurate diagnosing skin cancer than board certified dermatologists. The main limitation is you need to take super high quality images and match them with a strong model. 3Derm is in a unique place to take advantage of these constraints.
People used to be uncomfortable with the thought of a "robot" interfering with the physician-patient relationship, but today's patients want an algorithm to provide a second opinion affirming their physician's assessment. Liz even envisions a day when visitors to CVS Health walk into the MinuteClinic for a quick mole check with instantaneous feedback to calm the nerves and a recommendation you can trust. The future is bright for 3Derm, and listen on to find out why.
Imagine the utter joy and promise of taking a food brand from a regional player to a national powerhouse, meeting the woman of your dreams, getting married, buying your first house, and running 5 New York City marathons…only to find out that you have 12 weeks to live.
Such was the devastating news received by Dan Schorr a couple years ago. Not to be deterred, Dan dove into his battles with lymphoma and the ice cream world with equal vigor. 20 months later, he had beaten cancer and expanded Vice Cream, his new venture, from 20 stores to 4,500.
Taking a business from concept to reality means making huge personal and professional sacrifices, including raising money for Vice Cream in the dead of winter in New York City, but it’s those magic moments that keep Dan motivated to reach his dream of building an impactful company. It’s giving inspiration to others with cancer, closing big deals, and just having a beer with a good friend.
I like to think I come at life with a ton of energy, but I felt like a slug compared to Dan’s passion and enthusiasm for life, business, and helping others. Let’s dig into the interview.
Cymbal: When the Music Stops
I record each episode of Early Stage with the hope of discovering someTHING special: a tip for raising capital, a secret strategy for growth hacking or closing big deals, or the even the best way to manage a growing staff.
Today, I present to you someONE special. It's not easy to share a narrative of your startup shutting down, but that's exactly what Charlie Kaplan is here to do. I was going to use the word failure to describe Cymbal, the “Instagram for music” startup he led with founders Gabriel Jacobs, Amadou Crookes and Mario Gomez-Hall, but that wouldn't quite do it justice. How can you measure the professional growth of Cymbal's young leadership team over the past three years, the deep connections forged on their platform over a shared passion for music, and Cymbal comments that turned into relationships and even, as you'll hear soon, marriages?
Charlie's incredible stories often left me speechless, and his beautiful answer to my final question was the most profound 5 minutes of my year.
Enjoy listening to the life and times of this intrepid startup. Long live Cymbal.
CYBRIC: Because Security Should Never Be a Barrier to Innovation
Today's guest, Ernesto DiGiambattista, Founder and CEO of CYBRIC, is helping define a new industry term: DevSecOps. Ernesto and Co-Founder & CTO Mike Kail have been obsessed with figuring out how to bring the security process into development without slowing it down, and CYRBIC is their answer.
CYBRIC's security orchestration platform helps developers, DevOps, and security teams apply commercial security testing tools throughout the software development lifecycle. Their platform automatically scans each line of code as it's entered, each build as it's completed, and each push to production -- without any layer of friction.
If you're a cybersecurity novice like myself, don't worry, I made sure Ernesto explained some of the tougher concepts a couple times. Oh, and if you like pasta, you'll like our little culinary digression. Enjoy today's conversation with Ernesto.
Night Shift Brewing: Leading the Craft Beer Movement
Have you ever tried to brew beer in one of those cheap Mr. Beer plastic barrels? How did the batch turn out? Michael Oxton, Co-Founder of Night Shift Brewing out of Everett, MA, started his foray into the beer world in exactly the same manner. For the record, his first batch turned out horrible -- it tasted like rotten cider!
Michael and his fellow conspirators wouldn't be deterred, and soon their house was overrun with beer-making equipment and hundreds of friends more than willing to taste test the beer at one of their many house parties.
With $100,000 in friends and family money, they opened their first brewery and sold 200 barrels in the first year, then 700 the year after, then 1,500, 4,000, 10,000, and 20,000 in 2017. Night Shift Brewing was officially a runaway hit, with lines continually out the door of their new Everett Brewery and legions of loyal Night Shifters saddling up to the bar to test out their latest concoctions. Boston Magazine even named them the best craft brewery in Boston for 2017.
With production maxed out at their brewery, they added a RI-based contract brewer Isle Brewer's Guild to help meet demand from Massachusetts liquor stores and bars. The sky is the limit for this trio of co-founders and their growing team, but under the facade of automatic success was a ton of hard work and navigating a number of life-or-death challenges.
No doubt, Michael and his team will face new hardships as they push themselves to innovation on their model. First, the brewery. Now, a craft beer distribution company. What will they dive into next?
I had so much fun interviewing Michael at their Chelsea, MA, distribution center last week, and I know you'll enjoy the conversation as well.
Funding Friday with Sarah Hodges, Partner @ Pillar VC
After interviewing Janet Comenos, CEO of Spotted, for Episode 21, I asked her to introduce me to one of her favorite people in the startup world. That night, she connected me with Sarah Hodges, Partner at Pillar VC. Literally 10 seconds into our coffee meeting I realized that A.) she's an absolute force of nature, and B.) I had to figure out a way to share her insights with all of you.
After spending years as a a business, strategy, and marketing leader at a number of successful startups, Sarah is now making early stage investments in machine intelligence, AI, ML, robotics, and blockchain. All these subjects were fairly new to Sarah at the outset of her time at Pillar -- she refers to her first partner meeting as if it was spoken in another language! Over the past two years, she has gone deep into these new technologies with hundreds of founders and has been a driving force for the blockchain movement in Boston.
In this episode, we played a fun game called "Pass or Play" in which she shared:
- A cool startup in the region she wishes she had money in.
- The most satisfying round she's been able to get into
- An under-rated city for startups
- An overhyped technology that needs to cool off a bit
- The best founder to get a beer with
- Which founder she'd go skydiving with
- Her biggest fear as a venture capitalist
- How she looks at competition with VCs for deals
- Whether she gets stressed when making contrarian investments
- Her perspective on ICOs
Enjoy "Funding Friday," a fun conversation with Sarah Hodges.
You can reach Sarah anytime @Hodges on Twitter.
Tive: Harnessing the Power of IoT to Track Shipments in Real-Time
As I sit here and look around my apartment, it's likely that every single item has been shipped here from across the state, country, or even the world. Supply chain is an essential cog of the global economy, albeit one of the least sexy industries out there.
Tive Chief Revenue Officer Rob Stevens and his team have cracked the code on tracking these shipments in real-time.Their combination of always-connected sensors and cloud-based software gives companies visibility on shipments over sea, land, and air. With over $3M in seed funding from Accomplice, NextView, Hyperplane, Bolt, and others, Tive looks to add their cellular trackers to every shipment in transit.
Rob and I touched on the startup's origin story, competition, current and future technical challenges, how his seed round came together, who he's looking for to build out his sales team, how to flip pilot customers into paying customers, and a ton more.
Enjoy the conversation, and let's get Monday started right!
Autonomous Marine Systems: Changing the Way the World Studies Our Oceans
At the top of today's show you're being treated to the final #InnoSprint with Bostinno Tech Writer Dylan Martin, in which he shares some interesting personal news. We touch on his favorite interviewees, why it benefits a startup to be transparent to their customers and the public, why diversity and housing are the biggest challenges in entrepreneurship over the next decade, and the purpose of tech press in an innovation ecosystem.
For today's main dish, I'm bringing you a fun conversation with Eamon Carrig and Ravi Paintal, the fearless leaders of Autonomous Marine Systems.
AMS is a Boston-based startup that uses low-cost, self-powered fleets of sailing drones that form an intelligence sensor network to collect and transmit hydrographic data across the surface of the globe. Their "Datamaran" is the world's first self-righting catamaran -- the backbone of the platform. Their oceanic missions have expanded from 3 to 30 days over the last year, stretching their catamaran's capabilities over 200 miles. AMS is ushering the world into the era of automated oceanic observation. Enjoy the show.
Dylan Martin, Tech Writer, Bostinno
Twitter - @DylanLJMartin
Dylan's Personal News Blog - dylanljmartin.com/2018/02/20/some-…clamation-point/
Autonomous Marine Systems Website - www.automarinesys.com/
Eamon Carrig, Co-Founder & CTO, AMS
LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/eamon-carrig-723ab082/
Ravi Paintal, CEO, AMS
LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/ravijit-paintal-533772108/
The main dish of today's podcast is an interview with RadioPublic Co-Founder and CEO Jake Shapiro. When I launched the podcast last year, I was surprised that Apple provided no listener analytics, didn't offer creative content curation for listeners in their podcast app, and most importantly, and didn't allow me any insights into who was a part of my listener community or how I could engage them. RadioPublic not only solves these challenges, but also just launched a "paid listens" program to help all podcasters get paid for their efforts. Jake was an amazing host at the PRX Podcast Garage, a converted Jiffy Lube fitted out with all the best podcasting equipment. The Garage has become a center-point for podcasting in the region, which has grown tremendously since its launch. Oh, and the audio quality for our chat is amazing.
Enjoy this weeks pod!
Freebird: The Business Traveler's Secret Weapon Against Disrupted Flights
I have an incredible interview coming at you with Ethan Bernstein, Co-Founder & CEO of Freebird, who, with his growing team, is trying to solve a $60 billion pain point. Flight disruptions cause a huge amount of economic loss, and business trips can cost upwards of 10% to 15% more than their original price tags because of the extra costs associated with accommodating unplanned interruptions.
Travel managers at big companies can activate Freebird for their most important travelers so when disruptions happen, the traveler receives a text message to their phone with the best new flight options from any airline. In three taps of the phone they are off to their new gate, minutes, hours, or days before everyone else on their flight.
Isn't that how the flight experience should be today? Freebird is making it a reality.
Before we dive into my chat with Ethan, you're being treated to the next installment of #InnoSprint with Bostinno Tech Writer Dylan Martin. We touch on Milestoned, Flipside Crypto, MIT spin-off Lightelligence, MIT $100K winner Lightmatter, and industrial IoT startup MachineMetrics. Enoy!
RateGravity 1-Year Lookback + InnoSprint with Bostinno's Dylan Martin
If you listen back to the first few episodes, you'll hear me ask founders where they think they'll be in twelve months. One year seems like a long time in startupland, but it actually goes by in a flash. Patrick Boyaggi and Mike Tassone, Founders of RateGravity and guests on our first episode ever, discovered just that.
In this inaugural 1-year lookback, we discussed their $2M funding round with Listen Ventures, Accomplice's BOSS Syndicate, and others, examined how other players in the market can interfere with potential deals, analyzed which marketing channels are most effective in a highly competitive environment, and talked about the value of the human touch in a tech-dominated industry. Their online home mortgage platform made major strides in 2017, but there is still a ton of work left to do.
Before we jump into the conversation, I wanted to give you all a little taste of the tech conversations I usually have over beers with Dylan Martin, Tech Writer for Bostinno. Early Stage and our friends at Bostinno are testing 10-minute "InnoSprints" at the top of each episode in February.
This InnoSprint will cover grocery startup Takeoff Technologies, wearable startups Nix and Whoop, student loan benefits startup FutureFuel, and MIT's Intelligence Quest AI initiative. Let Dylan and I know what you think of the new bit @DylandLJMartin and @EarlyStagePod on Twitter.
That's all for now! Enjoy this week's show.
Buoy Health: Healthcare's Digital Front Door
Navigating the healthcare system in America is so exhausting it could make you sick. The average wait to see a primary care doctor in Boston is 49 days. 49 days of being scared. 49 days of potentially getting even more ill. New technologies in the medical field like telemedicine have focused on increasing the number of patients doctors can see, and useful tools like minute clinics are popping up everywhere. These new solutions will help, but a new approach is needed considering our country is about 10,000 doctors short of optimal levels. Can we better help patients get the right care at the right time?
Buoy Health aims to be the digital front door to your healthcare experience. A simple interface that feels like texting a doctor is actually, under the hood, artificial intelligence algorithms that sort and re-sort 30,000 potential questions for patients until 3 of a possible 1,700 diagnoses are suggested. Classic online symptom checkers, essentially decision tress, make the correct diagnosis 34% of the time. Andrew Le, MD, Co-Founder & CEO of Buoy Health, and his team have been able to more than double that accuracy rate.
Why did Andrew, a Harvard Medical School-trained physician, go against his family's advice to practice medicine and instead become a digital health entrepreneur? What drives him to make healthcare more approachable, efficient, and intelligent? Listen in to find out.
Embr Labs: Warm Up. Cool Down. On-Demand.
I'm super excited to publish today's founder interview. A group of curious material science students at MIT, while working on a project to help commercial buildings save on energy costs by heating people directly, developed a very low-powered thermal heating and cooling device for the wrist called the Embr Wave.
Their startup journey took a winding course through Greentown Labs to the MIT Skills Accelerator and later the MassChallenge accelerator. Along the way, they picked up an NSF grant, non-dilutive funding from Intel's "Make It Wearable" competition, and the Cool Ideas Award from Proto Labs. This validation led to a venture round from Intel Capital and Bose Ventures and a massively successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $630,000 from 3,000 backers. After four years of hard work, their product started shipping at the end of 2017.
Enjoy my conversation with Forbes "30 Under 30" Recipient and Embr Labs Co-Founder and CEO Sam Shames as we learn how his startup took advantage of what his professor coined "Luck Surface Area" to help out the thermally underserved population.
Zemcar: Your Family's Trusted Driver
It's 3am Monday morning, and I'm hard at work in the editing room, otherwise known as my couch. Tweaking each episode can take four to five hours, but sometimes the content is so good you finish wondering where the time went. Today's conversation with Juliette Kayyem, CEO of Zemcar, is one such episode.
With safety and security the central themes of her career, Juliette spent time post Harvard Law School as advisor to Attorney General Janet Reno, a Homeland Security leader for Massachusetts and the US government, author of the book Security Mom, and host of WGBH's "The SCIF" podcast. Most recently, she took leave from Harvard Kennedy School of Government to take the helm of Zemcar, an angel-backed startup that connects busy families with hand-picked, trusted drivers for safe rides -- all through the mobile phone. Their initial focus addresses the ride market for children who are too old for daycare but too young to drive.
In this episode, Juliette and I tackle her journey to the helm of Zemcar, evolving thoughts on company culture, her growth philosophy, and Zemcar's place in the ridesharing ecosystem. I had such a fun time learning from Juliette -- I know you will too.
Spotted: Data Science Meets Celebrity Style
How many times have your clients or prospects, when sharing their biggest challenges or deepest desires, given you a brilliant idea for your next big venture? How often do those great ideas go unpursued?
When today's guest Janet Comenos, Co-Founder & CEO of Spotted, kept hearing from major fashion brands how it was impossible to have a comprehensive, real-time view into the brand preferences of celebrities and influencers, she jumped at the opportunity to solve the problem. Insights gained through Spotted's data-driven platform have informed thousands of major campaigns and celebrity endorsement deals.
How is this former startup sales leader handling things at the helm of her own ship? You're about to find out.
Analytical Space: New Solutions for NewSpace
Here we are in 2018, and the startup world has never been more intriguing. Early stage startups raised more money in 2017 in Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) than venture funding, and seed investment rounds have fallen for the third straight year off 2014's highs. While business formation is down, fast-growing startups are in high gear. Businesses specializing in fields like cybersecurity, big data, artificial intelligence, and frontier tech are filling up the funding news wire -- and for good reason. These core technologies make up future operating systems from which thousands of new startups will spawn.
One such frontier technology is the topic for today's conversation -- space.
Analytical Space Co-Founders Dan Nevius and Justin Oliveira made their way through the startup world, NASA, and the White House before meeting up at Harvard Business School. With mutual intentions to launch a SpaceTech startup, they wasted no time in getting Analytical Space off the ground.
While they may not have the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk's SpaceX, they have given their company the best shot at success through a path that includes MassChallenge, Harvard's iLab, Space Angels, and MIT's The Engine Venture Fund.
Taking advantage of the exploding small satellite market, in particular CubeSats, Analytical Space provides satellite data relays to get more of the data being generated by satellite sensors to the ground faster and for less cost. I was fascinated by their personal journeys in the space world, decision on where to grow their startup, view on where the value will be unlocked in NewSpace, and why they make sure to do every task required at Analytical Space at least once -- including reviewing and negotiating the legal documents for their first major funding round.
Enjoy my discussion with Justin and Dan.
Shit That I Knit: Knitting a Fashion Empire
Today's guest is Christina Fagan, Founder and CEO of Sh*t That I Knit, a Boston-based knitwear startup. A serial knitter starting in her youth, she put up a simple e-commerce website at the beckoning of her friends, enlisted knitters from around Boston to help fill inventory for her breakout Kickstarter campaign, and networked her way to having celebrities like Kirsten Cavallari and Olympic Snowboarder Hannah Teter fall in love with her beanies and showcase them on their Instagram feeds.
All that hard work over three plus years has paid off. She boasts an expanding team, top billing on InStyle magazine's holiday magazine, and a crazy story that led to STIK being the top gift on the RealSimple's holiday gift guide in 2017. I had a great time learning how she knitted up her growing empire, and I'm sure you will to.
Oh, and if you totally forgot to buy a give for crazy Aunt Deborah's kids from Missouri, I'm sure Christina has a couple ideas for you.
Neurala: Building Brains for Bots
The holidays are upon us, and with that comes family gatherings, delicious food, and a ton of presents. From my vantage point, this also seems like the year artificial intelligence invades the home. Amazon Dot and Google Home are invading countertops, Jibo, the world's first social robot, is dancing up a storm, and kids are building and interacting with toys like the Meccano M.A.X. Interactive Robot. And this seems like just the beginning.
To better understand the technology behind these products and more that will debut in 2018 and beyond, I want to share with all of you a fascinating, venture-backed AI startup out of Boston University's Neuromorphics Lab called Neurala. This deep learning startup has raised $14M to build brains for autonomous cars, drones, toys, and more. Counting NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Motorola, and Teal as customers, Neurala's platform is a refreshingly innovative take on neural network training as well as building a platform for AI to learn and adapt on its own in low connectivity environments.
I hope you enjoy today's conversation with Max Versace, Co-Founder and CEO of Neurala. You can connect with Neurala at:
Petasense: The Fitbit for Industrial Machines
Today, I have the pleasure to sit with Arun Santhebennur, Co-Founder and COO of an industrial IoT (IIoT) startup based in San Jose called PetaSense. Industrial IoT has really come to the forefront through efforts by General Electric (Predix), other large digital industrial companies, and a burgeoning cadre of entrepreneurs. Tons of data is created from manufacturing technologies that are currently not being captured, and old technology is not equipped with sensors that would allow manufacturers to understand what is actually happening with their equipment.
Petasense wants to build an experience for manufacturing similar to the FitBit for our health. By retro-fitting manufacturing equipment with sensors to measure vibration, we can capture data to analyze the health of the machines.
For every gas turbine, a $1M+ piece of equipment that is already instrumented, there are three or four hundred lower cost machines with rotating parts that aren't being tracked. With low-cost continuous monitoring technology, Petasense provides predictive maintenance to every machine with moving parts.
The biggest cost in manufacturing is not necessarily repairing broken machines, rather the lost output from unplanned downtime. Often times, problems with a machine running at 75% efficacy is undetected, which costs the company extra power and lost output. Hidden problems may even cause the machine to break more quickly.
If you are interested in the evolution of manufacturing, listen in.
Tranquilo Mat: Shark Tank Winner Quiets Crying Babies
This episode finds us in a unique space, retail for babies. Joining me is Melissa Gersin, Founder & CEO of Boston-based startup Tranquilo Mat. Like so may of us, Melissa kicked around her idea with colleagues and friends for years before stepping up and bringing the Tranquilo Mat, a revolutionary vibrating mat for soothing crying and colicky babies, to market.
This interview dives into the scariness and nuances of her first production run -- from having your first manufacturing partner shut down to how she felt shelling out $50,000 of her own money for the first 2,000 units. As Tranquilo Mat found success, Melissa walks us through how she managed employee growth and even turned an early worker into a co-founder.
Also, for anyone eager to learn what it's like to go through the process of being selected to audition for Shark Tank, getting approved to pitch, and even getting a deal with Robert Herjavek on the show, you'll hear a ton about it here. Melissa's "Shark Tank Bump" blew away everyone's expectations, with an entire year's worth of inventory sold in the first 24 hours after her appearance.
If it's getting noisy on the subway or in traffic, turn the volume up because this episode is a must-listen.
Vesper - Tiny Microphones That Listen Forever
ello and welcome back to the Early Stage podcast, where we listen to some of the most dynamic Founders in the startup scene talk about the origins of their companies, what makes them special, and the unique challenges ahead. I'm John Valentine, resident startup nerd, and I host this humble pod.
I'm glad I was able to sneak in a few hours of editing, because I'm really excited to introduce my conversation with Vesper CEO, Matt Crowley.
A technology founded in a University of Michigan lab by Bobby Littrell almost a decade ago, Vesper has built the first zero-power listen-to-wake microphone built with piezoelectric materials. This always-on technology can help an Amazon Tap run for years without being plugged in.
Matt and I talk about how voice interfaces will enable the next class of business concepts, forcing people to think more creatively about their own products. As machine learning and AI systems reduced errors in voice analysis to make the tech comfortably usable, Vesper' digital transducer could usher in the IoT revolution. Accomplice and Amazon's Alexa Fund seem to think so too, and they put money into Vesper's first big funding round.
They have truly built a full stack solution with their sensor, MEMS, mechanical devices, complex analog circuit, digital signal processing, and voice interface algorithms. This team turns sound information into digital information better than anyone else in the world.
LearnLux: Take Control of Your Financial Future
You're all in for a special Memorial Day episode, one that almost never saw the light of day. Just a couple days after taping with Rebecca and Michael Liebman from LearnLux, I spilled green tea on my Macbook, rendering it completely unusable. The laptop teased me for a few seconds, then I couldn't click on anything, the screen flickered and went black, and I feared the worst. Roman Kern, a good friend and Senior Director of Operations at MassChallenge, rescued the hard drive and recovered the episode. Add laptop recovery to the massive list of things Roman does better than almost anyone I know. Thanks again man!
I had such a fun time bantering with Michael and Rebecca on this episode. In addition to getting their perspective on LearnLux and the future of the financial services industry, we touched on a hundred other topics: generation divides in social media, their experience as a brother-sister co-founding team, how Michael balances college schoolwork and running a startup, my tendency to finish other people's sentences, which stocks look strong for 2017, how it's increasingly difficult for large companies to attract top talent, and why you can expect Amazon, Google, or Apple to launch a FinTech product in the near future. As you can tell, this conversation ran the gamete, and it's definitely worth listening the whole way through. Enjoy!
- Who uses SnapChat and who uses Instagram -- the generational divide
- How Facebook has turned into a video platform
- Why brutal honesty is the biggest hallmark of sibling co-foundership
- Why launch a FinTech startup?
- How Michael always wanted a cash register as a child - leading to a FinTech career
- Finance is completely ubiquitous, and it is traditionally such a negative part of people's lives
- How LearnLux aims to change customer behavior by building trust amongst his user base.
- How Rebecca and Michael evaluate new technologies to add to the LearnLux product
- How Michael balances startup with college coursework, and how the four years of college are actually the best time to start a company
- My tendency to finish people's sentences
- What I would name my hypothetical venture capital firm
- Why I got out of Tesla stock too soon
- Why Amazon, Tesla, and Disney are Michael's top 3 stocks for 2017
- How Rebecca missed the opportunity to get the "Becca" Snapchat account
- The facebook vs. Snapchat rivalry
- How the financial services industry is building new products to reach new sets of people
- Why it's going to be increasingly difficult for large companies to attract top talent
- Why Michael is expecting Amazon, Apple, or Google to launch a financial services product.
- Why Credit Karma was brilliant in launching a free online tax return service
TellusLabs: Spaceborne Insights That Matter
For today's conversation, I brought onboard David Potere, Co-Founder and CEO of Boston-based startup TellusLabs. His startup is in the business of using satellite imaging and machine learning to, at least in the present, project corn and soy crop yields. Commodities is the oldest marketplace in the world, and a lot of the technology around forecasting is world of mouth -- people calling grain dealers and reading charts by hand.
With machine learning as their guide, they started sending out email forecasts in early 2016 before they knew their algorithms would be accurate. Their bet paid off, with their final number for soy bushels per acre landing within 1% of the actual number a full 2 months before the US government.
With $3M recently banked from Hyperplane, Founder Collective, IA Ventures, Project 11, and others, David and his growing team are building our their web app and API to improve the lives of the grower and high frequency commodities trader alike.
Enjoy the conversation.
Tyme: Smart Clothing for Your Body and Mind
In this episode, I spend time with Arnar Larusson, Co-founder at Tyme, a Boston-based startup that integrates sensors into clothing to measure various biometrics signals, including breathing and movement.
Our conversation starts with his upbringing in Iceland and early signs of entrepreneurs, later moving into how prosthetics stay on the body and discussing his efforts at Harvard to create a fabric that decreases the amount of energy you need to walk.
Next, we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of wearable tech currently on the market and how he is attempting to merge the worlds of electronics and fabrics manufacturing to build a world in which sensors you can't see or feel are measuring your health in realtime.
Enjoy the conversation with Arnar from TymeWear!
Tank Utility: Enabling Smart, Connected Fuel Deliveries
When evaluating all the potential founders to ask on the show, I came across one I hadn't heard of before, Tank Utility. Founded by a few guys from EnerNOC, a smart metering startup that went on to great success, this startup focuses on the propane industry -- a sector largely ignored by startups and innovators.
From walking into a frigid ski home with frozen pipes to prototyping and launching their propane tank level monitoring device in market, CEO Amos Epstein and his co-founders think they're onto something special. With a round of funding in the bank and lots of green space to capture with its inside sales team, Tank Utility is ready for a big 2017.
You can reach Amos @TankUtility on Twitter.
3Derm: Teledermatology Made Practical
Liz Asai, Co-Founder and CEO of Boston-based digital health startup 3Derm, joins me on the pod this week. From the dorm rooms of Yale to product launches with some of the top hospital systems and payers in the country, Liz teaches us the power of patience and perseverance. For a healthcare startup to succeed, it needs to pass a wide range of tests, regulations, and coverage approvals -- and finally prove it's mettle against a constantly improving status quo. 3Derm has done exactly that over the last four years with its teledermatology platform that allows non-dermatologists to take clinical quality 3D skin images remotely. With a product solidly in market and plans to scale, her team is jumping headfirst into its next stage of growth.
You can reach Liz @liz_asai
Mighty Well: Wellness Wear Designed for Patients by Patients
How does a class project in college become a funded, scaling startup? Just ask Maria Gomez from Mighty Well. Maria, CEO Emily Levy, and team blew the doors off a KickStarter they launched for a PICC line cover that was both fashionable and functional. Now, with degrees from Babson College in hand, Maria is helping turn Mighty Well into a multi-product brand with global ambitions.
You can reach Maria @LiveMightyWell.
ReferralMob: Matching Professionals with Purpose-Driven Companies
ReferralMob Co-Founders Joseph Schwendt and David Samuels aren't new to big business and the startup game. Before teaming up, they led startups like EnerNOC and Apperian and corporations like Verisign and Intel. Despite their past successes, the pull of building their own company emerged when they hatched a solution to the inefficiencies in the recruiting process. Their technology is powered by users, allowing them to draw from their own networks and refer their friends to great jobs at exceptional companies in a fun, lucrative and mutually beneficial way. Listen in as we discuss its origins, the importance of team-building, and the specific design and functional choices they made to optimize the user experience and turbocharge referrals and hires.
Wellist: Connecting Patients to the Resources They Need the Most
Where were you the moment you decided to leave your career behind, follow a passion, and build a startup? Ashley Reid, Founder and CEO of digital health startup Wellist, was helping her dad landscape the yard when she made the decision that has had tremendous impact on thousands of patients' lives.
Wellist leverages proprietary patient data and human compassion to increase patient satisfaction, outcomes, and loyalty. A hospital visit sometimes means a marked shift in a patient's autonomy and way of life, and this reality brings many new challenges they are unequipped to handle alone. Wellist provides mobile, online, and in-person support to help patient and their caregivers make informed decisions.
Passion and caring effuses from her during this conversation, and it's clear her purpose in life is to use technology and new solutions to lessen human suffering. Strong and growing partnerships with hospital systems like Partners have Wellist on an enviable growth trajectory.
Her biggest piece of advice to new founders is to meet 30 people in 30 days -- and none of them should be an investor. Building a deep support network is essential to a startups success.
Enjoy listening to this episode!
Fortified Bicycle: Theft Proof Bikes Made for the City
Boston-based @FortifiedBike Co-Founder and CEO @TivanAmour is no stranger to big challenges. Launching "The Defender" on Kickstarter as a test netted thousands of orders for the theft proof bike light and gave him the confidence he needed to join Co-Founder @SlavaMenn. With a full bike now on the market, revenue ramping up hard, and positive cash flow in sight, Tivan and I dig into a number of juicy topics for early stage entrepreneurs.
What is it like to have 40 investors on the cap table? What is the right cadence for reaching out to investors? Why did Cadillac only have a limited number of key versions made in the 1970s? What are the three jobs of the CEO? Is it possible to lower headcount and keep growing revenue? How does the focus of a startup change, or not change, when becoming cash flow positive? What is it like going through TechStars Will going to business school prepare you for entrepreneurship?
Looop: Finding the Right Place in Realtime
Imagine if you had x-ray vision, being able to see into spaces before you arrive. CJ Bertam, Founder and CEO of Looop, has a vision to help the masses decide where to go so they can spend more time enjoying themselves in a place that fits their mood.
Making place-based data actionable is a challenge but potentially lucrative opportunity, and CJ is positioning the Looop app and his team to take advantage. Give this episode a listen for his advice on funding, building a strong team, launching a startup in NYC, and being a counterpuncher.
Humon: Helping Humans Achieve Peak Performance
In this episode, Forbes "30 Under 30" honoree Alessandro Babini shares his journey from growing up in Paris, France, to launching his own startup, Humon, while at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Humon is a wearable that helps endurance athletes train smarter by measuring muscle oxygen levels in real time. Alessandro and his team of 4 took the concept from a class research project to beta tests with hundreds of athletes on less than $1M in funding. With a full-scale launch on the horizon in 2017, Humon is preparing to dominate the competitive athletics market and beyond. Will you be strapping on a Humon in 2017?
3DFortify: Redefining Additive Manufacturing for the Enterprise
3DFortify founders Josh Martin Phil Gregory, and Karlo Reyes have set out to turn the promise of additive manufacturing into reality through their patented process that combines 3D printing and magnetics to create aligned reinforced carbon fiber composites. Hailing from the labs of Northeastern University, these founders tell the story of how they met, how the research was done, when they realized their platform had a true opportunity to be successful in the marketplace, and what they like to do to get away.
Joulez: Changing the Way Girls See the World
Joulez Founder Stephanie Rowe (@StephanieLRowe) is giving tween girl permission, and a medium, to learn STEM skills while expressing their creativity. To reverse the discouraging trend of fewer women receiving technical degrees and pursuing STEM fields for their careers, Joulez is preparing to launch an IoT lamp kit that introduces coding and elementary electronics alongside arts and crafts.
In this episode, Stephanie shares her personal story driving this passion. An early stage founder, she discusses balancing consulting with the demands of her startup, assembling an all-star team to build the product and help with testing, and mapping out communication with the public and potential partners/investors.
RateGravity: Flipping the Home Mortgage Industry on its Head
When Patrick Boyaggi (@patrickboyaggi) and Mike Tassone (@mike_tassone) left Leader Bank to create RateGravity, their goal was to make the home mortgage process easier by providing transparency, cutting human processes out of the equation, and supporting local and regional lenders -- those who know the market and can service customers the best.
This episode is a deep dive into the origin of their startup, when they decided to make the jump, how they built out the founding team, their strategies to make their product a painkiller instead of a vitamin, and what's next for their startup. Hidden within the discussions are lessons all current or future entrepreneurs can take to their own companies.