ICYMI: Founders Embassy Borderless Summit Recap
Founders Embassy’s Borderless Summit was held on June 5th, 2018, in the heart of the Mission, one of San Francisco’s most beloved neighborhoods. Attendees packed into the Grand Theater, a unique historic venue which gave the day a vibrant, eclectic feel from the moment guests stepped in the door. As chatter increased throughout the networking breakfast, excitement grew as the first-ever Founders Embassy class demoed their startups in front of hundreds of investors, thought leaders and fellow Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
The day included 18 on-stage talks, startup pitches, panels and fireside chats, making it perhaps one of the most packed lineups ever to be attempted in one short day. Below is a comprehensive recap of some of the sessions that you missed:
Founders Embassy kicked off the day with Justin Kan, Founder of Twitch and CEO of Atrium LTS, (which in case you haven’t heard, just raised a cool $65M from renowned investors including Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst among others), who shared incredibly valuable insights on fundraising in his talk, “How international founders can set themselves up for US Investment”.
“Instead of trying to figure out what the fundraising hack is, spend 95 percent of your effort on talking to your customers, figuring out what they want, how to make what they want and delivering it to them and getting feedback… If you do that, hopefully, you will iterate into something that eventually grows really well.” - Justin Kan
“If you are not attacking a huge market, if investors don't perceive you to be attacking a huge market, it's extra hard to raise capital. It's also very hard to actually build a big business.” - Justin Kan
“Fundraising is a tool to build your business. It’s not the end game to raise a lot of money. Really, it's just a tool to build your business and you should raise that capital only when you are constrained by cash...and if you're not constraining in terms of resources, you should probably just continue building your business independently and not worry about fundraising.” - Justin Kan
The second on-stage fireside chat was between Lo Toney, Founder of Plexo Capital & Rana Gujral, Entrepreneur, Investor, and Columnist, who discussed the increasingly important topic, “Diversity in Venture Capital".
“We noticed when I was at GV that as we were trying to get additional deal flow that people of color and women have an indirect or a nontraditional path to venture. And, therefore, as a result, they pick up these really unique networks, number one, and then number two, they also have a really interesting perspective or lens to be able to apply to certain opportunities. The ability to have insight into a market based on familiarity before there's an abundance of data can lead to a nice return, if it's something that's not obvious to mainstream Sandhill Road.” - Lo Toney
“Everyone in this room is aware this is a relationship business, so the majority of the deals I'm in are typically referrals - sometimes from an entrepreneur that we've worked with in the past, which is actually the best source of deal flow.” - Lo Toney
“Investing in International Founders” was a panel discussion between Manan Mehta (Unshackled Ventures), Olivia Wang (ZhenFund), and Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst), moderated by Ben Orthlieb (Off the Grid Ventures).
“We're in the business of partnering with ridiculously ambitious founders who are building category-defining businesses. We don't take their passports, we don't care what they look like, where they came from, what they did before. All we care about is whether they are learning animals and whether they are building the category-leading company of their space…I’m very excited to be investing in immigrants because I don't know any better.” - Niko Bonatsos
“We started the firm about four years ago in concept and made our first investment three years ago and have now sponsored over 40 visas in the last two and a half years across obviously two distinct administrations in the United States…We’ve been fortunate to have 100 percent approval across the board. One of the major parts that we focus on is how you remove bottlenecks and obstacles for the best immigrant entrepreneurs.” – Manan Mehta
“Unshackled was really born out of personal experience. I asked a simple question, why? Why is the best talent trying to come to America and why is the best talent not being served by America? And so we took it upon ourselves not to wait for political change or legislative change and we built what we call as the privatized version of the startup visa act.” – Manan Mehta
“For us, it's a lot about industry. Industry trends often drive how founders should be working internationally.” - Olivia Wang
“We like investing in immigrant founders because they frankly don't have so much to prove. So, when we're thinking about investing in first-time founders (and most often they are the ones creating the mega outcomes), having the advantage of coming out of nowhere, grinding it out, and going the extra mile is a very, very powerful strategy to get going in the beginning.” – Niko Bonatsos
“I think as we had iterated before, diversity [is very important]. No matter where you go, having a diverse team from day one, that hunger, and authenticity to what you are doing is really important.” - Olivia Wang
“What matters the most is the level of ambition that the founders have. So, if they really want to serve a worldwide audience, a massive market opportunity, and they see a lot of their customers in early days being in the US or China and they themselves go there to be closer to their customers, it speaks to their determination.” - Niko Bonatsos
“There's a lot of people, nearly 1.4 million high-skilled immigrants that we know of, that are in this country today, and, at the margin, I will say this, they are more entrepreneurial than the native born person because they left their home country and I think that goes down to the fact that there's a stronger adversity muscle to withstand and tolerate the challenges you're gonna face as an entrepreneur. It is not that glorifying.” – Manan Mehta
The first of four TEDtalk-style talks was with Lauren Vaccarello, VP of Marketing at Box, on “How to Attract Customers”.
“Every minute you spend not focusing on your ideal customer, no matter how big of an opportunity it is, is a minute you’re not spending focusing on who you’re going to make the most money from.” - Lauren Vaccarello
“When you're going to market, think about what kind of a problem that you're trying to solve, that thing that is such a burning issue that everything else just doesn't matter and even an imperfect solution is actually worth it. And, when you build out your messaging, try to think about what that really important issue is and how you're solving it.” - Lauren Vaccarello
“As you're growing, you really want to focus on customer happiness. If you have customers that love and adore you, it's going to pay dividends.” – Lauren Vaccarello
Next, Erik Torenberg, Co-Founder of Village Global and Balaji Srinivasan, CTO at Coinbase, Founder of Earn.com, Board Partner at Andreessen Horowitz discussed how "The Blockchain Means Global Equality of Opportunity".
“You don't need to come to Sandhill [Road] anymore to raise capital. You can do it via ICO which is very new. You also don't need to live in the United States to have a good standard of living. Many countries around the world, especially in Asia, have dramatically improved over the last 10, 20 years in terms of standard of living.” - Balaji Srinivasan
“I think the blockchain is really interesting because for the first time I'm seeing a lot of seed-stage interactions between Chinese Venture Capitalists and Chinese entrepreneurs and American/Western ones….we'll see what happens.” - Balaji Srinivasan
Thomas McLeod, Co-Founder and CEO of Omni and Cat Zakrzewski, Venture Capital Reporter, WSJ discussed how Omni operates as a sort of “bank” and micro and macro trends related to "Urbanization and the Sharing Economy".
“The ability to be scheduled (not ‘on demand’) dramatically changes the way your unit economics play out.” - Tom McLeod
“We focused on SF and the Bay Area and focused our expansion here as opposed to rapidly trying to launch new markets.” - Tom McLeod
“Raising Capital has made us thriftier and way more in the weeds on the minutia of, ‘What is the exact formula that we need to create to replicate this at a pace that is commensurate with actually growing a profitable business as opposed to breaking it, throwing capital on it, and then figuring it out on the tail end when you acquire a lot of users?’… That’s what the capital has done for us, it’s refocused us on ‘Build the biggest business possible’, not necessarily, ‘Expand as fast as possible.’” - Tom McLeod
“We think of the service as an unbelievably personal experience. If we’re storing stuff for you, they’re things that you care about.” - Tom McLeod
“I’m unbelievably bullish on international expansion… I actually think once we cut our teeth into the US, expansion in the global market will be potentially a bigger opportunity for us than the US.” - Tom McLeod.
Ashley Carroll, Partner at Social Capital and Josh Constine, Editor-at-Large, TechCrunch discussed Social Capital’s Capital-as-a-Service platform in their fireside chat entitled, "Capital-as-a-Service: Democratizing Venture Through Data".
“I see so many entrepreneurs, particularly entrepreneurs outside of this area and even within this area, particularly female and minority entrepreneurs who are working on real large problems, have built real businesses yet struggle to fundraise. And, for that reason, I say there still isn't enough capital because there are great businesses all over the world that are not able to raise venture capital.” - Ashley Carroll
“I feel like both Founders Embassy and Social Capital's capital as a service have a similar idea that not every great founder is going to look like the last crop of big CEOs just because some guy is white and went to an Ivy League school - that shouldn't be how you get capital. It should be because you have a great idea.” - Josh Constine
Ritu Narayan, Founder and CEO of Zum shared her "Lessons Learned in My Startup Journey" with former founder turned VC, Jess Lee, who is now a partner at Sequoia Capital, previously the Co-Founder and CEO of Polyvore.
“Growing up, I always wanted to become an astronaut. Nobody in my family discouraged me or told me I couldn’t do it. It’s that ethos of dreaming big and not being worried about failure that led me to be the first engineer in my family…all of this led me to be relentless, to be very humble.” - Ritu Narayan
“Being a founder is an irrational thing, probably the most irrational thing you can do. You have to be relentless.” - Ritu Narayan
“I think grit is one of the most important traits. Startups are just so incredibly hard. Everything that can go wrong will at some point. Relentlessness is crucial to get through those times.” - Jess Lee
“It’s not about small investors or big investors, it’s about finding the right investor who will actually help you build the company the way you want; to help you stay true to your purpose and help you build something that will leave a lasting impact on this world.” - Ritu Narayan
Next, we had a fireside chat with Baiju Bhatt, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Robinhood, moderated by TechCrunch Editor-at-Large Josh Constine
“Vlad and I became the best of friends, we were like brothers from when we met, because we didn't have any siblings. And, we had this awesome chemistry where we loved hanging out together because we loved learning stuff together and we were always really good at teaching each other new things and that's the kind of thing that you can't fake and it's so much more important than anything else. A decade later and three startups in, we’re still best friends…and are very well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. ” - Baiju Bhatt
“We were about to go out of business..and I still remember to this day, I was in Palo Alto, downtown Palo Alto, kind of near the fire station. I was walking around with Vlad, I was barefoot, um, because I just walked around barefoot all the time back then…and I remember sitting on this curb next to him and just looking at him and being like, ‘dude, I think we're about to go out of business’. And, I was like, ‘it's been an awesome ride. But I think this is the end’…and a week later we had a meeting with Tim Draper…” - Baiju Bhatt
“I went into a hibernation mode. And, it was one of the most creative periods of my life..it was amazing. I just stopped caring if I failed. I don't know if I'm doing this period justice, but there was this weight that was lifted off, where if this was going to succeed, it was meant to be, and, if it wasn't, I had absolutely given every single thing I could to it.” - Baiju Bhatt
Founders Embassy wrapped up the day with a fireside chat between Slava Rubin, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer at Indiegogo and Paul Hsiao, General Partner at Canvas Ventures.
“We actually ended up getting rejected by 93 VCs in a row. It was rough…. If I were starting a company today and we got 93 no’s in a row, I’m quite confident I would have stopped a lot earlier, but we were extremely passionate.” - Slava Rubin
“We really felt like there was a need in the world and the people to solve that need was us and if we weren’t going to solve it, no one else would.” - Slava Rubin
“I asked myself a simple question: ‘Was the wind behind my back and supporting my sails or was I running into the wind?’ It’s that simple. I always felt that the wind was behind us. We knew we were onto something.” - Slava Rubin
“My advice for fundraising: 1.) Don’t take a meeting with anyone except for a partner; 2.) Try to get an intro rather than a cold email; 3.) Don’t hang out with VC’s as friends.” - Slava Rubin
“The best business model there is, practically, is marketplace. It’s one of the few business models that over time not only the margins don’t compress, but they actually increase. The more you create a network effect, the greater your business becomes.” - Slava Rubin