Tag Archives: Founder

Startup Land : the Zendesk adventure from Denmark to Silicon Valley to IPO

Many of my friends and colleagues tell me that video and movies are nowadays better than books for documenting real life. I still feel there is in books a depth I do not find anywhere else. A question of generations, probably. HBO’s Silicon Valley may be a funny and close-to-reality account of what high-tech entrepreneurship is but Startup Land is a great example of why I still prefer books. I did not find everything I was looking for – and I will give one example below – but I could feel the authenticity and even the emotion from Mikkel Svane’s account of what building a start-up and a product means. So let me share with you a few lessons from Startup Land.

Startup-Land-the-book

The motivation to start

“We felt that we needed to make a change before it was too late. We all know that people grow more risk-averse over time. As we start to have houses and mortgages, and kids and cars, and schools and institutions, we start to settle. We invest a lot of time in relationships with friends and neighbors, and making big moves becomes harder. We become less and less willing to just flush everything down the drain and start all over.” [Page 1]

No recipe

“Along the way, I’ll share the unconventional advice you learn only in the trenches. I am allergic to pat business advice that aims to give some formula for success. I’ve learned there is no formula for success; the world moves too fast for any formula to last, and people are far too creative—always iterating and finding a better way.” [Page 6]

About failure

In Silicon Valley there’s a lot of talk about failure—there’s almost a celebration of failure. People recite mantras about “failing fast,” and successful people are always ready to tell you what they learned from their failures, claiming they wouldn’t be where they are today without their previous spectacular mess-ups. To me, having experienced the disappointment that comes with failure, all this cheer is a little odd. The truth is, in my experience, failure is a terrible thing. Not being able to pay your bills is a terrible thing. Letting people go and disappointing them and their families is a terrible thing. Not delivering on your promises to customers who believed in you is a terrible thing. Sure, you learn from these ordeals, but there is nothing positive about the failure that led you there. I learned there is an important distinction between promoting a culture that doesn’t make people afraid of making and admitting mistakes, and having a culture that says failure is great. Failure is not something to be proud of. But failure is something you can recover from. [Pages 15-16]

There are other nice thoughts about “boring is beautiful” [page 23], “working from home” [page 34], “money isn’t only in your bank account, it’s also in your head” [page 35], and an “unconventional (possibly illegal) hiring checklist” [page 127]

I will quote Svane about investors [page 61]: “I learned an important lesson in this experience – one that influenced all of the investor decision we’ve made since then. There is a vast spectrum of investors. Professional investors are extremely aware of the fact that they will be successful only if everyone else is successful. Great investors have unique relationships with founders, and they are dedicated to growing the company the right way. Mediocre and bad investors work around founders, and the company end in disaster. The problem is, early on many startups have few options, and they have to deal with amateur investors who are shortsighted and concerned with optimizing their own position.” [and page 93]: “Good investors understand that the founding team often is what carries the spirit of a company and makes it what it is.”

And about growth [page 74]: “Even after the seed round with Christoph Janz, we were still looking for investors. If you’ve never been in a startup this may seem odd, but when you’re a startup founder you’re basically always fund-raising. Building a company costs money, and the faster you grow, the more cash it requires. Of course, that’s not the case for all startups – there are definitely examples of companies that have come a long way on their own positive cash flow – but the general rule is that if you optimize for profitability, you sacrifice growth. And for a startup, it’s all about growth.”

In May 2014, Zendesk went public and the team was so extatic, many pictures were tweeted! The company raised $100M at $8 per share. They had a secondary offering at $22.75 raising more than $160M for the company. In 2014, Zendesk revenue was $127M!… and its loss $67M.

Zendesk-IPO

There was one piece of information I never found neither in Startup Land nor in the IPO filings: Zendesk has three founders, Mikkel Svane, CEO and author of the book. Alexander Aghassipour, Chief Product Officer and Morten Primdahl, CTO. I am a fan of cap. tables (as you may know or can see here in Equity split in 305 high-tech start-ups with founders, employees and investors shares) and in particular studying how founders share equity at company foundation. But there is no information about Primdahl ‘s stock. I only have one explanation: On page 37, Svane writes: “the thing about money is, it’s happening in your head. Everyone processes it differently. Aghassipour adnSvane could live with no salary in the early days of Zendesk, but Primdahl could not. It’s possibly he had a salary against less stock. I would love to learn from Savne if I am right or wrong!

Zendesk-captable
Click on picture to enlarge

FT’s Top European Tech. Entrepreneurs

Following my article posted on June 25, entitled Europe and Start-ups : should we worry? Or is there hope? Here is a more detailed analysis of the FT’s Top 50 tech. entrepreneurs. First, you may want to do a quiz: do you know them from their pictures?

FT Top 50 Europe

Before I give you the full list (ranking is from left to right and top to bottom), here are some interesting statistics (I think).

FT Top 50 Europe Stats

The countries are not really surprising whereas the huge presence of Index Ventures, compared to Atomico or even Accel was. American funds, including the best ones, are all around. Interesting too. So how many entrepreneurs did you know…

FT Top 50 Europe List
(click on picture to enlarge – additional sources : Crunchbase and SEC)

Biocartis, the (could have been) Swiss success story

Biocartis might have been a Swiss success story but most of the company is now based in Belgium. Probably not a decision of investors (as people think when company move) but from management! One of the founders is from Belgium and an impressive serial entrepreneur: Rudi Pauwels. Here is what you could read in the IPO document:

BiocartisHistory

Still the numbers are interesting. The company has raised more than €200M before its €100M IPO this week. Despite such huge amounts the founders have kept about 5% of the company. Its IPO prospectus is available on the company web site. It has signed deals with Philips, Hitachi, Biomérieux, Abbott, Janssen and Johnson & Johnson and counts Swiss-based Debiopharm among its mains shareholders. Here is my usual cap. table:

BiocartisCapTable
(click on image to enlarge)

Another billion dollar start-up founded by young people? Except they are out of Etsy

Etsy is the most recent IPO filing to date. It’s a well-known ecommerce start-up, based in New-York, seed funded by Caterina Fake, Stewart Butterfield, Joshua Schachter & Union Square Ventures (Albert Wenger and Fred Wilson), further funded by Accel Partners, Index Ventures and Tiger Global, with a total of at least $100M raised before the IPO.

The three founders (Robert Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik) graduated from NYU around 2005 just before founding their start-up, then in their early to mid-twenties. But there is no info on them in the S-1 document. Kalin was CEO until July 2008 (came back between Dec. 2009 and July 2011). many employees and co-founders Maguire (Software development) & Schoppikleft in August 2008.

Etsy-founders
Founders: Robert Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik

and here is the usual cap. table. Interesting to check what the value at IPO will be…
Etsy-captable
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Celebrating a (too rare) Swiss IPO: Molecular Partners

I could have said: Celebrating a (too rare) European IPO. Molecular Partners is a spin-off from the University of Zurich, founded by Professeur Andreas Plückthun, Christian Zahnd, Michael Stumpp, Patrik Forrer, Kaspar Binz and Martin Kawe in 2004. It was funded by private investors: a first round of CHF18.5M in 2007 and a second round of CHF38M in 2009. Molecular has also signed a number of agreements with pharmaceutical companies, which explains the high income for a biotech start-up. The University of Zurich is also a shareholder thanks to a license agreement signed in 2004, through which it also receives royalties.

Molecular-CapTable
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I think it is interesting to illustrate the evolution of its ownership trhough the financing rounds, including the IPO that has brought about a hundred million to Molecular.

Molecular-Dilution
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I also like to mention the age of the founders. The IPO document provides data and I “guesses” the others from the academic career (based on a age of 18 at university entrance…) It gives an average of 33 with a range of 20 years between the extremes. I know that money is a taboo; Europeans do not like to disclose their wealth, which remains highly theoretical, because one does not sell shares in a biotech as easyly as a Facebook employee… But it seems to me important to celebrate the success of founders and their investors … Congratulations to all!

Molecular-Founders-Age

Should entrepreneurs have start-up skills? Two counterintuitive answers

I teach entrepreneurship and I often wonder. What should be taught? I am not sure. In the class How to Start a Startup, both Paul Graham and Peter Thiel did provide feedback on some examples. First Paul Graham. Just click here or go to time 5:26 below or read after the video frame.

“The second counterintuitive point, this might come as a little bit of a disappointment, but what you need to succeed in a startup is not expertise in startups. That makes this class different from most other classes you take. You take a French class, at the end of it you’ve learned how to speech French. You do the work, you may not sound exactly like a French person, but pretty close, right? This class can teach you about startups, but that is not what you need to know. What you need to know to succeed in a startup is not expertise in startups, what you need is expertise in your own users.

Mark Zuckerberg did not succeed at Facebook because he was an expert in startups, he succeeded despite being a complete noob at startups; I mean Facebook was first incorporated as a Florida LLC. Even you guys know better than that. He succeeded despite being a complete noob at startups because he understood his users very well. Most of you don’t know the mechanics of raising an angel round, right? If you feel bad about that, don’t, because I can tell you Mark Zuckerberg probably doesn’t know the mechanics of raising an angel round either; if he was even paying attention when Ron Conway wrote him the big check, he probably has forgotten about it by now.

In fact, I worry it’s not merely unnecessary for people to learn in detail about the mechanics of starting a startup, but possibly somewhat dangerous because another characteristic mistake of young founders starting startups is to go through the motions of starting a startup. They come up with some plausible sounding idea, they raise funding to get a nice valuation, then the next step is they rent a nice office in SoMa and hire a bunch of their friends, until they gradually realize how completely fucked they are because while imitating all the outward forms of starting a startup, they have neglected the one thing that is actually essential, which is to make something people want.”

Second Peter Thiel about the Lean Startup movement. Again just click here or go to time 44:55 below or read after it.

“What do I think about lean startups and iterative thinking where you get feedback from people versus complexity that may not work. I’m personally quite skeptical of all the lean startup methodology. I think the really great companies did something that was somewhat more of a quantum improvement that really differentiated them from everybody else. They typically did not do massive customer surveys, the people who ran these companies sometimes, not always, suffered from mild forms of Aspergers, so they were not actually that influenced, not that easily deterred, by what other people told them to do. I do think we’re way too focused on iteration as a modality and not enough on trying to have a virtual ESP link with the public and figuring it out ourselves.”

(NB: I assume ESP is Extra-Sensory Perception)

Zalando files to go public

Zalando, one of the very visible European start-up should become a public company on October 1st in Germany. It’s not so much the numbers which I found of interest, but how difficult it was to get them. As usual, Europe is showing less transparency. Finding the prospectus was not easy, and I am not sure I could have found it without claiming I live in Berlin. And still, I have no clue how much the company has raised, at which price and when. This is not in the prospectus – I just have all capital increases dates and shares number, it does not help much.

zalandoguys
Rubin Ritter, David Schneider and Robert Gentz

I could still build my usual cap. table and here is what it gives. Revenues are impressive, as well as losses. Founders have been diluted, btu given the capital increases and losses it is not so surprising…

zalando-captable

zalando-capital-increase

The unusual and amazing success of two serial entrepreneurs: Andy Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton

Serial entrepreneur is a buzz word. I have never been convinced by the link between serial entrepreneur and success. I even made an analysis for the ones linked to Stanford University (check Serial entrepreneurs: are they better?). But from time to time, you see such amazing and rare success stories.

Andy-David
Andy Bechtolsheim (left) and David Cheriton (right) [with Arista’s co-founder, Ken Duda).

Andy Bechtolsheim‘s is a Silicon Valley icon. In 1982, he co-founded Sun Microsystems. Born in Germany in 1995, he moved to the USA at age 20 for his master at CMU. He moved to Silicon Vallley to work at Intel but ended up at Stanford for his PhD. Sun came thereafter. He stayed there until 1995…

David Cheriton is a Stanford professor. Born in 1951, he got his BS from UBC and his PhD from the University of Waterloo. He moved to Stanford in 1981. I am not sure how they met, but they co-founded Granite Systems in 1995. A year later, it was bought by Cisco for $220M. Bechtolsheim stayed with Cisco until 2003. Cheriton is still a Stanford professor. Two years later, they met with two unknown Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergei Brin. Both invested $100’000 each in their start-up, but this is another story…

In February 2001, they co-founded another networking start-up, Kealia. In April 2004, “Sun issued an aggregate of approximately 20,000,000 shares of common stock (including assumed options) in exchange for all outstanding stock and options of Kealia” (Newswire reference). At that time, Sun’s share was worth about $4, so it would have been an $80M acquisition. That same year, Google went public (on August 19) at $85/share. They had received 1’600’000 shares for their $100k investment (i.e. $0.0625 per share, a multiple of 1’360 and with a six month lock-up, the share value more than doubled…) The Kealia success is all but relative…

arista-arastra
Granite might have had a logo, but I could not find it on the web. Kealia was apparently always in stealth mode. No logo available either

But it did not stop them. In October 2004, they co-founded Arista Networks. The name at the time was Arastra. The company just went public which is the motivation for this post. My usual cap. table follows. And because they made so much money, the two serial entrepreneurs nearly funded it entirely… Not the smallest success of all!

Arista
Click on picture to enlarge

PS: Are Cheriton and bechtolsheim good friends? I have not clue, but the Arista IPO document mentions a litigation:

On April 4, 2014, Optumsoft filed a lawsuit against us in the Superior Court of California, Santa Clara County titled Optumsoft, Inc. v. Arista Networks, Inc., in which it asserts (i) ownership of certain components of our EOS network operating system pursuant to the terms of a 2004 agreement between the companies, and (ii) breaches of certain confidentiality and use restrictions in that agreement. Under the terms of the 2004 agreement, Optumsoft provided us with a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to software delivered by Optumsoft comprising a software tool used to develop certain components of EOS and a runtime library that is incorporated into EOS. The 2004 agreement places certain restrictions on our use and disclosure of the Optumsoft software and gives Optumsoft ownership of improvements, modifications and corrections to, and derivative works of, the Optumsoft software that we develop.

In its lawsuit, Optumsoft has asked the Court to order us to (i) give Optumsoft copies of certain components of our software for evaluation by Optumsoft, (ii) cease all conduct constituting the alleged confidentiality and use restriction breaches, (iii) secure the return or deletion of Optumsoft’s alleged intellectual property provided to third parties, including our customers, (iv) assign ownership to Optumsoft of Optumsoft’s alleged intellectual property currently owned by us, and (v) pay Optumsoft’s alleged damages, attorney’s fees, and costs of the lawsuit. David Cheriton, one of our founders and a former member of our board of directors who resigned from our board of directors on March 1, 2014 and has no continuing role with us, is a founder and, we believe, the largest stockholder and director of Optumsoft. The 2010 David R. Cheriton Irrevocable Trust dtd July 27, 2010, a trust for the benefit of the minor children of Mr. Cheriton, is our largest stockholder.

Optumsoft has identified in confidential filings certain software components it claims to own, which are generally applicable tools and utility subroutines and not networking specific code. We cannot assure which software components Optumsoft may ultimately claim to own in the litigation or whether such claimed components are material.

On April 14, 2014, we filed a cross-complaint against Optumsoft, in which we assert our ownership of the software components at issue and our interpretation of the 2004 agreement. Among other things, we assert that the language of the 2004 agreement and the parties’ long course of conduct support our ownership of the disputed software components. We ask the Court to declare our ownership of those software components, all similarly-situated software components developed in the future and all related intellectual property. We also assert that, even if we are found not to own any particular components at issue, such components are licensed to us under the terms of the 2004 agreement. However, there can be no assurance that our assertions will ultimately prevail in litigation.

On the same day, we also filed an answer to Optumsoft’s claims, as well as affirmative defenses based in part on Optumsoft’s failure to maintain the confidentiality of its claimed trade secrets, its authorization of the disclosures it asserts and its delay in claiming ownership of the software components at issue. We have also taken additional steps to respond to Optumsoft’s allegations that we improperly used and/or disclosed Optumsoft confidential information. While we believe we have strong defenses to these allegations, we believe we have (i) revised our software to remove the elements we understand to be at issue and made the revised software available to our customers and (ii) removed information from our website that Optumsoft asserted disclosed Optumsoft confidential information.

We intend to vigorously defend against Optumsoft’s lawsuit. However, we cannot be certain that, if litigated, any claims by Optumsoft would be resolved in our favor. For example, if it were determined that Optumsoft owned components of our EOS network operating system, we would be required to transfer ownership of those components and any related intellectual property to Optumsoft. If Optumsoft were the owner of those components, it could make them available to our competitors, such as through a sale or license. In addition, Optumsoft could assert additional or different claims against us, including claims that our license from Optumsoft is invalid. Additionally, the existence of this lawsuit could cause concern among our customers and potential customers and could adversely affect our business and results of operations. An adverse litigation ruling could also result in a significant damages award against us and the injunctive relief described above. In addition, if our license was ruled to have been terminated, and we were not able to negotiate a new license from Optumsoft on reasonable terms, we could be required to pay substantial royalties to Optumsoft or be prohibited from selling products that incorporate Optumsoft intellectual property. Any such adverse ruling could materially adversely affect our business, prospects, results of operation and financial condition. Whether or not we prevail in the lawsuit, we expect that the litigation will be expensive, time-consuming and a distraction to management in operating our business.

We do not believe a loss is probable; however, it is reasonably possible. Due to the early stage of this matter, no estimate of the amount or range of possible amounts can be determined at this time.

If you want to be a high-tech entrepreneur, don’t read this. Or should you?

Is this a strange time or am I growing old? The point is my recent readings were not optimistic views of high-tech entrepreneurship or of Silicon Valley. I just think of
– Horowitz’s The Hard Thing about hard Things,
– Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here (which is so negative, I have not written a post yet!)
HBO’s Silicon Valley – nice & funny but slightly depressing.

In a way there’s always been creations which were not absolutely optimistic, but there was always some positive point. I think of
– Bronson’s The First $20 Million Is Always The Hardest,
– Edwards’ I’M Feeling Lucky – Falling On My Feet in Silicon Valley,
– the very good Harboe Schmidt’s The Ultimate Cure or
– even very short and funny The Anorexic Startup by Mike Frankel.

NoExit

Now I just read No Exit, Struggling to Survive a Modern Gold Rush by Gideon Lewis-Kraus (thanks David!). The passion, the excitement have disappeared. The entrepreneurs are honest enough to show they are exhausted. And the gold rush again will have more casualties than winners.

I initially thought it was a fiction, but the author is a journalist for Wired. That’s why my initial reaction was it’s not a good work, I could not see the style, the rythm. After I understood it was not fiction, I was less negative, thought it’s not the best document I’ve read. But here are some interesting quotes/lessons.

“The Valley has successfully elaborated the fantasy that entrepreneurship – and, more broadly, creativity – can be systemized; this is the basic promises of accelerators (Ycombinator et al.) that success in the startup game can be not only taught but rationalized, made predictable.” (31/847 – Kindle reference) and later “Silicon Valley’s most bought book, Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, is a spirited pamphlet of winning exhortations to hunger, speed, agility, and unsentimentality. Almost every founder in Silicon Valley has read the first 30 pages of that book.” (618/847) If you do not know the book, it’s about spending little and pivot fast and I agree there is something wrong about all these fantasies. Indeed even Steve Blank agrees now. Check Blank’s statement about learning entrepreneurship.

Even worse, “[…] the Series A crunch. Due in part to the rise of startup accelerators like Y Combinator, as well as to the surplus capital washing around the Valley from recent IPOs, it has never been easier to raise a small amount of money, say $1 million. And it has never been easier to build a company—especially a web or mobile product—from that small amount of money, thanks in part to the proliferation of cheap, easy development tools and such cloud platforms as Amazon Web Services. But the amount of “real” VC funding (i.e., Series A rounds) to be allocated hasn’t kept pace. The institutions that write the big checks, those that might support and sustain real growth, can survey what a hundred companies have managed to do with a small check and put their real money on the propositions that promise the greatest yield with the least risk” (41/847) and “The problem in 1999 was that to get $5 million you didn’t need very much. You needed one or two Stanford résumés, an idea for a prototype, and a live body to give the money to.” It’s hard to get that $5 million now in part because it’s so easy to get $500,000, especially if you’re coming out of an accelerator. One way to look at it is that the $5 million that went to one company of 10 people in 1999 is now going to 10 companies of two people. You’ve lowered the bar 10X” (753).

And the consequences are slightly different… “The Valley is the place where the astounding success of the very few has been held out to the youth in exchange for their time, their energy and, well, their youth” (60). “You know the odds on any given company’s success are long, but that’s why you make a lot of bets. In the first dotcom boom, the risk was largely carried by the investors. Now that the financiers have gotten a grip on the market, and specialized engineering knowledge has become a commodity, the risk has been returned to the youth” (760). “The worst thing is that these guys get their funding tomorrow and are stuck doing this for another year. So far, they only lost one” (778).

His comments are right, but isn’t this true of any bet you make in life, becoming an artist, a scientist. You can go for a safer life for sure. Lewis-Kraus is pessimistic, he sees the people who do not win. And this exists anywhere people try. I have more optimistic views. Even if I know it is a tough experience… I prefer what Latour said of his experience with Everpix: “I have more respect for someone who starts a restaurant and puts their life savings into it than what I’ve done. We’re still lucky. We’re in an environment that has a pretty good safety net, in Silicon Valley.”

A final quote I liked (related to my previous post about age): “There’s been a lot written recently about the age divide in Silicon Valley, but even the more thoughtful pieces — such as those in The New York Times Magazine and The New Republic — tended to miss the obvious: Older people don’t typically work at startups because they have families and can no longer stomach the perpetual crisis. It’s exactly the same reason that people in their fifties tend not to be magazine freelancers or underground-club bassists. As one investor put it to me, When I see a 40-year-old in a Series A meeting, I want to pull him aside, put my hand on his shoulder, and tell him to just go get a job.” (706).

PS: it’s still a challenge for me to read an e-book all the more with these references which are not pages anymore. So I cheated, created a pdf and printed the stuff to take notes and later copy/paste the pdf…