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From Basements to Brad Feld: The Story of 126 NOs and 1 Big YES

Today, we’re utterly and completely exhausted.

Yesterday, our post on Paid, Paid Vacation went viral, and we were up all night responding to folks from all over the the world.

We thought about a detailed blog post – ala Rand Fishkin’s from SEOMoz – on what it’s like working with Brad Feld on our financing.

Unfortunately, we’re just too damn tired.

Instead, we’ll just tell you the abbreviated version of Our Story using a dose of deconstructionism.


The Basement

Setup shop in Dan Lynn‘s basement along with Travis Todd.

Start Coding.

Setup Private Beta List.

Signup friends and family.

Launch in August 2010 to 100 beta users.

Launch publicly in September.

Total number of investors that said no?  0.

Self-Confidence? Full of hope.

The Early Spike

Basement.  Afternoon.  September 28th, 2010.

Ran User Count Query. “845″

Ran User Count Query. “879″

Ran User Count Query. “916″

“Uh…Guys? What the fuck is going on?”

Ran User Count Query. – “928″

Quickly I jumped onto Google Analytics.

LifeHacker.  Traffic.

5 new users a per second.

Check Twitter.  Trending.

Queuing System Fucked.  Buggy.

No sleep for 3 Days.

Traffic slowed.

Sleep.

Total number of Investors that said no?  0.

Self-Confidence? Too fucking tired to have self-confidence.

Let’s Get Investors!

Investors started calling.

Investment bankers called.  Deathly silence when we told them we didn’t have any patents.

VCs from Silicon Valley called – said “you guys are a little early for us, but let’s stay in touch.”

Venture Capital in the Rockies (VCIR) called and asked us to apply.

Applied to VCIR.

VCIR rejected us: “That’s a feature, not a product or even a company.” 

Back to drawing board.  Something was wrong.

Dan and Travis continued working on our product and doing some custom coding for clients.

Bart got busy trying to get investors.

Built a detailed financial model.

Built a two -page executive summary.

Built an investor deck.

Started following @bfeld and @davidcohen.

Attended a book signing with Brad and David and read Do More Faster.

Started following @davemcclure @arrington and all things #Bin38.

Learned who Ron Conway was.

Watched every single episode of The Founders on TechStars.

Read TechCrunch way too much.

Became fascinated by CrunchBase.

Signed up for AngelList.

Read every single post on Venture Hacks.

Started reading AskTheVC.com.

Joined Quora.

Applied for a Kaufmann Scholarship to Defrag and got in.

Attended Defrag for the first time.  Felt intimidated.

Educated myself on all the mechanics of convertible debt vs. equity.

Fucked up, took our tax accountant’s advice, and setup the company as an LLC.

Attended a few Rockies Venture Club events.

Applied to the Angel Capital Summit in Denver and got in.

Rehearsed my Angel Capital pitch 10 times and thought that was enough.

Pitched at Angel Capital Summit and got a few investors interested.

Had several slimy people offer introductions to investors for a 5% fee.

Ignored them.

Started reaching out to investors through LinkedIn.

Obtained a list of every VC investor in Colorado.

Idiotically spammed investor list – it didn’t work.

Emailed Brad Feld asking for advice on how much money to raise.  Got response in 5 minutes.

Met with 2-3 investors a day.  They all told us “maybe” (which means no).

Met in person with a VC.

Followed up via email with same VC.

VC asked for full Business Plan.

Responded with “We’ll draft it if you will actually read it… ;-)”

Never heard back from VC.

Total number of Investors that said no?  50.

Self-Confidence? Irrationally High.

Pivot #1

Over a lunch, came up with another product idea.

Idiotically got to work on new product immediately and stopped work on our existing product.

Came up with name.

Obtained domain name.

Designed a logo.

Started GitHub repository.

Number of actual customers we had on board for this? Zero.

Built a full marketing website around product before launch.

Built a full product video:

Built v2 of Investor Deck to include new product.

Forked Investor Deck to only talk about new product.

Built new executive summary.

Built new financial model.

Continued pitching investors.

Total number of Investors that failed to say yes?  100.

Self-Confidence? Reeking with Doubt.

Pivot #2

Before launching product #2, started work on product #3

Built new investor deck.

Built new executive summary.

Built new financial model.

Continued to pitch investors.

Total number of investors that said no? 110.

Self-Confidence?  Doubt is Dominating.

TechStars Lures Us In

Introduced to David Cohen.

David invited us to Open Angel Forum.

Pitched all 3 products in 5 minutes at Open Angel Forum.

Thought this was a good thing.

Nicole Glaros asked us to apply to TechStars.

Film quite possibly the worst TechStars video application of all time:

Applied to TechStars with our shitty video.

Emailed Nicole every single day, updating her on our progress.

Attended TechStars for a day.

Emailed every past TechStars founder asking them to try our product.

Emailed David Cohen asking him to try our product.  He does.

Grabbed some Feld Geld from Brad Feld’s website.

Used Feld Geld to purchased a 15 minute meeting with Brad.

Brad told us we were a “science experiment” and that was 100% okay at our stage.

Applied to Jason Calacanis’ Launch Conference in San Francisco.

Got Hideous Bright Yellow T-Shirts.

Attended Launch Conference and Launched.

Crafted Press Release and Released.

On Day 1 of Launch, Decided onboarding process wasn’t good enough.

Refactored onboarding process for Day 2.

Tried to talk to Robert Scoble.  He didn’t seem terribly interested.

At Dinner, spotted Ron Conway and Dick Costolo at the table next to us in San Francisco.

Introduced ourselves and pitched.  Told Ron we were from Colorado.

Ron immediately asked if Brad Feld was in our round.  Seemed disappointed Brad wasn’t.

Ron told us that having 3 products with separate names was fucking idiotic and confusing.

Ron emailed his themes and setup a call to go over in more detail.

Emailed Brad Feld – “When they hear we’re from Colorado, everyone keeps asking if you are in our round.”

Brad Feld’s response: “Ack, that’s not good – tell them I have a conflict with Gist but I’m still supportive.”

Call with Ron Conway’s team.  They passed.

Total number of investors that said no? 125.

Self-Confidence?  Rock bottom.

Our First and Second Investors

Accepted to TechStars!  Our first investor @ $18K.

Immediately sign paperwork and cash the check.

Second investor says Yes @ $25K.

Total number of investors that have turned us down? 125.

Total number of investors that have agreed to invest? 2

Self-confidence: Cautiously Optimistic.

Our First Institutional Investor

Meet with Rob and Chris from Tango Group / High Country Venture.

Pitch company.

Rob and Chris invite us back.

Pitch again.

Rob and Chris ask for a sales presentation.

Give sales presentation.

Rob and Chris ask for personal references.

Provide personal references.

Rob and Chris offer to lead small seed round of $300K.

More Investors suddenly say yes.

Close $350K round.

Total number of investors that have turned us down? 125

Total number of investors that have agreed to invest? 7

Self-confidence: Through the Roof

TechStars Begins

Move to Boulder for Summer.

Rent a shitty college apartment.

Attend TechStars orientation night.

TechStars Bunker = Another Basement.

Pitch company to TechStars class.

Shredded by TechStars class.

David Cohen asks us to come to his office (uh-oh).

David asks to be our lead mentor, tells us to focus on our API and change our name.

We accept David’s offer and agree.

Total number of investors that have said no? 125

Total number of investors that have agreed to invest? 7

Self-confidence: Doubt creeping in again.

TechStars

Pitch.

Customer Development.

Learn.

Code.

Drink Tequila.

Laugh.

Eat.

Focus.

Meet Investors.

Make Friends.

Pitch.

Rinse & Repeat.

Buy Expensive Domain Name and Rebrand.

TechStars Demo Day.

Total number of investors that have turned us down? 125

Total number of investors that want to invest? 40

Self-confidence: Sky high.

Series API

Convert to C-Corporation.

Close $1.5M Series A.

Buy Lots of T-Shirts.

Watch Foundry Group’s I’m A VC video:

Move into office in Downtown Denver.

It’s not a Basement office.  It’s “Garden Level”

Hire.

Build.

Close Customers.

Focus.

Seth Levine emails and wants to get together.

Meet with Seth.  Tell him we’re not raising money.

Attend SXSW:

Drink Heavily.

Recover from SXSW.

Start thinking about raising more money.

Hire.

Build.

Close Customers.

Focus.

VCs start to call us asking when we’re raising another round.

Tell VCs we’re not raising money yet.

Total number of investors that said no? 125

Total number of investors that want to invest? 45

Self-confidence: Solid.

Series Badass

Decide to raise more money.

Build Pitch Deck.

Email Seth Levine – tell him we’re about to go raise money.

Meet with Seth to get deck feedback.

Seth provides deck suggestions, loves where we’re headed, but just too busy to take it on personally.

Meet with David Cohen to get deck feedback.

David provides deck suggestions opposite of Seth’s, but loves where we’re headed.

Tweak Pitch Deck.

Email New Pitch Deck to Seth.

Seth forwards deck to Brad, Jason and Ryan.

Attend Glue at Interlocken.

Brad Feld emails me, asks to go on a walk.

Walk and talk with Brad for an hour.

Brad says he wants to meet again when he’s back from Iceland.

Jason Mendelson sees me at Glue – says “Loved the Deck!”

Ryan McIntyre stops by our booth for a live Demo.

Give closing keynote at Gluecon – Don’t be a Grinfucker

Brad returns from Iceland.

Brad meets with us at our offices.

Entire team demos stuff to Brad.

Go to lunch with Brad at The Kitchen.

Ask Brad:  ”what are the next steps?”

Brad tells us he wants to invest, lead the round and join our Board.

Brad sends us proposal the next day.

Talk it over with Dan and Travis.

Negotiate Terms via email and come to agreement.

Brad tells us no need for a term sheet.

CC in lawyers to get it done.

Take a pre-existing meeting with another VC out of courtesy.

VC says “we’re a feature” and doesn’t let me get past slide 2 of my deck.

Finish the paperwork 30 days later.

Blog about Paid, Paid Vacation.

Announce $7M in Financing.

Total number of investors that said no? 126

Total number of investors that have wanted to invest? 46

Self-confidence: You kidding?  With Brad Feld, Seth Levine, Jason Mendelson and Ryan McIntyre and all the folks from Foundry Group on our side? In the Strasophere.  But, there’s still those that think we’re “just a feature”…. :-) 

NOT EVEN CLOSE TO THE END!

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