What about @lyft for food?
We looked @Postmates + thought:
- the food arrived sloppy / restaurants don't care about delivery
- it took forever (1hr)
- too expensive
3 taps and $15 for a healthy meal delivered in 15 min
To make it possible, we had to run the restaurant ourselves; it would be expensive but worth it
We recruited @n8keller, Morgan Springer + @mattkent as founders
Our Series A was a hot round. I did 4 partner meetings on the same day. Raised $10M.
Great investors, great team, off to the races - @omal and @simonrothman
1) Govt. SF health + planning made our lives hell. They didn't like our innovations. We had to bribe officials ("lobbying").
2) Gross Margins (GM). As we grew, our burn rate grew too. We were losing money on every meal. If only we could get to critical mass.
We were always “1-2 months away” from managing the burn.
We finally got some progress on margins, but it meant degrading the product: food is fickle.
Less money in, worse food out.
Sprig's peak was Feb 2016:
4,500 meals per day (largest restaurant in SF)
$22M run-rate (SF + Chi)
1,300 employees (incl delivery)
The public treated me like a star, which was both uncomfortable & awesome.
Even my dating life felt like it had improved 2-3x.
But secretly, I was nervous - it didn't feel like a done deal.
On Feb 22, 2016: our growth curve inverted. +2%/wk became -2%/wk.
We scrambled to figure out why.
Was it seasonality? Was it our rising prices? Was it the quality of the food?
Everyone was running tests to figure out why and what to do.
It was UberEATS, which launched that week.
Fucking Uber. After hearing all the war stories from @lyft, I knew they were unsavory competitors.
Super smart, ruthless with big coffers.
What about pursuing a sale? If we do layoffs, then we can’t sell. If we don’t, we may die trying.
We decided to pivot to a new offering that focused on food quality.
Everyone (fam, friends, investors) thinks you're doing well and you can't tell them you're not.
We were in pure panic mode.
We launched Sprig 2.0, shut down Chicago and laid off 1/3 of HQ staff to conserve burn.
I shut down external activities, such as talks and press, so we didn’t become a Theranos.
Internally, I leaned on my executive team. They were honest and kind with our employees. Through it all, we had only 1 departure.
We got to $0 margins, but the traction didn’t improve.
The board asked us: what would it take to be fully profitable?
We were running a restaurant doing $6M in revenue but paying real estate for a place that needed $20M in revenue to be profitable.
After 3 pivots & multiple layoffs, we faced a final decision. We had $8M left and knew we had to restart or quit and return the money.
@neerajberry & I made an exec decision: we shut @sprig down on May 27, 2017.
1) In 2013, we mistook present for future. Delivery apps got better w scale. We got worse.
2) The profit equation was off. The market size in SF was too small for our big kitchen. We blitzfailed.
3) Cap Table + Burnout. Hard to restart after losing $50M.
Learned way more in 4 yrs @sprig than 4 years @udemy or @UCBerkeley.
Few grudges were held & we took care of the team. They mostly landed on their feet (Silicon Valley embraces failure).
A classy ending helped sow the seeds for forgiveness.
If you're gonna fail, do it fast.
If you're gonna succeed, do it slowly.
In startups, remember to watch your flanks. Your competitors are not your direct competitors, but the whole market.
Thanks to everyone who believed in us.
Follow me to read more honest takes from a recovering founder 🙏🙏🙏
Here's an equally honest thread about @udemy going from 0 to $2B valuation:
I\u2019m biased but @udemy is a true underdog story + thought I\u2019d share details we\u2019ve never shared before.— Gagan Biyani (@gaganbiyani) February 20, 2020
ICYMI, we announced a $50M raise at $2B valuation.
Udemy almost died at least 5x. We got rejected by everyone in the Valley. Startups are never a straight line.
More from Startups
2/ “Being a VC” can mean a lot of different things, so it’s worth asking:
What actual activities do you want to do?
- Deep market analysis?
- Be in the flow of information and people?
- Make deals?
- Work closely w/ founders over time (e.g take board seats?)
- Manage capital?
3/ It’s worth specifying what type of VC you might like to become — as there are different archetypes. E.g.
- Benchmark (Lead series A/B - couple investments a year)
- First Round (Lead seed rounds, partner w/ a few companies a year)
- SV Angel (Make lots of seed investments)
Expa - Incubate companies
YC / Village Global - Build a platform to help entrepreneurs at scale
Do you want to join a firm or start one? There’s a lot to consider.
Different paths will require different skillsets & sets of experiences.
5/ Since the person who wrote the email is a young person trying to break into VC by joining a firm (and who doesn’t want to start a company), I’ll tailor this tweet storm to that goal. There’s some overlap.
Today, I’m at the local fair.
There are hundreds of vendors.
But there are also huge crowds who are hot and thirsty; lots of demand for cold drinks!
Go where the crowds are!
Again, this is just a metaphor!
But it’s a good reminder:
🍋 If you have a lemonade stand, it’s better to go somewhere hot, where there are a lot of thirsty people.
💻 If you want to make software, it’s better to go where there are a bunch of potential customers.
BTW - targeting a good market doesn’t mean you’ll automatically win!
There are a TON of factors that influence a business’ success (or failure).
But choosing a market that has a lot of demand (and good channels) is essential for future success.
In business, nothing is guaranteed.
You might be in a good market today, but tomorrow it could fall apart.
Markets are fickle.
Some days they want 🍦, other days they want 🥤.
The economy can go up, or it can crash.
A good competitor can come in and grab market share.
But this reinforces the point:
“Business is already hard, why make it harder?” – @asmartbear
Why try to enter a niche where there’s no demonstrable demand?
Why try to serve a total addressable market of 500, when you could go after 500,000 potential customers?
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Thanks to @chamath for laying this out in Social Capital's 2018 annual letter.
I've always appreciated his outspokenness.
2/ The hardest thing for most startups today is the path to market: first finding product-market fit & a way to reach customers, then building a ruthless machine to acquire, monetize & retain them.
3/ Because of this, when the VC industry invests capital into fast growing startups today, the plurality (if not majority) of invested capital will go into user acquisition and ad spending, for better or worse— usually worse.
4/ Todays massive venture-backed advertising, sales, and user acquisition playbook has morphed into one that champions growth at any cost.
This is creating a big bill that will soon come due...
5/ Ad impressions and click-throughs are bid up to outrageous prices by startups flush with venture money, and prospective users demand more and more subsidized products to gain their initial attention.
2/ Stay focused! Ignore things that are a waste of time: meetups & conferences, meetings with no clear agenda, fundraising if you're not fundraising, reading lots of tech media articles, etc. Every week should feel like significant progress in the first year.
3/ Your first 5 hires will be the difference between life or death. Choose carefully. Be picky. Many of the things we do at the company still are a result of those early hires' legacy. Have fun as a tight knit team. It will change & evolve as you get bigger so enjoy this moment.
4/ Growth may be flat for the first 9 months. It's gonna be okay. Almost every company has experienced this: Airbnb had to sell cereal in-between, Slack failed as a gaming company first, Tesla sold only 147 cars after 6 years! You probably won't be an overnight success either.
5/ In the beginning, do customer support yourself. You will learn a lot about why your product sucks. I did 5,000+ support tickets when it was the two of us. Delight customers & fix things fast while you learn. It will help you build an amazing intuition about your customers.
If everyone was holding bitcoin on the old x86 in their parents basement, we would be finding a price bottom. The problem is the risk is all pooled at a few brokerages and a network of rotten exchanges with counter party risk that makes AIG circa 2008 look like a good credit.— Greg Wester (@gwestr) November 25, 2018
The benign product is sovereign programmable money, which is historically a niche interest of folks with a relatively clustered set of beliefs about the state, the literary merit of Snow Crash, and the utility of gold to the modern economy.
This product has narrow appeal and, accordingly, is worth about as much as everything else on a 486 sitting in someone's basement is worth.
The other product is investment scams, which have approximately the best product market fit of anything produced by humans. In no age, in no country, in no city, at no level of sophistication do people consistently say "Actually I would prefer not to get money for nothing."
This product needs the exchanges like they need oxygen, because the value of it is directly tied to having payment rails to move real currency into the ecosystem and some jurisdictional and regulatory legerdemain to stay one step ahead of the banhammer.
Every now and then an idea sticks with me like that corner of tortilla chip that just won't go down your throat. It happened with SPARROWHAWK, which began as 40k of a YA story, died, and was reborn as a comic, thanks to @christopher_j_r and @boomstudios. And now... 2/
It's happening with THE WILLOWS, a short story that you'll see in @UncannyMagazine next year. This Southern Gothic horror story began as an attempt to sell my next Romance to @AbZurdity after the Blud books in 2014 or so. And she didn't buy it. Guess why? 3/
Turns out, it wasn't a Romance! It was Southern Gothic Horror. Even the bones of it screamed strangeness, not sexiness. I loved the taste of the world, but I hadn't found the right story yet. Tried to write it 2 more times and failed. Until I finally understood what it was. 4/
So I took the 50 pages I'd written and cut half of them, twisting the story around from a gothy Romance inspired by the band the Civil Wars and turned it into a spooky descent into madness. And it looked back at me from the abyss as if to say, DUH. Sometimes... 5/