It’s the start of a new year, which is an exciting time all around. You’re probably excited about new opportunities, starting a company, or building product in 2018! While I’m all for optimism, I’ve also gotta stay true to them theme of Build: debunking myths and misconceptions when it comes to building tech product, companies and your career in tech ;) So we’re going to spend the next four episodes of Build debunking themes around fundraising for startups. I know what you’re thinking: “Poornima, is this really necessary?! Can’t we just focus on product and engineering? How about some Build Tips with those friendly product managers, designers, and engineers from Pivotal Labs?” Don’t worry we’ve got plenty of those in store for you! Before we dive back into the fun and friendly banter of Ronan and his team, I thought it was necessary to start 2018 debunking myths around fundraising. Here are my reasons for doing this: Reason #1: If you want to be a founder and start a startup in 2018, you need to know how to control your own destiny. Gone are the days of a quick and easy seed deal. If you don’t believe me, then here are two posts from very active investors Fred Wilson and Jason Calacanis with compelling data spanning the past 5 years. They show you that investment in early-stage companies is indeed slowing down, and why the trend is going to continue. #byebyebubble Reason #2: If you want to be a founder and fundraise, you need to know what it’s really going to take to get the first check that gives you the freedom to quit your day job. I know I previously explored what it takes to raise capital from investors and how investors add value beyond the check. But times are changin’! As I went back and reviewed the episodes I realized that while much of the advice still applies, there are new challenges founders, especially first-time founders face. If you’re going to be one of them, then you need to be aware of them as you build your startup. There are also going to be a lot of sacrifices that you will need to consider making. As you’re faced with them, you might feel like you’re doing things wrong, when others have had an easier time. But you cannot compare when the market is in flux. Reason #3: Don’t want to be a founder? Even if being a founder is the furthest thing from your mind, you might be thinking about joining a startup as an employee at any stage — garage to growth. Well you need to be able to tell fact from fiction. You don’t want to get lured into visions of billion-dollar exits, only to discover that they are going to be cutting health care benefits, won’t be able to make payroll next month, or all that equity won’t help you buy my 2005 Honda Civic! You need to be able to ask tough questions to understand the real health of the company, and market opportunity, so that you can decide if it’s worth taking the risk. Reason #4: As an employee at a startup, every quarter you are going to be tasked with challenging milestones. Metrics matter more and more these days, and every department has a funnel. For engineering, it’s making sure the team is continuing to build and ship a quality product, balancing out features with infrastructure and keeping an eye out for that pesky tech debt to avoid slowdowns. For product, it’s making sure there is a good balance of attracting new customers, while engaging and monetizing existing ones. And holding the engineering team accountable to spending time on paying down product debt. While marketing has to keep growing traffic no matter what! Teams are also staying lean longer, and founders are looking for employees with generalist backgrounds who can #GSD. Everyone’s contribution matters to achieving metrics, which makes you feel wanted as an employee. But it also means that you need to be good at prioritizing, understanding tradeoffs, and a fast learner! At the end of the day, you need to know and understand that what you are doing is actually moving the needle and going to help attract investment and customers. There is no point in building product or marketing just for the sake of it. Hopefully my reasons have convinced you why learning about fundraising is integral to your own success at a startup, and we can move on to the first episode of the year! In it, we’re going to tackle the first misconception a lot of first-time founders fall prey: thinking they need to reach out to investors the moment they have an idea. It turns out you actually don't need to reach out to investors and you can get started by funding your idea on your own. You’ve probably heard this a lot already… Quite frankly, investors won’t even take meetings if you do reach out. I can count on two hands the number of investors who I had successfully raised from in previous years that wouldn’t even return my emails recently! Why? Because it’s getting really competitive out there and they want to make sure startups have substantial progress before they are willing to take time to meet. To help us out, I've invited Erica Brescia, who is the COO and co-founder of Bitnami. Erica has also recently joined XFactor as an investment partner. XFactor is an early-stage investment firm that's looking to fund female founders as well as mix-gendered teams. I choose Erica and her peers to come on the show because they are ALL founders first and investors second. Meaning they have sat on both sides of the table. As you watch today’s episode you’ll learn: Why investment may not be applicable to the type of business you are building and alternate approaches to funding your startup The questions investors ask themselves before they will respond to a meeting request or write a startup a check When startups are “too early” to fundraise and why the definition of “too early” is inconsistent — who really gets funded early and why The work that startup founders and teams must do, if they are keen on attracting investment In future episodes we’ll dive into topics like why raising capital won’t help you outdo competition, how to get over the constant rejection, and what it’s going to take to get that first check. Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA. Episode Transcript Poornima Vijayashanker: Got an idea for a tech product that you want to scale into a big business? You probably think that you need to go out and raise capital from an investor, right? Well, it turns out that you may not need to. In today's *Build* episode, we're going to explore when it makes sense to reach out to investors. Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each *Build* episode, I invite innovators and together we debunk myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. One misconception a lot of first-time founders fall prey to is thinking they need to reach out to investors the moment they have an idea. It turns out you actually don't need to reach out to investors and you can get started by funding your idea on your own. In today's episode, we're going to dive in deep to understand some of the mistakes that first-time founders make when it comes to funding their idea. We'll also talk about what investors are looking for and when it makes sense to reach out to them. To help us out, I've invited Erica Brescia, who is the COO and co-founder of Bitnami. Erica has also recently joined XFactor as an investment partner. XFactor is an early-stage investment firm that's looking to fund female founders as well as mix-gendered teens. Thanks for joining us today, Erica. Erica Brescia: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here. Poornima Vijayashanker: This is the first time that you and I are meeting. Thanks for being here. I want to know a little bit more about you. Let's start with your background. What got you interested in tech? Erica Brescia: I've always been very interested in gadgets. It started out actually with mobile phones way back in the day, but I've always been curious about learning more about technology and gadgets and how things work. I really wanted to understand how mobile phone networks worked back in the day. Don't ask me why. I went on to study investment finance. A different path than a lot of people in Silicon Valley take. My father is an entrepreneur and I always had it in the back of my mind I wanted to start my own company. I got introduced to my co-founder and decided I was just going to help him work out a few kinks in the business and get it off the ground. Here I am now running a software company. It's really a case of being open to new opportunities, but also just having this lifelong interest in understanding how things work and learning new things. Poornima Vijayashanker: Let's talk about Bitnami, your current company. What exactly does Bitnami do and what inspired you to start it? Erica Brescia: Bitnami is a catalog of open-source applications that you can deploy on servers. It's primarily like B2B software. Things like maybe Moodle or Druple or WordPress, if you're familiar with that. We also package up a lot of development environments and development tools, things like Jenkins and Get Lab or Anode or Rails or Django Development environment. We have over a million deployments a month of the applications that we package. We publish them both through Bitnami.com as well as on all of the major cloud bender platforms. Users choose Bitnami because they know everything is going to work right out of the box every time, and they get a consistent experience wherever they deploy the software. If I can just add one more thing to that, one thing I'm particularly excited about is up until now we've been bootstrapping through our relationships with cloud vendors, but we're about to launch a new product for the enterprise. We're essentially taking the next step in the company's evolution by productizing all of the automation that we've built to deliver this catalog of applications so that others can take advantage of it, too. Poornima Vijayashanker: It sounds like Bitnami has been going strong for a long time. How long have you guys been around? Erica Brescia: We've been working on the Bitnami part of the business since 2013, but the technology dates back about ten years to when we started Bitrock, which is the predecessor. We do have several years in now. A Day In The Life of a Startup COO Poornima Vijayashanker: That's great. As a COO, what's your day to day like? Erica Brescia: It was funny, when I thought through that question, there's no day to day. I spent Monday and Tuesday in some really key BD meetings. In Seattle yesterday, I was in LA for an open-source conference. I'm obviously here today. The way that we have our leadership roles between my co-founder and I might be different than a lot of other companies. I run everything except for product and engineering. That means that marketing, sales, BD, legal, finance, everything rolls up to me. That basically keeps things running and make sure that the company is growing and bringing on the right people and has revenue coming in and all those good things. Obviously as a quickly growing startup that's very, very tech heavy, I'm still involved in everything including product and engineering, too. There's never a typical day. It varies a lot and the days are long, but a lot of fun. Poornima Vijayashanker: Very good. Now you have actually taken on another role. If Bitnami isn't enough, you decided to join XFactor as an investment partner. Tell us a little bit about XFactor and why the decision to go into investment. Erica Brescia: Absolutely. I'll start with XFactor and tell you about the fund. Then I'll talk about why I joined. XFactor is a $3 million seed fund. We're making $100K investments in 30 companies. Pretty easy math. The genesis was really a woman named Anna and a guy named Chip. Chip is a partner with Fly Bridge. They got together and wanted to find a way to fund more women in technology because they had read some of the statistics about how difficult it can be for women to raise funding. The truth is, it's really an untapped opportunity. There's a ton of brilliant women building some very interesting companies. They were having problems in some cases getting through the traditional VC process because of some of the biases that we've all read about. We probably don't need to go through that. The idea was that they were going to get together a group of operating female founders. I think that's really the key is we're all women who have built and scaled our own businesses across a variety of sectors. I have a lot of experience in B2B and closing very big BD deals. I've acquired companies and things like that. Some of the other women are very heavy on the consumer side and they're great at branding and rolling out new products. We got a really diverse team of women, but who are actually still on the ground running businesses, very in touch with the problems that founders have in getting new companies off the ground. We think we have a pretty unique perspective and also an edge in terms of what we can offer founders because we're so close to the challenges that they're experiencing. We're very focused obviously with that check size on pretty early-stage companies and helping set those founders up for success. We do expect most of them will go on to raise for their venture capital. We're there to support them in doing that. I actually haven't raised VC for my company, but all the other women have. We have a good diversity of experiences and opinions around that too. Being A Startup Founder And Angel Investor Poornima Vijayashanker: Why'd you join? Erica Brescia: It took a lot of thought. They came to me. At first, I thought they just wanted to run the idea by me back in February. Then I get an email a few days later saying, “We'd love to have you join us.” I really did spend some time thinking about it and talking to my co-founder and my husband about whether or not I'd be able to balance everything, because it is a big commitment. If I make a commitment, I want to come through on it and make sure that I'm not letting the founders and my fellow investment partners down. It really came down to the opportunity both for personal growth for me and to give back. There's a financial opportunity, too, which is fantastic. I really saw that we have a pretty unique angle into both deal flow. Several of us are YC founders as well. We have access to the YC network and obviously just good networks in Silicon Valley and outside as well. I felt like we could do something really interesting. I could meet a lot more women in technology. Also, I really do think there's a huge untapped opportunity there. I think we'll be able to produce above-average returns. It really came down to me asking the question, “Do I have time for this?” I'm going to get less sleep for sure. That's definitely been the case. Poornima Vijayashanker: Sure. You can make time. Erica Brescia: It was just too good to pass up. This is one of those things that I just couldn't say “no” to because the opportunity is so big and it's something that I'm enjoying doing so much. Poornima Vijayashanker: Wonderful. As soon as I saw the news, I wanted to reach out to you guys because I thought it was fabulous and needed to be spread to everyone else. Let's talk about your investments then. I know everyone has probably got different things that they want to invest in. We're going to talk to some of your partners later on. Let's talk about what you like to invest in. Why Angel Investors Focus On Making Investments In Markets and Business Models They Are Familiar With Erica Brescia: Sure. I right now am very focused on things that I am passionate about. I think about whether or not the company keeps me up at night thinking about it later. I am usually receiving on the deal flow that it's on B2B and enterprise sales in particular because that's where my expertise and experience is. I found myself drawn to some other things, too. One of the investments that'll be announced soon, I wish I could name some of them. Poornima Vijayashanker: That's OK. Erica Brescia: I think we're about to announce that we've made eight investments in the first two months. Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh, awesome. Erica Brescia: We've been very busy and we've met some amazing women. One of the investments that I've led so far is very much a technology, cloud-focused company, which is absolutely my bailiwick. The other one is a fin-tech company. I was really drawn. I loved the founder. Was very impressed by her and the team that she's put together. Also, it was just the problem that they were solving, I could see it so clearly. It was palpable and I was staying up at night and I was talking to my husband about what they were doing and why I thought it was exciting. When I start thinking about how they can make the business successful and what they should be thinking about, that's a very good sign to me. I know it's not direct answer. I invest in this list of companies, but that's really not the way that it's worked out so far. I've looked at a variety of med-tech companies, fin-tech companies, more women in technology and sourcing and recruiting companies. Some people doing interesting stuff with NLP. It's really been a very diverse range of companies. Why Women Founded Tech Companies Are Broader Than Gets Portrayed One of the things that I think you'll see us talking about more, which is very cool, is a lot of these companies are not what you would typically think of as the women-in-tech companies. A lot of people think all we want to work on is beauty. I like makeup and clothes and everything as much as the next person, but I don't know anything about those businesses. A lot of the deal flow that we've had, it's coming from all kinds of very hardcore tech, a lot of VR stuff, too, and AR. We've seen a broad range. Right now we're looking for the next billion-dollar businesses really. Any other VC it's, “Is this something I'm passionate about and can it be huge and can I add value in helping them make it so?” Poornima Vijayashanker: Actually, that's a good segue into talking about I think one of the things that confuses some folks in our audience and even first-time founders is, what qualifies as a tech product and then what—let's start there and then we can talk about maybe what a big idea is. Understanding If Your Startup Is A Tech Enabled Business Or A Tech Product Erica Brescia: Sure. Almost anything these days is tech enabled. If it's not, you might have a scalability problem. I don't think we have very strict definitions as to what is tech or not. If excelling in technology and in the technical underpinnings of the product is going to give people an advantage, that's probably a tech company or something that we would think of as such. Some of the subscription businesses or there's a food device I can't talk too much about, but that we're looking at. A really novel subscription business around it. Another two companies have come through that are working on breast pumps for women. They're hardware companies but there's a lot of technology obviously that goes into the hardware. Obviously a lot of tech powering how they're approaching the businesses. It's really a pretty loose definition of what a tech company is. Even some of them are physical spaces now that we're looking at. It's a pretty broad range. It's not like we're only investing in software or we're only investing in sass or something like that. Poornima Vijayashanker: That's good to know. Tech enabled but there's probably some conversation that needs to be had around, “Are you really just selling water online or is there a distribution model that is tech enabled and it's cool if you sell water online.” Erica Brescia: Exactly. Why Finding An Investor Isn’t Good Enough — You Need To Find THE Investor Who Understand Your Market and Business Model Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. Then let's talk about I think another area, though, which is—you've already started talking about you enjoy the deals that are B2B, more enterprise, and maybe a little bit more saas heavy. I think one of the concerns that a lot of first-time founders have is, “I just need to find an investor.” I just need to find one investor, but they may not necessarily find that right investor. It's interesting because it's not just limited to tech. I was reading Barbara Lynch's memoir, who's a restaurateur, and she talked about going and finding the investors who invested in restaurants for her nine restaurants. Talk to me a little bit about what it means to be vertical focused as an investor. Erica Brescia: You want investors who understand your business or at least have the capacity and time to learn about it and who are upfront if they don't understand things, too. There's several things that make people good investors. One is, don't be an asshole, if I can say that on your show. Poornima Vijayashanker: Sure. Of course. Erica Brescia: I just don't want to work with people who are not good people. To me, some people don't care about...I've actually had people come to me and say, “It doesn't matter. All VCs are going to be assholes, you just need to accept that and move on.” I'm like, “Uh, uh. No. No, I don't. There's a lot of great VCs out there.” Poornima Vijayashanker: That's the normal assumption. Erica Brescia: There are a lot of good people out there, men and women in venture capital. I do think it's important that you understand somebody who understands your business and the cycles. Before, example, we've had a lot of very hardware-centric businesses come through. Those are difficult to invest in. In particular, if you don't have experience in hardware because you don't have a really good understanding of how long it's going to take and what the development cycle should look like and how capital intensive that you're going to be. It's harder to make good investment decisions. It's harder to be helpful for the founder, because if you have unrealistic expectations for the type of business they're building, nobody wins. It's the same, we've seen a lot of robotics companies doing super cool stuff, but I've told them, “Look, I'm not an expert in robotics. I'm going to have to go out.” We do have an associate who does some work for us, but we have to go out and be willing to invest our time to get up to speed in those industries in order to feel comfortable making an investment. It's good advice. I think what you're alluding to is, find an investor that actually knows what they're talking about in your space because otherwise they could really do damage by slowing you down, refusing to fund a second round or something like that. A follow on or just inundating you with questions all the time. The last thing you want to be doing is just educating your investors on the market when you have a company to build. The Sacrifices Founders Have To Make To Get Their Startup Off The Ground Poornima Vijayashanker: Exactly. No, that's a good point. Let's talk about the other side of this, which is also, it's very tempting, as a first-time founder or somebody who’s green, to have an idea, whether it's hardware or anything that we feel is capital intensive or sometimes we just don't even have the capital as a founder. We haven't quite got to the financial point of our life. It's tempting to immediately say, “Oh my gosh, to get this thing off the ground I need to go and get investment. That might not be the right time.” Let's talk about what time horizon makes sense. I know it's going to be product specific, but I think it would be helpful to just— Erica Brescia: It really depends on so many different variables. One of them I think is important is to be realistic about where you are in your life and what kind of sacrifices you're willing to make. The reality is, if you have a family and a mortgage, it's a heck of a lot harder to stop taking a salary—particularly if you were to work in Silicon Valley because the salaries are quite high here right now—and go and start something from scratch. If you're 22 and right out of college and have none of those financial responsibilities, you might have more flexibility. My vote is do as much as you can before raising funding. Build as much as you can. First of all, there's so many good investment opportunities right now that I think most investors, they want to see...first they want to see that you're committed. If you just go out with a pitch deck—like I took two weeks of holiday for my job to put together a pitch deck and if you fund me, I'll go do this—you're never going to get funded because we want to see conviction. We want to see that you quit your job, you're committed, you've been working on this with somebody else preferably for six months. You have the personality and the skills and the charm or whatever it may be, the conviction to actually get other people to join you. That's important, too. Unless you absolutely can not do it without raising money up front, I would say get at least to a prototype or as far as you can to be able to go show people and prove to people that you're there for the long haul and that you're willing to make sacrifices to make something happen. I will also plug incubators, like Y Combinator. Obviously I'm biased because we went through the program. That was a great experience for us in terms of helping us just build some momentum and we did rebranding of the company and accomplished a lot during that period. It's not about the funding necessarily, but it can give people who are cash wrapped a bit of cash to fund those first few months. It really helps you to accelerate that initial process and sets you up very well to raise from VCs after the fact. We've certainly sourced a lot of our deal flow from YC. We try at XFactor to be very broad and we've had people from all over the world, in fact, contacting us. Of course, we're going to look to YC because they've already been through that filter. They've achieved something during the period that they're in Y Combinator. It's a three-month sprint. We've found that looking at people that have at least gotten to the point where you would be if you've gone through a Y Combinator or similar. They've got something to show. That's when it makes sense. I will say, this is really the approach that we've taken with Bitnami is try to find money from customers. Let's not undervalue the fact that people will pay you for what you're building. Hopefully if you're building something valuable, and you're much better off going through that experience, learning what it takes to sell to people and collect their money—there's a lot of details there—and try to build your business that way. You don't need to go for VC right away. There are great examples of companies that have been hugely successful doing that like GitHub and Atlassian. Why It’s OK To Build A Lifestyle Business Poornima Vijayashanker: I'm going to have you hold that thought because we are going to talk about that in a little bit. Now, the other thing I want to point out because you said customers, but I think also bootstrapping with a pay check to get off the ground. A lot of times people are worried about quitting their job and having a source of income, so using that especially for businesses that a little bit more capital intensive early on. Want to throw that out there. I want to dive a little bit deeper into this whole idea of, “I do want to get investment eventually.” Let's say I have gotten to a point, maybe I've gone to an incubator or I've gotten it off the ground, I have some customers. Then there comes that period where you're talking to an investor and they may not really understand how big your idea is. It's oftentimes that thing that people nitpick over and over again that, is this a big idea? Is this a big market? Or sadly people like to say, it's a lifestyle business. There's a stigma here in Silicon Valley against that. Let's talk about what exactly defines a big idea—if we can even define it because I know it's a little amorphous—versus a lifestyle businesses and maybe even break that stigma of that lifestyle business. Erica Brescia: Sure. First I'll say I don't think there's anything wrong with a “lifestyle” business. There have been a lot of deals that we looked at. There was this one amazing woman, I won't name the company, but she came through my network actually. She developed some really interesting technology. It was my belief after talking to a lot of people that she's going to sell the company for somewhere between $30–50 million within two years. Awesome for her. Not a great VC investment? Why Venture Capitalist Don’t Invest In Lifestyle Businesses Poornima Vijayashanker: Why? Erica Brescia: Because we can't produce the kind of returns that we're looking for. We have LPs just like any other VC fund. We have a responsibility to them to generate returns. I told this woman I want to help her in any way I can. She's incredibly bright. I just couldn't see a path to them building a billion-dollar business. That's really what it needs to be. There needs to be a path that you can understand for how this can be huge. It's going to be very risky. I should say we always know that businesses are going to change and evolve and you're very much betting on the founders. That's absolutely true, but at the same time, if they have conviction around a specific idea and we don't see how it can get to be a huge business, and some of the great hardware companies we're looking at are like that. I think they will have fantastic businesses and fantastic exits. I certainly wouldn't call them lifestyle businesses because they're life changing in terms of the returns that they'll create for the founders. They may not be appropriate for a VC fund. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. You need to take a dispassionate look about what you're building, how big the market really is, how much of it you have an opportunity to grab, and be realistic about that. Then think about the kind of funding that makes sense. You might be able to find a family office or something or angel investors who are not looking for the same VC-style risk and returns. They'll be totally happy with the company selling for $10, $20, $30 million. In a couple years, they'll double their money and everybody's fine. Where Do Venture Capitalist And Angel Investors Get Money To Fund Startups Poornima Vijayashanker: On that note, let's actually define what an LP is and why VC versus angels that people understand if they're not familiar. Erica Brescia: Sure. An LP is limited partner and they're the people that put money into the funds. They're often wealthy. They always have some money coming from somewhere. Often wealthy individuals, but depending on the fund, they might also be pension funds or endowments and things like that from universities or different trusts and things like that. Basically the people who put money into the hands of the venture capitalists who are the people who actually invest that money. In the case of angels, angels I think have evolved a lot. Now we have the super angels. Poornima Vijayashanker: We'll get into that in a future episode. I keep saying this, but it's gonna happen. It's gonna happen guys. Erica Brescia: I won't take us to off course then. There are a lot of different kinds of angels. I was an angel investor before joining XFactor. I mean, not at a huge scale, but I'd made a few investments myself. Poornima Vijayashanker: What's the scale? Erica Brescia: I was writing like $10,000 checks. Poornima Vijayashanker: Perfect. Erica Brescia: Smaller checks. Then there are people like—I'll take my father, who's one of my closest friends and heroes and has inspired me to do all of this. He built a brick and mortar contracting business that did quite well. He's been making tons of angel investments and all kinds of different things. Some tech, some very, very nontech. You have people like that. Then you have people like Eric Han for example. My company did raise a bit of angel funding primarily to get some really great folks involved with the company. Some of these people were like Eli Gillin, Eric Han. Eric Han was the CTO of Netscape. He went on to be a very early investor in Red Hat. Since then, has been one of the first checks into a ton of companies that have IPO'd. He was on the board of Red Hat after they IPO'd. Eli Gillin is running his own company now, but he started and sold a company to Twitter and ran a bunch of stuff there. These are people who have done well in their career, typically understand tech. They make a lot more investments than somebody like maybe me or my father who might've written a couple of checks a year. These people are doing several key deals a year, usually only investing their own funds. That's one of the big differences. They don't have LPs. It's their own money. They might be doing it more at scale. We call them usually professional angels or super angels. Poornima Vijayashanker: Business angels. Erica Brescia: Exactly. Who are making a lot of investments, but they don't have LPs to answer to. When Does It Make Sense To Approach An Investor With Your Startup Idea — First Know What You Are Going To Do With It! Poornima Vijayashanker: Great. Let's end with this question. When does it make sense then when you think you have this big idea, to approach an investor? I know you guys said early, but what is maybe too early and what's a reasonable early to get a meeting? Erica Brescia: It depends on what you need. Let's start with why do you need the money? That's the first question you should be asking yourself. Where is this money going to get you? You better have a good answer before you go talk to VCs. What milestone are you going to hit with this? Then the second question you should ask is, could I get it from anywhere other than VCs? Do I have friends and family who might want to just give me some money? Could I even take out a loan? Sometimes these other things make sense. There are a bunch of diverse opinions on this, but my view is you don't take VC unless you absolutely need it. Until it's holding you back from scaling. In the particular case of Bitnami, for example, we've primarily bootstrapped. We've only taken a million dollars in outside funding in total. I have over 70 employees in 12 countries. We're cash-flow positive. We've built quite a stable and steady business. We are starting to talk about potentially raising venture capital because we're launching this enterprise product that I mentioned before. That involves building out an entirely new part of the business. I can do that off of cash flow, but I'll probably go a lot slower and we see that there's a limited window of opportunity here. I think it really depends on your specific case and whether you can do it any other way. Or if there's an investor that you can feel or that you feel can add a lot of value. There are certain investors who might have a ton of experience in your space. Maybe they started an earlier company and exited it and are just itching for the chance to do it better now that the technology is evolved or what have you. If you find people like that, I think they can be really helpful to building the business. Otherwise, it's like, you should raise when you need to raise. If you feel like you could run out of money in the near future and not be able to actually execute on your plan. Yes There Is Such A Thing As Being Too Early To Fundraise For Your Startup And Yes It’s Inconsistent! Poornima Vijayashanker: Let's admit. There is a time that's too early. Erica Brescia: Oh yeah. There always is. It's funny. We funded a company that was quite early and quite a high evaluation. That's one of the deals I led actually. I knew the founder and he'd already built a successful company. Poornima Vijayashanker: There you go. Erica Brescia: You're much more willing then, almost eager, to get in because this is a male, female team. I happen to know the male better than the female. I told him I wanted into that deal because I think this guy has a ton of potential. Even though it was early, I would write him a check, but he's proven. That matters. Poornima Vijayashanker: Exactly. I think that's a big stigma, or rather a big misconception around who's getting a deal, who hasn't built a product yet, or it's not on the market. It's great that you mentioned that. I think for most other folks, they need to see something. They need to see product. They need to see at least a concierge-style minimal bible product or service, some cash flow, some customers. They really want to...those who don't have a track record need to step up their game and show a little bit more credibility. Questions Investors Ask Before They Take A Meeting Or Write A Check To A Startup Founder Erica Brescia: Yeah. The things I look at is, are they committed is the number one thing. Starting a company is hard and a lot of people underestimate how hard and how many sacrifices you make. You can do a whole episode on what's involved in that. Are they committed? Can they build a team? I look at that a lot. That's one thing where people who want to move to Silicon Valley who have no connections there, that's one of my questions. How are you going to find people and convince them in a highly competitive job market to join your team? If you can do that, it also speaks pretty highly of you and your ability to convince people and help them see the vision. Then can they build the product? Is it something that people will pay for? Those are the checklist items that I have. The more that you can demonstrate, the easier the time you're going to have with fundraising. If you can't prove that people will pay for your product, if you can't prove that people will use it, especially if you can't prove that you can build it, that's when we're going to have a lot of challenges getting to the next step. That's when I try to give people a clean “yes” or “no.” Sometimes it's like, “You're just not there yet. If you do these things, then I might be interested. I'm sorry. I need to see more before I can make the call.” Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. I think that's fair. Thank you so much Erica for sharing all this information with us today. Erica Brescia: Thank you for having me. Poornima Vijayashanker: That's it for today's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where we'll continue the conversation and talk about when it makes sense to transition from angel investment to seeking investment from venture capitalists and what you need to do in that interim period. Ciao for now. This episode of *Build* is brought to you by our sponsor Pivotal Tracker. Blog Post 2 Subject: When It Does And Doesn’t Make Sense To Fundraise For Your Startup Title: Startup Funding: When It Does And Doesn’t Make Sense To Fundraise For Your Startup Subtitle: Interview with Erica Brescia COO and Co-Founder of Bitnami and Investment Partner at XFactor Ventures Ready for more myth busting around startup funding? Let’s get to it then! Last week I shared a number of reasons you should share care fundraising whether you’re a founder or startup employee. Here’s they are again, and in the Build episode we talked about why it’s a bad idea to reach out to investors when you have an idea. This week we’re going to continue our theme and focus on what compels us to think we need to raise capital like competition heating up, the belief that the business will stop growing, or that the idea we’re pursuing isn’t really BIG enough. We’ll also be diving into the mechanics of investment talking about the nuances of an angel versus a venture capitalist, and why it’s important to look for investors that have knowledge of your marketing or industry. Erica Brescia is back to help us out with this episode. Erica the COO and co-founder of Bitnami. Erica has also recently joined XFactor Ventures as an investment partner. XFactor is an early-stage investment firm that's looking to fund female founders as well as mix-gendered teams. Erica is a founder and investor, and having sat on both sides of the table, she knows how to dispel fact from fiction! As you watch today’s episode you’ll learn: Why Erica and her partners at XFactor are putting their money where their mouth is and starting a fund to invest in female founders and mix-gendered teams What the XFactor investment partners and other angels look for versus venture capitalists, and how much they are willing to invest Why competitors will come and go, and you cannot let their actions intimidate you or direct your business goals Why only you as a founder, can decide when is the right time to raise for your business In the next two episodes we’ll explore handling all the rejections you receive from investors, how to motivate yourself to keep going, and what it’s going to take to get that first check! Listen to the episode on iTunes! You can listen to this episode of Build on iTunes. Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA. ## Startup Funding: When It Does And Doesn’t Make Sense To Fundraise For Your Startup Transcript Poornima Vijayashanker: Last time, we talked about how as a first-time founder, you don't necessarily need to immediately rush out and get investment to get your tech product off the ground. We discovered some alternate ways of funding your product development and company growth. If you missed that episode, I've included it in the link below this video. In today's episode, we're going to dive in a little bit deeper, and talk about when it makes sense to go out for that angel investment, and then how do you transition from getting capital from angels to eventually getting it from venture capitalists, and what you need to do in the interim to make sure you're growing your company. So stick around. Welcome to *Build*, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I'm your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. In each episode, I invite innovators, and together we debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. What Compels Startup Founders To Fundraise One myth a lot of founders fall prey to is the need to constantly fundraise. They're worried that if they don't, their competition is going to swoop right in and outpace them. Or their business is just going to stop growing, and even worse than that, people might not think that they are actually onto a big idea. To debunk these myths and more, I've invited Erica Brescia, who is the COO and co-founder of Bitnami. Erica has also recently joined XFactor as an investment partner. For those of you who aren't familiar, XFactor is an early-stage investment firm that's looking to invest in female founders and mixed-gender teams. Thanks again for joining us. Erica Brescia: Thanks for having me! Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah! I know we talked a little bit in the last segment, but let's just quickly do a refresher, tell us a little bit about your background and what you do at Bitnami. Erica Brescia: Sure. Bitnami automates the packaging and maintenance process for server software for containerized, cloud, and behind-the-firewall deployments. We're most known right now for the Bitnami Application Catalog, which contains over 150 different pieces of server software, ranging from business schools, like content management systems, more project management systems, to development tools like GitLab and Jenkins for building out your development processes and pipeline, to stacks of things for building applications, like Node, or Rails, or Django. We work with all of the major cloud providers, and have over a million deployments a month of the apps we package across all the platforms that we support. Poornima Vijayashanker: Awesome. In addition to Bitnami, you recently joined XFactor as an investment partner. Erica Brescia: I did, yes. The Difference Between Angel Investors And Venture Capitalists Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah! We talked a little bit about that last time, and I want to pick up the conversation from our last time and dive a little bit more into not only what does XFactor do, but this whole position between angels and venture capitalists. How do you guys think of XFactor? Are you considering yourselves as angels or VCs? Would it help to start with defining angels and VCs? Erica Brescia: Sure. I mean, I tend to think of angels as primarily investing their own capital, and VCs are investing other people's capital. We all actually have our own funds in the fund as well, so we're LPs in addition to being the investment partners. Poornima Vijayashanker: What does that mean? Erica Brescia: That means that we're the people who put money into the fund, as the limited partners, who just put money in the fund, and then they step away, and they entrust, basically, the team of investment partners to invest that capital in companies that will produce ventures that yield returns. Poornima Vijayashanker: Where is that money coming from? Is that your own hard-earned money, or is that from somewhere else? Erica Brescia: In the case of the LPs for the XFactor fund, it's from a range of different people. Some of them have just been very successful in business. Some may be managing endowments or trusts, or other investment vehicles, and they invest both in the stock market and in VC and angel funds as part of their diversification strategy. Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. I think some of you have also contributed personal funds, right? Erica Brescia: Yes. We have put our own funds into the plan as well. Poornima Vijayashanker: That's important to note. Yeah. Erica Brescia: You've got to put your money where your mouth is, right? Poornima Vijayashanker: Great! No, I certainly appreciate you guys doing that. Erica Brescia: Plus, honestly, I think we're going to make money off of it! So why would you not do that? Poornima Vijayashanker: Exactly! Erica Brescia: That is the whole point. Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. You guys are operating a little bit like angels, but a little bit like VCs as well, but let's dive into more of a traditional VC model. What does that look like? What Seed Stage Investors Are Really Looking For And The Size Of Check They Write Erica Brescia: Sure. The distinction there is interesting, because I would say there's seed-stage financing, which a lot of people think of as coming from angels a lot, but VC funds do as well. Those are typically much smaller rounds and much earlier stage. The company probably has something built, probably has some users, probably can show some traction, but they're usually not raising huge amounts of money, at least not by Silicon Valley standards, which are different than the rest of the world. Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Let's get some ranges. Because I know some seeds can get crazy. Erica Brescia: Huge. Yes. Poornima Vijayashanker: So let's do a more middle-of-the-road seed. What would that look like? Erica Brescia: These days, I would say they're usually between $500K and $2 million. I know that's a wide range, sometimes it's smaller, sometimes it's bigger, but the fundraisings that we're participating in are usually somewhere around there. We have had some companies raise significantly more than that, and we've almost gone in more at like a Series A stage. But typically you're raising $1 million or $2million to get your idea off the ground and show a little bit more traction, before you go and raise at a Series A. Those used to be maybe $2 or $3 million. Now, most of the time, you're looking at maybe $6, $7, even $10 or $15 million as a Series A, which we certainly see in the cloud and container space in particular, which is where I'm focused with Bitnami. Poornima Vijayashanker: OK. That makes sense. Now, I'm not going to dive into microfunds and syndicates, and all that stuff. We're going to do that in a later episode. But let's go back to you, and let's talk a little bit about how you initially funded Bitnami. How To Initially Fund Your Startup When You Cannot Attract Investment Erica Brescia: Customers. Poornima Vijayashanker: Customers! Erica Brescia: We sold stuff. Yeah. Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. When was this, by the way? Erica Brescia: We started with a company called BitRock over 10 years ago, and BitRock built some really interesting technology around application packaging and deployment, which has become the foundation of Bitnami. We're very unique, I would say, for a Silicon Valley company. We developed a package software product. We sold it to customers, and we generated money that way. Then we started providing a subscription service to a lot of software companies that needed us to build, we called them "stacks" of software, so their products could be installed and distributed very easily, and we worked with a lot of the biggest names in open source, in those days. So we had that money coming in— Poornima Vijayashanker: If you don't mind sharing, how big were some of those contracts? Erica Brescia: They were in the tens of thousands of dollars a year. So reasonably sized, but we now, in retrospect, we charged far too little. But that's one of the lessons that you learn as a founder, you're always underpricing yourself in the early days. So we did that, and built up the company that way. Then we decided to evolve into Bitnami. We went through Y Combinator in 2013— Poornima Vijayashanker: So before you did that, you actually had revenue coming in? Erica Brescia: Yes. Poornima Vijayashanker: Give us a range of how big you were at that size? Erica Brescia: We had 12 people, and seven figures in revenue, when we— Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh! That's fabulous! Erica Brescia: —went through Y Combinator. Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. OK. So why even bother going to— Erica Brescia: That's a great question! It was a subject of much debate, but again, interesting story, I suppose. My co-founder's wife had gone through Y Combinator with her own company, and had a great experience with it. And we knew that we wanted to send the company on a different trajectory— Poornima Vijayashanker: Which was? Erica Brescia: Growth. Poornima Vijayashanker: OK. OK! Erica Brescia: We wanted to build a huge business, and the model that we'd had previously was really what we talked in the last episode about, more of a lifestyle business. Right? We built a solid business, but that's not what we were there to do. We wanted to build a huge and very meaningful company. And we felt like Y Combinator was the right way to do that. It gave us a lot of focus, and helped us make some interesting and difficult decisions. It also helped us a lot with hiring in the early days, and bringing more folks to the team. We've been on a pretty healthy trajectory since then. Over 75 people. I don't give out revenue numbers, but we're profitable and growing, and doing well. All of that money, except for a million dollars, which we still have sitting in the bank, has come in through customers. And that million dollars we raised after going through Y Combinator. We brought in some angel investors whom we really liked, for different reasons. Some of them have a lot of experience in building companies, specifically in our space, and we felt like they could help us a lot with that. A couple of them are VCs who invested personally in us, because we didn't want to raise a VC fund, and a few were overseas venture investors, but they make seed stage investments. One from Japan, and one from China. And that was purely because we plan on going into those markets, and we thought it would make sense to have some people over there with a vested interest in our success. Y Combinator served as a good catalyst to bring that round together- Poornima Vijayashanker: How big was that round? Erica Brescia: It was just a million dollars? Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh! OK. But you were already in the seven-figure revenue at that point, when you raised that million. Erica Brescia: Exactly. Poornima Vijayashanker: OK. Erica Brescia: And that money is still sitting in the bank, and we've added a healthy amount to it, and— Poornima Vijayashanker: That was what year? Erica Brescia: 2013. Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh! It's been a while. It's been four years. Erica Brescia: Yep. Poornima Vijayashanker: Now, interestingly enough, you have that million, you're raising revenue, and you had grown without a lot of outside capital. I mean, you were already growing, so in that span of time, weren't you afraid that some competitor was just going to swoop right in and go out and raise $10 million or $100 million dollars, and put you out of business? Don’t Let Competitors Intimidate You Into Fundraising For Your Startup Erica Brescia: What's actually funny about that question is we had a bunch of competitors do that, and they all went out of business.. Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh, OK! Yeah! Erica Brescia: OK! Some spectacularly so. One raised $40 million, had huge names. One of the people on their board tried to come and intimidate me, and say I could never compete with—it was actually a woman running that company, too. But I won't name her, because that's not good for anyone. Yeah. We had a lot of companies come and raise money, but the model wasn't there yet. And that's why we didn't raise, either, right? There's a time, and we talked about this in the last episode. It's my belief that in most cases, you're better off raising when you have product-market fit. We had that at small scale, but we hadn't found what was really going to fuel exceptional growth of the company. It took us a while to get there, and a bunch of other companies tried to come in and do that, and they all went bust. I mean, there is a time and place when I think it does make sense, and when you do have to worry about competitors, because the truth is, once a big name competitor raises a big round, it's really hard to get anyone else to invest in you. I think Docker's a pretty good example of that in my space, right? They have tons of money. Nobody's going to invest in another container startup. Why would you do that? It doesn't make sense for investors. It is something to consider, but I think a lot of people spend way too much time worrying about their competitors, and not enough time worrying about their own business. Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Or their customers. Erica Brescia: Yeah! Or their customers. Exactly. So, yeah, that matters, but you need to do what's right for you, and what's right for what you want out of your life and your business. You should ask yourself those questions. Taking on VC is taking on a lot of additional responsibility, too— What Kind Of Return Venture Capitalists Look For Poornima Vijayashanker: Like what? Erica Brescia: Well, they're expecting a certain level of return, right? A $100 million exit is not something a VS wants, where it might be completely life changing for you, if you don't have venture capital in the company. If you're taking venture capital, you're committing to running the company for at least 5–10 years, providing they don't push you out, which happens sometimes, too, if you're not doing things the way they want. You're committing to managing a board, with outside parties who are going to have sometimes divergent interests from you. It could even be the case that the fund cycles are usually 10 years, and they have to return the capital to their limited partners, which we talked about earlier. They might need to get out, and want to push you to sell when you don't want to. They might want you to sell to somebody you don't want to. There are a lot of great things that come from venture capital, if you partner with the right people. Obviously, you get the capital you need to fuel the growth of your business, and that can be incredibly important, especially to support go-to-market activities, or SaaS business models, where customer acquisition costs might be high, but the LTV is huge. There are reasons to take money. I'm not against that. But you also need to understand what you're signing up for, and what it really means, and that there may be an alternative path for you if that's not the path that makes the sense for you. If you don't want to run this company for 5–10 years, and you don't expect to sell it for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars, don't take venture capital. Startups That Focused On Growing Their Business First Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Some folks in our audience might be thinking, "Erica, that's fabulous for you and Bitnami, and all of the success, but I could never do that. I couldn't just sit and wait for my business to grow organically." Are there other examples of companies here in the Valley, that you're familiar with, who have done a similar approach? I know I can think of a couple, but I'm curious— Erica Brescia: Absolutely! Well, Atlassian, they're in the Valley now, but they came from Australia, and that's a spectacular story. They really couldn't raise, because they were in Australia, and especially back then, the VC climate in Australia was almost nonexistent. They raised very late, and a lot of it was secondary to the employees, and they've done spectacularly well. GitHub's another example. They raised very, very late in the process, in a very big round, and that gave them a lot of flexibility to do other things. We've seen that happen a lot. It really depends. Again, I think, going back to what I said before about product-market fit. It's my view that the best time to raise is when you just need fuel for the engine. You already know how the engine works, and it's already built, and the machine is there, and you know, "If I put X in, I'm going to get Y out." Right? That's when you can really take advantage of venture capital, and that's when it can really make a difference. I'm not saying take a long time to build your company like I did. I would certainly do a lot of things differently this time around, but a lot of it just has to do with where the business is, and what the capital's going to be used for. Poornima Vijayashanker: It's been a four-year period, right? Where you haven't taken outside investment. You took the initial million. But in that period of time, how has not taking capital, or not thinking about fundraising, how has that helped you and Bitnami? Erica Brescia: Well, several ways. I think the most important thing is focus. Not having $10 or $20 or $50 million in the bank makes you focus on what's really going to move the business forward. It's really easy, and I have seen this countless times with companies that I will not name. They raise a ton of money, and they go out and hire a ton of people, and everything falls apart. Because humans are humans, right? These are not just cogs in the machine, especially when you're trying to build a breakthrough or game-changing product. You need incredibly smart people. They're going to have strong personalities. They're going to have past experiences from other companies. And you need to be able to get those people to work well together. So many startups have failed in doing that, and it's led to their own demise, or at least slowed them down a lot, and really burned a lot of bridges with fantastic employees. I'd say it's allowed us to build out the infrastructure to responsibly scale the team, and it's helped us to focus, again, on making the right investments in terms of where we're spending our time. It's also great for negotiating business deals, I will tell you. That doesn't come up a lot— How To Compel Customers To Do Business With Your Startup Poornima Vijayashanker: How so? Erica Brescia: I was in meetings, even earlier this week, and these are quite big, multimillion-dollar-a-year deals, and they were asking some questions about what the business model looked like, and I could look at these people with a straight face and say like, "Look, we're not VC backed. My company needs to make money. You want me to be around. This needs to make sense for us, financially." That drives a lot of my decision making. I'm very, very involved in the corporate and business development stuff that we do. I need to do deals that make sense for my business. For some reason, it's a lot easier for people to get their heads around that when you don't have venture capital, which is kind of a funny thing, right? Poornima Vijayashanker: Well, people understand where you're coming from, and what resources you have at that level. Erica Brescia: Yeah! I'm not BSing them. "I have to pay people, and you're going to get a lot of value out of this, and you need to pay me, and I'm not going to do it on a bet that the relationship itself is going to benefit me enough, because that wouldn't be responsible business." That's what I go to all the time. It's not responsible business, you're not doing it. I think being bootstrapped and funding through customers really helps you think through that and make very good business decisions. We say no to all kinds of things, too. And I think that's easier, as a result of that. The one other aspect I'd say is, we don't have to manage investors. It takes a lot of time to build investor relationships, which I do do that anyway, because we may raise in the future. But also just to raise funding, to go through the diligence process, and then to manage a board of directors that involves VCs, again, who might have competing priorities, or other things going on. Again, we don't get some of the pixie dust you might get if you're VC funded, and sometimes we have to have interesting conversations with procurement departments, and show them our financials, to prove that we've got a great business, and that they can feel comfortable working with us, but it saves a lot of time and overhead. Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, that's interesting. So you feel, because you're in the B2B space, the enterprise space, some companies may feel like, "Oh, you're not VC backed, so you might go out of business sooner." But what you're saying is, "Actually, we've got customers. We're going to stick around because we've got real revenues coming in, so no need to worry about this." Erica Brescia: Yeah. And I can point to, we do business with Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, Google. All these big companies. It's gotten a lot easier, now. Poornima Vijayashanker: Right. You've got the credibility. Erica Brescia: Exactly. And we've got a track record. We've not just been around for a year, and we have an established team of senior people, and we've proven that we can execute, and we can deliver. And what often happens is we'll start with a smaller relationship, and it grows over time. After you get your foot in the door, what they care about is do you deliver on your commitments, not whether or not you have a VC in the company. Keeping Your Options Open When It Comes To Investment Poornima Vijayashanker: Awesome. Now, I know you said, "Never say never." So you are thinking about capital, and then your future. How are you thinking about attracting that VC capital? Erica Brescia: Let me be clear: we haven't decided to raise capital, but it's a discussion that we're having currently between my CFO, my co-founder, me, and some of the other people on the executive team, because we're launching this new enterprise business. We're incredibly lean as a company right now. I told you we have in the mid-70s in terms of employees. Over 50 of those are in engineering and product. So the business team is quite lean, and we have very, very little sales on the sales side. Building on an enterprise business means I need a whole new go-to-market plan that involves field people, inside sales, solutions architects, and support people, and a bunch of other folks. Account executives, all these things. That's very capital intensive to build. We can do it off of cash flow, actually. We're in that fortunate position, but at the same time, we might grow a little bit more slowly, and especially hire more slowly, than we would if we had, say, $15 or $20 million in the bank. So we're starting to think through the tradeoffs, and what might make sense there. I've been in the Valley now long enough, I know a lot of VCs. There's several whom I like and respect quite a bit, and I still develop relationships with them, and we talk about the industry in general, and Bitnami, and where we're going. I think it's a little bit different than a company that's just coming out of nowhere. We have people who know us, who know the business, who have said that they're interested. So when the time comes, it's more of a matter of sitting down with people who are already friendly and interested in the company, and talking through what makes the most sense. Poornima Vijayashanker: It's a partnership. Erica Brescia: Mm-hmm, absolutely. Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing your experience with us today, Erica. I know our audience is going to get a lot out of this episode. Erica Brescia: Thank you so much! Poornima Vijayashanker: That's it for today's episode of *Build*. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode, where we'll dive in deeper with some of Erica's co-investors and explore more topics around funding your startup. Ciao for now! Voiceover: This episode of *Build*is brought to you by our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.