So I’ve been going at this startup thing with GitLinks full time for 2 months now. I can definitely say that everyday is different and I’ve been facing things I never anticipated. Here are some thoughts for others that are thinking of starting a tech startup in NYC:
1. The admin stuff is crazy. I have a box filling up with envelopes from the federal government, the state, bills, credit cards, lawyers, etc. I just hope I’m staying out of trouble and preventing us from getting fined down the road. I have a lawyer, WilmerHale, who keeps me on track with some stuff and filed all of my incorporation stuff. However, the more questions I have for them, the more I have to pay, so I still spend lots of time researching on the internet. They do fortunately defer my lawyer fees until I raise a good amount of money. I use Gusto to do my payroll and they have a delightful user interface which makes payroll almost fun to do, and they handle all the stuff that I should be paying to stay out of trouble. For health insurance, we decided to just do it individually for now and used the health plan marketplace at https://nystateofhealth.ny.gov/. I recommend it for sure.
2. Raising money is brutally long. I was always told this but I didn’t really believe it. We came out of school on fire with everybody wanting to talk to us about our business. We felt as if we were getting meetings with venture capitalists that we weren’t supposed to be getting at our size/stage. I met with a new VC almost everyday for the first three weeks of business. Ask me how many we’ve closed…Zero. Even though these VCs claim that they are early stage pre-seed investors, it’s not really true. In the market we are in presently, nobody wants to invest unless you can show traction from multiple customers. But I’ve heard that that may be more of a NYC thing. The east coast seems to put more weight on achieving revenue than the west coast. So we are putting VCs on the backburner and are moving to seeking funding from Angels and Grants. We will focus on getting traction now and keep VCs in touch with our progress for future funding rounds.
3. The VC pitch was not what I thought it would be. I was prepped with a slide deck and presentation skills through Cornell Tech. While this was good for getting concise with my brand messaging, I have never opened up a pitch deck with a VC. We have always just sat in a room (or over the phone) and had a conversation. The first question is typically “tell me about how you discovered this problem”. I would start there and then things flowed into explaining who is on my team. Additionally, I always take the meeting as one guy, the CEO. I have done other meetings along with my co-founders, but we were doing so many meetings that my co-founders didn’t want to attend anymore. They preferred to work on the product. This is totally fine and at this point I get the same questions each time, so I don’t usually have a problem answering any of the technical questions. If you’ve wondered what it looks like to sit in the waiting room, waiting for your pitch meeting with a VC, that’s what the top picture on this post is.
4. Networking is amazing. I’m not a great networker in social events. I’m kind of the guy that walks around the fringes of the crowd and picks off lonely outliers. I also don’t like to just pitch all the time. I like to be interested in other people and try to find ways to help. But I have found the true value in networking lately, and I do it all by email. I’ll email well connected people for intros to other people and when I meet with those people I’ll ask for connections to other people. Not everyone I meet with will be an investor or a client but most connections to influential people have come through random conversations with interesting people that weren’t my target. I’m starting to build a decent network here in NYC and its seeming to snowball. I was using the trial version of Cloze.com to track all my contacts and it is pretty nice because they automate a lot of stuff, but I have to wait to get more money to invest in the Pro version.
5. Team is everything. My team has stuck through some tough things already. We formed together as a team because we believed we were different enough that we wouldn’t step on each other’s toes and we were focused enough to be able to work independently of each other. That seems to have been a good strategy. We have taken on interns and developers and we always know exactly who those people should report to because our roles have been so well defined. I personally prefer three co-founders because there is always a tie-breaker. Two of the co-founders will present their case for a strategic decision and the third will break the tie. It has worked up till this point.
6. Culture and doing things regularly are hard to implement. There are a few things that we have tried to keep going from the beginning. We wanted to do a weekly report to each other due on Monday stating what you did, what you’re going to do, and how you feel (illustrated through a GIF). Our CTO, Nicolas, is the only one diligently still following through with that. (But then again, it was his idea). I proposed that we just stick with sending out a GIF, but even that has proven hard for me. We also have plans to do something together as a team every other Thursday. It switches between game night and sprint night. For games, we usually play arcades, PS4, or board games. For sprints, we meet together around 5pm and declare what we will individually be working on for the next 5-6 hours. It can be something that you’ve been meaning to tackle but haven’t had the time to get to. We throw some music on and try to knock it out. Game night and sprint night are barely hanging on, but I hope it stays.
7. There is a lot of free space in NYC. Lots of companies are giving away free space to startups. If you are smart, you don’t have to pay for space and you don’t need to give away equity. We are working for 6 months at eBay. Friends of mine are working on their startup at Infor. AWS has free shared space for use that you don’t even have to ask for. And I believe AOL has free space for companies that are interesting to them. They may even give you money to work there. This seems to be a growing trend and I would definitely recommend it. Ebay is awesome and we get free food.
If you have questions about life at the beginning of a startup, send me an email(firstname.lastname@example.org) or write it in the comments. I’ll try to write a new blog post about it. I just recently had our fourth baby boy, so that is just some added fun, piled on top of starting a company in NYC.