• Posts

    How to Network to Startup Investors

    Tonight I hosted an impromptu AMA on Twitter, and I was surprised by how many people asked about how to network to startup investors. The question itself isn’t surprising, but when I responded with “get introductions via their current portfolio founders, or do some good old fashioned networking to get there” the reply was “on what platform?”

    Oh boy.

    Platforms have adverse selection. They say, “I am too lazy to actually network!”

    AngelList and LinkedIn have this problem, and when investors are looking for the top 1% you better believe they don’t have fleshed out profiles on these platform a lot of time. And so what if they are there, they’re already picked over. Is this true? No. But it is how investors think.

    If you are a founder who wants to get in touch with investors I would take two approaches, and do them simulatenously.

    1. Just cold email / call them. I mean, why not? You’re going to have to sell something to someone, someday. Why not start here? And if you are seriously thinking the lack of contact information is the barrier you are one lazy motherfucker and should not be funded.

    2. Network your way there. Draw a map on a piece of paper of each person you want to get to, and identify with your email, alumni network, friends and family, facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc. how to get to them. It might not be just 1 degree of separation. I have people several degrees away from me that I have been working on for 5 years. This is the game, and if you are a founder (and particularly CEOs) get ready to play. At each meeting, your goal is to sell why you should meet with the next person in the chain. Along the way, you need to be charming, interesting, add value for the person you are currently talking to, and maintain that relationship so that when you finally do get to the person who was your target your reputation is impeccable.

    TRUTH: Fundraising is hard because 99% of people are not willing to do #2. This is how we got connected to Brad Feld, who lead our Series A. A warm introduction via Rand Fishkin of Moz. I had tried the cold angle on Brad and kept following up for 6 months until we finally got the warm connection. Remember, do #1 and #2 simultaneously.

    DARE: Drink a whisky right now and email that investor you admire most and have up on some pedestal with the best one liner of your life. That’s what I did when we had just $150K left in the bank, and he came through.



  • Posts

    Monica for CEO

    A fictional scene from the hours leading up to the emergency board meeting held by Raviga Capital that we weren’t allowed to see, during the HBO Silicon Valley finale.

    Season 3; Episode 1: “Monica for CEO” — with a new look and new found confidence, there are going to be leadership changes at Pied Piper.

    “But how can you do this to Richard? Especially after all he’s just been through!” Monica exploded, leaning back against the jagged brick and taking a long drag from her cigarette.

    “Monica, the choices you are making don’t make sense to me. I propose we go inside and my assistant will get you a bottle of VOSS, and we can talk this through rationally,” sighed Laurie, as she internally categorized and ranked the damage she was doing to her home life and personal sanity by having a conversation like this in such an ugly setting, so late at night.

    Grinding out the half-finished Davidoff under the heel of her flats, Monica ducked her head deferentially and headed inside. As she entered the office again she stopped suddenly, so suddenly that Laurie collided into her back. “Monica!” she gasped.

    “I know what we need to do to make this work,” the associate turned to her boss, eyes determined and a bit glassy with ambition. “I’ll take over as interim CEO and make sure we don’t lose the team. They trust me, and Richard trusts me… we can get through this.”

    The two women stood for a moment in the silence of the empty office, looking at each other without really seeing. Another minute, Laurie mused, and she would have broken the agreement she made with Peter for the first time in 10 years. Well it was too late now she thought, looking her young rival up and down with a mix of disdain and admiration.

    “Okay. We’ll try it for a period of 90 days, during which I will actively recruit a permanent replacement for Richard Hendricks. His leadership is veritably non-existant and I simply can not tolerate his presence, so please keep him out of my sight during the transition.”

    Monica held her tongue, it would be easier to just let things lie for now until she could sneak back into Erlich’s house and do some damage control.

    “Thanks Mom.”

  • Posts

    What I’d Like to Stop Doing in 2015

    I really do love New Years. Reflecting on life and setting goals to make it better definitely feels like a process worth celebrating, and since my professional life began 10 years ago I’ve really enjoyed spending some of my time off in December preparing for the year ahead. I’d layered in a lot of goals over the years like getting up early, prioritizing self-care (nails, hair, skin etc.), and writing a TON more. This year, I will continue on the journey for self control and my focus will be on stripping away things that aren’t working for me anymore. I’ve chosen three things I will do a lot less of in 2015.


    Public Speaking — unless it is in panel or Q&A format. It stresses me out, I don’t think I’m really good at it, and I feel guilty about the amount of time it takes to prepare and write a talk (which usually means I just don’t do it, which brings the stress).

    Drinking Alcohol — it’s pretty amazing that I’ve gained 40 pounds since I started running my own company 3 years ago. It’s time to turn this around, and the first thing that has to go is alcohol. Drinking socially, or to cope with stress (e.g. “I need a glass of wine to wind down”) has to be replaced with walks, yoga, reading etc. if I want to get back my normal weight.

    Traveling for Business — messing up my sleep schedule for business travel is the biggest productivity and health killer in my life, and often I find that the trips I book aren’t nearly valuable enough to justify it. In 2015 I will spend a lot of time in New York and Boulder, but when I do travel I will go for 1+ week at a time whenever possible, stay in an apartment with a real bed so I can feel like I actually live there, and make sure to set aside some time to actual walk around and enjoy the place I’m visiting.


    Obviously my work won’t make it possible for me to completely stop public speaking or business travel, but any activity along those lines will be highly intentional and I will prioritize long term health and happiness over the short-term sparkle of opportunity. I am also hiring people on my team who can share these burdens with me, who will enjoy them and use them to build their own careers.

    My online persona makes it sound like I don’t have much of a personal life, and that’s not exactly true — I just am pickier about the personal things I share as my inner life has become more developed. I look forward to sharing the New Year with my husband Kevin, my family and closest friends. In 2015 I’m sure I will travel somewhere warm and exotic, cook tons of amazing food, read a bunch of historical fiction and science fiction novels, finally furnish my roof deck and garden, celebrate as two of my favorite couples tie the knot, find a good reason to pop the bottle of Dom Perignon I’ve been saving, purge even more of my clothes and other clutter, and invent new things I haven’t even thought of yet.

    Becoming a better CEO, learning how to work with my new board of directors, adding 50 people to the Mattermark team, continuing on my quest for a sustainable business model for high quality data journalism (I always wanted to be a writer, it just never seemed to pay very well)… these are adventures I’m already in the middle of and they’ll consume most of my creative output in 2015.

    For the first time in 3 years I won’t be focused on fundraising! It’s to fully explain how wonderful that is, as my cofounder Andy puts, “for the first time in many years I’m working for a company where I’m confident it can’t go out of business this year”. A-fucking-men to that.

    So cheers to 2014, a wonderful year, and onward!

  • Posts

    Burn Rates Post & Second Seed Announcement Enter My Top 10 All Time Blog Posts List

    This year has been an interesting one for blogging, I’m writing a lot more drafts and publishing far fewer posts. I’ve adopted Medium as my main platform for what I’d consider to be my “professional” writing because the editing tools are superior to WordPress, and the writer’s experience being good leads me to draft more and feel excited to quickly jot down something and trust that the platform will help with distribution. I’ve been blogging lightly for my company but have handed off a lot of our professional brand voice to the talented Nick Frost, and he is hard at work building our community through blogging, email and social channels.


    My Top 10 All Time Blog Posts

    1. Is My Startup Burn Rate Normal?
    2. Zombie Startups
    3. Why I Won’t Be Using Betapunch for User Testing
    4. Solve the Problems Your Parents Have
    5. The $3B Exit Tumblr Could Have Had
    6. Mattermark Has Raised $2M in Our Second Seed Round
    7. I Don’t Do That Job Anymore
    8. Don’t Waste a Single Moment
    9. Zombie VCs
    10. The Y Combinator Index

    I don’t write with traffic in mind, but I do care about the reach of posts because it helps me understand what matters to my readership and what doesn’t. If I hit a nerve, I can quickly get above 10,000 visitors but for many posts a few thousands visitors is about right. There are things I want to quickly record or comment on. What I have been happy with these past two years is that the pieces I spent the most time on, and were the longest, actually did the best. I hope this means that I am learning to forge a stronger connection between my readers and my personal interests.

    I write because it makes me feel more human to share my experiences and get feedback. Not all that feedback is friendly, and I’m not always right, but I always gain new perspective and learn from the community. This is my little corner of the Internet, and the people worldwide who have read, shared, commented, submitted to Hacker News, discussed and digested my writing has now crossed 1 Million people. I’m proud of that, and I look forward to writing for myself and millions more for many years to come.

  • Posts

    Tweetstorms, Hashtags, and Why User-Invented “Features” Keep Me Long on Twitter

    Full Disclosure: I bought Twitter stock in the company’s IPO and I will not be selling it anytime soon.

    Each year around the holidays I head North to Washington State to hibernate for a few weeks with my parents at their house, reflect on what I’ve been doing with my life, read, gamble at the reservation casino, drink and snuggle by the fire. This past winter I decided, after a few glasses of wine, to drive my Twitter followers a little crazy. I had a lot of ideas I wanted to share, 140 characters weren’t enough to express what I wanted to say and I was too lazy to blog.

    Soon, Marc Andreessen and I crossed paths (he had just gotten active on Twitter)… and he started tweetstorming too!

    I got some positive feedback, and kept going:

    There were questions of ettiquette for kicking off a new tweetstorm:

    And some tweetstorms inspired response storms, which was really cool:

    Other cool things happened, including talking to the Twitter team about their timelines feature (something you can only use through the API right now)…

    And other things… mostly just new friendships started and great conversations…

    It even resulted in an offer to turn one tweetstorm into a book (TBD)!

    I am pretty sure I did *not* invent tweetstorming (it actually has a different meaning, primarily used by activists in the past to harass brands online) but the tweetstorm — much like the hashtag, which was created by my friend Chris — is why Twitter is awesome.

    On Twitter, users figure out the features and the interface for their conversations.

  • Posts

    Introducing Mattermark, the Deal Intelligence Company

    The year we suspended disbelief long enough to find a frighteningly ambitious startup idea. From “TechCrunch Killer” to “Bloomberg for Startups” and beyond…

    Part of my job as an early stage CEO is to protect my company from being put into a box too early. Leaving us unsorted makes investors, customers and even employees a bit uncomfortable. It’s human nature to categorize things, to crave the efficiency of communicating, “Mattermark is XYZ for ABC.” It feels safe and socially correct, intellectually digestible, rational. But those motivations aren’t what drive category defining innovation, and making decisions for the sake of ease is always a big red flag to me.

    Don’t get me wrong, there will be a time for having an extremely clear vision that we can lock in on, market against, hire against, build against. In fact, I think we might be very close to that moment of clarity. But before we go there, I’d like to share the journey of the past year after announcing the shutdown of our previous startup about a year ago on March 10, 2013.


    In March of 2013 my previous startup Referly was down to just 3 of us, after reaching a peak company size of 10 people. With $350K left of the $1 Million raised during Y Combinator, we had enough money to get another project off the ground. Kevin, Andy and I cut our salaries to nothing and headed to my parent’s house in Washington State for a couple weeks. We committed to nursing our pride, reading books, drinking wine, cooking, reconnecting as friends and thinking about to do next outside the fishbowl of Silicon Valley.

    I was still a little pissed off at Paul Graham, who months earlier had said:

    “You’re just too plausible. It’s as if someone was writing a sitcom about startups and you needed a believable idea.”

    Every time I reflected on this conversation I would get pissed off all over again, but in a state of defeat it seemed reasonable to ask myself the previously forbidden question, “what if PG was right?”

    If PG is right, I reasoned, then I need to stop doing such plausible things.

    Moving to Seattle — We could have stopped here.

    Before Mattermark, There Was Cursive

    “Mattermark Wasn’t a Pivot”, but before there was Mattermark we almost did pivot the existing technology of Referly into a different idea, which we code named Cursive. It was clear the posts I’d been doing about startups were the biggest drivers of traffic for Referly, and we had a beautiful custom CMS. Medium and Svbtle were still much earlier in their growth curves, and appeared to validate the model so I thought maybe I would start blogging prolifically on my own platform and then invite others to join me, like a community-written TechCrunch.

    I shared this with PG during office hours and he said something like:

    “If you’re shutting down Referly why not start over with something completely different? If you want to kill TechCrunch then do that.”

    Having some direction was exciting, but I also felt the foreboding sense that running a media company had the potential to be a soul sucking grind, with little software innovation and even less margin as a business. I’d have to really love the day-to-day to make it my startup. To test the waters I went on a mission to publish at least one post every day, for 30 days. 3 that stick out in my memory:

    1. On April 3rd I ranked the growth of Andreessen Horowitz’s portfolio companies and Marc Andreessen emailed me along with several General Partners, saying: Thanks Danielle! We should do this ourselves :-).
    2. On April 5th I published “Zombie VCs” using Crunchbase data to generate a list of firms who appeared to be inactive. This post electricified the VC industry and business media for a full week, intriguing and infuriating investors while revealing the lack of publicly available data. Awash in corrections and new relationships after hundreds of calls and emails, we’d found something important.
    3. A scoop on Tumblr’s revenue shortly before the Yahoo acquisition earned a link from Kara Swisher, outreach from someone at the WSJ about a potential job, and a meeting with Michael Arrington. I’ll never forget, Michael sat down looking very grumpy and read the entire 1,200 word piece in silence before looking up to proclaim, “you can write”. I just laughed out loud, my blogger hero just said I could write! Holy shit.

    At first I imagined building a “TechCrunch-killer” media business. I imagined a future where I would write about under-appreciated startups, analyze deals, and report on the dynamics of Silicon Valley and other startup ecosystems worldwide. I estimated TechCrunch made ~$20M in revenue a year, and that the bulk of this came from events. Much like the early days of Twilio, I rationalized the small market by telling myself the writing would initially appeal to hobbyists but that we could build a broader appeal from there, and learn as we went. We’d find a bigger market somewhere.

    Building a tech startup oriented media company was a much narrower vision than Referly (my previous startup), where I felt we never settled on a single crisp sentence to describe ourselves. After more than a month adrift the clarity of focus in our new direction was appealing and 90 posts later my personal blog was squarely in Alexa’s top 10,000 websites, comments and emails of appreciation had started coming in, and we were even getting tips and sources for more original reporting.

    We could have stopped there.

    Fun lifestyle business, but what about building a software scale company?

    The Research Lab

    Byproducts of work are a gold mine. In the process of writing articles I created hundreds of spreadsheets to research markets, compare companies, and come up with unique angles. I published raw spreadsheets in many of my posts, and received a lot of requests to download them. As programmers, we were inspired by things we had heard about BuzzFeed’s assignment desk technology. We don’t know exactly how it worked, but the idea that they had built tools and processes to detect the most buzzworthy topics at any given time across the web was fascinating. We imagined we might do the same thing, but with a focus narrowed in on tech companies.

    To do this, we knew we need to detect buzz about companies and spreadsheets weren’t going be enough. We compiled all our spreadsheets into a database, wired it up to a super-simple javascript table plugin and showed it to our investors. Not everyone got why this was so powerful, but for the handful of people who did the excitement was palpable, “can we use this right now?” they asked. We didn’t even have a login system, it was just an HTACCESS username and password on the project we called Cursive.

    They told us about the money they spent commissioning custom research from GLG consultations, 451 Research Group and other expensive resources. They showed us their own spreadsheets and internal apps. They asked us if we’d consider coming on board full time to build an internal research team and make investments based on our data and methodology.

    We could have stopped there.

    If this data is so valuable, and you really have a unique angle, why aren’t you investing with it?

    The Venture Capital Firm

    Once it was clear we would add significant value and differentiation to someone else’s VC firm, the logical next step was to consider starting one ourselves. Could we raise 10, 20 or even 50 Million to test out various data-driven approaches to investing in startups? We spoke with several established investment professionals who could have come on board to help us run the thing, and it seemed promising. But we knew if we decided to run a fund we would not be able to be objective, share all our data and views as openly, or remain a trusted source charging people for our research.

    I knew if I became a VC I wouldn’t be satisfied with small checks and a small role in the lives of my investments. I’d want to lead deals and dedicate the next 10+ years of my life to becoming part of the top 10%, both in results and in value add. Wait! My subconscious screamed.

    We could have stopped there.

    Are we going to be satisfied building software for a dozen people?

    Bloomberg for Startup Investors

    Through April and May of 2013, and could feel some sort of groundswell thinking around “Quantitative VC” which saw various firms positioning themselves based on their sourcing and research tools. Google Ventures, Greylock, Correlation Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia were widely known to have some kind of data-driven aspect to their operations, although no one shared any details.

    Leena Rao’s trend-piece in TechCrunch on June 1st was the moment things began to come clear. It was like someone started the play clock, and I wasn’t even through reading the piece before I started drafting an email to pitch Mattermark to her. I remember it was a Friday, and so we went out for our launch on a Monday — moving into our new shared apartment, sick as a dog, after coding furiously for 48 hours to productize the damn thing.

    We made people sign up on a wait list, because we hadn’t really optimized anything. It was ugly. It was slow. But it was the start of relieving pain for a set of customers who had been neglected for far too long. In the next three weeks I’d spent more time in Menlo Park than I ever had in my life, cruising up and down Sand Hill Road meeting with partnership after partnership. Except this time there was no pitch, there was no angle other than: let me show you this thing we made, let me teach you how to use it. I scribbled more than 100 pages of furiously scrawled notes.

    I didn’t truly know what customer development meant before these four intense weeks. I thought I had done it with Referly, but I realized had been lazy and unfocused by comparison.

    A few short weeks after launch, Union Square Ventures became our first paying customer and Albert Wenger penned a post endorsing our product to the community of investors and we were off to the racing signing up VCs.

    We could have stopped there.

    The Deal Intelligence Company

    Our customers are venture capitalists, so they think like VCs and often ask:

    But isn’t venture capital a small market?

    Yes, and we love it! Small is a relative term. The NVCA says there were 462 “active” VC firms in the US in 2010, and when you include all firms who have raised money since 2002 that number climbs to 791. Using the AngelList API, we found 6,961 users with the word “Partner” in their bio.Based on Mattermark’s pricing of $499/month per user, or $50,000/year per firm, the annual revenue opportunity for this initial market is somewhere in the $20M — $40M range.

    As a founder who is getting these initial customers to use her product and say “wow” on a regular basis, this is glorious! It’s not the swing-for-the-fences multi-billlion dollar sized market that venture capitalists are looking for, but when you’re not fundraising that doesn’t really matter.

    Let me repeat that: when you’re not fundraising, it doesn’t really matter whether your immediate customer base is swing-for-the-fences large.

    What a liberating realization!

    This knowledge, combined with our wonderful seed investors and very healthy annual revenue growth (averaging 40% MoM since we started charging in July 2013) bought us time to explore adjacent market spaces to our initial set of customers. The wonderful thing about speaking frequently to happy customers is that they tell us all sorts of useful things about the world they live in, and as those relationships deepen we have opportunities to continue solving more and more of their problems.

    Once we began to demonstrate that we could build quickly and be responsive to feedback and feature requests, our customers started introducing us to their friends from adjacent social circles and professional ecosystems. It turned out these folks had similar problems Mattermark could solve, and this is how we discovered that Mattermark was useful for much more than venture capital deal sourcing.

    VCs hang out with angel investors, investment banks, limited partners, growth and private equity professionals, wealth managers, venture bankers and of course meet with hundreds of startup founders each week. As we began talking to all these constituents we learned more about their problems and it became clear Mattermark could be useful to each of these people in different ways, often with only very small improvements that also benefited all our existing customers.

    It’s funny looking back, because at first most of these requests were actually kind of annoying, and felt like one-off opportunities that were getting in the way of our existing product roadmap. It was tempting to brush them away as distractions and stay the course with our core product and core customer base, but on our mission to be “revenue first” this time (and also running on very little cash before our bridge round) we were easily persuaded by money. For example, even before we started charging for our SaaS product a customer offered to sign a $50,000 contract to build new functionality that was way down our list, but would ultimately be hugely beneficial to our customers as well as strategic to opening up future markets, so we built it.

    With our first taste of revenue it was only a matter of time (about 3 weeks) before we would begin charging for monthly subscriptions to the suite of Mattermark data and tools.

    What’s Next for Mattermark Deal Intelligence

    We’ve got a TON to learn, build, and do to reach our more broadly defined market of deal professionals — people who make a living by sheparding transactions for their organizations (investments, mergers, acquisition, partnerships, sales). Here’s one way to think about the ultimate size and scope of this opportunity:

    To do this, we are going to need build a lot of product (a great topic for another post, as this one has gotten huge) and will also grow our sales and business operations part of the company insanely over the next few years. 2014 is already off to a great start:

    • 10X growth of our annual run rate from July 2013 to February 2014
    • Moved out of the apartment and into a real office!
    • Team size increasing from 9 to 15 people by the end of March. Adding 2 full-stack developers, 2 sales ops, and 2 account executives
    • Current account executives are profitable and earning commission, closing more business than I did in my best month solo.
    • Formalized our sales process and organization, dividing out roles for outbound prospecting, inbound lead qualification, closers, and account management as recommended in “Predictable Revenue”
    • Added a full time account manager before $2M ARR, as recommended by SaaStr, to reduce revenue risk and scale customer success as we ramp
    • Defined sales territories by vertical industry focus (venture capital, private equity, corporate development, business development) with anchor customers won to prove out willingness to buy prior to bringing on an account executive

    I’ve never held a sales role or managed a sales team before, and learning how to run this part of the business over the past 9 months has been very rewarding. I have much more appreciation for the unique challenges and management of revenue goals than I ever could have before, and it seems to be working, too.

    We’ve grown revenue 10X in the past 8 months.

    With an awesome team on track to reach our next milestone of $2 Million in annual run rate it’s time to pass the torch and hire our VP of Sales.


    Email me at danielle@mattermark.com and let’s chat.

  • Posts

    My Fantasy VC Portfolio

    I build software to help venture capitalists source deals, here are the ones I wish I had done

    Over the past few years I’ve made a handful of personal angel investments in founders who I think are incredible, and I am proud to be a small part of InternMatch (Andrew and Nathan), Bitnami (Erica and Daniel), LE TOTE(Rakesh and Brett) and Estimote (Jakub, Lukasz and Rafal).

    I have two themes I am passionate about:

    1. Software Developer Productivity (Bitnami & Estimote)
    2. Actualizing Ourselves as “Grown Ups” (Internmatch and LE TOTE)

    Both themes come from my own experiences, as a software developer / developer marketing for Twilio and as a 20-something making my way from kid to adult. I’ve been fortunate to know the founders of these companies, and how I came to invest in each one is its own story for another time. 3 of the 4 are still pre Series A, and I am looking forward to watching them grow.

    There are many startups I wish I had invested in, whether they fit into these themes or not. Much respect to the folks who identified how awesome they are early and made a deal happen. Hindsight is 20/20 but many of these companies still have many funding rounds to go. As it stands, I’m a happy paying customer of several of them:

    RelateIQ — Best CRM I’ve ever used, hands down. I am a paying customer and it is actually starting to replace email for me as well (see me rant about how much I love them as far back as June 2013). Our entire company uses.

    Instacart — I’m healthier with fresh food, and use it several times a week. (Much love to my YC batchmates!) We use it both for personal and work.

    Uber — Love the experience, my latte budget is now my Uber budget. (Met these dudes getting the service set up with Twilio, in 2009?)

    Hired — These guys are just crushing it in recruiting, and we’re using them to find engineers at Mattermark. A friend found a sweet job through them.

    DigitalOcean — when developers love it, it has to be good (first made this call in June 2013). Simple cloud hosting is awesome.

    Product Hunt — well they don’t actually have any funding, yet. Ryan?

    Magisto — mobile video editing is hard, this is awesome and magical so I pay for it.

    It would be easy to just list all the fastest growing or biggest exits I’ve heard of, but that’s not really the point. Mark Suster wrote a post about the importance of falling in love with the founders as an investor — and in all these cases I’ve fallen in love with the experiences these products enable.

    Thanks to these companies for being awesome and useful, and hopefully I’ll catch you next time!

    Who would you put in your fantasy VC portfolio?

  • Posts

    Mattermark Wasn’t a Pivot

    We completely started over, here’s what happened.

    After shutting down our previous product I was depressed, disillusioned with consumer tech, and definitely had blood in my mouth. I took the huge chip on my shoulder on a mission: for 30 days I would write a post every day, starting with our own post-mortem.

    I wanted to talk about things no one else was saying in Silicon Valley, like which VCs were wasting founders’ time, or how much revenue Tumblr actually had leading up to being acquired by Yahoo. I scored a couple“scooplets” and seriously considered never going out in public again. Maybe I’d just sit in my apartment and write until my pageviews surpassed those of TechCrunch. Lots of attention, very little social pressure. In retrospect it was a pretty dark time.

    I read every single blog post Michael Arrington ever wrote. Whatever you think of Arrington, this guy is without a doubt the most important thing that has ever happened to media coverage of startups — because he made calls. He’d actually pick a company and say “I think this is going to big, here’s why”. And then he’d take other startups and tear them to shreds with public product feedback. It was so much more than a PR machine.

    Maybe I’d be the next Michael Arrington, I mused.

    In order to make calls, I realized that I needed to take a much broader view of startups. I needed to know about new products much earlier and I needed to be trying things out every day. If I wanted to say something was going to be big I needed to measure it and compare it to other companies… so I started making spreadsheets. Lots and lots of spreadsheets.

    At first they were completely manual. What was the Alexa rank of the company? How about Twitter followers? Facebook page likes? Did they have an app ranked in the App Store? What did Google trends think? To write a single story ranking just 100 companies it took me 20 hours to collect all the data I needed, and as soon as I collected it, it was stale again.

    These spreadsheets needed to be code.

    So we began to produce the spreadsheets at scale, and write crawlers, and consume APIs, and create processes to do quality assurance on the data. We had nothing else to do, we’d shut down Referly and weren’t paying ourselves until we launched something new. We had no idea what to launch.

    Eventually (and this is all happening in a super-compressed 8 week period from mid-March to mid-May of 2013) our investors asked us what we were up to. I think it was April.

    We drove down to Sand Hill Road and showed them our “story generator”. They asked if they could use it, we asked for a little bit more money so we could hire another engineer to help us. They said yes. Holy shit, we’re back!

    Our initial plan of attack was to work on the project, which we hadn’t even named yet, through the summer and launch it in September after VCs came back from their fabled month of vacation in August. But then Leena Rao published “The Quantitative VC”, and closed the article with:

    Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters have made multi-billion dollar businesses from charging premium prices to data-hungry public investors. With an increasing appetite for data on Sand Hill road, will the same happen in the VC world? For now, most VCs will continue to rely on what’s publicly available, perhaps until a clever startup packages something better.

    I emailed Leena about 10 seconds later, and we launched Mattermark after just 6 weeks of coding (and blogging). I pitched our launch story on Friday, to go live on a Monday. In the 48 hours in between we had to actually build a website other people could use, which was mostly just things like the signup and login flow, a settings page, a front page and some terms of service. Fortunately the app itself was stable and already being used heavily by a couple dozen people… but it was still a scramble.

    The reaction was far greater than I could ever have imagined, and it began to wake me up from that haze of not knowing what would come next. With a product to build and real customers to manage, my writing began to drop off. But with hundreds of requests for access I knew we needed to keep feeding the community growth and decided to launch an email newsletter to keep people engaged while we worked out the kinks.

    The pressure of blogging publicly had started to stress me out, so communicating with a semi-private focused audience was a welcome change. I wanted to challenge myself to keep producing content on schedule and what began as a weekly missive became a daily letter.

    In the process I’ve learned a lot about email marketing and building a community and I think any company looking to build long-term relationships with customers and the customer ecosystem should consider this strategy.

    So what about Mattermark today?

    Fast forward 8 months and we’ve built our newsletter readership to more than 10,000 subscribers. My dreams of being the next TechCrunch/Arrington have shifted toward building the best sourcing and research tools for investors, corporate dev, biz dev, sales and marketing professionals who are looking to do deals with startups.

    We are proud to have more than a hundred paying customers, and in October we reached ramen profitability. Since then we’ve plowed all our earnings back into building the business faster, and the team has grown from just us 3 cofounders to 9 fantastic people who I am grateful to have on board to achieve our mission of bringing visibility to startup dealmaking. We even moved out of our apartment to a real office a few weeks ago!

    This weekend I’m re-reading the 146 email newsletters I’ve written since we began, and reflecting on these early days of Mattermark because I can sense they will become a blur amidst the pace of growth ahead of us. Don’t get me wrong, it was painful and embarrassing to restart from nothing a year ago, but looking back now I am so happy we made the decision to pull the plug and try something else. Thank you to everyone who helped us along the way.

    On the evening of June 8th, eight months ago today, I penned my first email newsletter to a readership of 802 people. The email was Mattermark Weekly Issue #1 and if you’re curious, you can read it here. This weekend, I’m looking back.

    I look forward to publishing and iterating on Mattermark Daily for many years to come. Subscribe to my newsletter, written daily with love

  • Posts

    Measuring Startup & VC Performance – Everyday is Another Chance to Turn It All Around

    Today I wrote about some potential methods for benchmarking startup investors, and on a call with a client this afternoon I was asked how I handle the inevitable pushback from investors who aren’t in the top 10 of the list. This the same question I regularly face regarding our approach to assigning scores to startups and the pushback I receive there is similar. My answer right now is simple: this is not predictive.

    While this frustrating from a data science perspective, not to mention as an investor (who doesn’t want to predict the next Facebook or Twitter!?) it is heartening as a founder — because every day is another chance to turn it all around.

    When we look at metrics, whether they’re “soft” KPIs like web traffic or hard ones like cash flow, it is a reflection of the past. It might be an indicator of the future but we don’t have enough data to backtest and prove that yet. It takes much less energy to make something in motion go faster than does to get it started moving in the first place, so I think a company that has momentum this week is more likely to have momentum next week. Still the most I think we could predict right now is which startups will be competitive for their next round of funding.

    The future isn’t promised, in either the positive or negative sense. In financial advising and investing the phrase my Dad always reminded me of went like this: “past performance does not guarantee future results”. Nowhere is this more true than in startups. While we’re busy working on making our measurements, algorithms, and data collection a better reflection of each fund’s reality I hope investors are dropping notes to their companies with helpful value add to bring the bottom to the middle, the middle to the top, and the top to their ultimate outcomes.

    Danielle Morrill vanilla sky