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This Is What Investors Are Looking For in a Startup

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I’ve bumbled around the startup culture for the last decade, pursuing all sorts of ideas, some really stupid and others potentially brilliant. I’ve also sought funding quite a few times, only to hear pretty much every type of “no” in the business. 

However, after raising my very first seed round for Sqwiggle, I gained a much better perspective around why investors get up in the morning, what makes them tick, and most importantly, what attracts them to an idea. I am by no means an expert, but here are some things I’ve learned:

They must be excited about the space

Seek out investors who are interested in the space you’re working in. Follow them on Twitter and Quora and learn what gets them excited. Look them up on AngelList and research their past investments and connections. It’s all about finding investors that will understand the space you’re playing in and will be able to bring the most value to your company.

They rarely invest in ideas

Ideas are great, but they don’t get investors up in the morning. Investors want to know that you have the drive and scrappiness to actually create something. I wouldn’t even think about an investment without a working prototype that can demonstrate what you’re trying to accomplish. Bonus points if you actually have people using it. Double bonus points if they are paying you.

They want to see traction

With Sqwiggle, we were able to secure funding because we were able to show at least some market interest in the form of 40 paying companies.

Even small amounts of traction can help investors to feel more confident in the space and the product. It also shows your ability to hustle.

They invest in the team

Investors love solid teams. Background counts for a lot here but so does ability. Typically, the closer to the hustler, designer, developer dream team you are, the better.

They want someone they trust to vouch for you

An investors network is everything. If someone they know and trust tells them they should pay attention to you, almost nothing speaks louder. Don’t be afraid to ask for a friend for an intro. It’s super common and, as long as you’re polite, people are often happy to send an introduction if they find what you’re doing interesting.

When raising our round for Sqwiggle, we sent cold emails, engaged with influential people on Twitter, and reached out to pretty much everyone in our own personal networks. 

They love prior success

Nothing says more about a founder than having a successful startup under his or her belt. This basically puts a halo over your head and, while it doesn’t guarantee a successful raise, it is a huge indicator of potential future success.

So there you have it. I really hope this is helpful for any entrepreneurs who would like to raise funding but aren’t exactly sure how to grab the attention of investors.

Have any tips of your own? I’d love to hear them, share them in the comments section below!

Photo credit Simon Cunningham

Our Insanely Realistic Green Army Man Halloween Costumes

My wife and I decided to actually put some effort into our halloween costumes this year. After racking our brains trying to find something unique and fun, we finally settled on green army men. Our goal was to look as realistic as possible. I think we did a pretty good job!

Here’s one of the first shots of the night. We stopped by the party store and created a bit of a buzz!

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Of course I have to keep a good look out when we’re this close to the Tenderloin :)

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Afterwards we headed to a friend’s halloween party, just up the street. We decided to make a stand in the kitchen:

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Then it was off to the streets! Overall the reaction to our costumes were really positive. Lots of people wanted to stop and take photos which was fun but a lot of work since it actually took some time to strike a decent pose.

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So that’s our DIY green army man costumes. If there’s enough interest I might post a how-to. It definitely wasn’t easy but the costumes were actually fairly cheap. And hopefully you could learn from our mistakes hah.

So what do you think about our plastic army man costumes? Any improvements we could have made? Would you like to to see a how-to so that you can try it out next year? Let me know in the comments section below!

Less is More

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In a world with so much noise, where everything tries to be bigger and better than it’s competitor, less has truly become more.

Many software products seem to become increasingly bloated throughout their lifecycle. The need to stay competitive inevitably leads to an overblown feature set where the core of the product is overshadowed. This has brought us into an age where feature requests take precedent over smart product design decisions and customer feedback drives product design.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This happens because, when entrepreneurs set out to solve a problem, they ask “How can I improve X” when they really should be asking  ”How can I make X drastically simpler”. Products like Square, Stripe and Medium have ushered in a new age of “Do one thing and do it damn well”. My Co-founder Matt Boyd actually wrote an excellent post on this topic. I highly recommend checking it out.

Use the noise to your advantage

Contrary to what you might think, all this noise actually makes it easier to stand out. Well designed and thoughtful products almost always get the spotlight over the crappy ones, because they dare to be original and stop trying to be something they’re not.

"Pinterest meets Dribbble for pets"

If this sounds even remotely like your startup pitch, I’d highly suggest taking another look at the problem and how you are trying to solve it. Stop trying to be all things to all people and just do one thing extremely well. 

Conclusion

If you want to stand out, do less but do it damn well. Less is more.

What do you think? Do you agree with my point of view or maybe you see it a different way? Leave a comment below and let’s chat about it!

Thanks for reading!

Why You Shouldn’t Use Code Tests When Hiring an Engineer

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I’ve been off the job market for a little while but I’ve been thinking about it lately and wanted to share some of my frustrations. One thing that irked me in particular were the code tests. Somewhere along the line it became standard to challenge a candidates abilities in person during an interview.

These technical evaluations are typically in the form of pair programming challenges, riddles, code problems, even written tests! You may be thinking “Well if a programmer is good they should be able to do fine on the tests!” Wrong.

Here are a few of the big problems with on-site testing:

That awkward feeling of being watched

You don’t typically write code with someone looking over your shoulder. It can be very nerve wrecking and greatly skew your perceived skill level.

Who codes on a white board?

During many technical interviews I have been asked to solve a programming challenge on a white board. First off, my handwriting is atrocious. Kind of hard to solve a problem when you can hardly read what you’re writing. A white board is also really awkward for writing code. If you’re not an experienced white board programmer you’re certainly going to slip up here.

You are out of your element

A couple years ago I was doing a technical interview and was given a crappy IBM laptop, told to sit in a conference room and solve a coding challenge that was written up in a text doc. The whole experience was extremely awkward. I use a particular browser, IDE, OS and specific tools that have become integral to my workflow. If you take those away from me, obviously my results are going to suffer, especially in the speed category.

Most interviewers ask the same questions

The last time I was interviewing, I began encountering the same questions over and over. When this happens, the questions no longer have anything to do with skill level or critical thinking ability, they just become a game of memory. I’ve literally been handed a job offer during an interview after solving a couple puzzles which I had failed that same day at an earlier interview. I just don’t do well under that sort of pressure, but once I had time to work them out on my own, I aced them.

So how do I find the right engineer for the job?

Review their Github

Any programmer who wants to be taken seriously on today’s job market should have a flourishing Github. It’s an easy and painless way to get a quick and overall sense of the candidate’s history and technical ability before even scheduling an interview.

Hire for culture

Sure it would be great to find an engineer who really knows his/her stuff and can write amazing code, but if no one gets along with them, they have no passion for the product and aren’t excited about learning new technologies, how long would you really keep them around?

Instead focus on hiring great learners who mesh nicely with your team dynamic. Personalities can’t usually be changed, but coding skills can always be learned.

Give them an assignment

There’s no harm in giving the candidate a coding task. This is something they can complete on their own terms and timing. Afterwards you should be able to review the code and get a great view of the programmer’s abilities.

Passive testing like this is so much better because it allows the candidate to complete the assignment in their own environment, in their own time, which inevitably leads to higher quality engineers.

It doesn’t have to be anything super complex, time consuming or challenging. It’s just to get an overall picture of the programmer’s level. Is their code dry? Are they writing less code wherever possible? Are their comments smart and useful? These questions should be easy to answer after the assignment is complete.

Conclusion

You should be striving to hire smart people who are fast learners, if you do this the rest will fall into place. The best way to determine this is by engaging with candidates to establish cultural fit and by examining their engineering history to determine their experience and ability to learn.

Couple this with an at-home assignment and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be completely confident in your next engineering hire!

So what are your thoughts? Have you had luck with code tests? Have an even better method than mine? Let me know in the comments below!

How My Startup Raised 1.1 Million From a Single Cold Email

When Matt, Tom and I began working on Sqwiggle back in February of 2013, we initially decided to see how far we could get while bootstrapping. The beautiful thing about working on your startup full-time and hardly having enough money to live and is that you really have incentive to get to revenue as quick as humanly possible. 

So we bootstrapped the product to an MVP and started charging about 3 months in. Once we saw that businesses were willing to pay for the service, even in it’s early stage, our thoughts on funding began to shift a bit. We started talking more and more about possibly raising a seed round and, before we knew it, Tom and Matt had booked flights to join me out in San Francisco so we could start the hustle.

A single email that changed our lives

To begin the funding process, the team began shooting emails out to everyone in our network, setting up coffee meetings and asking for help in any way. This lead to some great advice and a few helpful connections, but was certainly giving way to a slow and arduous fundraise. 

So, late one night Matt decided to embark on a coffee fueled emailing frenzy, literally cold emailing every influential person that he thought might be interested in what we were building. Naval, co-founder of AngelList, was one of them.

We were extremely excited when Naval replied and invited us down to the AngelList office to demo Sqwiggle in person! During the demo, his eyes lit up and he made the decision to invest in Sqwiggle then and there. He even pitched us on being the first company to do an AngelList Syndicate, which we gladly accepted :)

Network power

Naval was an amazing ambassador for our product. Having his personal network and AngelList behind him provided us an amazing opportunity to get in front of some great Angels and VCs. We received 55 intros in total and had meetings lined up for the following 3 weeks!

We also began trending on AngelList shortly thereafter, which really helped to jumpstart the fundraising process even more.

The right way to send a cold email

There are a few things I would recommend trying if you really want your email to stand out. Long, cookie cutter emails are destined for the trash. If someone is considered influential, chances are they don’t have much time. Keeping your email short and to the point shows that you are mindful of their time.

Subtle flattery goes a long way. Mention something cool that you read on their blog, ask a question about their company or mention something they tweeted about. This shows that you are putting in the effort to actually get to now the person before you contact them. And if you think they are a rockstar, don’t be afraid to let them know! This is how we were able to raise $1.1 million for Sqwiggle.

What has your experience with cold emailing been like? Id love to hear your perspective, let me know in the comments section below!

The People That Made Our $1.1million Seed Round Possible

http://blog.sqwiggle.com/post/59719048444/the-people-that-made-our-1-1million-seed-round

sqwiggleinc:

It's a seed, okay?

Today we’re very happy to announce that Sqwiggle has closed a $1.1million round of seed funding from an incredible group of investors, we did a quick video interview with TechCrunch too.

Raising a round of funding is incredibly hard, and in a lot of ways we landed on our feet and had an…

An Ergonomic Standing Desk for $22

I was brainwashed by the standing vs sitting hype long ago and have been a fan of standing desks ever since, though I wanted something more legit than the typical stack of boxes. Example:

I recently came across this post by Colin Nederkoorn, outlining how him and a colleague of his created a super cheap, yet stylish standing desk for just $22.

Personally, I prefer an adjustable solution so that I don’t have to dive right into the deep end and could stand half the day if I so desired. However, most decent quality adjustable standing desks seem to start at around $300, and I’d hate to shell out that kind of cash for the sake of an experiment. 

Just the other day, though, I came across Colin’s post, and something sparked. The great thing about this setup is, while it’s not necessarily adjustable, it would be really simple to convert it back to a sitting desk if I became tired of standing during the day.

So I decided that day that I was going to give his setup a try. I immediately hopped on Taskrabbit and had someone head across the bay and pick up the supplies I needed from the nearest IKEA. By 3pm I had my new standing desk up and running!

The desk couldn’t have been easier to assemble. It took about 30 minutes and even came with an instruction manual

Here’s the final product:

So, if you’re thinking of taking a plunge into near-term discomfort for the sake of long-term health, I highly recommend giving this desk a try! It’s so cheap and simple that you really have nothing to lose.

Giving Your Customers What They Don’t Want

Customer feedback is your best friend when building a SAAS web product. The more in tune you are with your customers needs, the better your ammunition is when creating new features and improvements. Trouble is, it can be extremely difficult to sift through the mountains of customer feedback you receive. 

At Sqwiggle, we have always encourage a direct line of communicate between us and our customers. The founders all monitor a shared inbox using HelpScout. Every email sent to howdy@sqwiggle.com goes into this inbox. We also actively monitor Twitter and make sure and reply to everyone who mentions us. This ensures the entire team is equally aware of what our customers are saying about our product and what features they are requesting.

We’ve noticed that nearly every customer who vocalizes a problem typically provides a potential solution as well. This is the true test of a product designer. Do you give the customers what they want or what they need?

If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster Horses’.” -Henry Ford

I highly recommend listening to every single thing your customer has to say about your product, but it must be filtered out and usually taken with a grain of salt. After all, customer feedback is very valuable, but it’s only one small piece of the product design puzzle.

What do you think? How do you filter out your customer’s feedback and feature requests? Leave a comment and tell me about your process. Thanks for reading!

Be sure and Follow me on Twitter

What Happened When My Startup Was Featured in Techcrunch

My startup, Sqwiggle was recently written up in Techcrunch so I thought it would be helpful to let everyone know what happened as a direct result of the article.

Opening the floodgates

Greg Kumparak published his writeup on Sqwiggle on Thursday, April 11th, 2012 at 11:00 am PST. Within the first hour or two we had about 1200 people visit our site. From there, traffic steadily leveled out at about 250 visitors per hour. At one point we were gaining beta signups at a steady rate of 20 per minute but this number naturally decreased alongside our traffic.

Over the next week we saw a steady stream of traffic with a few spikes here and there. In total we gained about 4000 beta signups and saw over 17,000 unique visitors to our site. Since the article we posted we have seen a steady stream of residual traffic to our site.

The results

So here are the direct results of the article:

  • Beta signups are through the roof, which has given us an amazing launchpad for our product.

  • We gained signups from tons of huge companies around the valley and around the world.

  • Quite a few investors have reached out, expressing interest in Sqwiggle and wanting to know more.

  • Thousands of RTs on Twitter and tons of users reaching out to us personally, expressing interest in Sqwiggle. In total our followers grew by around 10x.

  • We setup howdy@sqwiggle.com and have received hundreds of emails since the article went live. Some requesting beta access, others with feedback, and a few just wanting to say congrats :)

  • In the first week of the article we had about 10,000 visitors to our site.

  • Since the article we have seen a steady stream of beta signups due to residual traffic.

  • Backlinks to our site grew heavily since many blogs re-blogged the article or wrote-up their own take on our product.

For me, however, the best part was having friends of mine reach out and congratulate me on the write up. It was surprising how fast everyone noticed the article. I guess you never realize just how far Techcrunch’s reach goes until you are smack on their front page. The feedback from our peers was great too. Everyone had an opinion, some good, some bad, but it all helped shape the product we have today.

It’s also worth mentioning that being in Techcrunch seems to automatically give your company more legitimacy and opens a lot of doors to people who wouldn’t have necessarily noticed or taken it seriously before.

Has your startup been featured in Techcrunch too? If so I’d love to hear about your experience. Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks a lot for reading!