Coronavirus Log: Day 5 – Jobs are Disappearing

Where my head is:

I’m mostly thinking about all the businesses that will go under and fighting to keep Onward from doing so as well.  I had a part-time Onward reach out last night that her other work has all disappeared. I read an interview of some bar and restaurant owners who talked about only being able to survive for a month or two. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits jumped to its highest level in two years. I don’t see how most businesses can survive for more than a few months. I keep thinking of the forest fire metaphor. It is a terrible and destructive thing but it clears out old brush and allows for new growth. There will be many new businesses that emerge from this and lots of entrenched businesses who go down. It might be a good thing in the long term, but when the fire is raging, it’s very painful and scary.

Physically, I’m a bit worn down. I’m used to moving around more and staying confined to my house isn’t great for me. I need to prioritize walks/runs out the house more.

No major news out of the rest of the world. The USA is getting more serious about the lockdowns with all of California and PA issuing lockdowns, meaning you can’t leave your house except for food and medicine. The rate of deaths in the world and US is increasing – up 36% day-over-day.

Cases:

  • Worldwide: 246,275 — Total deaths: 10,038  (up 706)
  • USA:  14,250 — Total deaths: 205 (up 55)
  • Marin: 25 (up 9), 0 deaths

Being Remote and Notion

At Onward, we are building a fully remote company.  We now have 5 employees that are scattered throughout the country and we’ll be fully remote forever.

Why Remote?

There are lots of benefits to working remote. You can read all about it all over the web and on the Twitter-verse.  I’ve now been doing this over a year and the reasons that resonate with me the most are:

  1. No commute. Knocking out the time it takes to drive to/from an office puts hours back in my day.  I never got stressed by the driving. In fact, I always enjoyed the time for podcasts and catching up with people on the phone. However, that lost time was a drag. Now my day is that much more efficient.
  2. Autonomy. While I like being in an office and catching up with co-workers, it also has a downside of co-workers constantly interrupting me and my thoughts. It was hard to control my own schedule. Being at home gives me much more control over my calendar and my day.
  3. Broader employee pool.  When we’re hiring and looking for a potential colleague, we can now look across the entire planet rather than those who live close by. This has already paid dividends as it’s allowed me to work with my good friend Nader and our awesome early employees who are in Pittsburgh, Texas, and Chicago.

The Challenges

It’s not all fun and roses though.  It took me 4-6 months to get used to working out of my house. It takes discipline to focus on the tasks and not be distracted by an empty messy house. Also, there’s a solitude that took some getting used to. Now that i’m in the groove, I do think it’s a better way to work.

Asynchronous is Key

One of the keys to successfully working with my remote colleagues is to be able to work without communicating in real-time. Because my colleague isn’t right next to me, I have no idea if they are working right now or planning on coming online later. This has lead us to use some new tools that are pretty cool.

Notion

The first, and by far my favorite. This is a combination of Google Docs, Asana and a wiki. Before we had Notion, we had a problem where we didn’t know where to post a home page of operations for our company or a division, or where to post decisions and goals for everyone to see and access easily. We tried Google Docs and also tied making an intranet on Google Sites. Both sucked.  This is exactly what Notion solves.

We now have home pages for the company which has a general company handbook, lists all the tools we use, policies and other generic info. We also have a home page for each group which houses the processes, goals, OKR’s, meeting notes, and more. There’s a good overview of how another business is using Notion here which will give you the idea.

Notion Home Screen

Notion in generally is pretty sweet. As a product, it’s incredibly slick. There is so much complexity that’s displayed so elegantly and simply – it’s really beautiful.  It’s clearly seems to be working. In fact, talk about a fundraise that showcases your awesomeness. They raised $10 million on an $800 million valuation. That’s 1% dilution.  A good interview with the founder is here too.

Onward Update: Starting to Lay the Foundation

I sent this email out to people following the company. If you’d like to sign up for email updates, click below. I send them out every 3-5 months.



 

Onward Logo

Hello!

It’s been a few months since my last update. Here’s what we’re up to over here at Onward…

A reminder of what we’re doing

We started Onward earlier this year. We’re a new company focused on transportation for older adults or those who need extra assistance. Ever since our families started aging and needing more help, we realized there’s a huge need to have great services available to serve them.

About half of our riders are older adults over the age of 75. The other half are those who have a medical condition and need help getting to and from their appointments.

How are we different from Uber/Lyft?

They provide “curb-to-curb” rides whereas our service conducts “door-to-door” or “door-through-door” service. On pickup, our drivers come to the door and help the rider to the car, take them to their appointments, wait for them and then bring them home.

We also charge by the hour – $35/hour – which allows for us to make multiple stops and get out of the car and help.

What’s our plan?

2019 is a foundational year for us where we want to build out the marketplace of drivers and riders in the Bay Area. We also want to build out the technology platform needed to automate and maintain our service. We are measuring our progress by rides per week and have a goal of 120 rides per week by the end of the year.

How’s it going?

We’ve been busy. We’ve expanded our team to 4 people by hiring two others who focus on our operations and our supply. They are Sarah Pontier and Ben Estevez and both kick serious ass.

We’ve also started doing rides. Our first ride happened in April. Now that we’re in Q3, we’ve done over 900 rides!

Our main channels for finding rides is to partner with assisted living facilities and hospitals, and also many find us via Google and Yelp when looking for transportation.

To make these rides happen, we’ve signed on lots of drivers. Our typical driver persona is a retiree who is very compassionate, looking to help others in their neighborhood and looking for part-time work. They all have CPR certifications and drive their own car.

We’ve built and released our initial version of both the Driver App and the Rider App. These apps help automate our entire ordering and matching process. Rides come in via our Rider app (or website or phone) and then get exposed to our drivers via the Driver App. Drivers can accept or decline any ride they see. In theory, rides will then occur without our team touching them.

How can you help?

We’d also love your help getting the word out to people in the SF Bay Area who have parents or friends who are unable to drive or need a little extra help getting to their appointments.

We also are digging more deeply into the healthcare industry and how we can help out there. If you are knowledgeable about insurance carriers or healthcare providers or know anyone who is, please reach out to me.

Thanks for your support –

Mike

What Success Feel Like

It’s an interesting thing.

First, the timing on an acquisition is nuts. It takes forever. The process looked like this:
We first found Buzznet. We talk back and forth with Buzznet for months about price and process. Eventually we got an offer. That was a good offer but wasn’t a huge amount. We couldn’t accept until we talked to investors. The investors weren’t happy about it but we convinced them. Then 4 weeks of diligence. Then 3 weeks where Buzznet was squeezing us by not communicating with us at all. We thought the deal was dead. Then we ran out of money, so we got a bridge loan. Then the deal is back on. Before we close I move out to LA and start working there to show good faith. We close but put a good chunk of the money into escrow to protect Buzznet from lawsuits to Qloud. Then the deal closes on and money hits my account. From the day when they inquired to acquire us to the money in the account is almost 5 months.

The entire process was months. There’s not one specific time to celebrate. By the time it finishes, you’re more relieved than ecstatic.

In truth, there wasn’t much celebrating. A dinner with the investors was it. While it looks great on paper, the deal wasn’t that great for the team and Buzznet shut Qloud down anyway so it wasn’t good for the company.

Financially, it was good for me as it gave me a nestegg and compensated me for a few years of not making any money. I bought a condo in Santa Monica, but my life didn’t change.

However, it was an experience I’ll remember forever. The things that stick out in my mind were:

  • The Qloud office in Silver Spring. It was bumping with music from Craig. The chatter from Delo and Noah was always hilarious. The swim competitions were amazing.
  • Pedro and the Romanians figuring out with a Ukranian consultant how to scale Qloud so the plugin actually worked and could ingest millions of plays a day.
  • Sleeping in Toby’s basement.  Standing in his kitchen in Frederick and thinking through the early versions of Qloud
  • The feeling of hitting the wall of no users and failure and pivoting
  • The fundraising.  Sitting in the car with Toby and blasting the Al Pacino “inches” speech. Also, the reality of getting only one offer and having to take what you can get.
  • Facebook’s platform and the growth it enabled for us. You could do so much with them at the time. It was really the wild-west.
  • The music. There was so music in my life at that time. We were discovering great tracks every day.

 

How I Built This Podcast

One of my new favorite podcasts is How I Built This on NPR. It’s a tightly edited 20-30 minutes each week with an entrepreneur about how they built their business.  They done stories with the founders of Patagonia, Zumbra, Crate & Barrel and more.  All of them are great.

The latest one I’ve heard is that of 5-Hour Energy Drink with founder Manoj Bhargava. I’ve never had the product and frankly have always looked down on it, but the story was fascinating and I found a few great nuggets in the episode.  My favorite nuggets are:

The three best characteristics, according to Manoj, for someone wanting to start a business are (a) Common sense. Don’t get caught up in MBA-Speak.  If it makes sense, do it. If not, don’t do it.  (b) Determination.  Don’t confuse passion with determination.  Passion goes away but to be succussful you have to show up every single day. (c) Urgency. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Don’t wait.

I also like the part where he talked about leaving money to his son and why he’s leaving him almost nothing. Manoj a billonaire and he had the great quote of “If you raise your kid to be useless, than leaving him money is pointless.  If you raise your son to be competent, leaving him money is pointless.”
It’s worth a listen. Check it out.

Non-Obvious Fundraising Learnings

I’ve been a co-founder in three VC-backed startups:

  1. Qloud. We raised $3.5 million from Steve Case’s Revolution fund (sold for $8.5 to BuzzMedia)
  2. Kapost. We’ve raised $20m from Salesforce, Floodgate (SF), Cueball (Boston), LeadEdge Capital (NYC), Tango (CO local), Highway 12 (Idaho fund), Fraser/McCombs (CO), and Access (CO).
  3. Onward. We have just recently raised a $1.5m seed round from Matchstick Ventures, Royal Street Ventures and JPK Capital

From these experiences I have pitched (with Toby on the first two) to hundreds of VC firms and learned some non-obvious lessons. Here we go: Continue reading “Non-Obvious Fundraising Learnings”

Launching Qloud (Part 10 of 14)

This is post #10 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about about how we used got into the Facebook Platform program.  You can read that here

We decided to pivot the product to become a full-fledged music service.  We also decided to launch our new music service on Facebook before we took it to the main public.

Both decisions were correct and produced great results.  Continue reading “Launching Qloud (Part 10 of 14)”

Tinder’s Right Swipe


As a product person, sometimes you prioritize incremental improvements instead of game-changing ideas because “the big swings” take too long.  This almost happened at Tinder and the “swipe right” almost didn’t exist.

Here’s an article in Wired where the CEO and CTO recount how they talked about it.  Jon Badeen (The Chief Strategy Officer) came up with the idea after seeing it done in flash cards in Chegg.  He then showed the rest of the team.

Sean Rad (CEO): We had a five-minute conversation.  It was a cool idea, bt jon thought it would take two weeks to build.  So I said, eh, probably not a priority.  That was right after we launched.  We had a whole set of wings we wanted to do
Ryan Olge (CTO) chimes win with: We wanted to do read receipts, typing notifications, all these things

Then all of the sudden it showed up in the app.  Apparently Jon worked on it over the weekend because he really wanted it.

And now the world has the right and left swipe.



Yes, you’re talented. What else can you do?

The film composer Tom Holkenborg talked about how he keeps getting film work in this article. He says:

If you talk to other film composers and to people who work in the industry, the fact that you’re an original, talented musician is a given fact. What is left then? It’s, how are you as a person in a room? Do you deliver on time? Do you make the movie better? Do you understand what the director wants? Can you walk that really fine line of politics when things get sour and you help solve the problem?

– Tom Holkenborg, aka JUNKIE XL, composer of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Black Mass”

I love this.  This is how I feel about work too.  The fact that you’re talented and can actually do the work really well has become a given. You have to be able to go beyond that and be both great at what you do and good at actually working WITH people.

The Sphero BB-8 Origin Story

Back in 2010, Toby, Nader and I went into Techstars.  In the Techstars bunker we took our seats next to two young guys who had a crazy look in their eyes.  These two guys, Ian and Adam, were hard core robotics and mobile engineers and we liked them immediately.

The old Techstars bunker

The problem was that they didn’t really have a good idea for their company.  After a few weeks of discussing what to do with mentors, they decided to make smart hotel room keys.  Keys that could be controlled by your smart phone.  It was a huge market and seemed destined to be a successful company.  There was one issue with their plan: they totally weren’t into it.  One of their mentors asked them “What do you guys do in your spare time?”  They replied that they played games.  He responded, “why don’t you do that instead?”  And thus the robotic ball, the original Sphero, was born.

An old Gearbox t-shirt

Five years later the balls are better, faster and in more styles (check out Ollie, he’s awesome).  They just yesterday released the coolest version yet, the Droid BB-8 that will be featured in the upcoming Star Wars film.

These two guys went from nothing in the basement in Boulder to producing with Disney the coolest toy in the world. A huge congratulations to them. Well done!