B2B Community Builder Show (formerly Chief Executive Connector)

131 | Lessons From The Top B2B SaaS Accelerator w/ Forum Ventures CEO & Managing Partner, Michael Cardamone, and Managing Director & GP, Jeff Becker

August 04, 2021 Pablo Gonzalez / Michael Cardamone / Jeff Becker Season 3 Episode 131
B2B Community Builder Show (formerly Chief Executive Connector)
131 | Lessons From The Top B2B SaaS Accelerator w/ Forum Ventures CEO & Managing Partner, Michael Cardamone, and Managing Director & GP, Jeff Becker
Show Notes Transcript

Think you have something to learn from the leaders of a B2B SaaS Accelerator and Fund that has worked and invested with over 200+ early stage SaaS companies that have gone on to raise $300M+ in follow on funding and counting?

Come to the B2B Community Builder Podcast's special fireside chat with Michael Cardamone and Jeff Becker.

Host of the show, Pablo Gonzalez, will ask Michael and Jeff about:

- the most effective Go To Market motions Michael & Jeff see in B2B SaaS today
- the why and how Acceleprise is betting big on the value of community
- what opportunities they see in B2B that are currently underserved
- and much more (including whatever questions YOU may have)!

Come and let their perspective on the 200+ data points of successes and failures inform YOUR playbook for the rest of the year!


ABOUT OUR GUESTS:

Michael Cardamone

Michael was one of the first 30 employees at Box in a BD role and then led partnerships at AcademixDirect. After 6 years in operating roles, he launched Acceleprise (https://acceleprise.vc/) in San Francisco, a B2B SaaS focused accelerator and fund with locations in San Francisco, NYC & Toronto.

In addition to Acceleprise, he's an angel investor in 12 companies, including Flexport, Curated.com, Vemo and more.

He graduated with an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Columbia Business School, and holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Syracuse University.

Specialties: Developing and managing partnerships, strategy, SaaS, business development, digital marketing, early stage investing, early go to market, sales

Jeff Becker

Jeff is an experienced leader, entrepreneur, and sales executive with a Proven track record of building world-class teams, and delivering exceptional results. 

He's creative, focused, and a believer in the impossible that is always looking to help incredible people set incredible ideas in motion.

Prior to joining Acceleprise, he spent 9 years in sales and sales leadership roles at Linkedin, is an experienced GTM advisor to startups, and an angel investor.

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Pablo Gonzalez:

Welcome everybody. This is the first edition of the live version of the B2B community builder podcast. So it's like the first time I'm doing something live like this. It's also a rebrand of my old podcast, the chief executive connector, because it's not about me. This is about the people that are out there doing community building work for business development, which is something that I deeply deeply believe in. And I got a great opportunity when somebody reached out to me via email, about a couple of a couple of fellows putting together some really impressive stuff out in Silicon valley, they formed the biggest B2B SaaS accelerator. they have, they got a breaking announcement that we're going to, we're going to go into today of having rebranded into forum ventures, but I just want to welcome today, Mike Cardamone. Sorry, Mike, Mike cardiman right. Gotcha. And just Becker co-founders. I mean managing partners of forum ventures. Welcome fellows. Welcome to the show.

Mike:

Thank you. Thanks for having us. I didn't realize it was the first one. I'm excited to be on the first one.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah. Yeah, you guys, you bet you guys are the lunch. Listen, man, I, after our conversation that we had, when we first connected, I just, there was no better, there was no better case study for this, right. Somebody who is going from an accelerator to a community that really believes in this stuff and doing it at the level that you're doing it. I thought it all made sense. So we figured why not? you know, put all of our energy behind it and actually promote the heck out of it. Get you guys as much exposure. We've got 17 people on so far. I told myself if we got 20 people on it, it's a success. So I'm, I'm pumped about this and I want to, I just want to give a little key to everybody that's in the chat. I love that you're already chiming in, you know I'm not going to do a warm call, Jack Yacob. Good to see you from Germany, Brett, from Medina, Ohio. Good to have you. Jenny Weigel, an old college buddy of mine. That's timing in from LA Lydia flow. Cine. Good to see you from San Francisco. Lydia we've become friends on, on LinkedIn lately. Gina's out here supporting Jesella joining us from London today. Wells Mary Lobsang from Winnipeg, Canada. We're international. Right now. This is wonderful. Sam young from the UK. This is awesome. Awesome Linds floor and another good buddy of mine from LA with the growth network podcast. And it's cool to see every will. Duke's my old moderator and the leadership Miami program. Jen fills in a client of a client that has become a close friend and somebody I work with this is great so without further ado guys, you're the star of the show star of the show. my first question is for you were two weeks ago, your acceleprise When we first started talking to acceleprise startup, and now your forum ventures your community. Can you give me the, the breaking news announcement that was just published in tech crunch? What the big change was, what you guys are doing now and, and, and let us know that right now.

Mike:

Yeah. Yeah. Jeff, I mean, take it, but

Pablo Gonzalez:

yeah, just to give the quick background on Mike cardamon. So yeah,

Mike:

we initially started as Acceleprise back in 2014 as a B2B SaaS focused accelerator, which just meant like we invest in founders. At the very early stage when they had like an early version of a product where often the first check-in, they may or may not have customers. And we felt like there were a lot of generals accelerators at the time, but not really many focused on, on B2B SaaS launched that in San Francisco. In 2014. And now, you know, since then we've invested in like 200 companies through that and have gone to raise like, well, it might be 350 million now in fall in funding from a bunch of brand new funds. And so we've seen a lot of companies work. We've seen a lot of companies not work, but over time, what we've realized is like the power of community to your point. Like, you know, a lot of founders talk about wanting to work with VCs who have been there and done that, and then built companies and done that. How about joining a community with 200 people who have been there and done that, and are are going through the same thing as you, and, and like had sold into the same type of customers or have dealt with SOC 2 audits or like all the things you do and go through as a founder. And so we just started realizing like the power of our slack community and like, our founders engaging with each other and engaging with founders were like one step ahead of them or are selling into a similar industry. And it started to become apparent to us that like a big part of what we were building was, was like platform and community. and that, that was like a big value add for a lot of the founders were investing in. And then as we started building that, we also just recently, which was part of the announcement announced that we just raised a new seed fund as well, which allows us to kind of continue to fund and support and engage with founders that just that next stage. So part of it is like follow on investing in some other companies coming through our own accelerator program, but also the flexibility to invest in deals outside the accelerator program, into like kind of institutional seed rounds where it's maybe like a 1 to $4 million dollar round. and so, you know, as we evolved from just being this accelerator and running the program to this kind of, you know, this platform and community where we're supporting founders at multiple different stages, we felt like it made sense to rebrand. We felt like forum was a, was a good name for like, we have a portal our founders can log into and we were calling it kind of the founder forum internally. And there were just like a lot of reasons that we felt like forum was like the perfect word for the type of fund and platform and community we're trying to build. and so we just rebranded announced our seed fund announced our fourth accelerator fund. And

Pablo Gonzalez:

it's been a,

Mike:

it's been a fun couple of weeks since

Pablo Gonzalez:

that's cool. I love, I love the idea of the psychology behind it's a forum, right? Like you are, it's very much in line with my company as be the stage, right? Like if you can be the stage of something, as opposed to the star on the stage, everybody wants to do business with you. If you can, if you can be the king maker, the queen maker, right. You can put people on and gain them exposure. I'd love to ask a couple of, you know, asking for a friend to your questions. but the difference between an accelerator and a, an a seed funds, can you kind of just talk through that real quick? for me

Mike:

Yeah. so an accelerator the way accelerators work and ours is I think is a little bit different, but you know, there's like the programmatic piece. So, basically companies apply, you know, we provide an initial a 100K of funding. They come into a cohort style program. and, and so they're kind of surrounded by other peers at a similar stage. Like I said, it's usually kind of founding team some early version of a product they may or may not have customers. There's the programmatic piece where like, you know, one to two days a week, we have mentors coming in to talk about a lot of different tactical sessions or round table discussions or ask me anything. So they get to interact with a lot of like executives, CEOs, founders of companies that are further ahead who can kind of share their knowledge. So it might be like a VP of sales coming in, talking about that, or someone doing demand gen or content marketing, whatever. it is And then the other piece is like, we really act as like a fractional co-founder. So it's a small you know, small cohorts only like up to 10 companies per MD And Jeff can speak to this a bit more. And it's like, we're basically like your, your, where you're like your sales go to market founder. Like we're in the weeds with you, helping you define your ideal customer profile, help you build out like lead lists, giving you feedback on sales conversations. Like, you know, Jeff spent, I mean, he can give his background was spend you know, nine years as in sales and sales leadership at LinkedIn. And just like knows this, like the back of his hand. So it's like having someone of his caliber or being like your VP of sales in house and like helping you through the go to market is kind of how we think about it. Like, we're basically like fractional co-founders a seed fund is less of that like program. Like we still support our companies and go to market. We still. They can leverage our network for customer introductions and everything. It's less of that, like built-in progress program and less of the like very hands-on like weekly one-on-ones like we do through the accelerator program. And then it's often part of like a bigger round. So in the accelerator, we could be the first and only check into the company at the time out of the seed fund, it's usually part of a 1 to $4 million round that we're writing like a 100 to 600K check or something into a bigger round with a bunch of other investors involved. so that's kind of the difference, jeff anything you would add to that?

Jeff:

I think you covered the Mike. There's a lots of love about the program. We can go deeper on anything from go to markets in the investor weekly that we do, but it's really a powerful program. I had the benefit of being a mentor for a couple of. Prior to joining full-time. And so I know the program well, and the feedback from the founders and the results that Mike and his team created over the last, you know, five or six years. So happy to go into that as the chat lights up with questions. I see. It's

Mike:

already going, so that's great.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah, for sure. Jeff, listen, man, we're definitely going to pick your brain about the go to market stuff. I know that that's, that's your specialty. I'm dying to get into that. So as I understand it, then it's the accelerators kind of like when you're getting started at seed fund is the next stage. That's when you're funded, you're you're off and you're kind of like, let's say accelerator is elementary school seed fund. You're now a teenager and you're out in the world and, and, and you're, you're invested at that level and there's other influences that isn't just the home base of the accelerator. Right? Yeah. Cool. So, so then I'm a big, obviously I'm a big proponent in the community piece, right? I would love to, I would love to know just kind of how you guys, when you came together, Why did you think that there was another accelerator needed? Why do you think there's another community needed and in Silicon valley, are they, are there, are there enough of these? Is there ever going to be enough of this stuff? You know, what, what was the, what was the pain point from, from, from the thing that you wanted to solve? Like, I, some, some people phrase this as like what made, you know, like what pisses you off and what makes you want to cry? Like what, what, what was doing that to you guys that you decided to embark on this?

Mike:

Yeah, so I had the good fortune and like, it was, it was basically luck where I joined box back in 2008 when it was about 25 people. And you know, back then, like, it was so early into like the shift to cloud, like I was having, like, I remember having conversations with like potential customers and having to explain like what the cloud is and no, we don't sell cardboard boxes. You know, there's like, you know, they would it was just like, it was very clear that it was, it was very, very early in that. And even by 2014, when we started this, it was, it was still like very much the early innings of this shift to like SaaS, the SaaS model and cloud, like, you know, they were obviously early like Salesforce and box and Dropbox, like the first wave Marketo but we felt like it was still like very early innings and that shift. And there was a big opportunity. And when I talked to founders who had been through other accelerators, like that were more generalist There's some really, really good ones out there. but they felt like having one that was like really focused on B2B SaaS would be, would be really helpful. You'd get a lot more like tactical advice because if you're a SaaS founder and like someone who's been really successful building a direct to consumer business, you know, they may not their advice. Might be really good at what they do, but their advice may not be relevant at all for you as a SaaS founder. So we felt like there was opportunity to do something more specifically focused around B2B SaaS, and we were able to get a kind of a critical mass. of People from that first wave of SaaS company. So like early Salesforce, early Marketo like CEO of Gainsight, CEO of Zalora like a lot of really good kind of SaaS people. and so that was the thesis behind it and like why we did it you know, you certainly even then probably could have argued that there were too many accelerators. I mean, so many more have been created since then. And there's a ton of resources out there for startups now. but yeah, we, you know, we've, we've been able to kind of build a good, good brand and reputation in the space, just being like maniacally focused on the founder experience and being focused on B2B SaaS. And we're now running it in San Francisco, New York and Toronto, and really kind of pretty flexible around hybrid and remote and all that kind of stuff as well.

Pablo Gonzalez:

That's cool, man. I love the, I love the niche down, right? Like I think niching down is something that I don't know if this plays into it. The go-to market strategy that you guys preach and how, and how much it has to do. And I hope we get to talk about category design, but I, I just want to say, I think it's obvious that it was needed, right? Like you, you have returned something like 80, 80 plus percent of dollars invested. Do you want to tell those statistics? I was reading that in as tech crunch. I thought it was incredible. Like there were the return on dollars invested and kind of like the multiple of where you guys are at so far.

Mike:

Yeah. So our first one, which is when we have the most data on you know, it's a 10 year fund because we're investing super early, but we're, you know, six years in we've returned about 87% of committed capital of the fund so far to investors. And then the rest of the fund is marked up at like, I think it's like three and a half back. about right now and still growing, like we have, I don't know, 20 something companies still going in the fund. And and so it's still growing and, and, you know, I think it's going to end up being a pretty good fund and then fund two and fund three are actually pacing ahead of where fund one was. so it's been, yeah, it's been, it's been nice to see the results cause it's been a, you know, it's been a grind building this for six years, so it's, it's fun to see it start to snowball and start to see the results. Like venture is one of those weird industry is where it just takes a long, long time to see if you're any good at it. and you just have to be incredibly patient. so it's, it's fun to see the first fund starting to

Pablo Gonzalez:

work. That's cool, man. So how does the, how does the playbook change now that it's going from just accelerator to community, right? Like what is, what is, how does, how does the operation change from your ends? Like how does the questions that you're asking change? How does it.

Mike:

yeah, that's a good question. Any monopolizing the time here, Jeff, any, any, you got to jump

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in

Jeff:

on any of that yeah I think about in a few ways. I mean First is around the founder experience who you're surrounding them with, is it relevant to their business and can they help in an outsize way? And so I think we really need to get quite focused around how we help the founders have an amazing experience, whether they're in the seed fund or the accelerator. And so that comes across in a few ways. First is with each other. So founding a company is a lonely journey, right? Are you with like-minded folks and like-minded industry that are facing similar problems? And to the extent that we can do that without being competitive across companies can be wildly impactful when companies can help each other, get the right answers, really. quickly It takes, you know, months and sometimes years off of the decision-making curve and the learning curve. And so that's really powerful. The second is really around the companies that we can introduce them to. So along this idea of community, we have a community of executives that focus entirely on innovation, and we do a really thoughtful job around connecting them to one another. You know, when, when they're in the program and doing that relative to the unmet needs of the core company as well as to what the founders can solve for. And so if we can help them with traction, that is a material benefit. And then of course, there's the broader community of folks who know us, and worked with us, who've invested with us and who understand the brand and can perpetuate, you know, how we think about deal flow, how we think about doing diligence, right? We're a, we're a small and mighty team of 10. But when we think about making these decisions, you know, Mic already mentioned, but we enlist the help of some of the world's best CEOs. when it comes to B2B software because think, you know, community can take a lot of different forms, but essentially we feel like we're building all of those things across all three dimensions, you know, founder experience, corporate innovation relative to traction. And then of course doing diligence to make good decisions.

Pablo Gonzalez:

I hear, I hear like enormous value for the founder. Is it also by going to community. Are you also kind of differentiating yourself, like diversifying yourself from the effort that you have to put in? Like is, does it make it easier for you to operate by running the community route?

Mike:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Yeah. I was gonna say in some ways, yes. In some ways, no, you know, the same way to coach our founders around creating network effects or having value happened in the absence of us that certainly does happen, right. The founders working with each other amazing example of how they can help one another be very successful. but in other ways, you know, we are continuing to delegate that out to technology and delegated out to, you know, slack and experience, but we're dabbling down on things that we can, are allowing us to continue to build. Right? So as we build out the community, you know, we are thinking about how do we add great investors? How do we grow, add great innovation executives? And so ideally we're focused on the things that could be most impactful to the business and, you know, delegating and automating some of the things that are, you know, in flight and on rails, the same way we coach our founders to do the same thing and create leverage, you know, for their businesses. We're trying to do the same

Mike:

Yeah. I would say that's one of the big shifts is like trying to figure out to Jeff's point like how to, how to make us more scalable as a community so that we're not the bottleneck and making in like people getting value out of the community. Right. So part of that is like, you know, when we see people talking in slack about Certainly I would have, does anyone have a contract for, you know, an employment agreement or an options agreement or like, you know, different things they need, rather than just like pointing them to the slack. We just have built out a template of all these contracts that people are asking for all the time, so they can literally just log into the portal and it's probably there. And if it's not, we'll add it soon. And so like that's one example. Or instead of like someone saying, I want to connect with such and such like one of your mentors or another founder, can you make an intro? We've now made that where everyone's searchable in our portal. And then we use like technology, like bridge and other things where we can automate the request of intro and automate the connection. So we're basically just trying to operationalize and make us more scalable so that we're not the bottleneck in, in the community getting value out of the community. and it's not just us driving the value and us making the intro, all that kind of stuff.

Pablo Gonzalez:

I love that. I love that combination of the collective human knowledge. Enabled by technology and enabled by these platforms that take away the friction. Lydia, Lydia flushing in the chat, put something. I like that. The way that you build a queer community will cascade knowledge, which is a huge differentiator. I love to think of the community as a, as a cascade of knowledge and Jenny who she's been working in community for 10 years. She submitted a question ahead of time. She just launched her jenny.communityLLC as a community consultant. she put in a question here that is with community being such a hot topic right now. What do you think is the biggest misconception of community when it comes to a business model or, or what they're doing?

Jeff:

Interesting biggest misconception. well, I'll take a stab at it. I don't know if there'll be a, there'll be a home run here, but the way that I see companies evolving from this top down SaaS model to a product like growth, model And I think sometimes people focus or co founders may focus on the end user as the community, rather than the community as the community. And they confuse what is go to market with what and recently called go to community as a strategy. And so thinking about, you know, how do you build a brand? How do you build engagement? How do you again, build value in absence of yourself, you know, doing the work. And so I don't think it's enough anymore. to you just think about your end users as the community? It's how do you engage them? How do you add value? How do you help them to add value to one another? And so really understanding those folks, spending time with them, you know when we talked about the innovation community, as an example, we spent yeah, hundreds of hours talking with these folks, understanding where the bottlenecks, what are the pain points. And if we can you know really understand them and we can involve them in our business. The fact that we may be adding value in the innovation circles for them. Is wildly valuable just to the innovation folks, but on the other side of it, it comes back to us full circle because they're perpetuating our brand. They're introducing us to investors. They're helping us with diligence. They're helping us with our customers as they help as they go to market and look for traction. And so the community may not be the core business, but it certainly is a huge exponent on the business. You know, one of the things we say internally is massive force massively apply. And so you're gonna, you can't do that without a lot of people rowing the boat in the same direction.

Pablo Gonzalez:

That's an awesome answer, man. Like I'd never heard the term go to community. Can you, can you tell me a little bit more about that? How you're, how you're like conceptualizing go to mark the difference between go to market and go to community and like where you're learning this? stuff from

Jeff:

Yeah, I don't want to steal it from or I don't want to not plagiarize it, but the new blog that Andreessen path to future a, I did a great post on this and the idea that you have a strategy all around the community and how you think about the ripple effects that you're creating in a wave of brilliant minds, relative to the people who might be your users and while they might be similar or there might be some overlap. the, the compounding of them acting together is, is out-sized. And so you to be thoughtful about those two groups separate of one another, my bifurcate, the two, and then understand the connection points of where the value can be added between them. And yeah, it was a great read. I recommend future I've really been loving it. They announced that blog a few weeks back and it began a lot of value out of seeing how they're thinking about interesting. industries

Pablo Gonzalez:

Cool, man, I'm going to hit you up and to get the link for that thing and put it in the show notes for this. That sounds awesome. Are, are you, are you thinking about that from a conceptual standpoint right now? Or have you already started kind of taking action on how you're going to do that bifurcation and how you're going how you're going to do that stuff?

Jeff:

Yeah, certainly. I think I touched on it. Maybe I wasn't as explicit, but we are really focused right now, at least in my part of the business, around building what we're calling the innovation forum. So think about big companies that want to work with startups and today the way that they do it, candidly is it's really hard to understand ROI, right? As if you're an innovation executive, you sit in a big company and you want to understand what's on horizon two horizon three. You want to think about what these startups are doing in the context of your business. It's easy to get introductions. You know, it's easy to work with a, you know, a great innovation services company, but it's really hard to go back internally and justify why you spent the money. you did And these things can range from mid six figures up to, you know, many millions of dollars. And so what we're doing in Forum And we're trying to think about how do we provide outsize value relative to the investment? How do we provide curated deal flow? How do we think about making introductions to the right companies at the right time? How do we run workshops with these people to help educate them on what it means to be an innovation executive within their company and by building that brand over time so much goodness comes from that. And so that being a kind of a go-to community for us, as one example the yield from that is really portfolio traction. It's, you know, winning deals with companies that are looking to understand how to get into and break into this market. We talked about differentiation at the beginning of the call and they, one of the reasons we're seeing such large checks in venture right now is because it's very hard to differentiate when the structure's a 2% management fee. Right. It's how do you add value to these companies? You write a bigger check, but that's not always a good thing for the company It comes with big expectations. It may be over dilutes them too early. And so when we really want to think about is how do we, right-size the value? How do we measure the value and how do we do that consistently as part of the relationship? so innovation group, that'd be one community. And how we think about go to market or go to community and then separately how does that yield an outsize value for investors and for the fund and how, what are the connection points between those two groups?

Mike:

Just kind of say, like you had kind of explained it really glad. He just dove deeper into that. Right. Cause as, as a, as somebody that's not in that world all the time, right? Like I'm not in Silicon valley, I'm in Jacksonville, Florida. It's basically the opposite, although it's coming up. Right. the idea that, the idea that an accelerator kind of model or a venture fund or whatever, doesn't do this. It's kind of counterintuitive to me, right? Like, like

Pablo Gonzalez:

as somebody that, that sees the value in business development on the like relationship enablement piece, as the highest multiplier, I find it kind of shocking that it's not clear already to every other fund and every other accelerator and every other community that the way you differentiate, the way you build a moat is by quantifying the people that you have around you and how that is valuable to the whole. It sounds like not everybody's doing this as is, I guess what I'm saying.

Mike:

So like, how did you guys,

Pablo Gonzalez:

where did the inspiration come from? Is there something that you're modeling? Is there something that you saw from a personal story that you're like, no, no, no, this is what needs to happen. And we need to quantify this as opposed to just going out and getting more money and getting into a pissing competition with people.

Mike:

Yeah.

Pablo Gonzalez:

What's

Mike:

up ladies. I got one. yeah, look, I think like other accelerate, there are certainly some other accelerators that have built amazing communities that are really valuable for their, for their founders that they work with. I think, you know, the difference between a traditional fund and us is just inherently the volume of companies that we invest in because we have the seed fund and the accelerator model, like we're investing in, you know, 60 companies a year, whereas like a traditional seed fund or even equity fund might invest in a dozen a year. So our community and the size of our community can just compound a lot faster because of the volume of companies we have in. And they typically don't because we have the accelerator with the programmatic piece, like we have. an organic way to have a high amount of touch points with a bunch of mentors, which are great operators who are also kind of like part of our, part of our community. and so, yeah, I think we just like naturally have, have a product in the sense that allows us to build a community a lot faster which we did, which then I think gives us an advantage over a lot of more traditional funds. I think it's brilliant, man. I love it.

Pablo Gonzalez:

All right. So real quick, Brett Ruiz, he's a, he's a B2C company, right. And I know he's developed his, it's actually kind of brilliant. Like he's got a home remodeling, a vertically integrated kind of like design-build home remodeling company. He's building out an app, but so he's, he's more B to C you guys are focused on, on B2B SaaS, but these concepts, everything that you're doing, are there, do you know of other kind of like accelerators or, or funds that operate the way that you do, but more in the B2C space? Have you heard of any.

Mike:

Yeah. I mean, obviously there's like, you know, w Y C Y Combinator is probably the biggest well-known and best one. and then there's a bunch of other, you know, like tech stars and 500 startups and a number of others that will do a mix of B2B and B2C companies. Yeah. Do you find

Pablo Gonzalez:

that, are they leaning into community also? Or is this, or is that more a newer way of that you guys are pioneering? Yeah, no, I think,

Mike:

yeah, I think all Techstars YC and 500, like a lot of the topics elevators that that we like run into all the time I would say are all trying to kind of build some version of community. I think it becomes a little bit more challenging when the types of businesses are all very different. unless you're at the scale that like a YC is at where they're doing hundreds of companies a year and therefore have enough of each type of company and to kind of build sub communities within it, But yeah, I mean, a lot of accelerators are trying to build some version of community as

Pablo Gonzalez:

well. Cool. Makes sense. All right. Let's get into, let's get into the, go to market stuff that you guys are already like really, really well seeped in. You now have this access. You've, you've touched a lot of companies. Your data set is significant. What are you seeing right now in go to market? That seems to be the move or the moves or better said, as Yakup is putting here in the, in the, in the Q and a, if you are going to start a SaaS, you know, what would, what would be your go-to? What would be your go to market? move

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That's interesting. This is really where the rubber hits the road. And I will say one of the reasons I love working at forum where there isn't, that shows this six months ago, when I joined officially is the small cohorts. You know, I'm working as a managing director with 10 companies at a time and that's it. And I'm like Mike said, you know, their head of sales, so to speak. and we have, we have multiple programs like that, but the reason I bring that up is because it's very unique depending on the company. How well capitalized are you? What are your strengths as a founding team? What market are you operating in and what are those unique. insights And so I think you have to take the time to really understand each business, understanding each the founders and help them optimize for where they can be successful. so I'm not gonna sit here and say there's one size fits all. We're seeing obviously a massive trend towards product led growth. You know, we're seeing a lot of interesting things happen relative to skillsets and the ease of an access to start a SaaS company, right from like zero scale. And if just a few months but I can give you some examples if it's helpful, right? Even examples that are not in our fund, like one you might be familiar with is, you know, seamless versus DoorDash, right? It's a famous example where seamless add one in the urban centers essentially. And door dash is like, you know, this isn't, this isn't the way that it's going to work. And everyone's like, no no, no, seamless already has it. But it with DoorDash really understood was that by starting outside the major cities, by starting in the urban air or the urban or suburban areas rather that's where the most of the population actually existed. And the last mile logistics problem was one that needed to be solved and it seamless. could have And so they started out of the cities and moved in because solving that problem in the city, it was not as difficult. And so sometimes you have to look at the business, you don't really understand what are you solving? What is the longterm you know, view on this business and how it evolves over time. And so that's the kind of care we take with each business to understand the unique insight, the founder's technical ability, right? The team's ability, you know, enterprise SaaS is not for the faint of heart. I managed people that were doing it for 20 or 30 years as a, as a career and still, you know, can struggle from time to time. And so it takes someone who's a tech founder and drop them into that sales motion is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. So you gotta think, and right-size the strategy for the company. but I love doing it cause like you get to workshop the other day as we're closing a new company for this cohort actually.

Mike:

And and

Jeff:

instead of just analyzing the business, we did an hour. How should we go to market? What's the best way to do it. And we just, we whiteboard it and we just had a good time actually. And it was somewhat of one of these moments where you could feel like the founders were coachable, where they were really adaptable and that they were really smart. Like frankly, they go toe to toe on topics they'd really never focused on. And like, those are the kinds of people this early in the game, precede that I want to be investing in. So I kind of went around the answer there, but no silver bullets.

Mike:

Well, I get

Pablo Gonzalez:

it. So it sounds to me, I was just

Mike:

gonna say to Jeff point Like it really depends on the business as well, like the market dynamics in the business that you're trying to build. So, you know, we'll like, I'll see a lot of if you're like a vertical SaaS company and like a pretty niche industry, like you have a pretty narrow set of Ideal customer profiles. And like, it's just, you know, it's all about like, how do you get in front of those people and how do you build credibility? And so oftentimes I see companies leverage, like, who are the people talking at the Cottonelle, like two or three conferences that like everyone in that niche industry goes to. And like, can you get them involved in your business as an advisor, as an investor? Like in a way where, like now the next time they're talking at the conference, they mention you or they get you involved somehow. Like it's all about building credibility and getting in front of people when you're in like a niche industry. And then another example is like, we have a company called first base where like, you know, there was a major shifts to remote work during COVID, which creates opportunity to then become. A thought leader in that space. And so then he started just posting a lot of like interesting content on Twitter and was just like very consistent about it and was like, you know, sharing, you know, interesting data points and things he was hearing in the market, which then became even more interesting. The more people he talked to and that has become like a major driver of inbound leads for them. And that was enabled to, because there was a major shift, which creates opportunities. So if there's not a major shift there, it's harder to create opportunity on a platform like Twitter or LinkedIn. But if there is that like major shift happening or some dynamic happening you can leverage those sorts of channels to like build yourself up quickly when everyone's scrambling to try to figure out what, you know, what's happening in the space. so really, it really depends on like the type of company and the market dynamics. I think it's like pretty different depending on. that

Pablo Gonzalez:

I love where this is going. Right. Cause, cause when I'm, when I'm hearing you say that I'm hearing, it's kind of influencer marketing and is kind of thought leadership and it's all enabled by a major shift that happened a long time ago and B to C, which is social media, that B2B is starting to catch up too. Right? Like I, I guess, I guess the question is for you, Jeff, right? Like you were in the guts of LinkedIn and I feel like LinkedIn 10 years ago was a completely different platform than it is right now. as far as a native content, you know, platform that now allows these pipes to be distributed. Are, are you, is there always going to be, let me rephrase it. What company would not be, should not be really looking to leverage social networks, right. Creating influencer plays and like, you know, influence with thought leaders on that channel. Is it like, is there any use case for that? And if not, can you kind of like give me w where your playbook is on how you create these thought leader relationships and how you can do that little bit of nudging. So you get that extra PR. Just to

Jeff:

test my understanding the questions earlier on.

Pablo Gonzalez:

I did not do you any favors there? Sorry, go ahead.

Jeff:

Thinking about how do you message your brand the right time, the right ways does it resonated across audiences? I mean, I think you also added, is there a time when you wouldn't want to do that?

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah, man, I guess, I guess, I guess I went really circular there. My main question is what I'm hearing Mike say, leverage a thought leader in your industry to, to gain kind of like a shout out the next time they're talking about something organically. Is that a, is that a social media play? Is that a live events play? How are you guys enabling that kind of stuff?

Jeff:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think you've got to play to your strengths. I mean, in Mike's example of first base, their founders and marketing machine, I mean, you follow on, on Twitter. You might get sick of hearing about remote work, but he's brilliant. He understands what's happening in the space. He can speak, you know, at length about all topics related to remote work. And so I think. In that scenario benefits a great deal to be out in the spotlight and to be sharing about what's happening and to be answering questions and writing threads and building a following, which I think is now north of 40,000 on Twitter and just about a year others have that. And so it requires some coaching. I think one thing I'll share with founders is that they should be doing fewer things done better. Communicating the right things at the right time and making really good decisions quickly like FCS at LinkedIn, Jeff Wiener called that focus, right. FCS being the acronym. And I think it's really smart to think about it that way, because you need as a founder, you have infinite things to do. And so if fewer things done better requires you to market your business. Fantastic. A lot of times like Mike was sharing early in days in these companies, you have to do things that don't scale. You have to work with finding your first few customers. You have to attend the events that, you know, you can land the relationships that will be your first investor. So again, I think it's a very customized to the founder's strengths and to what the company is looking to do. And some companies don't have the capacity to scale quite out of the gates, right? There's a, there's a level of how could we manage this many customers, even if we got them. And so you need to be really thoughtful around who you're acquiring, how you're acquiring them and how you're speaking about it. And so I try to try to focus that in, on fewer things done better and communicating the right things in the right time.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Did I catch an acronym that might came up with their FCS? Is that what it is?

Jeff:

FCS is a Jeff Wiener acronym for LinkedIn. but he calls it focus. Yeah.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Got it. It was fewer things done. Better communicating the right things at the right time. What was the last one? The speed

GMT20210712-202420_Recording_avo_640x360:

and

Jeff:

quality of decision-making

Pablo Gonzalez:

speed in quotes. Decision-making I like that. I like that. That's really cool. You know what, let me, let me pick you guys his brain about something that I'm kind of obsessed with, which is category design. How, how, how present is category design in. The average founders kind of vernacular. And how present is it in yours and how often do you see founders saying, I want to establish category. I want to go big, like this is that, is that something normal? And do you recommend it?

Mike:

Yeah,

Pablo Gonzalez:

I uh,

Mike:

I'll take, I'll take a crack at it first and then Jeff, you should jump in, but I would say so actually one of our some of our LP is, are actually the CEO and CMO of Gainsight. The CMO of Gainsight's now the CMO of hopin which is the like virtual events platform. But I think Gainsight was like one of the first to like really. Come up with a playbook around category creation. and you know, it was all about like, there was a, there was an early shift to people being, instead of being like customer support to customer success. And like, I think Salesforce was the first to post the job post with that title, but it was like nascent when they started it. And they realized that and they realized they were like an underappreciated role in an organization. And they decided to build a community that would empower them and like treat them like the superheroes and the community and build software specifically for them, but never in like a salesy way. And they, and they, you know, and then, then they started tracking like, okay, let's track, like all the things we're doing around category creation and community building. to like number of job titles with customer success in it to see if they, because one of their goals was like, can you build the whole market? Can you like, make the market bigger? And like build the customer success, kind of the idea of customer success. And they were incredibly successful. Like if you look at graphs of like, and the CMO showed me a graph of like number of mentions of customer success and on Twitter and like number of job titles with customer successes in it relative to like them executing that strategy. And then they ended up writing a book called category creation. And I think like once all of that narrative came out, there was like a, an, a pendulum swing of like everyone trying to like thinking they needed to create a category and like trying to figure out how to do that. And like, you know and I think it's. It's really hard to do. And it's like largely driven by the market dynamics. Like it's just not every market is going to be set up to be able to create a category. and so I think it really comes down to like, you need the similar dynamics that Gainsight had. you know, I think hopin it'll be interesting, like I'm sure Anthony who went from Gainsight to hopin will try to build that out. And I'm like, maybe he will, because I think like people who run events at companies are, are pretty under appreciated as well. And it's a really hard thing to do well. And, and so like, if you can kind of evangelize and build that community around that persona within a company, it could be, it could be an interesting strategy and you know, obviously virtual events and now hybrid events are probably a newish new enough category to kind of try to own that category. But yeah, I think it comes down to like you need, I think a lot of people tried to force it that didn't necessarily have the right market dynamics and I think you need the right market dynamics

Pablo Gonzalez:

Got it. Jeff, did you have anything on that or no,

Jeff:

Mike took the words out of my mouth so he can call me.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Cool. So great. So, so it's a move under the right circumstances. Don't try to force it.

Mike:

Yeah. And it's also like, you need to be, it's usually capital intensive because like, it's just a lot of things that you need to do. And so you need to be in a situation where either as a founder or like you have enough growth where you feel like it's not going to be high friction to get a lot of capital. Like Nick, Nick at Gainsight was like a seasoned entrepreneur. And like he knew if he could execute well and was growing, he'd have access to capital. and they had to raise a good amount of capital to execute on the plan. and it's paid off like, you know, they obviously had a great outcome. I think they sold for over a billion to Vista equity. But yeah, I think it's, I think it also can, can be a more capital intensive way to do it. so you need to be able to, you need to be good at raising money. Got it.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah. You gotta be able to evangelize the problem right. And get money for it. Yeah. Lydia puts in the comments that Gainsight's an amazing company and she was an early adopter and got to do that. Johnny Kitano who's a fellow south Florida guy. He puts drift is a really good company or good example in the end, the SaaS company, that's been real good at category design. and it's funny that what, what's the, what's the platform, the virtual events platform you just mentioned hopping happened. Yeah. It's, it's funny that you mentioned that one. Cause that's the one that. I feel like category designers are really good at word of mouth. And it seems to me that hopin has come into my life by different methods, not ad, right? Like through word of mouth now, like you're the fourth guy that mentioned it in the last, like two weeks.

Mike:

They might be the fastest growing SaaS company of all time. obviously had like incredible market tailwinds behind them and have been able to raise a ton of money. So I have a lot of resources, but yeah. I mean, they were like no right place at the right time with, with like probably the best product at the time for it. And yeah, I mean, they they've grown tremendously.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Are you guys familiar with cliff with ClickFunnels?

Mike:

Not really? No. Okay. So,

Pablo Gonzalez:

so then I can take it a different way, right? Cause they used to claim that they were the fastest, or at least he said that he was maybe it's the, the fastest non venture backed growing SaaS company of all time. But that being said, what I love about them, which is something that I've seen sacrum do with Terminus. And I've seen somebody do it at a very small scale and old partner of mine is this idea of being a service company that then, you know, goes hard at the community element of it, right? It goes hard at giving on how you would not hire us, then creates a software that allows them to serve their clientele, which at one point, once they've built this community, they turn around and offer it to their clientele. And now they have this perfect little launch like sequenced. Have you guys, is there, have you guys seen any other examples of that or is there anything that you've seen or, or, or how that.

Mike:

we've seen a couple of early versions of it. Like we've invested in some companies that were service businesses, built a little bit of a community and then kind of transitioned to software, but they're still like early days. And in doing that so not a ton of experience directly with companies we're investing in, but I'm trying to think if there's a good example. I'll have to think about it, Jeff, anything that comes to your mind on examples later stage companies that have done that successfully.

Jeff:

I, the thing where the, where the customers end up perpetuating the.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah, yeah. Kind of, and, and listen, and maybe there doesn't have to be examples, but like, I don't know if you've thought about that or, or if you were to do that kind of like, what are the right. Cause I know that, I know that Mike, I know that you've been, you've invested in like tech enabled service companies to a certain extent. And I, and I wonder how much of that chatter goes on indoors of like, should we just turn this tech and become a SaaS company versus just being a tech enabled company? How do you go, how do you go through that decision?

Mike:

yeah. Yeah. So those companies, like some of the companies we've invested in that are tech enabled service business is, you know, you can go two directions with it. Like Flexport is a good example of, there are a bunch of incumbent freight forwarders and, and like customs brokerages. And you could just build a software product and sell into them and sell into like the incumbents and try to convince them that they need to adopt technology. Or you can just build your own freight forwarding company and customs broker that's tech enabled from the beginning and just eat their lunch. And like, you know, so there's some, there's some opportunities where rather than trying to convince an old stodgy industry that they should, they should adopt technology. You should just build the new version of that with technology. And ultimately like it's going to be impossible to productize everything you do to make that happen, but you can productize a lot of it over time as you understand the nuances of it, because you're servicing it with humans as part of it. And Flexport has been able to like, you know, they, they're now a multi-billion dollar company in in what is maybe like the largest industry in the world. And like, I, you know, I think they're just going to be like, I think they're gonna be a massive company, but they're not a pure software company. Like they are, they're our service business that uses technology to just be so much better than being incumbents

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah. That makes sense. And, and listen, I've, I've been a part of something like that. And we were asking ourselves, should we continue to be a service-based tech business? Or should we go the route of like selling this thing and transforming the marketplace when you, I dunno if Freeport was having those conversations, if you've had those conversations, does it come down to like founder ambitions kind of thing? Like, it's like, no, cause I want to be a tech company versus a service company. And maybe I can make 500 million books as a service company, but maybe I can make a billion as a tech company or, or what's, what's that conversation.

Mike:

I think it comes down to just how much can like, can you actually productize everything you're doing in a way that you could sell software? I think a lot of founders, I mean, yeah, it comes down to like founder ambition, but a lot of, a lot of it. Like, there are just some things that you just can't do with technology. And if that's what you do and you can't automate all of it and build software for all of it, then it's a decision of, you know, do you, instead of taking on the incumbent, sell software to the incumbents, which I think depends on, on like the market and how, you know, how much they're adopting technology and you know, how competitive that space is. But but yeah, I think, you know, if you're a service company and you can build technology to automate what you're doing you're probably going to have an opportunity to grow a lot faster than you otherwise would as a service business and, and generate more equity value. but it's a different, it's a different skill set. And like, oftentimes when companies transition from service to software, like they have to hire a whole new team. It's like, it's just a different mindset, and different skillset. so I find that it's hard to make that transition. Unless you're like really all in on it. Like it's hard to straddle the two.

Pablo Gonzalez:

That makes a lot of sense. And, and, and some of what I heard you say is also, you know, it depends on the market. To me, it means a lot like depends on the customer, right? Like I, I started in the construction industry. It's a troglodyte industry that getting the average construction guy to accept an, a tablet instead of a large piece of plans was a major uphill battle. Right. So it's like, I guess you think consumer first, and can you actually get people to substitute the status quo for this new faculty? No, you created right.

Jeff:

Crossing the chasm, right? He talks about big enough to matter and small enough to solve not one at the exclusion of the other. And so thinking about what is a big enough market where I can reasonably solve this challenge and then move up market over time. And so I think we're seeing this actually a lot now in consulting where these consulting agreements are. You know, outside his contract values. And so you see folks coming in who may not have turned it into software yet, but believe they can normalize the data and normalize the intake of certain data points, run models against it, and start to transition what might be a pretty replicatable consulting agreement into a software product over time. And while you're bringing the price point down for the customer, you bringing the margins up to the investor. And so it's a, win-win on both sides and you're displacing an incumbent. but to the point of the conversation, it may start as a services business. So long as it's thoughtful enough to consume those data points as assets, think about them as assets and how they might compound over time, informing the models, informing the software. I think for a large company to transition from services to software to Mike's point is. It's a Herculean lift to change over the archetypes of the roles, the emotions of the sales teams, the way that you think about customer value. And so I think that actually leaves a wildly, you know, I think outsized opportunity to append to some of those markets. And that's what you're seeing today. Really smart people, leading those industries, they find it easier to build because it's sort of a race of resources. The big company has the footprint they need to race to innovate. And the small company is nimble. And so they need a race to build because they can go acquire. It's just like a function of like, you know, which one do you want to choose? Right.

Pablo Gonzalez:

I love it, man. I love it. The, and it makes sense, right? Like it's like the, that is your advantage, right? Like if you're the big company, you have all this momentum that you can bank on, but it also makes it harder to steer the ship while like, if you're the little pirate ship you can maneuver around and then see if you can build enough, a big enough weapon to take down the big ship. Right. Yeah.

Mike:

And they

Jeff:

inside the industry understand it well. And other customers. it's a lot of opportunity for folks that are in big corporations right now to, you know, create a lot of value for themselves and for the industry. And, but it's a hard jump. You know, we see founders who are really taking a massive leap in a bet on themselves. And I think that's one of the reasons they come to a place like form. They want to be surrounded by folks who've done the same, who are going to be in the trenches with them. I'm going to give them a little bit of energy every day, you know, inspire them and pat them on the back and be there when things are hard, because, you know, it's, it's scary to leave a big company like that with a good job and good benefits to try to change the room.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah, man, I you're speaking straight into my heart. Like I've done it. that makes a lot of sense and I love that. That's a, that's a really nice little sound bite that we're gonna cut out. Cause I, I just think it's great. It's great advice, right? Like it's great advice of this. Yeah. When you're inside the machine, you're going to have great perspective into little problems that are small enough to solve and big enough to, to build for. And then you got to bet on yourself, right? Like if you were before we get into Q and a what advice, and maybe each of you can take a shot at this one. Right. But like, what advice would you give the founder apart from joining a community and surrounding yourself from great people. But when you're, when you're thinking about making that jump from corporate to founder, what is the number one thing that they really, really need to understand that they're probably not thinking about yet or somebody hasn't really told them about that life

Jeff:

Well, let's think about it. So I, you know, I think there is a lot of pressure placed on this notion of starting a company. You need to be passionate about it and you need to want to do it every day, all day. I talk, I spoke to a founder recently. He shared with me this, this idea that he, he feels guilty all the time. A hundred percent of the time when he's working, which you could, which he could do 24 hours a day, he feels guilty. He's not with his family. And then I said, but when I'm with my family, I kind of feel guilty. I'm letting my customers and my business down. So I think you have to get comfortable knowing that you're gonna disappoint a lot of people, maybe even yourself. And you have to be okay with the idea that, you know, nothing's going to be perfect. You got to not go into this thinking, you know, I'm going to be a billionaire in a couple of years. That's not the goal. I mean, the goal really is to enjoy the work you do, you know, not necessarily have balance between them, but harmony, like enjoy going to work. You enjoy going home. That kind of thing. I meet founders like that. They have a clear presence of mind They approach their work with, you know, humility yet passion. it's sort of like having a realistic outlook on it because I think if you just were sitting inside a big company hearing, you know, people talk about it, they would say, you gotta, you know, find your passion, you know, what are you? You know, it's like, I don't know. I'm not sure what I'm passionate about. Maybe I'll find out, you know, as I get older, but maybe instead I'd replace it with ch you know, chase your curiosity. And if you, you know, if it's endless, if you can't stop looking into it, you know, that could be enough to start a company. If you're realistic about what that means for the rest of your life.

Mike:

That's a good answer. I don't know if I can follow that. Um, Mike texted it to me.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Um,

Mike:

so one of the things that we've seen, a decent amount of people transition from corporate to startups, and I think one of the big things that. You, you need to get used to when you make that transition as speed and just like the speed at which you execute the speed at which you make decisions. Like, you know, a lot of times it's just like a faster pace and like, you can't, it can't take weeks to make a decision. It needs to take hours. And like, you need to just do, you don't need to like, get approvals from people or like get opinions from people. So I think a lot of it is just like getting used to so that just like w you know, just doing all the time and like, you may not, it doesn't need to be perfect and you don't need to get Like feedback from 10 different people. Like, you just need to like, trust your instincts, because like, you took the risk to jump and do that for a reason. Like, you understand whatever industry or problem you're trying to solve, hopefully better than most people. And like, you need to trust that. And then I think the other is just like finding your early believers. Like, you just need to. And that, that maybe that's investors and like, you know, that's Austin, a lot of cases for some of our company is, but, but like, it could be just, it could be peers, it could be, you know, your partner, like you just need to find to Jeff's point. Like you need to find the early believers to just help keep it through because it's going to be, it's tough. Like, you know, it's, it's challenging. It's going to be more of a grind than you think things are going to be harder than you think. And like, you just need that support system around you and you need to find those like early believers who believe in you, maybe even more than you believe in yourself. so I think that's, that's a key part of it. too

Pablo Gonzalez:

Yeah, I love it, man. You guys, you guys basically. So this is my first, but this is my second go around at starting a company. And you kind of like iterated through the, exactly the lessons learned in these two times in order, right? Like the idea you took the words right out of my mouth. I felt guilty when I'm working because I'm not with my family, but then I feel guilty when I'm not working because I'm supposed to be building this thing. That was my first misery experience. And then, and then Mike, what you were saying, it rings so true to me because it's like the, one of the biggest things that I've noticed is that the people that love you the most have different, have a different set of priorities for you than when you were in like founder mode, right? Like when you're in founder mode, you're in like risk go big grow and people that love, you just want to protect you. Right. So they're going to give you advice. That's not going to really help you out. when you're, when you're out there failing forward and needing to iterate and needing to do all these things. So I thought that was really good, man. I appreciate that guys. All right. So let's, let's go into QA. Let's knock out some QA. We got a bunch of really, really good questions. Sam Sam young ask originally when we were in the, in the community conversation. and then he rephrased it to, to a good one here. When, when building a community, what are you, what are you looking at for keeping it productive? And, and what are you trying to avoid from keeping it harmful? Have you guys thought through kind of how you mitigate the risks of a bad seed or a red flag and how you kind of like, keep that on the productive tip?

Jeff:

I guess that's one for me. I'll, I'll take it. so on the, on the program side, we think about our accelerator and think about the community there. A lot of it's on rails. A lot of like the value we add is on rails. When I say that, I mean, you know, we have, programmatized the value that we add through sessions, through mentors, through office hours through our slack channel, through the events that we hold. And so a lot of it is sort of pre-baked in terms of bringing people together, having healthy conversations and we haven't left that part to chance So one thing has only been a chance, like put some structure in place. on the other side of things, I would think a little bit about the expectations you said and being conscious of under promising and over delivering, you know, you often see the opposite, you see com you see companies or communities. Think about how to tell this big narrative, tell this big story, and that's a recipe for under-delivering. And so you really gotta think about what is it that you're providing? What is it that is like, kind of the core of what you do? How are you measuring it? And that's okay if that's all you share and all you communicate because it leaves you a lot of room to surprise and delight. And I think that's what we're trying to do here is create a notion of progress and momentum and, you know, real value. And so she's gotta be careful on the communication front, on how you think about the community and not, you know, it's not going to be the next Facebook at Harvard, you know, 20 years ago where everyone was on and then you couldn't even get in it's, you know, you gotta be a, you gotta be honest about what you're providing. And I think in general, when that happens, you see a lot of You see a lot of goodness. And I think Matt, rather than red flags, I would just challenge that question a bit to say, look for your super connectors. Look for the people who can supercharge it and try that. Put some gas on that fire. That's really an opportunity where there the red flags seem to fall by the wayside. You know, the folks that are not contributing tend to get.

Pablo Gonzalez:

I love it. Lean into your super consumers, man. That's a, that's a book I I'll send to you by Eddie Yoon. Super consumers is awesome. And by the way, on the, on the first advice thing, really great comments in the chat, right? Brett Rudy's is a seasoned entrepreneur writing progress, not perfection to your point, Mike and Lynn's Floren is a buddy of mine that he's, he's now just diving into the entrepreneurial journey. He's actually gotten real quick. Good market validation. He's putting trusting in six is hard sometimes, man. So definitely need to find your, find your, find your. So when you said find the people that are cheering for you, right? Like right friend find the ones that are going to egg you on man. I love it. All right. Gianni Quintana south Florida guy. He's he's asking what is Jeff and Michael's thoughts about micro crowdfunding, angel investors and other accelerators. And also have heard that Silicon valley is seen more as the origin of SaaS, but now you have accelerators within most states. Miami is making some waves with mayor Suarez, getting some pretty interesting SaaS companies, such as all right. So, so let's, let's break that down because I am kind of obsessed with what mayor Suarez is doing in Miami, I think is really, really cool. But what is what are your thoughts on like crowdfunding angel investing and stuff like that?

Mike:

yeah, I mean, I'll take a crack at it. So there are three separate things. I'll start with accelerators. Cause that's easy of like, yeah, there are, there are a lot of accelerators out there. some I think are really good and some are not. And and so I think you just need to like do your homework when you're looking at accelerators. of like You know, what is the value they're going to provide? How do they have data points to prove that they're actually providing that value in that companies are like doing good things afterwards. And then can you talk to founders who went through the program to like validate that? And, and I think like you just need to be very clear because an accelerator can be an expensive form of capital from an equity standpoint. So you just need to be very clear on like, is this the right thing for my business? What do I want to get out of it? And do I think, do they have a track record of helping to deliver what I want to get out of it? and so those are the things I would kind of look at from an accelerator standpoint. And you know, there are certainly like, you know, we take founders from everywhere. You don't have to be in San Francisco. We actually, you can be in person in San Francisco, New York or Toronto, but you can also do it virtually. and there's a lot of, a lot of accelerators that are virtual, some that are like in person, in different states all over the place. And so just really understand what that is and what the value you're going to get out of. Angel investors are great. for the most part, like in non-tech ecosystems, I think some angel investors are like, Can be challenging to work with if they're not used to investing in tech companies. and so just like finding people who have experience investing in tech companies and like understand the dynamics of tech companies and, you know, and then hopefully that can be helpful to you. And then I would say the other piece is like you know, like I, I remember distinctly I had a company where they had an angel investor who wanted to write like a 5k check into the company and they're like, is it even worth it? Like, it's a small check. Like I'm trying to raise like hundreds of thousands here. And I was like, look, you never know where value is going to create it, like where the network is going to come from. Like, if you, if you like bought like had good vibes from this person and like, they have a good background that's relevant for you and you think their network would be helpful, like take it. And so they ended up taking it and then that person ended up investing, you know, introducing them to their lead investor for their seed round. you know, like six months later and it's, it just shows me like angel investors can be really happy, helpful, and usually like punch way above their check size from like a, how much value add, especially if they're a new angel investor trying to like build a brand and reputation around angel, investing to get more deal flow. so I think angel investor is gonna be great. I think crowdfunding used to have a bit of a negative connotation and I think that's changing very quickly. and so I see more and more companies doing that. I think for super businesses, it makes a ton of sense. Cause you could like get a bunch of potential customers. for B2B companies we see at least often, but I, I think it, it can work and it's helpful. Yeah. One company doing that right now, a company called where they've raised money from VCs and angels, but they also wanted a bunch of the people who are on their app. Who are like people taking golf lessons from like professional golfers, virtually to like be able to invest in the company. And so they allocated a certain part of the round for, for crowdfunding through I think Republic. And they're allowing like, you know, anyone, but they're like promoting it to like the people on their app we're using their app, like their end users. So that's an example of like, there are B to C and B2B using crowdfunding, but yeah, I think that the narrative is changing around crowd funding and I, I think it's really interesting space to be keeping an eye on and more and more companies are going to be doing it.

Pablo Gonzalez:

That's interesting. Now what's the name of that app again? ScaleIO first skill skill, like learning skills S yep. Yep. There you go. Skill list.com. There you go. Awesome, man. That's really cool. All right. Lee, Lydia flow Cine who's brings up a really good point that I wanted to hit on. She brought it up in the chat, but I want to bring it up in the Q and a that it's, it's amazing. The, the diversity of portfolio, you know, like of your companies and the founders on your site, right? Like you guys are clearly unique in this vision of the tech borough in having a very diverse you know, board and, and, and investors that you guys have. Can you talk about, you know, the, the, did that happen by accident? Like what, what is, are you guys out there, you know, focusing on diversity and where you see the value in diversity and inclusion, education, and programs and funding.

Mike:

Yeah, go ahead, Jeff. I can jump

Jeff:

in. Yeah. Know, I'm pretty proud of the work that the team has done here. So we have a, we have a broader team beyond liking myself. 10 of us. And you know, at our last cohort of 30 companies, 53% were underrepresented or had a woman at the helm. I think that as we think about investing in companies today, we had really conscious around what have been vicious cycles need to be turned into virtuous ones. You need to give people the opportunity and the access that they may not have had. And I think farmers did an amazing job of that. And one of the ways that we're continuing to not only invest in those companies like we have but double down in the talent by creating a matching program that our head of DNI is working on Steph Jones. they're working on connecting students and early in career individuals to our portfolio companies. And so taking it one step further from just the financing to, you know, actually staffing the companies and helping them, you know, build companies that think the way that we do about, you know, building great, great businesses that are representative of not only, you know what they're trying to accomplish, but the customers are trying to.

Pablo Gonzalez:

That's awesome, man. I mean, do you guys find that there's extra opportunity there because people just aren't thinking from that perspective and it's all just a bunch of like straight white guys in the room that they don't see an opportunity like Spanish or they don't see an opportunity, you know, stuff like that.

Mike:

Yeah. I think that's part of it. I mean, it's something that we've been thinking about from the beginning and you know, there's always more we can be doing, but I think our thought process was like, we're investing so early at such like a formative time of the company that like the more diverse the founders are, the more diverse their teams are gonna be. And so like again, for the size of fund, we are, we we've felt like we could have like an out-sized impact on it, just given the volume of companies and the stage of companies that we invest in. and so, yeah, it's something we've been like thinking about from the beginning and part of the drive behind that was, was opportunity. Like if, you know, I think there's just like a lot of founders who are great founders that were overlooked for reasons that they shouldn't have been overlooked for. And it creates a lot of opportunity for great businesses to be built. and so, yeah, I think you know, we're, there's always more we can be doing on that front for sure. But, but it's something that we're focused on and track and publish our stats publicly to hold ourselves accountable on. And you know, we're doing, we're doing our small part. Yeah.

Pablo Gonzalez:

I love it. I think it's really admirable, man. Kudos to you guys. So Johnny and Gisella, who's up late. She's in London and she's still on the call Gisela thank Thank you for being here. That's awesome. They're asking what are the, what are the main marketing metrics that accelerators and VCs look for in us in a SaaS startup?

Mike:

Yeah, the main, sorry, marketing metrics. Yeah.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Marketing metrics. So like MRR, ARR and R C CAC LTV, like really focusing on that. You want to see.

Mike:

Jeff you're on. I'm sorry. You want me to, and I'll jump in. I

Jeff:

think that's interesting. The place that we see in the stack, you know, pre-seed, we're seeing some of the earliest companies, you can imagine whether they've just become incorporated, just building a product or have a few customers. And so in some ways that's not the first thing we look at, you know, we'll look at the quality of the founding team, where they come from their domain expertise and in spaces that are operating in. And so there are metrics that you can look at in terms of. Example when you're this early. So how's that market performing? How is it growing? What might be changing or shifting? those are interesting metrics to us as it pertains to, you know, go to market and sales. I certainly always appreciate to see traction, you know, where there's smoke, there's fire. Can we understand why those customers might be buying what it is that they're solving, how measurable that pain point might be or the value that's created? because again, these early days it might be a team of two or three. I don't expect anyone to have a hundred customers, but if they have two or three great customers and they can, articulate the value really well, to me, that's a scalable sales strategy that I can get behind the wheel of and help them to, to really blow out where you'll start to see it become more important and impactful is in product led growth companies. So when you start to look at things like daily or monthly active users, you start to look at, you know, growth rates of, you know, customer wait lists or potential user wait lists. Those are the things that start to get tracked generally through our pre-seed program, because they're going to market, get them, we're helping them go to market. And so as they go out to raise, you know, later down the funnel, or later down the cycle into a seed or series a, it starts to become a lot more pertinent to understand things like your growth rates, your attraction, the different channels in which you're selling and how those are evolving, what network effects might exist. So can one customer equal two or three as an example and some of our customers, some of our portfolio companies they do. And then Yeah. I mean, the last thing maybe I'll add there is just have a really good understanding of when you deploy of capital that you're raising back into the company, how those metrics then change. One of the things I think founders often miss that they are selling to investors is what am I going to use this capital for? And how does the business change? What milestones might I hit relative to ARR MRR, you know, user growth, et cetera. how am I going to deploy those funds? And so less about the specifics, but more about like the, why are you thinking about it the way you are and how does that evolve over time so that it becomes investible?

Mike:

Yeah. I have one other more like granular thing that I look at at this really early stage, because it's like, you don't have a ton of data to Jeff's point on revenue and growth and all the obvious kind of like living at churn and all. that Is just looking at like, what is, how are they thinking about pricing it right now? And like, what do they think the average contract value will be? And then how is that relative to their go to market motion and their sales cycle? Cause like, when I want to look at is like, do I think it's, if I like squint and look into the future, do I believe that they can plug in sales reps and sales reps can do can book kind of like four to five X, what they cost all in. and you know, if you're like a 10K a year product and it's like a three month sales cycle, like it's hard to imagine that working, unless you see a path to growing, to like landing and expanding. So really just understanding like where they think the price point is now or can be over time relative to the sales cycle and the sales motion to understand if like an inside sales model is gonna work and be like scalable and repeatable. So that's one thing that I try to look at in the really early days. as like a, just like a gut check on whether it's going to work.

Pablo Gonzalez:

Hmm. That makes a lot of sense. I'd never heard about like time dynamics, like pipeline velocity combined with CAC and in the early days and how, you know, like how important that would be. That sounds really, really cool. And I love the idea that if you might have one client, but if you're, if you have three clients and they're all raving fans of yours, that's worth way more than just three clients. Right.

Mike:

I just wanted to jump in. I saw one question it's about the summer cohort. I'm sorry. This week, someone who interviewed last week, so just wanted to address it. yeah, so we technically started today. We're still, we had a bunch come in and kind of last minute, so we're still making some final decisions over the next like day or two. and then, and then we'll get back to everyone who kind of, you know, had recent interviews with the team. So we'll be, we'll be, we'll probably be back in touch, you know, in the next few days here. Yeah.

Pablo Gonzalez:

And that's a Shima Sharma. She should get punished for being on this call, right. Like really going for it.

Mike:

Yeah. No, that's great. I appreciate

Pablo Gonzalez:

it. guys, I want to be respectful of your time. I know you've got a hard stop, but I've got a couple more questions I'd love to get to, but this is awesome. I really, really appreciate you guys doing this. It's an honor to have you guys here as the first iteration of this, the launch of the B2B community builders show where can, where can people go to connect with you? What do you, you know, like talk about whatever you want to promote right now, and either connecting with you or somebody that you want to put a spotlight on, take a, take a minute or two to promote whatever you want.

Mike:

Yeah. Uh, yeah, I mean, so the website is just forum, vc.com. I'm Mike at forum, VC dot COVID gunny, email me I'm on Twitter at M G Cardamone. but yeah, that's my DMS are open, like happy to, you know, with, with the caveat that my wife's due in a week. So I might be on paternity leave for the next year. Right.

Pablo Gonzalez:

That's right. Full full disclosure here. Mike was like, you better have a backup guy. Jeff, what about you, Mel? What's the best way to get ahold of you or anything that you want to kind of promote? I just dropped into

Jeff:

the chat. That's our new website, rebrand when fantastic. It kudos to the team internally. If they're watching this drop their emails there as well. And if you're starting a company reach out, I try not to miss a single Decker email. I want to know everything that's going on. Teach me something about an industry. Teach me something about a software that's going to take over. I'd love to hear about it and read about it. So don't be shy and hello. Thanks for having us. I had a lot of fun.

Mike:

Yeah. And congrats to you on the rebrand and launch of the new show and everything. And yeah. Thank you for having us on for the first line. That's. That's great.

Pablo Gonzalez:

I appreciate you guys could, it could have had better guests on that. I really appreciate it. And if you guys want to hop off, hop off, I just want to thank, I want to thank Lydia, Brett, Johnny and the comments, Kim. Thank you for still being here, right? Like Gina. Thank you for Gina's my CEO. She's amazing. I'm just, I'm just kind of roll call thanking guys. If you guys want to hop off. Thank you so much. Yeah, you guys, Deanna, thank you for staying on the slate, Mary, congrats on, you know, getting, getting to be in the forum venture and, and starting your cohort Ashima. I think it's really, really cool that you are on this doing the extra due diligence of, you know, being on the call and, and, and, and whatnot. So, Brett, thanks for always supporting me, man. Thank you for if you're still on this call, really, really appreciate it. I would love to hear from you on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you You know what you thought? Like, let me know, let me know how I can host this better. I'm going to be hosting these every two weeks. I'm going to have a live show. And then I also have my podcasts that I released twice a week. Right. So there's going to be about five episodes that are not live. One episode. That is five episodes that are not live. One that is. If you want to be on the podcast, right? Johnny, we're about to talk about that soon, Brett you're coming on the podcast, but if you, Jenny is definitely coming on the podcast but if you've got a good take on community creation for the future of business development, you're a sales and marketing leader, an executive that has a nuance approach to relationship building and how the future is. Relationship-based not transactional based. I want to talk to you. I want to put you on my stage. I want to help you shine. I want to add value to your journey. So thank you. Thank you so much for being here. This was a really cool experience, Gina. And I told ourselves that if 20 people show up, then it's a home run and we still have 21 on right now, an hour and a half later. Right. So really, really cool. Thank you so much for showing up and I'll see you on LinkedIn or email or text me 3 0 5 9 9 2 3 1 3 0. I'm just throwing that one out there. Take care. Appreciate you.