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The Gut Wrenching Side Of Silicon Valley With Chris Long

Daniel Kovac | Founder, Pipevine

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This article was originally published as "The Gut Wrenching Side Of Silicon Valley With Chris Long" when it was featured on the Pipe Vine blog on January 17, 2017.

Anyway, we're back at it with Chris to discuss the highly famed Silicon Valley. We talk about the hard lessons the Valley served him, how to make it as a tech start-up & the key factors toward's turning the noggins of potential investors.

The Valley is a dense melting pot of tech organisations, home to some of the world's largest companies. Facebook, Google and Apple all call the Southern San Fransico Bay area to paint a picture.

So first of all, Chris, can you fill in any gaps here or add to this?

It's been a while, but to start with, the high-tech start-up culture has somewhat moved more into San Francisco, with the larger, campus style tech companies located in Silicon Valley and surrounds. Don't underestimate the Valley, it's still the most influential part of the Bay Area technology phenomenon, but the 'hip' way to do your startup is now within San Francisco itself.

This may be a little touchy, but I understand you may have, let's say...had a somewhat 'character building' experience with the Silicon Valley?

It's not really that touchy - technically a little emotional (get it - Moodswing?) - but we had a great adventure and learnt a lot about business and ourselves. Brad Moore and I joined Jake McKeon's start-up Moodswing in 2013 and went on a journey I wouldn't change for a second. Jake is an unbelievable guy and massive social influencer - to take on the project and risk he did really shows his conviction and strength of character.

Long story short, what were two fresh-faced Aussies doing in the Valley?

We had the hottest new app and were ready to make millions... Seriously, we had over 100,000 users and the world was ours, planning relocation and offices was the tip of the iceberg for us, and it was really fun and exciting.

Well, what happened?

Well, we failed to track the important metrics for a social networks/community apps at the time - to prove your app has life, your retention rates really need at least half the people who register to come back the next day. 40% to still be using it 7 days later and 30% a month later. Anything less than that, then you’re not viral, and your product sucks. You also can’t spend a cent on user acquisition.

We also met with nobody/small time investors and attended some meet ups but were way out of our league at the time. We also had a really ugly app - but we loved our ugly app. The funniest meet up was some backward-timeshare-seminar looking thing, where a representative from a startup they had already funded spoke and he denounced Facebook, discussed its death spiral (I guess not), but assured his group social network was on the rise, with Lady Gaga tweeting about it. From that point, I will not underestimate the level of delusion founders can find when they work within their own reality distortion field (which is a necessary evil for awesome founders).

There's been some tough lesson's here for sure, I can only assume you grew from it all dramatically?

We came back without funding and with more questions than answers, but we learnt some of the rules to the game and had a great trip.

From there, we created and launched a crowdfunding effort, which was our first 'pivot' attempt and the majority of funds we raised were personally or from family, so we weren't sure if we would go any further with it.

During the campaign in 2014, we had the opportunity to apply for a tech-startup accelerator in Richmond called Angel Cube. We practised our pitch and gave it all to a panel of 5. The Angel Cube guys were ruthless/professional/awesome in the interview - deliberately ignoring us and texting/emailing while we were pitching to push our nerves and resolve. On reflection, their rigorous style really prepared us for the realities of startup-land haha.

Jake was killing the pitch, then my moment to shine came when we were asked how we would monetise the huge new app (at the time) Tinder.

Fortunately, I had read an article about 2 or 3 days before highlighting that it was a loss-leading venture for the online dating behemoth Match.com who they didn't mind losing money to this new craze, as it was conditioning Tinder users for their other paid, online dating products.

So I interrupted and fielded that question and hit it out of the park - I think their reaction was a combination of "great answer" and "this nerd won't ever match with anyone on Tinder"

We were admitted to Angel Cube, received $20k in funding and were whipped for 13 weeks to get our app and pitch right. We finished back in San Francisco and New York, pitching our ideas to legitimate investors. It was then we realised no-one in mental health thought social media was a good idea, and no-one in social media investment wanted to fund something mental health related. Our understanding of the startup game meant we quickly came to peace with it, completely content we'd had a decent shot at the idea, and it just wasn't to be.

What's your essential advice to any tech start-up out there launching in 2017 looking for funding, or to even just get noticed?

I have three tips for startups.

1. Product
2. Product
3. Whatever research you've done so far, do 10x as much and then go 3x broadly. Learn your vertical and adjacent verticals intimately - you don't know when you will get asked the Tinder monetisation question, and when you do, it pays to know your stuff.

The amount of money you can raise? Depends on how much traction your product has.

The % of your business you have to sell? Depends on how compelling your product is and the size of the problem it solves.

How quickly will investors pay to bridge your cash flow? Depends on how sticky your product is.

Why is your retention (user re-visits) poor? Your product sucks...

Is a return to the valley on the cards by any chance?

Yes - I'm currently a key team member in an extremely exciting startup called VideoMyJob. VideoMyJob allows you to quickly film, edit & share a branded video for your product, service or story. We've started by targeting plain old job descriptions, but our technology supports any industry or business.

We recently raised funding from a pool of private investors, and we're growing our clients and users which includes major Australian brands like Australia Post and an international push is inevitable, so the Green Tortoise hostel in San Francisco may not have seen the last of me...

Well, there you have it. If you're about to pursue your own Uber, this article may one day save you a very, very long trip home from the US!

And in all seriousness, do yourself a favour and check out VideoMyJob. Chris has every right to be pumped about this startup. It's a massive game changer for the video production of any product, service or story.

UPDATE 31 July 2018: VideoMyJob is reaching new heights everyday - check out their blog

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