How to Meet VCs and Fundraise during Lockdown

I joined the Startup Istanbul team this week for a session on fundraising tips. The full 1 hour discussion is here, in case you’d like to hear the discussion addition to these notes and tips. Ozan captured the outline of the call on his twitter feed. I thought I would expand on the pain point of connecting with the investor and the fundraising process itself.

First and foremost, investors want to hear from you. Period. We all love meeting great new companies. That said, here are a few tips that may help make magic happen:

Tip 1: Do your homework. It’s best to avoid a cold email an investor, but if you have to, be sure to do your research first. This means looking at the size investment, stage and sectors they’ve historically invested into and what’s written on their website, and then tailoring your email to showcase how and why you believe your company could be a good fit. You can learn a lot about an investor from Crunchbase (and it’s free! :). You’ll need to go through this exercise whether you’re cold emailing or are getting an introduction. Also, I proposed a structure you can use here for your pitch deck once you get the meeting.

Tip 2: How do I get in touch with an angel or VC if I don’t know anyone? Introductions matter. If you’re really just starting out and are building your network, you have to start somewhere. But where? Some suggestions if you’re entirely new to the ecosystem: University contacts. Classmates that started companies, work at startups or are in incubators, accelerators, etc. Professors of computer science, entrepreneurship or business (I’ve given talks at schools before), next up are incubators and accelerators themselves. If you can get onto the ladder via an accelerator program, they frequently host demo days and are well connected to the investor community. I’ve attended countless demo days over the years. Another great way into a VC is via their portfolio company! If you know someone inside one of their companies, it’s possible to get in touch that way (this is one way I’ll get in touch with VCs I don’t know, via a common portfolio company). Reverse engineering connections via LinkedIn is also a great way to find a connection — use email for the actual connection though, not LinkedIn. Your response rate will be much better.

Tip 3: Valuation. You can build in a little short term flexibility on valuations — I would recommend using a convertible note or SAFE note right now — you can set a valuation cap, without setting a valuation while the market is uncertain. Be careful though — you still need to think about total dilution once the note converts to equity. I suggested in the interview that dilution ranges from 10%-30% for any given round, and you still need to keep that in mind when raising money and setting caps. Another benefit of using a note is that the documentation is much simpler. As in a few pages vs a shareholders agreement and articles of association. Both are easily 20+ pages each. More pages = more legal fees. Which takes me to Tip 4.

Tip 4: Use standard deal documentation where possible. There are several online resources with standard documents — save yourself the time and money, and use these templates. Here is what Seedcamp recommends.

Tip 5 (technically a question): Are VCs investing? You bet. The current crisis has meant that consumption patterns have shifted, and very rapidly. At GR, we’ve seen customer adoption curves that should have taken two years happen in two months for some of our portfolio companies. There is a huge shift to digitalization and remote access happening right now — if your company benefits from, or enables this transition, you’re going to find investors are very open to your business.

Good luck out there!

Hacking Sleep Part 3, The Corona Chronicles

I posted Hacking Sleep Part 1 and Hacking Sleep Part 2 around two years ago, and haven’t made any major modifications to my sleeping habits since then. 

Under lockdown, my sleep started getting weird, so I began paying close attention to what was happening. Setting aside the strangeness of lockdown, I realized that every day was basically Groundhog Day – so I could start to turn tiny dials on my day to see how it impacted sleep. 

It seems like sleep issues are affecting a lot of people these days, so I wanted to share a few tools I’ve been using to go from good sleep, to great sleep almost every day for the past several weeks:

  1. Unplug by Motion Nutrition – far and away the best sleep aid I’ve ever taken. Yes have a crush on this product, yes I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen. No, I do not receive compensation for my kind words. When I first started supplementing with Unplug I had the clear sensation that I’d slept WELL during the night. A good, solid night’s sleep, where I woke up refreshed. Far more refreshed than with ZMA (see Hacking Sleep Part 2). This continues to be the case almost a year later. Unplug is just a blend of herbs, so there’s nothing pharmaceutical in there, and like a lot of sleep aids, there’s no 5-HTP, which actually messes with your brain chemistry. Also, you don’t build up a tolerance or a dependency on it like you will with 5-HTP. In case you’re worried, I can sleep just fine with no Unplug, but it’s not that sweet, sweet baby slumber that makes me feel like I’m 20 again when I wake up. Grab a sample pack, see if it works for you. Highly, highly recommended.
  2. Rise Sleep – if Unplug got me through the night, Rise Sleep helped me with my day. It’s a very different take on a sleep app, and focuses on your “Sleep Debt”. For me, Rise calculated that I need 8hrs 15 min of sleep per night to not accumulate Sleep Debt (using 359 nights of sleep data – I use a sleep tracker which I’ll cover in point 3). If I sleep less than 8hrs 15min, I begin to accumulate debt, sleep longer, and I get “credit”. Rise works out your circadian rhythm, and suggests when you should stop drinking coffee, when your productive periods are, and most importantly, when you should wind down and go to bed. I followed the app’s recommendations to the letter the first week and saw my sleep debt drop from 7hrs to <1hr. I can tell you, when you have less than one hour of sleep debt, you feel AMAZING. I mean click your heels in the air amazing. My bed time is 9pm now, which seems crazy, but I wake up between 5am and 6am feeling like I’ve just won life.
  3. Sleep tracking – If you want to get your sleep under control, you need to track it. There are several options you can use- Sleep Cycle runs on your phone, and monitors your sleeping. Personally, I use AutoSleep AND Pillow on my Apple Watch. These give me a fairly accurate representation of how I slept, which then act as inputs for Rise. Rise can “track” your sleep too – by looking at when you last touch your phone and when you first touch it, but that’s all they’re basing your sleep on. I’d recommend something more granular if you’re new to the sleep monitoring space. That said, don’t obsess over the stats too much – REM, light sleep, deep sleep etc are all to be taken with a grain of salt. What really matters is total hours of shut eye.
  4. Sleep mask – This was an unexpected game changer. My bedroom is already cold and dark, but as we near the summer solstice, the sun comes up really early. And that light sneaks in to wake me up extra early. Adding a sleep mask has meant I’ll sleep in at times – clocking 9 or 10hrs of sleep! I happen to be using the Alaska Bear sleep mask, but will likely experiment with other options. If you have any recommendations, feel free to share 🙂

There you have it folks. Hope this is helpful, these tweaks have left me feeling at 80%+ almost every morning, and about once a week at 100% 😀

Good luck!

One simple trick to take back your life… (from your phone)

My New Year’s resolution was simple: spend less time on my phone

Easy to say, hard to do. I’ve attacked the problem of basically having a super computer in your pocket at all times from several directions – but the truth is a computer in your pocket is both helpful and hurtful at the same time… 

So what are the options?

Option 1) Ditch the phone. I’ve gone cold turkey by swapping my SIM card out of my iPhone and into a Nokia 3310. No interruptions (no one calls and no one texts – everyone’s on WhatsApp) but also no internet. Yuck. It turns out the internet is really useful for many things – like Ubers and maps and movie times. So the internet isn’t inherently evil. No internet works for a weekend or a beachside vacation with your BAE but isn’t really sustainable (or really desirable to be honest).

Option 2: Ditch the phone. I bought a new Apple Watch with cellular – that gives me the connectivity I want (same as Nokia) and drastically reduces the amount of internet. This is a *great* option and better than cold turkey – I *do* leave the house on short errands with only my watch on. No phone, no wallet. Again, not for forever, and not for every day – I need more than just a watch.

Option 3: Keep the phone, make some modifications. Well, this seems like a sensible option… so what does this mean?

There’s a great book I read a few years ago – Happiness by Design. The key tenet is you can set things up in a certain way that they effortlessly lead to a happier life. For example simply by going to be earlier each night, you can wake up BEFORE your alarm blasts you awake. This makes you happier, and requires only a little planning. 

The same applies for your phone.

I think the single most important change you can make – right now- is TURNING OFF NOTIFICATIONS.

At the least, this means you can engage with your phone on your own terms. You control it, it doesn’t control you.

This is a very simple, but very powerful change that comes in varying degrees. It starts with The Evil Red Notification Badge of Death and ends with all forms of notifications.

I turned off The Evil Red Notification Badge of Death a *long* time ago for most of my apps. And have only reduced that further with time. Currently, I have only one app that I allow badge notifications for – VIP Email (which is still set to Fetch New Data manually, so it’s not a real time Red Alert). But this means I do get alerted when something that’s important comes through. And that’s it. No other badges.

I have some screen notifications, but very few, and even less on my watch. For a full tutorial on how to configure your phone for, I recommend the very good (and VERY long) post on how to improve your phone [How to configure your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You]. 

I have adopted many of the recommendations. Duplicating the post doesn’t make any sense, but will post a screenshot of my home screen. You can see I have no social media and only SMS messages (still no notifications) on my home screen. “Healthy” options (like Medium) and utilities populate the screen. This is Happiness by Design so I don’t feel anxious when I open my phone. Mail, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, etc all live in a Messages folder on my second screen (with badges only for VIP email). I open them when I’m ready, not when they’re ready.

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We all have limited willpower and self control. A few simple changes can have a big impact on your life. A quick check shows I average 22 minutes per day on Social Networking (Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Messages, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin). That’s down from 2hrs+ before I made these changes.

New Year/New You. Give it a shot, see how you feel 🙂

Finding Purpose in the Pursuit of Profits

What is a Company’s purpose? To be profitable, and self sustaining, while providing a product or service.

But can it make a difference, not just make money?

The answer is yes, and this has been the key question in my mind for the past few years. Both personally and professionally, I’ve gone through a process where I’ve evaluated how I work and what I work on, and how I might be able to make a difference within my sphere of influence.

This isn’t a navel-gazing or self promotion post, so I’m not listing the things I’ve done or am doing, but rather posting this in case you are thinking the same thing. Maybe my process can help with your thinking. Or maybe you’re way ahead of me on this, and you write back with some tips for me. Both would be super.

See, I was deeply unhappy with work. I have one of the best jobs on the planet – I get to meet, and sometimes work with, amazing visionaries almost every day of my life. Directly and indirectly I’ve been involved with some of the best tech companies of our time. So why would I be unhappy? Well, I realized it was all really just about returns. Making money.

Was it a mid-life crisis? Probably. I didn’t always think like this. Once I did, it took me a solid 3 years to figure out how to achieve my personal objectives within the confines of my corporate life. I defined the problem very quickly – but working out the way to *solve* it was really the tricky part. But it’s all obvious now in retrospect.

Personal Health and the Environment. Pretty important areas in general, and two things that I’m really passionate and nerdy about.

How do I take those areas, a desire to make a difference and marry that with my responsibility to my corporate world? Answer: focus on technologies that achieve both objectives.

Many of you will know, I spend 80%+ of my time looking at autonomous car technologies. This is very central to my corporate world. Does a new sensor or an innovative Lidar component or maybe some smart path planning software change the world? Nope. Absolutely not. But it DOES enable autonomous vehicles to become a commercially viable reality. 

And this is where I get very excited. 

Car related deaths are a top 10 killer in every country on the planet. In some cases it’s a top 5 killer. Any part – big or small – I can play in reducing that number is a huge win. Millions of lives. Every year. Lost. Self driving cars means that number will change radically. And THAT is something I can get really excited about. I’m also a cyclist, and have had many near misses on the roads. Many friends haven’t been so lucky. This is another great by-product of self driving cars. No (or limited) car / bicycle related accidents or deaths.

I hear what you’re thinking – “But Jason, you’re a VC and of course you can do things like that! I can’t”. 

Let’s assume for a second you’re a waiter at a restaurant. You dislike plastic as much as I do. It’s poison for our planet. So you say to the manager “Hey, I found these cool straws that aren’t actually plastic – they look like plastic and act like plastic, but they decompose. Could we start using these instead?” Small win, but it’s a big win. That’ a LOT less plastic in the world. But maybe the manager says “No.” Ok, what are the recycling policies of the restaurant? Can you make an impact there?

When you stop and look at where you can make a difference in your daily activities, you’ll find all kinds of things you can do. Things that are meaningful to you. And then you’re not just making money (for you or for someone else) but you’re also making a difference.

And that’s something to be really excited about 🙂

If you’re doing some cool things, please shout – tweet, DM, comment, etc. I’d love to hear how anyone reading this is changing the world one straw at a time.

How to Save Four Hours this Weekend

Yes, that title is click bait. Gotcha. But keep reading, it actually could save you four hours tomorrow and make you happier.

Question: When is the last time you looked at your phone?

For me, it was 4 minutes ago. 

And I’ve already picked my phone up 41 times today (Saturday, May 5, 2018). It’s only 10:34am. Over the course of the day, I’ll clock in over 100 pickups, and over 4 hours of screen time. For me, this is is a problem. A problem I’m solving with a $50 device: the Nokia 3310.

Yes, I’m ditching my iPhone X for a Nokia 3310. Goodbye Whatscrapp and Instaself, hello four hours of leisure time.

First, some background: 

August 2015, Sri Lanka. For 10 days I lived in a hut on the beach with no electricity, no hot water and … no internet. I was doing my favorite thing (surfing) with my favorite people, so felt I only needed to be reachable by phone, in case of emergencies. I notified my family and turned data roaming off. Calls and SMS only. Ten days of surfing and lying around in hammocks reading paper books later, I felt like a new man. For the past 3 years, these 10 days have stood out in my mind like a Golden Age for many reasons, and a key ingredient was NO INTERNET.

July 2017, London. I read an interesting article about Tristan Harris, and his Ted talk on how technology is hijacking people (https://www.wired.com/story/our-minds-have-been-hijacked-by-our-phones-tristan-harris-wants-to-rescue-them/). Interesting enough to share on Twitter, not interesting enough to adopt…

September 2017, London. I tried a “Device Down” challenge where I turned my phone off at 7pm every night for a week. The first few nights my brain went NUTS, interrupting my dreams with people saying “Jason! Your phone is OFF!!”. WHAT?? If that’s not a key sign of addiction, then I don’t know what is… (and I don’t sleep with my phone in the bedroom – already a “best practice” approach). My concern grew.

March 2017, London. I finally download Moment and see in glorious detail how much of my life is spent on my phone: on average 4 hr 42 min per day, or 29% of my waking life. 

29% of my daily life??? Houston, we have a problem.

Enter my new Nokia 3310:

Nokia-3310-Hero.png

I’m starting with weekends (work week is hard given how much I hop around, and I’m on the phone constantly for work). It will be with me at all times – so I’m still 100% contactable. Call me or text me. I may not text back thanks to the wonderfully limited non-qwerty keyboard, so I may call instead.

The objective is to focus on what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Not having an iPhone in my pocket means I CAN’T check it 100 times a day. I can check it on Sunday night and see what all I’ve “missed”.

I love my iPhone (and my Apple Watch, going back to my wind up watch). But I love them a little too much… and I don’t have the willpower to simply not pick it up. 

So I’m to leaving it on the shelf for now. One day soon hopefully forever.

Hacking Sleep (Part 2)

In my last post I focused on how I went from mediocre sleep to solid sleep by simply adding ZMA to the equation. And all things being equal, ZMA improves the quality and depth of sleep.

There are two further changes I’ve made in the past few months that have made an additional impact to my sleep that are worth sharing – one is an easy win, one is much more of a challenge. Both have improved the quality of my sleep, but incrementally, not by leaps and bounds like ZMA.

First, the easy win is adding a mattress topper. While reading one of my favorite self improvement hero’s book, Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich (good book, and his podcasts are fantastic), where he talks about sleep- he mentions how much a memory foam topper can improve sleep. So I ordered one from a UK company called Eve since it seemed to offer a good balance of price vs quality.

I already use (and love) my Tempur memory foam pillow, so adding a memory foam topper seemed like a good idea. And it was. For £199, I wake up feeling even better than I used to (which was pretty good)

Second, the hard one – kicking the coffee habit. I quit coffee cold turkey a few years ago in an effort to improve my sleep. It was possibly the worst 5 days of my life – foggy brain, low energy, irritable…squeaking by on decaffeinated coffee to get a tiny bit of caffeine in my system… awful. But after about day seven – I slept like I hadn’t slept in decades. I think there’s still an imprint of my body in that mattress – I slept so deeply. But travel and life conspired to get me drinking coffee again – and I love coffee.

But then life and travel conspired again to make me kick the coffee habit again (3 months now and counting). I spent three weeks in Japan at the end of last year and started drinking matcha lattes in Kyoto (the home of matcha). No, matcha lattes aren’t authentic, but they are very yummy. And matcha does still have caffeine (25mg vs 150mg+ for filter coffee). Since I was there, matcha was local, I made a point of only having matcha or hojicha (roasted green tea).

Since I had already kicked my decades old coffee addiction, making this transition wasn’t very difficult. I also noticed after 4-5 days that I was clearer in the mornings, with no “gotta have that first cup” craving/fogginess that comes with coffee. Matcha is well known for it’s mental clarity qualities (and health benefits) which I won’t go into here. After 2 weeks I ordered some brewed coffee, and after half a cup I was sweating, felt jittery and my stomach ached – I realized in that moment that coffee and I don’t mix, and that was that. I haven’t looked back.

Dropping coffee appears to be permanent this time, because I made a lifestyle change by substituting it with matcha. I still have a cup of warm liquid in the mornings, but it only has 25mg of caffeine, and I only have one, sometimes a second one on weekends. This is still only 50mg of caffeine before noon vs 2-3 cups of coffee with 150mg of caffeine each.

I wake up feeling clear headed, with no craving for a cup of coffee (or matcha in this case). If I don’t have anything, it’s ok. Not having coffee a few years back was catastrophic – instant headache and irritability.

Quitting coffee is hard. But if you really want to improve your sleep and mood, you should do it.

There you have it – three key tips to improving your sleep: ZMA, mattress topper and quitting coffee. Good luck.

Escape Velocity

I posted my Three P’s of Venture Capital a few weeks back – Product, People and Potential.

There’s another component that I take into consideration as well: Escape Velocity

In physics, escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for an object to “break free” from the gravitational attraction of a massive body.- Wikipedia

E.g. you need to be going fast enough to overcome the Earth’s gravitational pull. Or, for startups, you’ve got to have enough momentum and acceleration to break away… There are several components to this, and they don’t all have to be there, but one of them gives you the fuel you need….

1) Lots of funding. This is pretty straight forward – you have cash to do everything fast – and if you really raise a lot of money, implement the King Maker Strategy, e.g. raise so much funding you can guarantee your own success.
2) Office in the US (or plans to have one quickly) – either NYC or SF. Depending on where customers and partners are. This also gets you closer to your most likely acquirers. Keep R&D wherever you have it, and head West.
3) Connections. You need intros and doors to be opened. What’s that you say? “But that’s your job Mr VC to make intros” True, it is, and it’s something that all VCs do to varying extents. But you need your own networks – maybe you’re an ex-Googler or you went to Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or your co-founder did, etc. The old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” still matters. More than you possibly realize. You can borrow this from your investors, but you need to bring some of your own connections to the party. If you don’t have them, start making them. You will need them.
4) Chutzpah. Use this if you’re short on any of the above. With enough will, charisma, sheer determination and a bit of luck, you can break away. But this one is more of an art, but I have seen it in action – and it’s impressive.

I’m sure there are a few more I could add (great design comes to mind) – and feel free to add any in the comments below.

Hopefully this gives more color on what’s going on inside my head when I’m thinking about an investment…and what you need to make it as an entrepreneur.

If you can’t take it with you, it’s not yours

I picked up an Android device earlier in the year – I’ve been watching the platform and app ecosystem develop, and decided it was time to make the jump…

That’s a huge deal for me, the Apple Fan Boy, bought a non-Apple piece of hardware. Turns out, the hardware switch wasn’t as critical as the software switch. And I don’t mean the OS.

I stopped buying any content from Apple a long time ago. Sure, I used iBooks to test it out, but that’s all. No Apple content lived on my iPhone. When you buy digital content from Apple, you don’t actually own it, so getting your iTunes library, iBooks library, etc onto an Android device is a no go.

Having options (for portability) is very important; owning your data (or content) is more important. And, as we all know, if you can’t take something with you, it’s not yours…

In many ways, I now care less and less about owing content, and more about content portability, or more importantly accessibility. Cloud services like Spotify and We7 have made my music life so much easier. Password = Music. What could be easier?

Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader is all about accessibility (and circumnavigating the 30% Apple App Store tax). Via Amazon’s Cloud Reader, Password = Book Collection. On my iPhone, iPad, Android and Desktop. Easy.

Photos are slightly better than purchased content, but Apple still makes your life difficult. Photos on your photo roll in iOS will live there (mostly) thanks to restrictions by Apple. The new iCloud sync means they get backed up, but online access/sharing would be better. Password=Camera roll restore, which great, but… for Android, Lightbox is pioneering the way with an awesome “connected photo roll”. Lose your phone, log back in, and all your pictures are there.  And there’s a great online gallery where you can edit and share, so Password = Photos. Easy.

Everything else I use lives in the cloud anyway…  which I can get ubiquitous access to. The implication there is, data security will mean everything in the future. Both Google and Facebook (!!) will allow you to export and backup the data you’ve stored with them. Definitely a good alternative if you’re storing all your pictures and memories online.  Look for a future post  on data security-“it’s 4am, do you know where your data is?”.

hot or not?

hot or not?Facebook is going to be irrelevant in 10 years time. Google has lost the search war. Microsoft has lost the desktop war.

We live in exciting times. Change is in many ways the only constant we have. I started the post with what many would consider heresy- if you don’t believe me, or disagree, you have forgotten the rise and fall of all tech companies.

Altavista. Yahoo! – these were the kings of the search engine mountains before a little company called Google arrived. Google was the king of search on the web, and I would argue they still are. But they’ve already lost the mobile search war… Foursquare is far and away my favorite mobile search tool – I need to find a place to eat nearby, figure out if it’s good, and then move on to my next stop. Google fails miserably at this task, and fourquare shines…

Facebook connects you with lots of people you lost contact with 10 years ago. You’re so excited to reconnect. And then you remember why you forgot about them: “Just gave kitty some more milk!”. Yay. Please kill me now… I posted ages ago that the future of the web was all about privacy and intimacy… group chats are still trying to figure themselves out, but current examples are beluga or groupme. They’re amazing and very useful for communicating with small groups of people that matter. I’d be willing to bet you spend more time in this class of apps in 5 years time than on Facebook (or rather that anyone under twenty will. That may or may not be you in 5 years time.)

Finally, in my mind, there are two reasons we use any given app or service 1) raw utility. it works, you use it. Wikipedia is a great example. 2) peacocking. Part of what makes apps gain great popularity is an ability to make a user appear cooler than his/her peers. Using facebook 4 years ago was very cool, very cutting edge. Today, you’re one in 500 million. Using beluga? Congratulations! you and many thousands of other people are using it too (oh wait, facebook acquired beluga. smart move. maybe it will take a little longer to become irrelevant)…. Using google 10 years ago gave you a search edge, today, you’d better be using Quora, etc.

The list of companies is endless, but one of my final favorites is Myspace –> which has been replaced by Soundcloud…. a large part of my job is to try to figure out what’s hot next… the problem is no one can actually see beyond the event horizon. The mobile is a huge disruptor right now – and is driving the up and coming companies I’ve mentioned in this post. It’s a fun game to play, trend spotting and finding cool, useful apps… if you’ve got favorites as well, post them in the comments, or send them via twitter @jasonball. I’d love to know what’s hot. or not. but please don’t send me a note about geocities.

Gowalla – building a business model

I spotted today that Gowalla is innovating on the business model front:

Companies (or anyone really) can get a custom stamp for their spot (vs a generic coffee cup, etc), plus the spot gets special promotion inside Gowalla. Prices vary, but a spot tomorrow in Austin is only $150. But, if you want to promote your spot for next August in San Francisco, it’ll cost you a little over $1,000.

I’m thinking these could make great Christmas presents. Find out more and get your own badge here.