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October 22, 2018
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Economy

Lessons from building Brex into a billion-dollar startup

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When I think about my experience as an immigrant and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, I remember growing up in Brazil and how we saw tech founders and CEOs as kings. We imagined what it would be like to assume the throne.

But these weren’t just any kings. Silicon Valley was the kingdom of nerds and underdogs. We identified with these guys, they were just like us. We were fed the myth of a Silicon Valley meritocracy, and the illusion that all you needed was ambition, determination, and a good idea to meet the right person and get funded.

What we didn’t understand was that this myth was not completely rooted in reality. Not everyone has access to the American Dream, and those who do have a track record of success before they’re given their moment to prove, or in our case, pitch ourselves.

Part of this disconnect was cultural. In Brazil, when I began my first startup, Pagar.me, a payment processing company, my co-founder Pedro Franceschi and I were two 16 year-old kids who learned how to code before we were ten. While it was hard for people to take us seriously initially—I mean, would you quit your job to work for two 16 year- olds? Being so young also worked to our advantage; it revealed that we were passionate, driven, and invested in tech at an age that we didn’t need to be.

Once we got our start-up off the ground, our employees were as invested in us as we were invested in them and the company. That’s because in Brazil, most of us grew up with parents that stayed their whole lives at the same company. You grew with the company, and that’s the approach we took when it came to hiring for our first company: who did we see sharing our same vision and growing with us?

Coming to the United States was almost a completely opposite experience. The barrier of entry was much higher. You have to go to the right college, graduate from right incubator programs, develop relationships with the right VCs, and have at least one successful startup under your belt before anyone would even consider booking a meeting with you.

Pedro and I had to carefully position ourselves before we even got to the Valley. When we finally did get to the U.S., we had already launched a successful startup and we were accepted to Stanford. Soon after, we were accepted by Y-Combinator, and that’s where we built relationships with the key players that would open up the doors for future meetings.

With our current startup, Brex,  we found that there weren’t just cultural differences at play, but different approaches we needed to take in order for our business to be successful. For example, in Brazil, we bootstrapped our first startup, and as a result, we had to find our product-market fit immediately. When you are so cash-constrained, it also limits how much you can build your company, and you think in terms of short-term wins instead of sustained growth. Your growth strategy is confined and you’re constantly reacting to your immediate client demands.

In the U.S., VCs and angel-investors aren’t interested in the short-term. They’re interested in long-term growth and how you are going to deliver 10x profits over a ten year period. Our strategy could no longer be: plan as we go and grow with our customer. Instead, we needed to deliver a roadmap, and when that roadmap changed or evolved, communicate those changes and adopt a culture of transparency.   

Additionally, we learned how difficult it is to find and retain  talent in the U.S.; it can feel like a Sisyphean task. Millennials for example, spend less than two years on average at a job, and if you spend six years or more at the same company, recruiters will actually ask you: “why?” So how can you build a company for the long-term in an environment where employees are not personally invested in the growth of your company?

We also learned that many successful tech startups offer stock options to their early employees, but as the company evolves and changes over time, those same stock options are not offered to future employees. This creates the exact opposite of a meritocracy. Why would a new employee work harder, longer, and bring more to the table if you are not going to be compensated for it?

Instead of using this broken model, we have invested in paying our team higher wages upfront, and based on performance, we award our team members with stock options. We want to be a company that people are proud of working at longterm, and we want to create a culture that is merit-based.

While some of the myths that we first believed in about Silicon Valley are now laughable looking back, they were also really instructional as to how we wanted to build our company and what pitfalls we wanted to avoid.

Even though nearly half of tech startups are founded by immigrant entrepreneurs, we have a cultural learning curve in order to have the opportunity to be “the next unicorn.” And maybe that’s the point, we’re experiencing a moment in time during which myths and unicorns no longer serve us, and what we need instead is the background, experience, and vision to create a company that is worth the hype.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Atlassian launches the new Jira Software Cloud

in Atlassian/Business/Cloud/Delhi/Developer/Economy/Enterprise/India/JIRA/Politics/Software/software development/TC/trello by

Atlassian previewed the next generation of its hosted Jira Software project tracking tool earlier this year. Today, it’s available to all Jira users. To build the new Jira, Atlassian redesigned both the back-end stack and rethought the user experience from the ground up. That’s not an easy change, given how important Jira has become for virtually every company that develops software — and given that it is Atlassian’s flagship product. And with this launch, Atlassian is now focusing on its hosted version of Jira (which is hosted on AWS) and prioritizing that over the self-hosted server version.

So the new version of Jira that’s launching to all users today doesn’t just have a new, cleaner look, but more importantly, new functionality that allows for a more flexible workflow that’s less dependent on admins and gives more autonomy to teams (assuming the admins don’t turn those features off).

Because changes to such a popular tool are always going to upset at least some users, it’s worth noting at the outset that the old classic view isn’t going away. “It’s important to note that the next-gen experience will not replace our classic experience, which millions of users are happily using,” Jake Brereton, head of marketing for Jira Software Cloud, told me. “The next-gen experience and the associated project type will be available in addition to the classic projects that users have always had access to. We have no plans to remove or sunset any of the classic functionality in Jira Cloud.”

The core tenet of the redesign is that software development in 2018 is very different from the way developers worked in 2002, when Jira first launched. Interestingly enough, the acquisition of Trello also helped guide the overall design of the new Jira.

“One of the key things that guided our strategy is really bringing the simplicity of Trello and the power of Jira together,” Sean Regan, Atlassian’s head of growth for Software Teams, told me. “One of the reasons for that is that modern software development teams aren’t just developers down the hall taking requirements. In the best companies, they’re embedded with the business, where you have analysts, marketing, designers, product developers, product managers — all working together as a squad or a triad. So JIRA, it has to be simple enough for those teams to function but it has to be powerful enough to run a complex software development process.”

Unsurprisingly, the influence of Trello is most apparent in the Jira boards, where you can now drag and drop cards, add new columns with a few clicks and easily filter cards based on your current needs (without having to learn Jira’s powerful but arcane query language). Gone are the days where you had to dig into the configuration to make even the simplest of changes to a board.

As Regan noted, when Jira was first built, it was built with a single team in mind. Today, there’s a mix of teams from different departments that use it. So while a singular permissions model for all of Jira worked for one team, it doesn’t make sense anymore when the whole company uses the product. In the new Jira then, the permissions model is project-based. “So if we wanted to start a team right now and build a product, we could design our board, customize our own issues, build our own workflows — and we could do it without having to find the IT guy down the hall,” he noted.

One feature the team seems to be especially proud of is roadmaps. That’s a new feature in Jira that makes it easier for teams to see the big picture. Like with boards, it’s easy enough to change the roadmap by just dragging the different larger chunks of work (or “epics,” in Agile parlance) to a new date.

“It’s a really simple roadmap,” Brereton explained. “It’s that way by design. But the problem we’re really trying to solve here is, is to bring in any stakeholder in the business and give them one view where they can come in at any time and know that what they’re looking at is up to date. Because it’s tied to your real work, you know that what we’re looking at is up to date, which seems like a small thing, but it’s a huge thing in terms of changing the way these teams work for the positive.

The Atlassian team also redesigned what’s maybe the most-viewed page of the service: the Jira issue. Now, issues can have attachments of any file type, for example, making it easier to work with screenshots or files from designers.

Jira now also features a number of new APIs for integrations with Bitbucket and GitHub (which launched earlier this month), as well as InVision, Slack, Gmail and Facebook for Work.

With this update, Atlassian is also increasing the user limit to 5,000 seats, and Jira now features compliance with three different ISO certifications and SOC 2 Type II.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Building a great startup requires more than genius and a great invention

in Amazon/AOL/autodesk/AWS/Business/business models/Column/Delhi/design/dollar shave club/driver/Economy/Entrepreneurship/Google/gps/India/Innovation/instagram/Intel/Microsoft/neural network/Politics/quantum computing/smartphones/social media/Startup company/TC/Tesla/thomas edison/Uber/Venture Capital/zoox by

Many entrepreneurs assume that an invention carries intrinsic value, but that assumption is a fallacy.

Here, the examples of the 19th and 20th century inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla are instructive. Even as aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors lionize Edison for his myriad inventions and business acumen, they conveniently fail to recognize Tesla, despite having far greater contributions to how we generate, move, and harness power. Edison is the exception, with the legendary penniless Tesla as the norm.

Universities are the epicenter of pure innovation research. But the reality is that academic research is supported by tax dollars. The zero-sum game of attracting government funding is mastered by selling two concepts: Technical merit, and and broader impact toward benefiting society as a whole. These concepts are usually at odds with building a company, which succeeds only by generating and maintaining competitive advantage through barriers to entry.

In rare cases, the transition from intellectual merit to barrier to entry is successful. In most cases, the technology, though cool, doesn’t give the a fledgling company the competitive advantage it needs to exist among incumbents, and inevitable copycats. Academics, having emphasized technical merit and broader impact to attract support for their research, often fail to solve for competitive advantage, thereby creating great technology in search for a business application.

Of course there are exceptions: Time and time again, whether it’s driven by hype or perceived existential threat, big incumbents will be quick to buy companies purely for technology.  Cruise/GM (autonomous cars), DeepMind/Google (AI), and Nervana/Intel (AI chips). But as we move from 0-1 to 1-N in a given field, success is determined by winning talent over winning technology. Technology becomes less interesting; the onus on the startup to build a real business.

If a startup chooses to take venture capital, it not only needs to build a real business, but one that will be valued in the billions. the question becomes how a startup can create durable, attractive business, with a transient, short-lived technological advantage.

Most investors understand this stark reality. Unfortunately, while dabbling in technologies which appeared like magic to them during the cleantech boom, many investors were lured back into the innovation fallacy, believing that pure technological advancement would equal value creation. Many of them re-learned this lesson the hard way. As frontier technologies are attracting broader attention, I believe many are falling back into the innovation trap.

So what should aspiring frontier inventors solve for as they seek to invest capital to translate pure discovery to building billion-dollar companies?  How can the technology be cast into an unfair advantage that will yield big margins and growth that underpin billion-dollar businesses?

Talent productivity: In this age of automation, human talent is scarce, and there is incredible value attributed to retaining and maximizing human creativity.  Leading companies seek to gain an advantage by attracting the very best talent. If your technology can help you make more scarce talent more productive, or help your customers become more productive, then you are creating an unfair advantage internally, while establishing yourself as the de facto product for your customers.

Great companies such as Tesla and Google have built tools for their own scarce talent, and build products their customers, in their own ways, can’t do without. Microsoft mastered this with its Office products in the 90s, through innovation and acquisition, Autodesk with its creativity tools, and Amazon with its AWS Suite. Supercharging talent yields one of the most valuable sources of competitive advantage: switchover cost.  When teams are empowered with tools they love, they will loathe the notion of migrating to shiny new objects, and stick to what helps them achieve their maximum potential.

Marketing and Distribution Efficiency: Companies are worth the markets they serve.  They are valued for their audience and reach.  Even if their products in of themselves don’t unlock the entire value of the market they serve, they will be valued for their potential to, at some point in the future, be able to sell to the customers that have been tee’d up with their brands. AOL leveraged cheap CD-ROMs and the postal system to get families online, and on email.

Dollar Shave Club leveraged social media and an otherwise abandoned demographic to lock down a sales channel that was ultimately valued at a billion dollars. The inventions in these examples were in how efficiently these companies built and accessed markets, which ultimately made them incredibly valuable.

Network effects: Its power has ultimately led to its abuse in startup fundraising pitches. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram generate their network effects through Internet and Mobile. Most marketplace companies need to undergo the arduous, expensive process of attracting vendors and customers.  Uber identified macro trends (e.g., urban living) and leveraged technology (GPS in cheap smartphones) to yield massive growth in building up supply (drivers) and demand (riders).

Our portfolio company Zoox will benefit from every car benefitting from edge cases every vehicle encounters: akin to the driving population immediately learning from special situations any individual driver encounters. Startups should think about how their inventions can enable network effects where none existed, so that they are able to achieve massive scale and barriers by the time competitors inevitably get access to the same technology.

Offering an end-to-end solution: There isn’t intrinsic value in a piece of technology; it’s offering a complete solution that delivers on an unmet need deep-pocketed customers are begging for. Does your invention, when coupled to a few other products, yield a solution that’s worth far more than the sum of its parts? For example, are you selling a chip, along with design environments, sample neural network frameworks, and datasets, that will empower your customers to deliver magical products? Or, in contrast, does it make more sense to offer standard chips, licensing software, or tag data?

If the answer is to offer components of the solution, then prepare to enter a commodity, margin-eroding, race-to-the-bottom business. The former, “vertical” approach is characteristic of more nascent technologies, such as operating robots-taxis, quantum computing, and launching small payloads into space. As the technology matures and becomes more modular, vendors can sell standard components into standard supply chains, but face the pressure of commoditization.

A simple example is Personal Computers, where Intel and Microsoft attracted outsized margins while other vendors of disk drives, motherboards, printers, and memory faced crushing downward pricing pressure.  As technology matures, the earlier vertical players must differentiate with their brands, reach to customers, and differentiated product, while leveraging what’s likely going to be an endless number of vendors providing technology into their supply chains.

A magical new technology does not go far beyond the resumes of the founding team.

What gets me excited is how the team will leverage the innovation, and attract more amazing people to establish a dominant position in a market that doesn’t yet exist. Is this team and technology the kernel of a virtuous cycle that will punch above its weight to attract more money, more talent, and be recognized for more than it’s product?

News Source = techcrunch.com

Shopify opens its first brick-and-mortar space in Los Angeles

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Shopify, the provider of payment and logistics management software and services for retailers, has opened its first physical storefront in Los Angeles.

The first brick and mortar location for the Toronto-based company, is nestled in a warren of downtown Los Angeles boutique shops in a complex known as the Row DTLA.

For Shopify, Los Angeles is the ideal place to debut a physical storefront showing off the company’s new line of hardware products and the array of services it provides to businesses ranging from newly opened startups to $900 million juggernauts like the Kylie Cosmetics brand.

The city is one of the most dense conglomerations of Shopify customers with over 10,000 merchants using the company’s technologies in the greater Los Angeles area. 400 of those retailers have each earned over $1 million in gross merchandise volume.

In the Los Angeles space, which looks similar to an Apple store, patrons can expect to see demonstrations and tutorials of how Shopify’s tools and features work. Showrooms displaying the work that Shopify does with some of its close partners will also show how business owners can turn their product visions into actual businesses.

Like Apple, Shopify is staffing its store with experts on the platform who can walk new customers or would-be customers through whatever troubleshooting they may need. While also serving as a space to promote large and small vendors using its payment and supply management solution.

“Our new space in downtown LA is a physical manifestation of our dedication and commitment to making commerce better for everyone. We’re thrilled to be able to take our proven educational, support, and community initiatives and put them to work in an always-on capacity,” said Satish Kanwar, VP of Product at Shopify, in a statement. “We know that making more resources available to entrepreneurs, especially early on, makes them far more likely to succeed, and we’re happy to now be offering that through a brick-and-mortar experience in LA.”

Kanwar and Shopify chief operating officer, Harley Finkelstein, envision the new Los Angeles space as another way to support new and emerging retailers looking for tips on how to build their business in the best possible way.

“The path to being your own boss doesn’t need to be lonely or isolating,” said Finkelstein, in a statement. “With Shopify LA we wanted to create a hub where business owners can find support, inspiration, and community. Most importantly, entrepreneurs at all stages and of all sizes can learn together, have first access to our newest products, and propel their entrepreneurial dreams.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Indonesian co-working startup GoWork lands $10 million

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Co-working today is a global game that’s played by many more than just WeWork, despite the company’s valuation surging to $20 billion. But, as WeWork increasingly globalizes its focus, the U.S. firm is coming into contact with smaller players who are highly localized in markets with the potential to grow significantly.

One such market is Indonesia, the largest economy in the growing region of Southeast Asia. Indonesia’s capital alone has a population of 10 million and it is tipped to overtake Tokyo as the world’s most populous city by 2020. WeWork is prioritizing Indonesia as one of the keys markets in Asia but already there are strong local competitors. EV Hive, now known as Cocowork, raised $20 million earlier this year, and now Gowork, a startup formed from a merger between Rework and GoWork, has pulled in $10 million for expansion.

The new capital is led by VC firm Gobi Partners and The Paradise Group, a firm that operates shopping malls, residential developments and more. 

GoWork currently operates 16 ‘hubs’ which are its main locations for 8,000 members and operate at over 90 percent occupancy. In addition, that reach is extended by a series of over 30 ‘spokes.’ Those are essentially smaller spaces that are designed to be accessible while members are traveling or wanting to work outside of normal business hours. They are developed in conjunction with F&B group Ismaya, so are located within their coffee shops or restaurants.

That might concept might sound cute but trivial in the West, but in Asia’s megacities, the option can help with productivity. In particular, Jakarta’s roads are so traffic logged that a day of meetings could require spendings hours queuing in traffic.

“We want to bring productivity to all people, we think that [issues like traffic jams] are costing us all money,” GoWork CEO Vanessa Hendriadi told TechCrunch in an interview.

Adding The Paradise Group to the team could help expand that spoke reach, as well as finding new real estate for GoWork spaces.

“Co-working is not a category anymore, it’s just how people work,” Hendriadi added. “WeWork has 57 spaces in Manhattan alone, it’s just a matter of time for when every office building or mall in Jakarta will need to have a space as this is a permanent shift in how people work.”

She added that, as in the West, Indonesia is beginning to see a shift in working for larger companies not just small startups or independent workers.

That’s why, Hendriadi explained, that GoWork is doubling down on its focus on Jakarta and look to second-tier cities, but there’s no immediate plan to venture overseas. The goal is to grow to reach over 100,000 sqm by 2020.

The GoWork CEO said that her company isn’t phased by WeWork and others like Cocowork — the latter which she said is aimed more at the mass market. Instead, Hendriadi believes that there is plenty of space in the market for a few major players.

“Obviously we watch what [WeWork] are doing and we speak to building owners to know where they are going, the fact we have a two-year head start — we’re talking to major property developers with great location — means we are not too worried. The pie is big and local players get a huge benefit that is not easily replicable by non-local players in this business as it is relationship based,” she said.

“We’re all here to educate the market and fulfill their needs,” she added. “Indonesia is the market we are familiar with, the opportunity is still massive so we’ll focus here, but we talk to big players in the region so when the opportunity comes with the right partner we won’t close any doors.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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