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The latest news on Startups from Business Insider

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    job interview

    Should you join that successful SaaS start-up?

    The one that just raised a nice seed round, that has $20k in MRR, and a cool product?

    Maybe.

    The key is understanding if it’s merely a pre-success you are meeting with … or one that potentially can be very successful.  And it turns out, at least in my experience, the characteristics of Successful and Very Successful SaaS companies are actually quite different.

    To be a successful SaaS Company — which is very hard today, because there are 10,000+ SaaS start-ups everywhere in every category — you need:

    • A very, very committed CEO and founders.  It’s too hard to make customers happy if you aren’t truly 100% committed.
    • Product-market fit.  Which can be arrived at, or hacked, in many different ways.
    • Passion and belief in your market, customers and journey.  Total commitment to understanding every nuance of your market and niche, and shipping software to serve it.
    • The patience to keep at it, for always, forever. ‘Cuz it takes 7-10 years, minimum, to really get anywhere in SaaS.
    Because once you have $1m, $2m in ARR … if you are growing at a decent clip … you can probably almost always keep growing.
    But.
    That alone doesn’t breed a unicorn.
    To be a very successful SaaS company.  An outlier.  A pre-nicorn.  To achieve hyper-growth.  You also need:
    • A great CEO.  Not just very good.  Incredibly, or at least very, smart.  Insanely driven.  Not just very driven.  Really, a little bit insane.  Because there’s no magical network effect in SaaS.  The CEO has to push the rock up the hill.
    • The ability to see the future. In SaaS, anyone with a brain can see the white space that exists today.  Oh, it’s so stupid we still use Excel and clipboards in Industry XYZ.  Of course it’s stupid. But what’s hard is to truly see where it will evolve in 2, 3, 7 years — and how to get there.  The best SaaS CEOs I know, the ones building Decacorns … can see the future.  And how to get there.
    • The ability to get to that future, no matter what. Period.  To recruit amazing teams.  To break things and fix them.  To pick themselves off the ground, 5, 10, 50 times.  To never, ever quit.
    • A market or at least, market segment, that is small now but will be huge.  Related to seeing the future.  For example, You can’t take Salesforce head-on today, not really.  But CRM is a big market.  Start small, but see something that can be $10b+ in CRM.  And make it so.  Small markets that stay small-ish are common in SaaS companies that don’t expand, that don’t grow.  These ones all stall out at some point.

    So maybe, use this as a checklist if you are deciding whether to join a given SaaS start-up or not.  If you have options.  You’ll know if they have success, or at least, pre-success.  You can see the logos, check out the vibe, read up on-line.  But if the company also has some of the second group of attributes … they probably really have something.

    Try to join one in the second category if you can.

    SEE ALSO: Investors dumped record-setting amounts of cash into startups in 2015, but it's all starting to slow down

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Inside the wild party on top of a mountain where people drench each other in champagne


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    Matt and Alice

    The Singapore government is paying UK startup creator Entrepreneur First (EF) to launch its company-building programme in Singapore, Business Insider has learned.

    EF, founded by Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck in 2011, provides deeply technical people with £17,000 in pre-seed funding so they can build a technology startup over a six month period. In return, it takes an 8% equity stake.

    During the six months, members of the cohort team up with like-minded people on the EF programme and cofound a company with mentoring and support from the EF network. They also get a desk to work from.

    EF, which plans to launch its programme in Singapore this September, raised £8.5 million last July from a range of investors. However, none of that money is being used for the expansion. Instead, the bill is being picked up by Infocomm Investments, a venture capital unit funded by the Singapore government to the tune of $200 million (£141 million) and a number of other investors. Infocomm Investments did not disclose how much it is giving EF for the expansion.

    The Singapore government hopes the launch of EF in Singapore will fuel startup development in the island-state and encourage more young Singaporeans to pursue a career in technology as opposed to finance or professional services — the industries Singapore has become famous for.

    Representatives from Infocomm Investments and the Singapore government attended an event in London this week to mark what is EF’s first overseas foray.singapore skyline

    Speaking at EF’s new London space, a former biscuit factory in Bermondsey, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, said Singapore needs to get more people interested in building innovative young companies.

    "Entrepreneur First is a very interesting model that will be a useful addition to our ecosystem in Singapore," said Shanmugaratnam. "There’s potential not just to create startups but also to change perceptions as to what the more desired career paths are in Singapore. That’s a very important part of what we’re trying to do."

    Steve Leonard, chairman of Infocomm Investments, told Business Insider: "I met Matt and Alice a couple of years ago, so having watched their journey, it became more clear that what they’re doing is something we could benefit from."

    It's understood that Clifford and Bentinck initially refused to expand to Singapore because they wanted to focus on growing the UK operation but they came round to the idea eventually .

    Leonard said: "They met a bunch of students in Singapore and came back and said 'you know what there’s actually a lot of raw material there in terms of [talented] young kids and money.'"

    Blaze

    Clifford and Bentinck denied that they were expanding EF to Singapore purely because that’s where Infocomm Investments, now one of its largest backers, is based.

    Clifford, who is also CEO of EF, said, "Entrepreneur First is the biggest creator of startups in Europe, and we have ambitions to be even bigger. We started with the vision that the best and most ambitious people will be founders. When talking about talent, innovation and the desire to create startups, Singapore is second to none."

    "With the strong support of Infocomm Investments, our first international office in Singapore marks a new chapter for us and we are extremely excited."

    To date, EF has built 45 startups which have raised over $60 million (£42 million) in venture capital funding. Collectively, these startups are now worth more than $250 million (£176 million), EF claims. The portfolio includes deep tech firms (Magic Pony Technology, Adbrain, and Tractable), marketplaces (Hubble, ClickMechanic), consumer products (Prizeo, Code Kingdoms), and hardware (Blaze, Pi-Top, Speakset).

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Azmat Yusuf

    Citymapper, the urban navigation app founded by a former Googler, has raised $40 million (£28.2 million), bringing total investment in the company to $50 million (£35 million) and giving it a valuation that is likely to be in excess of £250 million.

    The Series B round, which comes 21 months after a $10 million (£7 million) Series A round, involved Index Ventures and Benchmark Capital, as well as individuals including Yuri Milner, Tom Stafford, and Michael Lynton. It was first hinted at by Sky News on Monday.

    Instead of the standard press release, the London-based startup announced the funding round in a quirky Medium post in which it joked that its investors had promised to "only take buses from now on." In the 11-point post, Citymapper said it would use the funding to refine the Citymapper app, help it expand into more cities, build out its team, and launch new products. It also said it was developing Citymapper's API/Widgets so other app developers can use them to power their own websites and applications.

    Founded in 2011 by Pakistani-born former Google employee Azmat Yusuf, Citymapper began life as an app exclusively for Londoners. The app has since expanded to cover more than 30 cities — including Madrid, Sao Paulo, and San Francisco — but Yusuf doesn't plan to stop there.

    "It's not just about London, NYC and Paris anymore," the Medium post reads. "The next set of challenges involve the massive emerging market cities where the infrastructure is limited, rules of transit are different, data is sparse, and even the consumer approach to smartphones and apps is not the same. But this is also where some of our most rewarding work is being done."

    Citymapper art

    The company added that it was going on a huge recruitment spree, stating that it wanted to hire people in "every significant metro city in the world."

    Citymapper's algorithm pulls in vast amounts of data to present users with a range of transport options, including bus, train, metro, and Uber. The results are presented through a sleek-looking green app that also displays information such as journey times and prices.

    Londoners and other urban dwellers have embraced Citymapper for its simplicity and its comedy value. The app, for instance, shows users how long it would take them to get from A to B using a jetpack or how many doughnuts they would burn off if they walked instead of taking the bus.

    Citymapper has been quiet regarding user numbers, but the app often features toward the top of the transportation-app download charts for both iOS and Android.

    Balderton Capital, one of Citymapper's previous investors, was absent from the latest funding round. Bernard Liautaud, general partner at Balderton, said: "Citymapper is an exceptional company with great potential, and we're thrilled with the progress the business has made. We are proud to have led the previous round in 2014, and remain active, engaged investors."

    Citymapper finished its blog post saying it was not a unicorn, the term given to a company worth over a billion dollars. It added: "We're more like a dolphin🐬."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Cord Founders

    On Wednesday, Spotify announced it had acquired both New York City-based startup Cord Project and Dublin-based music discovery startup Soundwave.

    In its announcement of the two new purchases, Spotify stayed vague, only saying it would use the companies it acquired to build "engaging and innovative music experiences."

    The Cord Project will be shutting down its main service, which lets anyone send 12-second voice messages to one person or several people at a time. (Soundwave CEO Brendan O’Driscoll has also said his company's service will likely shut down eventually too.)

    "It's clearly mostly an expertise and talent acquisition," said Cord Project CEO Thomas Gayno, speaking to us on the phone. "We're really excited about all this." 

    "We built our product to get people talking again. We let people save the messages they love — these very emotional messages. And we can't really keep the product up and running without funds and time dedicated to it," Gayno told us.

    "We're going to let people download their favorite saved messages on an MP3 format, instead of shutting down and saying 'Goodbye everyone, thanks' — we felt that was the most compelling way to underline the emotional mission we've always had when building Cord."  

    Spotify NYC

    Over the next few days, Cord will let its one-million users download their most-loved messages. After that, the Gayno and cofounder Jeff Baxter will shut down the product, removing the app from both the Apple App Store and from Google Play.

    The Cord application is not going to be integrated into Spotify. Instead, Gayno says, he, Baxter, and Cord's three senior engineers will move over to Spotify's New York offices to work with a team of other engineers and designers, creating "very nice, beautiful products at a very fast pace."

    "The experience we acquired at Google was also pretty telling in terms of making the Spotify VPs and management feel like we would be qualified to innovate at a very fast pace in a bigger structure," Gayno says.

    The terms of the acquisition haven't been disclosed. But Gayno says the deal took just six weeks from beginning to end. Gayno and Baxter first met with Shiva Rajaraman, VP of consumer products at Spotify. "Instantly, we clicked," he says. "The conversation was pretty magical."

    Prior to starting the Cord Project, Gayno had been working at Google for several years.

    Gayno and his fellow Googler Jeff Baxter had spent a lot of time working with the company's secretive project lab Google X, building products like Google Glass and Android Wear. They thought a lot about wearables, and how we interact with them.

    One day, while Gayno and his wife were both at work, he got a text message containing an audio file from the nanny of his  20-month-old daughter.

    cord app

    When he finally downloaded the file as an MP3 and fired up his media player, he heard his daughter June say some of her first words: "I miss you, Papa."

    "It was beautiful. Her first few words — she's saying she misses me," Gayno recalls. "I was shocked by how I was going through all of these emotions, just because of a voice. This phone, this thing, is bringing tears to my eyes, even though I just had a miserable user experience — because, oh my god, how great is that? June can't read. She can't type. She speaks a mix of French and English. But she and the nanny left me this message."

    Gayno and Baxter, who started working at Google's New York office on the same day back in 2009, then quit on the same day in April 2014. From there, the two quickly started working on Cord.

    The two raised a seed round of funding last summer with Google Ventures, Greycroft, Metamorphic Ventures, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Slow Ventures, and a slew of angel investors. They build out a small team of just more than half a dozen people in New York City. In September 2014, they launched a prototype on iOS, and in December 2014, launched Cord on iOS and Android.

     

    SEE ALSO: 41 of the trickiest questions Google will ask you in a job interview

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Debbie Wosskow SEUK Love Home Swap

    CEOs and founders from some of Britain's most promising sharing economy and on demand companies are hoping to penetrate the US market off the back of a government-backed "trade mission" to San Francisco next week.

    Sharing economy companies provide platforms that allows the public to let out their goods or services in exchange for a fee. Uber and Airbnb are arguably the biggest firms operating in this space but there are several British companies that are gaining traction and raising large funding rounds from big name investors.

    The transatlantic trip, which is being organised by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) in conjunction with Tech City UK, is designed to offer British sharing economy startups the opportunity to meet with key players in the industries they operate in, as well as to "foster collaboration" between British and American businesses.

    Debbie Wosskow, CEO and founder of home exchange platform Love Home Swap, and Alex Depledge, cofounder of on demand cleaning service Hassle.com are among the 10 entrepreneurs that are due to go on the trip.

    While in San Francisco, the cohort will meet with Silicon Valley executives from firms like eBay and startup executives from companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and TaskRabbit. It's believed that they will also get the opportunity to pitch their companies to venture capitalists.

    Here is a copy of the agenda: 

    Sharing economy agendaThe following founders and CEOs are planning to attend:

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Fireworks light up the London skyline and Big Ben just after midnight on January 1, 2014 in London, England. Thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames in central London to see in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks display. (Photo by )

    In February, we're going to publish our Tech 100 feature that will rank the 100 people who have made the biggest contribution to technology in the UK in the past year.

    We're going to be celebrating the list with a party held in a London venue. 

    But before all of that, we'd like to hear your nominations for who should be on the list.

    In this form, please post the names of people you think have done the coolest stuff in and for the London digital community this year. Then, for each person you nominate, please explain what they have done that you think is cool.

    What does "cool" mean?

    They may have launched an innovative startup
    Or perhaps they raised funding
    Maybe they funded a few cool companies
    They may have made a big impact on the London startup community
    And maybe they accomplished something amazing in their careers

    You have a few weeks to get your nominations in. Meanwhile, we’ll start working on our own nominations to separate awe-inspiring people from the hype.

     

     

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    mark cubanYou are what you read, and if your goal is to build a massively successful company where you call the shots, you might want to start with the following books.

    We spoke with wildly successful entrepreneurs and VCs like Mark Cuban and Peter Thiel and pored over years of interviews with star founders to find the books that every aspiring entrepreneur should read.

    Here are their top recommendations.

    Bianca Male, Aimee Groth, Richard Feloni, Natalie Walters, and Alison Griswold contributed reporting to this article.

    SEE ALSO: 33 business books every professional should read before turning 30

    "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand

    Self-made billionaire Mark Cuban tells Business Insider that this book is required reading for every entrepreneur.

    It's also a favorite of Charlie O'Donnell, a partner at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures. He says:

    I don't know any book that sums up the entrepreneurial passion and spirit better than "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand: "The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."

    Get it here >>



    "The Effective Executive" by Peter Drucker

    This is one of the three books that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had his senior managers read for a series of all-day book clubs. Drucker helped popularize now commonplace ideas about management. For example, managers and employees should work toward a common set of goals.

    "The Effective Executive" explores the time-management and decision-making habits that best equip an executive to be productive and valuable in an organization.

    Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

    Get it here >>



    "The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton Christensen

    Bezos also had his executives read "The Innovator's Dilemma," one of the all-time most influential business books and a top pick of several other founders and VCs, whose reviews are below.

    Steve Blank, a former serial entrepreneur who now teaches at UC Berkeley and other schools, says of the book:

    Why do large companies seem and act like dinosaurs? Christensen finally was able to diagnose why and propose solutions. Entrepreneurs should read these books as "how to books" to beat large companies in their own markets.

    Chris Dixon, an investor at Andreessen Horowitz and a former cofounder and CEO of Hunch, notes:

    "The Innovator's Dilemma" popularized the (often misused) phrase "disruptive technology," but there's a lot more than that one big idea. Great insights into the "dynamics" (changes over time) of markets.

    Get it here >>



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    steve jobs wozniak

    Not all entrepreneurs need co-founders, but many successful companies — including Apple, eBay, and Twitter — were built by multiple leaders with productive relationships. 

    How did these individuals find their business counterparts? And what made their combined skill sets a recipe for success? 

    Not surprisingly, many were long-time friends, classmates, or relatives.  Others, however, did not get along initially. Some still are not amicable, despite their joint achievements.

    There is a common trend: the most well-rounded pairs recognized their individual limitations and respected what the other could bring to a partnership.  Many of these duos have gone on to run some of the most successful businesses of our time.

    Bill Gates and Paul Allen

    Company:Microsoft

    Year Founded: 1975

    How their partnership was formed: Bill Gates and Paul Allen were childhood friends from Lakeside private school. 

    They shared a love of computers and were hacker partners-in-crime during high school.

    Why their partnership works:  Although it can be dangerous to mix friendship and business, the two pulled it off thanks to a shared obsession with computers and a passion for entrepreneurship.

    Once Gates left for Harvard, Allen followed him to the Boston-area and they began plotting business ideas.  With Allen's encouragement, Gates took the plunge, dropped out of college, and created Microsoft.  Their billion dollar company spun out of a nerdy passion and a life-long friendship.

    Source: Wired.com



    Larry Page and Sergey Brin

    Company:Google

    Year Founded:1998

    How their partnership was formed: Larry and Sergey met at Stanford’s PhD program in 1995, but they did not instantly become friends. 

    During a campus tour for doctoral students, Brin was Page’s guide-- and they bickered the entire time.  Despite their quarrel, the two found themselves working on a research project together.  Their paper, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” became the basis for Google.

    Why their partnership works:  Sergey and Larry have similar technology backgrounds; they fell in love with computers at an early age and had university professors for parents.  They bonded over their passion for data mining and grew to have similar visions for their company.

    Page and Brin made the joint decision to bring Eric Schmidt on board, and to instill a laid-back atmosphere at the Googleplex. They may have been born on opposite sides of the world (Brin from Russia and Page from Michigan), but Sergey and Larry are cut from the same cloth.

    Sources: BusinessWeek, Google Corporate



    Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

    Company:Apple Inc.

    Year Founded:1976

    How their partnership was formed: The two Steves became friends at a summer job in 1970.  Woz was busy building a computer, and Steve Jobs saw the potential to sell it. 

    In a 2006 interview with the Seattle Times, Woz explained, "I was just doing something I was very good at, and the thing that I was good at turned out to be the thing that was going to change the world...Steve [Jobs] was much more further-thinking. When I designed good things, sometimes he'd say, "We can sell this." And we did. He was thinking about how you build a company, maybe even then he was thinking, "How do you change the world?"

    Why their partnership works:  A master of analytics, Woz admits that he never once thought to sell his original computer model. That was all Jobs. Woz's technical skills paired with Jobs' business foresight makes the two an ultimate business match. And it is a relationship that withstood decades, fame, and fortune. According to Woz, the two remained friends. Woz said they would "talk every once in a while, and they have never had a real argument." 

    Source: The Seattle Times



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Claire Braithwaite

    A government agency tasked with developing the struggling technology sector in the North of England has lost its leader just six months after launching.

    Tech North announced on its website today that Claire Braithwaite is stepping down after getting Tech North off to a "great start."

    The organisation, which is part of Tech City UK, is funded with £2 million of taxpayer money. It was created to join up the tech ecosystems across Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sunderland into one giant internationally renowned tech cluster. It's fair to say that hasn't happened yet.

    But Tech City UK appears to be happy with Braithwaite's efforts.

    In a joint-bylined blog post, Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech and Tech North executive chairman Herb Kim wrote: "On behalf of the entire Tech City UK team, we would like to take this opportunity to thank Claire for all her fantastic work with Tech North.

    "She has played an invaluable role in steering our efforts to boost digital clusters across the North of England and to build a truly amazing team around her."

    They went on to praise her for her efforts around the Northern Stars initiative, the Tech Nation Visa Scheme, and Founders Network. "She has been instrumental in highlighting the depth of digital talent that exists across the North," they continued.

    Braithwaite said: "I’m very proud to have been at the forefront of the launch of Tech North, which is a vital initiative to ensure the continuing development of the tech ecosystem across the North of England. I will continue to support both Tech North and the technology sector in the North of England in my new role that I will announce details of in the near future."

    The official launch of Tech North was delayed by several months, bringing early criticism from the Labour Party. The scheme was announced by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in October 2014 but did not get going until mid-way through 2015.

    Last July, the organisation's business plan was also criticised by one of the entrepreneurs it was hoping to support, after they saw a business plan outlining the vision for Tech North. "They don’t seem to have actually been able to get a strategy together," said a Techworld source— understood to be a leading startup figurehead at the core of one of the cities included in the Tech North scheme. "I still don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing," they said at the time.

    Nearly all of the UK's largest technology companies, particularly the new generation, are still located in London. According to data released in June by research firm GP Bullhound, there is only a single billion dollar technology company in the North of England: ao.com. It's a website that sells fridges and washing machines, so although it's a successful business, it's not exactly revolutionary. There's also enterprise software firm Sage in Newcastle but that's been around since 1981. London, on the other hand, is home to 13 tech "unicorns" developing everything from music identification services like Shazam to fintech apps like TransferWise.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Vic Ho Matt Doka FiveStars

    Victor Ho and his co-founder Matt Doka knew there was no money in the bank.

    The then-40 employees of FiveStars had to be paid, and in front of them were term sheets from investors — more than enough money to cover many months of payrolls in the future. 

    Yet, the funding round didn't feel right, Ho told Business Insider.

    He wanted to build a company that had social impact: a loyalty program that would help small businesses and people in the communities where they are based. Some felt like it was a great marketing ploy, but to Ho it was real. 

    He went with his gut and turned down the term sheets, separating himself from the investors who could've sat on his board and prevented him from achieving his mission. Ho and Doka pooled together their savings to make payroll and risked it all.

    "We bet the entire company. That was the scary part," Ho says. "We didn't end up having to pay for [turning it down] though."

    Fast forward three years and FiveStars is still alive.

    The make-or-break Series A round three years ago came together with new investors, and since then Ho has been building the company that met the mutual vision of him and his investors. The company now has 11 million customers visiting the more than 10,000 brick-and-mortar businesses that use FiveStar to track loyal customers. 

    Today, the company plans to announce a $50 million Series C, bringing its total raised to $105  million since it launched in 2011. The company declined to comment on its valuation, but it hasn't reached the "unicorn" status of a billion-dollar company yet.

    Changing directions

    It was five years ago that Ho was sitting in San Francisco International Airport, waiting for a flight back to New York, when his trip was delayed by an hour. 

    During that hour, Ho felt the weight of his future on him. Having worked at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Co, his next step should have been going into private equity. He was in San Francisco on his final rounds of an interview at a prestigious firm, his parent's dream, and he realized his future ahead was buying and selling companies. He was working hard, but wasn't sure if that was the legacy he wanted to leave.

    That didn't sit well with him. 

    "I was just thinking to myself, 'You work so hard. What is the legacy really you want to leave?' Is it this purely selfish thing where you take this offer, but when you're retiring you're telling your grandkids about how you bought and sold a bunch of companies and made a bunch of money, but probably didn't move society forward in any really way?" Ho wondered.

    victor ho fivestarsThe idea of doing something that would advance society had been festering for awhile. Ho had considered becoming a missionary. His cofounder, Doka, had spent five months in Uganda for volunteer work. 

    The two knew each other from working at McKinsey helping Fortune 500 companies attract and retain customers. They also realized they could do the same for businesses who couldn't afford the big consulting firms or their own app developers.

    In a moment of clarity at the airport, realizing he was stuck in a rat race and creating a legacy he didn't care about, Ho made a change.

    "As I was just sitting there thinking, I just felt in my heart this really really clear, kinda like a clear voice, a clear calling saying 'Hey Vic, you know what you want to do. You know you want to start this company, but you're just being a massive coward, like a really massive coward,'" he says. 

    Ho picked up the phone from the airport and started calling all of the firms he'd interviewed with to pull out of the process. From there, FiveStars was born.

    Why a loyalty program means impact

    When I ask Ho to explain his business now, he rattles off the Silicon Valley definition: it's a  "marketing automation CRM and promotion platform."

    That's a really complicated way of saying that FiveStars wants to make local businesses more personal to customers, and to keep them coming back. It's a fight for the underdog, given that (not unlike startups) two-thirds of small businesses die within 10 years.

    A better definition is when Ho compares what FiveStars wants to do to shopping on Amazon. Whenever someone buys something, they sign into their Amazon account, which already has their shipping info and billing stored. Amazon also knows what you've bought before, and is happy to recommend related items on your purchases. 

    "Now what's insane, that's what shopping is like at brick and mortar shops is today. You go into a store and you start from scratch," Ho says. "It's so bad, you're frankly numb to it, You don't realize how inefficient it really is."

    It's so bad, you're frankly numb to it.

    The coffee store doesn't know your name, or that you like your coffee black, or whether it's your first or you hundredth visit, things FiveStars wants to be able to provide. To compete as a small business, it needs to both attract new customers via Yelp or other channels, and then turn to FiveStars to retain them, Ho says. 

    "Our vision is that in the same way you log into any website, we want you to be able to log in every store you go to," Ho says. 

    Sticking to social causes

    To both Ho and Doka, it's been a priority to stick with the social mission at the root of the company — and find investors who support it. 

    Ho has worried about the tension that may come with investors down the line. He's been cautious to avoid investors who would press for fast growth and profitability over the way he's built the business. 

    FiveStars has a partnership with Hope Services, a Santa Clara non-profit that helps disabled individuals find jobs in the workforce. Sure, the FiveStars assembly line could be faster or changed in a number of ways if the investor only focused on hockey-stick growth curves, but Ho values that each item sent out by FiveStars to its merchant has been touched by an individual working with Hope Services. 

    coffee shopThe same attitude extends to focusing on SMBs. While many startups have tried to reach the local mom-and-pop businesses, it can be hard to reach every business. Signing on 10,000 Starbucks is much easier than 10,000 individual coffee shops, and Ho knows this. 

    To that effect, the company hired Chris Luo, the former head of SMB at Facebook. To start, the company developed its own software to identify which companies are more likely to want to work with a loyalty program such as theirs. 

    "If you're an immigrant from Thailand who just started their own restaurant, you may not be tech savvy on Google looking stuff up," Ho says. "You've got to call them or walk into their store to say hello."

    That's both time and labor intensive, so the company has also developed its own database that it constantly analyzes using machine learning algorithms. 

    A business posting more than five photos to Facebook shows that they're hungry to engage customers more, Ho says. A custom-made site versus a WordPress blog may hint at more of an investment in technology, a larger beacon for FiveStars to target them first. (FiveStars derives its revenue from the roughly $300 monthly subscription fee for its service.)

    It's still an uphill battle to reach every business and not just the tech-friendly one, but Ho's vision is to have everyone "log-in" to any store when they arrive. The more personal and the more customers coming back will only help the small businesses in face of competitors like Amazon, Walmart, or Starbucks chains of the world.  He's resisted acquisition attempts, he says without naming the interested parties, to keep the company focused on the right goals. 

    "That vision is to completely transform the way commerce is done in the US where we felt like things have become completely transactional," Ho said. "The owner may see people coming in and out but they don't know who you are any more. The only time a cashier might make eye contact is when they take your credit card. And really, that used to be the heart and soul of the communities and these businesses."

    "They're never going to compete with Amazon on price or McDonalds on line speed. And if they don't have the personalization, they're completely doomed."

    SEE ALSO: GM gets aggressive and launches a car-sharing service for the future when no one owns cars

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How FanDuel, the billion-dollar New York City startup, launched the now-controversial daily fantasy sports craze


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    Gerard Grech, Tech City UK CEO

    Tech City UK, a taxpayer-funded government organisation, has received just 37 applications since April 2015 for a dedicated technology visa that can be given out to 200 people.

    The visa is designed to bring exceptionally talented technology workers from outside Europe into the UK, but the low number of applications suggests that the London-based agency is failing to make the visa scheme work to its full potential. There are, however, some early signs that may be about to change.

    Immigration is a big issue for UK startups, with many of them struggling to find people in the UK or Europe with the skills they need. PwC's 2015 Global Digital IQ Survey found 78% of UK companies consider a skills shortage in digital expertise as one of their main barriers to progress.

    Tech City UK recommended that the Home Office accept 28 of the 37 applications. It declined to say how many of its endorsements have been approved, referring Business Insider to the Home Office (which has yet to reply to our Freedom of Information Request.)

    The Home Office was, however, able to confirm that the government does not reallocate or carry over any visas that aren't given out in a given year. Put simply, they're wasted.

    The "Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa" was introduced by the Home Office in June 2011 as a means of fast-tracking the 1,000 skilled workers from outside Europe into the UK. In order to bring in these talented workers, the Home Office tasks a number of institutions — including Arts Council England, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society — with finding and endorsing exceptional talent outside Europe.

    As part of an effort to get more internationally recognised technical people to come to the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron announced in December 2013 that the government was going to allow Tech City UK to endorse 200 out of the 1000 Tier 1 visa slots.

    At a time when the government is cracking down on other immigration visas, it could be argued that Tech City UK should be working extra hard to ensure it maximises the impact of this undersubscribed visa route.

    By contrast, the US government has a similar visa for technology workers known as the H1-B that is heavily oversubscribed. The visa, which allows businesses to hire foreign workers in science, engineering and computer programming, received 233,000 applications for fiscal 2016. There were 85,000 visas to be granted.

    Tech City UK, which was backed with £4.2 million of taxpayer money for 2015/2016, turned down our offer of an interview so it could discuss the visa numbers in more detail.

    border queue uk

    Stevie Buckley, head of talent at London digital agency Potato, told Business Insider that he tried and failed to hire a talented data scientist from Moscow last year using the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa.

    "The candidate had a PhD, significant industry experience, had been published multiple times and was, for all intents and purposes, a prime candidate for the Tier 1 ET visa," he said. "Whilst certain individuals at Tech City were incredibly helpful, we ended up hiring the candidate on a Tier 2 visa (general skilled work visa for non-EU citizens) as the time, effort and cost involved was significantly better.

    "I'm not even slightly surprised that this scheme is failing. There's a distinct lack of accessible, straightforward information on the process, time and documentation required for the visa."

    Promising signs

    Although the number of applications for the Tier 1 visa are low, there are signs that things might be changing.

    Of the 37 applications that Tech City UK received in the last eight months, 19 were submitted after the reforms were introduced, suggesting higher numbers of people are starting to apply.

    The rise in the number of applications seems to be linked to changes that were made to the Tech City UK visa scheme towards the end of last year.

    On November 18, shortly after venture capitalist Eileen Burbidge joined as chairman, Tech City UK rebranded the Tier 1 visa as the "Tech Nation" visa.

    At the time of the rebrand, Tech City UK tweaked the rules so that entire teams could apply (up to five people at a time,) instead of just individuals. In theory, it means well-funded UK startups like TransferWise and Shazam can try to poach groups of people from rival firms in hubs like Silicon Valley and Bangalore.

    Tech City UK also said it was going to start considering candidates that showed "exceptional promise"as well as"exceptional talent", after realising that it may have initially set the bar too high.

    A spokesperson for Tech City UK told Business Insider: "Signs are encouraging that there is demand for the [Tier 1 visa] scheme. To date we have focused on promotion via business networks and relevant digital marketing channels.

    David Tier 1"Other interested parties, including the UK Government overseas, continue to raise awareness of this scheme where relevant."

    Two non-EU citizens that have recently been endorsed by Tech City UK for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa are Nigerian Antonia Anni, an entrepreneur with her own business and community manager for Codecademy, and Armenian David Zokhrabyan, the CEO and cofounder of ArtHome.London.

    Anni has received her visa but although Zokhrabyan has been endorsed by Tech City UK, he is still awaiting approval from the Home Office.

    Zokhrabyan said: " I put a lot of effort in preparing the case and did it all by myself. You need to have two strong recommendation letters from industry leaders and a lot of documents in support of your claim to be an exceptional talent."

    Tier 1 vs. Tier 2

    A lack of awareness of the visa could be one of the reasons why so few people are applying for it. So could the fact that it's often easier to get the more widely available Tier 2 visa, which skilled technology workers outside the EU can also use to enter the UK.

    There are over 100,000 of these available every year but the government is currently exploring how it can drastically reduce that number. The Tier 2 visas are also open to doctors, nurses, solicitors, accountants, and other professionals, which means that Tech City UK's Tier 1 visa is the only visa specifically for technology workers outside the EU.

    Justin Fitzpatrick, COO of London startup DueDil, which allows companies to do financial background checks (due diligence) on other companies, said he often has to hire data scientists from outside the EU. He is aware of the Tier 1 visa but so far he's also relied on on the Tier 2 visa, which does not fall under Tech City UK's remit.

    "Some of the immigration procedures, such as the resident market labour test, have felt a bit like box ticking, and the only tangible outcome for us has been that these delay hiring," he said.

    Eileen Burbidge"I'm not sure that companies are fully aware of all the various ways they can sponsor [non-EU tech workers]," continued Fitzpatrick. "The process for talented people who are already working in the UK to stay here should be easier."

    Another startup CEO, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed Fitzpatrick's claim, saying no one uses Tech City UK's visa scheme because "people don't know anything about it."

    Tech City UK's visa history

    Last year, Techworld found that Tech City UK and the Home Office received just 10 applications for the Tier 1 visa, between April 2014 and April 2015, even though there is a capacity of 200. Seven of the 10 applications were approved by the Home Office.

    At the time, the figures showed that Tech City UK received fewer applications than any other institution with endorsement powers. A total of 160 Tier 1 applications were submitted to the organisations that have powers to endorse non-EU citizens between April 2014 and April 2015. Of those, 106 were endorsed, 37 were rejected and 17 were under review. The Arts Council received the most applications, with 83.

    In September 2014, Ravi Lal, head of operations at Tech City UK, told Techworld that the "bar has been set very high" for candidates looking to apply for the exceptional talent visa.

    Business Insider has asked the Home Office how many applications and endorsements each of the other organisations with endorsement powers have received.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Man shh quiet secret

    Before a startup launches, it goes through its stealth phase. Often this is a pretty short time before it hits market, but some companies will take years and raise millions along the way before the public learns what they're doing. 

    CB Insights, a venture capital data firm, assembled a list of the top-funded stealth companies that haven't opened to the public yet. We excluded one name, Jut, because it has already opened up its beta to the public. 

    To be considered among the most well funded, the company had to actively raise money in the last two years and raise at least $10 million. 

    Here are the companies that have raked in millions even though the public has no idea what they do:

    SEE ALSO: The 10 best careers in tech, according to the people who work in them

    12. Globality (tied)

    Amount raised: $10 million

    Investors: 14 angel investors including Al Gore, Sheryl Sandberg, and Yahoo CFO Ken Goldman

    What we know: With high-profile investors already behind it, Globality wants to change way companies do business around the globe by "Combining A.I. with domain expertise."

    In an interview with TechCrunch, cofounder Joel Hyatt was both extremely vague and ambitious about its plans to change the world's economic structure. "We’re going to facilitate global trade on the part of far more companies than are currently involved in exporting both goods and services, which are critical to the U.S. economy and critical to the GDP. The vast 90 percent of export comes from one percent of companies, these large industrial conglomerates and international service firms,"Hyatt told TechCrunch.



    12. Dremio (tied)

    Amount raised: $10 million

    Investors: Lightspeed Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures

    What we know: Dremio is founded by two former MapR employees who want to "enable organizations to unlock the value of their data." The duo developed the Apache Drill open-source project and hope Dremio will continue to develop open-source software, according to Venture Beat.



    11. Hyperscience

    Amount raised: $10.9 million

    Investors: Firstmark Capital, High Line Venture Partners, Slow Ventures

    What we know: The only New York-based company to make the list, Hyperscience wants to bring artificial intelligence to enterprises. Not much is known about the company, but it's supposed to get smarter with each enterprise customer over time, says one of its investors. Its "about us" page on its website lists only random stats, like the average age of its employees is 31.7 and two people on the team like tennis.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Buffer Team

    I was waiting for the results of my annual performance review.

    Performance reviews — most often yearly — are how many companies provide feedback to their employees. They often involve a numeric rating and maybe an hour or so of conversation about what’s gone right throughout the past year and what could use improvement.

    There are a few flaws in the system:

    • It’s hard to remember what you did (or didn’t do) in a whole year.
    • Getting a “rating” can derail what could have been a thoughtful conversation.
    • No matter how much positive feedback you get, it’s easy to key in on the negative.
    • It’s generally information you could have used a lot sooner.

    Lately, there’s been a bit of a quiet revolution going on in the world of evaluating employee performance. A variety of innovative companies are reformulating the standard review, while others are ditching it altogether.

    Our real-time culture — including the rise of social media — could be a big part of the reason. Here’s Accenture chief executive Pierre Nanterme in the Washington Post:

    “If you put this new generation in the box of the performance management we’ve used the last 30 years, you lose them. People want to know on an ongoing basis, ‘Am I doing right? Am I moving in the right direction? Do you think I’m progressing?’ Nobody’s going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback.”

    In fact, a recent study found that the No. 1 thing Millennials want from work is more opportunities to learn and develop:

    Buffer post 1

    At Buffer, we skip the annual performance review. We’ve found ongoing, weekly feedback to be the best path toward continuous improvement — plus, you get to skip the nervous stomachache!

    It took us some time to figure out how to structure our coaching and feedback processes, and they’re likely to change again! But we wanted to share how we do things now in case its helpful for others.

    Our core coaching unit: One-on-ones

    Early on at Buffer, we began one-on-one sessions between every teammate and their team lead at least every 2 weeks.

    We’ve had many different iterations of the structure of these sessions. Generally they last about an hour and include time for achievements, challenges, and feedback from the team lead to the teammate.

    Most often, they look like a team lead asking a simple question like “How is it going this week?” and the teammate taking the session anywhere they like.

    I’m lucky enough to have my one-on-ones with Leo, who has coached me on everything from role-based stuff like press and public relations to general life stuff like polite persistence and confidence. It’s a special relationship, and one that I know has challenged me to grow immensely.

    For the team member, not the team lead

    One element of our one-on-ones that might feel a bit different than most types of feedback sessions is that they are almost completely driven by the teammate, with very little time for the team lead to be “in control.”

    Ben Horowitz wrote a great article entitled One on One that sums up the impetus behind this:

    “The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting.”

    When the majority of the time is dedicated to the team member, and it is up to them to set the agenda, it becomes very empowering.

    For instance, I’m aware that I’m going to chat every Wednesday with Leo and that it’s up to me to come up with something to talk about. Because of this, I jot notes throughout the week about things I want to celebrate, things I’d love advice about and issues I think might need a focused discussion.

    This tends to surface topics, thoughts and ideas that might have gone unnoticed and forgotten otherwise. It also helps me stay accountable to making progress throughout the week so I always have something new to share!

    I always leave one-on-ones feeling energized and supported. I asked Leo for a few tips on how he makes sure our one-on-ones are always great:

    A constant work in progress

    Once you get into the groove of doing one-on-ones consistently for a while, there’s a trust and momentum that builds, and it feels like it moves the whole team into a whole new gear.

    For teammates, it’s an open-ended way to work through challenges, get advice and brainstorm together. For team leaders, it’s a great way to get signals about what’s working well and what could use some extra thought in terms of workflows and structure.

    But we’re always working on ways to make this process even more fulfilling for both parties. Here’s a look at a survey we recently sent out about one-on-ones:

    Buffer post 2

    Recently, this great article about better one-on-ones has been going around our virtual office and inspiring us. If we make changes to our system, we’ll be sure to share it with you!

    A bonus personal growth machine: Masterminds

    In addition to one-on-ones, teammates have another option to pair up, celebrate achievements and work through challenges with peers. We call these sessions “masterminds,” and they go way back to our startup’s beginnings.

    In the very early days, Buffer co-founders Joel and Leo would spend their Friday nights at Samovar in San Francisco, drinking tea and having what they call “the most productive hours” of their week in a mastermind chat.

    These sessions continue virtually today, no matter where they are in the world. Leo shared that his and Joel’s masterminds can take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours! Here’s what they discuss:

    We’ve had many different iterations of the structure of our mastermind sessions, and they’re still evolving today. Some teammates use this structure today:

    • 20 minutes to share and celebrate your achievements (1o minutes each)
    • 40 minutes to discuss your current top challenges (20 minutes each)

    Both of these sections serve a different purpose, and together they combine to create a very productive session.

    I’m lucky enough to mastermind with Buffer’s blogger extraordinaire, Kevan, and I get so much out of our time together. It’s a space to be deeply vulnerable — it’s almost like weekly therapy!

    We follow the general format above and have also invented a few of our own rules:

    • There’s no such thing as a small achievement! (we kept calling them small until we created this rule)
    • No validating one another. (In other words, if I say “I think I could have done better on this,” Kevan can’t say “No, you’re great!” Instead, he will stick with questions as to why I think I need to improve and how I’ll get there.)

    Peer-to-peer, personal and professional

    Not all teammates choose to participate in masterminds — they’re optional.

    During our experiment with self-management, we dropped one-on-ones totally and encouraged everyone to do masterminds instead. Now we’ve realized that mentorship is super valuable and returned to one-on-ones, but some of us continue to find value in masterminds as well.

    The peer-to-peer nature means we can share challenges and experiences with others going through a similar journey.

    Ideally, they work best with someone whose work is at least somewhat similar to yours, so you can share the most overlap in challenges and achievements.

    Anything goes in these sessions — both professional and personal discussions are common.

    One of the unique values in the culture at Buffer is to “Have a focus on self-improvement”, and this means talking about personal improvements is encouraged — for example, improving your sleep, learning a new language, trying new forms of exercise, or writing more frequently.

    What’s the difference?

    The key difference between masterminds & one-on-ones is the relationship: Masterminds are peer-to-peer while one-on-ones are a mentor/mentee relationship.

    For some people, one-on-ones fulfill most of their needs for working through challenges. In that case, it feels great to stick with just that.

    For new teammates, we encourage them to explore masterminds if they feel drawn to it, but also be very reflective on what they contribute. If the mastermind doesn’t quite feel high value, then they’re encouraged to feel free to rather focus on one-on-ones instead.

    Again, I asked Leo to share his thoughts on the key difference between the two:

    The key to both: Listening, not solving

    During both of these kinds of sessions, there’s one key rule we try to live by: Listen closely and ask questions, but don’t try to solve others’ problems.

    The aim is to help the other person to think about the challenge differently and come up with their own solution.

    We may ask questions and perhaps share thoughts or similar experiences, but we try stop short of solving.

    It can be really hard to hold back! Buffer is a pretty empathetic team, and we all want to help. But we’ve learned that through asking questions, you often find that your own idea wasn’t quite the right solution.

    Plus, it is a hundred times more motivating for the other person to come away knowing that they came up with the solution themselves. Galileo explained perfectly why we try to approach it in this way:

    “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.”

    Do you have performance reviews at your company, or a different kind of process for feedback?

    We’d love to hear your thoughts!

    SEE ALSO: Why this tech startup CEO listed all of his employees' salaries online for anyone to see

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Ricky Yean PRX Ceo

    My co-founder David and I both grew up in poverty and can call ourselves “battle-tested” when it comes to both life and startups, so when the talk in the Valley turned to incomeinequality, our ears perked up. For a moment, our two worlds were colliding. Here’s a quote from Paul Graham that got our attention.

    “Closely related to poverty is lack of social mobility. I’ve seen this myself: you don’t have to grow up rich or even upper middle class to get rich as a startup founder, but few successful founders grew up desperately poor.” (link)

    Graham was right, and it’s a truth we’re intimately aware of as startup founders. Not only are the cards stacked against us to even have the opportunity to found a startup, but building and sustaining a company that is “designed to grow fast” is especially hard if you grew up desperately poor.

    David and I have been fighting this very idea since starting our company in 2010, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. The main problem is what David and I call mindsetinequality. To really understand it, I need to put you in my shoes. Let me take you on a personal journey.

    How I got here

    When I was 11, I moved to the United States with my dad. We were broke in Taiwan. I picked up the English language. My dad did not. He also didn’t work, so I started working when I was 14 by doing all kinds of odd jobs. On top of that, I did all the things immigrant kids are familiar with, like translating or simply handling all the business with landlords, bills, government services, insurance, etc.

    I was smart, but I wasn’t very good at school, and not knowing the language definitely didn’t help. My standardized test scores were bad enough that when I decided to take school more seriously in high school, my counselor actively discouraged me from taking even just one honors-level course. I had to bring my dad to the office the next day and told him to pretend to say some words in Mandarin while I just demanded that I get put in an honors-level English class.

    I remember getting a B in that class, and that was enough to start taking some AP courses the next year. Unlike a lot of my peers at Stanford, high school was no joke for me. I was so underprepared and didn’t know how to learn that I basically committed to sleeping only three hours a night and re-read the same chapters in the textbook three times to force myself to memorize the material. I came to school every day with blood-shot eyes. One time I got a stress-induced bald spot that was pretty embarrassing, so I learned to develop a sense of humor.

    I found out about the SATs in 10th grade. I took a mock test and scored around a 900 (out of 1600) and panicked. I took the money I made, and instead of helping to pay the bills, I paid for a few SAT classes at Elite Education Prep in my neighborhood. When it came time to renew, I told them I couldn’t pay anymore, but the amazing folks at Elite decided to just let me take classes for free and supplied me with all the study materials. I ultimately scored high enough that they put my picture up on the window to market to more students.

    You can imagine how lucky I felt when I got into Stanford on basically a full ride (Go Card!). I spent my first year perpetually awe-struck. All these amazing individuals to talk to. All these great resources to access.

    Stanford successfully created this physical and financial bubble around me that, for the first time in my life, I didn’t have to think too much about money. That was extremely empowering. I felt like I was just like my peers and that I could do anything. I can’t emphasize this enough so I’m just going to say it again. During my first year at Stanford, I felt so empowered I believed I could do anything.

    Of course, that was an illusion.

    Reality quickly set in. I took an “elective” course about Contemporary African Politics my first quarter and I received a C+ despite grade inflation. I didn’t know how to talk in a small discussion-based class of 12 students. I was scared. I was quiet. I didn’t know how to read or skim the volume of reading we were given, so I was stupidly trying to read Week 1 materials word-for-word during Week 4. I didn’t know how to think critically about what I was reading. At one point, Professor Weinstein sat me down during office hours to ask me what was wrong and how he could help. I didn’t even know what to tell him.

    In the dorm, where I was constantly inspired by my peers, I noticed that everyone I talked to played an instrument, which made me feel out of place. Instead of moving on, I surveyed the rest of my dorm to see who else played an instrument only to learn that I was the odd one out. Just a poor kid out of place. Not good enough.

    Sophomore year was when it all fell apart. Like many of my peers, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so like them, I decided to do everything. I joined a bunch of clubs while the classes got harder. Soon enough I fell into a slump. When you’re in a slump, you start to look around and find even more ways to show yourself that you’re not good enough.

    I’d go to the same classes with friends and dormmates, but then I’d notice how fast they were learning the concepts while I was struggling. I asked one of them to tutor me, and even then I wasn’t keeping up. On top of that, the extracurricular commitments I picked up totally overwhelmed me, so I shirked many of my club duties. I also noticed that, in order to keep up socially, I had to spend money to participate in a lot of activities like going out to movies or dorm ski trips — and that was on top of having to buy my own books.

    I remember having to borrow a few hundred bucks from one of my best friends while I applied for another loan to cover the expenses. I remember running to the student loan office crying because I felt so bad. I told the loan officer I needed the money as soon as possible because I didn’t want the lack of money to ruin friendships the way it had ruined so many other things before. I spent the next 48 hours basically stressed as fuck until the loan money showed up in my account and I paid him back. He’s still one of my best friends to this day.

    The money problem was hanging over me the entire time in school. I’d get calls from home about money, but there wasn’t much I could do other than picking up a side tutoring gig. I remember lashing out at my dad on the phone because I didn’t want to carry him around as baggage while I was trying to get through Stanford like a “normal” student. I didn’t want to have a lesser, second-rate experience. I so desperately wanted to maintain the illusion that I was on equal footing. I wanted to believe that there wasn’t anything holding me back from achieving and that I’d get through this.

    I did.

    I went on a trip led by Kimber Lockhart and Andi Kleissner to visit social enterprises in the Bay Area. I learned about entrepreneurship through companies like Kiva and World of Good. The two of them suggested that I join BASES, the Stanford student group for entrepreneurial minds. Then I fell in love.

    I attended Y Combinator’s Startup School the same year Jeff Bezos announced Amazon Web Services. I ended up finding my niche at Stanford as the co-president for both BASES and AKPsi, a coed pre-business fraternity. I worked as a young VC at Alsop Louie Partners, where Stewart Alsop gave me my first Apple product (his old Macbook), then I interned at Eventbrite, where Kevin Hartz saw something in me that I wasn’t even aware myself. I started working on side projects with a very impressive individual I met named David Tran.

    I became “that guy” on campus who was the most gung-ho about entrepreneurship. I learned how to execute, and then I learned how to lead. Our side project became a startup that got funded by Y Combinator. We raised money, built Crowdbooster to profitability, and now we’re building PRX, which is an even bigger idea to offer PR services on demand. It’s well on its way. We can talk about that in my next post.

    Mindset inequality

    With that story in mind, now let me explain mindset inequality and why “very few successful founders grew up desperately poor.”

    I was lucky that I found something I loved in entrepreneurship, which helped me focus my energies away from academic classes. I was lucky I found out that I was good with people and loved organizing and leading teams to achieve great things. I was lucky there were no other traumatic events that knocked me further into the deep end. I could’ve easily given into to the realities, dropped out, or just given up the illusion and adjusted my goals — except I chose to start a company. Starting a company for me was the ultimate declaration that I wanted to hold on to the illusion and continued to believe that I could do anything.

    But because I fought hard to maintain this illusion for myself all through Stanford and while building the startup, I’m extremely aware of the disconnect. The world is clearly not a level playing field. Just with myself and my experience, I can see a lot of buggy code in my mind’s operating system that isn’t conducive to building a successful startup. Here are some of the issues with my default mindset that I’ve had to fix over time.

    One example of a poor mindset is to minimize conflict because fucking up is costly and opportunities are hard to come by, so it’s been a challenge putting my ideas out there and defending them. I often hear about people having intelligent conversations at home with their parents.

    I never ate at the dinner table because we didn’t have one in the one-bedroom apartment that I shared with my dad. You can imagine how this translates to pitching your startup. The idea of putting my grand idea out there and vigorously defending it to investors trying to tear it apart was new and counterintuitive.

    Related to that, a poor founder tends to be less confident. My mom, who didn’t go to college, used to say this to me, and it bothered me a lot. She’d say, “We’re not meant to be successful, so what you’ve achieved is good enough!” Compare that level of confidence to a kid with successful parents who’d say something along the lines of “If you can believe it, you can achieve it!”

    Now imagine walking into a VC office having to compete with that kid. He’s so convinced that he’s going to change the world, and that’s going to show in his pitch. You can’t just muster up that confidence on the spot.

    Then there’s knowing how to manage resources. Being poor makes you suck at using money as a resource. My time was always cheaper growing up, so I’d rather spend time than spend money. I had to fix this when we raised our first seed round, but it took quite some time.

    A simple decision to hire, for example, took a very long time to the point that it cost us growth. Then there are also human resources, networks of people who can help you Again, growing up poor meant that there weren’t successful aunts and uncles who could show me the ways of the world or even give me a little nudge in the right direction. I’ve had to learn to work the room, to talk to and talk like a successful person, and to know how to ask for help.

    I’ve also noticed the huge difference having some built-in resources can make. I don’t have “friends and family” money to get going. In fact, I’m sending money to my dad every month from the measly income I take out from my startup.

    Knowing that you have “friends and family” money to get going or even some family money to help you when you fail makes it that much easier to be more risk-seeking and build the appetite for hyper-growth startups. Most of the time, potential founders who share my background tend to work at lucrative jobs in finance or tech until they can take care of everyone in their families before they even dream about taking more risks — if they ever get there.

    Finally, there’s the a constant guilt. If you have a Stanford degree and share my background, you’re likely the only one they can count on at home. You most likely would have the opportunity to work at safer and more lucrative careers that would be of more immediate help to your family.

    It’s very irresponsible to pursue the startup path, and even if you do succeed in upgrading your mind software to get rid of all the bugs I mentioned above, you start to sound and act differently from the people you grew up with. You might even get accused of losing your identity. This is why successful rappers are told they’re turning their backs on their communities all the time.

    All of this contributes to the mindset inequality that founders like David and me have to overcome. We think this is the reason why poor founders tend not to be successful. Fortunately for us, we consider this the biggest chip on our shoulders. Known bug in our mind software.

    We’ve overcome so many of these issues, and we’ll keep chipping away at it until we win. But for others, I think it’s important to note this: Tangible inequalities — that which can be seen and measured, like money or access — get the majority of the attention, and deservedly so. But inequalities that live in your mind can keep the deck stacked against you long after you’ve made it out of the one-room apartment you shared with your dad. This is insidious, difficult-to-discuss, and takes a long essay to explain.

    David and I are living proof that if we can upgrade and improve the way we think, and overcome our mindset inequality, then maybe we can help others do the same. For me, that starts with sharing my story so far. Stay tuned.

    Ricky Yean is the CEO of PRX.coThanks to David Tran, Yin Yin Wu and Gaby Gulo for reading drafts of this.

    Read the original article on Medium. Copyright 2016. Follow Medium on Twitter.

    SEE ALSO: Paul Graham: 'Ending economic inequality means ending startups'

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    Debbie Wosskow SEUK Love Home Swap

    CEOs and founders from some of Britain's most promising sharing economy and on demand companies are hoping to penetrate the US market off the back of a government-backed "trade mission" to San Francisco next week.

    Sharing economy companies provide platforms that allows the public to let out their goods or services in exchange for a fee. Uber and Airbnb are arguably the biggest firms operating in this space but there are several British companies that are gaining traction and raising large funding rounds from big name investors.

    The transatlantic trip, which is being organised by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) in conjunction with Tech City UK, is designed to offer British sharing economy startups the opportunity to meet with key players in the industries they operate in, as well as to "foster collaboration" between British and American businesses.

    Debbie Wosskow, CEO and founder of home exchange platform Love Home Swap, and Alex Depledge, cofounder of on demand cleaning service Hassle.com are among the 10 entrepreneurs that are due to go on the trip.

    While in San Francisco, the cohort will meet with Silicon Valley executives from firms like eBay and startup executives from companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and TaskRabbit. It's believed that they will also get the opportunity to pitch their companies to venture capitalists.

    The following founders and CEOs are planning to attend:

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    mark cubanYou are what you read, and if your goal is to build a massively successful company where you call the shots, you might want to start with the following books.

    We spoke with wildly successful entrepreneurs and VCs like Mark Cuban and Peter Thiel and pored over years of interviews with star founders to find the books that every aspiring entrepreneur should read.

    Here are their top recommendations.

    Bianca Male, Aimee Groth, Richard Feloni, Natalie Walters, and Alison Griswold contributed reporting to this article.

    SEE ALSO: 33 business books every professional should read before turning 30

    "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand

    Self-made billionaire Mark Cuban tells Business Insider that this book is required reading for every entrepreneur.

    It's also a favorite of Charlie O'Donnell, a partner at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures. He says:

    I don't know any book that sums up the entrepreneurial passion and spirit better than "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand: "The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."

    Get it here >>



    "The Effective Executive" by Peter Drucker

    This is one of the three books that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had his senior managers read for a series of all-day book clubs. Drucker helped popularize now commonplace ideas about management. For example, managers and employees should work toward a common set of goals.

    "The Effective Executive" explores the time-management and decision-making habits that best equip an executive to be productive and valuable in an organization.

    Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

    Get it here >>



    "The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton Christensen

    Bezos also had his executives read "The Innovator's Dilemma," one of the all-time most influential business books and a top pick of several other founders and VCs, whose reviews are below.

    Steve Blank, a former serial entrepreneur who now teaches at UC Berkeley and other schools, says of the book:

    Why do large companies seem and act like dinosaurs? Christensen finally was able to diagnose why and propose solutions. Entrepreneurs should read these books as "how to books" to beat large companies in their own markets.

    Chris Dixon, an investor at Andreessen Horowitz and a former cofounder and CEO of Hunch, notes:

    "The Innovator's Dilemma" popularized the (often misused) phrase "disruptive technology," but there's a lot more than that one big idea. Great insights into the "dynamics" (changes over time) of markets.

    Get it here >>



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    seattle marijauana

    The conventional wisdom is that Silicon Valley is the only great place to found a tech startup. It's got great engineers, a huge network of financiers and advisers, and pleasant weather all year.

    But it's also ridiculously expensive. To buy a house and live comfortably in San Francisco, a person needs a salary of more than $180,000 per year — more than double the salary needed to do the same in LA, according to a recent survey.

    Where else should you settle?

    To get an idea, Mattermark took a look through its funding data, focusing on the number of investment rounds closed and the total deal value. Then it looked to see which cities showed the biggest increase in deal action between 2014 and 2015. It also measured the average annual-growth rate in deal rounds and value between 2012 and 2015.

    Here are the fastest-growing startup scenes in the US right now:

    SEE ALSO: Here's how much you'd have to earn to buy a house and live comfortably in 23 US cities

    10. Kansas City, MO: 31.56% deal growth in 2015, 9.61% average growth since 2012.



    9. Dallas, TX: 37.09% deal growth in 2015, 18.83% average growth since 2012.



    8. Washington, DC: 38.16% deal growth in 2015, 21.31% average growth since 2012.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    rabbit show standard satin

    It's no secret a lot of people don't like the now widely used term for billion-dollar technology companies, unicorns.

    The word came about when technology startups with a billion-dollar valuation were thought to be rare and special, just like the mythical beast.

    But one of the issues critics have with the term unicorn is that technology companies with valuations over $1 billion (£700 million) are now fairly common, with 13 in London and dozens in Silicon Valley.

    Their popularity has risen so much in recent months that some sceptics have suggested we just name them "horses" or "donkeys."

    These same sceptics will most likely be saddened to hear that a new animal name for technology startups was floated Monday by the boss of a New York-headquartered venture-capital analysis firm.

    Writing in his daily newsletter, CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal said 2016 would "be the year of the rabbits."

    What are tech rabbits?

    RabbitRabbit in this usage is an acronym describing real actual businesses building interesting tech. The term came about because Sanwal thinks there will be a new group of technology startups that aren't unicorns but aren't unicorpses either.

    (A unicorpse, by the way, is the term given to a dead unicorn.)

    Sanwal wrote: "With 152 (unicorns), there will of course be some flameouts or those that run into issues. These are not riskless bets after all."

    He continued: "While it's 'fun' in a schadenfreud'y way to claim some absurd number of unicorns will falter in 2016, it misses out on the fact that 2016's climate may force many of these unicorns to become RABBITs."

    When I posted a screenshot (above) on Twitter, Mark Scott, the European technology correspondent for The New York Times, jokingly said it"seems legit," adding that he planned to buy every website with "rabbit" in the URL.

    Derek Du Preez, an editor at Diginomica, simply wrote: "I can't cope."

    Dead unicorns on the horizon

    Last October, Mark Suster, an entrepreneur who sold his business to Salesforce before becoming a venture capitalist, questioned the valuations being achieved by many of today's technology startups.

    The Upfront Ventures general partner published a blog post in which he predicted what would happen to the venture-capital market in 2016.

    In Venture Outlook 2016, Suster wrote, "Our late-stage, privately held technology market is clearly in a bubble," adding: "We're doomed to repeat history. Boom and bust." Suster said the "over-heated private tech markets will cool" in 2016, though he concedes that he had been saying that for the past two years.

    "Either we've discovered magical beans and elixir or perhaps we've gotten ahead of ourselves on valuation," Suster said.

    Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist at Benchmark Capital, is another outspoken critic of tech's funding landscape. "I do think you'll see some dead unicorns this year,"he said in 2015.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Ravel Law

    Can you apply big data to the legal industry? 

    That's exactly the question Daniel Lewis and Nik Reed, the co-founders of Ravel Law, asked when they were law students at Stanford.

    They were frustrated with the old way of doing legal research, which often involved reading through thousands of different cases to find information.

    If they could make research easier, they thought, then they would save students, lawyers, librarians, and paralegals thousands of hours of time — and make law firms more efficient in the process.

    When you sign up for Ravel, you instantly get access to thousands of cases and opinions going all the way back to the 19th Century — for free. 

    While sites like Lexis Nexis and Westlaw have vast digital case libraries, most of the information is stuck behind a paywall. (Ravel's proprietary analytics tools, which are geared towards professional lawyers, cost money.) Ravel also makes it easier to search, by "mapping" related cases, allowing lawyers and students to easily find and visualize relevant information. 

    Ravel went live in 2012. In two rounds of funding, the company has raised just over $9 million. And they're quickly expanding. 

    But as lawyers aren't your typical entrepreneurs, starting out was hard.

    "Lawyers are prone to think a lot about things, without necessarily getting into action as quickly as others might," Reed told Business Insider over the phone.

    Learning from the engineers and computer scientists who've launched countless startups out of Stanford, Reed and Lewis signed up for Launchpad, the famous Stanford design school ("d.school") class started by a former eBay executive

    To get into Launchpad, students need to pitch ideas. The goal of the class is to move from an idea to actually launching a product — in one academic quarter. 

    Ravel Law Search Visualization

    Their idea was to digitize law collections from across the US, and build a layer of analytics on top.

    Lewis and Reed were encouraged by one of their professors, Jonathan Zittrain, who was then a visiting professor at Stanford.

    Zittrain is an expert on internet law (also a computer science professor), and he now directs the Berkman Center for Internet at Society at Harvard. Zittrain, importantly for Ravel, also runs the Harvard Law Library, the largest academic law library in the world. 

    The partnership between Lewis, Reed, and Zittrain started casually "over frozen yogurt in downtown Palo Alto," Lewis said. "One of the initiatives that Jonathan (Zittrain) wanted to do during his tenure running Harvard's law library was to bring it more in line with the digital age. We met up, and it was a perfect fit."

    But, Lewis says, the Harvard Law Library couldn't pull off this massive project to "free the law" on its own — it has over 2 million volumes

    Using high-speed imaging equipment, Harvard and Ravel are bringing 40 million pages of court decisions online, totally for free.

    "The partnership was, 'look, Harvard has this comprehensive, massive collection of books'," Lewis said. "They want to digitize them, and Ravel can bring the technology that brings this information to life, and helps people make sense of it."

    Then, the Harvard Law School did something unprecedented for that school: It took an equity stake in Ravel.

    Ravel Law Harvard Law Library

    While that's common for engineering and computer science focused schools like Stanford and MIT, it's definitely uncommon for a law school. 

    "It's a really innovative arrangement for Harvard as well," Reed said. "They're trying to think through how the university can foster new technologies, new startups, and work in ways that look more like what Stanford's been doing for quite a while."

    As of Wednesday, Harvard's collection of California case law is now available on Ravel, and will be online in its entirety by mid-2017, according to a Ravel press release. 

    "Attorneys are fascinated by this material," Reed said. "Having access to the original scans of all this material could be the thing that wins the multi-million dollar case."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    (King) Jason and Warlord forest taken by Kasumi Kitano kinglsey rebellion

    There's a lot that unconventional about Jason Kingsley.

    For starters, he's a knight.

    And not just the run-of-the-mill, honoured-by-the-Queen knight. Kingsley is a real knight.

    He's a keen jouster, breeds warhorses, and spends tens of thousands of pounds on custom suits of armour. "You're talking about twenty, thirty grand for a suit of armour," he says, "and that doesn't really have much use except stopping you from dying when you joust."

    When Kingsley's not on horseback, he's running Rebellion, a company he cofounded with his brother Chris.

    Launched in 1992, Rebellion is predominantly a video game company, though also has businesses in table top games, book publishing, and comic books (it owns 2000AD, which created the iconic Judge Dredd).

    To this day, the Kingsley brothers are the only shareholders in the company. It hasn't taken outside investment, and — unusual in today's startup world — doesn't offer its 200+ employees any stock options.

    Kingsley told Business Insider in an interview at Rebellion's Oxford headquarters that he doesn't think equity is necessarily the best way to attract the best — and most loyal — talent.

    "It's a bit like fighting a war with proper soldiers or a bunch of mercenaries you hired. Mercenaries might fight well, they might not, you have no idea. But if people are very involved with the organisation, they like it, they enjoy what they do — we get a different kind of atmosphere. A better approach, in my experience, than with mere hirelings."

    Kingsley says he "prefer[s] to pay people a bigger salary and give them a job they're happy with" than fob them off with stock options.

    "We try to inspire people and inspire loyalty and hard work by different means other than just money."

    Of course, not issuing stock — combined with the lack of outside investors — also means that Jason and Chris (who works as CTO) can retain total control over the company and its future. Key titles include the ongoing Sniper Elite series, the aforementioned Judge Dredd, and an upcoming remake of the classic 1980 virtual reality arcade game, Battlezone.

    So what's it like working with your sibling? "Since I’ve never worked with anyone other than my brother, it’s hard for me to compare, but it’s worked for 24 years so far, and seems likely to keep on working," Kingsley says.

    "As far as conflict resolution between us goes, when we were a lot younger we did, on occasions, settle things by wrestling. That has definitely changed since we’ve grown up, now we mostly talk things through."

    Read Business Insider's full interview with Jason Kingsley, CEO of Rebellion, on Saturday, January 30.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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