Mike Maples, Jr. is a managing partner at Floodgate, a venture capital firm that has invested in many tech companies that we love today. To name a few, Floodgate has invested in Twitter, Lyft, Taskrabbit, Weebly, Refinery29, and more. To date, their investments have reached over a market value of over $30 billion. Maples, who graduated from both Stanford University and Harvard Business School, co-founded Floodgate after starting Maples Investments.
MillionaireMatch was curious to know how Maples could identify a company worth investing in, and what disappointments he has experienced. We first wanted to know what was an investment he had no idea would take off the way it did. “Twitter. It just took off. There was that time that the person tweeted that they were in prison in Egypt. Then the time they went on to the Oprah show. People started to know about it. Never in my wildest dreams I would think that Twitter would be spread across my television all the time,” Maples said. No surprise here. We were also curious as to what companies he passed on that he regrets. His answer? Airbnb. “It’s the investment that mocks you if you pass,” he said. After a pitch meeting that included two cereal boxes to represent former president Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, Maples decided to pass. He admits seeing there was something there, but didn’t think it would become what we know it to be now.
Maples also has a tradition on companies he didn’t invest in. “When we pass on a deal that wounds up doing really well, I take the owner to dinner. Wildfire [Interactive] got bought by Google. I call up Victoria Ransom and said, “Hey, I’m taking you to lunch.” He told her he was an idiot to pass. Zynga was another company he decided to pass on. “I didn’t think Mark Pincus was a gaming guy,” he explained.
So what does Maples look for? “I’m not interested in companies that are just doing a startup, but companies that are doing something hyper exceptional,” he said. “I like authenticity. We invested in a company called ModCloth. Susan Cover has been thrifting since she was 13. We just like the entrepreneur who has authentic voice for what they are doing,” Maples continued. “Out of 10,000 companies that get started a year, only about 15 truly matter. The venture capitalist has to be one of the few people who has to routinely find a way into those 15 companies. If you find your way into those 15 companies, you will eventually make money. If you don’t, you just are one of the majority of losers who will not make money,” he said.
It’s clear that Maples loves his job, and he loves the companies that he has invested in. Maples is known for his coined phrase “Thunder Lizards.” “I always thought that the thunder lizard was a good metaphor for a disruptive startup. When people ask me what my job is, I say I hunt thunder lizards,” he explained. “I only want to work with people who have those thunder lizard ambitions,” said Maples.
Many VCs talk about the importance of genuinely liking the founders of the companies they invest in. Maples explained what he looks for, not just in the company itself, but qualities of the founders. “A visionary entrepreneur. Huge potential market. Fundamental advantage. Modest capital requirements to prove the idea. The visionary entrepreneur has to do with authenticity for the idea. I like people who are non-consensus and right. That’s the first thing I look for,” he said. If they hold those qualities, he can give them the guidance that they need. “Sometimes what founders need is for someone to say, you got this. It sucks right now, but you got this. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it worse than this. Your company is freaking awesome, and we are going to win,” he said.
Maples does warn about founders falling into the trap of looking at the competition. “The fundamental advantage is where I see a lot of startups trip up. Capitalism and competition aren’t synonyms. They’re opposites in my view. A real capitalist is someone who figures out ways to avoid competing,” Maples said. He continued, “Don’t be the best, be the only one. I call that the Jerry Garcia law of capitalism.”
For more information on Floodgate, check them out online at www.floodgate.com.
Athletes may meet in the gym, on the field or maybe the court, but Strava allows them to meet online. Strava was launched in 2009 to connect athletes all over the world in place of camaraderie and a little online competition. After two years of launching, the app only boasted 5,000 members. Today, there are millions of online subscribers. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how Co-founder and CEO, Mark Gainey, landed funding in what seemed to be a narrow target focus for any company.
Strava recently closed Series E with a total funding of $41.85 million in six rounds. Gainey admits it wasn’t easy to get investors at the beginning especially since it took quite a while to gain any traction. “We went deep with one audience, which is why we went after the cycling community. We were often criticized. A lot guys wouldn’t invest in Strava, because they thought it was too small of a market. They didn’t think it would actually grow. Our thought was if we can get this group right, we can roll this across different verticals,” Gainey said. And it turns out, he was right. “We became global very quickly. About 78% of our membership is outside of the United States. So we have to figure out exactly how to do that, how to support our national brethren out there,” he said.
Not only did the membership grow, but the company grew, going from six to 125 employees. Strava also has three offices across the globe in San Francisco, Hanover, and the UK. Gainey has always enjoyed sports growing up in Reno, Nevada. He doesn’t remember his life not being active. Strava seemed to be quite a natural business to create. But, when Gainey arrived in Silicon Valley in 1991, he started in a venture firm. After working in the firm for five years, he grew a desire to be on the other side of the table. His first business launched in 1996, Kana Communications, Inc.
“We had this focus and thesis that if we could build digital products and services for athletes, they would pay us for it. Let’s make something of high value in which they would want to pay us,” Gainey said about starting Strava. “With zero marketing, there was a really interesting viral effect within the athletic community,” he continued. Every company has their core values, and Gainey holds one of them as the main reason for the success of Strava. “Our vision was to build a trusted brand,” he said. “Authenticity. We try to be authentic. It is one of the core values of Strava,” he explained.
As Strava continues to grow and build on its community of athletes around the world, Gainey isn’t on autopilot just yet. “My concerns are two-fold. I’m concern someone has a startup that I don’t know about that’s going to rob us of opportunity. That’s who I am mindful of. Where’s the startup I don’t know about?” Though apps launch everyday, I doubt Gainey has to worry.
For more information on Strava, visit www.strava.com.
Button is a platform that helps publishers to generate revenue. CEO and Co-Founder, Michael Jaconi, recently announced that the company closed Series B funding round with $20 million. To date, the company has raised almost $35 million and it’s only been three years. Jaconi’s track record has success written all over it. As an executive officer of Rakuten Loyalty, Jaconi was responsible for a $100 million investment in Pinterest.
MillionaireMatch got the scoop on Button’s rapid growth to the top. Button makes it easier for consumers to buy what they want through mobile. Jaconi brought his expertise from working at FreeCause which was acquired by Rakuten Loyalty in 2011. Jaconi fully believes in the platform he has created, and knows how important it is in a mobile society. “Mobile really demands better experiences, and we think it’s a trend that will continue. If you think about some of the challenges that mobile have, the traditional advertising model isn’t showing the amount of efficacy that needs to show. A lot of consumers are really aren’t excited about the ads,” Jaconi said. He knows this by the research he has done on consumer ad blocking. “There’s a discovery challenge there. Inherently, we are trying to build a new framework for discovery,” Jaconi explained. Jaconi believes many businesses aren’t capturing and keeping as many consumers as they would like.
Button has a large list of well-known brands they work with including iTunes, Glamsquad, Groupon, Ticketmaster, Airbnb, and Uber to name a few. “We try to make the app world more connected. We have the ability with the button to transfer context from one app to another,” Jaconi explained about how Button helps businesses. “What’s interesting about the app world is that they aren’t winning in total number of sessions or total number of uniques. What is interesting is that it’s winning the battle for time. It’s also winning the battle for dollars,” he said. “Mobile apps are growing at 70% year after year,” Jaconi added.
“If we look at the size of the market, mobile is bigger than anything that’s come before it. What we are trying to do is a solution that gives publishers and developers an alternative way to monetize their experiences,” Jaconi shared. Button has the perfect team to do this including former executives from Google Wallet and Venmo.
Jaconi had some last bit of advice for app developers and publishers. “With mobile, the consumer and user experience you invest in must be the top of the priority list always. The truth is you will reap rewards and dividends of your consumer liking your experiences more if you be thoughtful of those experiences,” he offered. “When you think about mobile, can you think about experiences for the user first? If that is what you win with, the monetization will be the fun part. As users form habits around those experiences, the monetization will come,” he said.
We are looking forward to seeing more from Button and Jaconi. To learn more about Button and Jaconi, visit www.usebutton.com.
Times are definitely different. You no longer have to call for a taxi, do your own laundry or even go to the grocery store. Convenience has become a commodity that people will pay for. Plated allows customers to choose from their 11 featured meals and decide how many portions they want. You get all the ingredients delivered right to your front door. No more going to the store and waiting in long lines. There’s also an added health bonus. The ingredients are high quality with no hormones or antibiotics. Even though Plated is a great product, it wasn’t easy landing capital and getting it off the ground. Nick Taranto, co-CEO, shared the ups and downs of starting a food e-commerce business.
MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how Taranto went from serving in the military to getting $56.4 million in capital. “The reason why we started this was a major waste in the food industry, and we wanted better service in our lives,” Taranto said. Taranto is also passionate about the diabetes and anerexia epidemic. “Our mission is to help people eat better, and live better,” he explained. Taranto, who served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, found himself on Wall Street. He was unhappy; he was also eating poorly at the time. On June 7, 2012, he sat at his kitchen table with co-Founder, Josh Hix, and decided to launch Plated. His wife thought he was crazy. Despite that, four days later his first landing page was created and he put in $10 for a domain on GoDaddy.
After maxing out credit cards and liquidating IRAs and 401ks, it was clear they needed venture backing. They got one ‘yes’ out of 150 pitches. That one ‘yes’ was Taranto’s dad. He offered a few hundred dollars just to keep the lights on. It wouldn’t be enough to pay, though. Taranto was also busy finding the right refrigeration for the food and being able to deliver the items with guaranteed freshness. Finally, an investment of $380k from Israeli businessmen allowed them to stabilize.
“VC money is great. It’s great to take in capital. What really matters is customer demand and that you are providing something that people want,” Taranto said. Well, Plated is definitely what the people want. Plated has shipped meals to over 95% of the U.S. They saw major change in 2013 when orders increased to hundreds of orders a week. “What does the customer want? Why are they hiring us versus someone else? When we think about that, the jobs we have done is putting an affordable meal on the table that they can feel good about in a reasonable amount of time. We focus on personalization and high quality ingredients,” said Taranto. In 2014, his team increased to over 200 employees across the country.
One major moment for Taranto was when an article on the company was posted on Digits. Soon after, he received a call from Andrew McCollum, one of the co-founders and angel investors of Facebook. McCollum wanted to invest in Plated.
Taranto advises that being part of incubators like Techstars and Y Combinator is a plus. “I’m a big believer in it. I’m so glad we did. One, you get investor access. Two, you receive mentor and advisor access. Three, you take the operating tempo up, up to the varsity level,” he said.
Though Taranto has seen many challenges with finding the right facility, team, and landing capital, the company has grown every year. He gets to spend his time a bit differently these days. “I speak at a number of conferences to get the brand out. I love telling the story of passion about it. Hiring, firing, culture, I think about. We are spending a lot of time internally to make sure we have the right people. I spend a lot of time with investors making sure people are happy,” he said.
For more information on Plated, you can view their site at www.plated.com.
Being an entrepreneur looks different for many people, but most would say that to successfully run a business it will take lots of dedication, focus and late nights. But that doesn’t mean that a dating life can’t co-exist with you launching the next big app. At least that’s what we thought at MillionaireMatch. We decided to reach out to entrepreneur and ex-matchmaker, Paul C. Brunson, on tips for the dating entrepreneur.
Brunson, who is now focused on his platform on mentoring and mastermind groups, stepped into the dating service industry in 2008. Creating successful relationships started off as just a hobby for Brunson. The consistent success of matching up friends was a clue that this was something he should take seriously. He’s since sold his business, but he still gets calls from those looking to find love. MillionaireMatch had to know, can a busy entrepreneur really have a healthy, successful relationship? The short answer is yes.
“It’s important to feel that you are loved. It’s important to know you are loved. And this includes the notion of self-love. Which, I know it sounds cliche, but it’s important. It’s important to feel that you can become your optimal self. You need those things in place before starting a business, because if you don’t have those things self-doubt creeps in. Business is not all up. It’s a lot of down and pivoting. You need a support system,” Brunson said. “If you want to give yourself the most optimal chance to starting your business, if you think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it starts with food, water, and then moves up to this feeling of love, support, which transcends into another area of becoming your optimal self,” he continued.
So, according to Brunson a relationship just may be what you need as you take over the world with your amazing entrepreneurial ideas. Brunson does say you need all the basic needs intact when you are starting your business. Not just love. “If you can’t eat everyday, it’s going to be incredibly hard starting a business,” he explained. “If you have those needs in place, then it’s always a good time to meet people. It’s not necessarily the business that determines whether or not it’s a good time to date. It’s the state that you are in in your life,” he said.
We had to go a little further, and dive into those moments of failure and setbacks that are inevitable. How can you maintain a healthy relationship when your business looks like it could be going under? Brunson said, it’s all about how you react. “There’s always going to be adversity in every relationship. It’s how you react to the adversity. You should react in concert,” Brunson said. Brunson told us about a recent medical scare that when notified he and his wife began doing research without hesitation. They began researching, and coming up with a strategy. “If you are in a relationship with someone and you have the same values and vision, adversity in a business is not going to drive you apart. Matter of fact, it could push you closer together. But, it’s not the business that’s doing it. It’s your reaction,” he explained.
In 2015, Brunson caused quite a stir when he uploaded a video to Facebook to address a statement released by a popular show, Married at First Sight. The show released a statement saying they had very few matches for black women. In addition, the show also said that for many of their black males looking for love it was a deal breaker to be matched with a black woman. Brunson’s video had over 80k views. With black women on the rise to being the largest pool of entrepreneurs, we wanted to know where does that leave black women killing it in their business pursuits? “What I find interesting is that when I entered the space of dating and matchmaking, that was the story. It was black men don’t exist, and they aren’t interested in black women. I thought this was a new phenomenon,” Brunson said. It’s an extraordinarily dangerous narrative that needs to be battled any time it comes up,” Brunson continued.
For Brunson, the bottom line is this, “Anyone who is successful has a hard time in relationships.” According to Brunson, thought leaders, celebrities or those who have obtained a certain amount of wealth are in an exceptional category. He pulls from one of his favorite books, Mindset by Carol Dweck, that some have a growth mindset and some have a fixed mindset. Exceptional people need to be with other people with a growth mindset. So how do two people who seem to be worlds apart when it comes to success make a great relationship? “It happens through values. That’s the bottom line. What adds to the values are experiences. Then there is vision. I would also add mindset. Those become the key denominators for there being a connection and there being success in a relationship,” he said.
Brunson is an avid reader so it was only fitting to ask what his favorite books are for the beginning entrepreneur. This was quite a difficult question to answer, as it should be for anyone who consumes books often. “Books meet you where you are at,” as he explains how past significant books don’t hold the same weight as of now. But he was able to give us, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Brunson said entrepreneurs just getting started should read books that cover skills like willpower and self-promotion.
For the single entrepreneur looking for the basic needs including love, Brunson had a few recommendations including online dating or as he likes to call it online connections. “It’s become more casual. It’s the most effective way to meet lots of people,” he said. Brunson also recommended getting involved in networking, mentor groups, and attending conferences.
To keep up with Paul’s next chapter of mentoring groups, follow him on social media @PaulCBrunson.