I'm Eric, maker of Kiwi for Gmail, AMA 🔥

Eric Shashoua
6 replies
Hi makers! I'm Eric Shashoua, co-founder of Kiwi for Gmail I'm a serial entrepreneur with a passion for consumer electronics and software. Over the course of my career, I've come to recognize the importance of design and developed a devotion creating products that are not only beautiful, but also intuitive and easy to use. Previously I started and led Zeo, Inc., where I raised $14M in VC funding and launched the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach in the US and Europe. I'm here to answer any and all questions about entrepreneurship, design, riding the world of bad software, or anything related to email, GSuite or increasing personal productivity. Looking forward to hearing what's on your mind. I'll answer questions next Wednesday 18 December at 1:30PM ET.


Founder & CEO, Hustle Crew
Hi Eric, thanks for sharing! How did you find your first experiences raising venture capital? Particularly regarding pitching, was there anything that you changed/improved on that you can advise other founders to do?
@abadesi Hi Abadesi - Getting funding is a really hard thing to do, and absolutely critical. Honestly, most of the articles you'll find out there on this aren't good. They're just not. They don't go into enough detail to tell you what to practically do, or why, and so I'll give you what I spent a year learning my first time around and that I wish someone had told me clearly and plainly. I've raised just over $20M across my startups, half of that from angels and half from multiple VCs. My strategy has always been to build startups that don't take a lot of funding because they're much easier to exit and you own more in the end. That also means I raise mostly from the very same kinds of investors you go after when you're just getting started. Anyone can do this. Here's exactly how: 1 - VENTURE CAPITAL VS ANGEL INVESTORS VCs - You'll almost never be able to raise VC funding until you already have a product, are at market, and are either making significant revenue or have huge user adoption. Don't believe the VCs who say they invest early stage -- generally they want to keep their options open in case they find that rare company that might be worth investing in at a seed stage. It's not true of every VC, but you can waste a lot of time going after VCs for seed funding. Angels - Early on, you're almost definitely only going to be able to raise funding from what are called "angel investors". These are individuals who will invest generally between $25k-250k in a company. They're not a fund and they're investing their own money. Summary: Go for angel investors first. 2 - WHERE DO YOU FIND ANGELS? a) Angel Groups - The quickest and fastest route to finding angels is through angel groups. These are groups of angels that meet together monthly or quarterly to hear companies pitch and see if they're interested in investing. Some examples that you can google: Bay Angels, BlueTree Allied Angels, New York Angels, Keiretsu Forum (a franchised angel group model, with chapters across the US), Band of Angels, etc. You'll need to find someone who can introduce you to these groups, or you can reach out to them and contact whomever runs them through their website. If they're interested, they'll have you present to a small group of the members, evaluate you, and decide whether to invite you to pitch to the general group. It can take 1-3 months, depending on the group, to go through the process and get to pitch to the full group. Then, if there's interest, they'll either organize a group of their members who will go through deeper due diligence on your company with you, or they'll give you the individual contact info of investors and you'll follow up with them to set up meetings and talk about the company in more depth. Keiretsu Forum is different in that it charges the startup $5-10k to come and present, but they meet monthly and you can move through their process quickly to get in front of the members, usually in only weeks. b) Incubators / Startup Accelerators - This is another way to break into the investor networks. There are a number of these, most based off of Y Combinator that started the trend. They're competitive to get into, they'll train you a lot before you give a pitch to a large audience of their investors, and then they'll give you support to help you get started. They're great. They're also harder to get into than angel groups. c) Finding Individual Angels - The other way to find angels is to network to them. This is usually something that you'll only do efficiently once you have your own investors who can introduce you to their investor friends. You can also try using something like Angel List to find companies that are similar to yours and then reach out to those investors who invested in them. 3 - SO WHERE DO YOU START? a) Go to angel groups first and try to get into startup accelerators in tandem. It's the only really practical place to begin. b) Once you've got your first investors, just keep going to more and more angel groups, and get anyone who's invested to introduce you to people they know or other angel groups who might invest. c) Once you've launched a product and have revenue, then you can go to VC, if you choose to. 4 - WHAT ABOUT YOUR PITCH? You also asked if there's anything I could advise about this. a) Get the Deck Together - Firstly, google around for an outline of what you need to put in your deck and how long it should be. Y Combinator is a good resource for this, and here's a link to a decent way to structure your slides: https://blog.ycombinator.com/int.... b) How Long it Should Be - Now, the hard part is making your pitch good. You're going to have 10-15 minutes to present, and another 5-10 minutes to answer questions in most angel groups. That 10-15 min limit is a good approach for individual meetings you'll have with investors as well. Get a countdown timer app on your phone. Run through your pitch. c) **Your pitch is going to be bad at first.** That's OK. It's true for all of us. e) Get Beaten Up - The best way to make it good is to get beaten up a lot and as quickly as you can, and use that feedback to make your pitch better. Practice giving your pitch to people you meet who have their own startups, or business professors, or a plethora of advisors you'll meet in the ecosystems around angel groups. Don't trust any one person's opinions too far, and try to find people who believe in your core idea and have been down the startup road before to give you the best advice. You want them to poke holes in your pitch, stump you with questions you don't know how to answer, even make you feel like an idiot -- as much as possible. **Every time that happens, it's a win, because that's exactly what you need to make your pitch (and your plan for your company) better.** Write that sentence down on put it on a post-it note somewhere, because it'll be hard to remember at times. I promise you that almost anyone who's succeeded in with any startup had to go through this at first. Once you've gone through a few rounds of this, THEN you can go pitch to angel investors and you'll be much more prepared. KEY TIP: It helps to approach angels or groups just asking for advice at first, rather than for investment. It's a soft approach, and it works. That's where you'll get the best advice, and they'll become leads for investment when they see you listened to them and learned. IN SUMMARY: 1. WRITE YOUR PITCH: Use resources like Y Combinator to tell you how to outline your deck and create a 10-15 minute pitch. Here's a link to an outline deck: https://blog.ycombinator.com/int... 2. MAKE IT BETTER - GET BEATEN UP A LOT, AND QUICKLY: Get beaten up as much as you can by finding knowledgeable startup guys, business professors, or friendly investors to hear your pitch and poke holes in it. This is also a good point to evaluate if your company idea is really good enough to dedicate the next 5-10 years of your life to it. 3. GO PITCH TO ANGELS: Find angel groups and startup incubators that match the space your company is in and that have invested in similar companies before. Apply to them, and go pitch. This, frankly, is exactly how I started. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, when I was just starting out of college. Note, I didn't have the kind of background where I could get "friends and family" to invest, so I didn't have any special advantages - I just rolled up my sleeves, got scrapes and bruises, and learned how to pitch. Once you have this down, #1 and #2 in my summary above will get a lot faster and easier, and you'll have a network of people you already know to get going with #3. That's what changes after you've been down this road once. I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions. Eric
Hey Eric, How did you build your software from the start? Do you code yourself, or did you outsource it? & What did you do to get validation on your ideas? I'm currently trying to find product market fit and would love to hear your thoughts.
@ryan_shumway Hi Ryan, you're thinking the right way in asking those questions together, because they're very related. You don't want to get too far down the line with development before you've had a chance to validate what you're doing and know you're on the right path. After having launched a few products in the past and seen how things have changed in the past 15 years, I firmly believe these are the steps you should take with both developing your software and determining product-market fit: 1. Use Kickstarter to Validate as Early as Possible I've written about this before in more detail in Business News Daily and HR Technologist (links below). I'm a firm believer that Kickstarter is an unparalleled tool in evaluating product-market fit very, very early. People think of it as a way to raise funding, but it's much more valuable for building an audience of early adopters and evangelists, and for validation that you have something people will pay for. You can do it for $2-5k, see if something strikes a nerve in the market, and just keep iterating until you have an idea that takes off. *Then* you build it. My suggestion is to do as little coding as possible and instead heavily emphasize designing the product, with the goal of making a video that shows that product being "used" as though it were already built. It's very important that your design and your video of the product working are very polished. If you are able to make an alpha with a polished GUI, even if the product doesn't fully work yet, use that. Use mock-ups and animate them to fill in the rest. Use 99Designs or UpWork to find a good designer and videographer to bring your design to life. It's easiest to find people on those platforms that do good work and for less than you'd pay in the US. You'll have to do a lot of work to prep for the Kickstarter to get the word out, which is much easier than you imagine - just take a look at those links below. 2. Outsource your Development - but to Individuals, not a Firm If you have the skills, you should develop as much as you can on your own, but that's not critical. My answer depends partly on the scale of what you're trying to do. If you're trying to build a product that needs a team of 20+ people, you need venture funding and that's a different path. If you're developing something smaller, I recommend using UpWork or a similar site to find developers either in the midwest / southeast US or Eastern Europe. They'll be less expensive, and they have a culture and laws that respect intellectual property. I would avoid India and China. You can try hiring a development firm, but you'll find much more success with people who are working directly for you than a firm. 3. If you've already launched your product and are looking for product-market fit This sounds like it's where you are at the moment. If you've already launched, try to learn as much as you can from your users. Email them or create a message that only shows to some users of your application asking them for feedback, or to meet you on a video call. Use SurveyMonkey or something similar to cheaply survey people and get feedback on your product. Track usage of different features in your application and see what people are actually doing. You can do all of this cheaply. 4. *Most Critical*: Find whatever use case works, no matter how narrow, and focus on that at first Startups are very bad at this. When you build your product, you imagine a broad range of people using it in a variety of situations. You build functionality that you know can bring value to people in a number of different ways. Then you start to notice that you keep getting users who are, for example, telemarketers, and they really like 30% of your features. You may think they don't see the whole value, and that more kinds of people should be using your product. This is where startups can make a mistake. If your product is working for telemarketers, and they like those 30% of your features, then you should focus everything on trying to get more telemarketers to use your product. You should change your website so it puts those features that they use forward first. *Use this to establish a beachhead of paying users.* Once you have that traction behind you, you can start to focus on getting other kinds of users to use your product, and developing the value of the rest of your functionality. Eric Links mentioned above: Kiwi for Gmail: 6 Critical Steps You Need to Take for a Successful Kickstarter Campaign: https://www.hrtechnologist.com/a... Kiwi for Gmail: How We Went from a Kickstarter to a Full-Fledged Company: https://www.businessnewsdaily.co...
@eric_shashoua Thanks for taking the time to give me such a detailed response. I've never thought of using Kickstarter as a way to validate, that's quite interesting. I've always thought of it as a way to fundraise. I'll have to try that. I'm at a point where I have a website and I'm driving traffic to it, but not getting much conversion. Basically a lead magnet and not getting a lot of conversion, so maybe the idea sucks or I need to pivot a bit. Thanks again for the advice. This is really helpful info! I'll check out the links.
@ryan_shumway Hi Ryan - you're right where a lot of people start. Work hard to find ways to talk to the people who have started really using your product/service, and find out why. Then expand the product around that, and change your marketing messaging to speak to where they found value. Try using things like Mouseflow or similar tools to see where your visitors are going on individual pages, which an also help you see which messages are resonating.