Eric Friedman

Head of Expa Labs

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 08, 2017

Discussion

Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
Hi - I am Eric Friedman, Head of Expa Labs and I am excited to be here and answer your questions. I have been working with startups my entire career and I love investing and operating at the earliest stages of company creation. I was previously at Foursquare for nearly 6 years, and before that I was at Union Square Ventures. I am here to answer questions about the program I run called Expa Labs. Expa Labs is not your typical accelerator or incubator -- it is an early early stage program that invests $250K to $500K in companies giving space to create, learn, and grow. I am looking forward to a good discussion. **EDIT** Thanks ProductHunt community for your great questions - I am excited for the future of Expa Labs - thanks for taking the time, now its time to review applications - quick reminder the deadline for Expa Labs 2017 is 3/31!
Scott Hirsch@scott_hirsch · CTO, TalentMarketplace
Hi Eric, for the new Vancouver Expa Labs location, what are the top 3 things you are looking for in a business/team to join the program?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@scott_hirsch this is true for any, but coachability matters - working with a team that wants to work with us. Working there with our partner Milun Tisovic present gives a great foundation and office space where we hope a company will thrive. To address my top 3; 1. Coachable team, 2 people willing to spend 10 years on solving their problem or need, 3 a large scale opportunity
Scott Hirsch@scott_hirsch · CTO, TalentMarketplace
Saba Mohebpour@saba_mohebpour · CEO/Founder at Spocket - TNBT Fellow
What early stage means to Expa? Idea only, team formation or traction ? @EricFriedman
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@saba_mohebpour Thanks for asking - hoping to get great questions about Expa Labs and provide perspectives on my experiences and how companies can be successful.
Saba Mohebpour@saba_mohebpour · CEO/Founder at Spocket - TNBT Fellow
@ericfriedman Was hoping to get an answer to what Early-stage means to Expa? Thanks
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@saba_mohebpour Sorry looks like your question was edited I think I answered here: https://www.producthunt.com/live...
stuart@soppstu · CEO Current
being a native new yorker, what is your favorite bagel? And how can a decision on a bagel be attributed to picking a potentially great founding team and idea?
BPLewis@bplewis · VP Comms @Expa. Beards Not Bombs
@soppstu similarly, what is your favorite donut?
stuart@soppstu · CEO Current
@bplewis Boston Creme, like Current is solves the problem of 2 amazing forces, and making them agree in a palatable construct. Parent/Teen debit card and app coming out later this month!
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@soppstu Thank you Stuart from Current :) Here is my answer: http://www.ericgfriedman.com/200... this is also the post that got me banned from Hacker News http://www.businessinsider.com/e...
Christopher Spiller@christopherspiller · Leading @ Bizy
Thanks for chatting here on PH. What intangible elements of new products have you seen make the greatest positive impact in early attempts at product-market fit? (i.e. the kinds of things that are hard to precisely plan or measure but that matter nonetheless).
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@christopher_spiller The first 10 people matter most. After that, the stickiness of the product that solves a real problem, not a solution in search of a problem. The best companies I have seen have the core group of people identified charging towards a unified vision and excited to tackle the problem. I also firmly believe that if you are not embarrassed by your first version, you didn't launch early enough.
Christopher Spiller@christopherspiller · Leading @ Bizy
@ericfriedman Agree, no substitute for a passionate team solving real problems. Thanks!
Alex Chuang@alexchuang72 · Managing Director, Launch Academy
What kind of support do startups get after the six-month program? Can you give us an example?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@alexchuang72 Companies get a few things that are both structured and unstructured. We provide some software they use (think wiki) where they can communicate with their team and ours, Slack for the community (all Expa + Expa Labs), and events that we host. Another component is ongoing help that doesn't end when the program does - a good example is I am doing a final interview for a senior sales hire for one of the Expa Labs 2016 companies tomorrow. Knowing the team (culture fit), the product (expertise), and my background building and scaling sales I can offer insight through a interview. I assist with launches (see Radar and Dovetale on PH in the last 30 days!) and we help with as much as we can.
Vitor@vit05 · tapan.ga
@ericfriedman How is the interaction between the funded founders teams in Expa. Do you think you are building a great community that would generate business that goes beyond the time spent on the program?
Adam@nextbigtechidea
How best to decide to apply for $250k vs $500k? Are there different requirements / stage of maturity you'd like to see? For many pre-seed stage startups that have evidence of traction (like mine - playvici.com), more capital simply means iterating prod-mkt fit faster for longer. Thanks for the guidance.
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@nextbigtechidea Different companies have very different capital needs, which is why we have multiple investment tiers. Depending on the stage of the business, you may want to have more runway (also more dilution) or if earlier stage $250K to get to a launch, growth, and early team members. It is also dependent on the category - hardware companies obviously need more runway earlier.
Adam@nextbigtechidea
@ericfriedman Appreciate the response. Look forward to continuing the conversation.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Hi Eric, thanks for joining us today. What advice do you most often find yourself giving to founders you work with at Expa?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@ems_hodge I like to calibrate my answers based on the experience level and knowledge base of a founder and life stage of the company. It usually ends up being the following; shipping earlier, changing plans (and being ok with it), fundraising (and the difficulty of it), and how they can continue to learn - outlined these in more detail here: https://medium.com/@ericfriedman...
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What do you think the biggest benefits are to founders and investors with the startup studio model?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@bentossell There are a number of things that benefit a company best served by an example. Once of our companies announced new funding for Current.com - providing collaborative banking services for families with a smart debit card + app. Our model provides more runway, deeper hands on help, less potential risk for partners (think banks, payments, fintech in general), longer time horizon to tackle a huge market and working alongside other early stage companies. You never know what crossroads another CEO has had experience with, and sitting alongside someone who has been through it before can help. Whether a company is 6, 8, or 12 months ahead in startup time that is forever.
Saba Mohebpour@saba_mohebpour · CEO/Founder at Spocket - TNBT Fellow
What early stage means to Expa? Idea only, team formation or traction ? What else are you looking for in the teams specifically?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@saba_mohebpour answering through the lens of Expa Labs and what we look for; early stage can mean idea stage (before forming an entity), post idea where there is a demo or a working product, a venture scale idea that has initial investment (from angels or similar), or a company that needs the right help to launch or continue to grow. Its a hard thing to define perfectly but in my experience this has meant <10 people, <1MM in funding, pre-product market fit.
Mojahed Qashoa@mojahedqashoa · PayableTask
Hi Eric, I have several questions if I may .... 1) is the $500K investment in the form of cash inflow into the company's account? or does it include the value of your lab's services? 2) can we use the funds totally for OPEX? are there limitations on the seniority of the staff that we can hire? 3) is the equity share % fixed or does it depend on the opportunity? 4)Can we setup the company in Toronto? do we have to be fully attending the Vancouver labs? 5)I read that we have to have a US entity ... is this in the form of a wholly Canadian subsidiary or a stand alone legal entity? 6)Can you please shed some light on the services offered beside the office space, especially: legal services such as trade marks, IP, company registration ... or what? also, what about market research? finally do you offer any technical development support? 7)is the program for 6 months? what happens after the 6 months? 8) do you take full lead in the next round of funding? 9)from your experience, how much does the average cloud services cost per user per month assuming no user attachments allowed? 10)what are the next steps in the selection process? Thanks.
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@mojahedqashoa wow thanks for the great questions 1. Cash in the account 2. No restrictions - the company control is in the hands of the founder. We have a responsibility to report back to our finance team and partners, and hope to advise as best we can. 3. The equity is fixed on our two tiers 4. We can invest in US and Canadian entities, so yes you can be based and work in Toronto. The distributed program is meant to have folks apply and work from anywhere, starting in the US and Canada 5. See above 6. We offer guidance and support in a few ways; structured events (we do a breakfast series bringing in experts in their fields), regular demo days with Expa Labs + Expa Studio where people show off what they are building or have learned (usually monthly), give space to focus on building and shipping products 7. 6 months yes - after companies move into their own space (also see other Q about what happens after) 8. No. Specifically to avoid signalling risk we only have the option to take our pro rata 9. ?? 10. We are reviewing applications after the deadline: March 31st then bringing in finalists in May and starting the program in June.
Adam Revetta@arrev · Founder, CollaborDate & ScareHunt
What's the greatest early indicator to success that you've seen consistently across startups (if any)?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@arrev Early traction. A great idea that solves a true problem or pain point. A great team that is coachable and understands the larger parts of their market with real domain expertise. Traction or revenue solve all problems, and seeing that early can point to a potential success.
Benji Brown@theprojectabot1
hi @ericfriedman - stoked to listen in. Question: how do you find building a moat or creating a defensible product in software is attainable at startup levels vs mega large corps? Is it relationships, tact, focus, or something other?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@theprojectabot Most companies don't realize that a lack of resources is a blessing not a curse. The fact that you have to focus on one thing (you only have resources for one thing) give you a competitive strategic advantage. Usually doing 1 thing really well, is better than the platform or mega large corp approach which can mean a customer base that loves you and a way to bridge to other areas in the future. Defensibility is something I look at and can be achieved with domain expertise (team), a product that is 10X better than the rest, or a first to market opportunity that will create a first mover (hardest to do!)
Serge Salager@sergesalager · CEO, Visualping and Retarget Links
Hi @ericfriedman, how do you approach startups that want to be part of Expa Labs but for which the valuation would be a down round to current investors?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@sergesalager We haven't had that situation yet. Definitely something for founders to think about. Putting on my investor hat I would think about having a company survive to fight another day rather than shut down but every investor is different.
Kyle Collier@kyleacollier
Hey Eric, thrilled that you were able to take some time out for other entrapreneurs. I've had friends and colleagues admitted to YC and have built unicorns. What they had in common was that they could certainly tell a great story. When it comes to crafting a story, in particular to your vision. What do you feel most startups fail at doing during the submission process to accelerators?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@kyleacollier being super clear and concise about what they are building. The description in applications throws people off because they go into grand plans and backgrounds that don't apply to the business they want to build. Things don't have to be perfectly figured out, but it helps to have a very clear vision.
Chris Howard@chris_howard_21 · CEO, Classary
How do you choose what to focus on as a startup? Sometimes I feel like a fireman, putting out fires and addressing issues as they pop up.
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@chris_howard_21 Great question. Take a step back and look at each fire you are putting out. Take it one step at a time and don't let the number of fires get you down. I wrote further about this here: http://www.ericgfriedman.com/201... (sorry to be self promotional!) Here are questions I find helpful: 1. Which of these things matters in the long run of 1, 3, and 5 years 2. Which of these can you delegate? 3. How can you carve out time for building and time for "fire fighting" Hope this is helpful
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
Thanks for being here @ericfriedman! You've described startup knowledge as an equalizer and that learning never stops. As you try to get founders up to the baseline, how do you decide the best way for that founder to learn? Do you use any frameworks or methods to think through the approach to learning?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@kunalslab This is all about calibrating my experiences to where a founder is with their business and knowledge. There are plenty of things I can't help with (technical) and things I can (revenue). I try to start looking at the foundational elements of a business - who comprises the management team, what does the capitalization look like, what market is someone going after, where do they have a blind spot or a void in their knowledge. From there I can see where they need the most help. Most importantly, they have to be open to accepting outside help and that is a great signal for me to see if its someone that wants to work with me and vice versa.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey Eric, if you had to swap lives with a tech CEO for a week, who would it be and why?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@bentossell I am sure lots of folks also say Elon Musk but for me its true. The idea of working on rockets, solar panels, and electric vehicles for a week sounds like a lot of fun. As a huge X-Men fan as well, the fact that he named all the Tesla factory robots after my favorite characters doesn't hurt either: http://www.teslarati.com/tesla-f...
Anthony Pizzarelli@str8anthony · owner of Str8ReaLestate.com #USa
@ericfriedman @bentossell Maybe set up an EXPa LaB experiment @ a Tesla Factory. =]
Marcos Antônio Araújo@marcos_antonio_araujo
@ericfriedman @bentossell Huge X-Men fan toooo!!! Logan was an amazing movie!
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What’s your morning routine?
Shariff Raffi@shariff · Founder @ LifeStak
@jakecrump This i gotta hear... :)
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@jakecrump I wake up before everyone, read at least 1 book, crush my todo list...just kidding. I usually wake up, we take of our baby daughter, take my dog for a walk, and head into work.
Amer Justice@amer_justice · Co Founder of Affidavit
Thanks for doing this Eric, what is the definition of an "early" start-up to you?
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
@amer_justice Thanks for the question - answered here: https://www.producthunt.com/live...