When Expa started back in late 2014, the idea was simple: I had several ideas I wanted to work on and, after being a startup CEO for 10 years, didn’t want to focus on a single project again just yet. I also knew that I didn’t want Expa to be a traditional VC since they usually don’t have much contact with the people actually building a product, and mostly play a role as high-level advisors to a company. I’m a system designer at heart, and wanted to be directly involved in the creation of new products: from the initial idea and crafting the brand, to designing the prototype and launching, and eventually scaling users and revenue. So I started Expa to be a “company that creates companies” and help design and launch products that could improve people’s lives. It’s been super exciting to see the idea of Uber gain such traction, and being hands-on with product in the first year or two at Uber has been part of the inspiration for Expa. This is how Expa’s “Studio model” has been structured, which now has 6 partners helping founders build new companies.
By mid-2015, then at 3 full-time partners, we began to ask: “How can we scale Expa beyond a few people helping each other build products?” While it’s great to work on a couple ideas and hopefully see one take off, our studio model requires constant context switching among projects and is really targeted at serial entrepreneurs and executives who want to keep building rather than shifting towards pure investing roles. The studio model is not something I would recommend to the first-time entrepreneur, compared with having extreme focus on “doing one valuable thing well”, and finding product-market-fit first on a single useful service. As we met more first-time founders who were super passionate about their startup ideas, we realized that we needed a second model at Expa: one that’s more systematic, more scalable, and better suited to the first-time founder. We decided in early 2016 to call this model Expa Labs, targeted at founders who would focus on one important idea, while receiving all the resources of the Expa platform, including advice from Partners and support from our core team.
We learned a lot in our first year. By May 2016 we had received hundreds of applications on expa.com/labs. Expa Partners and core team members carefully screened each application to produce a short-list of 18 projects we felt had the greatest potential. We met all 18 teams face to face, and selected six to invest in (3 in SF and 3 in NYC) that the team was excited about. In June 2016 the first Labs companies moved into the Expa offices and started building their prototypes. We helped them along the way, providing detailed operational guidance at every step, and are now seeing several teams gaining traction and investor interest. After gathering feedback from everyone involved in our first session we have decided to alter our model slightly, and prepare for a bigger and better program in 2017.
Expa Labs 2017 brings a couple key changes: 1. We are now offering a $250k seed option for 10%, in addition to $500k for 20% offered last year. While many people who are living in SF or NY need a good amount of cash to leave their jobs and build new products, some founders prefer to take less money up front, with less dilution, with the plan to raise more capital later. So we now have two paths for our Labs founders, depending on which is best for them; either a $250k or $500k seed, with guaranteed introductions to great investors if more capital makes sense. 2. We are now opening up applications to founders anywhere, not just those who live in or are able to move to SF, NYC, or Vancouver. While Expa has great offices in these cities, there are many founders who need to remain in their current location while building their company. There are smart people everywhere, who just need a bit of capital and some guidance, and not everyone can easily move to another location for six months.
So we are excited to now work with teams based anywhere who can periodically visit Expa SF or NY for feedback sessions and hands-on support from our team. Most of the teams we accept will likely be based in North America or Europe for logistical reasons, but we are open to English-speaking teams anywhere who are serious about building something meaningful. We are actively developing custom-built collaboration tools that will help guide and educate founders as we strive to support teams in a scalable way. This platform is offered to our global community of builders, partners and advisors. And if you’re in based in Canada, you’ll also have the option of working from our Vancouver office, where we already have a couple of great companies underway.
Expa is committed to helping great founders everywhere be successful, so if you are interested in exploring an alternative to the traditional “angel round” or “accelerator” approach, please apply to Expa Labs and perhaps we can team up. There are many great product ideas out there and we want to help as many as possible come to life :)
Applications for our 2017 program are open until March 31, 2017 at Expa.com/labs