Horizons, Chapter 6

The “Aha” Moment when your app finally works

Week 6 was very eventful for the Horizonites. Between celebrating the halfway point of the course to competing in a 24 Hour Hackathon, the week was filled with excitement and true mental tests.

Horizonites learned to use React and Redux. They used these skills to work on two projects — an interactive calendar similar to Google Calendar and a chat-app similar to iMessage.

At the end of the week, Horizons founders Abhi, Darwish, and Edward treated the class to a night out at the Spruce Street Harbor Park. The whole class competed in Games of Truth-or-Dare Jenga. The Highlight? Watching TA Ethan Lee run after someone after pulling the “Get Someone’s Number” Jenga block.

The following day, they put their skills to the test at the Hackathon from noon until noon the next day where some truly amazing ideas unfolded. The categories included Music, Lifestyle, and Sports/Health.

The judging criteria was as follows:

  • Technical Challenges
     What type of technical challenges did the group deal with? How technically did they dive here?
  • Originality
     How unique and innovative is the demo? Is it new and original or a combination of existing services?
  • Design
     How good is the visual design and interaction experience?

The winners were:

In Music:

Tempo

  • The Universal Music Player: takes Spotify, Youtube, Soundcloud, and more and lets you make playlists from all of the different music subscription services.
  • Prize for winning: “Dinner with Darwish and your whole team! (up to $30/person”

In Sports/Health:

Button

  • Run back to your youth. Health data container + engineering story. You’re welcome.
  • Prize for winning: “Dinner with Darwish and your whole team! (up to $30/person”

In Lifestyle:

SaturnV

  • We analyze the sentiments of your interactions with different people and visualize your standings with them
  • Prize for winning: “Dinner with Darwish and your whole team! (up to $30/person”

The hackathon lasted all 24 hours and most of the teams stayed up the entire night learning new languages, completing their projects, and enjoying the time together.

If you’d like to see the other cool creations that came out of the hackathon, check out our devpost.


Speakers this week

ROBERT MOORE — RJMETRICS

Robert J. Moore is the co-founder and CEO of RJMetrics, a SaaS business intelligence company with the mission of inspiring and empowering data-driven people. Prior to RJMetrics, he served on the Investment Team of Insight Venture Partners, a leading software-focused venture capital and private equity firm based in New York. He is a graduate of Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Bob is a vocal supporter of the Philadelphia startup scene, where he has served on the leadership team of Philly Startup Leaders and mentors up-and-coming Philadelphia entrepreneurs through the PSLU accelerator program.
As a writer and speaker, Bob has been featured by The New York Times, Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, TEDxPhilly, EnterConf, Business of Software, and many more. He guest lectures annually at Princeton University and The Wharton School.
Outside of the tech scene, Bob is an improv comedy performer at Philly Improv Theater, where he is a member of house team Big Baby. He is also CTO and Trustee of the Glassboro Education Foundation, a nonprofit committed to supporting educational innovation in his hometown school district.Robert, or Bob as he likes to be called, started out his presentation with an example of a decision he made each year that brought him to where he is today.

Robert, or Bob, started out his talk by saying he would not talk about the things that he has done well, but instead highlight one decision he made every year since college, whether it was a good decision or a mistake.

2004: The Mooraculator

The first decision he talked about was his college dorm-room invention: the Mooraculator. While in college, Bob saw an opportunity in calculating game odds in online poker. He created the Mooraculator and spent an entire summer — 2004 — working on this invention. He had created a simple software that had only marginal production cost — his time — and was able to make quite a bit of money off of selling the software. He return to Princeton University in the fall of 2005 “campus rich”.

2005: Crappy Deal Turned to Bankruptcy

The coming fall he signed a deal with a company to turn the Mooraculator into a physical product. He signed a pretty horrible deal where no terms were negotiable and he had barely any leverage over the way the product was marketed or used. He realized quickly that he was doing all of the work and was getting only a small cut of the already-low profits from the product.

Back at school in 2006, Bob started getting all kinds of press on campus for his Mooraculator but, during the same year, the company that he made the deal with for his Mooraculator went bankrupt.

2006: Interview Peer Pressure

During the fall of 2006, Bob started to feel social pressure to do what his peers were doing. Lines like “Hey have you interviewed for this job at Merrill/Goldman/Major Bank yet?” started appearing everywhere and he succumb to the pressure. He interviewed at 10 different banks and found them all more painful than the last.

2007: Banks Not Impressed

As he interviewed incessantly for a job at a major bank, he found that most of the interviewers were not impressed that he had spent his previous summers creating software and building a business. His entrepreneurial endeavors were not conventional and required too much explanation for many of the interviewers. So, he did not wind up at a bank; Bob wound up at Insight Venture Partners where his job was to sell money in the summer of 2007.

Bob learned that Insight only invested in companies that didn’t need the money. They only looked for companies that already had north of $20–40 million in investments and were still founder owned — almost didn’t make sense to sell these sorts of people money. This sort of venture company has to find the right companies to invest in by using the best class out of Penn, Princeton, Harvard, or Stanford and get these bright students to contact over 100 CEOs per week, learn about their business, and try to see if they want Insight’s money.

This internship had a 1/5000 hit rate, so Bob got very familiar with rejection. A pro of this internship, however? He learned to sell and learned exciting things about new industries and thus expanded his network immensely. The cons? It wasn’t anywhere near entrepreneurship — it was as if he had golden handcuffs around his wrists.

2008: Full-time Job with Full-time Side Project

Bob started working full-time for Insight Ventures in 2008. Once he found some companies that Insight could invest in, he found himself working in a data analyst role. He had to search for skeletons in the closets of every company and cover the full due diligence behind any investment he brought into the company. After that, he quickly realized, “If you were good at my job, you got to watch other people get rich.”

So Bob did what was most rational. He had complete, unprecedented access to a ton of data and industry knowledge. He took this information, that was almost a recipe for him to come up with a business idea, and he started his own company on the side. he called it “SmartRaise” and wanted to connect non-profits to investing

After some time of working hard on his side venture and with his full-time job, he realized he was not doing either job as well as he could be. So, in2008, he decided to either expand his side project or pivot. Realizing that his economics were horrible for his side business, he re-examined everything.

After testing the waters with this side business, he realized that people wanted data analysis and aggregation. He decided to move to the Philadelphia area in order to start this company — RJMetrics.

2009: Bootstrap the New Business

Bob opened business in Camden, NJ in 2009 because this was where he could find the cheapest rent within 20 miles of Philadelphia.

He started out by bootstrapping the business, meaning he started out with his own money or family money instead of reaching out to VCs. He wanted to start out lean — not cheap, but spend his money wisely. He believes that the longer you can hold out before raising money ensures you can spend it better. He could have raised money from day one as so many companies do, but he decided that was the wrong first step for his company. If he could build a company with no money raised initially, he could prove the business to the point that VCs would want to invest in him and not vice versa.

2010: New Hires

In 2010, Bob started hiring. They found that they were profitable and were signing up-and-coming startups such as Bonobos and Warby Parker. They hired the seemingly least-qualified person for the job that they advertised.

On his first day, the first hire of the company walked in and said one thing: “The #1 thing we’re gonna do is change your hiring process. I’m very good and you’re lucky I’m very good but have to change that right now.”

As the company continued to expand throughout 2010, Bob realized that they were not getting the sorts of applicants they had expected. They ran an A/B test on their hiring platform. On the first job, they listed their location as “Camden, NJ”. On the second, “Philadelphia, PA”. They received 10 applications to the first within a week and 69 to the latter.

2011: Move into the City

So, in 2011, the team left Camden, NJ and took up shop in Philadelphia.

The team quickly expanded from 4 to 12 people in 2011, still with no outside capital.

2012: Raise $$$

In 2012, they decided to raise capital.

At this point in time, Bob re-examined the company. He realized that their tools and software made customers profitable after just three weeks, not a whole year as they had previously expected. They were making a mistake by not investing more aggressively both in the company and in customer acquisition and retention. They chose to raise capital in order to grow faster.

In just one week, RJMetrics raised over $1.25mm from some top investors. They hired a marketing and a customer success team and ended 2012 at 20 people.

2013: Time to Lead

By 2013, Bob realized he was still spending a lot of his time writing code. As the CEO of the company, this was not where he was supposed to spend his time, nor was it the best way for him to use his time — he was, almost by design, the worst developer on the team. He made the hard choice that he would stop programming and start leading.

Bob put out another job opening for developers. He got over 1700 applicants who were all given take home projects. By the end of 2013, he had hired 25 new developers. The team grew to 50 people.

2014: Go Big

In 2014, the reality that they were operating in a large market hit. They were poised for huge growth and knew how to make payroll, stay profitable, raise money, etc. so he had to figure out how to get from where they were to a billion dollar company.

2015: Product Expansion

Throughout the entire saga, Bob had found great success in offering just one product. In 2015, Bob finally did what they feared most — became a multi-product company. By expanding their product offering, they could grow into an even larger company and amplify their growth overall.

Overview

Bob made it clear throughout his entire presentation — he made some bad decisions, but he also made a lot of great ones. He wanted to get better at poker, and through that need he found his love for software and ran with it. He saw a need for more data for small businesses and non-profits, so he created a product around that. He’s discovered what it means to hire great engineers as employees — people who, even out of the office, continue to be creative and innovate. He realized the hyper-competitiveness of the sales industry and that he needed help to combat it. He took the time to learn from the greats like Jeff Bezos, realizing the necessity of minimizing your regrets at every turn in business.

Advice to Recent Graduates

Throughout the talk, Bob made it clear — the experience he had at Insight ventures, while not the experience he had hoped for or wanted at the time, helped in invaluable ways to get him to where he is today. He was practically given unfair access to tons of data while at Insight and this was what led to his idea for RJMetrics.

He also made it clear that you must understand, in any entrepreneurial endeavor, market pull vs. market push.

One of his favorite habits is writing a list of things that he must do in a day in order of the highest leverage things. If he can only get one thing done, that one thing should be at the top of the list. The most important things for any business is to know where it is uniquely positioned and to get those things done first.

While some founders say meditation and yoga help them, Bob praised his improv comedy group. He’s realized that being able to speak in front of crowds and truly think on your toes causes your brain to act differently and more productively. He is extremely open to the possibility that every little detail can be extremely interesting and has learned to leverage those ideas well.

Book Suggestion

Winner’s Dream, Bill Mcdermit (CEO of SAP) — McDermitt climbed his way all thew ay from lugging Xerox Machines to the CEO of SAP. His relentless hustle and care for all people around him were main attributions to his success.

ALEX KONRAD — FORBES TECH COLUMNIST

I’m a staff writer covering venture capital, enterprise and NY startups. I make the Midas List and 30 Under 30 for VC. A short-lived but much-beloved former homepage editor at Forbes, I wrote for Fortune Magazine from 2010–2012 and was a proud WNYC intern before that. I’ve served as a regional manager for a test prep company along the way. My love of tech would’ve been amusing to my college self, as I graduated from Harvard with a degree in medieval history and archaeology. Follow me on Twitter at@alexrkonrad and email me atakonrad@forbes.com

Alex’s talk centered around his most recent article on Chris Sacca. Below is his 15-minute version of his acclaimed article on the billionaire investor.

Chris Sacca is one of the most successful investors in America, investing in companies like Uber, Snapchat, and the like. He began as a Googler opening data centers throughout the world. As a new employee, he would spend hours in Sergey Brin’s office, hanging out and sitting in for big meetings.

When Google decided it would take a major bet against telecommunications companies for bandwidth, Chris Sacca was at the center of the bet — if he lost, he would be out of a job at Google. If he won, he would make one of the most successful bets in Google’s history. He won and led Google into countless profits.

Moving forward, Chris’s major move has always been to get to know investors before committing to them. He maxed out numerous credit cards in order to take these promising young entrepreneurs skiing in Colorado. He would wait for a year or so later when they finally started their companies and, in that moment, remind them that he had taken them skiing and invest in their companies.

Twitter was one of these companies. As an investor, he was extremely annoying. he would show up every day and was extremely persistent on being involved int he company. Even though he was a nuisance, he was constantly positive.

He did something extremely unique for this time period — he created a fund to invest in only one company. He raised over $1billion to invest in Twitter and, when Twitter went public, turned that into $5billion.

Along the way, he also became friends with the founders of Uber because he invited them to his hot tub in Tahoe frequently. Chris now owns billions of dollars in Uber.

“I have a limited amount of time to meet with companies. How can I be better than my peers? By seeing something that they don’t.” -Chris Sacca

All his biggest wins were with companies that no one else wanted to invest in. His best deals were never fiercely competitive deals. “Maybe no one else will bet on them. This guy is weird but he’s really smart.”

People revere these don’t give a fuck founders. Those are always the really sexy examples because they are rare. They aren’t the typical success story.

Advice to Recent Graduates

Read Mike Maples Blog (early stage investor). Follow Bradley Tusk, the cannabis, healthcare, and ageing population for exciting trends.

Don’t be an asshole. People won’t want to talk to you let alone help you.

Have a highly curated Twitter feed to find interesting articles and trends. Follow Hacker News. Do random Wikipedia searches.

Attend South by Southwest (SXSW) and go to the Jam Sessions — could meet Gary Vaynerchuck, Tim Ferriss, or Travis Kalanick to name a few interesting people. Get yourself out there networking.

Alex finds that the most successful investors aren’t the ones that were really rich to start out. Bryan Schreier of Sequoia compares it to have blood drawn out. It’s painful. Should only do it because you just have to.

The history of tech has an upward looping cure — it will continue to go higher, but people will fall off.

Find someone to tangentially work with you so they don’t become a competitor overtime.


Keep your eyes peeled for our Week 7 recap! Thanks for reading :-)

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