19days — till what?
Q&A with Joey Wignarajah, co-founder of Oklahoma’s first venture studio, backed by Cortado Ventures
At Cortado Ventures, we partner with best-in-class operators building a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in our region. We do this because we love being a part of something cool, and by doing this well Cortado grows access to a robust and bespoke pipeline of seed investment opportunities. 19days is a great example.
19days is a new venture studio based in Tulsa, OK, founded on the idea that the best solutions are born from the most well-defined problems. The name itself is derived from this notion — Albert Einstein said, “If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it and one day to solve it.”
19days’ goal is to create a well-defined, repeatable process to ideation around a problem, and in turn, a solution.
In case you’re wondering what exactly a venture studio is, here’s a Q&A with 19days’ Managing Partner, Joey Wignarajah:
Q: Briefly explain the venture studio approach to innovation.
Joey Wignarajah: At 19days, we believe that creativity and innovation are the result of well-defined, repeatable processes, experimentation, and agility. My partners, Jacob Johnson and Dan Fisher, founded their company, Gitwit, on these principles over 15 years ago and we built 19days to capitalize on all of that knowledge and experience. In fact, we work the Gitwit team closely at every step of our process.
Our approach to innovation starts with finding valuable problems to solve and defining them as narrowly as possible.
We use a mix of thorough primary and secondary research methods like reading industry publications and articles, conducting customer discovery interviews, and ethnographic research (a field research method adapted from anthropology that requires sitting side-by-side with customers and learning in great detail how they do what they do).
From that work, we create innumerable problem statements and use a variety of methods to prioritize and validate them including developing mock sales decks and pitching to customers, drawing storyboards, rapidly prototyping in 5-day prototype sprints, all the while validating our work with potential customers. For us, the innovating is about insanely fast iteration.
Q: What makes 19days model unique?
JW: One of the ways 19days is significantly different from most studios is the point at which we bring in operators to run our ventures. From our research of other studio models, we found that most studios bring operators and industry experts in early during the exploration process, work collaboratively with them to find problems worth solving, ideate, and then build the companies.
When we were designing 19days, we decided to do something different — we decided to wait until we knew what we were going to build before we brought in an operator. We believe that this will allow us to more objectively uncover problems that exist in an industry with fewer preconceived notions of what a solution concept should look like than we could if we brought in a single person with a single set of experiences within an industry.
We also believe that finding the operator later in the process ensures we get the right operator to fit the solution and go-to-market strategy and so that we don’t build a solution that is more tailored to the operator than the customers’ problems.
Q: How does this model stand out compared to existing models in the state?
JW: I’ve been very pleased to see that Oklahoma has seen considerable growth in early stage investing over the last several years. With i2E adding to its capabilities with more private investment dollars, OLSF continuing to ignite life sciences ventures, and newer funds like Atento Capital and Cortado Ventures unlocking more early-stage investors, it’s less of a question about what model is better and more about which model we thought we could be most successful with based on our own capabilities.
That said, venture studios are different from venture funds in several important ways. The primary advantage of investing in a venture studio versus a venture capital fund is that venture studios are creating new equity, which means our investors get founder’s level equity. This is attractive particularly when venture valuations are high.
Like funds, we give our investors exposure to far more ventures for less capital than would be required to make the same number of direct investments dramatically reducing the risk of a total loss. Unlike funds, though, we manage the flow of capital in a way that lets us allocate more to winners, which means we can cut off an investment long before we get too deep into it.
Finally, venture studios reduce the time to exit, so while the multiples of invested capital to returned capital are lower, the timeline to return capital can be as short as half of that of a typical venture capital fund, which has a dramatic effect on rates of return.
Q: What does Cortado’s backing and investment mean for 19days?
JW: Being backed by Nathaniel Harding and Cortado Ventures team, as well as Atento Capital’s Michael Basch and Will Gray, is critical. Beyond just the capital they’ve entrusted in us, they add incredible value to what we do. Whether it’s by doing introductions to potential investors, discovery customers, or operators, or by simply being strong thought partners as we build our ventures, they’re a critical part of any success we have at 19days.
Q: What is your vision and goals for 19days?
JW: We aim to create six to ten ventures over the next five years and exit some of them. If we do, we’ll look to raise additional capital, build a bigger team, and do it all over again. Longer term, it’s hard to say, but I could see where there may even be a market for venture studios themselves one day. A venture studio that could prove to create high value ventures repeatedly would likely trade at very attractive multiples of its realized exits, if they were consistent enough. I’d love to provide a monster liquidity event for our investors 10 to 15 years from now by selling the venture studio.
Apart from our long-term plan to do this many times and create returns for our investors, we hope to be yet another proof point that innovation in software and technology happens every day in Oklahoma.
Q: How does 19days plan to integrate into the ecosystem in Tulsa and the state?
JW: All three partners at 19days, Jacob, Dan, and I have been supporting Tulsa’s entrepreneurship ecosystem for over a decade. In fact, I’ve served on the board of 36 Degrees North, Tulsa’s entrepreneurship hub, since its inception.
As startup junkies, we’re always happy to talk through other entrepreneurs’ ideas and lend support wherever we can. When we meet with funded startups, working directly with Gitwit to do customer discovery, product validation, building product, and developing and executing go-to-market strategies often makes the most sense.
At 19days, even though we don’t provide funding to existing startups, we will be actively developing the human capital within the ecosystem as we’ll need plenty of product people, developers, sales and customer services representatives and other talent to build our ventures with us. My hope is that if we can show them success at our ventures, they’ll go off and start their own one day.
19days will be an excellent addition to the growing market that is Oklahoma entrepreneurship. It will serve to add a much-needed influx of tech startups and help enable advancement of the ecosystem in this state. It will help provide opportunities for talent coming out of our universities and elsewhere to stay here and contribute to building our economy rather than leaving for opportunity in other areas of the country. The venture studio approach can truly contribute to building the ecosystem as a whole, which is why Cortado’s investment in and belief in 19days goes well beyond a traditional investment in venture.
Thank you Nathan Friels for your help in organizing this interview.
About Cortado Ventures| Cortado Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in ambitious, growth-driven companies to define a new generation of economic prosperity for the Midcontinent region.
As one of the largest VC funds in Oklahoma, Cortado’s focus is on tech companies bringing innovative solutions to the energy, logistics, life sciences, aerospace, and the future of work sectors. For more information, visit cortado.ventures.