It all started on a plane
Back in 2000, I worked for Capital One as a Project Manager and Analyst. I had just graduated from Miami University (Ohio) the summer before and was still adjusting to a working lifestyle. Springtime was coming and I of course needed to take a spring break! I had planned to meet up with my friends from school down in Fort Lauderdale before going to the Bahamas. As soon as I arrived at the DC airport, I found out that my flight had mechanical problems and would be severely delayed.
The year 2000, while only 20 years ago, was a LONG time ago. Most people still didn’t have cell phones or smart phones, so it wasn’t like I could send a group text or check-in and catch up with people easily later. If you weren’t at a specific spot at an exact time, you just didn’t meet up! 2000 was also before 9/11 so you could actually negotiate with the airlines, and I was able to somehow switch airlines without paying a fee. This guy was at the gate right next to me and said to the gate agent, “Oh I’m with him.” I agreed and helped him get onto the MetroJet flight where we sat next to each other.
He opened up a business plan and I asked if he was presenting or reviewing. The man said, “A friend of mine wants me to open up a golf course with him… I don’t know. What do you do?” I told him I was with Capital One, but had a business plan of my own. I had won a business plan competition back at Miami University for an idea to help college students find jobs online. He said, “What’s wrong with you kids? My son Jon just left Capital One to start a software company too. You guys are crazy to give up the opportunity there.” I told him that my passion was building something that didn’t exist and Capital One was already well established. I couldn’t make a real impact.
“Do you have a business plan?” he asked. I said, “Of course…”
At the end of the flight the man beamed over his information via Palm Pilot (yeah that existed), and the contact came through as Fred DeLuca with Subway. It had his home address, cell, everything. I asked what he did with Subway and he said he was the owner. I told him “Oh, one of my family friends owns a Subway too, that’s cool.” Fred smiled and said, “I founded Subway. You should stop by my house while you’re here this week and let’s go through your business, I might be interested in investing.”
I got off the plane and immediately called my co-founder, Dan Bartfield, who was working at Dewalt/Black & Decker at the time. I asked Dan to go online and lookup Fred DeLuca (note: Google didn’t exist yet). Dan said, “Wow! Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, Forbes List, Subway” and before he could finish I said, “Book a flight to Florida, we’re meeting with him at his house.”
Dan and I showed up at his house a little while later and the person who answered the door said he was out on his boat and to meet him out back. We walked out to see a beautiful 110’ yacht, Subconscious. When we boarded, I saw Fred laying back on the couch watching Something About Mary on a flat screen TV. It was the first mega yacht I had ever been on and the first flat screen TV I had ever seen. He welcomed us as if we had known him for years and said how he was looking forward to learning more, as a marble table slowly rose from the floor.
For the next hour or so we discussed our opportunity, our sales model, addressable market, and what money we really needed to get the business of the ground. At the end of the meeting I could tell Fred was impressed and really interested. Shortly after Dan and I quit our jobs and Fred funded eCampusRecruiter.
At eCampusRecruiter, Dan and I partnered with Fred’s son Jon. Neither Dan nor I were technical and Jon’s firm built software for all types of companies so it was a natural partnership. Together, we created a SaaS solution to help university career centers manage their relationships with students and employers. In 8 years, we attracted ~500 universities to our platform including Yale University School of Law, NYU Stern School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Illinois. In 2008 we sold the business to Symplicity Corporation and took a little time off to figure out what was next.
Several large employers that knew eCampusRecruiter well from exposure through the universities reached out to Dan and I about building a platform exclusively for them. Applicant tracking systems didn’t really solve the challenges facing campus recruiting teams. When you recruit at universities, it’s about relationships with the career centers, faculty, and student leaders, not just the students themselves. It’s about event management, marketing and scheduling, not just applications.
Fred and Jon asked us what we wanted to work on next and we brought them our idea of Yello to help solve the problems facing large enterprises as they recruit on campus. In the past 12 years, Yello raised $46M and has grown to be the leader in campus recruiting. Several hundred of the largest employers rely on Yello’s software to help them manage their global campus recruiting operations.
In 2020, I became ready to try something new. I reached out to my network in Chicago and began helping first time founders in my spare time. The questions I received were all over the map. Everything from fundraising, hiring, business strategy, go-to-market ideas, you name it… I loved it. It reminded me of the questions I would ask Fred 20 years ago.
I began to start advising and angel investing when I spoke to Fred’s son Jon about some of these businesses. Out of nowhere he said, “Let’s start a fund!” It reminded me of the excitement I felt starting eCampusRecruiter and Yello, and I couldn’t help but say, “Let’s do it!”
Sadly, Fred passed away back in 2015 and couldn’t be here for this part of the journey, but I am grateful to partner with Jon. We started brainstorming names, and our name became obvious quite quickly. Subconscious Ventures. Subconscious was both the name of Fred’s boat where Dan and I did our first ever fundraising pitch, but also because we really understand the subconscious of entrepreneurs.
So now all we have to do is find amazing founders with compelling problems, invest in them personally and financially, and then help the world become a better place. Our goal is not just to make money for the fund, it’s truly to help entrepreneurs, especially from underrepresented minorities. While we can’t invest in everyone, we will be publishing many of the trends we are seeing and lessons we have learned in hopes that it helps the startup community and the greater good.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about Subconscious Ventures and we hope to learn more about you. Feel free to send pitch decks to email@example.com and we’ll be in touch!