Beyond Startup Battlefield with Bobby Lo (Vurb), Aaron Patzer (Vital Software) and Priscilla Elora Sharuk (Myki) | Disrupt SF (Day 1)
2:25AM Sep 6, 2018
Priscilla Elora Sharuk
Of course. So it's my delight to welcome Samantha Stein who's the Director of startup battlefield. She can she and her team curates the entire battlefield that you'll be seeing today. And she's going to be into conversation with past alumni of Battlefield, what happens next or very well, you get all the press from Battlefield. But what happens next. So she's going to be chatting to a Bobby lo from vurb, which is in mobile. So search and she'll be talking to Aaron Pat, sir, from vital software, which is in
a new new version of emergency software, and also from Priscilla Elora sharuk from myki, which is decentralized digital identity. So a big round of applause please for them. Come on up.
Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. So many of you in the audience, maybe entrepreneurs yourself today we have three entrepreneurs who have participated in startup battlefield who are here to share with us the trials tribulations, the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. Priscilla, I'd like to start with you. So two years ago, you came and competed in startup battlefield all the way from Lebanon. So tell us about that journey. How did you end up on our stage? Well, it's
actually all Mike butchers fault. So he did. Those things are always his faults. And he did a little TechCrunch meetup in Beirut. And the idea was, you come and you pitch. And if you when you would be awarded two plane tickets to fly to New York and attend TechCrunch Disrupt in New York. So we got on that plane. And I remember that was actually the first time I met Bobby because he was pitching at TechCrunch Disrupt. And we got there. And we were sitting in the audience. And I said to my co founder, Antoine, I said, we're gonna launch on this stage. And two years ago, we did right here in San Francisco. And where did you launch we launched my key. So at myki, we empower users with the tools to seamlessly and securely control your digital workspace today on the market. We've got the myki password manager and authenticator, which is an offline password manager that allows you to store and manage your passwords, your credentials, your IDs, your secure notes, and for enterprises, we've got my tea for myki for teams, which is a portal that allows company administrators visibility and control over their team's digital workspace. Wonderful. And Aaron,
you had a bit of a different experience. You were one of the very first startup battlefield companies before it was even called startup battlefield. Tell us about founding Mint. com, which was later acquired by Intuit for 170 million dollars. How did you come up with the idea? Yeah,
so we have a quite a rich history with TechCrunch, we were not just one of the first we were the very first winner of TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 40 back in 2007, for mint.com, which I think today still is, is one of the most popular if not the most popular personal finance tool. And I did that purely out of frustration with using bad software like Quicken or Microsoft money at the time. And ironically, I was put in charge of Quicken when we were required to try to turn it around. So I had to bash the software and then fix it, which was quite interesting.
And eventually you, you left and you started something new. But before you tell us about what you're working on now, can you tell us how did you know when it was time to leave?
This is a question I get all of the time. Mint was on quite a tear. We launched here in 2007, and then announced the acquisition exactly two years later, in 2009, at TechCrunch, not a lot of time. And we were growing very rapidly. There are many people who thought that we sold too soon, there was actually a, maybe even an urban dictionary, something called pulling a passer which is very flattering, which means selling out too early.
So I don't have any regrets about it. It was the financial crisis. It was the great recession, we were the first acquisition over 100 million dollars for an 11 month period. And so when it was offered, I thought I might as well take the win. Because once you've taken the win, nobody can ever remove that from you. And I'd seen too many friends who had offers for a couple hundred million dollars, turned it down and ended up with nothing.
And Bobby you also sold your company. But yes, before that, you you went from stealth to announcing to the world what vurb was on the startup battlefield stage. What was that moment like when you launched out of stealth?
You know, it was it was a really long time coming, because I had started vurb in 2011. And the concept behind it was, you know, why do we have to open up like 10 or 20 different browser tabs to do something like planning dinner or a night out or a movie? Why can't we do everything together? And so, you know, conceptually was really interesting. But how do you actually turn that into a product. So that's why we stayed in stealth for over two years. And so 2014 using battlefield as kind of that launch pad to actually explain to the world what the vision was, was just like, you know, just really rewarding to actually show people what you're thinking about. And as you know, I go back and I watch kind of that that stream again, just seeing like, what people were saying on social media of like, wow, this is a really cool solution, like, this is really unique was just like such great validation.
And then you went on to win. So what did it feel like, when you heard your name called on stage?
It was it was surreal, because we were going against we're going up against this like revolutionary water heater companies. So they're like, instant hot waters is like, how do you compete against that, but it was, it was a very, very heated battlefield finals, because we had, you know, one judge saying that, oh, you should stop working on your company, because it's going to fail. And so it was like, Alright, showed you so it's great. And how
did you show them what happened in the months and years following? Yeah, so,
um, we had kind of announced our products. And from there, we sort of just rode the startup battlefield, sort of post TechCrunch wave. And basically in like, shortly after, we ran like a four week series, a process and raised $8 million. And this is, again, pre launch, we got a really huge base of initial beta users are interested, potential partners, potential employees. And then in 2015, we finally launched to the world that's an iteration and then 2016 were acquired by Snapchat,
and today Are you still with Snapchat.
So I've spent the past two years sort of building, you know, the next version of vurb within Snapchat. So we were able to launch a local places geo filter product, which kind of built a lot of that foundation around location and snap. And then on top of that, built our context cards product, which lets you sort of swipe up and see all the different cards. So as a founder that was really rewarding is like, sort of take it the vision of your product, and now have hundreds of millions of users using it. But the same time like I'm a founder, I really love the early Sage stuff. And so more recently, kind of first time announcing it like getting the best of both worlds. I've transitioned more into advisor at snap, while also becoming an angel advisor investor. So kind of both of both best of both worlds.
And in the early side of this, Priscilla. So you one of our more recent alumni here on stage, can you tell us about where your journey is today? And are you still going to be based in Lebanon? Well, I'm actually very excited to finally be able to announce that we just raised our series a 4 million and from three investors. So we've got Becca, capital and Dubai, leap ventures and Beirut and B, and y Venture Partners, which are some of the best and biggest investors in the region. So we're really lucky to have them on board. And we're moving to New York. So we're very excited about that a lot of the team will still be back home, it's a great place to be, and we have an awesome team. But in order to expand and be able to target the decentralized digital identity space under the enterprise vertical, the move is very strategic for us. So we're very excited about that. Do you feel that it's critical to expand to the United States in order to grow your market share? Or could you do that still being based out of the Middle East. So I feel like having an online business, you have the opportunity to be able to build from anywhere, but you get to a point where, depending on the market that you're trying to target being on the ground is essential. So yes,
it's important for us to be here and to continue growing here. And what are some of the challenges you faced while trying to expand from Lebanon?
Well, I'll say today, one of the biggest challenges, or one of the things that I worry about the most is creating that culture and a cross continental way. Because when you're not always with the entire team, how do you make sure that you all speak the same language, that you have the same values that you're all kind of building the same thing, but not all the product side, but in terms of vision of the company? And in
terms of the product itself? Can you tell us a little bit about the story of how you came up with myki. Yeah,
so this is a funny story. And this was back in around 2013, my uncle ahead and move to Houston. And that same year, my grandmother discovered Skype. So every evening, she would call me out to log into her account. And she would say, Oh, I forgot my password. I lost the paper on which I put down my password. And that was kind of just the starting point, my co founder went on to develop a hardware device, which he came back and said, this is going to lager, and without a username without a password. And it actually worked fast forward. A couple months later, we were building the hardware technology, the iPhone comes out with a fingerprint sensor. So why create something that you would additionally have to carry when you could just move that into a software into your pocket and have that on you at all times. So that was kind of the transition. And it all started from a pain point. And most people suffer from this password pain. And today, I'm I'm glad to say that we are solving this pain,
right. And Aaron,
you're working on something new. I hear you tell us a little bit more about what that is.
I am like Priscilla. Here. I'm started the company out of a small country. So I no longer live in the valley. I live in Auckland, New Zealand. And that is where vital software is located.
My co founder here is Dr. Justin schrager, who's an emergency room doctor and a professor at Emory University. Vital makes software for emergency rooms. I don't know how many of you have been to an emergency room in the past couple of years. But there's 140 million visits every year in the US to the emergency room. And it's a terrible experience. I mean, not just because of the emergency,
you're probably going to wait 234 hours, there is no communication that anything is happening, you feel like it's the worst night of your life. But a doctor won't talk to you forever. And so what we do is we have an easy patient check in system so you don't have to repeat why you're there over and over and over again. And then we have a bunch of artificial intelligence, natural language processing that listens to what you what you say,
ask follow up questions, just like a doctor would
calculates within about five minutes of you getting there, your probability of admission or discharge, what imaging you'll need, what labs should be run,
all of that stuff is done with quite high accuracy, which required getting sort of a proprietary data set and a lot of natural language and neural net processing.
So we can do that accurately today. And more than that, more than the I am and workflow optimization, just give doctors and nurses and patients software that's a usable, most of the software in this industry is it's literally windows 98 software. It's hundreds or thousands of extra clicks. The stats are that doctors spend two hours in EHR software, electronic health records for every hour that they spend with patients effectively. If you could flip that equation, you could double the number of doctors that you have in the country. And that would be good for all of us.
Are we moving towards a future where we see algorithmic determinism and a medical context.
The great thing about algorithms is they can get you 90 95%
of the way there for what I would call the simple cases. So one of the things that sort of shocked me is Dr. schrager, my co founder often says, I could train high schooler to do 90 80% of my job, which is kind of scary. What do you think about an emergency room doctor saying that, but what he means is, most of it is broken bones, flu, bad head, colds, migraines, things that are relatively straightforward. And if you can figure out which 90% that is algorithmically and leave the doctors and nurses to do the complicated and truly life threatening things, it improves the whole process for everyone.
And how did you come up with this idea? And how long have you been working on it?
I've been working on this for two years, you won't find a website out there, there's nothing online. It's quite, quite stealthy, simply because it's a very complex product to do something both both patient side for hospitals, for doctors and nurses, to get all the HIPAA compliance and everything and to work with a hospital takes a long time before they trust a startup to do the core software that they use day in and day out for managing patient. So it's, it's been two years of just solid effort. And I've been doing a lot of the engineering myself, I might be known as a CEO, or maybe as a product person, but can't get away from the code. And why
come out of stealth. Now, how do you know it's the right time? Well,
you know, it's an enterprise business. And so I don't think it's the same thing as a consumer launch where you want to have this, this big grand launch and say, We're available to the world. But finally, the software, you know, it, it works. And it's beautiful. And I don't think anybody ever says that about software.
Bobby, you also think software is beautiful. But you also stayed in satin stout for for two years, do you wish you would have come out of stuff sooner,
you know, in hindsight, like thinking back, probably getting out of stealth, sooner would have been wiser. Because, you know, at the end of the day, like, as a founder, you're like, Oh, this product is my baby, it has to be perfect. You have to make sure like, all the pixels are aligned, right? And the onboarding is, right, and things like that. But the more time you spend in stealth, the, the less time you have to sort of iterate and find out like, Who is your customer? What are they? What value are they getting out of your product. And so that was kind of one of the learnings for me, is just like, I did obsess a little bit too much about, you know, hey, let's revolutionize the sand, you know, kid with a bang. But, you know, like the odds of like, getting everything right. And first time is really hard. So the lesson for me was like, yeah, launch earlier, like, get feedback earlier, sort of extend your runway a little bit more to
you were also so founder, yes, if you could do it again, would you have a founding team alongside you,
I like I highly recommend against being a sole founder is just like, sure the economics on paper look fantastic. But I'll tell you, it really sucks being like the only person thinking about all the different aspects of your business, having to manage like, you know, not only the technology, the product investors, but also the people. And when you have people that you really trust and have worked with for a long time, and are kind of on equal footing with you like that emotional bond is just going to carry you so much further through that startup journey. Because it's not like you launch and it just goes up from there. It's kind of you launch and you have this wild rollercoaster, you have to be able to, like, persevere through that. So as
a solo founder and an early stage startup founder, you're a statistical anomaly. mystical. Absolutely. So
don't use me as an example.
Great. And then Priscilla, there's a lot of challenges to to being a founder, whether or not you're a sole founder, or you have co founders in your case, you have co founders to tell us a little bit about how your team addresses self care, or a lot of the challenges and stress that comes founding a company? That's a very good question, Sam. So I think, yeah, we've focused so much in building the business that sometimes we tend to forget that, you know,
there is such a thing as a burnout, or you need to take care of your emotional health and your well being, because at the end of the day, if you know you're doing while your company will do on vice versa. So it's really about adopting a balanced lifestyle. So if anybody has figured out how to do that, please let me know, because I still have it. But it's really about taking it day by day celebrating the winds and mourning the losses as well. But it's really important to celebrate the wins with your team, you know, pumps everybody up reminds everybody why we're doing this, even though it is a constant struggle. And it is difficult and just remember to kind of be proud of the stuff that you achieved, and to celebrate that with everybody. And how does your team celebrate their wins. So what we like to do usually is we'll get together and actually talk about wins and for the week, so it can go all the way from cookies and beer to maybe a little bit of champagne, depending on how successful the week was. But it's important to share, especially when, you know, you have different departments on the team. And sometimes, you know, on the development side of things are on the marketing side of things. People don't know, you know, what numbers were hit, or what KPIs are met. So it's important to get everybody together to celebrate and know where the company is not today and what everybody's doing.
And it's not that being a startup founder comes without sacrifices, you celebrate the wins and the losses, but there's other things you're giving up. So Paul Graham recently said that he thinks yc shouldn't found shouldn't find high school students, because they're missing out on life experiences. You've all founded companies very young Aaron, can you tell us a little bit about whether or not you agree with that statement? Do you wish you would have waited to found the company until much later in life?
No, I don't think I would have wanted to wait. So I started meant when I was 25.
And yeah, it has downsides. I remember that I was basically celibate for a year in my mid 20s, just because I was too busy to take.
But I actually at the time, I thought that I was old,
I thought that I had waited too long. The great thing about being in your 20s or early 30s is prior to having a family and a mortgage. Like, what's the worst thing that could possibly happen. And so, you know, I had a stable job that I was earning a good salary out of grad school,
and I just decided
I could live with going broke and moving in, you know, back in with my parents, but I couldn't live with not giving it a shot. And it
it's hard every day to watch your bank account, you know, drain further and further down.
But that's the kind of thing that you absolutely ought to be doing in your 20s. You should I don't know that you should do it in high school as far as Y Combinator, but I think is as soon as you turn 20, it's you're old enough. And
did you feel that a delayed life experiences for you? Yes,
I triple majored in university, I went straight into grad school, I started companies sort of straight after after that I never took a gap year or traveled to Europe or did all those things. I
kind of I I didn't, I didn't get drunk or smoke a cigarette or try pot until, you know, I was like in my late 20s and do any of that I didn't do anything bad. Because there's just so focused on just making sure that the company is successful that I was successful. And so yeah, I lived in my 20s and my 30s.
Bobby, did you feel the same way? You know,
Aaron story sounds like really, really familiar. Like, I started my first company when I was 15, creating desktop software for Windows 95. So back in the day, and then in college, I was just all into entrepreneurship also, you know, did three degrees at MIT over four years. So kind of just like, you know, just constantly thinking about, hey, I want to do startups just being super ambitious, like, you know, hindsight, like looking at back at my life. No regrets, obviously. But again, like it does delay life experiences, right? You have to make certain trade offs, like example, like I'm in my 30s, all of my friends are married, they have kids, I am single. And literally, my colleagues snap just like two months ago, helped me set up my Tinder profile. So you know, there's a lot of things that you have you make you make some life decisions, but wholeheartedly like, you know, in your money's absolutely go for it. You know, if you're in your 30s or 40s again, you just start a company and you're a little bit wiser. So I think anytime is good to start a company. Priscilla? What
advice do you have for founders who are thinking about starting a company today?
Well, I would say that while it is kind of difficult, I think the most difficult thing is to take the leap. So all of us are doing things before starting the companies make a little list of, for example, three things that you know that you want to be able to get through to say, Okay, I'm ready. Because if you're going to wait to have all your cards on the table, then it's really never going to happen. And you just really need to just take a leap of faith. Make sure you're building something that your market needs, and make sure that you're creating value for your end user, and all will be well.
And Aaron, what advice do you have for for founders starting today? Is it harder for them than it was for you when you started meant,
what's more crowded you you know, the big advice that I've learned, I think I'm on sort of my seventh startup. And you know, I've failed even a few times after mint, which maybe is surprising. You think that you've learned enough and it increases your chance of success. But being in the startup world is is very difficult. I think the biggest lesson learned is rather than trying to create a new market I think your best opportunity is to find a big existing market where the software is old and crap and honestly all software should be redone every decade so mins now is about 12 years old, it's ripe for disruption, because it's that old, any software that's more than 10 years old, should probably be destroyed
around people to destroy your disrupt your baby.
Yeah, but that's okay.
Bobby, do you feel the same,
that software should be destroyed every 10 years? that's a that's a tough one. But I generally agree along those lines, like it is more crowded these days for founders to get in. It's obviously the barrier to create, like a mobile app has gone down. But the barrier to actually getting distribution for your software has gone up. So like, if you're thinking about starting a company, you have to be really strategic and thinking about what is your market was your opportunity? How are you going to distribute? Are you going to go enterprise we're consumer, right? So you have to think about all these different competitive forces in the market today. It's just so different than what it was 510 years ago. And part
of the reason that you've moved to snaps advisory board is that you want to spend more time sharing advice with founders. And so how do you plan to do that? Well,
um, you know, it's just like, I love meeting founders. So, you know, a lot of people through my network will say, hey, like, you know, this founder is trying to build a consumer startup doing this, come meet Bobby. And I'll kind of sit down with them and, you know, here kind of their pitch their product and give them advice on what to do. I'm pretty, like, directed my feedback. So sometimes it may might not be easy to hear, but, you know, it's always fun. So we're just paying it forward and supporting, you know, founders that want to sort of pursue their vision. And
how can those founders reach you?
Well, figure out what my email is, or you can tweet me at the yellow or, you know, figure out what my snap handle is good luck with that.
Wonderful. Well, we know you're all really busy building empires all over the world. So thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your advice with the audience.
Thanks. Thank you.