Kirk Marple - Fundraising Radio Transcript
5:20PM Oct 13, 2021
They're listening to fundraising radio, a podcast about fundraising for early stage startups. The major rule that we'll follow here is no bullshit on these podcasts, no music to relax, you know, advertisements of our sponsors. We only talk about fundraising here, and nothing else. So let's jump into the episode. And today's a guest speaker. We have Kirk Marple founder at unstruck data. And in this episode will mostly talk about the field of content marketing, how does it work? How much money should you put in? How much time should you put in? Who should try to pursued how does it work and perks experience in that field? So Kirk, let's kick it off by you giving us some background on yourself and on unstruck data.
Yep, for sure. Not happy to be here. So let's see myself a career software developer, have worked at places like Microsoft and General Motors, had a company for about a dozen years, maybe 1010 plus years that I bootstrapped and works, I mean, with just building out the the founding team wrote all the pretty much all the code for and then ended up selling it in, I guess, about almost 10 years ago now. And started working for a couple other companies, bigger companies, like General Motors, like I said, and then was CTO or VP of engineering for a few different places, and ended up really starting to see so my company back in the day was around media, entertainment companies, film and broadcasters, and started to see the transition of the tools that we built for that field, and how other industries could use the similar tooling. So that was really where we're stuck. data came to be.
Nice, great and great to start. So let's let's talk about first of all, fundraising. So did you raise any money for unstructured data? Or? Not? Really?
Yeah, we did. So I bootstrapped my my previous company, but this time, I raised a seed round of about three and a half million. So it was basically I mean, if you want to get into the nitty gritty, iOS Park, convertible notes part saves. It was led by APC, a bay area VC, pretty well known crafers ventures was in there and a bunch of other great investors. And it was a really interesting, I mean, race. And it was, went pretty quickly when we started before the holiday last year. But then really, it started kicking into gear kind of January, or so this year. And we basically the first money in the door, I guess it was mid March, almost literally five months ago to the day.
And they said this is awesome. So let's go back a little bit to your backgrounds. You mentioned that work for ton of different corporate jobs as just a regular employee, right? What exactly pushed you towards actually starting your own company and going out and raising money?
Yeah, I mean, having having done it before, so I was at it to take a ticket backwards is I was at Microsoft, I was there six years, and I just started to get that image. And I wanted to get really more face to face with customers. And I had been at a couple small startups I was living around the Washington DC area was I mean, like kind of being very hands on, I wrote code, but I was going to trade shows I was talking to customers. And so I just had that itch to start something myself. And so that was the first company I bootstrapped, and what I mean, really just loved it, I love the hands on approach to it, where I could listen to customers figure out what they wanted. And then being a developer, I could build, build out part two. So I always I mean, after I sold my company, I had, I mean, really kind of took a break. I mean, I started a little, a little side company, a little LLC, where I was just kind of working on some different ideas while still having a day job. And I finally just got enough, kind of in the I mean, sort of enough enough code kind of queued up that I felt, hey, this is now the time to go raise funding and put the pedal down and really make this happen. So that was that was really what happened this year. And then I mean, COVID had parts to do with it. The company I was working at, we incubated a product that wasn't really taking off partly just because of the COVID times and things and so I had to make a change one way or the other. I mean, it was either go work for somebody else, find another CTO job or start a company. And so I am happily I mean happy I decided to ladder.
Higher percent. Yeah, congrats on that decision. And going back to what you just said, you mentioned, once I got enough code stepped up, what exactly do you mean by that?
Oh, yeah. So I'm, I had started working on a concept for cloud services that every I mean, a lot of sass companies have to have the ability to I mean, have users log in, have them provision maybe, I mean, some storage or provision services for them as well as tying the bill. And so my first idea was what I call an onboarding API where it's what, what I found was a lot of companies have to build this themselves. And so that's where I started is like, figuring out, hey, here's an API that I could sell to other people. So I started writing that code, basically nights and weekends while I had a day job. And I was even before that, I was just contracting for a while. And so that I just started to do it under, really the idea of starting a business at that time, and then realized, okay, this is, it's a hard thing to sell on its own, I didn't have a business partner at the time. So it was I just kind of kept it to myself, and just kept adding to it and kept writing more code. And over time, it got to be enough that there was almost a whole product there. So it was kind of like, I mean, planting the seed of something, and it's finally gone. We could, we could sort of replant it really
nice. That's awesome. So let's, once again, go back to something you just said, which is he didn't have a business partner, it's time to have a business partner now.
I'm actually I don't, and so I'm kind of wearing both hats. Okay, the founding team is mostly developers and product folks. We just hired a head of sales from the outside. But, uh, but I mean, I've worked I've done both. I mean, I've been, I guess I'd call it a technical founder. But I've also done the business side of it. But I didn't, I had in my original company, a business partner that did all the sales. And so I knew I had to, I mean, I guess I could say, No, I don't have a, there wasn't a business co founder, per se. But we've hired in a business person, as part of the company is more the way to look at it
now. Works, too. So let's, let's talk about how that ties into your fundraising. But first, let's touch on to your corporate jobs, once again, is a question that I get a lot, especially from young listeners, which are the majority of our listeners. So a lot of time they ask, you know, should I usually even try to go to companies like Facebook, Google and tube statistic there for like, five plus years? And then start my own company? Or should I just go ahead and start my own company right away before I get, you know, screwed by the corporate mentality? And maybe we will be unable to leave that position? Because it pays like $200,000? Yes. So in your purse, from your perspective, from your experience, do you think that corporate experience is actually helpful to you right now? Was it helpful at all, especially during the fundraising process?
I think it was, I mean, I think it's, I mean, I definitely see the balance of it. I think experience matters a lot. But it doesn't necessarily need to be name brand. experience, I think it's more just having both successes and failures, really, as an employee. And as I mean, seeing companies, it almost like I mean, working for our Facebook work, very Google. I mean, I never worked, I worked for Microsoft, but not for, I mean, those going to Facebook or Google, but it's, I think seeing the ups and downs, I think has been been really important. And I worked for a lot of small companies, out of college where I mean, not all of them succeeded. And so you saw how I kind of learned the business part on the fly is what I'm trying to say. And so the technical part of it product building all that I think great experience, I mean, big company, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, you're going to get a ton of product building experience. But the business side of it, like you kind of have to be at a startup or know people at startups that have been trying to build it. And that's why I think like Y Combinator, and a lot of those kind of groups are really, I mean, it gets you a lot of good experience there. Because you don't really learn that. I mean, as a developer, I didn't learn any of the business stuff. When I was at Microsoft, I had to learn hardware. So I think it's it's both I mean, I think if somebody wants to do it, it's great to get that product building experience, and just get that rigor around building good product, and understanding how product teams work and that but I mean, understanding how to do payroll, and how to how to do fundraising and all that. I mean, that that's a totally different set of set of books you got to read.
Yeah, I'm present. So let's talk about the books you read for learning about fundraising. Where do you get most of your relevant experience? Where do you get the most, you know, inspiration, for one reason or ideas for fundraising? Were those some classic books on debt? Or were those courses or word those random YouTube views that you ran into?
it for me, it was, I mean, I read a lot of blogs, and just, I mean, even a ton of podcasts and things like that. So I think I learned a lot through osmosis of just, I mean, reading a lot, researching a lot trying to kind of keep things in, in mind. I mean, what I need to take away. I mean, parties, parties, just people you meet along the way. I mean, I definitely know people that have I mean, build companies and done fundraising and so I'm able to ask them questions, and there's some good, I think, I'm trying to think of Brad I remember his last name, Brad Feld, I think has a really good venture capital book that we brought I've put in the show notes. But it's a that's a really good book to go through just all the ins and outs of what is convertible to what does the safe. I mean, what does equity mean and all those kinds of things. That's a I mean, that is a, I mean, a really important area just to really understand. And negotiation is important. I mean, just not, I mean, be able to not roll over when you get your first term sheet, and kind of know what you're worth, and really be able to drive forward. So it's a mix, it's a mix of all those things.
Definitely. And I'll definitely follow up with you on some particular resources that you found helpful on your way of learning how to fundraise. So let's talk about some, you know, early on, I would imagine you've made tons and tons of mistakes, especially in the fundraising process. Do you have any of the favorites? So called mistakes back then? Yeah, I
mean, one that comes to mind was a was a good one where I mean, when it's purely as you learn to say, is it really just the founder? Or do they want to talk to the whole team and, and really learning each person that you're talking to what they really want, and what they're expecting? So I think there were some failed early goes where we just didn't have our story together very well. We kind of it was kind of weird, like a problem, looking for a solution. I mean, like recode, looking for a solution. And we just didn't, we weren't able to explain it well, in the first, maybe one or two. But it's, it's a classic thing. It's like preparing for a test or being on stage or something like that. You You just have to practice a couple times, and just get your words together. And that was really the hardest part. One of them was, I mean, with all these COVID times and being on zoom, and we raised completely over zoom. And so understanding of is it audio, do people want to see you on video, they want to see another thing. We had some missteps early on, say with you, but it was a it was embarrassing. And we learned from it. I mean, it was a punch in the gut. And after that we got really tight. And things accelerated because we, we learn from it. I mean, I personally learned from it. And it's just trying to think through some of those stages. And once we got in the groove, I mean, it wasn't terribly hard. I mean, we got a lot of yeses, more than average, I would say. And we were able to, I mean, we were oversubscribed. At first, we weren't planning on raising this much. But we got a lot of interest. And I realized look, I'd much rather have the money in the bank for the runway and be able to grow the team faster. And we're able to increase our valuation, double it from when we started to when we finished. And it was just the right, it felt like the right thing to do. So now, I don't have to raise again, until next year, we're fully focused on product development. And when we do go and raise, we hopefully you should be in a better position that I mean, we have a lot more to show. I mean, it's not. It's not necessarily about the number. It's more of what can you do with that number. I mean, we now are building a mobile application in addition to our web application, which we couldn't have done if I hadn't raised a little more money, things like that.
Right? So that is actually a very, very interesting thing that I think I don't remember talking about on the pre interview call. So let's talk about it. Now you have doubled your valuation while raising the round itself. How exactly did that happen? At what point you were like, All right, now our valuation is twice higher. And we're gonna go with two investors with that new valuation went, when did that happen?
I mean, it was it was really more inbound interest. And I had set up a lot of calls I was doing, I mean, I don't know, I think, probably 30 or so call us at that point, 30 or 40. And we're starting to close, the round started getting checks committed. And there was still a bunch of calls I was taking the people were showing interest. And so just because of deletion, I couldn't take any more at that, at that value, it would have diluted the team too much. So it was a negotiation. I mean, I said, Look, come in here, we can take more at x. And that was maybe, I don't know, 50% higher than where we were, and had some people say yes, and say look, okay, I mean, we we believe in this. And then finally, by the end, there was still a little more money out there. And I was like, Look, I'd love to work with you. But I mean, we it really just came down to dilution. And but it has to be at this number. And they said yes, and they're a great partner. And so we were able to, I mean, really get about to where I wanted to be, I mean, we was a little over three and a half. And it was about almost two years of runway, I mean of what we had. We've narrowed that down and we've we've accelerated to now it's maybe about we're probably about 15 to 17 months of runway left now. But it's I mean I bootstrapped that I'm used to doing that. So we are very frugal. I mean we spend on the team, we hire good people, we have good benefits, but we're not going crazy and I think that's where My bootstrap experience is good. I mean, we're we're completely remote. We're not spending money on offices. And I mean, again, it would be hard to do now anyway, but we're hiring great people all across the country, and one in Canada right now. So
nice. That's really cool. And by the way, just somewhere made this interview, I realized that you're not the person I initially thought you'd probably start the conversation with this episode is going to be about the content marketing. There is nothing about content. The listeners, I'm sorry, for me, selenium is so damn hard. But you know what, there's actually a question about content marketing. Right now, we haven't talked about the podcasting tour that you are doing right now. You mentioned that on the pre interview call that you're like, specifically reaching out to some podcasts. And yet on why exactly are you doing this? What is the goal of that podcasting tour?
Yeah, it's I mean, mostly as a brand new company. I mean, obviously, we're a brand new name. I mean, I have a good sized LinkedIn network, but it's still, those aren't our customers. So I have to, I mean, figure out how to how do you get people to know who and start date is, and being an avid podcast listener, if I realized, this is a great way just to get I mean, get my name out there, get the company name out there. We've already I mean, communicated with a lot of really interesting people that have listened to the podcast and want to learn more about the company, or maybe there's a partnership with their company. So it's just been a really great way of marketing for essentially, this is our launch year. And we're we're actually going to a couple in person conferences in October, that'll be our first face to face meetings with customers. And I mean, even just, I'll see, say, like yesterday, was talking to a potential customer. And they had mentioned, they listened to the podcast, a couple of podcasts, it was a great way for them to have already have a knowledge of what we do. And I posted a couple of like loom videos of demos of our app and things like that. So it's a great way to for people to understand what you're up to before actually your first chat.
Yep, that is very true. And yes, podcasts are great for SEO of companies. So yep. 100%, understandable. Let's talk about the upcoming October events. What exactly is going to be happening there? Is this like, you know, you're going to be one of the people on the stage. Do you sponsored? Did you get there for free? Because you are going to talk about XYZ or what happened there?
Yeah, it's a little bit of both. I mean, we're we are sponsoring, I believe both conferences, I know at least one. One is the reality capture network conference in Boise, Idaho. And then the other is a basically, it's an energy industry with drones and robotics, it's in Houston. So shell ventures like Shell Oil gas ventures was a is one of our seed investors. So it's a great, it's a great position because our product applies very well to the energy industry for a lot of the robotics and drone data capture. So I mean, we haven't talked about the product, but it's basically a media management tool for industries that covers everything from images to video to 3d, and creates a knowledge graph for that data to search and get data insights on and things like that. So but the other one is really interesting, I'm excited about its reality capture meaning like 3d scanning. So it's using photogrammetry and 3d LIDAR, I mean, LIDAR to make 3d things like that, which is a one of the data sources that we support. So very excited about these two and it's a good timing for us. I mean, my old company was in the as I said, the broadcast industry and there was always a fall conference and then a spring one that was in Amsterdam, so there's like a domestic one in Las Vegas in the fall, Amsterdam was spring and we would tie all of our product releases around that and that would be kind of where we are towards and so it's neat to be able to do that because the first time we're doing that here is it gets everybody I mean gets the product team very focused. I mean, you start to have a date everybody like focuses on we could tie marketing to it. So it's exciting I mean I'm really it's about two months away now. And yeah, we're just getting everything kind of aimed at that to get it into I mean brand new customers people we've never talked to the first time
nice that's that's a nice approach like the time the deadlines to those conferences. That's, that's interesting. So there's something else that you mentioned that caught my ear, which is the fact that you were raised from shell portion of your pre seed round. Yeah, I have never heard giants like shell investing pre seed. How exactly did that happen?
Yeah, so my, the company I was at previously, shell had been an investor. And so I had met some really great people over there. And they actually offered it was something that we didn't i didn't actually go to them. They were, they knew of me kind of spinning out this new company and raising money for the seed round and they they offered and I know that they were One of the, I guess you could say prototypical customers that I would, I knew there would be value for what we're doing. They did a lot of robotics, they did a lot of drone stuff. They, I mean, they I mean are, we anticipate that they can use the product and become a customer as well, but also give us a lot of product feedback. So having access to the different teams there is really great. So we're just starting to work with them, and get exposed to different teams there. So for me, it was a I mean, it is a little rare to have a strategic investor that early. But I really think just with the access to such a broad scale, it will help, then I mean, derive the product for other customers better. So it's, it's it's a good kind of back and forth relationship with them. And they have a really good data science program there. There's a guy that I met on the run through data science program, they're incredibly smart guy. And so having access to those teams, and those folks are is really cool.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, having Michelle on your cap table, and most likely soon as your customer, that is just a great base. Oh, yeah, that's them. Right there power of networking, I guess. So. Yeah. On this note, let's move on to the very last question of today's episode, which is a call to action. So Kirk, would you want to listen to to do as soon as the episode is over?
Yeah, I mean, I love to talk to people for from what I would kind of call a business development or technical business development side. I mean, if there's people that have companies that are doing unstructured data capture, like 3d or imagery or different things with robotics or drones, things like that love to talk to folks, either as potential customers or even I've talked to a lot of people about tech partnerships, like they have applications or products that I mean, would we can integrate with. I love putting together deals like that. So yeah, we're, I mean, really always interested in meeting new people in the industry and expanding our horizons. Awesome, perfect.
Well, that call to action and self promotion on question is allowed, by the way, so yes, that was completely allowed. Michael tation is gonna be much simpler. Check out the description of this episode, we're gonna include a bunch of links there, there's going to be a link to on stroke data. There's also going to be a link to Kirk's LinkedIn and also I'll follow up with him to make sure that he sends me all other links that he wants to include there. So check it out. There's going to be some good stuff there. And as usually have a good day