Interview with Shruti Shah

Welcome to our 2nd blog post from our “UntoldSpeakers” interviews!

In this blog post, we are excited to present Shruti Shah.

Shruti Shah is an Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR) at Silicon Valley Bank, she was previously the co-founder and COO of Y Combinator-backed Move Loot, an online full-service marketplace for buying and selling used furniture, where she helped to raise 22 million dollars to scale the business across the United States. Shruti started her professional career as a public-school teacher. Teaching was a challenging experience that helped her develop persistence and quickness. Soon she realised that her passion lies in entrepreneurship.

In 2016, Shruti was honoured by Forbes as a 2016 30 Under 30 recipient in Retail and E-Commerce and the Aspen Institute as an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar in re-imagining capitalism. Shruti shares with us her real-life stories, current plans and experiences from the startup scene but also she gives some gold tips for today’s entrepreneurs and startup founders

Gold Tip: Talk, and talk more, about your product idea with the people around you with zero judgements on their opinions.

Read the full interview

Q: How did you get into tech?

Shruti: I kind of fell into it I guess, I was a teacher and I was using a lot of tech tools in my classroom. And I thought it was really interesting so I ended up getting a job in California working for a fund where I was doing early-stage education technology investing. It was 2014, the beginning of the tech boom and there was a lot of early-stage capital on the market.

Q: How was the scene different compared to now.

Shruti: A lot of the capital has moved too much later stage, while there is more capital in the market a lot of it is going to the same deals that are for much later stage companies. We’ve also seen a lot of companies down the ecosystems mature. That said, there are still a lot of people starting companies but I think that the bar, at least when it comes to raise capital, has shifted a little bit. At least what an investor is expecting to see in terms of traction and growth before they are willing to invest.

Q: Your first entrepreneurial experience at Move Loot

Shruti:I started a company called Move Loot which was a marketplace for used furniture we would pick up your sofa or kitchen table that you wanted to get rid of and we would come to your house and pick it up, take it to our warehouse, photograph it, store it, sell it for you and deliver it to the buyer once sold. We raised about 15.000 $ from friends and family on an Indiegogo campaign and we were able to use that to find a warehouse in San Francisco and we started emailing people that could pick up their stuff and we would sell it for them. Sure enough, it worked!

YC was really pivotal for us, getting us to focus on specific growth metrics and to tell a growth story that was compelling to potential investors. Before YC we didn't really know what we were doing, YC really gave us that structure which ultimately was really valuable for us.

Q: Why do you think Y Combinator works so well?

Shruti: I think a lot of it is this no-nonsense and practical advice, it is not really about the 10 steps how you build a company and way more about How are you talking to customers and really getting a good understanding on who your user is? Why you are building this product? Will people pay for your product? I think it is more about following pretty intuitive philosophy around making something people actually want.

The power of YC now is also in the networks, YC founders are always going to help each other, there is very much of “paying forward” mindset which is really translated into how they support each other continuously to grow.

Q: Do you think a startup with global ambition needs to be located in Silicon Valley?

Shruti: I think it is possible to be a global company from anywhere but I do think that it is useful to spend time in the Bay Area, if possible. Build a network there, perhaps meet some investors... but if your customers are not in the Bay Area then you probably shouldn't be in the bay area. You should build your company where your customers are.

Q: What was your biggest challenge building your startup?

Shruti: There are so many! I often think that Move Loot was an incredible lesson in finding my voice, trusting my gut. One of the things I regret is that there were decisions being made with our investors about the growth strategy and there was a disconnect between the way we felt as founders that we should grow and the expectations and desires of our investors to grow. I don't think I spoke enough about that, it put us often in really difficult situations as the company continued to grow and ultimately shut down. I really wish that I had spoken out a lot more.

Q: What would you have done differently now?

Shruti: Well it really was growth, this is the way VC works, investors are expecting a return on their investments that is sizable in a pretty short period of time and they want you to grow the company as quickly as possible. In our case, we had a marketplace with infrastructure which is really a hard thing to scale quickly and that didn '́t align with the way you can grow a physical operation. I have learned in retrospect that there are many ways to grow a business and in our case, I think we had a valid argument to push back on that type of growth as it presented a challenge for us to scale a physical operation that quickly.

Q: Did you have a problem with supply and demand balance?

Shruti: Yes, we were constantly supply constrained, we never had enough stuff. We could have thousands of items that people would say that we don't have enough. But with used good, they are looking for very specific items. There is a constant balance with any marketplace of supply and demand but we generally found that the more stuff we could get on the site the more growth we saw on the demand side.

Q: And now, what are you working on?

Shruti: I joined SVB where I am an EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence) which is a fun job where I get to spend a lot of time with the US and global entrepreneurs. Where I get to do a lot of mentoring, speak at conferences and I also have time to work on my own ideas.

Now, I am in the process of working on a new idea for a new type of funding structure for companies that is an alternative for Venture Capital. It is going to be called the “Step Fund” and the goal is to align the incentives of entrepreneurs and investors towards profitability. It is revenue-based equity investment, meaning that we would make the equity investment in business and then take a certain % of the companies’ revenue over 10 years on an annual base and put it into an escrow account. In year 5, we would get our principal back and we would return a portion of the equity to the company and in year 10, we would get a multiple backs and return most of the remaining equity to the business.

Q: What do you think are the main challenges for startups coming from small markets such as Hungary?

Shruti: If you are building a local business and you ultimately see that it is having a mass-market appeal that could be global, I think you have to build it with that in mind. Otherwise, you can get a little bit pigeonholed to solving smaller problems.

In terms of access to capital, if you want to raise money in Europe for a larger business you have to think about the European market as a whole to find investment dollars that will help you grow. As the general sentiment is that the investors will want to find businesses that are after bigger market opportunities. You can build an amazing product but if the market is not there for your product it is not going anywhere.

Q: What is the key to find market opportunities?

Shruti. Talk to your customers constantly, I find it amazing how many people have ideas but haven't actually talked to 10 people that would buy the product. Often we also come up with the best ideas as we have experience and we wish that we had had something different and we build that product for ourselves.

When you talk with customers you have to go in with no judgement and you have to be prepared to hear that your product sucks. I would sit in a room where people would talk about how horrible experience they had on our website, and that's hard because of course, you want everybody to have a good experience, but that feedback is way more valuable than the one where people tell you that everything was perfect.

As an entrepreneur, you have to get really good at just gritting and bearing it. Entrepreneurs get good at hearing no and being rejected, that is part of the game of wanting to build a company. Applying that mindset when it comes to talking to customers is really important and actually getting the right feedback and using that feedback to help the business to grow.

Shruti Shah is coming to Untold Stories event in Budapest!

The first edition of Untold Stories will take place in Budapest, on 7 November and it really aims to create a global community of change-makers.

We can’t be happier to have Shruti on board with us, she will not only be sharing her own entrepreneurial experience but also, 100 selected startups will have the chance to book 1 to 1 meetings with her, receiving priceless first-hand advice and experience.

Will we see you there?

Get into the selection process simply by applying for an invitation today.

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Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Interview with Zach Coelius

It is often said that the entrepreneurial bug is infectious. Building a startup is like “jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down” as famously said by Linkedin Co-Founder Reid Hoffmann.

While there is no perfect guide to entrepreneurship, there are a few key elements you should consider. We believe that talking with and learning from experienced founders is crucial to move your business forward this is why we organize Untold Stories Budapest. We are excited to introduce you to our “UntoldSpeakers” interviews series where some of the biggest founders from Silicon Valley and EU will be sharing their entrepreneurial journey.

Meet Zach Coelius, a four-time founder,

investor and a syndicate leader.

At his last company, Triggit, an ad-tech startup, he raised $18M from Spark Capital and Foundry Group.

The company was acquired in 2015 by Linkedin and a financial buyer. Only after 2 years as an angel,

he has already enjoyed a $1B exit (Cruise, bought by GM).

Zach shared with us his journey from a tech entrepreneur to an investor,

how the Silicon Valley changed and what is he looking in a founder.

The founder-turned-investor also pointed out why events like ours are super important

for building connections and making CEE ecosystem stronger.

We are sharing with you a glimpse of his untold story:

How did you become a tech entrepreneur?

I never had a real job. I started my first company at 16, I started a couple of companies during university, and after grad school in 2005, I moved to San Francisco hoping to break into the tech scene. I crashed a bunch of conferences and worked my way into it, and totally by accident, with my sister we funded an ad tech company called Triggit in 2005. I ended up growing it for 10 years and, after quite a journey, I ended up selling it in 2015.

I would say I am now a washed-up entrepreneur; I washed up on the beach. Now I am an investor.

How was Silicon Valley back then compared to now?

It was totally different, there was not much going on. It was 2005 and Michael Arrington just started TechCrunch. He organized a party in his backyard, a bunch of people showed up and it was like people were coming out from their caves and hadn’t seen each other for years. I remembered it as being the beginning of the startup ecosystem. There was not much activity back then, but it took off really fast. Only three years later Michael made the Time list of the 100 most influential people and his venture investments include Uber, Airbnb and Pinterest.

Is it easier for founders today with all the sources, education and funding opportunities? Or is it noisier and harder?

It’s both. Back then there wasn’t a lot of information, so you if wanted to learn to do stuff you really had to dig hard and talk to a lot of people. Now, there is a world of information on how to build a website or how to raise money… you go online, and you can learn so much and so quickly. But with the internet the competition is way harder you have to go so much faster, you have to be so much better at your job. If you are some idiot like I am (or at least I was at the beginning) It would have been a lot harder to get the company off the ground. Back then nobody knew what they were doing, so anyone could do it!

What do you think about startups coming from not so obvious places such as the European scene or the CEE scene?

I think it is multifold, the democratization of technology and the talents, the know-how is over all the world. When I started it would have been very difficult to set up, and learn how to set up, a startup if you were not in Silicon Valley. Now you can do that anywhere in the world. I think that creates tremendous opportunities for teams from everywhere, to get together and create great stuff. But there is a substantial difference between ecosystems from different places. The ecosystem from Silicon Valley is incredibly dense, tons of smart people, tons of competition and you can learn really quickly. Whereas in other parts of the world it is much more challenging. Where you can't go to an event every night and meet people who are in startups in most parts of the world, like you do in Silicon Valley. That’s why Untold Stories Budapest and similar events are so cool. Building connections between people who are doing similar things is super important because it is very difficult to build startups without community. On the other hand, San Francisco is incredibly expensive, it is really difficult to found a company if you are based here, so being able to be some place cheaper is great.

How was your transition to an angel investor? How did you end up leading one of the largest syndicates on Angellist?

When I sold Triggit in 2015, I was trying to figure out my life and I was talking to different companies about investing and one of the investments I made was a company called Cruise Automations, this self driving car company, about a year later GM bought them for a billion dollars. So everyone then suddenly thought that I knew what I was doing (but I didn’t!) and I had more capital than I knew what to do with. That gave me the runway to learn the business, do some more investing, making money for my investors, it is going really great!

What are you looking for in a founder when you make an investment?

The most important thing is for them to have a deep understanding of what they are building and who they are building it for. That they surprise me with their understanding of the problem, that they understand it better than anyone in the world. And demonstrate that they can take that understanding and turn it into reality.

Would you like to ask Zach more questions about investing and entrepreneurship?

You will have a chance to do it at our first Untold Stories event in Budapest on November 7th.

100 lucky startups will have a chance to book 1 to 1 meeting with him and present their visions and struggles.

Remember that our application is on a rolling basis.

Apply today to get into selection process.

Stay tuned, more interviews are coming!

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Updated: Sep 27, 2019

The first event by founder to founders in Budapest is on the way. Amazing speakers and very good surprises are coming soon. Stay tuned and follow US in all social media as UNTOLDBUDAPEST.

Share your ideas and expectations

We invite you to be part of US and participate on the ideas. Tell us what do you need and how do you imagine is going to be the #UNTOLDBudapestExperience

Apply for invitation

There is a big chance to join this event as special guest. It is important that you apply as soon as possible on our website

#Startups #UNTOLDBudapest #Founders

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