The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: Dan Martell, founder of Clarity marketplace — January 6, 2015

Interview: Dan Martell, founder of Clarity marketplace

dan

Ashley Bloom talks startup lessons, the investment mindset and futurism with the prolific entrepreneur, Dan Martell.

Feeling weary just before midnight, I was met by the steely gaze of Dan Martell, a proud Canadian, husband, and father of two young boys. He’s a five-time tech startup co-founder (two failed and formative, two successful acquisitions), frequent investor and 500 Startups mentor, with all his current focus on Clarity, a platform for paid business advice via phone calls.

Within a few minutes it’s as though I’ve downed a long black or two, buoyed by Dan’s high energy and very Canadian earnestness.

His biggest two lessons from failed startup number one (Maritime Vacation) and two (New Brunswick Host):

  1. He picked too small a market (Canada only, and the very specific niche of cottage vacations that was limited to a market of 300). The action step: Think bigger than your neighborhood, street and city.
  2. He picked a commoditized industry (web hosting) in which the margins are tiny, many customers demand service 24/7, and servers can break down at any time. The action step: Build a differentiated service/product (not a commodity) that cannot be easily replicated, or there will always be someone willing to do it cheaper than you.

Startup Truth Bombs and the investment mindset

Dan explains that since the DNA of the founding team is found in every aspect of a company, what matters more than oft-touted product-market fit is product-founder fit.

Why did you start Clarity?

When I started Clarity, I never thought there was a better idea that had such alignment with who I was as an individual, that I cared more about, as well as a business that could have a big impact… you see it in all the great companies, where the person had deep domain experience, a passion for the customer, and they couldn’t help but start a business to try and solve the problem… the bad examples are completely the opposite, where somebody shows up with a spreadsheet and says… “here’s the opportunity.”

What aspect of running a business is where you shine most?

My default state is trying to find the hardest, biggest problems in the business and solving them. Three months is the longest I can spend on one thing. That’s it. That’s my timeline… Once it’s figured out, I’ll build the team around it to execute. If it’s fundraising, I get it done is six weeks. After three months if it hasn’t made progress then either the problem’s not important, the people around the room are the wrong people, or something changes.

That question right there: ‘What do you want your day to look like?’ is way more important than how much money do you want in the bank. Because some people have $100M in the bank and their day is just totally fucked with back-to-back meetings. They’ve created this nest of bullshit that they have to be involved in. And they’re not happy, and they don’t know how to go back from it… Most people should start off saying ‘In 10 years, what do I want my day to look like?’ not how much money do I want to have.

Is your current business always your Everest? Can you see over the horizon?

I don’t imagine the next thing. To me, there’s enough opportunity in Clarity to be a $10B company… We’re going to be doing a big push into organisations with Clarity for Organizations, which we’ve already tested at 15 companies, where they’re deploying it to their employees. You can imagine the future of learning at companies and corporations. It’s for Millennials. People want self-directed learning. They don’t want to take a course. They want to talk to people who have experience that can give them context.

What’s ripe for investing now?

Anything I find interesting, I just invest in. I’m super bullish around Bitcoin, 3D Printing, Drones and Wearables.  I meet entrepreneurs through Clarity, which is great, since we have some of the smartest entrepreneurs in the world. I don’t need to build the companies anymore to feel like I’m still around and participating in these really disruptive technologies. I’ve done 33 investments, almost 34 now. The cool part is that it allows me to be interested in the new and innovative, but also continue the absolutely content focus on building Clarity into a big company.

Finding clarity and mentorship 

Your blog alludes to being on medication and having a wild upbringing, can you share more about this?

When I grew up, I had a pretty crazy lifestyle. I call it a colorful upbringing. The truth is, I just needed to find something to do that wasn’t illegal. No matter what it was, I was gonna go all the way with it.

This year I’ve already spoken to a dozen groups of kids that are in that kind of scenario. About 13-14 years old, to let them know that what they’re doing… the focus is wrong, but who they are and their skills are absolutely necessary and important and they’ve just gotta channel them.

Perhaps their talent is there, but not in the form of our current education system?

They are talented. That’s the funny part. I know. If I want anything in life… If I want money, I want love, I want relationships – all that stuff. You got to  put it out there first. To me, spending time with these troublemakers is paying it forward. I just can’t have it in my life unless I give it away.

Where would you be today without those sorts of mentors?

I wouldn’t be here, I’d be dead. That’s a guarantee. You can talk to anyone in my family. It’s really the power of the 15-minute conversation… [just like the] moment when someone pulled me aside and said to me, “This really isn’t for you,” and it was the first time in my whole life (at 16) that somebody said that. Even if it’s just the parents or the kids… anytime I’ve just gotten up and shared my story, I know one person out of 100 will change their direction. Because, what’s really important in all this and ties into Clarity is the messenger is more important than the message.

So you have two people go up and say the exact same talk. Me, who has gone through it, and somebody else who read the book. The guy who read the book, people are going to dismiss. Me, they’re going to listen…

So I know my responsibility as somebody who has gone through that specific scenario is to pay it forward, because it’s a very small amount of time that I believe can have a huge impact. So I’d be an idiot not to do it, plus I feel like the only reason I was ever given the opportunity to do this is because I was supposed to give it back.

There’s a great book called ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’. You know, stop trying to be great at things you’re not good at, but instead mitigate them so you’re not crippling yourself, but figure out the things you’re really great at and passionate about and double-down on those. That  was a turning point for me.

Futurism and technology

What do you see will change in tech and business as another ~2 billion people get on the Internet in the next five years?

Knowledge workers losing their jobs to marketplace freelancers. See article Five Reasons Half of You Will Be Freelancers in 2020.

Do you believe in Ray Kurzweil’s (futurist, inventor and Google director of engineering) assertion that a technological singularity will occur?

The biggest concern I have is around AI and how that plays out. When you have computers building other computers (seeing this already with 3D printers), then it’s really about the computers. With the advent of quantum computing coming online within the next 5-10 years, then AI will be a major issue.

What are the most exciting few companies in the world (besides yours) right now?

Less companies, more technologies:

About our writer // Ashley Bloom is a humanoid ball of stardust residing in Melbourne, Australia. One who enjoys writing, expansive living and multifaceted learning. Follow him on Twitter @AshtrayBroom.

Hello Erin – our New York curator — March 31, 2014

Hello Erin – our New York curator

erin

“I always thought I was crazy with the amount of side interests I like to pursue and projects I like to take on outside of work – until I moved here and realized I had found my tribe!”

After our beta launch in New York last June, it’s been so great to see the warm reception and organic uptake of The Fetch in the city. We now couldn’t be happier to share that Erin Greenawald will be our new curator in NY. Erin has been a subscriber since the beginning and by day, is an editor at career-loving startup The Muse. We took a few minutes to ask Erin about her background:

How did you end up where you are today? 

It all started when I dreamt of being an actress on broadway at age nine. While I haven’t stepped foot in the theater since I moved up to NYC almost a year ago, I managed to make it up here somehow. I wasn’t in love with what I was studying at school in DC so took a chance at a virtual internship in a different field with a startup while I finished my degree. Before I knew it I had a job offer from them (before I graduated – the dream!) and was asked to move to NYC ASAP. Since then I’ve been happily working as an editor helping give non-boring career advice by day at The Muse!

Why did you want to get involved with The Fetch?

Networking has never exactly been my thing – I’d generally prefer to be curled up on my couch with a good book or cooking with a friend. But when I moved here with almost no network to be seen, I knew I wanted to push myself to get out there and get to know the vibrant tech and startup community surrounding me. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I know I still have so many more fantastic people to meet – and I think The Fetch will really help take me to that next level.

What things excite you about our community right now? 

I’m so thrilled to get the chance to connect with so many different people – both in NYC and around the world – who are all passionate about getting the most out of their city that they can! I think everyone in The Fetch community is incredibly busy and interesting, but also very welcoming and excited to welcome others into the circle, which is something that really resonates with me.

What events do you recommend in NYC?

I like trying to find events that are a different format than your typical networking event (see above). So panels, hackathons, dinners – anything that’s not standing around mingling keeps me interested!

What’s your favourite thing about your city? 

I love that this city is always surprising me. I’m always reading about events or festivals or art exhibits or new concept bars or restaurants and thinking “that exists?!” But of course – it’s New York City. It really feeds into my love of trying new things, and they’re often things I didn’t even know I wanted to try.

What’s unique about NYC?

I always thought I was crazy with the amount of side interests I like to pursue and projects I like to take on outside of work – until I moved here and realized I had found my tribe! So may people have their main job (which is usually pretty cool in the first place) and then the company they’re trying to start on the side or the artistic interest that they manage to keep thriving in their free time. It’s such an inspirational and motivational group of people to be around.

Where can we find you in NYC? 

During the week Flatiron is my stomping grounds (the dog park in Madison Square Park is better than coffee breaks and I can’t wait for Madison Square Eats season). On the weekends, Brooklyn usually! Once the weather finally gets nicer you’ll likely see me at the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market and Prospect Park almost every weekend.

How can we connect with you? 

Reach out on Twitter @erinacously or email erin@thefetch.org.

If you didn’t live in NYC, where would you be? 

I’ve always felt the pull of the west coast. Seattle or Portland may be in my future, though I’m a little worried about the rain!

Live in New York? Sign up to our weekly event-packed email digests now!

Interview: Sydney local, Andrew Rogers, web entrepreneur and founder of Anchor — November 25, 2013

Interview: Sydney local, Andrew Rogers, web entrepreneur and founder of Anchor

andrew

Andrew Rogers is a Sydney-based entrepreneur that has lived to tell the tale of the dot-com era. His startup, Anchor, is one of Australia’s top web host service providers and now they’re going global. Here’s a snap of Andrew literally knocking down office walls to increase team collaboration.

You started your host company Anchor Systems in 2000, what was the web industry like then? Any shareable memories from the dot-com days?

We planned to get into hosting whilst the dot-com was going crazy and then it all fell over about the time we started. There weren’t really any hosting companies to speak of so we looked at the ISPs who were being valued at thousands per customer and decided we’d have a million dollar business in no time.

I hear stories from other people that worked in big companies in the dot-com era about the parties – we missed all that because we were chained to our desks 18 hours a day getting a bootstrapped startup off the ground. I remember eating pizza six nights a week at my desk for way too long.

You announced green web hosting services in 2011 – what’s the response been like? What do you envision data centers of the future to be like?

We actually launched it as a paid option a couple of years prior and the response was pretty much non existent. We probably didn’t market it heavily enough but yeah – a few passionate customers bought but that was it. Our industry uses a huge amount of power – we constantly use the equivalent of well over 100 households and we represent less than 1% of the space in one of the data centers we operate from.

In 2011 we decided we’d just pay for the green power ourselves and give all of our clients green hosting automatically. It was important to us so it was just something we decided to do ourselves in the end.

We’ve done a fair bit of work to reduce power consumption and over a period in which we’ve more than doubled the size of the business we’ve reduced our total power consumption. Unlike the green power we did this at a net cost benefit to the business, it has saved us a lot of money. Data centers are full of computers – these are the bits that change rapidly and have short lives so in the near future this is where I think all the change will occur. Surprisingly the industry feels like it’s been slow to move in this direction so there’s a lot of opportunity.

The buildings take a long time to build and recover costs and are very hard to change so I think the evolution will be much slower in this area.

We used to spend a lot of time in the data center upgrading and tweaking machines. These days we spec them up, turn them on and then everything happens remotely – mostly due to virtualization.

You’ve been working on a new tool called BuiltWith – what is it?

BuiltWith is very exciting. We track the technologies (think content management systems, advertising platforms, shopping cards, analytic tools) on 100 million of the busiest sites on the internet. When then turn this into a big data set and make it useful. For any website we can instantly tell you what it uses – at Anchor we’re often asking our clients if they use WordPress or do they have Google Analytics and a lot of the time the businesses just don’t know – with BuiltWith we don’t need to ask the question. The other thing we do is sell lists. We can compile lists of all the sites using say Magento – or any technology a company is interested in – such a list of their competitors customers. This has been the exciting bit because it’s helped some great startups like Optimizely grow and has brought on big clients like Google, Microsoft, eBay and Twitter.

What’s your ethos around building a cool company culture at Anchor?

There’s one really simple premise – recognize that there are things that make work fun for me and then try and ensure everyone has similar such things in their job. It’s just about looking after people. The environment is one part of it – flexible hours, an open account at the coffee shop, everyone chooses their workstation setup, comfy chairs. But the work and skills development probably more important – providing interesting projects to work on, employing and developing great managers, giving people the chance to move around and develop new skills.

You’re a mentor at Startmate and have supported community conferences like SydStart – do you feel you had the same level of assistance when starting your company?

I had a few relatives with businesses that I’d call for advice – they worked with wardrobes, airports and export grants. So it was a bit different but we still had help, advice and mentors – people who had started business and most importantly would listen to our challenges. I’m really excited about things like Sydstart, Startmate and Pushstart as they’re all great opportunities to repay that debt that I owe other people who helped us get started.

What Australia startups are you keeping your eye on?

It’s hard because it’s easy to be biased towards the ones you know more about. I’ve seen BugCrowd executing amazingly from the start of this year and I think Kinderloop have a chance of owning their space. I really love the Airtasker service so I’m super keen to see them succeed so I can keep using it.

What community meetups and industry events do you recommend our readers check out?

It’s not one regular thing anymore for me, just keep hunting out the quality events and people, be prepared to take timeout from work to discover something new – set aside time for an event each week – it’s the only way to stumble on the good experiences.

What are you favorite suburbs in Sydney?

Not quite suburbs but the amazing parks that always feel so empty considering we have millions of people in our city. The headlands around Balmoral/Mosman, Botanic Gardens, the Spit to Manly walk and Centennial Park.

About our contributor // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch. She regularly blogs about startup life and advises businesses on the role of marketing and community. Follow her on Twitter via @katekendall

Image credit: Anchor HQ

Disclosure: Anchor has been a financial supporter of The Fetch throughout 2014, which increases

10 Interview Etiquette Tips from The Hiring Line — June 30, 2013

10 Interview Etiquette Tips from The Hiring Line

This week, our new anonymous contributor brings you 10 things of what not to do in your next interview. After spending many years on the other side of the table, outside of the fancy tech and creative industries, they’ve seen it all. 

1. Do not arrive too early, it’s annoying and can show desperation.

2. Do not arrive late, it’s an automatic fail.

3. Shake hands with a firm grip – and clean finger nails.

4. Do not sit in the interviewer’s chair by accident.

5. Do not turn up smelling of alcohol, weed or strong body odour.

6. Dress appropriately – this doesn’t include underwear on show, dirty shoes or leopard print.

7.  Do not lie, be boring or mumble.

8. Do not chew gum, whistle or bite your nails (and then flick them on the floor).

9. Do not text, wear earphones, or let your phone ring during the interview.

10. If you get the job say thank you!

Interview: SF Local, Pete Ballotta of Couchsurfing — June 21, 2013

Interview: SF Local, Pete Ballotta of Couchsurfing

This week we interviewed the director of business operations for Couchsurfing, Pete Ballotta. Follow Pete on Twitter via @teknominds

NYC
Pete Ballotta

What’s the biggest lesson from your startup experience before joining CS? 

Hire the best people possible at all levels.

When a company is successful and pressured to scale, it should budget time for assimilation and focus on recruiting top management.  If not, the early culture you developed will erode, top performers will leave, and momentum will be lost.

Is CS just for backpackers? How can professionals use the site?

Our members include backpackers, students, recent grads, professionals, and retirees.  Many professionals extend their trips for a few days, after a company has paid for the initial travel costs. I’ve hosted many Couchsurfers in SF the past year, and many of them were professionals that were in the Bay Area to attend industry conferences including GDC, PyCon, and Google I/O, or seminars at UC Berkeley or Stanford. Our community includes retired Hedge Fund Manager Brooke Allen, and pop icon Amanda Palmer.  I see potential for job seekers and entrepreneurs to use the site to attend conferences, interviews, or network without having to spend money on hotels.

CS-free.hugs

What makes the CS community unique? What advice do you have for other folks trying to scale yet maintain a strong community?

It’s a passionate and engaged community with members from over 100k cities in the world who bring a wealth of diversity and local knowledge to the platform.  Couchsurfers share bits of their daily lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.  The community has been growing for a decade, so of course there are different opinions and world views.  We’re excited about the ever-increasing interest in the sharing economy, and expect the CS community will continue to grow and evolve.

Do you notice a difference in style of users between Airbnb and CS?

Both options can offer a unique housing option to members, and I think there is a lot of crossover potential.  Couchsurfers usually have a desire to meet locals though, whether it’s for a home-cooked meal, a walking tour of a city, ride sharing, or a few hours of conversation.  There are Couchsurfing meet ups in 300+ cities every week, so many members interact with the community without leaving their hometown.

CS-Holi.festival

What tips do you have for those people who have a hard time taking their vacation leave? Any mini-break suggestions from SF? 

Couchsurfers are practically everywhere and in the Bay Area, they are often using the website to share rides to Tahoe, LA, Napa or Yosemite.  A few weeks ago my girlfriend had a sudden itch to get out of the city for the weekend. It was a Thursday afternoon, but she decided to try to find a host near Paso Robles. We had wanted to explore the wine region there, and within six hours she received a message from a Couchsurfer offering to host us for the weekend.  Upon arriving, we found our host was not only a good cook, but worked as a winemaker for a 100% sustainable vineyard.  All of our stops that weekend were recommendations from locals, including a spontaneous invitation to join a half-dozen locals on a farm for dinner.

What professional and lifestyle events do you like going to? Any cool happenings coming up?

I’m a regular at SFRails events, and have been producing some of the local CS meetups. I’m a big fan of local comedy clubs, the Sunset/Stompy music events, Hardly Strictly, and the Treasure Island Music Festival. We’re hosting International Couchsurfing Day in our offices on June 12th, and there are “Couch Crash” events this summer in Boulder, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, and many other cities.

Favourite place for business meetings in SF?

I’m a fan of The View rooftop lounge at the SoMa Marriot, happy hour at Monarch, an SF Giants game, or free jazz at Rasselas.

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About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.

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