How I Founded a Startup September 20, 2015Posted by GuySoft in open source, Startup.
It’s my 29th birthday this week, and that sorta made me realise no one really knows what I have been doing the past 18 months, so I thought it’s time to tell you how I founded a company. Unlike the tutorials and guides I wrote here, I am not sure this would work for everyone, but it did work for me.
I have started one of my biggest and ambitious projects yet, after collaborating with people around the world bringing OctoPi to the world, I realised that something was missing from the scene of 3D design – a decent version control and collaboration tools.
This was the initial idea, as you will see things played out differently, but what was important with this idea was contagious, I got the feeling everyone I told about it wanted to join me, it was wonderful.
Assembling the team
I’ve been going around the Makerspaces in Tel-Aviv, mostly XLN and T.A.M.I, in some random workshop I came across someone who said “You should write an executive summary, I don’t mind helping you out”. I didn’t even know what an executive summary was at the time, and today it makes me realise how much I learned about fundraising during this year. I later found his name was Ari and he was between companies. We set to meet at Google Campus and write it since we both went to some ecology hackathon that was going on there.
We ended up drunk from exhaustion and pizza, scooting on chairs at the space and we also had a draft. As we wrote it, the idea spread to Ari, and he realized he that he wanted to join. I introduced him to Amit. It took a while to put our trust in Ari, less time than we expected, and today I know ShapeDo would not have reached anything without Ari’s help. Eventually we wrote a few basic agreements on paper and Ari made sure we register a company, ShapeDo was born.
We worked on a new site for 3D printing and launched, we got coverage on 3D printing industry, and the user base grew, but people were not really using the collaboration features. It turns out most people 3D printing share are simple one person designs in one afternoon projects. However, what is special about the 3D printing industry is that there is no 3D CAD tool that was built for it. So you end up meeting designers from mechanical engineering, gamers, architects, programmers and any discipline that has a 3D design program that can export the printable files. We (everything eventually becomes “we”) found that everyone wanted this kind of tool in their workplace, while in 3D printing was not as urgently needed.
Ari and I had a talk where he thought we should pivot either to construction planning, or mechanical engineering. In the end construction seemed more favourable because AutoDesk, who rule that realm, had neglected collaboration (also known as, product lifecycle management or PLM) for the past decade, and so there was a lot of low-hanging fruit. At first I didn’t want to pivot, after all 3D printing was my idea, but eventually, I let it go. A lot of what a startup is about is letting go of your ownership, a company has to grow beyond you. We slowly found ourselves with a technology for an industry we know nothing about, so we learned, we banged on doors and met with architects, contractors, constructors, anyone that is in the process of construction, we can’t cover everything, but we were getting an idea of what is going on.
Investors and our Investment
The pivot did more than point us to users we could talk to and find out what they actually need, it also made the business proposition make more sense. The goal was not to just build a big collection of files for people to share, it was to build a system we could charge for. We started getting investors interested, we first started talking to angel investors, but it seemed to be much harder than anticipated. Angels seem to be mostly interested in apps. Something your 6 year old could download, something they can understand, there are a small number of them that would understand what it means to sell something to a construction enterprise. So it made the process much harder, we found that the first meeting was just for grasping what we actually do, before talking about the investment itself.
Ari and I went around looking for an investment, I had an 80% time job so I had an extra day to do this. I had a few chats about it with Gina, who also had that extra day for OctoPrint. I think that 80% is good when you want something steady while looking for funds, stability in your life in one part lets you explore radical stuff in another.
Eventually we set a meeting with Incentive, we got a warm recommendation for them for the accelerator Ari was going to at the time called Siftech (an accelerator is a place you got to for a few months that helps your startup out with a physical location and various services, usually paid). Indeed when we met with them they seemed much better than the angel investors we were talking to. The catch was that we had to base our offices in Ariel University (though today it seems not so bad, there is never traffic to work). The program they offer was enough to keep us and an extra worker for a 1.5-2 years. Working on something as volatile as ShapeDo means you don’t want to have to think about personal finance, it means you don’t have time to consider the company’s. So we went through a due diligence, it took a while, but it was a good process for us and the company. Today our offices are located in the investors offices.
Today, Happy 29th Birthday
Today we found a go to market, something we can sell, and we are just in the process of hiring someone from the industry to help us out. Our system is flooded with real customer data. Things are going great. But as I saw every step of the way, everything can explode the next day, nothing is certain, and I think that kind of attitude is what got us this far.
I hope this helps the people around me to know what is going on, I feel like I had to let this be known. It might even help others that are on a similar path. I’ve been playing with 3D printers for fun in the meantime, and I might post a few findings.
As always, would love to hear your comments.
Example of what we do today
What we are selling today is a a construction planning collaboration platform and a comparison tool for constructors. At the bottom you can see how complex an architectural plan is, and how easy it is to spot the changes marked in purple detected by our software, normally this would have been done on hard paper by the constructor.