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In this episode Nataraj spoke to Marius Ciocirlan who co-founded ShareGrid, a marketplace for filmmakers and photographers to rent and sell their equipment. It was acquired by Backstage and is now Managing Director of Techstars Seattle. Techstars expanded to Seattle in 2010, and since then more than 130 companies have gone through the program & collectively gone on to raise more than $2.5 billion in capital.
Full Conversation includes:
- How skateboarding led do film school
- Raising funds via grants
- Startup weekends
- Early days at Groupon Mobile Team
- Origin story and cofounding Sharegrid (acquired by Backstage)
- Joining Techstars Seattle as Managing Director
- What’s special about Techstars Seattle?
- How founders should think about Techstars Seattle
If you are founder and is interested in applying to TechStars Seattle you can get in touch with Marius at email@example.com
Full Transcript of the conversation:
[00:00:00] Nataraj: Hey marius. Uh, welcome to the show. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Uh, excited to be. . Um, so I think we first met, um, at a venture event, uh, talking about crypto. Uh, I think then you were selling, uh, your, or you sold your company by then? Uh, I was not sure. Mm-hmm. . Uh, but, uh, yeah. I’m glad to have you on the show and talk about, you know, startups and your entrepreneurial journey and what you’re doing right now into, in, at Techstar Seattle.
[00:00:31] Nataraj: Um, but before that, can you give a little background, uh, on what your education background is and how you first got into. . Mm-hmm. .
[00:00:40] Marius: Yeah, certainly. Uh, Kind of a unique background when it comes to getting into tech. Uh, I certainly didn’t go kind of the Stanford traditional, uh, way. I actually went to film school, believe it or not.
[00:00:54] Marius: So I went to film school at Arizona State University. Uh, I mainly focused [00:01:00] on 3D animation and video editing. But throughout college at the same time, uh, I had my own kind of production company, but also that production company led into me starting a startup during college. ASU was actually a really great university that had a lot of innovation in entrepreneurial programs, so I was able to raise.
[00:01:24] Marius: Like grants and, uh, early seed funding there for, for the first startup. So while I was in film school at the same time, I did focus on, uh, starting a startup. That startup didn’t, is essentially failed and never really went anywhere. But again, with any venture that you typically do, there’s a lot of learnings coming that come along with that.
[00:01:45] Marius: So, took that one and, and learned a bunch from it. Um, after college I decided to move out to New York. because that was always kind of a dream of mine. I had a lot of friends that moved out in, uh, to New York City as [00:02:00] well, and I was able to get a job with Samsung and I worked in their marketing department, uh, focusing on creating video content for some of their flagship phones.
[00:02:10] Marius: Um, and, um, worked there for, uh, two and a half years, but while I was working at Samsung. Similar to, to my college experience, I was always working on the side on some app or some startup. Uh, more specifically, I attended as many startup weekends as possible. And those startup weekends actually became really important in my development, uh, of my skills and design and UX design because I would go to these startup weekends.
[00:02:40] Marius: For people that don’t know what startup weekends are, they’re essentially. 48 hour hackathons, uh, a bunch of strangers come together and, um, you know, somebody pitches an idea and then others say, I like the idea. I’d like to join that team. And, uh, for 48 hours you work together trying to develop that [00:03:00] idea into a, a product and then pitch it on stage for some type of prize, but, So sort of format really got me into the entrepreneurial, into tech because I got to meet a lot of other like-minded people.
[00:03:15] Marius: I got to create those connections. People that even 10 years later, I’m still in touch with until today actually. So I was working on Samsung while at the same time. Um, Uh, playing, you know, essentially being a UX designer for these startup weekends. And, uh, one of the apps ended up, we started working on for, for longer periods of time and developed that app.
[00:03:39] Marius: Was a, it was an app that helped teachers communicate with parents on a more frequent basis. Um, did that for about eight months. Again, didn’t really pan out. Another sort of, You know, uh, put that under learnings. Uh, but then I had a interesting opportunity. I got the opportunity to join [00:04:00] Groupon in the very early days.
[00:04:02] Marius: So this was, uh, 2010. Uh, so, you know, I think at that point, I’m not sure if Groupon. Didn’t go public just yet. They were about to go public or just have gone public. And I got the opportunity to join their mobile team. Um, so I got to move down to, uh, Palo Alto where the mobile team was based and had the opportunity to design the iOS and Android apps essentially from scratch.
[00:04:27] Marius: Um, and that was a really exciting and interesting opportunity because Groupon was one of the fastest growing companies at the time. And it attracted some of the best talent in the valley. And, uh, I got to join the mobile team, which was just, um, myself and one other designer. Eventually that team grew to over a dozen designers, but in the beginning it was just me and, um, the other designer, arra, which later on would end up becoming.
[00:04:58] Marius: My co-founder [00:05:00] in, uh, in my startup. Um, but yeah, it was an exciting time. We, we got to develop the, the Groupon app. Saw the speed that we were kind of rolling features out. The product managers there were amazing, the engineers were amazing. So got to learn kind of from the best of the best. So that’s how I got my foot into technology.
[00:05:19] Marius: That’s how I got started within tech, uh, in a more non-traditional patent way. . Um, it was, it was fun along the way. I had a lot of fun along the way and I learned a lot. Did you study design, uh, or did you study animation or like, was it a mix of both? Yeah, no, I, my formal training was certainly in, in film and, uh, a little bit of animation, but I went to a very traditional film and media production, uh, school.
[00:05:47] Marius: So certainly did not study UX design. Um, studied it, you know, from books and online and from other designers and just kind of, , um, really, [00:06:00] you know, YouTube and, and triple and all, everything else that that was out there that I could get my hands on. So almost everything I’ve learned in my career has been through non-traditional education methods.
[00:06:16] Marius: So, uh, I’m curious, like what was your motivation to go to like a film school? Like was your motivation to get into movies or make videos? Like what, what was that motivation? Yeah, we’d have to go back to actually prior to college. Uh, so, uh, let’s see. The motivation to go into film school was actually born out.
[00:06:38] Marius: My inability to skateboard . So I had a lot of friends who would be, uh, who would skateboard, and I was just not very good at it. . So then I started picking up a camera and started filming them. And I just really enjoyed filming my friend skateboarding and then me editing, uh, skate videos to really fun music.
[00:06:57] Marius: Uh, so then that led me to, when I went [00:07:00] to, to high school, I used to live in Chicago. I got transferred, my parents moved me to Arizona, and the school we went to was a really. School compared to the one in Chicago would that had the ability to, that that had a broadcast department. So every morning we had the ability to do a show, a morning show for the entire school, and that really fascinated me that.
[00:07:22] Marius: You know, as a high school student, I could film and direct, uh, a morning nude show. Uh, and given my background with filming skateboarding videos, that really piqued my interest. And because of that experience throughout high school, it kind of led me to being interested in film. And prior to going to college, I actually took an internship in, uh, Los Angeles through like, uh, uh, one of my teachers to.
[00:07:48] Marius: And I intern on a documentary, uh, that Russell Crow has been narrating about. Um, uh, what was it? It was about surfing. So I, I, I got to go to la I got to see [00:08:00] a little bit of the scene of what’s happening, the whole vibe, and it really piqued my interest. And going into college, I chose to go into film. , do you still like, follow that world of like, what’s happening and um, or like, are you not about, uh, you know, what, what is the production happening, like that side of things still?
[00:08:19] Marius: Yeah, I mean, you know, we’ll talk more about my latest startup, which I ended up selling. Um, but that was highly influenced by my background in film. So that kind of stayed with me honestly when I was in New York. Uh, I had to make. I had to, like, there was a, a, uh, kind of a point in my career where I had to decide because I kept doing, I kept doing startups and I kept doing film.
[00:08:42] Marius: So I was like, you know, working on Samsung, making videos and then also like working on sets, like reality TV shows and stuff like that, while at the same time doing a startup and. Uh, learning UX design. So I had to make a decision. I couldn’t do both. And the reason I [00:09:00] decided to go into tech, I remember having this kind of conversation with my significant other, is that in film it’s a very traditional career path, meaning, In order to become a cinematographer or a director or a producer, you have to pay your dues.
[00:09:18] Marius: Like there is very strict rules about what certain people could do on a set and what they can’t do, like. I’ve been told in my position as a production assistant was like, you are not allowed to move that equipment. You’re not allowed to move that chair because the union, you don’t belong to that union.
[00:09:36] Marius: So it’s actually like a safety regulation or. It was a very traditional kind of career path, and I realized that like I was not going to reach my dream of becoming a cinematographer or director well into my forties, probably fifties, and it was gonna take a long time where in tech it was actually the [00:10:00] complete opposite.
[00:10:00] Marius: The younger you were, the more respect you got and almost the more opportunities you received. So my goal was always like, I really enjoyed. and it seems like doors are just really opening, people are just much more supportive. If you have big ambitions, you don’t have to like, wait in line and wait your turn.
[00:10:21] Marius: You could just act on those ambitions. Uh, so it just felt like a much friendlier community and just more embracing. So, um, it went towards tech and I, I always planned like at some point in my career, I’ll make it in tech and then I’ll come back at an older age and a film and I’ll be a producer and I’ll fund my own films or uh, documentaries or whatever, whatever that might be.
[00:10:45] Nataraj (thestartupproject.io): So you decided you want to be in tech. Then how did, uh, your, uh, company start, uh, share grid?
[00:10:51] Marius: Yeah, so she started, um, actually the idea was kind of originated while I was, was working our group on both my [00:11:00] co-founder and I, Raj. He was, he was, he went to film, well he went to photography school. I, uh, uh, I believe it was more of like a media communication, uh, background.
[00:11:09] Marius: But he ended up in tech as well. He was a designer and front end developer and um, he was a longtime photographer and we would take walks all the time and. , he, he sold his previous company to Groupon, so he’s been very entrepreneurial himself and we were always kicking around ideas of potential startups that we could start.
[00:11:32] Marius: And one of the ideas was, uh, it derived from him trying to sell some of his equipment. He was like, I really want this new lens, but I already have so many lenses. How do I justify kind. Investing more money into more equipment when I’m not even using the equipment I already have. So that was kind of the thread that we started to talk about the idea, and essentially the idea was a lot of filmmakers, photographers [00:12:00] invest.
[00:12:00] Marius: Quite a bit of capital into, uh, equipment, into, into different, uh, cameras, lenses, audio equipment, lighting equipment, and it’s very, very expensive. I mean, we’re talking thousands of dollars for a camera or lens. Sometimes for film equipment, you’re looking at 40, $50,000 for cinema camera, and that doesn’t count all the additional accessories and, and everything else you need.
[00:12:26] Marius: I knew about this from my prior film years, and I had a lot of friends who after school, their, their thinking was, if I invest a bit of money into equipment, the chances of me being hired, uh, will increase. Because the film world is actually a very much a gig economy, freelance type of world. So they were thinking, if we invest in, in this equipment, uh, I will stand amongst the rest and like be hired more frequently.
[00:12:55] Marius: That doesn’t always happen. So you invest all this money, but your monthly payments [00:13:00] are coming in every day, every, every month. , but you’re not always getting hired. That equipment’s not always being used. So Arra and I saw that opportunity of like, there’s all this idle equipment. What if you were to rent that equipment out, similar to other pure tope economies, like, uh, like u you know, like Airbnb, um, So we had the idea and we essentially wanted to validate if this is something that other people would be interested in First.
[00:13:28] Marius: I spoke to a lot of my friends from Phil School and everybody said, It’s a great idea, but what about if somebody steals my equipment while they’re renting it? They don’t come back with the equipment. So that was always kind of the big challenge that we had to face. But, but that’s how the idea, just to answer your question, that’s how the idea kind of derived is just from a personal need and also just a brainstorm of ideas.
[00:13:52] Nataraj (thestartupproject.io): So it was essentially a marketplace for renting, uh, camera and other high-end equipment for production.
[00:13:59] Marius: Exactly. [00:14:00] Exactly. So, You know, renting equipment in the film industry is an existing behavior, but traditionally, the way you would rent equipment, if you were doing a film shoot, a TV show, a commercial, an interview for a corporate client, whatever that might be, most likely, uh, a filmmaker would never own all of the equipment just because there’s just too much stuff that’s needed.
[00:14:24] Marius: You would typically own maybe the camera. and like a few lenses, but, and just the essentials. But you would never own everything because the size of the job constantly varies depending on the client. So renting is very, very common within the industry, but traditionally, you would rent from a warehouse like a, we call ’em a rental house, a traditional brick and mortar rental house.
[00:14:48] Marius: And just to give you all some context of what this world looks like, is that. , you would typically, you could go on their website, but almost every single website of a rental house [00:15:00] would have equipment listed or whatever they, they, their inventory. But next to the price, where the price should be, it said, call for price.
[00:15:09] Marius: Call for price. Call for price. You’d pick up the phone and you would call and say, Hey, I need this camera, this lens, this audio equipment, this lighting equipment. And uh, you would ask, how much is that gonna cost? And the first question they would ask you, , who are you? Who are you working for? What’s your budget?
[00:15:28] Marius: And based on those questions, The price would just magically change. It was, that’s the type of world that we kind of entered, and they’ll give you the price and then at the end they’ll say, okay, the entire replacement value of all this equipment is $300,000. Therefore, we will need a, um, certificate of insurance for $300,000.
[00:15:56] Marius: our rental, a house name. So then you would have to go out and [00:16:00] talk to brokers to get this equipment insured. And speaking to brokers, again, there would be a lot of phone calls, back and forth quotes. Um, they would ask you a bunch of questions. How are you gonna use the equipment? Are you traveling with it?
[00:16:14] Marius: What’s the production? And based on that, you would get a quote, you might wanna shop down around. It would literally, About a week of time to like find the equipment from a rental house, find the insurance, go to the rental house and book it. We saw the opportunity, especially working at Groupon, where our mission was to make everything a one click checkout type, seamless experience.
[00:16:39] Marius: We said, great. We want to do that for this industry as well. You could add items to your cart, you should be able to choose insurance and click checkout and just, and, and be on your way. It was not as simple as we thought it was gonna be. You know, having, being naive probably helped us get started. Uh, but eventually we [00:17:00] had to figure out all of those challenges and there were certainly challenges.
[00:17:04] Marius: So what was the business model? Uh, whoever is renting out, uh, is paying some percentage of the cross, uh, I mean cross merchandise, uh, to you or were there some other avenues to make, uh, revenue. Yeah, so the business model was people would list equipment on our website. It was completely free to list your equipment.
[00:17:26] Marius: Uh, you did not have to like physically give it to us. It was completely decentralized, right? You would list your equipment. And we would take a a transaction fee, so it was 15% on the equipment owner side, and then 5% on the renter side. And that’s actually not a fee structure that we first started with.
[00:17:45] Marius: We actually started with 30% on the equipment owner. Side and quickly found out that that was not a price point they were comfortable with. Mm-hmm. , uh, and we went in, we went in with the assumption that was going to be very much higher [00:18:00] than the market would tolerate. However, we thought it was much easier to come down than Yeah.
[00:18:06] Marius: Have to go up. So we started higher, we landed on 15% on the owner side, 5% on the renter side. Additionally, later on we figured out that we could actually sell our own. Damage waiver coverage as well. And that eventually became, uh, nearly 15 50% of our entire revenue was through selling damage waiver, similar to what, uh, rental car companies do when you rent the car.
[00:18:33] Marius: Right? In addition to your insurance, you could also get this damage river. We had a similar, uh, setup. So how did the business grow, like in terms of numbers? . And you talked about, uh, I don’t know if this is related, but, uh, you know, losing the business almost when the pandemic started. Right. Uh, talk, talk to me a little bit about that.
[00:18:55] Marius: Yeah. There was a, there was, yeah. The pandemic was really [00:19:00] challenging, not just for us, but the entire film industry, you know, mid-March in 2020, everybody. You know, didn’t really know what was gonna happen. But, uh, the moment the film permit office closed, you know, most productions have to get a film permit, and if you can’t get a film permit, you can’t really film on various like locations.
[00:19:24] Marius: But furthermore, we were not allowed to leave our houses. Nobody was allowed to leave houses. So 90 something percent of our business essentially, Went away overnight over the course of a week. Um, so that was, that was really, really tough. Um, we had to make adjustments. We had to lay people off, unfortunately.
[00:19:44] Marius: And these were people that were with us for four, four something years. Uh, and it was really, really tough as a, as an entrepreneur that has never had. Go through that. It was incredibly tough time. You know, we went on to do the P [00:20:00] P E P P P loan application. That certainly helped to make sure that we, we had enough runway, we were profitable at the time.
[00:20:07] Marius: So, um, we were in a good situation prior to that. But still, like we, we still did the P P P. Something interesting happened to us, though. Our audience, the people that were renting from us were typically not necessarily the really large film productions. It was much more the commercial event, uh, student filmmakers, uh, up and coming kind of filmmakers, because that was our audience.
[00:20:36] Marius: Those people tended to by the. They were back at filming. They were back out filming because there were smaller crews. Mm. Where large film productions actually didn’t get going again until like late 2020. So we saw our business come back much faster. And actually that cascaded into us, uh, [00:21:00] into. Seeing a whole new opportunity that we never thought it was available to us.
[00:21:05] Marius: So traditionally our supply side was individuals renting out their equipment to us, uh, or individuals, uh, or small production companies putting up their equipment on our website, the large brick and mortar rental houses with thousands and thousands of items. Never really liked us because they saw us as like us driving the price down the trans.
[00:21:31] Marius: They didn’t like the transparency of our pricing. They didn’t, they just hated us for the most part. And, um, the moment where they saw that renters were coming to us, they were like, oh, let’s give share grid a try. So all of a sudden our supply side just increas. Tremendously that summer. So we got an influx of supply and typically on a two-sided marketplace.
[00:21:55] Marius: What happens, certainly for us, when you have a lot of supply, [00:22:00] what tends to happen is there tends to be a lot of competition between suppliers, which tends to make, you know, it drives some of the pricing down and then the rent. , it reinforces the value for the renters because now renters are like, whoa, I have a lot more selection.
[00:22:17] Marius: Mm-hmm. , I could choose from all this equipment and the pricing is amazing. So having that influx of supply all of a sudden increased our renter base like by a lot. And by the end of 2020, we were yet profitable again, and we were able to hire back, uh, our, essentially our entire team. Um, You know, it, it was a rollercoaster that entire year and finally, you know, you got to the pandemic and then you were able to sell your company to backstage, right?
[00:22:49] Marius: Yeah. Uh, talk to me a little bit of like how that, uh, process sort of panned out and like, did you guys were looking to sell or did they come to you and what was like the acquisition, you [00:23:00] know, process like as a founder? Yeah, it was, um, we were certainly not looking to sell at the moment because again, we were just coming.
[00:23:09] Marius: A low and then a high in 2020. And then, uh, we were introduced to them, um, through like actually we had a Slack group where a bunch of founders from like adjacent companies would hang out. So I certainly recommend, like if your founder find other founders in adjacent markets. Opportunities like this will pop up.
[00:23:29] Marius: So we were introduced to our mutual contact to Backstage and Backstage in 2021. This was early 2021. They were on a, they were acquiring, uh, over the course of 2021, they acquired seven companies, I believe. Uh, so they were looking for different verticals. So a little bit on Backstage. So Backstage has been around since 1960.
[00:23:52] Marius: They started off as a, um, magazine. For the, for, for actors [00:24:00] on Broadway. And then they developed that into a SaaS platform or a hiring platform for actors. And then later on started acquiring different verticals, voice, voice actors. And they started acquiring, uh, script, uh, script building software. And one of the areas they wanted to get into is, uh, equipment and product.
[00:24:22] Marius: Equipment. So that’s the reason they kind of approached us. Again, we were not super interested, so we. We had the conversation, we’re having a dialogue, but not until that summer did we really start to like, think about it and, and have a, a real conversation. And then by that fall is when we really started to negotiate and, uh, December, uh, like December 28th cuz we really wanted to do it before the end of the year.
[00:24:50] Marius: Uh, we, we ended up, uh, actually selling the. . And what was that experience like? Negotiating? Uh, like how have [00:25:00] been things like were you, uh, you know, good at negotiating? Were there some learnings in terms of, you know, you should and you shouldn’t do in terms of, uh, you know, being a founder who has not sold this company before?
[00:25:13] Marius: Um, or I mean, I usually founders tell me. , it’s super nervous because you don’t know like what the other company is looking like and how much leverage you have. Yeah. Uh, so there are all this little anxiety between whether you can ask or negotiate versus you can’t. Right. So what was your mindset and sort of like, uh, some of the learnings there?
[00:25:34] Marius: It is incredibly stressful and it’s actually. One of the most, you know, we’ve gone through various phases of the company where we, we raise VC capital, you know, but that process is really well documented. There’s so many blogs, so much resources on fundraising and how to set all that up. And then, you know, we went through a phase of hiring a team and growing the company.
[00:25:59] Marius: And all of [00:26:00] those phases are also very well documented online. Right? The phase that’s actually not very well documented is, Acquisition side of things of selling your company. That’s, that hasn’t necessarily been varied, so like we did feel a little bit. You know, in the forest figuring out which direction to go into.
[00:26:19] Marius: Thankfully, and this is, you know, thankfully we had really good advisors. So we had, uh, an advisor, Roan, who used to do business development for Groupon. Uh, he used to buy companies at Groupon, so he was very, very familiar with the acquisition process and he kind of walked us through the whole thing. Um, so that was incredibly helpful.
[00:26:40] Marius: Uh, but we certainly, you know, once we realized that there was real interest, we talked to our, uh, our investors and we wanted to kind of pursue the conversation. Uh, we actually had interest from another company and then we reached out to, to another company and had [00:27:00] almost, we had two other companies that were in talks.
[00:27:03] Marius: So that certainly helps, right? When you’re negotiating having other options. But our real option that we kind of play. Off to make sure that we got what everything we wanted out of the deal is that we actually didn’t wanna sell for . Like they, we had to be convinced to sell because the company was very profitable, especially after 2020 and, , we were in a really good place.
[00:27:29] Marius: So that was kind of the biggest decisions decision that we had to make is like, do we wanna keep this business that’s doing really well or do we think the business could do potentially even better under the backstage brand? And that was a lot of internal conversation on my co-founder and our investors and our mentors.
[00:27:49] Marius: And it’s a lot of just soul searching and figuring out if this is the right thing to do. Yeah, it was not a decision that was made overnight at all. We went back and [00:28:00] forth multiple times where we’re like, Nope, we’re not selling. And we’d sit on it for a few days and then come back and they’d be like, okay, no, we’re gonna sell, and then sit on that and then switch our mind again.
[00:28:11] Marius: It was, it was, it was tough. . So then you sold the company and returned to Techstar Seattle. Uh, so what was that? Uh, I mean like how did you end up at Techstar Seattle and were you actively looking for your next gig or what is sort of like the thought process there? Now? You sold your company, you have an exit, uh, um, I’m assuming you’re not immediately looking for what’s next to do.
[00:28:39] Marius: So how did, uh, how did you end up at Techstar Seattle? So we sold the company at the end of 2021. The entire company went over, uh, under Backstage. You know, backstage was an amazing acquirer. They essentially like left us alone. The brand still stands, the website still stands on its own. The entire team is still there.
[00:28:59] Marius: [00:29:00] Nothing’s changed at all, even to this day. Uh, they’ve had, they’ve just been an amazing partner. Um, so like the company was in really good hands and I stayed on to make sure that the transition was really smooth. Uh, and the founders are backstage, have been just amazing. So nothing, uh, Nothing really changed on the on share grid side.
[00:29:23] Marius: I knew they were in really good hands and at that point I was looking to start angel investing and that’s actually why I went to that event. Where we met is that I was looking to get into the, uh, Seattle ecosystem to try to understand how, what Angel investing’s all about. Cause I’ve never done it before, but I was in a position where I could start doing that.
[00:29:42] Marius: I was starting to dabble in becoming, I became an LP in a few like real estate funds, but I really wanted to go to an area that I understood more, which was, was startups. And I started looking in the area for angel investing opportunities. And then, um, mil Kana, one of our [00:30:00] advisors actually to the company, uh, introduced me to Isaac Carto, which was.
[00:30:05] Marius: Current, the previous md, uh, for Techstars. And, um, they just made me aware that this was an opportunity coming up and it was, you know, to become the new managing director of Techstars Seattle. And there’s only one job in town and only comes around like. Every 10 years, 15 years, every 10 years or something.
[00:30:27] Marius: So I was like, you know, I wasn’t really ready to jump back in, but it was such an amazing opportunity. And the Seattle program, especially out of, you know, many Techstar programs is one of the gems of, of Techstars. Like Seattle has a really good track record under Isaac, under Chris Devore, Aviel. You know, it’s, it’s an amazing program with some really great success behind this.
[00:30:53] Marius: So I was just, uh, you know, I, I was, uh, very happy to even be [00:31:00] considered for the position and I took it very serious. And, um, that’s when the conversation started. And then I joined October 31st, uh, on the same day that the cohort started. So the same day the founder showed up here at Startup Hall was my first day on the job as well.
[00:31:18] Marius: Nice. Um, so talk, let’s talk a little bit more about, uh, you know, Techstar Seattle and what is sort of the process right now, and what type of companies and founders you know, are best positioned to join Techstar Seattle. Yeah, for sure. So we just finished our demo day, uh, mid-February. Uh, so we just had a graduating class, which was, which was great.
[00:31:42] Marius: And now we’re looking for our next class, uh, which will start in, uh, October. So we have a bit of time to look for, for other founders and what we’re looking for. Uh, we don’t necessarily have. Topic focus or a focus? Uh, for, for any [00:32:00] particular sort of, uh, industry. We just don’t do like hard sciences or, uh, any hardware companies most of the time, you know, with maybe a few exceptions, but we typically focus on software.
[00:32:14] Marius: Uh, and we also have kind of a soft focus. Like we really like B2B companies mostly because. Seattle is kind of a B2B town. Yeah. Uh, there’s a lot of mentors and investors here that also focus in that area, so we tend to attract quite a bit of startups in that, in that area as well. But we’re looking for founders who, you know, are actively.
[00:32:37] Marius: Doing their startups. So they’re full-time founders. They have some traction, uh, on, on their idea, on their startup. You know, a good amount of the companies in the past cohort already raised some family and friends or precede before joining the program. That’s not a requirement by any means, but you have to be like, fully dedicated to running your [00:33:00] startup, uh, and full-time.
[00:33:02] Marius: And then yeah, we’re looking for, for someone that has a growth mindset, I would say is probably number one kind of characteristic of, uh, of a founder that we’re looking for.
[00:33:11] Nataraj: So Techstars is an, you know, traditionally what we call as an accelerator, right? Yeah. Uh, so what are the founders really getting outta, um, joining tech?
[00:33:20] Marius: Yeah, for sure. So, um, the Tech Techstars program essentially, uh, falls into almost three phases. So it’s a 13 week program and it’s kind of, uh, set up in three phases. The first phase is customer discovery, so we worked with you to ensure that like, , you truly understand who your customer is and what are they buying from you.
[00:33:43] Marius: Like, you know, you, you would be surprised how many people have an idea of who their customer is, but it’s not clearly defined. They don’t really understand why that customer is interested in their product. So even companies that are farther along, we find. , it’s always good to like really [00:34:00] reflect on who your customer is.
[00:34:01] Marius: So the first phase is customer discovery. Second phase is go to market and execution, which is more important nowadays, especially given the market situation. More important than ever to actually gain real traction in your business and prove out that your business has some product market fit. And product market fit can mean different things at different stages.
[00:34:23] Marius: But at least in your initial M V P, there needs to be some product market fit. And then the third phase is we’re preparing you to go out in front of investors. So we’re working on your pitch deck, we’re working on your delivery, we’re working on all of your documents, uh, getting you ready to ensure that you’re ready for, uh, investors and putting you in front of investors.
[00:34:44] Marius: You know, we’ve put, uh, the past cohort met. We, each of them met with at least 30 40 investors during program and. after demo day. There was like well over a hundred investors at demo day. So that’s kind of getting them ready [00:35:00] for fundraisers towards the end. Um, but that’s the three phases of programming, but.
[00:35:06] Marius: On top of that, each company meets with 40 to 50 mentors throughout the program. They get like two to three mentors throughout the program. Uh, and then, you know, the whole network of Techstars being able to, uh, raise money, getting you ready for fundraising. So that’s the, that’s somewhat the benefits and the most important part is the relationship you build with the other, uh, founders.
[00:35:30] Marius: It’s very, it’s very, uh, I guess, It’s not every day that you get to sit next to 12 or 24 other individuals that are, that have chosen to start a company. You know, you think of your friends and family, like not all of ’em are trying to start a company and are at the same stage as you. So it’s really nice to have that community of other founders doing the same thing you are doing, being able to share that you really do build like lifelong, uh, friend.[00:36:00]
[00:36:00] Nataraj: Yeah, I guess, uh, I mean, uh, if you’re just starting by yourself, it’s a lonely journey and some of the founders are just doing it without any co-founders. Uh, but, uh, if I’m not wrong, I think YC used to invest one 50 K for of 7% and I think the change, uh, last couple of batches dropped to a hundred K. Like, uh, does Techstars also invest, uh, capital into the startups or, uh, is it more of a time, um, investment.
[00:36:30] Marius: Yeah, so we invest up to 120 k, uh, in, into each company that, that gets selected. Uh, and then in some cases, um, once you start fundraising, Techstars will also do a follow on as well. And, uh, we’ll, we’ll follow on on that, your initial kind of fundraise later on. Um, We are almost at the end of our conversation, but, uh, I, I wanted to ask, you know, what is the best way for, you know, future founders to reach out to [00:37:00] you?
[00:37:00] Marius: What is the best, uh, you know, place for them to follow you or reach out to you or apply for Techstars? Yeah, for sure. You could just email me directly. Uh, I’m gonna spell out my email here and I don’t know if you could put in the show notes cause Yeah, I have a pretty long name. So it’s Marius dot Sulan, c i o c i r l a n.
[00:37:21] Marius: At techstars.com. So we’re looking certainly for founders that are, are, uh, early in their journey of starting their company. Anyone interested in, uh, applying? Happy to talk to you. My team is happy to talk to you as well. Um, yeah, just reach out directly to me and, uh, we, we hope to, to get in touch with you.
[00:37:42] Nataraj: Thanks Mario. Thanks for coming onto the show, sharing your journey, and, uh, always happy to talk to you. You have, uh, this calm present way of talking , which is always like, nice. Uh, so thanks for coming onto the show.