2013 Risk & Reward

    About this time every year I sit at gate 94 at SFO international ready to board a 14 hour direct flight back to Sydney, Australia to spend passover with my family.

    I love being at this gate. It’s always a vidid moment that represents separation between chapters. I’m always talking about chapters (or was it stages?).

    Though New Years is sort of the social beginning, April for me is the entrepreneurial New Year.

    This time last year, I was riding off a wave of endorphins and adrenaline. It was the first 3 months honeymoon period starting AirPair. It really kicked off with a BANG. Covered in techcrunch, dealing with real customers only weeks after thinking of the idea and quitting my full time job. It was right here in the gate that I made two big bets on myself. I bought the domain airpair.com in the airport just before hoping on the plane for $5,000USD. And I was returning home to take out my own visa for AirPair to legally employ myself and focus full time.

    So much happened since. The months after were hard. I got knocked back by YC. I was working solo and stuck in code without interacting with real people. The wave of inbound had died down after the press ran its course. It was one of two semi dark period in the whole journey so far.

    But then I knuckled down, found customers beyond press, slowly proved people cared. More and more each month. Competitors appeared (a couple already now dust).

    Around july I found my first co-founder, got into YC after hitting 40% growth a few months in a row and then the best thing ever, found Igor Lebovic my second co-founder.

    YC was mostly a blur. The program itself didn’t feel that different to the 12 months of struggles and hard work before - except for demo day and the few days that followed. We were funded in 48 hours, without more than 1 in person meeting. 

    The last few weeks have really been defined by changes in team. We split with my first co-founder, our first engineer moved on. Then we picked up some new team members. Then Dilys Sun told us she was moving back to China to pick up her parents reigns and run her family’s trade. I was heart broken, but proud for her.

    What a f@#4kin amazing journey. Can’t wait to be here next year and reflect on the rocket ship that’s taking off when I get back from Australia.

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    There’s something about foreign press and language that gives me thrills. Every time I see something like this (our first Japanese press) I wonder, what do the people’s lives who are reading this looks like? How is something I thought of in a different part of the world relevant?
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I’ll never forget creating climbfind.com in 2008 while living in London and 2 years later, meeting a couple in New York who met on the site and got married.
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I hope we get to work with Japanese companies in the not too distant future and change lives in the part of the world. Bring on the Ramen!

    There’s something about foreign press and language that gives me thrills. Every time I see something like this (our first Japanese press) I wonder, what do the people’s lives who are reading this looks like? How is something I thought of in a different part of the world relevant?

    I’ll never forget creating climbfind.com in 2008 while living in London and 2 years later, meeting a couple in New York who met on the site and got married.

    I hope we get to work with Japanese companies in the not too distant future and change lives in the part of the world. Bring on the Ramen!

    Dishing & Dealing Criticism

    I’ve come to appreciate and become comfortable with knowing that I’m a polarizing person.

    Part of it, I believe comes down to an Australian vs American cultural difference of blunt to polite (respectively). The other part that some people don’t get, is I thrive on criticism and I never feel it to be personal. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to be challenged and expand my universe.

    That’s not to say I always agree with what people tell me, but I at least try my best to get why other people think very differently about the same thing. Sometimes I’m too limited to feel what they are saying and miss their perspective until later. Sometimes I express things in a way that convey a meaning different to my intent.

    At the end of the day, if you take things personally and see moments as static rather than a journey with a destination that sometimes has steps in the wrong direction, we’ll almost certainly feel turbulence.

    I’ve realized, if you take criticism personally you won’t fit at AirPair. If you aren’t confident enough to dish it, you probably won’t fit either.

    We’re here to drop our egos and do our best by learning from each other. We celebrate cutting the crap and getting down to business.

    "AirPair is still in the *air bed* phase of its AirBnB journey"
    Thanks @andrewchen for an incredible brain jam with @ilebovic and myself. Feeling exhilarated from assimilating your ideas on the future.

    Why I Pitched BARE Foot + Being Relaxed on DDay

    I like speaking. A lot… 

    Nerves Leading up to YC Demo Day

    That said, for me, speaking is a bit like running. I’m not naturally good at it and there’s an aspect of fitness involved. If I’ve been coding for a few months and not communicating and engaging in enough verbal interactions, I can be, well… sloppy and robotic. I get nervous in front of crowds and have trouble controlling butterflies and shakes.

    YCombinator has a great process in the days leading up to Demo Day. You get to practice your pitch over and over in front individual partners who each bring their own valuable insight. Paul Graham is particularly helpful for quickly thickening your skin in preparation for the actual day.

    YC also does something really fun and smart. The day before is a dry run called Alumni Day where 400 YC Alumni come to watch you on the same stage, present wearing the same mic, controlling your slides with the same projector and clicker. Getting used to the setting and equipment is critical. I would practice my pitch holding my phone pretending it was the slide clicker while moving my hands in the same way I planned to on stage. This really helped ground the first few moments of the real deal. I was super nervous on Alumi Day. It wasn’t obvious - but I was shaking.

    YCombinator Demo Day & What’s at Stake

    Last Tuesday I pitched AirPair in front of a room full of 450 of Silicon Valley’s most influential investors. Your 150 second talk has the potential to equate to a difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding over the days that follow.

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    Although I was shaky on Alumni Day, on the Demo Day itself, I was super chilled and spoke in a calm and conversational manner that I was happy with.

    Part of my comfort on the day came from the practice through the YC process. The other part was a set of tricks I employed using body language, music, funny imagery and recalling special memories in the half hour leading up to going on-stage.

    Harnessing Body Language to Control Your Hormones

    If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk - it’s one of the all time top watched TED talks. The summary is you can assume Alpha body language to release testosterone that will calm you and help you control high stress situations. I highly suggest watching her talk now if you haven’t.

    Bare Foot Presenting and AirPair Alpha Style

    If you’ve met me, you’ll already be aware, that one of my trademarks is I almost never wear shoes. My feet get hot :(

    On rehearsal day, I wasn’t comfortable even in my flip flops, so I went up without wearing any shoes and while being on stage Paul Graham asked me "Are you going to be bare foot on demo day?". To which I replied "Probably not". But when he instantly countered with "Because you can if you want to", I didn’t hesitate for a second to capitalize on the opportunity.

    I was aware that being bare foot could be considered rude. It was certainly an against the grain move. But the way I thought about it was this…

    AirPair is a company that eats with its hands, IF eating with your hands makes the experience better (which is not always a rule of thumb). We respect norms, but not at the expense of not letting us harness our potential. In this case being bare foot helped me be more comfortable and deliver my talk with less anxiety. I was able to project exactly who I was and that gave me more confidence.

    Being Silly and Celebrating Like it was Already Over

    YC is an amazing 12 weeks of going beyond normal effort to make shit happen. I was glad that it came to an end, as it’s “The most leveraged days of your life” and really not something that’s sustainable. There’s something to celebrate in just trying your best for that length of time and making it to the end.

    So on the way to DDay Igor and I put ourselves in the mind frame that we already deserved to reward ourselves and not worry about what was to come with investors and the like after our talk. We took Amy Cuddy’s alpha advice to the extreme by playing Tom Cruise’s most epic alpha Topic Thunder dance scene in the car to pump ourselves up. We mimicked his body language right before leaving the green room and going up on stage to remind ourselves things were good and in the word’s of Paul Graham “Demo Day is about having fun”:

    So yeah, listen to music you love, make jokes about serious things, and catch yourself in your body language so you can control a better outcome when presenting in front of people.

    I’m sorry if I offended anyone by how I was on stage or anything else during YC. That’s not what I or AirPair culture is about. We like to do good work and execute to the best of our ability. Sometimes that means doing things differently. That’s what makes us unique, open-minded and fun people to work with.

    AirPair Anniversary & The Future of Software.

    I’m extremely proud to say that AirPair graduates from YCombinator today. It’s just over a year since we first announced with a static html page and two google forms on TechCrunch. Having a business model in place from day one created an incredibly different experience than my previous two startups. It’s been magic, and now is a good time to consider the past and announce plans for our next chapter.
    After 12 months of incredibly rewarding and fun bootstrapping, we’ve accomplished a lot. 8 months of 40% monthly revenue growth, cashflow positive pre-seed investment, and major partnerships with 40+ of the biggest tech companies in the world including Twitter, Stripe, Heroku, Twilio, SendGrid, and many more.  I have my team to thank for this and couldn’t have done it without them.
    Based on our progress, we’ve received healthy unsolicited inbound interest from investors. From the volume, we suspect that we could probably raise a Series A based on our growth so far.  But we’ve decided to keep things lean and aren’t raising a large round because we are cashflow positive and want to preserve our culture of frugality, validated building and lean customer acquisition.
    With that said, we are open to aligning ourselves with investors that have a passion for our business, and who can add significant value to help us grow to become a large company.  Examples of investors that would be helpful for us include strategic investors (e.g. potential partners or customers), professional investors that have access to large enterprise customers, partners, investors with a history of IT investments, or investors who specialize in marketplace businesses like ours.
    If you feel that you can add value to us, then we may be able to accommodate you.  We have carved-out a small $200k allocation and are accepting investments using AngelList (see http://angel.co/airpair).
    We had considered doing a standard capped convertible note.  However, we were advised against that.  Here’s a great blog post from David Hornik, a General Partner at August Capital, on why capped convertible notes are actually harmful for startups:
    Instead, we’re embracing the new YCombinator SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) which is a dramatic improvement over traditional convertible notes, since tech startups should never owe debt to investors.
    The SAFE we’re using is a no-cap, no-discount SAFE using the standard YCombinator termsheet — see http://ycombinator.com/safe/SAFE_MFN.docx.  This is a clean financial instrument which allows us to defer the valuation discussion until a future time when we have a lead investor.  We’re doing this since we’re not interested in investors looking to arbitrage value between Seed and Series-A, but rather investors who will stick with us and see the long-term value in our startup, and see the potential in us today and would like that guaranteed allocation because they believe in us today.  To reward investors who join us, our SAFE includes an MFN (Most Favored Nation) clause.  The MFN clause gives you, as an early investor in the SAFE, the guaranteed best possible deal terms that a lead investor negotiates with us later.
    We have already secured more than $200k pre-Demo Day off AngelList from various Angels and VCs on these terms. Our intent is to raise a similar sum offline from folks we chat to at Demo Day to make up the rest of our mini-seed round. 
    I’m excited that AirPair is now over 1 year old.  We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in the last year.  We’ve seen our actual clients double their software development speed by spending a small portion of their time programming with our experts. This has led us to believe that there is a new model in software development that we can help usher-in, and this can help solve the #1 problem in software development right now (a lack of quality engineers).  We’re fired-up to get there. So if you think we’ve iterated fast, you’ll like what’s ahead  This next year is going to be amazing, and we’re excited to break out of YC and continue pick up speed one 40% growth month at a time.

    So proud of AirPair’s partnerships announcement

    Yesterday was a real milestone - AirPair is growing into one of the focal points in the developer eco-system. We worked very hard in a vert short time to cover so much ground. More than anything, I think it’s a testament that when you find a natural value proposition - things just fly.

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    This is great un-doable competitive advantage against competitors in our space.

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    The second time we were featured on TechCrunch, I really wasn’t that moved. I WAS kind of excited to see AirPair appearing in foreign press though!

    The second time we were featured on TechCrunch, I really wasn’t that moved. I WAS kind of excited to see AirPair appearing in foreign press though!

    2014 Resolutions

    Last year turned out quite amazingly. The core ideas I set up at the beginning of 2013 were "No compromise" and "It’s what you do, not how you feel". These philosophies immediately guided me to quit my job and create AirPair out of thin air. No pun intended :p

    Against many odds (there are some good stories I can’t publicly share), AirPair grew in less than 12 months, into a beautiful cash-flow positive baby.

    This year my goal is to take an infant and grow it into a young teenage stallion. In December 2014, I’d like to celebrate AirPair’s Bar Mitzvah!

    When I was 13, I was already 5”11”, Most Valuable Player in my local basketball league, a talented young saxophonist and quite into mathematics. Unfortunately, I was also horrendous at writing, spelling and grammar.

    I’m a bit dyslectic. I’m now 30 and my writing, spelling and grammar are still horrendous.

    For years, I’ve simply carried the opinion that my sub-optimal writing is part of my character and not only ok, but actually cool ”because it’s my “style.” I’m lucky that a close friend recently convinced me, it’s never too late to change even the biggest and oldest things in yourself and that the time had come to improve my communication.

    I’ve always wielded the power to do whatever I want, be where ever I want and focus my energy how I see fit towards the external world. My 2014 resolution is to prove that I have the same level of power to change internally no matter how big of a feat it will be. I foresee I will need to master this ability to reach my entrepreneurial goals.

    This year I want to prove I can, by starting with my writing. The goals are:

    1. Make less spelling & grammar mistakes by being more present as I craft sentences.
    2. Write about interesting ideas that people care to read.
    3. Improve my style.
    4. Use writing to promote AirPair.

    In perfect timing on the 1st of Jan, I came across Paul Graham’s essay "Writing, Briefly". It has many suggestions on how to improve. The mostly immediate one I can act on straight away is have friends you trust read your stuff and tell you which bits are confusing or drag”. If you are reading this and have any interest in my personal rants and giving feedback let me know :).

    2013 set this year up with the opportunity for tremendous success that I’ve been working towards since the beginning of my 20’s. I know to get to the next level, I have to continue to evolve personally.

    To sum things up, my resolution for this year is to "Embrace difficult and un-obvious self improvement"My personal mantra is "The journey of 1000 miles continues with 1 single step."

    My attitude is good, so it’s going to be a great ride; no matter the outcome.

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    AirPair XMas lunch bike ride. Merry Christmas ho ho ho ho ho {} – View on Path.

    AirPair XMas lunch bike ride. Merry Christmas ho ho ho ho ho {} – View on Path.