We live and work together in Silicon Valley and like thousands of other startups, we share the dream of building a successful company. We believe that the interaction with our mobile phones could be so much better and we are building an intelligent system to make people’s mobile experience way faster and efficient.
We’ve been working on the StayTuned for almost 6 months now and even while it feels like just a few weeks, we’ve gone through a lot over the past few months. It sometimes feels like we finally made it and sometimes it feels like we haven’t even started. This mixed feelings are somewhat new and we still haven’t gotten used them.
Our story might be a little unconventional, but so are the stories of many founders in Silicon Valley. This is the place where a big chunk of the world’s innovation takes place and it is no wonder that it is crowded with immigrants, nonetheless, the story of a Mexican, a German and an Indian as cofounders together attracts people’s attention (see our about us).
It all started about a year and a half ago, when Alex and I met at our previous work at the German Accelerator. We had different backgrounds but we shared an interest for Silicon Valley and technology. During our work, we learned a lot about how startups are built and how the premier hub serves them to create big companies. We were really lucky to get the chance to work there and learn from the best. This was also a great opportunity to build our networks, ranging from startups, mentors, investors and all kinds of people.
After working together for some time (we were roommates at that time and still are), we felt that we are ready to take the opportunity to add something to the world and build something new. We finally decided to leave our jobs by the end of 2013 and started working on our project.
Alex has a business-oriented background, having worked as an Investment Banker immediately after his Bachelors in Financial Management & Entrepreneurship. Even with an engineering background, I also focused on a business-oriented workspace while working at the German Accelerator and lacked coding skills. All we needed to start our own startup was finding an additional cofounder with the technical skills to help us make our dream product come true, or at least that was what we thought.
Finding technical talent is probably the most heard problem among aspiring entrepreneurs. Some people believe that it is not necessary to have a technical cofounder on board and that it is enough to outsource or hire technical talent, but we strongly believe that a technical cofounder was the best option.
After a frustrating search in the Bay Area, we decided to separate with the intention of expanding our search efforts. Alex went to India with the hope to find a cofounder and I went back home to Germany. After a month, none of us was able to find the ideal candidate, and by ideal candidate I mean, a guy who had both technical skills and the social fit. Everybody talks about how hard it is to meet cofounders (specially technical) and many people relate it to finding a wife. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we actually didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was.
Due to several reasons, we decided to meet in Germany and jointly go around the cities with big universities to continue our search for a cofounder. Additionally, we set our own goals for the next two months, which included developing a prototype, and get seed funding. As you can probably imagine by this point, things didn’t go exactly as planned.
The search for a technical cofounder was quite tricky, no matter the country where we were. Here are some of the most common questions/answers that we got from potential candidates:
- How much do you pay?
- That’s a great idea but it is too hard to built
- Why should I need you two guys if I want built that
- I can earn more money when working for a corporate
- Let me know once you have funding
Simultaneously to our search for a technical cofounder, we were constantly pitching to angel investors and accelerators, but soon realized that a prototype was mandatory for people to even start listening to us seriously. We decided that we couldn’t waste more time by having no progress on the development of the product and that we wouldn’t let someone else (a person who was still virtually non-existent) delay us.
We decided to move forward and get our first prototype, which was not an easy task with only basic coding skills. We started talking with developers and outsourcing agencies in order to get our first prototype. This is quite an established industry, so we soon realized that there are many options to do this and that obviously they all try to maximize their return. The first quote we got was for $30k, which was clearly above of our budget (it would’ve been stupid even if we had the money). Then we decided to go the other way around, setting a maximum budget and seeing if people would agree to do what we wanted. Our budget had a cap of $4k and even while many agencies declined us, we did manage to find several agencies and freelancers willing to do our prototype. It took us about two weeks to make a decision, but we finally got someone to do our prototype for $700. We got some really good detailed project requirements from the agencies describing exactly what our project needed, which we used for actually getting the job done by a more junior developer (a bit of a cheap move, but being cheap is always good for startups).
Getting our first prototype was cheap, but was also time consuming. Our developer was based in Indonesia and for some reason he was never available for talking on Skype (my guess is that his English was not that good and he preferred written communication). The price only included the programming; this means that we had to get the design on our own. We started to involve our Networks to help us on the things we couldn’t do at that time – Thomas (big thanks here) helped us on the first design. After almost 4 weeks of late nights of talking with our developer, drawing wireframes of how the app should look and work and great input from Thomas, we managed to get our first prototype; A PRODUCT TO SHOW TO PEOPLE.
We finally had a version to show around. The feedback from our friends and supporters was not amazing – the app itself was not adding too much value to the user and we were a little bit frustrated that we still didn’t find any potential co-founder.
So we kept on doing what we can do – Finalize the Idea and Vision and go out and pitch to everybody – literally everybody. And by doing that – the whole thing changed, and changed back again, and again to something else. But we knew we where onto something.
At one point we knew we need to either get some funding to buy the development skills or this will not work out – our opportunity costs were too high.
So we applied at all possible Incubators and Accelerators. And actually got invited to the first call and then to the pitch almost all the time. This was both a great feeling & learning and our motivation rose. Fortunately we didn’t get into any of the programs :). But at that point we almost saw things getting to an end. The feedback was always – “Who of you two is the CTO of your Tech Company” – answering this with none was always the neck breaker.
As time flew by and our prescheduled timeline seemed to exceed we got nervous – was this the end of all our efforts? Not even having something we could test in the market?
With the persistence of “We want to follow our dreams” – We broadened our search to a global extend. We posted the ad all over the internet, including sites such as AngelList and social groups. But it still seemed hard to find the right person.
What we searched:
- A rock star developer who is capable to built one of the smartest things ever
- Willing to relocate and leave their current thing
- Is ready for the biggest adventure ever
- Willing to take the risk of founding a startup
- And can have fun with us
It was “almost” impossible
Here are some approximate numbers of what we found out of close to 500 profiles/applicants/people that contacted us:
- 40% business developers of outsourcing app companies,
- 33% business guys who saw the great opportunity to join a startup with a great idea in Silicon Valley
- 12% Recent graduates with minor development backgrounds
- 5% with great technical skills and previous experience
We started talking both with recent graduates and experienced developers, but still it seemed hard to find someone who simply felt right.
Out of all these emails and interviews, there was one email that caught our attention, were the candidate described himself as “a serious startup addicted programmer & an intrapreneur” on the first sentence. This email came from Sachin Unni, our current CTO and cofounder.
After this email, everything went perfect. We had a couple of Skype calls and everything seemed just too good to be true. There was a clear fit for the team, not just the right technical skills. The complicated part was that Sachin was based in Singapore. After lots of calls and a lot of thinking (including some technical interviews from one of our advisors), we finally decided to make an offer to Sachin to join us as a cofounder.
Sachin accepted the offer and joined us. The main question was when would he be available to relocate and his answer was quite clear – “ I already started to work late nights. I have to finish things up at my current job and will need to get a Visa. After that, I’ll be wherever I need to be“.
With this news Alex and me went back to Silicon Valley and activated our networks, deleted all complicated numbers from the pitch (these were mandatory for the pitches and applications in Germany) and made our vision ready for some serious SV-Pitching.
After several pitches to friendly VC’s we had our first meeting scheduled with Ali Reeza the Managing Director of Plug and Play Ventures. He directly understood the Vision, asked the right questions. We got one of the questions that had been hunting us for the last few weeks “Who is coding?”, but this time we were more prepared. Sachin had already made some progress on our prototype and had been working with us for some time. After hearing about Sachin, Alireza’s answer was – “Get me in touch with your CTO which non of you has ever met in person before. If he really exists and is at least half of what you guys are telling me – I’LL INVEST!!!” – Amazing feeling btw 😉
A Mexican, a German and an Indian with the startup dream in Silicon Valley. We usually joke that all of this was just like online dating ending in a marriage, but like Sachin likes to say “All things are falling into place”.