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Tech exec turned VC bets on entrepreneur motivations

“I was already CEO of a software startup when the idea of GetApp came up. We were developing a software encryption technology that was pioneering blockchain. I knew we were too early in the market, but there was interest from innovative prospects. My main issue was distribution.

The traditional software distribution channels didn’t work for innovative solutions. Established VARs [value-added resellers] or distributors would not be interested and my prospects were not using them anyway to source new solutions. I realized that this issue would increase because the number of SaaS [software-as-a-service] products and SMB clients would grow exponentially thanks to easy access to the cloud infrastructure and development platform. A new platform was needed to match our offer and demand.”

French-native Christophe Primault turned his intuitive market insight into a successful company which he sold to Gartner in 2015, six years after launch. Today, he is a part-time venture capitalist keeping an eye out for the next high-opportunity B2B technology startup. Getting to this point was a journey that many entrepreneurs dream of, but few realize.

Leaving a successful corporate career, Christophe was ready for a lifestyle change. He moved from high-stress London to the Barcelona seaside. While beautiful Barcelona offered the lifestyle he desired, there were few corporate opportunities. Barcelona did, however, have an embryonic entrepreneurial community.

Still, embracing a full-on startup opportunity is not without its challenges.

“The biggest challenge was to adapt to the startup rules. Even if you have big responsibilities in a corporate environment, it won’t prepare you for startup reality. In a big company, you can rely on the brand, on business inertia, on colleagues from all the different functions needed to run a business. When you start a company for the first time, you are on your own.

Fortunately, I started the business with a very complementary partner. Although he was in a similar situation, at least each of us only had half of the things to learn and we had someone to talk to. I don’t think I could have succeeded without the right business partner.”

Christophe attributes their success, in part, to robust execution by two business partners who understood how to complement each other and successfully hire a strong core team.

“My main strength was the ability to read the market. I did some research to understand how the SaaS market would shape up in the near future and talked to many industry actors to validate my assumptions. Once it was clear that the opportunity was there and it was the right time to build the startup, the next key success factor was execution. This is where my business partner brought a lot of strength to the picture.”

While there are often-told stories of serial entrepreneurs entering the market with the idea to sell and exit, Christophe took a more hybrid approach.

“I am not a serial entrepreneur but I was also not interested in building and holding a company forever. I would more describe myself as a one-off opportunist. I saw an opportunity and decided to take a chance at it. There is no shame in acting this way, in fact I believe we should stop glorifying so-called serial entrepreneurs who go and stop with businesses.

Very few of us are able to do that. Those who can are truly talented people and I admire them but I have also seen many painful situations of people losing everything. The human cost of that is very sad and scary. Novice entrepreneurs should know that it is okay to start a business with the intent of reselling it in a few years and that there is a lot room between unicorns, lifestyle businesses and failures.”

Christophe also offers keen insight on the funding process, acknowledging that what worked for him may or may not work for others. GetApp was primarily bootstrapped, raising a small external round to make an acquisition.

“We had the opportunity to raise a large round with a Silicon Valley VC but we decided that we would turn it down and grow the business until we had an opportunity to make a good exit. Retrospectively, it was the right choice for us due to our motivations. But I understand and respect that many other entrepreneurs would have never turned down such amazing opportunity to be an ever bigger company.

There are some side benefits in having a good professional investor on board. They force you to have a clean legal and financial house, which is critical to grow your company in a healthy way but also to sell, especially if your buyer is listed on a US stock exchange. They also help you make the critical decisions.”

In his role with Elaia Partners, Christophe is resolute about fully understanding the real motivations of the entrepreneurs he supports.

“I have seen a bit of gaming between entrepreneurs and some VCs. I don’t think it is healthy. With frank and honest discussions about real motivations, it prevents stressing the situation with unnecessary misalignment. There are sufficient real stressful issues to deal with at a startup!”

Christophe knows. He hedged a bet on Barcelona for work/life balance and it is now one of the fastest growing startup scenes in Europe. And he hedged a bet on the precise market timing that helped grow a successful tech business.

So if you are a B2B tech startup interested in launching in Spain, you might want to look up Christophe. Odds are, you wouldn’t want to bet against him.

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This founder looks to disrupt brokerage

“As a teenager being raised by a single mom, I realized the influential power of money. We didn’t always have it and I was drawn to how it works, how it influences culture and, of course, how it could impact what I did in life. When I dropped out of school at 16, it struck me that I really needed to understand money. Without a diploma, people won’t hire you, so you have to always look out for business opportunity. I read everything I could about finance and later became a business journalist.”

That determination to improve his lot in life has served Canadian Julien Brault well. In addition to a notable journalistic career, he founded a publishing venture in Montreal aimed at self-learning and also worked for a venture capital fund focused on fintech. He notes Michael Bloomberg as a source of business inspiration.

But when Julien was writing about other business startups as a journalist, he longed to find the right opportunity to venture back into entrepreneurship himself. Today, he applies his life-long learning quest to being a business founder.

“I think information is power. I have always been a self-learner and a huge reader. Some entrepreneurs can use their phone to learn so much. And there are very smart entrepreneurs that learn best by talking to people. And that is important. But many entrepreneurs, like myself, have a natural propensity to read a lot – books, market reports. Entrepreneurs need more information than the average person. With Hardbacon, I get to apply that learning and experience what I wrote so much about.”

Hardbacon is Julien’s latest venture. It is the culmination of his lifelong interest in money, learning, and helping those who do not fully understand money’s ability to change the trajectory of their lives.

So what is Hardbacon? It is an app-based, decision-making resource aimed at disrupting brokerage. Hardbacon makes investing easy for everyone. The name derives from an old cliché referring to money as bacon – and the fact that money is often hard-earned.

In its initial entry-to-market form, Hardbacon is neither a brokerage/financial advisor telling you how to manage your money nor a robo-advisory making decisions for you. Ultimately, Hardbacon provides all the financial data you need to make your own financial decisions. It analyzes your portfolio and provides related educational insight.

Julien and his co-founders raised 68,000$ [CND] via crowdsourcing before the first line of code was ever written. With its early disruptor potential, Hardbacon has garnered the attention of Fintech and its intended target market of 25-45 year-old investors. More than 7,000 subscribe to the Hardbacon newsletter. The app recently launched across Canada.

“Hardbacon is geared toward the young, working professional who is starting to look forward and wants more control in starting and managing their portfolio. It automates a lot of the work portfolio managers and advisors do behind the scenes, so everyone gets the same advantages and has the same information to achieve their dream.

I discovered early in life that the poor pay more fees. When they don’t have enough money, they die poor and their children are poor. We want to democratize financial information and change the brokerage game, just like the travel industry did when ticket information became more readily comparable. We want users to be in the driver’s seat.”

Staying true to the vision of access for all, the monthly fee for the subscription-based service is very low. Because, as Julien points out, the real ‘why’ behind Hardbacon is about empowering people to change their social status.

Just like he did.

 

 

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This software makes life easier for event managers

“We have event managers tell us they couldn’t do their job without GateStaff. We build software that actually makes people giddy for their jobs! And if you can make people happy in the hospitality industry while they are serving other people, you’ve got a win!”

Robert Reddick and his co-founders at Gate Staff, Inc., the company behind the GateStaff software, should know. Between them, they have more than 20 years of experience in the festival, music venue and sports arena marketplace ­– and they are putting that experience to work on the latest version.

GateStaff is a software-as-a-service [SaaS]-based application that enables easy, mobile check-in and management of the very large volunteer teams that it takes to smoothly run sports and music festival events. It has already been used at over 8,000 events, including at an NFL stadium and a pro-Golf tournament.

A quarter of a million people have successfully used GateStaff to check into work. Robert sees that – and the ongoing positive feedback from event managers – as a sign that they have carved out a highly-desirable niche.

“There is a lot of existing software within the HR technology marketplace, particularly in the time and attendance space. But while it is a busy category overall, there isn’t much in the festival and volunteer management subset. The few legacy providers are primarily out of Europe and their offers are very expensive and cumbersome. We saw an opportunity to simplify the volunteer hiring and check-in process and provide a much better user experience.”

Robert and the team are now working on the next generation of GateStaff, aiming for expansion of their offer across the United States and perhaps beyond. They had been randomly adding features one-off as clients requested them, but now want to offer a robust platform with customizable, oft-requested solutions to common issues event managers face.

“For example, we know that some States – or countries for that matter – have different regulations regarding things like employee break time and other requirements that event managers struggle with documenting. While we can add a line of code to address that for one client, we want to get to the point where all of the dynamic regulations are already pre-loaded and will meet each client’s specific need with minimal training.”

Easy-to-implement training and easy-to-use software are critical requirements for the end-user, and the reason behind GateStaff’s success thus far, according to Robert.

“One manager who used our application for the first time was almost in tears because of how simple it was to do. She had spent days compiling staff information before and now she could do all that reporting by basically pushing one button. It’s like that out there. Out in the environment, the managers are struggling with basic requests.

With GateStaff, we are able to provide relief to the people who are hiring and the people who use it. We help resolve field management challenges, and provide a good and positive experience for the volunteers who use the software. Both parties really like being able to send and receive notifications about their work schedule. When you are a temporary worker, it is just awesome to get an email asking you to work and confirming the details!”

Thanks to his extensive development and entrepreneurial experience, Robert knows that keeping GateStaff elegant, simple, and reliable is important. It is something that is always top-of-mind.

“Experimentation is part of this team’s lifeblood. So doing this isn’t a leap of faith as much as it is a measured opportunity. The software business is a very dynamic target and sitting still is a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is a bigger risk to not do anything, especially in the middle of today’s AI [artificial intelligence] environment. Sitting still isn’t an option.”

After all, Gate Staff plans to check-in to even more opportunity and success!

 

 

 

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Where does the entrepreneur’s mind wander?

“It was totally unexpected, but after graduating in 2016, I managed to seriously injure my knee and found myself basically bed-ridden for eight months. All of a sudden, the job I just moved for fell through and I had no idea what to do. Laying there, I decided to just start something. Within a month, I came up with 42 ideas – and all of them were really bad. 

But during that time, literally 40 friends texted me asking for travel advice. And it hit me. I wondered why there wasn’t any where to share that kind of experience-based expertise. That’s when I decided to develop Rayka.”

Landon Sanford has traveled to 38 countries and 42 states, thanks in part to his Dad’s job. But a semester abroad in Spain really solidified his wanderlust.

“During that one semester, I traveled to 17 countries. It is so easy to get cheap flights in Europe so I would sleep in airports or hostels – anything to be able to afford to keep the adventures going.”

So, it might not seem unusual that this globe-trotting entrepreneur turned that passion into a business named after the Icelandic word for “wander.” After all, Rayka  taps into Landon’s wealth of first-hand expertise – and that of more than 50 participating world wanderers (so far).

As of August 1, 2017 Rayka is live in the APP store! Initially focused as a resource for foreign exchange students living in Europe, Landon points out that Rayka taps experienced travelers who have ‘been there/done that,’ not a star rating system that often becomes bogus.

What’s unusual about this entrepreneur’s story is what Landon says his college friends find most surprising about his latest start-up.

“My friends would never guess that I would start a business that involves social media. I actually quit social media altogether in college. I wanted to experience life, not live it online. Rayka is different. It doesn’t draw you into your phone, it pushes you out into the world.”

Landon had no experience in app development, but he started his first business at 15 and put his past negotiation skills to work to hire an app developer. Still, he quickly discovered that his preconceived notion of keeping everything as secret as possible until launch was all wrong.

“You have to talk about the idea and talk to as many people as possible to get feedback. I talked to everyone I knew who traveled and I surveyed 5,000 foreign exchange students. My sales background also helped a lot in dealing with rejection and push back. I know not to take it personal.

Every comment helps you understand where you can be different. Everyone kept asking if I’ve heard of the Untappd app for beer because it sounded similar to them. Now I use that to tell our story. We want Rayka to be the Untappd of travel.”

So when a traveler wants to know the best places for fun, or food or entertainment, someone like Landon will be there (via a smart, social app) to welcome fellow wanderers.

All because during Landon’s unfortunately-timed medical emergency, his mind wandered. And just look where it took him!

 

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