Drift CEO shares insights from 20+ years of startup experience

Why do serial entrepreneurs keep jumping back in? What things might you learn the third, fourth, or fifth time around?

To find out, Extra Crunch Managing Editor Eric Eldon spoke to Drift CEO and founder David Cancel at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco. Cancel has spent more than 20 years founding SaaS companies, with exits including Compete (acquired by TNS), Lookery (Acknowledge), Ghostery (Evidon), and Performable (Hubspot.)

In their thirty-minute conversation, they cover everything from finding your first customers, to what he’s seen change over the last two decades in the industry, to why he’s willing to cut a check to employees who want to leave. TL;DR? We’ve embedded a video of their chat at the end of this article.

To find what people really want, ask for money — any money.

One thing Cancel says he’s learned over the years: when you’re just getting started, you need to charge for your product right off the bat because you never know how someone really feels about a product until you ask for money.

“If you’re creating a paid-for product, you have to start charging from day one,” he says.

He outlines an experiment he calls the ‘dollar test,’ where if someone seems interested in a product before it’s even available, he’ll promise them lifetime access if they’ll hand over whatever’s in their pocket — be it a dollar, ten, twenty, whatever.

“What it teaches the entrepreneur is that most of the people who will tell you that they love this thing will not give you a dollar,” actionable information that can save time, money and stress. The dollar test “shortcuts things; most people will end up spending so much time coming back to you because you keep telling [them] you love it, because you’re a nice person and you don’t want to hurt [their] feelings.”

Cancel also uses this approach after a product launches, using it to gauge which new feature requests customers find most important.

“They’d say ‘I love your product, but it doesn’t do X, Y, or Z. My company is special, we need X, Y, or Z feature.’”

“Let’s say they were paying us $5,000 a month. I’d say, ‘it’s only going to be $20 more a month, then we’re going to build it for you and you’ll be the first ones to have it.’”

“What would happen, almost every single time, is there would be this awkward pause. They’d say ‘I have to go talk to my manager, I need to go talk to someone, I’ll get right back to you,’” he said, adding “Almost every single time that person continued to be a customer and never asked for that feature again.”

“When it’s free to ask for anything,” says David, “people will just keep asking.”

David Cancel 2

Letting people go isn’t always a bad thing

If someone asks David for a recommendation on an engineer, he’s willing to recommend his own employees.

His reasoning is twofold; on one side, it means he knows his teams are made up of people who want to be there; on the other, it means employees know he’s looking out for them.

“I want people on the team who want to be on the team. If people ask me, ‘hey, do you know a really great engineer who does X, Y, Z?’” I say ‘Eric does, and Eric’s on my team.’ I’m like, you should talk to him. And if Eric wants to go, he should go, because we only want people who actually [want] to be there. Then that person knows that I’m looking out for the best interests of them, for them — and even if they go, we may end up working together again later.”

Similarly, if an employee says they want to leave and start their own company, David says he’s often the first to write a check:

“We would attract, in the early days, people who wanted to learn how to start their own company. One of the things I would say, and I still say to everyone: Look, if you come on board, and work with us for some days, if you want to leave at any point and start a company, myself and my co-founder Elias will be the first checks in whatever you want to start, no questions asked.”

“And so we have done that for companies in Boston, companies in San Francisco, companies all over the place. And we continue to do that.”

For finding customers and employees, he turns to LinkedIn

Thanks to recruiter spam and “work anniversary” notifications, LinkedIn tends to be the butt of a lot of jokes — but Cancel says, used right, it’s still quite valuable.

“We built a lot of marketing within LinkedIn, which I think is a place that I would advise people to go spend time on now. You can find your buyers, you can find the people that you recruit.”

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LabGenius raises $10M to use AI for protein drug discovery

LabGenius, a London-based startup applying AI and “robotic automation” to protein drug discovery, has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

The round is led by Lux Capital and Obvious Ventures, with participation from Felicis Ventures, Inovia Capital, Air Street Capital and existing investors. Also investing is Recursion Pharmaceuticals’ founder and CEO Chris Gibson, as well as Inovia Capital General Partner Patrick Pichette, who was formerly Google’s CFO.

Lux Capital’s Zavain Dar and Obvious Ventures’ Nan Li will join the LabGenius board of directors. Notably, the U.K. company’s early investors include Nathan Benaich, Torsten Reil, EF’s Matt Clifford, and Philipp Moehring, to name just a few.

“LabGenius is a full-stack protein engineering company: we combine artificial intelligence (AI), robotic automation and synthetic biology to evolve next-generation protein therapeutics,” founder and CEO Dr. James Field tells me.

“My central thesis, the thing that’s really is the driving force behind the company, is the conviction that we’re entering an age in which humans will no longer be the sole agents of innovation. Instead, new knowledge, technologies and sophisticated real-world products will be invented by smart robotic platforms called empirical computation engines. An empirical computation engine is an artificial system capable of recursively and intelligently searching a solution space”.

LabGenius’ flagship technology is called “EVA,” which Field describes as a “machine learning-driven, robotic platform” capable of evolving new proteins. “As a smart robotic platform, EVA is capable of designing, conducting, and critically learning from its own experiments,” he says.

The goal: to discover and develop new protein therapeutics that are currently hard for humans alone to find.

LabGenius 8485

“For decades, scientists, engineers and technologists have dreamt of building ‘robot scientists’ capable of autonomously discovering new knowledge, technologies, and sophisticated real-world products,” explains Field.

“For protein engineers, that dream has now entered the realm of possibility. The rapid pace of technological development across the fields of synthetic biology, robotic automation, and ML has given us access to all the essential ingredients required to create a smart robotic platform capable of intelligently discovering novel therapeutic proteins”.

To that end, Field frames the development of EVA as a “long-term, ambitious undertaking” that he says will enable the startup to address previously unsolvable protein engineering challenges and in doing so, develop urgently needed therapeutics.

“My ultimate goal for LabGenius is to establish a fully-integrated biopharmaceutical company powered by the world’s most advanced protein engineering platform,” he adds. “Quite honestly, this is a gargantuan undertaking and while we’ve already established one of the world’s most technically sophisticated protein engineering operations, we’re only just scratching the surface of what’s possible”.

More broadly, there is a tension that many deep tech companies face, which is determining how best to develop technology that’s tightly aligned to real-world commercial needs (before running out of capital!). “For LabGenius, we’ve achieved this in a highly intentional way by undertaking a series of commercial projects of increasing complexity from the company’s earliest days,” Field says.

One on-going project is with Tillotts Pharma AG to identify and develop new drug candidates for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

“Our business model is pretty simple,” says the LabGenius founder. “We use EVA to discover and characterise new drug molecules and then partner with pharma companies who can take these molecules to market. For example in a typical partner-financed early discovery program, we’ll take a project from concept to early preclinical stage. Typical deal structures include a blend of R&D payments, milestones & royalties”.

Meanwhile, LabGenius will use the capital to scale its team, expand the scope of its discovery platform, and initiate an “internal asset development program”. The next goal is to evolve novel antibody fragments capable of treating conditions that cannot be addressed using conventional antibody formats.

via Click on the link for the full article

LabGenius raises $10M to use AI for protein drug discovery

LabGenius, a London-based startup applying AI and “robotic automation” to protein drug discovery, has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

The round is led by Lux Capital and Obvious Ventures, with participation from Felicis Ventures, Inovia Capital, Air Street Capital and existing investors. Also investing is Recursion Pharmaceuticals’ founder and CEO Chris Gibson, as well as Inovia Capital General Partner Patrick Pichette, who was formerly Google’s CFO.

Lux Capital’s Zavain Dar and Obvious Ventures’ Nan Li will join the LabGenius board of directors. Notably, the U.K. company’s early investors include Nathan Benaich, Torsten Reil, EF’s Matt Clifford, and Philipp Moehring, to name just a few.

“LabGenius is a full-stack protein engineering company: we combine artificial intelligence (AI), robotic automation and synthetic biology to evolve next-generation protein therapeutics,” founder and CEO Dr. James Field tells me.

“My central thesis, the thing that’s really is the driving force behind the company, is the conviction that we’re entering an age in which humans will no longer be the sole agents of innovation. Instead, new knowledge, technologies and sophisticated real-world products will be invented by smart robotic platforms called empirical computation engines. An empirical computation engine is an artificial system capable of recursively and intelligently searching a solution space”.

LabGenius’ flagship technology is called “EVA,” which Field describes as a “machine learning-driven, robotic platform” capable of evolving new proteins. “As a smart robotic platform, EVA is capable of designing, conducting, and critically learning from its own experiments,” he says.

The goal: to discover and develop new protein therapeutics that are currently hard for humans alone to find.

LabGenius 8485

“For decades, scientists, engineers and technologists have dreamt of building ‘robot scientists’ capable of autonomously discovering new knowledge, technologies, and sophisticated real-world products,” explains Field.

“For protein engineers, that dream has now entered the realm of possibility. The rapid pace of technological development across the fields of synthetic biology, robotic automation, and ML has given us access to all the essential ingredients required to create a smart robotic platform capable of intelligently discovering novel therapeutic proteins”.

To that end, Field frames the development of EVA as a “long-term, ambitious undertaking” that he says will enable the startup to address previously unsolvable protein engineering challenges and in doing so, develop urgently needed therapeutics.

“My ultimate goal for LabGenius is to establish a fully-integrated biopharmaceutical company powered by the world’s most advanced protein engineering platform,” he adds. “Quite honestly, this is a gargantuan undertaking and while we’ve already established one of the world’s most technically sophisticated protein engineering operations, we’re only just scratching the surface of what’s possible”.

More broadly, there is a tension that many deep tech companies face, which is determining how best to develop technology that’s tightly aligned to real-world commercial needs (before running out of capital!). “For LabGenius, we’ve achieved this in a highly intentional way by undertaking a series of commercial projects of increasing complexity from the company’s earliest days,” Field says.

One on-going project is with Tillotts Pharma AG to identify and develop new drug candidates for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

“Our business model is pretty simple,” says the LabGenius founder. “We use EVA to discover and characterise new drug molecules and then partner with pharma companies who can take these molecules to market. For example in a typical partner-financed early discovery program, we’ll take a project from concept to early preclinical stage. Typical deal structures include a blend of R&D payments, milestones & royalties”.

Meanwhile, LabGenius will use the capital to scale its team, expand the scope of its discovery platform, and initiate an “internal asset development program”. The next goal is to evolve novel antibody fragments capable of treating conditions that cannot be addressed using conventional antibody formats.

via Click on the link for the full article

Electric vehicle charging software EV Connect raises $12 million

EV Connect, the Los Angeles-based company that sells software to manage electric vehicle charging, has raised $12 million in a Series B round led by investors Mitsui & Co. and Ecosystem Integrity Fund.

The company has raised $25 million to date.

EV Connect’s cloud-based platform has an open standard architecture that is designed to be hardware agnostic. In other words, EV Connect aims to provide a variety of hardware vendors a way to monitor, manage and maintain charging stations.

The end goal is to push the industry away from a closed and fragmented system to a more open one, according to EV Connect CEO and founder Jordan Ramer.

EV Connect has a two-tiered approach. The company provides and manages 1,000 electric vehicle charging sites through its EV Connect network. EV Connect has a smartphone app to give drivers of electric vehicles real-time access to charging station status.

Its also sells a cloud-based software platform that businesses can customize. Clients include Yahoo!, Marriott, Hilton, Western Digital, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York Power Authority.

As part of the round, Mitsui and EV Connect have agreed to develop new business models around EV charging infrastructure. EV Connect plans to work with Mitsui on various applications of EV charging to lower the cost of charging and maximize its utilization, including fleet and energy management solutions, Ramer elaborated to TechCrunch in an emailed response.

“We strongly believe that EV Connect’s infrastructure management technology accelerates the electric vehicle revolution in the energy and power industry where Mitsui has many assets and access to partners,” Kazumasa Nakai, the COO of Mitsui’s infrastructure projects business unit, said in a statement. “Our unique engineering capabilities, in conjunction with EV Connect’s cloud-based EV infrastructure, will enable us to develop new business models to solve the challenges EV infrastructure currently pose for energy management companies.”

via Click on the link for the full article

Electric vehicle charging software EV Connect raises $12 million

EV Connect, the Los Angeles-based company that sells software to manage electric vehicle charging, has raised $12 million in a Series B round led by investors Mitsui & Co. and Ecosystem Integrity Fund.

The company has raised $25 million to date.

EV Connect’s cloud-based platform has an open standard architecture that is designed to be hardware agnostic. In other words, EV Connect aims to provide a variety of hardware vendors a way to monitor, manage and maintain charging stations.

The end goal is to push the industry away from a closed and fragmented system to a more open one, according to EV Connect CEO and founder Jordan Ramer.

EV Connect has a two-tiered approach. The company provides and manages 1,000 electric vehicle charging sites through its EV Connect network. EV Connect has a smartphone app to give drivers of electric vehicles real-time access to charging station status.

Its also sells a cloud-based software platform that businesses can customize. Clients include Yahoo!, Marriott, Hilton, Western Digital, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York Power Authority.

As part of the round, Mitsui and EV Connect have agreed to develop new business models around EV charging infrastructure. EV Connect plans to work with Mitsui on various applications of EV charging to lower the cost of charging and maximize its utilization, including fleet and energy management solutions, Ramer elaborated to TechCrunch in an emailed response.

“We strongly believe that EV Connect’s infrastructure management technology accelerates the electric vehicle revolution in the energy and power industry where Mitsui has many assets and access to partners,” Kazumasa Nakai, the COO of Mitsui’s infrastructure projects business unit, said in a statement. “Our unique engineering capabilities, in conjunction with EV Connect’s cloud-based EV infrastructure, will enable us to develop new business models to solve the challenges EV infrastructure currently pose for energy management companies.”

via Click on the link for the full article