Author Archives: T.A. McCann

2 years goes by fast when you’re building stuff

First, happy valentines day to everyone and their partner, and a special one to my love, Teresa.

It was 2 years ago to the day that we closed the deal and sold Gist to Blackberry (Research in Motion at the time).  As an entrepreneur and a team, we had set out to build the best social address book ever made and wanted to get our vision to the most people we could, as fast as we could, which was our primary motivation on selling the company.  The team at Blackberry understood what we had created and where we wanted to go and that was pretty exciting.  That said, there were (and still remain) plenty of challenges on the RIM front, but we all dug in with a hope to make Gist the core of a native Blackberry address book.  Over the last 2 years there have been many changes including a total re-org and exit of the people who bought us, a change of CEO and many of the senior managers of the company, tons of hard layoffs, and the development of an entirely new operating system, Blackberry 10, which finally launched on January 30.  During much of this turmoil, our team remained focused and lead the development of the Contacts app, which has many of the core features of Gist including rich social profiles, most recent updates, company news about a contact and deep integration into the inbox and calendar. While a few of the lead features of Gist (aggregate newsfeed about all my contacts, contact ranking, and the daily digest…) have yet to surface, we are all extremely proud of the work we did on Blackberry 10 and I think its hands-down the best mobile address book on any platform.  In addition, many of us have taken on larger roles at Blackberry with me leading the social applications including Blackberry Messenger, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and IM and Steve Newman (CTO) taking on identity (Blackberry ID), analytics and even Maps for the whole Blackberry platform.  Some of the team have moved on to start their own companies, take important roles at other tech companies but the team that’s remained has had a big impact on the development process (more agile, less waterfall) and culture at Blackberry (empowerment, “freedom with responsibility”, self-direction, beers in the fridge and lots of ping-pong).  It feels good to have started and sold a company where our investors did well, our team did well, the acquirer got good value and we remained motivated and generally happy throughout and we got to realize much of our vision.   Like many things at big companies, that take much, much longer than they should or would at a start-up, it is gratifying to see many of our best laid plans play out.  I want to again thank the Gist team, our investors Brad Feld and Steve Hall, the team at Blackberry and most importantly the users of Gist and Blackberry who believed in our vision and helped many dreams come true.

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It’s good to say “thank you”…

I just finished reading Brad Feld’s latest book, Startup Communities. While I encourage every entrepreneur to read it, it is even more important for anyone who wants to make their city better, more fun and creative by driving a culture of entrepreneurship and startups. There are lots of great anecdotes and examples from Boulder (where Brad lives) and other communities, but the most important lessons for me really boils down to taking action. It’s about the people in each community who invest their time and effort to start things that help entrepreneurs connect, share ideas and support each other. These people take initiative and act in ways best described by the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. I am lucky to be part of the Seattle scene and there are lots of people who are making our approach unique and valuable, so I say “thanks” to them, can I get an alleluia. Everyone plays a part but I wanted to call out a few people who’ve had significant impact on me and inspired me to do more.

  • Andy SackTechstars – for bringing the program to Seattle, for fighting through cancer to keep it on track and for continued support of the process of starting new companies
  • John Cook and Geekwire – for telling the world what we are doing and amplifying our messages
  • Geoff Entress and Andy Liu – for often being the first people to write checks and inspiring us all to support companies with effort AND money
  • Connie ShawUniversity of Washington – for connecting the students- faculty and startup community and driving entrepreneurship into every corner of the U
  • Marc Nager and the Startup Weekend crew – for making it easy for everyone to get started, learn on the job and for spreading those ideals across the globe
  • Luni LibesFledge – for making us think harder about how we measure impact and social responsibility and making companies that really matter
  • David NilssonEO Seattle – for bringing entrepreneurs from all areas together to get smarter and more connected
  • Rand FishkinSeoMoz – for teaching us how you run SeoMoz and inspiring us all to be better leaders
  • Brad Feld and Foundry Group – for writing it all down, investing in leading companies here in Seattle including Gist (mine), Cheezburger, Big Door, SeoMoz…and for putting the entrepreneur first.

As part of the community and someone who has benefited from all your hard work and commitment, I say “thank you”. We are better because of you!

image credit:

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Raising startup funding – 7 things you need to be prepared

Tomorrow is Demo Day at TechStars Seattle and the teams are readying their pitches for a group of prospective investors.   Following Demo Day, the pace of courting and closing investors will be super fast.  Here are 7 tips/actions I have been giving the teams to prepare for an effective and quick fundraising.

  1. Create a Dropbox with all of your materials.  As you get solid investor interest, create a copy of the folder and share it with prospective investors.
    1. Powerpoint of your short (6 mins) and longer (60 minute) presentations (if you have a video pitch, include it as well)
    2. Product summary, features, roadmap… get the investor excited about what you are building
    3. Team background – includes the team bios and social profiles…help an investor get to know you better
    4. List of current/previous investors, mentors, advisors and contact info – they want to know who else is supporting you
    5. Customer/User testimonials/profiles – the voice of a customer is very powerful.  Show photos, bio info, how they found out about you, how long they have been using the product…If the customers are open to being a reference, note that as well
    6. Other supporting docs – this may include market reports, press mentions…anything that helps support your perspective on the market and/or size of the opportunity
    7. Funding docs – term sheets, closing docs…(ask your attorney) – once you get investor interest, you want them to have all the docs they need to review
  2. Create an FAQ (frequently asked questions) – most investors will ask the same questions, at least to start off, and you should create tight, formal answers to these questions.  Have them in a doc so you can respond quickly (likely in email) when you get asked.  Include data and specifics where you can.  If you get the same question more than 3 times, create a solid answer and write it down.
  3. Develop company profile pages.  You want to make sure users, investors, potential employees… can find you easily.
    1. Crunchbase
    2. Angel List
    3. Twitter
    4. If you have extra time;
      1. Facebook fan page
      2. LinkedIn company page
  4. Develop a target investor list (Gdoc, spreadsheet) – Fundraising is a sales process and you should have a solid list of prospects.   The more focused you can be on who (best investors for your space, stage…) and why (because you are like X where they made money before) they should invest, the better.  Here is an example spreadsheet to get you started.  Make notes in the spreadsheet or you can use some lightweight CRM tool like Yesware (built right into Gmail).
  5. Develop a kick-ass summary to be used for email introductions to potential investors.  This is likely 2-3 paragraphs, like an elevator pitch, but should be really dense with market data, progress/traction, links to the site, team credibility…Your advisors will use this to make intros.
  6. Refine your “use of proceeds” pitch and supporting documents.  How will you spend the money?  How long will it last?  What goals do you expect to achieve by the next time you will need to raise money?  Most of your spend will likely be for people/headcount, so consider when and who you will hire and their impact on the burn-rate.  If you have significant areas of additional spend (e.g. marketing) be as specific as possible about what and when you plan to spend.  Investors want to know what they are “buying” into.
  7. Mobilize your supporters (key influencers, investors, advisors…) to promote and accelerate the momentum. Make it easy for them to take action. Ask them (via email) to;
    1.  Follow, Promote, Share… your social pages, especially Angel List.  This will add credibility to your company and build awareness
    2. Add data and ideas to your Investor list 
    3. Make direct introductions to potential investors
Bonus tip – send regular updates to your “team”.  As you close important investors, team members, advisors…keep the momentum going by keeping everyone informed.    Good luck!


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Understanding your customers and key influencers (video and PPT)

Going deep and engaging with customers is a critical part of start-up success.  I recently did a talk on this at the Founders Institute outlining the ways I like to do this and with many examples from our early days at Gist.  If you are developing a new business idea, check this out.   Here is their description;

Inside FI gives you exclusive access inside the training sessions of the Founder Institute. To get updates when we release new videos, follow us onTwitter or subscribe to our weekly newsletter here

In this talk from Seattle Founder Institute, T.A. McCann highlights the importance of understanding both your customers and competitors in depth. He also stresses the value of knowing your influencers, being an expert in your space, and expanding your tribe by trading value for value.

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Status updates are critical – Thinkfuse is going away, but here are some alternatives

Building a company requires building a tribe (team, advisors, investors, users, partners…). To build a tribe, you need to provide frequent updates to make sure everyone stays informed, aligned and energized.   But, keeping these groups informed is a technical challenge. So, when I found the guys at ThinkFuse (during Techstars) I was overjoyed and joined them as a mentor right away. Now, 2 years later they have been acquired by Salesforce (awesome for them) but are now planning to shut down the service on July 25 (sad for us).

So, to replace them for my team, the companies I advise and lots of other people I recommend the service to, I am now trying out; – seems like it has much of the Thinkfuse with templates, email summary updates… – which is really simple and easy to set up. – Aydin (CEO of Thinkfuse) reccomended it to me.

A Quora question on the same subject here –

If you have a very large list (like customers or users), you can use (we did at Gist for our marketing), but this is overkill for smaller teams, investors, partners…

Also playing with a Google doc/Google Group solution for this as well.

The real key is to be able to add a group of people, create template-based status updates, (the system sends updates via email to the group), allow people to respond to the email with comments (preferably in-line with) and everyone can see a history of the updates and comments. Clearly a simple email distrbution list can work too, but has none of the nifty features of these other solutions.  Still looking for the right way to build the tribe.

Other ideas?


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