So I was watching the Techcrunch 50 tonight live on ustream while waiting for Julie to get off the phone before watching Mad Men, and just as I was about to switch it off, I saw a name I recognized. The upcoming presenter was a company called Yext, a company I knew. My jaw hit the floor.
You see when I first moved to NYC 3 years ago this week, I was all open and up for anything. I told myself I just wanted to do something interesting with people I could have fun with and learn from. I wanted to continue pursuing my path as an entrepreneur either by starting my own company or coming on board VERY early with another startup. So I went to all sorts of meetups, NextNY events, and made lots of random linkedin meetings. It was actually fun, and quite honestly I don’t remember a lot of the people I met with during that time, but I do have to say, I remember Howard.
I actually met Howard on Craigslist. One of the things I did at that time to increase my chances of meeting interesting people was to post something on Craigslist saying basically I was an entrepreneur, I had just moved here, and I was looking for another entrepreneur to to partner up with. I got a LOT of responses to that posting, and about 99% of them were junk (no offense to the responders). But Howard’s for some reason intrigued me. I think it simply said “I’m interested, tell me more,” but I did a little digging on his email address and I found an old article about him being a hot shot college entrepreneur. I gave him a call, we connected over the phone so we decided to meet. We met for drinks a few nights later.
I actually liked Howard right away. He’s clearly very smart, he’s very direct, and he’s vision driven. He had a lot more experience as an entrepreneur than I did, and really knew his way around NYC. He told me he was working on an idea around generating leads for local businesses, using his previous company experience “driving millions of qualified leads (he said this a lot).” He said he had another co-founder, the tech guy, and they were looking for someone else to bring on. I was very intrigued. Actually I was really excited. We agreed to meet a few more times, and to meet when his partner came into town.
After a few more meetings, and a quick trip to Chicago for a conference where I was able to see reactions of potential customers, they offered me a deal. They wanted me to join them as a founder and to buy into the company at somewhat higher valuations than they had. I also had to agree to stay on for at least 3 years to get all of my equity (I forget exactly all of the details). I was a little nervous about the money, but was really nervous about being locked in for 3 years. This is something I’ve grown quite a bit on since, but back then I was terried of being locked down for anything. I had only spent a couple of days with these guys, and they were asking me to invest money and committ 3 years of my life. What if I didn’t like it? What if I wasn’t as good as they or I thought I was? What if I found something better? Deeper down than the fear of time committment, I knew 2 things:
1.) Howard would make it work. He would make a big, successful company, and he would do it quickly
2.) I really didn’t want to be part of it.
So I did what I had always done up to that point…I found a way to ease out the back door. I talked to one friend, a VC in Columbus, who told me exactly what I wanted to hear at that time (that the deal was not great for me), and I made my decision: I was walking away. I told Howard via email I was not doing the deal. I do regret that now (not telling him to his face), but that was how I did things back then. But I felt like a freed prisoner and it felt amazing. I remember walking down broadway thinking to myself, “wow I really do know what I want.” I guess I was impressed that I was able to look through an opportunity to probably make a lot of money, and do a lot of the things I want to do, and still hear my gut say “it’s not this one.”
Which leads me to tonight..There on the tv before me, with my jaw on the floor, was Howard and Brent (the two co-founders) presenting their newest product offering at the Techcrunch 50 conference. On top of that they were presenting to some people I really admire and would like to meet someday, and quite frankly their demo was VERY impressive. During the demo Howard let it slip that their current business, the one I was asked to co-found and invest in, will do $20M in revenues this year. I laughed out loud. I turned to Julie and laughed again, saying “now THAT would have been a good investment.” I laughed some more and finally said to her “well I was good enough to find an opportunity like that once, and was good enough to know it wasn’t for me, so I’m certainly capable of finding another one that good again.”
And as hard as that may be to believe, I feel that way. I’m very happy and proud of what Howard and his team have been able to do, and I knew they would do it. And yes sometimes I wish that I had made better decisions financially in my life. But as good as that one would have been for my bank account, it would have been worse to ignore my gut. I have no regrets about my decision. And my gut says now if I was good enough to find an opportunity that big once, I can do it again. But this time it will be right for me.