Sazmining Podcast: Diving deep into a WORLD-CLASS INVESTOR'S Perspective with Andrew Davis
On this episode of The Sazmining Podcast, Will speaks with Andrew Davis, an investor at Techstars. This episode covers Web 3.0, Web 2.5, the journey of a day trader, and so much more.
Andrew Davis (00:00):
I just saw so, so clearly how allthese web three frameworks and, and the tech would be applied across media andentertainment industry pretty
Will Szamosszegi (00:07):
Holistically. What, yes, there's alot of value here. This is a valuable tool. You can't build a company likeAmazon or pretty much any of the business models that are out there todaywithout having the
Andrew Davis (00:16):
Internet founder market fit peoplethat, that get the market and can navigate it competently.
Will Szamosszegi (00:22):
We have something where we enjoybuilding things as well, and we understand the path.
Andrew Davis (00:26):
It's undeniable that when you look ateither the, the human body, uh, or nature in, in all of its systems, there's somuch that we can learn.
Will Szamosszegi (00:37):
Yeah. So Andrew, thank you so muchfor coming onto the show. I've been looking forward to this one.
Andrew Davis (00:41):
Same man. My pleasure. Thanks forhaving me.
Will Szamosszegi (00:43):
For everyone out there who'slistening, who doesn't know your whole background, how about you talk a littlebit about how you went on this journey and ended up doing what you're doing nowwith, uh, Techstars?
Andrew Davis (00:53):
Yeah, for sure. It's, uh, it's awinding journey. So I'm from the northeast, originally born in Philly, grew upin South Jersey. I was always back and forth in Philly. My parents worked inthe city and, um, ended up doing school at Rutgers, uh, in New Brunswick.Worked in New York for a bit, got married, moved back to Philly, um, now downin, in Miami. But, um, career-wise, I spent a long time in the music industry,grew up in church, playing a lot of music, digging around a lot, got in thejazz. Uh, while in high school I played piano, um, and sing, and lots of livedirecting and arranging a little bit of studio work. And I thought that musicwas gonna be what I did for the rest of my life. And then, uh, college hit andlife just kind of took a different, different curve, man, and, um, veryserendipitously found myself in a startup.
Don't come from business at all. Myfamily, not in business to, you know, any degree. My dad did a little bit ofmarketing and, and sales, uh, back in the day. But, uh, true business andentrepreneurship was very far from anything that I ever knew. And one summer,my wife, who's was my girlfriend at the time, uh, didn't want me to get amotorcycle. Uh, I'm a bit of a adrenaline junkie and, you know, went back andforth on it for months and ultimately for her sake, decided not to get it. ButI still wanted something that had the feel of a motorcycle and the safety of acar. And you see a number of things out, uh, in the market like that today. Butat the time, there really wasn't anything. And so I tried to build it andwrangled together a bunch of engineers, mechanical systems, a few auto headss,uh, a few designers and generalists, and we set out to build this hybridelectric motorcycle car thing.
And we failed miserably. Um, it was awonderful experience though, and really just like dramatically changed thetrajectory of my, my whole career. After that, I ended up with Google for abit. We were spinning up a pilot program, um, to help bridge the digital divideacross the country. They wanted this, this particular initiative that wasnormally, uh, associated with Google Fiber, um, to sort of stand on its ownoutside of Fiber's footprint. So they tapped about 15 of us, um, to go figureit out. And we spent a year putting together a, a playbook to do that. Um, wewere out of the New York office, but based in New Brunswick, uh, Rutgers on, onthe campus there, and, um, was an awesome ride. Uh, a lot of programmanagement, uh, marketing partnerships, and really wanted to get deeper into totech. I, I knew that that was, you know, long-term what I wanted to do inspace.
I wanted to be in. And, uh, justbounced around for a, for a bit. Um, I was with e-Marketer, uh, as they weregetting acquired by Axl Springer, um, and integrated with Business Insiderdoing product stuff there. That was with, uh, an agency that was building inthe sort of chat bot and digital assistant market. And that was taken off, thisis like late 2016, early 2017 time. And after that ended up working with areally fascinating company called, uh, landmark Ventures in New York. Reallycould have been three separate business units, um, but they worked togetherincredibly well. As, as a holistic company. There was, uh, investment bank,sort of a strategic events group and this business development and advisorypractice that would work with large enterprises and in startups. And I was thesecond hire in this new industrial iot OT group working with some of the topiot OT companies in the world, doing things like predictive maintenance, digitaltwins, safe SCADA security, and a bunch of just heavy legacy environments.
Manufacturing, oil and gas, energy,transportation, agriculture. And we would work with these awesome, um, highgrowth startups and help them with business development and partnerships. Andso I was interfacing a lot with CIOs and Chief digital officers, VPs ofinnovation and operations at these large Fortune 500 global 2000 companies. Um,helped to facilitate deals, um, and also some advisory for those large, largeenterprises. I was there for a bit. I was living in South Jersey at the timeand commuting to Manhattan. And man, it was a nightmare. <laugh> and notsustainable on, on the bad days, like up at five o'clock, back at 11. It wasjust, it was unsustainable. I was planning for my wedding at the time. Man,that sounds like a grind. Oh, you have no idea. <laugh>, no idea. If Ihad to do it all over again, I would probably do it the exact same way.
Lots of great experience, wonderfulpeople that I got a chance to, to work with. And, um, ended up joining Comcast.Uh, right after that. They were, they had incubated a company focused in iot obut more in the networking stack, so a low powered wide area networkinfrastructure. Uh, Laura Wan specifically, it was a relatively newcommunications protocol at the time, and they were doubling down on that. And Icame in to just wear a lot of hats and help grow the business, um, in, invarious ways, initially, sort of ecosystem development and partnering with alot of startups, uh, across so many industries. Real estate, agriculture, foodservice, retail, the industrial sector, you know, food service, healthcare. Wewere playing in, in so many places to really try to find that sense thatproduct market fit. And so it was sort of like a, and in some instances, like abiz ops, um, type of role where you sort of have like these mini consulting engagementsand try to figure out, you know, if stuff would work in these variousenvironments, both from a market standpoint and a product standpoint.
Worked a lot in sort of businessdevelopment in partnerships and in sales, both at the startup level and, youknow, working with, uh, and connecting with large enterprises in variousindustries. And, um, ultimately a bit of growth strategy in figuring out sortof what was next for, for the company. Running behind the scenes though, I, Iknew I wanted to build again. You know, I had gotten bit years ago with the bugand entrepreneurship was just, uh, something I couldn't shake, but I didn'tknow exactly what to build. Um, none of the ideas that I had really, you know,when you're deciding to do a company, it's something that has to like, reallygrip you otherwise, like you, you lack the proper fuel for the journey. It'stough in so many ways and, you know, entrepreneurship has gotten glamorized alot over probably the past decade more or less.
But it's a, it's a full body workoutthat hits you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, financially. Anda lot of people don't realize that it's not for the fan part, that's for sure.No, you know, people will say it's, it's for a specific kind of person in moreof like an exclusive kind of like way. I, I use it like it's a particular typeof person because it's actually kind of ma masochistic <laugh> in a way.It's like, this stuff is not, it takes a particular kind of crazy to do this.And yeah, it's just not, it's not for the faint of heart, man. I used to try toget people to get on board with it, family, friends, like go start businesses,go do stuff and I don't do that anymore cuz it's just, it's tough man. And ifit's not something that you're naturally inclined to, it's different if youdon't have context on it.
And you need context and informationand then wanna do it. But if like it's just not in you, you don't have thatsort of drive. Like, I, I do not push people, uh, anymore cause I've justexperienced it, man. It's, it hits you. I knew I wanted to do something whileat Comcast. Wasn't sure what. And, you know, nothing truly stuck as far as someof the ideas I was kicking the tires on and decided to try to do consultingand, you know, started engaging with a handful of startups and start to,started to see how valuable what I had to offer was, you know, it, it wasalmost like a per finding my personal product market fit. You start hearingfeedback and it's like, oh, I'm actually kind of good at this and just kindakeep doing more of it and more of it.
And I, I left the first businessunit, this iot group, and ended up joining another group inside of Comcast. Um,they were doing like advanced customer experience analytics and they wereactually spinning out of Comcast into their own separate entity. And so I wasthere for a little bit and then decided to leave. So I ended up closing clientsin, in a couple different areas on the startup side. Um, and on the fund side,uh, I was working with this emerging median entertainment fund. A guy was, uh,he had taken some of his, his assets. I was doing some really interestingthings, invested with the Smith family, you know, will and, and Jada, um, and afew different film projects. We had access to their new holding company,Westbrook as they were getting off the ground. The guys who owned the Batmanip, the Usin family, um, he had invested in a, in a new production studio.
And so he was taking all theseassets, some media, entertainment tech as well. He was taking all these assets,rolling them up into a holding company and trying to scale up a lot of the, um,the investing activities. So I came in to help one, look at deals, evaluatepartnerships, um, and fundraise. And so, you know, was spending a lot of timetalking with family offices, high net worth folks and PE shops and getting somegood, good traction and interest. This is end of 20, 20 19, going into 2020pandemic hit and production across the world. Came to a, a screeching halt likemany industries did and ended up leaving that company, you know, was figuringout what to do next. And came across Techstars and I, um, I had heard ofTechstars because the first business unit I was at with Comcast at the sametime, we had this sort of sister business unit that was also spun up from thestrategic development arm.
We were all a part of called theFlaps, which was Comcast's new accelerator in partnership with Techstars. Andso I heard about 'em, I knew at a high level what they did. And, uh, you know,this particular summer, summer of 2020, I saw that they were hiring. It was apart-time thing. I was trying to figure out what to do next and I'm like, youknow, something to hold me over, we'll see what happens with it. And, uh, a fewweeks in, you know, got the gig and immediately got put on some pilot programsto run and oversee working with all the programs around the world on sourcingand diligence, working closely with the managing director down in Austin to puttogether the class for the 2021 cohort. And just fell in love with Techstars,awesome people. So competent and sharp, um, in, in so many different waysindustry-wise, functionally, but also just great people and a heart forsupporting and backing founders.
The whole ethos that they embody ofthe, you know, give first mentality. It just maps a lot of my own personalethos and I was very blessed and and fortunate to have gotten in and behind thescenes. I was thinking about what to do company-wise. And, you know, over thepast, you know, couple years at that point I'd been kicking the tires on one ofthese ideas. Like I mentioned earlier, I, I came from music and knew the spacevery well and encountered a lot of issues personally in my own like discoveryprocess, trying to find music that I enjoyed and pretty deep technically from atheory standpoint, so like, but also my, my ears. So like, I know what I wannafind, but there wasn't, and still isn't to this day. The tools in place forsomeone like me to be be able to go out and find the music that I wanted tofind.
And a lot of the sort of personalresearch and sort of thinking and strategizing and talking with people out inthe market finally sort of landed on something that compelled me enough,something that had gap in the market and had a lot of technical risk around it.One of the through lines, uh, in my career in so many different ways is justvery technical products, uh, been drawn to them and I enjoy them a lot for whatreason? I'm sure there's one, haven't been able to come up with why, but I, Ilike them. And, um, just had some very nuanced, the, the particular field calledMusic Information Retrieval, and it's the idea of using, you know, machinelearning AI to extract and understand the particular features inside of music.And it was sort of the backbone for this idea to stand up, you know, a solutionthat would help people to find music more reliably, more accurately, moreeasily.
And I started working on that behindthe scenes while I was at Techstars. And towards the end of my, my time theregetting into the end of 2020. 2020, yeah, 2020, I ended up coming in as a e i rin the Austin cohort, um, to help the companies that I had been working withand talking to for a while through the duration of the program, but alsobeginning to stand up this new company I was called Village Music and, um, hadbeen putting together a team with people far smarter than me. I was in hindsight,um, just feel so blessed and fortunate that they believed what, you know, I wasdoing what we were doing. And um, you know, we were, we were building, um, wehad started fundraising and so quickly things just kind of crashed and burnedfor a, a bunch of different reasons.
Um, from a team standpoint, a productstandpoint, uh, even the Summit Senate go to market standpoint, I would've donethings very differently in, in hindsight, but that's the nature of the gameand, you know, was winding that down. Uh, I was also beginning to move downhere with my wife to, uh, first Miami and there was a company that we werelooking to partner with, they were, and are still doing, they're sort ofpositioning themselves now. It's like a, a tiny desk meets Airbnb. So insteadof people renting out their apartment for people to live in, they use 'em asvenues. And the company then brings together emerging undiscovered artists andup to 40, 50 paying customers for intimate live concerts called Mu Casaa. Andwhen my company went Village, uh, I had to wind it down. It just kind ofnaturally made sense, um, to start working with these folks and came into HeadUp product and was trying to figure out was sort of an inflection point of do Igo back into operating?
Do I begin investing? And so I wasworking, uh, you know, with this, this company, it was also I had joined JohnGannon's going VC program, wanted just kind of beef up some of my, my chopsfrom an investment standpoint and also just get, get context to figure outsomething I wanted to dive deeper into. And ended up putting together a thesisaround web three. I've been watching this space since 17, I remember exactlywhere I was in New York, hearing about Ethereum and ICO craze and all just thisnoise. And I'm like, what, what is happening? What, what is this stuff that's acrazy time? Oh dude, so much happening even to this day. Just a lot of, a lotof stuff. I spent a lot of time just sort of like sifting through the weeds tosee like, what, what is this actually? And what I found was some verycompelling technology.
I hadn't quite come across verypractical use cases yet, but something very, very strongly resonated totechnology and just sort of watch the space and just kind of fast forwardthrough all of my, the experiences, um, whether at Comcast and seeing a companylike Helium and various, you know, blockchain supply, blockchain supply chainplays began to see like, okay, here's some more interesting applications,things that, that this, this technology and these frameworks could be used for.Got to know the folks over at the IPF f s, uh, protocol Labs, building ipf, f sand, and Filecoin and just more and more started to understand the technology.I'm type of person that if I don't understand things kind of from the bottomup, it's hard for me to, to truly play in and understand the space and just dugin and really enjoyed what I, what I found and what I saw.
And so after things wound down withmy company, I just saw so, so clearly how all these web three frameworks andthe tech would be applied across the media, media and entertainment industrypretty holistically, whether social art, music, video-based content gaming, andrealized it was a, a space I wanted to invest in. Um, so I ended up leavingthe, the startup at the end of the year, this is last year now, and was tryingto figure out, okay, I want to invest, definitely wanna invest in web three andspend some time figuring out exactly how to do that. Ended up working with a fewcompanies, not in Web three necessarily. One company is kind of playingadjacently into space, um, associated on a few advisory boards and ended upworking with a, a family office putting together a, a microfund in web threefocused a bit more on community.
And then, uh, saw Techstars wasspinning up more programs all across the, the world really, um, on blockchainand web three, and saw this particular program up in Boston with Al brand thatthey were spinning up and reached back out to a few folks and ended up comingand help spearhead the program, stand it up. So that's what I'm doing thesedays actually in the thick of talking with, with companies, making somedecisions by, by Thanksgiving 12 early stage companies will be investing in andsupporting and, uh, very excited about what's happening in the industry. So
Will Szamosszegi (17:06):
It's a wild story, man. I mean, I I'mglad that, that you really ran through all that. So everyone out therelistening can really see, like, you bring in so many perspectives and I can seewhy, you know, you're like the perfect person to work at a company likeTechstars. I mean, I feel like Techstars is one of those brand name, like whenpeople think of accelerators or Top programs will think of like YC andTechstars. At least that's the way that I've always looked at it. And you'vekind of had your foot in or your hand in like every single bucket, uh, from theentrepreneur side and starting up companies to the venture side, to thementorship side. I'm curious into like hearing about your thesis around webthree, right? You talked a little bit about how you first heard about Ethereumand started hearing about the ICO craze back in 2017.
I feel like that's when a lot ofpeople, uh, started hearing about it more often, started looking into it. AndI, at least for me personally, when I first heard about it and for the firsttime really started digging in, I realized, wow, this is a new type oftechnology, just like you had mentioned. And I approached it a lot from themining side when I really started trying to learn about things like bottom uplearning about protocols and seeing how do you think that this is gonna affectthe future? I was pulled into it and went down all these different rabbit holesand then eventually got to a point where I really started focusing a lot onBitcoin. But some simultaneously, I'm so curious about what's happening in webthree and thinking, okay, well I got my thesis on Bitcoin. What is going on inthis whole world of Web three I and, and how are we gonna solve real worldproblems with it?
Um, and that's kind of where I'm attoday with it. I, but I know that there are other people like yourself andother people who are deep in this, who have very robust thinking around wherewe're at today, where we're going in the future, and what types of projects aregonna succeed and, you know, how do communities plan to all that. So I guessall that leading up to just me kind of asking you is like, how do you thinkabout this stuff and how are you approaching it like with what you're doing atTechstars
Andrew Davis (19:13):
Today? Yeah, it's, it's such a bigquestion because it's such a big space <laugh>. Yeah. It's uh, it isrightly called a, a rabbit hole. And when you jump down into it, you begin tofall and explore and go through this sort of hill and valley like waning andebbing and flowing of being excited and being skeptical, feeling like you'remaking so much progress that feeling like you're a new, and it's like you'refalling down this rabbit hole and you look up and it's like this infinite, uh,to some degree space of people who you see just beginning to, to trickle in andit's like, dear God in heaven, you've got so much to, to see and, and dig intoand learn, and then you look below you and it's like this infinite chasm of, gosh,I'm so early and there are people that have been here so much longer.
And it's just sort of a weirddichotomy. I'm not a crypto native person at all. I I don't consider myselfthat I know enough to be dangerous and understand concepts and principles andthe things that I don't know, um, learn relatively quickly. But it's a, it's asteep learning curve for sure. The technology itself is complex. The, theframeworks are decently new. And the combination of those two, as you applythem in various industries, things get very complicated very, very quickly. Whetheryou're looking at, you know, just the pureness of the technology and, andblockchain infrastructure and then how all this stuff works when you look at itfrom a, a defi and financial services standpoint and how all this stuff istransforming that broader market. I don't come from financial services. And sothere's a learning curve both to understand finance and, and all itsintricacies and then understand how defi is transforming all these things.
And it's just moving so quickly. It'slike you, you take a sprint and you feel like you've come such a long way andobjectively you have, but because things are continuing to evolve, it's likeshe, there's a, there's still a lot to go and you can kind of take that reallyacross different areas, infrastructure and tooling, defi, the broader medianentertainment space, the creator economy. There's a whole bag of worms aroundDows and communities and, and their tooling and governance structures andtechnomics. It, it's a fascinating space. And that's just looking at thingsfrom sort of a, a blockchain crypto standpoint. Then you've got this whole sortof immersive side of things with ar, vr, this very nebulous metaverse termthat's getting thrown around a lot, but they all intersect very fascinatingly.And, um, I'm excited about it. I think that it's not going anywhere at all.
You kind of get into a place where,because you're, you're so deep into it. Cause I'm so deep into folks that are,you know, in so deep in it, I, I think very easily you can forget that it'sstill so early because of how much people are talking about it, because of howmuch activity there is cause how much money is flowing through it. But thenwhen you look at sort of this market compared to other markets, it's like, ohwow, there's actually not a whole lot happening. When you look at the number ofdevelopers that are building blockchain solutions, not a lot of 'em, you lookat actual users, not a lot of us here, there's still so much room to go. And soit's, it's promising, but there's also a lot of work to be done becausethere's, there's a promise of web three and decentralization and, and all thesevarious topics, but the, the full manifestation of those things, I think we arequite far away from.
Um, and so you have, you have peoplethat are sort of pushing the boundaries of that almost two classes, right? Andbifurcate on, on one end, people that are like pushing the boundaries ofdecentralization in these, these fascinating frameworks to see how far we cango with it and with, you know, the shock in the market over the past, you know,six months give or take. I think it's causing people to sort of pull back alittle bit. I'm sure you're hearing about it too, this whole notion of web 2.5where it's like, okay, yes, some things can be centralized or decentralizedrather, and it makes sense to explore some of that, but some of these thingsactually make more sense to be centralized. And so it's this, this balance ofhow centralized versus decentralized across that spectrum, but also indifferent places. You can look at that inside of your infrastructure, you canlook at that inside of your, um, your governance structure.
Um, so you've got these differentpockets of, um, of how all these frameworks can be applied and there's a lot ofexperimentation to be done and you've got a lot of skeptics out there, andrightly so. I, I think we need them, um, sort of poke holes in things, but atthe same time, you need people, not necessarily the maxes, I mean, they're outthere, they're loving it, enjoying it, but I think we need more so optimiststhat and, and people that are willing to truly innovate and not be afraid to,to fail. And the combination of the two that have, um, productive conversationson what things are new and can be pushed and where the gaps are and things thatactually may not make the most sense. Cause at the end of the day, these aretechnologies and frameworks and there is no inherent value in those things.
They should be additive to, tobusiness fundamentals. And I think over the past two years or so, a lot of thatgot lost and people were just throwing out a lot of bad crypto projects, a lotof bad N F T projects and just a lot of noise, a lot of bad business beingdone. But I'm glad for this, this shakeout, um, that's happened. It's been likea forest fire of sorts burning away the shrub. And I think this next bull runthat we're gonna see in, you know, God knows how long it's gonna take, maybe ayear, two years, who knows. But it's, it's definitely going to come. And Ithink inside of of that market, we're gonna see a whole lot of very strong,compelling, true values solving real business issues and being at this, thisearly stage looking at, you know, pre-product, pre-revenue companies throughto, you know, seed stage companies.
Even on the, the bit of the laterside, you know, raising three, four or 5 million and everything in between. Youget sort of a front seat to see the full spectrum of things like, yeah, thatjust shouldn't even be happening to, oh wow, this is a fascinating businessopportunity using this technology to do things that you couldn't do otherwise.So I'm, I'm very bullish on this space, but I think we're still trying tofigure out exactly where to, to play both as a, you know, investors, but, um,even more so as is entrepreneurs building new solutions.
Will Szamosszegi (25:29):
Yeah, it's interesting, the way II've been thinking about it is very similar, you know, at the end I, it goesback to what you said, where at the end of the day, these are tools and what isthe real business need and value that's being applied and yeah, I I actuallyjust recently started hearing about this term web 2.5, so I'm probably a litlittle bit behind, uh, some of the people who've been, uh, really deep into itwhere, hey, some, some of this stuff is needed and helpful and some of it isn'tas needed. Going off that, that thread, and this is an idea that I've beenplaying with, I, I'll try and articulate it here, but <laugh> just likehow before the internet, right, the internet was a tool. Once you had theinternet, you had the.com boom where you've had a lot of companies just gettingmoney thrown at them because they had a website, right?
And then all of a sudden you realize,wait, yes, there's a lot of value here. This is a valuable tool. You can'tbuild a company like Amazon or pretty much any of the business models that areout there today without having the internet. Similar here, it's, I guess thenext evolution web 3.0 where you have this new, and it's so fascinating too,like how you can incentivize communities and build incentives to get greaterparticipation and build new types of business models. And I'm not sure whichone of those business models are gonna succeed, which teams are gonna buildthose. But it is fascinating to think about, and I, I think that there's gonnabe a lot of value created there when you're trying to assess that. How do youassess which companies, like when you're tying it back to businessfundamentals, right? Is it more of a, I guess it, if you have a magic, acrystal ball, and you could tell what was gonna happen in the future, it'd be alot easier. But I mean, how are, you know, very, like a lot of the leadingtypes of firms like Techstars or YC or uh, any of the other investors thatyou're speaking with, how are they truly evaluating something when it's soearly stage when you know, rather than just throwing money at, you know, acompany that has a.com or like has a website, how are you discerning betweenthese projects to tie it back to real fundamentals,
Andrew Davis (27:30):
You know, at the end of the day, youback founders, you back the, the jockey. Um, and you bet on people that haveenough insight and to a large degree, humility to approach the market in ajudicious and open-minded way, recognizing that it's, there are two parts toit, folks that have this, uh, this term that we use a lot, founder market fit.And it's at the end of the day, this unique and compelling insight into themarket and the dynamics that are happening in it. So you identify problems,real problems, pain points for folks, businesses, consumers, and being, havingthe, the sensibilities to tie a a solution back to those things in a compellingand unique way. And there's this balance in this, it's a art more than scienceis such a large degree, but being able to determine the quality of a founderbased on a lot of these, these signals and these proxies.
And one of the things that's somassive for me that is, it's like a beautiful dinner, um, when I see it or whenI hear it, founders that are able to clearly and effectively communicateinsight that they're getting from the market. It's, it's one thing to, to domarket research and to do some strategy work to come up and, and try tounderstand, okay, it seems like there's a gap in the market here and or somecompelling value proposition to unleash and here's a solution to to bring thatabout. That's fine in a gr in a solid place to start. And it's likely as, particularlyfor the folks that have, um, have been in the market, are someone thatexperiences that pain, either as a business person or as a consumer. Like it'sa, it's a great starting point to begin to direct the, the compass, but at theend of the day, like at some point you have to start engaging with the marketand the people who you're trying to serve to understand, okay, am am I right?
Am I wrong? You're, you're looking tovalidate or invalidate these hypotheses and assumptions you've got about thebusiness and the best founders that I've come in contact with, you do such anincredible job and probably a better job than anybody of doing that type, typeof discovery work. And so it's a point of conversation whenever I talk withfounders, it's like, I, I see what you've done on paper, typically see your deck,maybe a one pager, maybe some bullets, and it's like, cool, seems like aninteresting idea. I get it. Conceptually, one of the first things that I'mlooking for, what are you hearing from the market? And it, a lot of it comesdown to traction. And traction comes in in many different ways. I thinkostensibly people think that it's all about revenue, and revenue is, is good,revenue is fine, and it can be a great signal that you are delivering things,uh, that are addressing, you know, particular felt needs in the market.
Not all revenues created equal. So youkind of gotta dig in a bit to understand, you know, some of these things underthe hood. But, you know, traction could be revenue, could be users, could belois, could be MOU partnerships, but at the earliest stages and, and at, at itscore, it's a data-driven understanding that people want what you have built.And so when evaluating these, these projects, I try to understand like, are youone building a company, uh, and do you have a solution that is addressing aproblem, unleashing compelling value in the market, and how do you know thatyou're doing this? And there's, there are two ends of the spectrum. They're thefolks that are like, I think it's like this based on what we see out in themarket and what we're hearing and what we're feeling, we think it's this and weare building this solution to try to address that.
And they've got all these hypothesesand assumptions and great lines and product, you know, roadmap and features andgo to market strategies and financial modeling. It's like cool, but there's notreally a whole lot of substance there. On the other side of the spectrum, youtend to hear things like, we've talked to these particular types of peopleconsistently and they have told us this. They are going about doing whateverthey're doing in their lives as, as this particular persona. And we keephearing this consistent pain point or this thing that they wish they could dothis thing that doesn't exist. And in that gap, we've decided to build asolution. Other times, I was just talking to a founder today and I told it, um,to his face, like what you just said is one of the most beautiful things Ihear. I'm talking to founders, you're doing one thing as a company, you'rebuilding solutions and perhaps as you're building you start getting pulled inanother direction from your consumers or from the market.
And then because of that pull, youstart to then pivot and go into that. And it's one of the things that I see notinfrequently and I love to hear because it, it means that you're, you have boththe sensibilities, the ear and the eye to act to have your business act as likea sale for the market. And you put that thing up and the market begins to blowand you're, you have the humility and the, the insight to allow the market to,to push you, you in the right direction. And you just sort of flow with it andhopefully you've got the, the, and this is where the team comes into place, youneed the right people to be able to execute on that. But sort of wrapping upback to your, your question, the thing that that I look for so often, and Ithink many of my colleagues do, strong sense of product, market founder, marketfit, people that, that get the market and can navigate it competently and, andhave it and sort of an explorer's mind, an ear in an eye to, to, to see and,and listen. And with that sort of disposition, a an obsession with being closeto the people that you're trying to serve to understand what you're actuallysupposed to be building. Cuz they'll tell you
Will Szamosszegi (33:15):
That, that was incredible. I I'm surethat all the founders out there who just heard what you just mentioned in that,uh, in that last answer are gonna be so grateful that they listened to thisepisode. I'm curious, uh, I was just thinking about it is, uh, so you've gonethrough the, the founder path and started companies and this uh, this thismotorcycle car type machine. And what, when you started designing that, how didthat, I I know that you, you didn't pursue it like fully or like you ended up,did the, did the vehicle end up coming to market?
Andrew Davis (33:44):
Actually we built nothing<laugh> so much design and design and strategy. We had no idea what wedidn't know and who knew it was so hard to build a car. Yeah. Oh,
Will Szamosszegi (33:57):
Andrew Davis (33:57):
Sounds, I mean the
Will Szamosszegi (33:59):
Fact that you, you went for that,that's like the hardest company you could possibly go and try to start, um,sounds like on the surface. Yeah. So when you, when you were designing it andeverything, like I guess what were some of the biggest lessons that you learnedwhen you were going through the startup journey? Um, as a builder, right?Because that's something that I think is very valuable. I think we talked aboutit earlier, we both agree I was the exact same way by the way, where I wouldalways just tell people, oh, go start something. Like, I'm similar to you inmany ways I would say an adrenaline junkie, like always just going and be, waspulled to entrepreneurship, right? And so I would go and I would tell people,especially early on, like, oh, go do something for it. It's like, oh, you wantto do it?
Go do it and find a way and like finda way to monetize it. But then after going through and seeing how difficult itis and taking a lot of licks, you realize, okay, well it's the perfect thingfor some people. Like for someone like me for example, I just know that orsomeone like you, we have something where we enjoy building things as well andwe understand the path versus, um, most people, that's not their thing. They'dbe much better in some other role that for example, like I would definitely notthrive in. Right? And so I, I think from that question, like for all thebuilders out there, people trying to start a company, what are some insights orthings that you've learned when going through that journey? Trying to buildsomething from scratch or trying to build or bootstrap a company?
Andrew Davis (35:19):
Yeah, focus on sales before product.And that's a high level way of saying spend less time thinking about featuresand cool product ideas and spend. It's really an extension of what, what, whatI was saying before. And it's probably the biggest lesson that any entrepreneurcan learn, especially first time founders, cuz that's typically the mistake.Spend a lot of time in strategy and product and ideas and not enough timetalking with people and figuring out like what to truly build that's gonnasolve needs. And it sounds so simple, but you'd be surprised. It's, it's thisleaky bucket of sorts. And you may or may not have this sort of approach. Youmay or may not hear it by way of advice. If you do start there, you know, by,by some miracle or do have advisors or friends or family that, you know, sortof push this idea of being customer centric and obsessive.
It's something that you constantlyhave to, it's a, it's a muscle that you have to work, um, because it's so easy,especially for people who have entrepreneurial drive and are very ideas drivenand big dreams, like it's, it's easy to stay up in the air, it's easy to stayinside of Notion or Google Doc typing out ideas and how all this stuff's gonnawork and it's just gonna flow and people are gonna come, it's gonna be awesome.You're gonna get the billion dollar exit and Google's gonna acquire you. It'slike, that's cool, you know, it make, it makes you feel nice and feels likeyou're, you're making progress, but in reality you're like a hamster on a wheeland at some point you gotta stop, get off the wheel and just start talking topeople to validate some of the things that you have. And once you ha and youdon't do that for long, you don't wanna spend a ton of time, you know, weeksupon months doing this type of deep discovery work, you need enough to havesome sense of direction, try to get something built.
There are a number of tools outthere, low-code, no-code for those that aren't technical. For those that aretechnical, there's not much of an excuse. And then there's, you know, thenotion, I'm trying to find folks if you're non-technical and that's a wholeconversation unto itself, but you gotta get something built. The MVP is, it's aa critical thing for founders and something that I don't think gets prioritizedenough amongst people who are trying to start companies, particularly techcompanies, but that customer discovery process and work, getting something builtin the hands of users to get that feedback from just iterating to the pointwhere you have some sense of, of founder market or product market fit, that isthe framework. And there's a lot that goes, you know, into it in between, butlike, it's a decently simple recipe that's actually pretty hard to execute onDick's a lot of diligence and a lot of focus.
But yeah, that, that's my advice andsomething that I, I preach to often to founders. I was just on a call withsomeone last night, one of the companies, I sit on their advisory board andI've probably had the same conversation with them. I can't count how many timesover the past two years. And, um, you know, they're building products, they're,um, raising, they are building their team, they're engaging with customers. Butthere's, one of the things we were talking about so, so deeply last night wasgetting back to just the, the core critical things that, that matter for youraudience. They were at a place where they're, they're out fundraising andthey're starting to hear from, from investors like, that's a cool idea. It's,it's fine, but they're not getting really gripped and compelled by it. And he'slike, yeah man, I, I don't know what's, what's going on?
As he's starting to tell me what he'spitching to them, I'm like, oh, I, I get it. There's no meat here, there's nosubstance. You're talking at sort of a, a wishy-washy high level. And that's aresult of not getting down to, um, the things that actually matter withcustomers or the things that only come from talking with customers and diggingdown into the, the why's and those root causes of what you're trying toaccomplish, what those needs are, where the pain points are, and ways to veryclearly tie some kind of quantitative metric to it. Qualitative is, you know, asecond best, but you, you need something that can be measured by way of this,this pain or these gaps so that you can very clearly have a problem or solutionthat that addresses it in a, in a, in a clear way. And so you need some kind ofnumerical system to quantify this, this pain in some way. And so I spend a lotof time talking to founders about, um, about doing that. Even folks that are,you know, are building, have raised money, product out in market, testing outwith users, um, it's something that, that constantly has to get refreshed. Andit's something I've been telling founders for a decent amount of time, but evenas a founder, putting that hat back on, you kind of need people to reinforce thatwith, with you is the trap is so deceptive. But, uh, yeah man, some, somethoughts there.
Will Szamosszegi (40:17):
Oh, a hundred percent. I mean, it, Ican also see it's exactly what you said. It feels good to kind of have allthese ideas and, and think, oh, I'm gonna go and do this and get this exit andeverything's just gonna go according to plan. But getting back to that rootcause and just like talking to customers, figuring out, hey, are we on pointhere or is there something that has to change? And if you're just planning in aGoogle Doc for, you know, like many, many months and not really executing ordoing anything out in the market, then it, it's gonna be tough. You're, you'regonna have to get pretty lucky to hit the bullseye right on nose the first timeyou go out there. Incredible, incredible advice. So I got one last question foryou. This has been an unbelievably amazing discussion here. I I can see thatthe time has just flown and it's gotten dark since the time we startedrecording this. Before I ask the last question, for everyone out there who's listeningright now and wants to stay up to date with what you're doing or go learnabout, uh, Techstars follow you on social media, uh, where can they connectwith you?
Andrew Davis (41:14):
Yeah, I'm, uh, everywhere at ac thevc, um, on Twitter and LinkedIn, spend a lot of time on, uh, LinkedIn andincreasing more on Twitter, but you can, uh, follow on and connect on boththose platforms.
Will Szamosszegi (41:28):
Perfect. Yeah, I, I'm the same way.It's hard to stay on top of all the different platforms and I stick to LinkedInand Twitter as well. Awesome. Madden. Well the last question is what is onebelief that you hold to be true that the majority of people would disagree withyou? Yeah,
Andrew Davis (41:43):
<laugh>, tough question. Um, Idon't know if a lot of people would disagree with me necessarily, but I don'tthink a lot of people are seeing this and, and talking about it. I'm a hugebeliever in increasingly getting, uh, conviction around it, this growing andemerging field of Ry. I think, and this is the, the space, this, this approach,it's essentially, um, getting inspiration from nature on how to build things.Um, that's a very coarse I suppose way of, of explaining it, but sort ofirrespective of where you sit on the sort of, uh, evolution or or creation sideof the, the spectrum, it's undeniable that when you look at either the, thehuman body, um, or nature in, in all of its systems and, and you know, variousareas, there are these perfected systems and, and designs out there. Andthere's so much that we can learn. Um, that I think also presents a verycompelling competitive advantage for companies. One, because it takes a keeneye and a very particular eye to identify those things and to some degree even,uh, a greater degree of expertise to extract those principles and embed them inbusiness models in hardware and software. Um, and so I think there's, there ispotential, um, for a lot of investing, but, you know, main thing, a lot ofbuilding to be done, um, for entrepreneurs looking at biomed solutions.
Will Szamosszegi (43:11):
That's fascinating. What, what was itcalled again? I I hadn't ever heard of this before.
Andrew Davis (43:15):
Will Szamosszegi (43:16):
Biore. Awesome. Well, hey, if theydidn't learn something before that answer, they definitely learn something elsenow, <laugh>.
Andrew Davis (43:24):
Will Szamosszegi (43:24):
So. That was awesome. Yeah, thank youso much for coming on, man. This has been a lot of fun. Yeah, well my pleasurewith, um, with your cohort out there at Techstars and yeah, we'll have to do itagain sometime.
Andrew Davis (43:34):
Looking forward to it. Thanks.
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