San Francisco Startup Investing and Funding Tech

‘How American Express Acquired my Startup’ with Tyler Dikman

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In June of 2013, Tyler Dikman joined Founders Community with a challenge in beta referred to as LoungeBuddy: A method for all vacationers to find, guide and entry airport lounges — no memberships, elite statuses, or firstclass required. 6 years, 30 worker hires, and a Seed and Collection A funding spherical later, LoungeBuddy was acquired by American Categorical in March of 2019. 

“Once I mirror on my time in FN, would I do it yet again? 100%. Might I be extra happy with the result? Completely not. Really a dream come true, and it isn’t a cliche to say that. As founders, we frequently get so wrapped up within the tradition of Silicon Valley, with everybody evaluating numbers. However the truth that you’re an entrepreneur, and offering a constructive impression on tens of millions of individuals together with your startup— that’s what counts. That our workforce of 30 has helped hundreds of thousands of vacationers enhance their expertise, and that we obtained acquired by a Fortune 500 firm, that’s what I care about. And we had enjoyable doing it. As a founder, make it possible for what you join is one thing you actually, actually take pleasure in. As a result of some days gained’t be so nice, and the one factor that may get you thru it’s that you’re enthusiastic about what you’re constructing.” stated Tyler when requested concerning the final 6 years.

Discovering product market match

Dikman’s beginnings with LoungeBuddy weren’t all that totally different than your common startup. In his first publish to our founder’s discussion board, he surveyed founders community members whereas deep in R&D mode. 



Then, Tyler requested The Community to check his beta product:

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Getting featured on web page 1 of the Apple App Retailer

After a yr of constructing and optimizing his product, LoungeBuddy launched, and instantly ended up on the entrance web page of the Apple App Retailer.

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Being featured in digital media will virtually all the time yield higher returns

After this preliminary success, Tyler gave again by internet hosting a webinar on how he secured a spot on the entrance web page of the Apple App Retailer. His learnings:

  • Construct your app utilizing Apple’s newest design requirements and performance
  • Be sure it’s globally accessible
  • Be sure it’s distinctive
  • Ensure it’s free
  • Be certain that it’s unique to iOS, a minimum of for the preliminary launch

“A few issues I discovered about options and media typically is that being featured in digital media  (should you’re shopper targeted) will virtually all the time yield higher returns than print or tv media. It’s cool to get featured within the Wall Road Journal or CNBC, but when there’s not a digital model hooked up to it, you’re not going to get nearly as good of an ROI as in the event you have been featured on the App Retailer or if an influential blogger talks about your service.”

“For us our returns have been greater when an influential journey blogger talked about us and in comparison with once we have been within the print version of GQ. For a man like me, who’s the precise reverse of cool, it felt superb to be featured in print or TV, however the return simply wasn’t as excessive.

Getting on the app retailer is all about making a service targeted on utilizing Apple’s design requirements, and their newest and biggest performance. For instance, just lately, Apple launched the brand new model of iOS requirements— if you wish to get featured now, create a cool app that makes use of these design options, be sure it’s globally accessible, and launch. Virtually all the time the editors will think about that product for being featured. However it’s a must to ensure that it’s a product that’s multinational, that’s distinctive, and work out what your class is and ensure you’re tremendous differentiated in that class.

Additionally, ideally, your app ought to be free or at the very least you don’t have a pressured enroll as quickly as a consumer opens the app. Customers ought to have the ability to use some performance with out having to register and/or pay. And Apple likes solely iOS merchandise. So we initially launched on iOS, then Android.”

Construct a singular model

“One among our early causes for fulfillment was that we had a singular product, that was properly designed. It was very area of interest, nevertheless it was a distinct segment that folks needed to be part of. Both you’ve entry to lounges already and gloat about having it, otherwise you don’t have entry and also you in all probability want you probably did. So having a product that will get you related in with that, it’s an aspirational factor, even in case you by no means purchase entry from it. That distinctive issue was a big means that we constructed up our preliminary buyer base.”

For the primary yr or so, we weren’t promoting something, we have been only a listing and group. However that allowed us to construct our model and partnerships, and turn into a reputation within the business. Which then allowed us to exit and promote to companions ultimately. There are a ton of corporations within the journey business that declare to be revolutionary, however frankly a lot of the business is tremendous old fashioned and behind the occasions, and working on very, very previous infrastructure. They usually’re very conservative and danger averse. So due to that, in case you’re some scorching startup that walks right into a room, you’ve acquired to have the ability to do extra than simply say “we’ve a reasonably wanting app”.

Know your buyer, know your gross sales cycle

“Corporations don’t need to companion with a startup that would run out of cash within the close to future. The gross sales cycle into these bigger corporations could be very lengthy– anticipate a cycle of 12-36 months. You possibly can pitch them in the present day they usually might say “Wow, let’s get the chief staff in right here and speak”….then extra conferences.

Then in any case these conferences they are saying “let’s contact base each quarter, however we simply missed our annual planning, so let’s regroup in a yr and see if we will get it in for the subsequent yr”. And by the point you get to the subsequent yr, chances are you’ll get within the price range. Or, the preliminary individuals you met with might have moved to a different place within the firm, or left the corporate, and it’s a must to begin from scratch. Virtually all our mid to giant offers have been over a yr, and one among our largest was 2 ½ years.”

Keep frugal

“All through that entire means of not promoting something, we have been loopy frugal. We operated the complete firm for two ½ years and spent 6 figures. And we had a group to pay — not an enormous one. I paid myself very little or no, definitely not sufficient to cowl all my bills within the metropolis of San Francisco. However we have been very clear with the remainder of the group about what my wage was, and the way I used to be targeted on fairness and never money. And I feel I received a whole lot of respect for that. On the similar time, we put a number of work into designing the area we labored from, and hiring the suitable individuals who valued the identical issues we valued. It’s not nearly having cool stuff, it’s about working with individuals who need to be part of what you’re constructing.”

Heat intros are nonetheless one of the simplest ways to boost funds

“Given how almost each individual is instantly accessible via Angellist, Fb, Linkedin, Twitter, and so on, it’s nonetheless very a lot an intro targeted world for buyers, and that’s simply a part of human nature. Individuals are extra more likely to belief you if somebody they presently belief introduces you to them. So once we began elevating, nearly all of the conferences arrange have been instantly from heat introductions that have been made.

I ask a variety of favors, and I’ve definitely provided the identical of others, with the expectation that I’m respecting the time of anybody I introduce. It’s essential to me that I not waste anybody’s time. At first, we raised slightly bit of cash from family and friends. Thankfully, a few of my buddies are additionally angel buyers. They have been very useful in not solely placing within the first couple of bucks, but in addition in making heat introductions. That is the third VC backed startup I’ve been part of, however this was the primary time I used to be immediately chargeable for elevating the cash.”

Fundraising is about storytelling

“Elevating cash is with the ability to take your idea and translate it right into a story that folks not solely perceive, however can get enthusiastic about. That could be very troublesome to do for a lot of startups. As a result of entrepreneurs need to speak about every little thing. Or they assume sure issues are necessary, whereas in actuality VC’s don’t need to know something about that. So:

  • Be concise
  • Get your level throughout within the first 2 minutes of your pitch

That was a lesson that it took me awhile to study— in contrast to a standup comic that’s up there for an hour and works as much as the large jokes, founders ought to begin with the punchline. As a result of if the individual receiving your pitch is happy within the first jiffy, they’re going to need to take heed to you for the remainder of the presentation. However in the event you don’t get them excited from the beginning, even should you inform them probably the most thrilling factor on the finish, you might have already misplaced them. 

It’s sort of like watching a film trailer. They’re sometimes 45 seconds to three minutes lengthy. Present a bunch of cool stuff in that point and if the viewers will get excited, they’ll need to see the entire film. 

For instance, once I was elevating my seed spherical, I met an investor by way of Founders Community— Daniel Hoffer. I pitched to Dan within the very early days, and I feel it was a basic case of not telling my story in an thrilling approach. However afterward, we reconnected, and I advised the story differently, and I feel he noticed one thing he didn’t see earlier than, and obtained actually enthusiastic about it after that. Typically should you get a no, that doesn’t imply that you simply don’t ultimately get a sure. He was initially an advisor, then after that turned an investor. Attempt to get the advisors you worth to make an funding in your organization. As a result of if they’ve some pores and skin within the recreation, they’re extra motivated to need you to achieve success.”

*Insert Dan Hoffer Picture

“I first met Tyler Dikman at a Founders Community occasion again in 2014 or so when the corporate was nonetheless very younger (seed stage), and noticed him once more at a Concur occasion the place he gained a small marketing strategy competitors. I couldn’t interact with him on the time as a result of I used to be working in a company enterprise capital position that prohibited such actions, however after leaving that position, I reached out to him to discover an Advisor relationship. We agreed to work collectively in that capability, and subsequently I invested personally into his Collection A. Tyler delivered phenomenal execution, working strategically with nice self-discipline, precision, persistence, and frugality. I used to be very joyful, although by no means stunned, when American Categorical ended up buying his firm.” – Dan Hoffer

Get used to listening to no

“We raised our seed cash in convertible debt. That convertible debt was unfold throughout roughly 20 buyers. Of these 20 that ended up investing, I in all probability made 200 pitches simply. So loads of rejection. It’s irritating, it may be painful, and it may be actually miserable.

Particularly if you end up launched to anyone you actually admire, and also you stroll out considering “both that individual is an fool, or I’m an fool”. And typically you don’t know which. That’s to not say individuals are silly as a result of they don’t like your concept, however that’s your preliminary response. It’s an actual emotional rollercoaster. It’s a VC’s job to spend money on corporations that they assume are fascinating, and in the event that they flat out inform you they aren’t , that’s actually robust.”

Should you can’t current a state of affairs to an early stage investor that they will anticipate 30X return or greater, most won’t have an interest

“If you’re making an attempt to boost from a VC, make it possible for the VCs your speaking to are prepared and capable of write a verify of the dimensions you’re asking for. VCs will virtually all the time take a gathering, however there could also be a zero% probability they’ll ever write you a verify as a result of the quantity you’re asking for doesn’t align with their verify measurement.

The actual rule of thumb is that you need to perceive their fund measurement. And in case you are asking for lower than 1% of the dimensions of their fund, they in all probability are unwilling or unable to write down that verify. Now, some VCs might have a separate, tremendous small fund. A important fund could also be $500M with a separate seed fund that’s $20M. However when you pitch to the $500M fund and ask for lower than $5M, that’s often a no go.

In case you can’t current a really actual state of affairs to an early stage investor that they will realistically anticipate 30X return or larger, most professional buyers won’t have an interest. Pals, household, and angels are totally different. However VC’s gained’t have an interest. And to some entrepreneurs, that’s irrational/insane.

On the subject of valuations too, you want greater than “we expect we’re good so we’re value this a lot”. In the event you’re elevating $2M at a $10M post-money valuation, you want a compelling story that explains how your organization might be value nicely in extra of $300M. And should you can’t inform that story with absolute certainty, you’ll most certainly not discover any skilled buyers prepared to take a position at a $10M post-money valuation.

The rationale the dimensions of the fund coincides with how a lot you’re asking for is since you because the entrepreneur are solely betting on one firm. At 30X, if the VC places in Three% of their $500M fund in, and you come back 3X, you’ve returned the worth of the fund (approx $500M) again to them.

In case you ask for $1M out of a $500M fund, even in the event you return 30X, it’s an enormous rock, however in an enormous ocean. And it’s loads of work to regulate an organization. Most VCs are unwilling to place $1M into 500 corporations. You want to have the ability to actually align who you pitch to with their objectives and the sort of examine they will write, and the stage that the actual fund is in.

For those who pitch an early-stage firm to a VC in yr 7 of a 10 yr fund, it’s in all probability too late– they’re not going to put in writing you a examine, as a result of they’re presupposed to return that cash to their buyers at yr 10. One other factor I want I had considered extra rigorously at the start is that the majority startups have an exit someplace between 5 and 10 years after they’ve began. There are all the time exceptions to the rule, however for those who look most large exits, it takes 5 years or extra. Slack, Uber, Lyft, Zoom, are not any exception to that, simply look again to once they obtained began.”

Arrange your organization as much as not want future funding

“After elevating, I made it clear to everybody that we would have liked to imagine that we’d by no means increase once more. The objective was to set our firm as much as not want future funding. The most effective corporations don’t increase so much, present early market adoption, and the remaining money they get is concentrated on getting a constructive ROI. It must value you much less to accumulate the client than what they provides you with in revenue — hopefully in a comparatively brief time period. And should you can work out that formulation, you’re set.

With every spherical you increase, it’s essential have a plan for how are you going to set your self as much as by no means increase one other greenback once more. As a result of with each greenback you absorb, there are all the time strings hooked up. Elevating cash isn’t the accomplishment, constructing a strong enterprise is the accomplishment. In the event you construct a strong enterprise with large progress potential, the funding will come. In my expertise, when you’ve raised your first bit of money, it’s simpler to boost your later rounds. We had ⅓ the quantity of conferences to boost our Collection A than our Seed, and we raised much more for our Collection A.”

Probably the most priceless acronym a founder ought to know

“I feel the story of “listed here are a few of the issues you must keep in mind, notably at first” doesn’t get advised typically sufficient or with as a lot depth because it ought to. 

QSBS is an instance of that. It’s probably the most invaluable acronyms for founders to know, and only a few founders are accustomed to it.

I’m speaking about Certified Small Enterprise Inventory. Notice, I’m not a tax advisor or lawyer and it’s essential to get recommendation from a professional skilled on these things.  The overall overview is that on the time you begin your organization (i.e. when it’s value nearly zero) you purchase your shares (not choices) and the corporate is a C-corp and also you file your 83(b) and you retain data for truly shopping for the inventory (i.e. a replica of your deposited examine into the corporate’s checking account), and also you maintain the shares for at the very least 5 years, then you possibly can profit from this very particular alternative.  

Say that you simply and your co-founder begin an organization tomorrow.  It’s a C-corp and has zero worth. You every get 40% of the corporate and every pay $400 for the shares.  You obtain your inventory certificates, save a replica of your cancelled verify for $400 that’s deposited into the corporate checking account and file your 83(b).  5 years and someday later, your organization will get acquired for $25 Million. Because of QSBS, you’ll pay ZERO federal tax on the larger of 10X your funding (of $400) or $10,000,000 of proceeds.  On this instance, your payday shall be $10 Million, which suggests your solely tax burden can be state revenue tax (and in some states, you gained’t be chargeable for taxes on this revenue both).  

For some founders, which means ready a bit longer to promote, might dramatically change your payday. As well as, shopping for your shares and filling out the suitable paperwork from the start can equal hundreds of thousands in tax financial savings. That is one instance of getting that information early on could be the distinction between having a really financially useful consequence, and having one thing that wasn’t dangerous however might’ve been lots higher.”

Having a smaller pie however a much bigger piece of it, yields greater returns for these with a bit

“The one different factor I’d actually wish to share, and one I might gladly inform founders in Founders Community: A few of the most profitable companies are those the place the exit shouldn’t be within the billions of dollars. First, most exits usually are not billions. Oftentimes, the exits which might be most profitable for the founders and early staff are smaller as a result of then they didn’t surrender a ton of fairness to buyers. Having a smaller pie however a much bigger piece of it, typically yields greater returns.

A crucial issue that most individuals underestimate, is who can afford to accumulate what you are promoting, and at what worth? Take a look at the large gamers (i.e. potential acquirers).  Take a look at their previous acquisitions. To get the worth tag you assume, the one choice is getting acquired by one firm, or submitting an IPO. Take the variety of IPOs in tech within the final ten years, and the variety of startups within the final ten years who’ve raised a seed spherical, you will notice that’s a small fraction of 1 %. If the most important potential purchaser of your organization hasn’t purchased an organization for greater than $50M in the previous few years, you in all probability gained’t be the exception to that rule.”

In case you take cash from buyers, you should anticipate to have some sort of consequence

“Once we raised our Collection A spherical, there was a basic expectation of a liquidity occasion. To be clear, nearly all startup founders that increase greater than family and friends have to have that very same expectation. As a result of buyers want to have the ability to get liquidity sooner or later, until you’re a charity. That would liquidity might come from an acquisition, a merger, or an IPO. 

As soon as we began choosing up money, we started considering via our exit technique. That was quickly after incorporating the enterprise, a couple of months previous to launch, and fewer than a yr after we got here up with the thought.” 

One of the best potential acquirers are companies you’re presently working with

“One of the best potential acquirers are companies you’re presently working with. Identical to with buyers, individuals need to do enterprise with individuals they belief. There’s this superb guide referred to as Magic Field Paradigm that I extremely advocate. This e-book is nice for any startup founder who needs to know find out how to greatest place their enterprise to be purchased and never bought. Being purchased and never bought is the distinction between promoting out of desperation and turning down a suggestion since you aren’t able to promote at that time limit. 

With our acquirer, we had been working with them for two years. We a number of profitable implementations. We have been capable of show to them that their worth proposition to their clients was very complementary to our worth proposition. And sure, they (in addition to some other firm) might attempt to construct what we’ve created, however they knew we might do it higher and quicker. And the 2 corporations mixed was higher than the sum of the elements. And it’s sort of just like the film Inception. You plant that seed of their head and let the thought take root. And that’s a part of that multi-year gross sales cycle I discussed earlier. 

You need to develop into pals together with your potential acquirers early on. Even when they aren’t at first. Maintain them heat, hold them and up to date. As a result of a pair years down the road, they could be speaking to their board, and an issue shall be introduced up that your organization can remedy. Even for those who aren’t a B2B enterprise, you need to perceive who your potential acquirers are, and maintain them updated.

When you attempt to promote your corporation in lower than a yr, you could have in all probability not given your self sufficient time (and certain turns into a fireplace sale).  From the day you begin a critical dialog about acquisition, to the day that sale occurs, it’s virtually by no means lower than Four-5 months. And virtually all the time the acquirer expects the important thing members of the staff to remain on for at the least a pair years after. Whenever you add all of it up, you could take into consideration are you prepared to place 5-7 years in to construct and promote the enterprise, after which keep on together with your acquirer for an additional 2-Three years? 

Once I mirror on my time in Founders Community, would I do it once more? 100%. Might I be extra happy with the result? Completely not. Really a dream come true, and it isn’t a cliche to say that. As founders, we frequently get so wrapped up in Silicon Valley, with everybody evaluating numbers. However the truth that you’re an entrepreneur, and impacting tens of millions of individuals together with your startup— that’s what counts. That our workforce of 30 has helped hundreds of thousands of vacationers enhance their expertise, and that we obtained acquired by a Fortune 500 firm, that’s what I care about. And we had enjoyable doing it. As a founder, be sure that what you join is one thing you actually, actually take pleasure in. As a result of some days gained’t be so nice, and the one factor that may get you thru it’s that you’re captivated with what you’re constructing.”

Right now, Tyler stays an integral a part of the Founders Community group. He hosts intimate dinners at his workplace, lists his product on our listing of offersand will probably be giving a hearth chat about his acquisition at our Annual Fall Convention, fnSummit

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