“It just sort of happened really”
Patrick and I met while working at a non-specific vertically integrated electronics retail store named after a piece of fruit. I fixed computers and phones, while he sold them. He was sort of this quirky and shy guy, but he was great at hacking systems. Not in the traditional sense of hacking computers, he was great at finding ways to get around systems and exploiting holes. I thought I was good at this, but Patrick had skills far beyond what I had.
We decided to play a game, over the course of the next 6 months to see who could come up with the best system hack without getting caught. He won, but he got caught (fired) a while later. While I stayed on, he left to start his first startup, MyTechie.
We went our separate ways, but kept in touch. I was always admiring of his ability to run his own business, and watched it grow from a single office to having contractors all over the world.
Years passed. We both graduated. It was a strange turn of events lead to us reconnecting. I was living at a family friend’s house, and she decided one day to kick me out. She locked me out, so I had to pick the front door lock (a la Macgyver) to get all my stuff back. I packed it into my 2014 Dodge Journey and drove it to Patrick’s house.
I ended up being homeless for a month. Patrick had previously been homeless in his life, so I knew he’d be empathetic and let me stay the night. That night we sat around and talked about ideas we had about the future, particularly the future of Bitcoin and the Blockchain.
Patrick and I had our jobs in the city, at our respective financial institutions. We met up one night to grab a drink at a bar in downtown Sydney called the York Trading Company. We sat there and talked over beers, and Patrick pitched me this idea he had. He wanted to build a system that used the blockchain to issue stocks in stuff. He explained that he didn’t know what to use it on, so he was probably going to use it to buy a house with a few friends.
I was amazed. This was by far and away the best idea I’d ever heard in my life. I downed my Peroni, exclaimed I needed to go to the bathroom and proceeded to venture upstairs to said bathroom.
There is an art gallery above this bar called Art Equity. I looked at it. It looked back at me. And then it clicked.
I ran downstairs as fast as my drunk legs could carry me. I was so excited I didn’t even pee. It was here that I said:
“Art is to us as books are to Amazon”
We would use Patrick’s model to buy expensive, cool stuff. Stuff that you wouldn’t normally be able to go out and buy.
It was only after a few months that it became abundantly clear that we would not be able to build this ourselves. Although we both worked in IT, neither of us could write code. Patrick worked in DevOps. I worked in Project Management. We needed Developers. We needed Designers. We needed people.
Patrick was a member of the Australian Computer Society, and suggested I come along to a networking event and see if I could pitch our idea to some developers. He had me at free beer.
It turns out you needed a membership to attend, but I still walked in anyway (this is a recurring pattern throughout my life). After a series of talks, there was the awkward mingling time. The gentleman speaking that night approached me and told me to “get off my ass” to talk to people. I downed my Peroni and went to work.
As luck would have it, I pitched to a group of developers that night. I told them that we held a fortnightly meeting at our office (basement at the back of a guitar shop), and if they were willing to help us, we would build something amazing and they would have a job for life. We told them we couldn’t pay them, but we believed this was going to be one of the best products of all time.
They all showed up the next night at our office. Most of them are still with us today, and without them, AssetSquared would just be two guys at a bar.
Patrick and I decided we needed to quit our jobs to make this work. He had told his boss about it, who decided it was a conflict of interest and that he either needed to quit AssetSquared or quit his job. My boss was also unhappy with the time and effort I devoted to AssetSquared, so he told me that it was time to decide where my priorities lay.
We both quit on August the 28th. We told our development team that we would spend the next 6 months building our product in the only space we had, the basement at the back of a guitar shop on 153 Regent Street Redfern.
It became clear very soon that there was not enough work to go around between Patrick and I. He needed another job, so he applied for a job at Cisco.
As luck would have it, for the interview Patrick was sent to San Francisco. When he got back he explained that if he got the job, he would get two weeks of training in San Francisco. He said he’d like me to join him if he got the job. He got the job.
We built all the code on the 23rd of October 2015, and held a launch party at our office. The next day we set out for San Francisco.
Andreessen Horowitz is one of the best Venture Capital firms in the world. Marc Andreessen invented the first web browser, and was founder of Netscape (which for those that don’t remember is the OG* version of the internet), and Ben Horowitz was CEO of Opsware and Loudcloud (which was the OG* version of cloud computing).
Of all the investors in Silicon Valley, these guys were the ones that we wanted to invest in our company. We understood that there was an incredibly small chance that this was possible, but nevertheless we decided to give it a shot anyway.
And so it was, that Patrick had somehow acquired the email of one of the partners who worked there. We emailed her as soon as we got to San Francisco.
Day 1: No Reply.
Day 2: No Reply.
Day 4: No Reply.
It was at that moment I hatched a brilliant plan. I would simply just go to their office, like I had for my first job and politely ask if we could organise a time for an appointment.
So on the morning of Day 5, I took a bus, a Caltrain (that’s a train in California) and walked 45 minutes to the offices of Andreessen Horowitz.
The offices are amongst the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. And, sure enough, as I walk in there are a group of gentlemen wearing suits. As it turns out, these gentlemen are security guards and their job is to stop people like me walking to their office. And so, headphones on (blasting Dr Dre), I walk into their office.
As I walk in, there are a group of people having a meeting at a desk who stop and all at once look in my direction. Awkwardly I say “hi” in my naive Australian accent. They immediately asked if I have an appointment, to which I say “no, I just came to check the place out.”.
Unbeknownst to me, that was the second worst thing I could have said.
I followed it up with “oh, but I do run a startup based in Sydney, Australia, and I was wondering what the process would be to get an appointment with you guys”.
That my good friends, is the worst thing I could have said.
A tall gentleman in a suit comes over to me and asks me for a business card. I oblige, and he asks me to step outside as they are having a meeting. He looks at the card and says “Well, Oscar. I’m head of Security here. If you don’t have an appointment, we can’t welcome you here. Come back when you have an appointment”.
And so it came to pass, that I was kindly escorted out of Andreessen Horowitz by their head of security.
The story doesn’t end here. We did end up getting a reply from them, and on the second last day before we left we managed to have a phone conversation with a partner at the firm. She liked us, said our idea was interesting, and was (hopefully) going to put us in touch with others at the firm who may be able to answer our questions. It’s not the finish, but it’s a start.
These are the lessons I learned.
This is the worst thing you can possibly do to introduce yourself to anybody, let alone a Venture Capital firm. It’s almost like finding a celebrity you like, who you’ve run into in passing, going to their house, knocking on their door and asking to come in. It doesn’t work. I can’t stress this enough.
This was only really evident in hindsight. The goal is never to secure funding. The goal is always to work on your business, and make it so good you can’t be ignored. It will even give you the luxury of choosing who funds you. The flower doesn’t wait for the bees, the flower blooms and the bees come.
This lesson sounds ridiculous, but ultimately Silicon Valley is just a place with people in it. Sure, these people have money. And yes, almost all the big tech startups are there, but that doesn’t mean anything.
What does mean something is that no matter where you are, through the internet you still have the capability to build an amazing product and to give it to the world. It might start small, but thats the beauty of growing a business.