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Gifts that “pop” — welcoming LovePop to the DRF community!

10/15/2014

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It’s not very often that you see a product that makes you go “wow” — but that’s exactly what I heard all around the room when LovePop co-founder Wombi Rose first brought a sample of LovePop’s cards to the Dorm Room Fund team — ships above and at water level, snow flakes, a car, and even a ferris wheel that spun. One of the Boston partners even purchased one on the spot! Dorm Room Fund is proud to welcome LovePop to its community, and we’re excited to support their Kickstarter as they reinvent the way we show affection to one another.

Greeting cards have grown almost extraneous to the act of gift-giving, they’re  there to hold money, sometimes tell a funny joke, or contain a personal note, but a greeting card is not necessarily needed to achieve these objectives. We’re excited to see LovePop attempt to change this by making the traditional vehicle of affection significant in itself as a gift and source of joy. With 7 billion greeting cards purchased every year, we think that there’s plenty of people that would be interested in these. And the team has proven that the cards do sell. This summer alone, Wombi and John sold over 4,000 cards exclusively through in-person sales at various markets and fairs around the northeast, and we’re excited to support their efforts to scale sales online. Between their business acumen and ability to hand-make these from concept to card, we fully believe that Wombi and John can achieve their vision.

In a time of text messages, e-cards, and snapchats, it’s amazing to see a physical product that brings joy and conveys genuine emotion. Beyond just being a great product, LovePop does good by providing jobs to families in Vietnam who locally craft and assemble the cards. From technically-sophisticated 3D design to handcrafted work, LovePop cards shows that great products can disrupt old industries. Dorm Room Fund is proud to support LovePop as they bring a more personal touch in a digital age.

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Welcome Our New Partners and Yale University to Dorm Room Fund NYC!

10/07/2014

At the beginning of this school year, I had the pleasure of meeting many of our investment partners from Philly, Boston and SF as NYC hosted the first all Dorm Room Fund gathering. Surrounded by some of the most talented and accomplished group of students I had ever met, I felt inspired.  As another team member said, these are the people that will be the future leaders in this industry, if not already.

It has been an exciting journey since I officially joined the team in January, and the highlight of this experience has been meeting all the people.  From student founders to well respected venture capitalists, I have learned so much from the exchanges along the way.  But the individuals that I have learned the most from are those on my team.  It never ceases to amaze me how much I gain from the discussions I have with our team of student partners.

As we enter into the school year, I am extremely excited to announce five new individuals joining DRF NYC as well as a new campus, Yale University!  David, Jiaying, Matt, Parthiban, and Viveca bring their technical skills, experiences interning at startups, passion for helping others, and above all, a diverse set of interests.  We are also excited that David and Viveca will be the new representatives on Yale’s campus.  The entrepreneurial community at Yale is full of amazing students and we look forward to adding this new school into the DRF network.  This is going to be a great year and another that is going to be full of learnings!

Welcome David, Jiaying, Matt, Parthiban, and Viveca! 

David Chi

David Chi

David studies Applied Mathematics at Yale. In high school, David co-founded Forward Tutoring, which enables students to pay for online tutoring not with money—but with community service. He’s particularly interested in technologies that improve the delivery and cost-effectiveness of meaningful healthcare outcomes. David has interned at Abdiel Capital in NYC and Lone Star Investment Advisors in Dallas. In his free time, he can be found spinning a Chinese yo-yo.

Jiaying (JY) Lim

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Jiaying (or JY, for short) is pursuing a joint major in Economics and Political Science at Columbia College. Since joining the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs in her freshman year, she’s been deeply embedded in the community, organising events and mentoring new members. As a member of the executive board, she is the Director of Events, co-founded the CORE Blog, launched social entrepreneurship initiatives, and leads Women@CORE. She has interned at NY-based startups Fundera and Try the World, as well as Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings. Other than that, she enjoys traveling, good food, even better books, and running.

Matt Windt

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Matt is passionate about commercializing technology and bringing products to market. He is part of the inaugural MBA class at Cornell-Tech focusing on entrepreneurship. Before going to grad school he worked in the R&D group at the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) where he funded and mentored the development of early stage technologies and companies. While at NYSERDA he also led the growth of the Cleantech Open accelerator program throughout Upstate NY, aiming to better connect early stage companies with resources throughout the northeast. Matt received his BS in Environmental Engineering and M. Eng in Chemical Engineering, both at Cornell. In his spare time he can be found attending concerts in NYC or hiking the gorges in Ithaca.

Parthiban Loganathan

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Parthi is a Computer Science major at Columbia, minoring in Economics and Operations Research. On campus, he’s a board member of the Application Development Initiative where he works towards building a stronger CS and entrepreneurial community by hosting workshops, hackathons and connecting students with tech companies. Parthi has worked at Coursera as a Kleiner Perkins Fellow and Sailthru as an NYC Turing Fellow in the past. An avid Android developer and aviation enthusiast, he built an app that’s actively used by tens of thousands of pilots worldwide.

Viveca Morris

Viveca Morris, Headshot

Viveca Morris, one of the first Yale students to join Dorm Room Fund, is interested in how technology and business can be leveraged to make the world a more humane place. At Yale, Viveca studies environmental challenges with a focus on urbanization and the future of food production. She spent last summer learning to code at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and building a web application to help U.S. veterans successfully transition from combat to college. She agrees with Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, that one of the most powerful things in the world is a big idea in the hands of an outstanding entrepreneur. She is deeply excited by change-makers who are inventing, developing, and implementing creative solutions to challenging problems.

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It’s on-campus recruiting season. Are you good enough to ignore the banks and consulting firms?

10/06/2014

Reblogged from Phin Barnes’ Sneakerhead VC:

I read the recent piece Michael Lewis wrote about young people choosing to work on Wall Street over Silicon Valley, and found myself nodding along in agreement. The first time.

But something wasn’t right.

So I re-read it a bunch of times over the weekend and tried to figure out what was bothering me. His description of what happens when recent graduates — usually recruited the previous fall — go to Wall Street really resonated, but his conclusions about why they go feel wrong. In particular, his view that Wall Street has a permanent choke hold on the best young minds in the world feels almost naive.

“Technology entrepreneurship will never have the power to displace big Wall Street banks in the central nervous system of America’s youth.”

Nothing is permanent. This is NOT the way it will be in the future and it is NOT what I see when I spend time with college students.

Over the past 3 years, I have been a part of creating and building Dorm Room Fund – the first student run venture capital fund dedicated to investing in student-lead startups. I have spent a ton of time with many of the most talented students in the world.

This experience has made three things clear to me:

  1. The career development offices at top universities are designed to funnel talent into finance and consulting, not startups.
  2. The startup industry is the best place for the best students to get the best professional start
  3. I would not get into college today

There are a ton of challenges in displacing Wall Street banks and management consulting firms as the go-to options for the top university talent, but most of them are marketing challenges. The banks and consulting firms have rigged the system to leverage all their advantages, and I think if more students could see this, it will help startups win.

As on-campus recruiting heats up, students have to decide if they are talented enough to ignore the Wall Street Banks and the management consulting firms. They have to decide if they want to help scale a startup or get help to scale a corporate ladder — and if they are confident enough to wait until Spring to secure a job. This is really hard to do. Here are just a few of the challenges I see, and some ideas:

Students are process oriented:

Students at the best schools are accustomed to high achievement. They’re comfortable with fixed processes that evaluate relative performance against their peers and quantifiable results that are tied to easily articulated rewards. Banks and consulting firms run very clear recruiting processes (and in fact, set the rules on timing with the career services offices at most schools to create a fixed process). These firms are open about having a specific number of “slots” for students from each school, and they operate in a competitive landscape with a well organized stack rank of status from top to bottom (McKinsey>BCG>Bain and Goldman>Morgan Stanley> Credit Suisse). Both reinforce the relative competition for tangible rewards that students have been trained to react to like Pavlovian dogs.

Startups can’t compete here without a huge investment in education and marketing. The recruiting budgets for most of these firms are multiples of the seed capital most startups raise (even today). The career development offices help students know what to expect and then push them down the well-trodden path. Startups are different – They start recruiting in the late spring because of the fast paced nature of their business makes hiring needs hard to predict over long periods of time. This means students who want to work with them have to forgo offers from bigger companies and trust that they will find something better, later. Traditionally, to get recruited by a startup, you have to abandon the well-mapped paths and bushwhack your way into an interview. You have to figure out where you want to work based on what the company does and find clever ways to get noticed by someone who can make a hiring decision. This is changing and while the timing is still MUCH later in the year, it is becoming easier to find and apply for a job at a startup now more than ever.

The process should be clearer to everyone. Most startups and venture firms have “jobs” pages that list available opportunities in their portfolio. Most startups are listing jobs on AngelList,Indeed, and HackerNews Job boardsReadyForce has a very cool platform and so do Venture for Americastartup hire, and VentureLoop. If you don’t have a computer science degree or internship experience at a startup, Lynxsy is a good resource for surfacing opportunities specific to non-technical roles. For those of you who want some more coaching and guidance during their search, The Muse and HIRED both provide more hands-on support throughout your process until you find your dream job.

I have also noticed many more startups hiring a recruiter or hiring manager much earlier in their growth — often focused on specific experienced roles, but also open to meeting with talented young people with tons of horsepower.

Unless you are an engineering or CS major, the specific jobs that are advertised are unlikely to be an exact match — but you can learn a lot about a company by looking at their hiring needs and how they change over time. Are the jobs that they are posting different so you can assume the company is successfully building a team? If you search for the company on LinkedIn, is there growth in employees? Do the people filling the roles seem to be high caliber with deep experience? Is a founder in charge of the functional area where you believe you could add value? If not, has the person leading this group been there a long time and has the group grown below them, implying they are a good leader? How would you be able to add value? Where would your skills fit in this early-stage company?

Goal #1 is to graduate with a job:

Prior to graduation, most top students have never faced real uncertainty. Yes, post high school there is stress about where you will go to college, but if you land at one of the top universities in the world, there was probably never doubt about how you would spend the next 4 years of your life. Now you head into senior year and the next chunk of time in your life is undefined and uncertain. This is scary. The banks and consulting firms know this. They also know how many cogs they need in the associate wheel years in advance and are happy to help you sleep at night by offering you a job before you head home for Thanksgiving and face your friends and family — and the inevitable questions about “What are you going to do after graduation?” Pretty f’ing sweet to say, “I’m going to Goldman…” and have smiles all around while you drop the mic and ask Grandma Mildred to pass the mashed potatoes.

Startups, in contrast, try to achieve just in time hiring. Long-term HR planning is not a strong suit. Startups are dynamic, fluid organizations that accelerate at different rates and in different directions over time. It is hard to know how many talented people you will need in 6 months and even harder to know what you will need them to do. Even if startups decided to make offers in November for jobs that started in June, it’s very likely that the job description would change dramatically over that time — and this makes hiring with a defined process difficult. If you choose to work at a startup, you will have to endure Thanksgiving and winter break with no job and likely have to balance spring break plans with interviews that you have had to chase down on your own. When you do get the job, no one will know the company where you are working and even fewer people will understand what you are doing. If you get into the details of the salary etc. it will be less than what bankers make and the concept of options are about as foreign to most people as Iraqi Dinars.

I would argue that the way a company hires is often a strong indication of how they manage, develop and promote talent as well. The hiring process for the banks and consulting firms is up or out, the internal culture is up or out. The process is designed to extract everything they can from you and deliver the best outcome for them. The work of an associate is more of the same. A great startup hiring process filters for fit; looks for a flexible mind and approach that can adapt to the changing realities of the company and the market; and in many ways requires the job seeker to define the role and lead the process. You have to make your own way and unlock the opportunity. You have to be a leader. If you are, you will learn 10x more, have 10x more impact and be 10x more engaged than any of your banker or consulting peers.

Prerequisites are acceptable in student life:

Students are trained to accept prerequisites. When a university says, “To take this really interesting class that you are passionate about, you have to grind your way through these 3 others that require long hours and brutal, mind-numbing problem sets or research papers,” the best students dig in and grind. When a sorority, fraternity or other group makes hazing a part of the vetting process, students accept it and engage in the punishment. The consulting firms and banks have marketed the role of associate as a prerequisite for successful pursuit of what you really love. They figured out the vulnerability of financial instability and a general feeling of being highly educated but unskilled, and they leaned into it. Hard. Come for a few years and work hard, learn a lot, make great connections, pay off your student debt and then, and only then, go start a company or join a startup or join the Peace Corps. Michael Lewis nails this piece of the puzzle when he asks, “Then what?” The functional things you learn are likely not helpful outside your industry of focus, and the moral compass that you adopt is probably unusable beyond the walls of the Death Star bank you choose to join.

Don’t fall for this. College was the prerequisite to the opportunities you want. You have earned the right to pursue your passion, and you will do that the fastest at a scaling startup led by amazing people. It is a myth that you need to have technical expertise or that you have to be a founder to build a career in the startup industry. Many of our best founders start their careers by joining successful startups as managers or individual contributors. They get to learn what it takes to build a company by being part of building a company, and for the lucky ones, it is a great company with a great team and culture.

I have a ton of respect for Michael as an author, and many of his books are my favorites, so it hurt to hear this view coming from someone who has studied sudden and dramatic shifts in industries and written so much about disruption in established systems. I want to see the banking and consulting monopoly on talent broken and see many, many more people pursue a career in the startup industry.

If you are graduating in 2015, you have already been programed to work at a startup and to be an entrepreneur. You have newfound beliefs and often they are tightly held. You are optimistic and want to change the world. You are full of passion and push stuff to the edge, often because when you try something for the first time, the only fail safe way to find the edge is to go over it. Learning has been your primary focus, and you should continue on this path. Click here to get started in the First Round Community or connect with someone from our Talent Team and they will help you accelerate your career at startup speed.

 

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My Love Story: Why I Joined DRF

09/19/2014

Have you ever been in love? You know those feelings of the unknown but excitement of the possibility and the ¨what ifs¨? Late nights, endless chatter and just clicking?

Love is when you sew the missing pieces of your project until three in the morning, three nights in a row, while having your parents visit during finals. Love is not having any clue if people will love or hate your project when it’s done. I am a graduate student at NYU ITP, or the center for the recently possible. It’s a hot bed of creativity, engineering, programming and exploration of the imagination. Classes range from a study of games known as Big Games,  understanding the benefits of mushrooms with Fungus Among Us and cell phone networks or Towers of Power. This last class was the foundation for my student project called “Smart Hoodie” that led to the late night sewing and soldering sessions. Our student project went from homework to possible consumer product before our eyes. Our texting sweater gave us valuable media attention that translated into market research. My co-creator and I have the opportunity to explore a business around wearable communication technology. This may sound challenging with graduate school, but if you look at the history of ITP projects that turned into companies it may be just the right time: Datavisual, Stringwire and Foursquare, among others.

If you asked any of my friends who pitched me an idea for a business in the last few years you’ll know exactly how I feel about entrepreneurship. I will promptly provide them with twenty websites to visit, five people to connect with, and endless ¨what ifs¨ to pivot their initial ideas. My love for entrepreneurship runs high. A lot of my family members have businesses and I see their successes and struggles but overall their love and passion for building their businesses. Love is blind as they say and sometimes the struggles are left behind.

The future and past, here in the US and particularly in New York has always been heavily woven with entrepreneurship. New York City schools provide a special mix of creativity and collaboration that leads to some of the most unique startups I’ve seen. I wanted to be a part of Dorm Room Fund because I want to support the growth of student startups. The creativity I’ve seen in my peers and fellow students from other universities leads me to believe this time we have while in school is the most valuable to our imagination. Our thoughts and ideas start to mix and the potential to create is high. I hope love finds you and you spend endless nights building your dream. If you have any crazy ideas, I’m here to listen!

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Putting Team First

07/28/2014

In your opinion, how important is the founding team to a company’s success?

If you said it’s the most important factor, and you believe your choice of co-founders is the biggest predictor of your company’s success, you’re not alone. The top early-stage investors agree. Ron Conway said “We start with the people first.”  Paul Graham wrote “The most important ingredient is formidable founders.” When Dorm Room Fund first launched in New York, First Round Capital partners Josh Kopelman, Howard Morgan, and Phin Barnes each told us that the quality of the founding team is the most important factor in their investment decisions. Team is paramount. It’s what makes companies successful and it’s the first thing investors evaluate in a pitch.

Given how widespread this view is, it can be surprising how little preparation some companies seem to devote to pitching themselves as a team. Discussing their market and product, they are thoughtful, polished, and equipped with killer slides and compelling research. When it comes to talking about their team, though, they often speed through a plain-vanilla slide (usually at the back of the deck) as though it’s an obstacle in the way of the interesting stuff.

It’s not an obstacle, it’s the entire race.

It’s evident when founders haven’t put time into figuring out how to talk about themselves and one another. The problem is not merely that this part of your pitch lacks polish. Rather, the lack of polish is signaling something much more fundamental – and negative – about you and your company. If you don’t invest enough effort developing the way you talk about team in a pitch, it calls into question whether you invest enough effort developing the team itself.

Do you?

Try answering these questions:

  • How many hours have you devoted to learning about your customers?
  • How much do you know about your competitors?
  • What’s the hardest problem for your company to overcome?

Now these:

  • How many hours have you devoted to learning about your co-founder?
  • How much do you know about your co-founder’s family?
  • What was the hardest problem your co-founder ever had to overcome?

If you had difficulty answering the second set of questions, and many founders do, then have you really dedicated enough time to understanding your co-founders at a deep and personal level? Are you really treating your ‘team’ like it’s the most important factor in your company’s success? I would argue not. (If you didn’t have trouble, good job, but keep going; those were easy.)

To value your co-founders appropriately – not to mention to manage your team well – you need to understand them beyond their skills and accomplishments. Learn about their motivations, their experience with conflict and hardship, their family, their philosophical views, and whatever else has been important to them in their lives outside of your company. These things shape how they will work with you, your investors, your employees, and your customers. They shape how a future argument will go down (it will happen) and how well your team will endure the hard-slog of bootstrapping.

It’s not just the state of knowing these things that is important, it’s dedication to the process of learning. Your relationship with your co-founder needs to scale as quickly as your company or else it will become a constraint. Like any feature, it needs to be developed deliberately. Conversations about personal history and goals, feedback sessions, and bonding activities; these should be as planned and frequent as feature pipelines, sprints, and releases. Even if your co-founder is your childhood friend, it is important to take an intentional approach to continuously developing your relationship. These conversations will feel forced at first. Over time, they will become natural. If nothing else you’ll get to know your partner better.

Turning back to the pitch, I want to make clear that I’m not suggesting you tell every founder’s life story – that’s probably too much. Then again, there’s no formula. Just spend time learning about your team, and once you know them better, spend time preparing how you talk about them. Find what resonates for you as people. It doesn’t take much for investors to notice that you’ve put work into getting to know each other as well as you know your market. If you actually have, you’ll appear genuine, and your team will seem stronger. More importantly, you actually will be stronger.

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BoardRounds: Improving Patient Care by Optimizing Emergency Room Efficiency

07/23/2014

The DRF NYC team is extremely happy to announce our investment in BoardRounds, a startup that focuses on optimizing the post-discharge care of emergency room patients to save time and money for hospitals, health insurers and most importantly, patients. The team is led by CEO Benjamin Jack and CTO Aditya Mukerjee. The founders attended Columbia University as undergrads and met through a Columbia professor after graduating. Both continued along higher education as Benji received his MD from Weill Cornell Medical College and Aditya recently wrapped up graduate work at Cornell Tech. Aditya is also a former member of the DRF NYC investment team. Both bring a lot of medical experience to the table as Benji holds an MD and Aditya comes from a family of doctors. They have seen up close and personal the multitude of problems within the medical sector.

The medical industry in the United States has seen more than its fair share of problems and inefficiencies lately. Specifically speaking, emergency rooms typically struggle to deal with peak demand and often have a lack of beds for patients. Hospitals are looking for ways to reduce length of stay, decrease readmission penalties, and improve patient satisfaction. That’s where BoardRounds comes in.

CEO Benjamin Jack

CEO Benjamin Jack

CTO Aditya Mukerjee

CTO Aditya Mukerjee

 

 

 

 

BoardRounds provides a solution to address these issues. With BoardRounds’ application, hospital staff members can better identify, schedule, track and communicate with patients to improve process efficiency. The core idea is, the more that healthcare providers and hospital systems can improve communication with their patients, the more cost effective and efficient the overall process will become.

In addition to DRF NYC joining BoardRounds recent financing, other investors participating include Greg Pass, former CTO of Twitter, and strategic investors including individuals who have invested in Oscar and Flatiron Health. Thatcher Bell, Managing Director at Gotham Ventures and BoardRounds investor had the following to say: “Even the most advanced drug therapies and other treatments are irrelevant if patients don’t use them as directed. By improving patient adherence, the BoardRounds solution will lead to healthier patients and lower overall healthcare costs. Benji and Aditya have the healthcare domain knowledge and technical capability to bring that solution to market.”We are very much looking forward to the work Benji and Aditya are doing, and would like to extend a big welcome to the DRF Family!

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Forget NYC & SF: 11 Reasons Graduating Founders Should Stay Put

07/22/2014

Where are you setting up shop post-graduation? University of Pennsylvania Graduation 2014 (Photo Cred: Steph Weiner)

Here at The University of Pennsylvania, the vast majority of technology and entrepreneurship oriented graduates have packed up and moved to New York or San Francisco. While that makes sense for seniors who have accepted full-time positions in the technology industry, I was surprised to hear that most student founders were leaving too.

As a Dorm Room Fund Partner, I have been lucky enough to speak in-depth with student founders from Philadelphia’s University City, Penn State’s Happy Valley, Ann Arbor, The Research Triangle, Boston, NYC, The Bay Area and more. When starting a company the choice of location really depends on the type of business you are building, the college you went to, and your unique business needs. For founders drafting their pro/con lists, I’ve listed eleven reasons for sticking around. Check out the key reasons below, and feel free to comment with your own opinions surrounding the decision of whether to leave or stay put.

1. Access To Cheap, Quality Technical Talent: While there might be hundreds of brilliant engineers running around campus, good engineers are a hot commodity in The Bay Area and NYC. Lucky for you, student engineers want real-world experiences that will help beef-up their resumes once they enter the working world. If you offer current students a rich opportunity to learn, which is flexible with their class schedule, then they might intern for you for free or next to nothing. Also, some universities offer students class credit for internships. With the cost per class at a private university as high as $5,000, you might have a very lucrative proposition.

It can seem that startups outside of the big two cities are at a disadvantage when hiring full-time, because engineers generally prefer to live in those cities. Your advantage is that you have the opportunity to access the brightest minds first, have them buy into your vision, and convince them to stay.

2. Confident Team Building: One of the hardest challenges when starting a business is finding the right initial team members who set the company culture. If you stay near campus and hire current students for semester-long internships, then by their graduation you will have a clear picture about whether you want to permanently add them to your team.  In addition, it is easy to learn about someone’s work ethic by talking to their peers who have worked in a group project or taken a class with a potential hire.

3. Be Scrappy: Without a meal plan or dorm room, graduated founders often see operating expenses skyrocket. New York and San Francisco are arguably the two most expensive cities in the nation, where rent, groceries, talent, and daily expenses just cost more. By staying where you are, you can bootstrap longer, stretch your round further, and hold onto more of your business’s equity. Plus, you’ll seem really scrappy and savvy to any investors you approach.

4. Stay Close To Your Mentors: As a young founder you will inevitably need guidance along the way, and you have accumulated mentors during your tenure as a student. The ability to pop into an industry expert, supporting professor, or administrator’s office as soon as something goes awry is invaluable.

5. Be The Center of Attention: Any potential partner, investor or customer will run a quick Google search, and it is a huge plus if you have an established web presence beyond your own site. In NYC and San Francisco, you will be competing for the attention of journalists with thousands of other businesses. One of the easiest ways to build your visibility when TechCrunch isn’t knocking is to have a strong relationship with someone at your school newspaper and keep them updated as you accomplish major milestones. They will probably also have connections to local reporters who can help you expand your reach even further.

Aaron Dinin of Rocketbolt has found this attention to be invaluable in gaining both investor and customer attention:

“By operating out of Durham instead of one of the bigger tech hubs, RocketBolt has been able to get plenty of attention from investors and customers around the country. One of the reasons for that success has been not having to cut through as much ‘noise’ coming from other local startups.”

6. Free Workspace: Besides the ability to bum around campus and do work from the library, many universities are actually offering students free offices. At Penn, there are several places that will offer you a free desk and access to a conference room. While you need to apply when you are still a student, once you graduate they generally won’t take the keys away.

7. Power Individuals Come To You: Famous and successful individuals frequent campuses for speaking engagements and come with the mindset of wanting to impart their wisdom. Keep track of when these events are happening, and go! Capitalize on their giving mindset and approach them with a genuine, thoughtful question that pertains to your business. Who knows? Maybe they will connect with you again and open up their network to you.

8. Test Market: If you are working on a business that is consumer facing, college campuses are fantastic test markets. By calling on your peers to try out your product, you can get quick feedback and iterate faster. This is especially true of products with a social aspect, where you can get a critical mass of connected individuals interacting quite quickly.

9.  Fewer Distractions: If you stay in your college town, you won’t feel the pressure to schmooze at every tech meetup and be seen at every event. With your class already having graduated, you can put your head down and get the job done. Isn’t that what building a business is really about?

Dorm Room Fund founder Dan Shipper has said that building his business outside “the echo chamber” has been invaluable.

10. You Snoozed Through Your Degree, Now What?: It can be hard to realize the value of the resources at your disposal in the college setting until you have real world experience to put them into perspective. By staying close, you can audit valuable lessons, make use of library databases, attend relevant conferences and speaking engagements, and perhaps even ask the professors to help you to apply their research directly to your business. Coursera has nothing on that.

Dorm Room Fund Founder Alison Berliner of PopInShop has reaped the benefits of campus content:

“You not only have access to professors but also to courses or content you want to apply to your business. I’m attending a conference at Wharton next week on operations in retail, and my team and I regularly tap into the market research databases that only students have access to.”

11. It’s Okay To Fail: There’s something about a college campus that rewards risk and destigmatizes failure. Even though you might have already graduated, you still started as a student entrepreneur and will have a forgiving network of supporters on campus.

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Dorm Room Fund’s Process

06/27/2014

Dorm Room Fund is often the first institutional money our student founders ever receive. In fact, many of the companies we see pitch are led by first time founders with limited knowledge of the fundraising processes or the venture community. With that in mind, the goal of this post is to give student entrepreneurs insight into the Dorm Room Fund process and to ease the anxiety associated with a student entrepreneur’s first capital raise.

Dorm Room Fund engagement starts at the ground level. As you may expect, Dorm Room Fund Partners are all exceptionally involved in the student entrepreneurial ecosystem. I think the fact that our Partners and Founders attend the same events and are members of the same community significantly enhances the DRF portfolio company experience.  Student founders have consistently validated this hypothesis. They have told us that it is much less intimidating to go through the process with a peer whom they can trust and are more comfortable asking the “stupid” questions. Although many of our portfolio companies come from our immediate community, our team can only be in so many places at once. We strongly encourage student entrepreneurs to tell us about their company on our website, and to reach out to one or more of the Partners with any questions they may have. The NYC team bios are located here.

After a student founder establishes contact with Dorm Room Fund, she or he will have the opportunity to meet with one of the DRF Partners, preferably in-person. We love to see demos, but we put an even greater emphasis on the team’s understanding of the market and their vision for the company. Our Partners will also spend time during the first meeting to discuss Dorm Room Fund, our processes, and how we could potentially help the company succeed. If the initial meeting goes well, the company will have the opportunity to meet with a second Partner. The purpose of this meeting is for the DRF team to get a second opinion on the company, monitor the founders’ progress, and dive deeper into the business model.

For companies in conversation with Dorm Room Fund NYC,  if the Partners with the most relevant knowledge of the company would like to bring the founders in to present, they will announce their intention to the rest of the DRF team. There will be a discussion with the full partnership, and if the conversation moves forward, the company will be invited to present to the Fund. In my experience, these company presentations are illuminating and constructive for both the DRF Founders and Partners. Although we allow for significant flexibility, presentations are typically 30 minutes in length, with roughly half of the time dedicated to Q&A. We generally aim to get back to the founders with our investment decision within one week.

From my experience, the entire process is exciting and insightful for everyone involved.

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A salad a day in your own home with Grove

06/12/2014

GroveLabs_Appliance_Render

When I was younger, my family used to have two tomato vines in our yard in Florida that would produce the most delicious tomatoes on a weekly basis. Though I was too young to have to worry too much about them, after a while I grew accustomed to their freshness and couldn’t bring myself to buy another store-bought tomato. We didn’t have any other fresh vegetables, though, because the tomatoes were extremely high-maintenance! Watering, pruning, keeping out bugs, and seasonal unavailabilities eventually became too much of a hassle to keep them going.

Enter Grove Labs — having just raised $2m, they’re working to enable everyone to grow fresh produce in their home year-round. A true “dorm room” company, Grove was started by Gabe Blanchet and Jamie Byron while they were living in their MIT fraternity. Driven by a desire to eat well and an engineering curiosity, Jamie built an aquaponic gardening system that soon became the talk of their living group — a low-maintenance, low-cost, high-deliciousness way to grow fruits and vegetables. They now want to scale their technology so that every home in the US can grow a salad a day in their own kitchen, living room, or any room in the house with beautifully-designed modules. Tomatoes in a cabinet, wheatgrass in a drawer, and carrots in another. All monitored and re-stocked via a mobile app. It’s the next generation of agriculture.

The local and organic food movements are growing:  there were $1.3 billion in direct local-food sales in 2014 while in 2012, organic food saw $30 billion in revenue. Last year, according to a WSJ blog post, investors put $74.2M into horticulture companies, the most since 2000. I once asked Jaime, “who would be interested in this?” Not a whole lot of people grow their own vegetables because of the difficulty and limitations based on where they live (such as having to have a yard in many cases). Jaime’s answer was simple: “everyone.” This is an idea that could revolutionize the food movement — everyone eats (or should eat) fruits and vegetables, after all. Many people cook in their kitchens instead of going out to eat because it’s cheaper and more customizable. Why not grow your own vegetables instead of going out to get them?

Every once in a while a company comes along fueled by such a genuine passion that it’s almost contagious. When I first met the Grove team, I was astounded by their ambition and drive that the founders had around a focused vision: bringing this beautifully-designed farming appliance at the intersection of agriculture, hardware, and design into every home. This drive  has led them to raise a $2M ‘seedling’ round, enter the MassChallenge accelerator, and surround themselves with similarly amazing people. It’s been a pleasure seeing Grove grow, and I look forward to see what they can do as they expand their team and their company.

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Graduation Day

06/09/2014

Reblogged from Josh Kopelman’s RedEye VC:

From the moment he stepped on UPenn’s campus as a freshman, Dan Shipper knew that he wanted to learn how to build a real software business. Fast forward four short years. Today, he’s announcing the sale of his first companyFirefly, to Pegaystems.

Firefly was founded two years ago to enable “co-browsing,” allowing people to share and see only what is on someone else’s browser, not their entire screen. It’s become an indispensable collaboration tool for small businesses and large enterprises alike.

We couldn’t be more proud to work with Dan and his team. Both he and the company have played a meaningful role in our community from the start. In 2012, Firefly was the very first investment of our Dorm Room Fund, kicking off a program that has since expanded to four cities and funded dozens of other entrepreneurial students.  And they are now the Dorm Room Fund’s first exit.  Personally, I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve gotten to spend with Dan as a thought partner, mentor and friend. With today’s news, I’m sure he’ll be in high demand as a mentor himself — he’s already a terrific example for students who want to shape technology and the world.

When I say this, I’m not just talking about Dan’s professional success. He’s a role model in many other ways. Even when he had his pick of job opportunities as early as his sophomore year, he committed to staying in school, and didn’t give up on the idea of building something as a student. As a former student entrepreneur myself, I know how challenging this decision can be, and what it’s like to choose the hard road.

Dan is one of those people who isn’t remotely interested in the easy road. He’d rather be learning — both by reading as much as he can, and soliciting input from everyone around him. When we’d meet up, he’d come prepared with a long list of topics and questions to discuss. He wasn’t just concerned with present needs and problems — he was already thinking several moves ahead. Actively seeking feedback is one of the most valuable qualities founders can have, especially young entrepreneurs who have yet to weather their own successes and failures. Dan never balked at declaring himself a beginner, and it became one of his strengths.

Whenever he did learn something new or discovered something that worked, Dan would share it with others. He started his blog in 2011 to chronicle his journey, and today it is filled with lessons, observations, experiments and findings that others can apply to build companies of their own. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re an entrepreneur at any age. You’ll find something helpful there.

With Firefly, it was great to see Dan surround himself with equally dedicated, growth-oriented people. His co-founder Justin Meltzer was literally always in the First Round Philadelphia office. Seriously. For a while, I thought he slept here. Together, they’ve made a formidable team, constantly improving the product and better serving their customers.  (And occasionally setting off our office alarm at 2 in the morning).

It’s always nice to see good things happen to good people.

While Dan and Justin both recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, the education that they’ve gotten building Firefly and navigating the M&A process with Pegasystems is truly enviable. In the past two years, they developed expertise in product development, marketing, sales, hiring, and fundraising that’s comparable to what most people learn over the course of a career.

Of course we’ll miss them around our Philly office — but we can’t wait for them to start their next company so we can work with them again.

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