Everything has to start somewhere. Contactually would not exist without 500 Startups.
Rewind back to September 2011. I was running a pretty successful dev shop. Jeff was working for me. Tony had a full time job, and was about accept a position at a later stage startup. Jeff and I had been building the prototype of Contactually since June, a concept that had evolved out of a personal pain I had with contact management. Tony was doing a lot of customer development, reaching out to people on Quora and interviewing them about their pain. I had been reaching out through my network, both doing customer development and recruiting people to try it out. We knew that it wasn’t a totally crazy idea.
But we weren’t committed to it. There was nothing to be committed to, and we all had our own things going for us. Jeff and I were up to our ears with great client work, and Tony had a full time job. I thought we could do both at the same time. But day after day, the dangling carrot of instantly-gratifying client work proved too steep. Product development started to sputter.
September, 2011 – I was invited out to San Francisco for a client’s conference, with an office to use as a homebase for the week. I used my time there as a chance to explore startup mecca, primarily by meeting up with friends and contacts, many of whom DC exiles. One of them was Paul Singh. He and I had planned to meet up the last day of my trip. Had I realized in advance how far Mountain View is from SoMA, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now.
I showed up to 500 Startups, at first unsure if I was in the right neighborhood (Mountain View? Where are all the startups? All I see is a bunch of ethnic restaurants…). It was between incubator batches, and the office was empty, except for Paul. We shot the shit for a little bit, talked about the DC community, and 500 Startups. Finally, I showed him what I was working on.
“Two pieces of advice. One, you should focus on this full time. Two, come to 500, and let us blow this up for you.”
Common startup lore is that you never get something you don’t ask for, but a fortune-changing, game-changing, life-changing opportunity was dropped right in front of us.
I walked slowly back down Castro to the CalTrain, both excited about the possibility, and afraid of such a big opportunity and change. I immediately shared it with Jeff and Tony. It was an intense week of debating between the three of us, our significant others, and Paul. But two weeks later, we were on a plane to join Batch 3.
In a future post, I’ll share more about the 500 Startups experience, both before, during, and after Demo Day.