Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tripbase CEO Reuven Levitt Interview Part 2 - tips for start-ups raising funds

This is Part 2 in my notes from an interview with Tripbase CEO Reuven Levitt. Part 1 was a review of the product and a discussion of the business of travel inspiration and discovery.

In this part I will share with you some of the interesting insights and comments from Levitt on this experiences in raising funding in the Valley. The trigger for the interview series was Tripbase securing $2 million in series A funding.

Tripbase is not the first time the Levitt has raised money for start-ups. In his last venture he raised $12 million through the "usual" VC routes. I asked him what advice he would have for other start-ups looking for cash. Here are his top three tips:
  1. Build a prototype before you do anything else: To attract the two key elements to success (people and money) a start-up needs to build a proof of concept as quickly as possible. The fastest way to do that is to use open source technologies. It is very important to get "30%-50% of the way" to a product before looking for money. Levitt says that a lot of start ups hold back on doing a fast build of a prototype for fear that they will be copied. Levitt's view is that copying is not the area to worry about. He says there is more of a risk in going slow and hidden rather than fast and a little more open.
  2. Bootstrapping is critical: Levitt could not over emphasise the importance of being tight with money as a start-up. The phrase he used regularly was "focus on spend". Putting this another way "Start ups do not tcome out of luxury. Investors need to see hunger."; and
  3. Start-ups often look for funding in the wrong places: Levitt believes that "private people with deep pockets" are the best places to look for funding, rather than VCs. On location, there is "no comparison to being in the Valley" because "by sheer numbers you will meet people". The only draw back of the Valley is that "it is very competitive...lots of people competing for money...lots of options on where to invest".
Any other tips out there from other entrepreneurs? While writing up these notes I was also reminded of a post from Jeremy Liew of Valley VC group Lightspeed Ventures on Five things start ups must spend their money on.


TripCart CEO said...

I am the CEO of TripCart, a Road Trip Planner website. Part of the current crop, with TripBase and others. I have commented in the past (TripSay).

I too raised money from private investors. But it is pretty hard in the travel planning space. Two main reasons -

1. No substantial exits in the past 5 years and

2. Travel is very much not a Bay-area centric field. Kayak in Boston, Expedia in Seattle, Sabre in Dallas, etc.


Tim Hughes said...

@TripCart/Elliott - thanks for your comment. What recommendations would you give to others?

Jeff said...

I work at another travel startup, (Openplaces) and I wanted to weigh in on the location issue.

We are NOT in the valley and one benefit is lower employee turnover. There aren't 100 cool startups on our doorstep trying to lure our top people away. There's only maybe a dozen startups in town but we have 4 universities which means we probably have to train our new recruits more but there's no shortable of sharp minds.

Tim Hughes said...

@Jeff - thanks - good point

TripCart CEO said...

In short -

Bootstrap to nice traffic and revenue
Predict Progress
Document Performance vs. Prediction
Be Realistic

Once you can present the company as a solid and scaleable revenue generator you should be able to raise money from someone smart enough to appreciate a low risk, break-even investment without "proving" that you have a $1B exit around the corner.

That's in a nutshell. I will be glad to expand on this in an interview. Right now I am using my site to find some cool places to visit around Los Angeles, California.

Tim Hughes said...

@TripCart CEO - thanks for tips