🔑 Newsletter #30 - 10X your productivity using the browser
+ David Goldberg (Partner at Alpaca VC)
Hey there! Welcome to my email newsletter. My name is Leo Luo, a student entrepreneur at the University of Michigan. I write about founder stories, trends, fundraising, and unique behaviors in the consumer startup space.
Just started using Twitter recently - follow me @_leoluo
↺ What you might’ve missed in the last three weeks
11/15 - Story of Monet (Gen-Z dating app) + Jason Stoffer (Partner at Maveron)
11/08 - Story of Endel (personalized sound system) + David Beisel (Partner at Nextview Ventures)
11/01 - Story of Wellory (personalized nutrition app) + Paul Murphy (Partner at Northzone)
Check out all the startups and investors I have featured in the past on
this Notion board
🍽 Today’s menu
Startup story - Motion (Superhuman for web browser)
Investor POV - David Goldberg (Partner at Alpaca VC)
What I’ve been reading - 6 articles about startups and investing
Who’s ballin’ this week - 6 new fundraising/developments in B2C space
Jobs - 12 full-time jobs and internship postings
Feedback - help me to deliver better content to you
🔥 Startup Story
10X your productivity using the browser
(Image credit: Motion)
Like most of my friends, I always have 20 tabs open when using an internet browser. I get distracted easily, and constant context switching often makes it difficult for me to focus.
Motion (YC Winter 2020) is a startup aiming to help people improve their productivity in the browser by reducing friction and minimizing context switching. Their current flagship product is Motion Calendar, which allows users to quickly share availabilities and schedule meetings on any page. It was super fun chatting with Harry Qi, CEO & Co-Founder of Motion, to learn more about the journey so far.
Harry and his team have always aimed to improve their daily productivity. While working on their last startup, they built simple internal tools to help reduce friction and increase browser productivity. Then when they were thinking about pivoting and choosing a new idea, they came to realize that the tools they built could be more than just internal tools.
“We built these tools for ourselves, but why wouldn’t we give them out to some friends and family who had similar problems? Everyone cares about their productivity at work since there are a limited number of hours per day. We decided to start Motion because of pain points which surfaced while building our previous startup,” Harry elaborated.
💡 Problem & Unique Insight
Problem - “The modern browser was first invented in the early 90s. Google Chrome made it decently good in the 2000s. However, it does not suit our needs anymore due to an expansion in SaaS and web app tools. This problem didn't exist probably a decade ago, and now, you have to constantly switch between web apps and load them up to get the information you want.”
Unique Insight - “Our insight is that you don't necessarily need an immersive experience in those apps to grab the information you need. A lot of times the information you need is the same. For example, if you go into the calendar 20 times a day, I bet you're just checking your calendar 15 of those times and not doing much else. You don't need your immersive Google Calendar experience. We pull information and individual components of the apps people use most frequently, and present them to you wherever you are in the browser.”
🚗 Early Product Journey
The first product was a green calendar loaded up through a Chrome extension. The features were limited - it only showed events from your calendar, but didn’t allow the user to edit or view event details.
“The intuition was that since 90% of the time I just need to check what’s coming up on the calendar, a simple calendar chrome extension was sufficient for the MVP. As we iterated, we added more things that could be done without going into Google Calendar based on feedback from our early users, ” Harry stated.
Motion MVP 👇
People didn’t want to go into other apps to pull information.
Most users described context switching as frustrating and an undesirable outcome.
“We knew it was worth pursuing because when we first launched, there were 30 or so users that really, really liked our product. Despite all the bugs that happened on an hourly basis, they would still come back. They saw the value in a product that was addressing the problem of context switching.”
“We had a lot of failed experiments. I think the most notable one was a note-taking feature. We wanted to help people make quick notes in the browser when using their computer so they wouldn’t have to switch over to Notion or other note-taking apps.
However, it failed because when people take notes, they need an immersive experience. You're typically spending minutes, or even hours taking notes. When you spend a lot doing a particular task, you need the immersive experience of the app, because the app does a much better job than us. We learned that we could only build features where the immersive experience did not make sense.”
🤔 Biggest Challenge
“Similar to Superhuman, our value proposition is speed. Therefore, our biggest challenge is improving software performance. Improving software performance is a lot harder than building new features. Performance issues are something you can’t really hack around since it requires deep technical expertise.”
🚀 Future of Motion
Motion has been gaining a ton of traction recently, growing at 30-50% month over month while maintaining solid retention. Their current focus is the calendar feature but their eventual goal is to make Motion a suite of productivity tools that completely revolutionize the browser experience, tackling every category from email to documents.
Check out Motion!
🔥 Investor POV
David Goldberg (Partner at Alpaca VC)
(Image credit: David Goldberg)
David Goldberg is a partner at Alpaca VC (Formerly known as Corigin Ventures), a seed-stage generalist VC. After receiving a JD/MBA from Fordham, he started his career at the intersection of law and wealth management. Subsequently, he dove into the world of entrepreneurship and founded FreshNeck, a subscription-based men’s accessories exchange service. David joined Alpaca in 2017 and has since invested in startups like Imperfect Foods, Latch, Compass, and many more. It was such a pleasure connecting with David and learning from his experience both as an operator, and a VC.
😍 Interesting consumer trends David has seen lately
1. Omni-channel distribution
“Distribution has been evolving. Companies don’t want to rely on traditional digital acquisition channels such as FB and Google due to rising costs. Startups are thinking about omnichannel, specifically retail channels, much sooner than they used to. It used to be Series B or C, but now you are seeing Seed, Series A, or even pre-launch companies working on those partnerships.
One example is Arrive Outdoors, which is an outdoor gear rental company. They did two interesting things with partnerships. First, they found a way to get into campers’ booking flow, and for both state and national-run camping ground sites. Recreation.gov does about 4 million bookings a year and Arrive Outdoors is now going to be in that workflow in the same way you’d have to uncheck that box for insurance when buying a flight ticket.
Second, they are doing a retail-as-a-service program. They are working with big brands to be their back-end operator and technology partner so they never really have to go and play the digital marketing acquisition game because they put in a year's worth of work building out all these really tight anchors into distribution partners.”
2. Holding Company & Roll-up approach
“I have seen a lot of startups with the holding company or the roll-up strategy approach in the last two months, and they are different versions of each other. A holding company is like Unilever, which has about 50-100 underlying brands. You get advantages on distribution, economies of scale, and internal operations. What we’re used to seeing, over the last five years, is companies come out and build one product. Now we're starting to see brands come out and think about the product one, two, and three, even if they're completely unrelated.
A roll-up strategy is similar in the end result - you wind up with a single company that owns multiple brands. The difference is that instead of building those brands from scratch internally, you're acquiring them, and rolling them all up. There's a very well-funded company called Thrasio that specifically goes and acquires all these like small $1 - 2 million Amazon brands.
🤔 Mistakes David made during the startup days
“I made many mistakes. First, I was too slow to hire. I would wait until a problem was so big and immediate that the hire was obvious. It was almost too late and we were always plugging leaks versus being really strategic about hiring. Second, I think we didn't think big enough. We were in the weeds trying to perfect our specific business model, whereas there were probably opportunities to go much bigger and broader in types of product and business model.”
💡 Advice for early-stage consumer founders
“I have three pieces of advice:
First, hire people smarter than you who excel at one thing. You don’t want a team of Swiss Army Knives. It’s fine for co-founders and a few early hires, but then you want to find someone who is excellent at one thing.
Second, it is important to be intentional about the type of company culture you want to build early on. Once you start bringing on a lot of people, it is too late to instill those values.
Third, get to know your customers at an intimate level and never stop. They will give you so much valuable information to help improve everything from your product to your distribution. Everybody on your team should spend some time in customer service at some point. A buddy of mine is now the CMO of Shake Shack. During his on-boarding, he had to go down to Texas, flip burgers, and talk to customers. More companies need to install practices like that.”
👥 Most interesting founder David has met recently
“Chris Herd is interesting. He is the founder of Firstbase, which helps remote teams manage all the physical equipment they need at home. In the past, he’s had a lot of experience installing physical systems at uniquely remote sites around the world, like oil rigs in the middle of the ocean.
The most interesting thing about him is how ensconced he is in his industry. He quickly became the thought leader around remote work - it’s given him such a competitive advantage in finding customers, hiring talent, and building out partnerships. He is smart and not afraid to be bold. ”
📚 Book that impacted David the most
Measure What Matters - “My entire team read this book together a couple of years ago. It’s about OKRs, KPIs, and priorities. Those are things I’ve always inherently believed in, but putting them into a structure and a process is something we are doing right now. We track our own quarterly priorities. It's also something that we work with each of our founders on. A founder’s time is their number one asset.”
Feel free to reach out to me if you are an early-stage founder that is currently fundraising right now.
I would love to help and pass on the deck to investors in my network!
👨💻 What I’ve been reading
The Hidden Patterns of Startup Failure (NFX)
Using NBA Metrics to Scout Superstar Startups
How Covid-19 Sparked an Unlikely Startup Boom for Brands
The Story of a Cap Table: DoorDash **highly recommend
Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company (Sahil from Gumroad)
The Marketplace Monetization Map: Complexity and Asymmetry
🏀 Who’s ballin this week
Jinx launches a text-to-buy dog food platform, with help from Initialized Capital
Paceline pumps up new wellness platform that rewards physical activity with financial benefits following the $5M Seed
Everytable, the mission-driven food company, raises $16M in Series B funding
FirstVet, the digital on-demand consultation platform, is all paw in for American expression following $35M round
Online learning marketplace Udemy is raising up to $100M at a $3.32B valuation
😍 Jobs & Internships
Apply - Glimpse - Software Engineer (Remote)
Apply - Chime - Junior PM (SF)
Apply - Expansion VC - Analyst/Associate (NYC)
Apply - 645 Ventures - VC Associate (Bay Area)
Apply - Plexo Capital - VC Associate (Bay Area)
Apply - Impossible Foods - Chief of Staff, Product & Ops (Redwood City)
Apply - Picus Capital - VC Associate Intern
Apply - Spotify - Summer Podcast Intern (LA) **DUE TODAY
Apply - Clever - Summer PM Intern (SF)
Apply - X (Google Moonshots) - Summer PM Intern (Mountain View)
Apply - TikTok - Summer Interns (LA)
Apply - Carbon Health - Strategic Initiatives Intern (Remote, SF)
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