All posts by “jed

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Seed-DB – Reflections on 2 years after launching

Two years ago today, on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 I published a blog post that officially launched Seed-DB. I had been working at it since March 2012, and though it wasn’t 100% ready to launch I was able to push it out the door.

Since launch, Seed-DB has grown from >1300 companies to >4000 companies, from >100 accelerators to >200 accelerators, and from >$1billion to >$5billion in funding tracked.

What does that mean for Seed-DB today?  I just checked Google Analytics to check the stats.  In the last six months Seed-DB saw:

  • >34,000 user sessions from:
  • >20,000 different users
  • >118k pageviews
  • >5minutes spent per session
  • 59% of users were new

I’ve spent the last two years constantly adding more data, more features, talking to founders of companies and accelerators, and even a reporter or two. It’s been an interesting journey and I wanted to share some reflections on what I’ve learned.

#1: You CAN teach yourself to code in your spare time

Seed-DB was the first web application I had ever built. It was the first time I’d:

  • used Python for something other than a simple script
  • really used a DVCS (specifically Mercurial/Bitbucket)
  • installed/customized a Bootstrap theme
  • implemented jQuery plugins
  • and many more similar new tools…

While I had an engineering background, it was in aerospace/nuclear and even the projects I coded for my classes (in Matlab!) were over ten years in my past.  I had picked up an O’Reilly book on Python and had created a few Python scripts the previous year, but without a project I didn’t really learn very much.  By following example code, carefully reading error codes, reading more documentation and asking questions on StackOverflow, I learned everything I needed to build Seed-DB.

Creating something new from scratch is fun, and can keep you motivated despite mountains of problems.  As long as you’re willing to do the hard work, it is possible to teach yourself to code.  Think of something that you really want to create and just start building it.

#2: You CAN thread the needle

I just looked up and found that my very first commit to the Seed-DB codebase happened on March 27, 2012, so I built Seed-DB in my nights/weekends over the course of just four months.  And I didn’t think it was really ready to launch.  (I had to keep reminding myself of Reid Hoffman’s famous advice.)

But I was rushing to complete Seed-DB in time for some fairly big deadlines. I live in London and the London 2012 Olympics started on July 27th, so I committed to myself that I would launch Seed-DB before then. (My wife and I had family in town for it and tickets to a bunch of events… I HAD to launch before the Olympics started.)  Launching on the 25th was literally the last day I wanted to launch, so I just made it in time.

Just after seeing Jess Ennis, Mo Farah, and Greg Rutherford all win gold for Team GB!

Just after seeing Jess Ennis, Mo Farah, and Greg Rutherford all win gold for Team GB! (My wife is just a few weeks away from giving birth.)

Another more important deadline is that my daughter was due in early September.  I had a ton of travel for work between the end of the Olympics and her due date, so there wasn’t a realistic option to launch later.  (She arrived a couple weeks early, so this was an even wiser choice in hindsight!)

Me and my daughter (at a few months old)

Me and my daughter (at a few months old)

Needless to say, launching created a lot of new non-coding work: responding to entrepreneurs and program founders, congratulations and criticism, and fixing bugs.  But somehow the launch was the biggest needle to thread, and once that was done everything else does seem easier.

I learned that it IS possible to thread the needle between what may seem like impossible obstacles.

#3: You CAN do more than you think

In the course of a month, I launched Seed-DB, had an amazing time at the 2012 Olympics, traveled all over Central/Eastern Europe for work, and watched my daughter being born.  After launching Seed-DB, I was getting… quite a lot of feedback.

What I tried to do was commit to spending 30-60 minutes a day (often while my daughter was sleeping and my wife was napping) responding to queries, implementing small features, and making progress on bigger features (like the Seed-DB Investor Graph).  I found that was absolutely key: I didn’t have to complete a feature or fully respond to e-mail each day: I just needed to make a little progress each day.

#4: Building useful things brings you opportunities

People respect people that build interesting things, particularly in the world of startups.  In my case, I started building Seed-DB out of frustration around a couple of job opportunities that had fallen through.  I realized that I needed to do much more work that I initially thought to drive my career to where I wanted it to go, and that I needed to build something.

By creating Seed-DB, I suddenly had lots of people approaching me… and interesting people that I wanted to know!  It led to lots of interesting job opportunities, too, and directly led to me getting hired by Techstars this summer.

One of the big principles at Techstars is to Give First.  At the time I built Seed-DB, I hated that founders were making important decisions based on anecdotal data and what programs the press chose to cover, instead of researching from data on a full directory of programs.  In hindsight I see that by building the site, I was doing my part to give first by giving entrepreneurs an honest, data-driven view into accelerators around the world.

Giving first generates goodwill; building something generates respect.  When I launched Seed-DB I had no idea how powerful these two forces were, but they have totally changed my career and life.

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Joining Techstars

After nearly five years at Google, Friday May 30th was my last day. I’m extremely happy to announce that I’ve accepted a role at Techstars as Director, Techstars Vision.

I first started speaking with David Cohen, the co-founder and Managing Partner of Techstars, in the summer of 2009 when I was doing my first research on seed accelerators. Over the past five years, he and several others of the Techstars team have given me valuable feedback that I’ve used in evolving Seed-DB. As I’ve gotten to know the Techstars team, I was constantly impressed with the quality of the people I met, and started in my new role at the beginning of June.

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What’s ahead – Techstars Vision
I’ve joined Techstars to build and lead Techstars Vision, a new Techstars product. One of the key aims of Techstars is to build a strong network to support startups, made up of founders, mentors, investors, and corporations. Techstars Vision fits into this by building a significantly deeper and broader network between corporations and Techstars companies.

There are two parts to Techstars vision. The first is helping our Vision partners truly understand the very early stage startup market, so they can best engage with it. We do that by doing deep analysis on early stage startups, examining trends in startups, and evaluating the overall seed market. The second is facilitating direct meetings, presentations, and engagements between corporate partners and Techstars startups. We hope that our Vision partners will turn into customers and BizDev partners of our Techstars companies, helping both sides succeed.

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What’s continuing – Seed-DB
Seed-DB will not be changing at all; I will continue to maintain it as a completely neutral database of all accelerators and companies from those accelerators. Techstars will not be treated any differently than any other accelerator, particularly since I will continue to get funding data solely from Crunchbase. If anything, some of my work with Techstars Vision will align with Seed-DB and I’ll likely have more time to follow-up with the many e-mails I get around Seed-DB!

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What’s behind – Google
It goes without saying that it was a very difficult decision to leave Google. I spent nearly 4.5 years on the same team, and in that time the team grew 8x and the revenue we managed grew 40x. (!) I’ve learned so much from my managers and Google’s leadership and culture and really value my time at Google. To this day, even with 50k employees, each week any employee can walk up to the mic at Google’s weekly TGIFs and ask Larry Page and his management team questions they really care about, no matter how hard-hitting they might be. That level of trust in employees and willingness to face reality will always inspire me. What I’ll miss most are my amazing colleagues; you know who you are.

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New Seed-DB research published

Seed-DB has been a member of the Accelerator Assembly since the organization began last year.  The Accelerator Assembly is a “Startup Europe” initiative funded by the European Commission, but importantly is an industry-led network.  It was founded by seed accelerators in Europe (Seedcamp, TechStars/Springboard, Bethnal Green Ventures), as well as Startup Weekend, Seed-DB, and several others, with strong support from Nesta.

One of the tasks that this group of organizations agreed to was to do two pieces of research.  The first was on the overview of the seed accelerator ecosystem, particularly as it applied to Europe.  The second was on the results and impressions from the startups that graduated from accelerators.  Seed-DB (and specifically me) was tasked with combining quantitative analysis, largely based on Seed-DB data, with qualitative research based on surveys of accelerators and startups.  THANK YOU to all of the accelerators and startups that answered the surveys… there is clearly survey fatigue amongst accelerators and startups world-wide, so I appreciate your time.

Both reports can now be found and downloaded from the Accelerator Assembly research page.

These reports are somewhat limited in scope, because the European Commission has very specific items that they required us to study.  Despite this, I think there are some insights that may be useful for accelerators and startups alike:

Seed Accelerator Ecosystem paper

  • Size of accelerator ecosystem: The European accelerator ecosystem makes up a smaller proportion of the number of total companies funded (20.3%) than the number of programs world-wide (27%).  This is because all of the programs that accept significantly larger class sizes (like Y Combinator, 500startups) are located in the Americas.
  • Size of job impact: Based on some reasonable assumptions, the number of jobs shown on Seed-DB is likely only 50% of the total number of jobs created by seed accelerator graduates.

Startups paper

  • The top two reasons that startups cite as important benefits are: 1) Mentorship / Coaching / Feedback, 2) Network / Alumni / Prestige.  But one of the top drawbacks of accelerators cited by startups was also mentoring!  It’s clear that mentoring is a highly valued aspect of a seed accelerator program, but when done poorly can be damaging to startups.
  • Another top drawback is the focus on Demo Day.  As seed accelerators proliferate, the number of interested/qualified investors at each event will quickly diminish except for the top programs.  Spending significant time on Demo Day when there’s no clear benefit to the startup detracts from the startups’ experience.
  • When asked how much equity a startup would be willing to give their accelerator even without any funding, nearly 80% gave non-zero answers, with 55% stating between 1-6% equity.

Please do have a look at both papers when you have some time.  And as always, get in touch with me directly if you have any questions or comments.

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Seed-DB in the Economist!, new feature launches, 2014 plans, and more

Happy New Year!  In light of the Economist article this week that featured Seed-DB data, I’ve got a whole bunch of new features to share that just launched, some benchmarks on Seed-DB data, and plans for 2014.

Economist article

This week’s issue of the Economist features a special report on “Tech Startups”, and I’m happy to say that it used Seed-DB data in a chart to show a sample of result data from accelerators.  It also cited Seed-DB data (and even mentioned my name) on the financial summary of the accelerator ecosystem in the section titled “Getting up to speed.”

2013 Achievements

Over 3100 companies and over 180 seed accelerators are now tracked on Seed-DB.  They’ve raised funding of over $3.2billion and have created well over 11,000 jobs.  About 25% of accelerators have administrative access to add companies and modify their pages themselves.  (I’m hoping to increase this significantly in 2014.)

New Features on Seed-DB:

  • Top Investors League Table: Identify the top investors in companies that come from seed accelerators by the number of companies they’ve funded, the number of individual funding rounds they’ve participated in, or the number of different accelerators from which they’ve funded graduates.  Top 12 of each list are shown on the investor graph page.

  • Administered entries:  Accelerators that manage their own page on Seed-DB now show up with a yellow dot on the list of all accelerators.  The name of their page administrator(s) are shown on the accelerator’s page.

  • Tables of funding, exits:  I’ve long had a feature to list startups that have raised a particular amount of money (or more), and a feature to list all companies that have exited.  These are now more clearly presented in the new “Tables” menu.  If you want to see companies that have raised more than a particular amount of money, just start from the list of companies that have raised >$1million, and replace the number in the URL with the value you want.

  • Clarified how individual funding rounds are displayed on each company’s page

  • Seed-DB should be running faster!  I’ve improved data caching on the site, and made some performance tweaks

  • Improved the menu structure on the site to make it easier to understand/navigate

  • Investor data is improved, and should stay fresher over time.

  • You can help pay for Seed-DB running costs by donating bitcoin.  (None of this will go to Jed; it will go solely to paying server bills and other incidental costs of running the site.)

  • The development roadmap has been updated

  • Progress charts.  I’m now collecting daily summaries of the data on Seed-DB.  Once I’ve built up a little more history I’ll be displaying how Seed-DB is constantly increasing the number of companies, the number of accelerators, and the amount of funding tracked

Benchmarking data

A lot of people ask me question along the lines of “how accurate is this data”?  The answer is two-fold, since there are two primary sources of data.

The first data source is what companies have graduated from what accelerators.  This data is very complete for the larger accelerators, less so for newer accelerators.  I continue to work to make this as complete as possible, but some accelerators go out of their way to make it difficult to find out what companies they’ve funded.  (And some accelerators make it difficult for me to determine if they qualify as an accelerator.)  In general, this information may be incomplete in places, but it is rarely incorrect.

The second primary data source is on funding.  This comes exclusively from Crunchbase.  Some companies have not listed their funding on Crunchbase, and this is the primary reason why Seed-DB funding data is lower than what some programs advertise.  Reasons for not listing data range from strategically staying quiet about resources, to not caring much about what’s shown on Crunchbase.  Per Paul Graham’s tweet this week, we can calculate that Seed-DB captures ($1.748bn / $2.09bn) = 84% of the total YC company funding.  I’ve been informally told that TechStars has a similar factor.  Again, the data is as complete and accurate as the individual companies make it.

2014 goals
I have a few key goals for Seed-DB in 2014, and would welcome your feedback and suggestions on more ways I can develop the site. Here are my plans/goals:

  • Increase ability and frequency of accelerators to manage their own pages on Seed-DB

  • Completely refresh the look-and-feel of the site

  • Integrate more statistics for analysis, such as the markets for each startup from their Angellist entries

  • Make upkeep of Seed-DB less manual and more sustainable

Final note

On a personal note, I’m looking forward to focusing a bit more time on Seed-DB in 2014.  For those of you that don’t know, it’s just a side project of mine… my day job is at Google in London.  Last year was tough for me to spend much as much time on Seed-DB as I wanted; my daughter started walking and going to day care, my family moved to a different home, and my day job was absolutely crazy.  (I’m currently hiring three people for my team!)

 Someday I still plan to write the story about how I taught myself Python/App Engine, built Seed-DB, became a father, and launched a bunch of interesting new features all in a ~nine month period.  That’s a good one…