Company culture can make or break a company. One of the companies with great culture that I really admire is PeopleSoft. PeopleSoft has been voted the best place to work in America countless times and they truly deserve it. I was fortunate to have worked there as an engineer and then as a pre-sales engineer. Whether I was a developer or in sales, I enjoyed everyday of it. I wasn’t the first 20 employees. I was employee number 10,398. Prior to PeopleSoft, I worked at another two large corporations and I simply assumed happy culture didn’t exist in large organizations. That’s why I was so amazed how everyone treated each other like family even when there were 10,000 employees at PeopleSoft. Ensuring 20+ employees share the same values and practices might be a cakewalk, but having 10,000+ employees singing from the same page, practicing the same values all across the globe was a man-made wonder. And the man was Dave Duffield, one of the greatest American entrepreneur.
Every new PeopleSoft employee gets a t-shirt with their employee number printed on the back. 12 years later, I still have this t-shirt. It’s torn and tattered but I kept it as a memorabilia, to remind me what a great company it was and what type of company I want to build. I learned a lot while working at PeopleSoft but the most important lesson I learned was the intangible benefits of a great company culture, an absolute intangible asset that money can’t buy.
Building a team and culture should be championed from the top. Whether you know it or not, the culture of the company starts to morph from the first day you launch your company. Founders are the ones who set the stage, the culture usually mirrors the belief system of the founders. It’s so important to set the values and tone right at the beginning.
Love With Food graduated from 500 Startups accelerator program about a year ago and we raised $650,000 in June of 2012. It was 3 painful months of fundraising. If you think fundraising is a piece of cake just because we were a 500 alum, think again! When I first began fundraising, all I hear was discouragement. Most will tell me the food space is hard, being a solo founder makes it even harder. Fundraising is one of the most painful things I’ve done in my life. It’s physically exhausting and worst of all, it was mentally torturing. My mind started to play games with me, and every waking moment, I had to fight the thoughts of being a failure and was at the brink of giving up countless times. Not only I had to endure the heartaches of rejections, I had to defend myself against cynicism that I didn’t have an Ivy league education hence I wasn’t qualified to run a startup. There are many reasons not to fund Love With Food, but me not having a MIT/Stanford education is definitely not a legit and fair one. I remembered walking out of that meeting and said “Watch me BITCH, I’ll prove you wrong.” Prove her wrong, I did. In 3 months, I pitched to 75 investors and raised more money than we needed. People often ask me how I met 75 investors. Looking back, here are the 10 different things I did:
1) Wear your Company T-shirt
If you know me, you know that I’m always in my Love With Food t-shirt, jeans and a black blazer. In the usual fashion, I wore my Love With Food t-shirt to Women 2.0 conference last year. During lunch, this dude holler, “Hey, Love With Food. I read about your company. I’m intrigued. Tell me more!” It so happened that this dude is the partner at Blue Run Venture. After the conference, we met up again and he wrote me a check within a week.
2) Angel List
Be on Angel List. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have your company profile on Angel List. After we started to trend on Angel List, we had many inbound interest. In the end, 3 investors on Angel List invested and one of them eventually became our lead. If it wasn’t for Angel List, I wouldn’t have met these 3 investors!
There are so many incubator/accelerator programs in Silicon Valley, e.g. Angel Pad, 500 Startups, YC, and each has a different application process, providing different levels of investment in exchange for equity. However, they all share a common trait, they aim to open doors for you, help propel you to the next stage of your startup growth. What they don’t do is spoon-feeding. Hand holding not included.
Love With Food is fortunate to be part of 500 Startups (graduated Feb’12), one of the top 10 Startup incubators and accelerators in the world. Many have asked about my experience at 500 and also requested to be referred into the program. What shocked me was a common assumption, life after 500 is a bed of roses aka fund raising will be a smooth ride, getting press is a piece of cake! Haha, dream on! 500 will help open doors for you, but it’s still up to you to hustle to make things happen.
When I pitched to 500 almost a year ago, Paul Singh asked “How big is your team” and my answer was “ONE”. Yes, just me, from being the sys admin to Rails developer, from sales/marketing to customer support. Today, we are a team of 5.5. The 500 experience has definitely helped us grow in many unimaginable ways, more than I can list in this blog post, but here’s the top 10.