At any startup, no matter what’s the industry, being data driven helps all team members to focus on what really matters. Instead of gut feelings, decisions will be made based on facts, actual data, not guesses.
This applies to every single aspect in a startup. Starting from sales, growth & marketing, operations, design, product development, customer service, human resources, time management, …, all the way to your financials.
This also applies to personal data management! You can track your fitness activities, your eating habits, your sleeping time, your TV watching time, even your mood!
With these simple steps, you don’t really need fancy data tools, yet you will learn how to deal with data and make it a habit to collect, visualize, analyze and use data:
1. Collect Metrics On A White Board!
You can’t manage what you don’t measure! The first step in becoming a data-driven team is to collect data on everything. To start with, you can use very simple tools, as simple as a big white board or a glass door as a dashboard! Just get into the habit of collecting data on regular basis and about anything, everything you can measure. Don’t over complicate things. Just go with whatever you have, categorize different numbers separately and develop slowly.
On regular basis, every few days or maybe weeks, draw a diagram on the white board to see the numbers in lines, circles or diagrams. Get artistic with drawing, give the team some free time to imagine and play with the numbers. This will help you and your team visualize this data.
3. Look For Surprises!
Keep looking at your data board regularly, and try to find relations between different sets of data. For example, what happened to other data when a specific milestone was achieved or an event occurred. Or how a specific metric changed over time compared to another separate metric. Just enjoy looking at different metrics and get into the habit of discovering surprises!
4. Use The Data
Collecting, visualizing, and analyzing data is useless if you don’t really use it to make decisions. Whenever you face a problem or whenever a new decision is needed, like a new feature to add, an increase/decrease in the marketing budget, or even a new hire, you can gather all data related to that decision, and try to summarize it to make an informed decision.
5. Always Ask What If
Before finalizing a decision, get back to your dashboard and ask what if we did this or that, how would the data change? Draw again and again to predict the implications of your decision. This will help you realize if you took the right decision or not and will allow you to change the decision based on what the dat tells you about the future.
Eventually, you will have so many metrics on your white board, and you will know how to deal with data. You will diffidently not need all the data you collect, but you will learn what really matters and what doesn’t. Then you can find tools (and they are too many) to automatically collect, track, visualize, and even analyze the metrics or KPIs that you really care about.
As part of our efforts to connect MENA talents with their peers in Silicon Vally, we’re happy to share our interview with Evelyn Zoubi, founder ofGlanse App.
In this interview by Ahmad Takatkah, Evelyn shares her story of starting from Jordan and then moving to Silicon Valley. She talks about the ups and downs of startups, pivoting, fundraising, US visa, and life in the Bay Area.
Evelyn was the first female entrepreneur from the MENA region to get accepted at Plug and Play Tech Accelerator. She also participated in Tech Women Program in 2012.
After the premier of our first episode of Citizens of Silicon Valley last week where we met with the founder of Glanse App, Evelyn Zoubi, this week we met with Fadi Bishara.
As the founder and CEO of Blackbox VC, Bishara moved to Silicon Valley in 1992 where he started his career in sales. For over 20 years, he has matched human capital and venture capital needs as well as, using his experience to guide technology entrepreneurs pave their way in the area.
In this interview with Ahmad Takatkah, Bishara talks about how he started, his experiences after moving to Silicon Valley, how he overcame multiple challenges, and how he found his passion towards guiding entrepreneurs through Blackbox.
We believe VCs as well as founders need to keep learning from each other. In this category of posts, we create a hypothetical challenge, then ask founders and VCs to share with us what they would do if they’re in that situation. Your contribution is essential to build a library of challenges that help founders in tough situations.
So you worked hard to close that investment round, you got the lead VC partner you wanted as a board member because you know he/she will add great value, and he/she is as passionate about your industry as you are. But Suddenly, only few months after closing, he/she leaves! How would your startup be affected? and What would you do?
To give some perspective on the situation, this is how it would look like inside most VC firms:
The board seat belongs to the firm, not to the partner. So the firm will typically assign another partner to set on your board, or worse, a principal or an associate who might not be an expert in your specific industry.
The new board member’s reputation won’t be affected if the company does good or bad, he/she can always blame the previous partner who approved the deal!
Other partners might not give much attention to the company or fight for it in partners meetings as they are busy with their own portfolio.
The leaving VC partner might still be interested in the company’s success because it still counts in his/her own track record.
Potential investors might question the situation and think twice before investing in the next round because the main lead investor left the deal.
What Would You Do?
We asked this question to few founders and VCs, and they gave different answers, we hope this helps if you happen to be in a similar situation.
Here is a summary of the replies:
If the firm has a track record, then before making a decision the founder should do a due diligence on the other partners and maybe contact startups that are led by the replacing partner. You never know- the replacement might be a better fit! That said, many entrepreneurs accept investments from a VC but then they get surprised that post investment the lead is not the same person who closed the deal. So the entrepreneur should be careful and blunt about the choice of deal lead before signing the term sheets.
If this happens after the deal is closed already, I would ask the leaving partner to recommend his/her own replacement. He/she knows the team better and can assess the available skills of other partners or even principals who can add real value and fight for the company internally.
If the departure was on good terms with the firm, I would keep the leaving partner as an observer or advisor on the board if possible. This will help reduce the risk of potential investors (in the next round) questioning the commitment of existing investors. However, if the departure was on bad terms, it might not be possible to keep the leaving partner on the board. So I would be very transparent with the firm’s partners about how this might affect the company’s future if none of the existing partners have expertise in my industry, and I would push for more external board members to join the board.
We all have to have a Plan B. So, when choosing a firm, the founders should not base their decisions solely on a specific partner. The VC team together has to be able to add value, and there should be enough competent people in the firm who can take over from the leaving partner. It’s a risk equal to what VCs take by investing in startups: what if the CEO — Founder leaves the startup right after the deal is closed? VC usually mitigate this risk by investing in teams not solo founders.
Let us know what you would do, please enrich the discussion with more solutions to help fellow founders who might be in a similar situation.
We at ArzanVC have been in the game for a while now, eight startups, different countries, hundreds of pitches, meetings and ambitious entrepreneurs. With all of this, we as VC’s have had our ups and downs, our challenges and we’re learning more lessons as we go.
These lessons have helped us develop few principles while communicating with founders, here are some:
1-We manage expectations in the first meeting
We’ve been working on reducing the time we need to make a final decision. We value the founder’s time and we know that they want the funding to focus on building their product. But taking the decision to invest in a specific startup is not that easy. We need to do our research; we need to analyze the company and the market as thoroughly as possible. No matter how big the fund is, it’s still limited, and we are judged by the quality of startups we pick and the return they bring.
2-We don’t discard what we don’t know
The most interesting and valuable ideas are the ones that we don’t understand at first. Instead of discarding what we don’t know, we turn to our advisors. We made sure that our advisors are not ‘domain-experts’ because then they might be stuck inside the box. Our advisors are successful entrepreneurs who understand how a new concept can be disruptive.
3-We ask as many questions as we can
We don’t have the answers for everything, which is why we need to know the questions we ask. It can open up new avenues and new patterns; tough questions can also help the entrepreneur understand their business from all angles and give them new lines of thought.
4-We make the decision clear
Saying no is always very difficult but we try a different approach, we tell entrepreneurs why we are saying no. We give them valid reasons, pointers for improvement and we keep the line open for future communication
5-We do not follow other players blindly
When we started, entrepreneurs complained about our extensive due diligence exercise. They compared us to other VC’s and mainly the ones that are located in Silicon Valley. After analyzing the situation we kept our extensive due diligence, we did not follow other VC methods, but we refocused our attention to more relevant information that reflected the startup stage. Therefore, we did what made us comfortable but at the same is understandable to entrepreneurs
These are just a few of the things we’ve learned; our list can go on for days. We always keep in mind that being a successful VC requires an open mind and the willingness to learn and adapt to new things.
As a VC firm, we receive many deals every week. They come through different channels, some through LinkedIn and Twitter and some through email (personal and work). We used to ask everyone to send the pitch deck to our work email so we can manage all the pipeline from one place.
But email has many other uses! There are newsletters we receive on weekly basis, and some updates from here and there. There are also emails from other VCs, advisors, mentors, event organizers, lawyers and other service providers.
On the other hand, although our investment team is only four, but we’re in different locations and we travel a lot. So we used email a lot for internal communication. Add to that all corporate matters within the group like HR, finance, and admin stuff.
We naturally started to use WhatsApp for quick internal communications. That helped to reduce email usage a bit, and made it faster to reply to quick questions (when it’s an email there is a psychological assumption that it’s not urgent and the reply can be sent later, but for chat, it’s now by nature!). But WhatsApp created even more problems as all conversations are mixed up and there is no subject line, threads, or any way to categorize or separate discussions.
When it comes to the startups pipeline, as a new VC firm with less than 2 years of operations, we didn’t use any CRM tool. That was a mistake! We had more deals than what we can handle as a small team, and thus, we started to lose track of all the startups we met, we started to take more time than we should to reply to founders, and we couldn’t proactively follow up with all of them.
Finally, when it comes to internal projects & tasks, we also used email! Some of those emails had 10s of threads!
How We Handled Email Last Year
We used email for all of the above, and because we received too many emails every day, we needed to prioritize reply, so we used to have a folder in email named “To Follow Up” and another one named “To Act On”, a folder for every closed deal, and many other folders!
As individuals, we used 10s of online and mobile tools. But as a team, our work was revolving around:
Email (mainly for everything),
Skype (for calls with founders and for internal team calls),
Evernote (for taking notes while having the calls and for knowledge management),
Dropbox (for file storage and sharing).
We thought this would be sufficient to run a small firm.
Using SharePoint For Few Months
Mid last year, we took a decision to use more tools, and we tried Microsoft SharePoint. We kept Skype of course, but we used OneNote instead of Evernote and OneDrive instead of Dropbox.
To be honest, SharePoint has almost everything, for example I was surprised to know that they have a collaboration tool that enabled us to concurrently edit a Word or Excel file online together (like Google Docs), but access and usability was a big issue, specially that we’re used to Google Docs individually!
Researching New Tools
By the end of last year, we took the decision to abandon Microsoft and try other tools. As entrepreneurs we used many other tools and we have invested in startups that experimented with even more tools.
We considered all the following:
For Internal Communication:
For Project/Task Management
For Knowledge Management
In addition, several add-ons/apps and integrations among those tool, and integrations with email were considered
After all this, and for now, we decided to keep email and file storage on the existing Microsoft infrastructure with the corporation (Outlook and OneDrive), we also kept Skype for calls. We decided to use Slack for internal communication, and Asana for project/task management, Google Docs for knowledge management, and we’re still not decided on CRM as Asana might be enough for now. But we will eventually need to find a proper CRM that fits our needs as a VC firm.
How We Use Slack and Asana
Between Slack and Asana, and after using them for a month now, we can’t imagine our work without them! Our email accounts are finally free for mainly founders and other external partners. We even moved all newsletters and updates subscriptions to our personal email accounts.
In addition to the General and Random (which we called Fun instead of Random) channels on Slack, and the side projects and tasks on Asana, we created a Slack channel and an Asana task for every startup in our pipeline.
We started to set a due date (usually 3 weeks) to decide and get the deal out of the sourcing pipeline, I mean 3 weeks to do the basic research and analysis, meet or have calls with the founders as much as needed, finalize the main terms (amount and valuation), and decide whether we want to proceed to Due Diligence (DD) or not. Then we create a new due date for DD and closing.
In that project, we assign tasks and subtasks for each of the team members as needed, we upload the documents there (pitch deck, research reports, DD reports, etc…), and whenever we have a meeting or Skype call with the founders we add all the notes there. All our official comments for the deal are on Asana and all the discussions are on Slack. In addition, all files are kept in Sync on OneDrive as a backup.
What Do You Use? and Why?
We would love to learn more about what you use on daily basis, how you use it, and what was the thought process in selecting the tools.