IQBoxy was born out of our need to better understand the movement of our money so that we could gauge the pulse of our financial position.
Dmitry and I are immigrants. Born in Eastern Europe, we grew up during the communist era in poverty. Staying on top of our finances was chiseled into us. That was the only way to survive in such turbulent times. We were fortunate enough to migrate to the west. In 2009 we met at Coupons Inc, in the US, where we helped households save money by printing coupons (money). We also learnt what it takes to go from a startup to an IPO Unicorn.
Working in Silicon Valley allowed us to tap into a pool of new knowledge. Seeing the world grow up and change for the better. A lot was happening but the basics of money management remained constant. Whether it’s business or personal, the same advice applies. Pay yourself 1st. Then stay on top of your finances by keeping a ledger of your financial activity.
How IQBoxy started
When Dmitry and I started IQBoxy in Silicon Valley, we began automating the expense side of the equation. I still remember when Dmitry and I sat sipping coffee at Philz’ in Palo Alto brainstorming what to call our new venture. We decided on IQBoxy after the idea of an intelligent box to throw receipts into. The reinvention of the traditional shoebox often used by business minded folks to retain their receipts for Uncle Sam (aka Tax office).
More time to spend enjoying life
We all want more time with our family, friends and experiences. Yet we are are becoming more and more time poor. Running a business as a self-employed or with a team has its perks but also comes with a burden. Accounting. Specifically the Bookkeeping part; to meet tax obligations and to stay on top of our finances.
Then there’s the recording of business deductions (purchases) to maximize our income. Categorizing and reconciling financial transactions so that our accountant can communicate it to the tax office. It is a burden that robs us of time we should be focused on our business or spending with our family/friends.
All of a sudden the vision of a flexible nature of being self-employed or running your own business is being buried in excel balancing the numbers and shuffling paperwork.
Automation to the rescue
Automation at most companies is smoke & mirrors, using human labor – the famous mechanical turks ie. Expensify. A man behind the curtain approach (Wizard of OZ like). An ephemeral labor at the risk of your privacy. We believe this is not good enough.
What if we could outsource it to machines who have no interest in social engineering (using the knowledge they gauge to gain access to your bank through psychological manipulation). Now that’s something worth celebrating.
With this in mind, we locked ourselves up in a room and brainstormed. Few days later we emerged. We used a mind mapping process to flesh out what the new name should convey. Everything from financial focus to innovation to very fast to trust.
Trust and Privacy are at the core of the Veryfi product.Veryfi is a secure, HIPAA compliant service you can trust to automate your tax obligations. From collection of receipts & invoices, to categorization and reconciliation of your financial documents to bank statements.
If you need your CPA to access this data anywhere at anytime, then Veryfi does this in a breeze. All while maintaining the highest security standards. From HIPAA compliance for healthcare companies to EU Data Protection in Europe which take effect in 2018. Privacy is, and should be, on top of every company’s agenda. No compromises.
A Bookkeeper in your Pocket
As we grew and users turned into customers, we realized we needed to move beyond just expense management. Bookkeeping is more than expense management. So we integrated with our friends at Rippling to bring payroll and employee on-boarding into the ecosystem. Then we brought further integrations with cloud accounting providers, like our friends at Sage.
Yet we carried a small burden on our shoulders which clouded our business. Are we just an expense company? Nope. Are we a cloud document storage company. Definitely not. Then what are we?
The image we sent to the marketplace through the IQBoxy name was more confusing than helpful. We realized we needed a name that would send the right message about our vision and product. A name that would give justice to our core mission and our roots of providing innovative & fresh financial solutions for the self-employed & small business owners that they could trust.
Say hello to Veryfi
Veryfi is about empowering the future workforce with modern AI-first-mobile software. Software that is delightful to use anywhere in the world with or without an internet connection. No barriers. Geographic or financial. Everyone should have a bookkeeper in their pocket.
Show up, Follow up and then Close the deal. This is the core of what Steli Efti taught me during the Y Combinator (YC W17) program.
Steli Efti has changed my perspective on sales. He made me appreciate sales more than ever before. Thank you Steli.
Steli Efti is CEO and Co-Founder of Close.io, a public speaker on the art of sales and an alumni of Y Combinator. Steli helps thousands of startups succeed in scaling their sales efforts.
I must confess, before Steli my view of the sales process was clouded by years of bad experiences. One time in the past, I asked this so called sales expert for some tips on selling and he sent me a link to a James Altucher’s sales blog post. Don’t get me wrong, James Altucher is badass. But this was like asking a software engineer to tell you a bit about their art and they send you a link to Stack Overflow. Not cool.
Having experienced this contrast, both sides of the fence, I am now enlightened on sales! Sales, when done right shouldn’t feel like dealing with a used car salesman. Instead it should feel like being with a Rockstar — inspirational and educational.
Show up. Follow up. Close.
Early in a startup there are ONLY 3 ways to make a difference:
Hack them (coding) and/or
Hustle them (sell)
Anything else is a waste. Ask yourself, what are you working on?
When selling, be friendly & strong
(a) You cannot be Unfriendly & Strong — you don’t want to kill people, you only destroy value by being this way.
(b) You cannot be Friendly & Weak — in human psychology, we unfortunately abuse friendly and weak people. I have seen this style all too common — it’s something about people living in a dream of goodness but fail to close a deal.
(c) You want to be Friendly & Strong — this style helps you close customers that want to buy your product. eg. Think of a good parent who loves their child setting ground rules. You need to tell your customers what to do. You are the expert, they will listen to you.
Don’t get emotionally involved
Emotions will fuck with you. It’s that endless loop inside your head of “what ifs”. Recursion at it’s best.
Learn to work with your emotions. Some people meditate and others go for walks in the park. Find something that helps you deal with your emotions.
The foundation of winning is the 10% of showing up and 90% is following up and going for the close. If you don’t show up then there is little chance you will follow up and go for the close.
I have often seen inexperienced sales people sitting around at the desk checking email every 5 mins. This behavior became consistent and that’s all such people do most of their time. My gut feeling is they start to believe selling is answering emails vs closing deals.
I cannot emphasize this one more. Consistency is king!
Don’t confuse talking for selling & selling for talking
Selling is trying to move someone to a decision. We hate closing because this is the “moment of truth”.
We are afraid to do it because it’s easier to say “they loved it but need to think more”. Learn to ask early and ask often. Expect the no and embrace it. Don’t delay it.
Be upfront to see if they want to buy. If they are unsure, then explain “You seem like smart people and I don’t want to waste your time.” and come back to the question towards the end of your pitch.
Make sure you ask what it takes to close. If they say you don’t have X, Y and Z then say “if I get you X, Y and Z will you buy?”. Boom!
Fear, we are all afraid
Fear, the feeling of emotion, is the same feeling in everything, it’s just context.
The difference between a hero & a coward is they both feel fear, but the hero acts despite his fear.
We are all afraid.
A feature of being human. When you don’t feel like doing something tell yourself
“shut up and do it anyways.” — you don’t have to feel like it. Get over yourself and do it.
“Emotional Alchemy” — learn to deal with them so they don’t stop you from doing amazing things.
Video of Steli teaching how to Show up, Follow up & then Close
Got any sales tips you want to share here? Write below!
Another amazing Startup School 2016! Each year Y Combinator has something fresh to deliver at Startup School. This year was without exception. Apart from a stellar lineup of speakers (founders and investors) there was something new — a Founder-VC pitch role play (more on that below). I still remember my first Startup School in 2010 hearing Brian Chesky (AirBnB founder — pictured left) speak with so much energy and excitement on stage. Heck, I was so inspired that I went to the 10 man office in SF the following day to see them. Next day Office visits no longer happen but you can still get inspired by attending Startup School.
Each year Startup School reminds me about the fundamentals of starting and running a business;
(a) build something people need,
(b) execution is king and
(c) move fast.
Without further ado, here are my 2016 Startup School highlights.
These 2 pictures below should motivate you. This is what 6 years from an “overcrowded market” to killing it looks like. Well done Gobble for staying around and showing the disbelievers that you can do it.
“Gobble helps busy professionals easily cook dinner in just 10 minutes with 1 pan. The company designs gourmet dinner kits and completes all the sourcing and prepwork — washing, chopping, marinating, and sauce-making — so all one has to do is combine the ingredients together in one pan and be a dinner hero.”
Next time you are told this lame excuse of an “overcrowded market” or “no market” don’t be put down. Think AirBnB, Uber, Gobble et al.. and thank the investor for their time. Move on. And prove them wrong.
I don’t remember last time I was this excited to hear about Quantum Computing.
This IS the next major evolution in computing. It’s that extra layer of precision that’ll open up new opportunities like seconds did for the clock to crystals for GPS and parallel for processing.
And maybe, just maybe we might be able to solve “Health” after all —from efficient drug discovery by mapping out all molecular combinations quickly to identify the ones that would most likely work to simulations. I’d love to see health go open source and have every software engineer contribute (as a way of giving back to society) to solving health related issues. Maybe this is where Mark & Priscilla Zuckerberg $3B effort to rid the world of major diseases be focused on — a contrarian approach to health efforts?.. maybe this is what we need since existing efforts are slow and buried in red tape.
Sam, congrats on convincing Rigetti to join YC. I want them to succeed!
(3) The Art of Pitching with Sam Altman and Paul Buchheit
This is the Founder-VC role play I mentioned above. I was super impressed with Sam being able to soak in the founder’s pitch and then within seconds craft a kickass (alternate) version. Brilliant way to educate everyone listening on the art of pitching.
Here are the videos — Note: Sam is role playing the founder role and Paul the VC role.
Articulate clearly what your business does, what market its addressing and why it matters,
Explain the Fundamentals of what Drives your business and
Don’t leave a meeting without some kind of a follow up (tip: don’t ask for a cheque).
(4) Marc Andreessen live and uncut!
Marc is always amazing to listen to. He commands so much power and energy in the room because his f**kin awesome! YouTube his name to hear many many recordings of his talks.
Marc stressed that to get yourself in front of the partners at a16z you need to pass “a bunch of tests”.
1st test — network your way into a venture firm. It tests your ability to hustle. It also paints a picture of your ability to hire. Someone that cannot hustle will find it a challenge to bring in top hires.
2nd test — formal presentation — “can you execute a formal speech” — this gets tested once you get yourself infront of the partners. Marc says this should be easier to do than infront of your customers since they are a lot tougher when it comes to selling by being a “default no”.
What I’d love to see in the future Startup School
Mobile focus — it’s no suprise the super computer in everyone’s pocket is changing how we interact and engage with “always on services”. I’m yet to see a startup that has truly revolutinalized a service on the mobile. For example; I’d love to see the spreadsheet evolved into mobile form where the shell looks nothing like a spreadsheet in a smaller mobile window. I don’t mean a dashboard of numbers but an actual pleasurable experience end-to-end that works as well offline as online and is supported by intelligence to automate the meh pieces of my workflow. This could really be applied to any industry. There are ample opportunities and those that experience the pain and understand the technology will be leading it.
Startup School 2010 was a success! both on the quality of the turn out of entrepreneurs, speakers and the organizers – Y Combinator and Stanford BASES.
The day started on a nice crispy Saturday morning 16th October 2010. Breakfast was provided to all those that attended while the Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford University was prepared.
The theater got packed out with many great minds of all ages – even entrepreneurs 12 years of age eager to start changing the world. The following are notes I took during each of the speeches + video. Hope you enjoy the content and find it as valuable and inspiring as I did.
Wow, what a great start to this day. Andy went over how Silicon Valley got to where it is today and then touched up on the following interesting topics:
The process in creating a business is in 3 steps: Discover –> Design –> Deliver
“Discover” phase has more value but typically less money is spent while moving to the right to “Deliver” has less value but more money is spent on it.
“The Horizon Effect”, also a topic in psychology, outlines how the majority of humans only purse goals which are in our horizon, stuff we can see, instead of stuff we cannot see. Aim past the horizon like Christopher Columbus did when he sailed past to the horizon only to find that he would not fall off the edge of the world.
Apple – spends the least on R&D ($1.2b) and consumer research. They trust their gut instinct to deliver super products. They also have less products to maintain than most companies.
Google – expects to solve the impossible. Most of their success today is attributed to the 1 day per week given to their employees to brain storm & prototype new ideas.
Innovation is the never-ending search for better solutions.
Most successful companies have more than 1 founder.
The best way to have a good idea is to have plenty of ideas.
When something makes you angry, write it down. Then find a solution to fix it – that’s an idea right there. The question then becomes “how do you filter many ideas into a few to action”.
Key to business traction: Make someone awesome so that they show it to their friends who too want to become awesome. Hence they end up using your product.
Finding a good co-founder is like there is now 2 of you doing this.
Early on you don’t need offices, go virtual with a product like CampFire.
Private offices eliminate idea generation and progress. It is detrimental.
User “Experience” is the most relevant, not the technology. You are selling the experience not the technology.
As a founder, optimize your business venture for happiness. Read book “Drive” which outlines 3 human needs: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Seek Freedom and Autonomy.
In the end, you want to have a choice and be happy about it.
Over drinks (after work) is where most ideas come from. People are more relaxed and free to let their imagination run wild.
Establish a business agreement (contract) at the very beginning of your venture. This should outline who does what and equity split. This eliminates nasty legal issues once the business becomes successful.
Books recommended by Tom for every entrepreneur to read:
Provide a service where users are happy and then monetize.
Entrepreneurs build and innovate companies and investors should be lucky to be a part of it.
Never forget its your company, the founder’s company.
Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.
It takes guts but anyone can do it.
It’s crazy to start a company with 1 founder. It’s all about building a great team. And if you are a founder you have to build a great team some day so why not build it the day you start the company – the 1st hurdles to get over.
There is more in the videos below where Ron outlines his journey and the journey of great friends from Napster, Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Don’t be a cannon fodder. Work on things you love. Life is too short.
Key before you start your own music startup:
Artists are poor so they won’t pay you,
The market is totally saturated,
The economies are challenging with required payments to labels every quarter and lawyers waiting for you to become big so they can sue you.
If you want a good laugh and learn heaps about the risks of starting up a music venture then you should watch Dalton’s music business review (videos below) of his 6 years of building Imeem, what worked and what didn’t.
Had many unsuccessful launches but persistence got them through. Paul Graham stated “you guys won’t die, your like cockroaches”.
Michael Seibel from Justin.tv introduced Brian and his co-founder to the Y Combinator methodology and eventually to Paul Graham. Initially, Paul didn’t like the business idea. That changed quickly.
Brian used a classic motivation / psychology approach that Anthony Robbins teaches: “Whatever you focus on expands (you get)”. So he decided to focus on revenue by printing a positively inclined graph depicting revenue and pasting it on the bathroom mirror. This way it was the 1st thing he saw every morning and the last before going to bed to dream. It worked!
Paul Graham advised: “Go to your users”. So Brian and his co-founder flew to NYC, Washington DC and Denver and knocked on people’s doors to sell their service – “do you know how much your bedroom is worth?!”.
Then, David, Barry Manilow’s drummer posted his apartment for rent while he toured with Barry Manilow. This changed the direction of AirBnB and the 1st “wiggles of hope ~ PG” appeared. AirBnB launched version 5 of their product and started to be Ramen Profitable.
Today, AirBnB is in 8200 cities, 166 countries and traffic has started booming in the last 5 months.
AirBnB is now a “Community market place for space”.
All this started with an airbed in a living room to solve an accommodation problem.
The following videos are titled “Powerless and obscure” – 1,000 days ago (October 2007). How Brian started AirBnB and it nearly fell apart only to survive after the 5th launch. Very inspiring and educational.
Yippee!! I have been accepted into Y Combinator’s Startup School 2010!
I stretched in bed as my eyes opened up to be greeted by another beautiful Californian Saturday morning. I reached for my smart phone to check email to see what has happened in the last 5 hours that I was asleep. And there it was. An email from Y Combinator informing me that I have been accepted into Startup School 2010. It couldn’t have come at a better time, only 3 days after my birthday – what a great birthday present. 3 also being my lucky number.
Startup School is an annual event sponsored by both Standford BASES and Y Combinator. To put it simply, Startup School teaches technical people about startups. It is said that “the atmosphere of energy in the room at startup school is something you have to experience to believe” – now I get the opportunity to experience this first hand. I’m thrilled and excited! Thank you Y Combinator for this amazing opportunity.
Who is Y Combinator
Y Combinator is an American seed-stage startup funding firm, started in 2005 by Paul Graham, Robert Morris, Trevor Blackwell, and Jessica Livingston.
“Y Combinator is a new kind of venture firm specializing in funding early stage startups. We help startups through what is for many the hardest step, from idea to company.
We invest mostly in software and web services. And because we are ourselves technology people, we prefer groups with a lot of technical depth. We care more about how smart you are than how old you are, and more about the quality of your ideas than whether you have a formal business plan.” Source: http://ycombinator.com/about.html
Y Combinator is also responsible for the very popular Hacker News. Hacker News is a social news website about computer hacking and startup companies. It is my daily source nutritional intake of mind stimulating content and discussions. I highly recommend this site for anyone interested in startups – http://news.ycombinator.com/
Startup School lineup
The line up of speakers for this day is exhilarating. They include:
I’ll be Tweeting & Facebooking “live” from this event. If you haven’t already connected with me, please do. Just tell me who you are when you do so I know you’re a fellow hacker. If you are going to Startup School 2010 I would be delighted to meet you there and/or via the social links below. Come and say G’day to this Aussie.
Catch me online:
Twitter – follow me today to never lose a new & exciting post.
Linkedin – connect with me on a professional level. We are after all only six steps away from each other.
Ernest Semerda is an experienced Engineering Leader formerly a hacker from Sydney (Australia) and now a Mountain View (CA, Silicon Valley) resident. Ernest holds 2 degrees; a Bachelor in Computer Science from University of Western Sydney and a Executive MBA from Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). Ernest has experience helping build & grown startup companies with a few years stint in the corporate world. Startups are his specialty and also his passion.