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I started two companies, two exits – now building my third investor-backed startup. AMA!

Hey, I'm Paul – @pveugen on Twitter.

In the past 12 years I started two companies (Usabilla and Human), which both got acquired. After almost a decade of building my own startups, I worked at Mapbox and Color Genomics to help them grow their product and go-to-market teams. Now I'm thrilled to start over, building my third company from scratch. I almost forgot how challenging, yet fulfilling it is to build a product, team, and company out of nothing.

Little over half a year ago we started Detail. A couple of weeks ago we launched on Product Hunt and onboarded the first group of people into our closed beta. We raised $7M from an amazing group of European and US based investors to help us build the future of live video. It's equally exciting and scary to build something out of nothing again...

All three companies I started (and both companies I worked at) were in completely different markets.

Next to building Detail, I'm an active angel investor. When I pitched the first angel investors in Usabilla, I vowed that one day I wanted to be able to do the same they did for me: support inspiring founders to chase their dreams and become their biggest cheerleader. I'm now in the lucky position to invest in early product-focused founders and investor in close to 20 companies.

I started my first company in Amsterdam. Lived in San Francisco for 3 years, and am now back in Amsterdam. I'm long on Europe, and excited to see ecosystems around world grow stronger.

I'm obsessed with product and go-to-market, and love to break down barriers between the two.

AMA!

  1. 6

    Hi Paul! Glad to have you back at the Old Continent ;)

    Since you are obsessed with bridging the gap between product and go-to-market, what was your process for starting companies in three different markets (choosing a market, validation and distribution)?

    While the European tech scene is on the rise,
    it's pretty dispersed. As both a founder and a VC could you present your case for being long on Europe?

    What surprised you the most when working in SF vs Europe?

    What Silicon Valley practices would you like to see more of in Europe?

    1. 3

      What Silicon Valley practices would you like to see more of in Europe?

      Some ideas:

      Become bigger cheerleaders for those who try.

      Dare to be bold. "Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul."

      Talent acquisitions (cross-pollination, learning, rinse & repeat).

      More investors who focus on upside. Talent, product, and opportunity, over spreadsheets and risk. Support growth instead of limiting growth. Do you want a piece of massive pie or take a large piece of a tiny pie? Or even better, let's build a bakery...

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        "Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul." - super like it

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      What surprised you the most when working in SF vs Europe?

      Although the density of talent and inspiring companies is high in Silicon Valley, I realized that day-to-day it's not that much different than what I experienced in Europe. I think the main difference is the daily encouragement to think bigger and bolder. In Europe, in general, we're typically told to stay grounded. That can be positive, but might also hold us back.

    3. 3

      Thanks @psto – Awesome questions.

      Since you are obsessed with bridging the gap between product and go-to-market, what was your process for starting companies in three different markets (choosing a market, validation and distribution)?

      Awesome question. The idea for Usabilla sparked when I was at university and had to test a design, improve it , and test it again. I started researching different methods to do that, and found most traditional research methods just painfully inefficient for websites (the old days). Before starting Human, I got obsessed by the market of health and fitness trackers. As an avid cyclist, I was surprised that most of the trackers pretty much only looked back, instead of looking ahead and were so metrics focused. When I left my job at Color, I wanted to make sure I wouldn't start a new company right away (like last time I took a short break...). So I got obsessed with video and editing. That lead to Detail...

      So in short, I think looking back, there is no real systematic approach to how I got started. But there are a few common themes in what I enjoy, and what opportunities I find interesting:

      • Technology is often about building new layers of abstraction on top of previous layers. Whenever new layers get commoditized, it creates new opportunities to leap forward and build something better. Things that were previously really hard, are now easy, and it enables you to rethink user value, user experience, and positioning.
      • I think a lot about positioning. The early features that you build, the way you build these, and how you talk about what and why you're building, all come together. Building a product is not only about the actual value of a specific set of features, but also about perceived value.
      • When building, I try to look for customer validation, but at the same time do focus on long-term strategy and our beliefs about how a market evolves. Solving short term obvious pain, and building a long term technical moat.
      • For Usabilla, Human, and Detail we picked a thin slice of our market to build for first. For Usabilla we focused on usability research first (they knew how to do research, we didn't); for Human we tapped into quantified self; and for the first Detail beta we get a bit more tech-savvy users onboarded first. We picked these slices to have a group of people to team up with for early feedback, while improving the product and build towards our long-term vision.
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        Thank you for all the comprehensive answers, Paul! Great insights on the potential of the European market.

        I also enjoyed your views that new tech abstractions get commoditized with time which opens opportunities for rethinking value and the importance of perceived value.

        Good luck with Detail! Here's to a third exit (if that's what you want) and a bigger war chest for all that European talent ;)

        1. 3

          Here's to a third exit (if that's what you want) ...

          Never say never, but this feels like the third act. I would love to build something that's helping millions of people, and I think this time around I at least know a tiny bit better what I signed up for.

    4. 2

      While the European tech scene is on the rise, it's pretty dispersed. As both a founder and a VC could you present your case for being long on Europe?

      I went back to Europe, more than I went back to Amsterdam. The ecosystem is dispersed, but the physical distance between hubs and between Europe and the rest of the world is getting smaller. Strong personal connections between people, folks moving around, remote work, remote investing, etc all contribute to cross-pollination and the opportunity to build strong companies.

      There's a growing number of amazing founder-friendly investors in Europe, that bring relevant experience in different markets and understand what it takes to build a company.

      There's an amazing pool of talent in Europe.

      In addition, a strong social support system, excellent education, and affordable healthcare creates more equal opportunity for more people.

  2. 1

    Hi Paul! Thanks for doing this AMA.

    My question(s) for you: Over the last 12 years building and growing companies, I'm sure you've grown a lot as a team leader / people leader; What were the biggest learnings for you from this perspective? What's your leadership philosophy? What resources, mentors, or coaches helped you grow?

  3. 1

    Hi Paul, I'm very familiar with your background being Duch myself. I also used Usabilla a long time and once spoke with Renato, your cofounder of Human if I am not mistaken.

    Is there any way to send you an email about a new social app I am working on to get your thoughts and feedback by any chance? PS: Good luck with detail, it's nice to see you building something again!

    1. 1

      Of course. Shoot me a message at paul # mnsp - co.

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        Great I sent you an email

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    Great job and definitely I envy you. My question is straight and shows my biggest weak point: how do you approach investors? Do you email them, send them a pitch, go to meet them in person? At what point do you do this, after having some traction, from MVP with nearly no activity, ...?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. 1

      Thanks 🙇‍♂️

      • More and more investors enjoy just cold inbounds, and that's a great thing. Sending a cold to-the-point message that explains in about two sentences what you do and why that matters typically doesn't hurt.
      • Building a network of fellow startup founders can help to exchange ideas, get feedback, and learn together. It can also help with introductions to investors. Identifying startups like yours and asking them about their investors could lead to good introductions to relevant investors.
      • Do you research on investors. Try to only spend time on investors that actually invest in the type of business your building, and the stage you're in. Look at previous deals they've done.
      • If you've identified investors that would be a great fit, based on their track record, it can help to try to find an introduction. A warm intro from someone that can vouch for you, can help cut through the noise.
      • No intro? Just shoot. No response? Follow up after a week or so, ideally with an update on progress.
      • Ideally, investors find out about you, before you reach out to them.
      • Traction helps. A great team helps. An amazing story helps. I think there's no one right answer to what's the right time. Sometimes it just needs one person that shares your excitement and trusts you to take a big swing at it.
  5. 1

    Hi Paul, thanks for doing the AMA. As a 26yo startup founder from Amsterdam i'm curious to know what lessons have helped you the most in the early days? And what are things I should avoid or look out for?

    Lastly, we have been growing steadily with Fiks.nl the past 1,5 year (We connect students with internship opportunities via WhatsApp and are doing 55k ARR) and are wondering whether we should attract funding to scale or stay bootstrapped. What is your take on this? Is there a right time to attract outside capital?

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      As a 26yo startup founder from Amsterdam i'm curious to know what lessons have helped you the most in the early days? And what are things I should avoid or look out for?

      Very few or no other people actually know more about your business than you do. So although other people's ideas or advice could sometimes help to think through your challenges, you are the actual expert.

      Thinking big doesn't mean you don't start small. I feel one of the biggest challenges is actually building a wedge into a market. Building something that provides enough value for a growing group of people and expand on that.

      Trust your gut. In world where MVPs, hypothesis, validation, etc provide a great recipe for startups, I think sometimes bold ideas to do something very different can't be captured or tested very well in smaller experiments that validate a subset of a bigger vision. Try to validate instincts, but sometimes you just have to be stubborn and crazy.

      Building a startup takes time. Just like exercise, it's a mix of technique, strength, and stamina. And quite a bit of luck.

      Lastly, we have been growing steadily with Fiks.nl the past 1,5 year (We connect students with internship opportunities via WhatsApp and are doing 55k ARR) and are wondering whether we should attract funding to scale or stay bootstrapped. What is your take on this? Is there a right time to attract outside capital?

      Congrats, that's amazing progress!

      I think funding versus bootstraps depends on what you want to build and how you'd like to build that. For me personally, I enjoy building a type of business that fit's the venture capital model pretty well. Investing in deep technological products and trying to scale that as fast as I can. I enjoy having other people that I need to explain my progress to and that support me in building my company. But I also had negative experiences with investors in the past. So I'm even more focused on only working with investors that I enjoy working with and who trust me and who I trust.

      1. 1

        Thanks Paul. This is awesome! I totally agree with you on the first part, although validation for us was so so important. We just started building stuff when we were still in uni without any validation. Fortunately, there was demand for it and we are growing steadily. If the demand wasn't there I would have wasted at least a year (although still would have learned a lot). The analogy with exercise is pretty accurate. It just feels like it as well haha.

        At the moment we are at a crossroad. On the one hand the companies and students using our service to connect are growing steadily. On the other hand we have been approached by companies (especially uitzendbureaus) who want to use our tool/software. So currently we are investigating what we would need in terms of time and investment in order to build a SaaS from our custom built tool.

        Anyways, thanks answering my question. Is there a place I can follow you as well? Like do you give updates on the progress made at Detail? Would love to read your insights.

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          Thanks! I'm [@pveugen on Twitter](http://twitter.com) and we'll share more behind the scenes of Detail on YouTube as well – practice what we preach.

  6. 1

    Congrats Paul, your journey is inspiring. I'm in the middle of spinning out a specific product (https://writeful.ly/) out of our agency into a separate brand and expect to launch in early September.

    We're currently at £700 MRR from September pre-launch by informing our own networks and I'm wondering whether now is the right time to get an Angel Investor? I'm also wondering what the quickest route to getting an investor would be - Seedrs, Angel List? A big reason for not going down this route is due to requiring its own focus and potentially being a distraction. Would be great to get your thoughts?

    1. 1

      Fundraising can be a massive distraction and time sink. Typically, there's no real quick way.

      When I first raised capital from seed investors for Usabilla, I didn't have any network and didn't know a single investor. This was also before any hubs like Angel or Seedrs. I randomly reached out to an inspiring tech entrepreneur that I followed on Twitter and he was generous enough to meet me for coffee. That lead to an introduction to another startup founder, who introduced me to the folks who ended up providing seed funding for Usabilla. A very long story, but it illustrates that being a bit bold, generosity, introductions, and lucky helped in my case.

      For Human, we pitched dozens of investors. Bit by bit, we grew our network, shared our passion, kept people updated, and built trust with a group of folks. I love Mark Suster's blogpost about lines vs dots. This advice also holds true for team members, partners, sales, etc. Also good to keep in mind when you're telling a story or pitch an idea: if you start with some historical dots in the past, it's much easier to connect the line to today and the future.

      1. 1

        Thanks man, appreciate the advice. That blog looks interesting, I'll have a read

  7. 1

    Hello Paul,

    Congratulations on your well-deserved success. Thanks for doing this AMA.

    I need to know, how did you identify the place where your audience, especially the early adopters will hang out?

    Thanks,
    Debo

    1. 2

      I need to know, how did you identify the place where your audience, especially the early adopters will hang out?

      Super difficult question and I'm not sure if I actually have a good answer, but let me try. I find it really hard to actually explain how we did that in the early days for Human and Usabilla. And for Detail we're in the middle of that weird vacuum of building up early momentum.

      • Don't be shy. Be vocal about what excites you. Open up and share your story, ideally in a way that shows your passion for what you're doing. If you're hiding it, no one will ever know.
      • Even if you're existing audience or the people that are close to you are not your specific target audience, they might be able to help you to get closer. My followers on Twitter are typically tech and startup focused and not per se the audience we're building Detail for, but they can provide get feedback on and their interest or excitement can get us build bridges to target groups.
      • Find the people that share your passion. Follow them, help them, learn from them, and reach out.
      • Go above and beyond for the first brave souls who take the effort to try out your product. Provide support, ask questions, help them, treat them like royalty. But keep in mind, that your product will not be the solution for everyone.
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