August 12th, 2013 Founders@Fail: Tripl, Peter Sullivan
On Monday, August 12, 2013, OLC attended Founders@Fail hosted by Schuyler Brown at General Assembly. This event featured Peter Sullivan, of Tripl.
Schuyler Brown: Pete started a travel company—
Peter Sullivan: I tried to do a startup and I learned very quickly hat you need to jump in. I went to Sweden and found out that they have free programsI was the only American in the program. On the first day, I met my co-founder. We got down to work and got interest from investors. The Swedish government invested and it became real. NYC is going through a renaissance and I was stuck in Sweden.
SB: It’s hard enough to find talent—it must be harder in foreign countries. How was that?
PS: Terrible. Really bad. I’d do searches on Twitter and hit these guys up. We were also talking to investors and lying to them. Or vetting, it’s really hard to vet technical people if you’re not technical. The process is hard. The hardest thing, I think, is to take in people and I learned that the hard way.
SB: Walk us through your story of the process of falling out with your co-founder.
PS: We tried to find a mentor—we didn’t have much luck. I think I should’ve networked more, but we went with the first person that would talk to us. If you can get a seasoned entrepreneur, it’s totally worth it. We didn’t know what vesting was—but there was this thing that we started and that we’d take care of it. We found out that our co-founder was not invested in it like we were. He killed the whole demeanor of the team. You think of every hire as the life of the team and you need to get people out that are ruining it as fast as possible.
SB: It’s hard to peel off the band-aid when you’re a small team...
PS: In our case, it was someone who held stock. He requested 65 vacation days...when we get 25 automatically. You can’t look for a replacement either; it’s so timeconsuming.
BS: How do you get someone to move halfway across the world for you?
PS: You have to sell the kool-aid. You’re selling a division and you have to show that everything is working out. If you show promise and that everything is working, you’re going to have good luck.
SB: Accelerators are a huge amount of hype—how did you think about what you’d get out of one?
PS: As much as I wanted to be considered part of the culture, I wasn’t Swedish. I hustled my way towards Tech Stars and built my network that way. We were able to take the press we had and built a product out of that. Your story has to be valid and authentic. I had 6, 7, 8 meetings per day. The network grew and it’s definitely helped.
SB: What did you ask? Who did you ask?
PS: I think when you meet someone, you need to keep them updated. You got to do your homework. You have to connect the dots. Introductions have to be safe too.
SB: What are the three things you wish someone told you?
PS: Investor meetings aren’t speed dating. But you don’t have a lot of time to have a conversation. Accelerators used to be a vetting process, but now there’s so many. The next is building camaraderie with other entrepreneurs. Don’t be afraid to change things quickly. Make the change or keep lying to yourselves.
SB: Let’s talk about the decision-making process. How do you force yourself to really make hardline decisions?
PS: You’re in a bubble. There’s this analogy that there’s a wall and an industry that’s large and you can enter the wall and put it brick in it. When you focus on one thing, you get rapid development. People understood what we were doing. Tripl used to be a network for people who used to travel, but we learned that we made all these algorithms and it wasn’t working. Instead of building, we sent out beautiful emails to people who were signed up for the service and it didn’t work. Well, Facebook check-in API became available. We looked at Facebook checking and we changed our product. It became an app that tells you when your friends are checking in while traveling. It almost became an interactive magazine about your friends.
SB: How do you build a momentum you need at Demo Day when you don’t have runway to get there in time?
PS: Talk to investors now. They need to understand how you work and how you’re going to solve your problems. They need to see your progression and connect the dots. We gutted the app and redesigned everything just before Demo Day. The thing is to let the investors see your imperfections so they can see the momentum.
SB: Walk us through the aftermath of Demo Day when you’re trying to leverage the momentum.
PS: There weren’t any new relationships that were made, but the press is going to create a
spike in traffic. It’s still huge. You want to use the press very strategically.
SB: When things are clicking, highs are high, but when it’s bad, it’s bad. How do you keep yourself motivated?
PS: In our co-working space, people ask me how my psychology is doing. It’s such a roller coaster trying to beat roadblocks after roadblocks. The lows just keep on coming. You learned to not take things too seriously. You’ll find a way. Talking to other entrepreneurs is really helpful. You don’t want to be alone in this.
SB: Any frustrations?
PS: It was Series A. A lot of VCs had been burned by travel apps and we were pretty late in the game. VCs gave us six months to get a product. We had over 50 meetings... Having good people and having no micromanagement in the team really helped.