Looking back on the Last 4 Years at Left of the Dot!
It is hard to believe, but it was 4 years ago this morning that I sat next to Chris listening to him tell Rick Latona over the phone that we we were seeking a "$100k investment on a valuation of $500,000 for our new business." We have had ups and downs along the way, a few pivots and business model revisions, but nothing was as momentous as that first phone call.
Here is why:
Chris and I were sitting having breakfast one Friday morning with another friend and the conversation turned to the big T.R.A.F.F.I.C. domaining show that was coming to Vancouver the following week. I had just finished telling Chris that the company I was then with was going to do a round of layoffs and I would either be the one being laid off or I would be laying off a large percentage of my team -- neither a very good option in my opinion. We had often talked about running our own company together "to do things right" so we decided sort of spur-of-the-moment, might have been the espresso talking ... "Hey we should pitch something at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Test Track on Monday and see if we could land a domain name to work on?"
The Test Track event was sort of a Dragon's Den/Shark Tank sort of pressure cooker that the domain industry was putting on whereby eager entrepreneurs pitched to four successful and wealthy Domainers about their latest and greatest business idea. For us, however, the only idea that we had was that "We should start a company" and "we need a great domain name to start with". Yes, we had tossed around the sub-domain ecosystem angle for a few years previously thinking that there was gold in them thar' hills if we could figure it out (and sub-domains were really ranking well organically). But unlike most businesses, we didn't have a business plan, a cap table ... heck we didn't even have a company name. Then Chris made the phone call:
[abbreviated and not to be taken as real quoted dialog]
Chris: "Hi Rick ... Chris Jensen here. John Lyotier and I want to pitch at Test Track. Can we?"
Rick: "Sure, how much are you looking to raise?"
Chris: "Nothing. We are not raising any money. We just need a good domain to work with for our new stealth business idea."
Rick: "We are not accepting companies like that. You need to be raising money."
Chris: "In that case, did I forget to mention that we are seeking a $100,000 angel investment for 20% of the company?"
Rick: "Welcome aboard. You pitch on Monday."
I was dumbfounded. A few minutes before we had no company idea and I was on the verge of being unemployed. Now we were raising $100k on a half million dollar valuation. If ever there was an apropos time for the WTF acronym this was it. What had we got ourselves into?
The next 72 hours were a bit of a whirlwind. I took the lay off from my job that afternoon and ensured that I was contractually free and clear with no Intellectual Property issues to handcuff future opportunities. We spoke for another hour or so and sketched out the workings of the model that we had discussed off and on for the previous 3+ years. Then we divided and conquered a 10-slide PowerPoint deck: Chris took 5 slides to explain the financial and operational side of the business, I took 5 slides for the market opportunity and product side.
We met again for the first time late on the Sunday night to combine the slides into one deck, then a moment of panic set in ...
"Wait. Are we able to use a PowerPoint for our pitch? How long of a presentation slot do we have? What time are we presenting? What is the company going to be called?"
We had way too many questions and no time for answers.
Let's assume that we can use a PowerPoint. We will put the presentation onto a memory stick, but order about 10 printed copies from Kinkos "just in case". DONE!
No idea how long we have. Let's just speak passionately, honestly, and eloquently about that which we knew -- We knew there was a market opportunity. We knew Domainers were starting to feel a pain. We knew we wanted a shot to figure it out. DONE!
We pitch tomorrow just after lunch. Oh F^@K... that is not much time. But nothing we can do about it now. DONE!
Name? Let's call it "Left of the Dot" ... I had grabbed the domain a short time before as I thought it would be good for a personal blog. DONE! A few business cards were added to the print order from Kinkos and a 1-page "Coming soon. We are in stealth mode" website was sprung up.
The morning had us pick up half of the business cards (the second half were still being printed), the printed slide deck, and we registered for the conference. It was a bit of a reunion the first few hours as we had great relationships with many in the Domaining community from our days at Reinvent and HitFarm. Then we pitched ...
I would like to say it was a great presentation, but I really don't remember it. It was a bit of a blur. What I do remember is that we had struck a nerve with the panellists and by the end of our pitch, we had 3 out of the 4 'Dragons' wanting to explore an investment. And by the end of the night, we had someone else also offer to invest at the valuation that Chris had pulled out of nowhere.
Fast forward to today ... we are now on the cusp of our 4th birthday. We now have a team of approximately 40 people between our offices here in Maple Ridge and abroad in Bangladesh. We have had our share of ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and failures. We couldn't have got to where we are today without the support of our investors, Directors, friends, family, and team mates (3-2-1... Lefties!). But rarely do we take the time to look backwards and remember how it all started...
Four years ago we were just two guys with a willingness to fail but a passion to succeed. The only difference today is that there are now forty of us. We haven't changed a bit.
Editor's note. OK... maybe we have a lot more grey hair (or less of it), we would much rather wear shorts and flip-flops, and Chris only looks like a startled llama on a rare occasion -- but the passion is still there.