Neil Patel

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Adam Nathan went from working in the White House to launching a tech startup that has raised sizable seed and Series A funding rounds. The venture, Almanac, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Leore Avidar, General Catalyst, Indicator Ventures, and Floodgate.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Managing your fundraising process
  • Oversubscribed funding rounds
  • Productivity
  • How Almanac is making a difference

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    About Adam Nathan:

    Adam Nathan is the CEO and Cofounder of Almanac, a cloud-based platform for professionals to create and share open-source work documents.

    Founded in San francisco in 2019, they already have the world’s largest library of customizable business documents and standard operating procedures, with specific versions of documents that users can copy and customize.

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    Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

    Adam Nathan: A cliff.

    Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty oh everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have another founder another founder. You know he’d say raised unbelievable seat round. Ah big, big big series a 2 so he goes from 1 big round to another and but we’re gonna be talking about. Ah, basically you know building scaling financing and all of that good stuff that we like to hear so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guest today Adam Nathan welcome to the show. So you’re one of a can.

    Adam Nathan: Thanks so much. Glad to be here.

    Alejandro Cremades: Of a kind item because you don’t get to meet you know, a lot of people that are born. You know and raised in New York City you know New York City is kind of like a big united nations so you are definitely one of a kind so give a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up in New York city

    Adam Nathan: Yeah I mean it was great I I guess I’m a stereotype of a new yorker and that my parents are also from New York ah we are jewish um, you know in my mind, there’s a classic New York new yorker cartoon of like basically everything past the Hudson River being oblivion and in the same way I think growing up New York was the center of of my universe. Um, but it’s a pretty great place to um to grow up as a kid because there’s so much culture so much diversity so much stimulation I think it led. My ambition to run wild and my parents are entrepreneurs themselves. They run a small business and I think taught me and my brother the values of hard work and persistence and um, you know, really putting in ah, putting your all into the things that you dedicate yourself to. Think the idea of responsibility and giving back and making the world a bit more just a bit more right were were values that I’ve I’ve taken with me into my adulthood.

    Alejandro Cremades: And what was that day that experience of seeing your own parents going through the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey. How about how was that for you.

    Adam Nathan: Well I didn’t really think much about it at the time but seeing that both my brother and I have started our own companies that I think have been quite successful and in different ways means that there is something in the water for us growing up with my parents. You know I I remember my mom sitting on. Her bed late at night with just paper sprawled out around her and she would always eat like Minen’s and candy while watching Tv and doing the accounting paperwork for my that the business that she and my dad ran and I think the idea of um, the kind of self-sufficiency and self-reliance you get when you own your own. When you’re on your own destiny was something that has always been really attracted attractive to me. Um, you know I went to to college and another big idea for me has I been around social justice and making the world more ah more the kind of place. We all want it to be and I think for me combining that idealism that was I think just in my Dna that I got taught in school and in in temple along with this idea of um, owning your own future made me like a natural entrepreneur and I think it’s the perfect career for me I I think if I had done anything else for. For too long. It would have been a career limiting move to some degree. Um, when people always ask me like should should I start a business or should they sort of business I always say no unless there’s nothing else you can do ah or an idea that keeps you awake you know five to 10 hours a night and I think.

    Adam Nathan: Um, starting a company founding something is something you do only when there’s when nothing else is possible and I think seeing my parents work so hard and and succeed and thrive because of their efforts was help me identify that it was probably the right path for me too.

    Alejandro Cremades: And what about what about skiing? How do you get into skiing.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, my ah my dad was a big skier and grew up so basically spending most ah, a lot of weeks during the winter skiing. Um, you know I’m someone I love moving fast and racing is something where you have to essentially you know, check hit all the. And all the polls check all the boxes going as fast as you possibly can it involves a high amount of risk along with a lot of precision and balance and so um, you know I feel like I pulled a lot of those elements actually into my day-to-day life now even when I’m not racing all the time. But um I don’t know what came first my love for. Ah, starting things are my love for skiing. But I think it’s the same preferences my same in 8 many and a preferences that drive both my passions.

    Alejandro Cremades: And very competitively. So so how competitive are we are we talking about? you know you took skiing.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, um, well I was on the junior national ski team for 8 years I eventually left to go to college instead. But I I spent most of my high school day seeing.

    Alejandro Cremades: And why why? why? why? why? Why? why? not going professional why not going to the olympics or stuff like that that maybe you had dreamed of you know during those 8 years that you were there.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, ah skiing is an individual sport and it’s you know when you Ski you’re competing not only against people from other teams. But even your own teammates and you’re really only as good as your last race a couple of seconds. Ah. Your results can change where you stand on the team and and your spot and your qualifications and I’d say so it’s it’s it’s intensely competitive all the time and I think I just got burned out by that one of the things I love about running a company now is that it’s and well well the founder journey can be very Lonely. Um. At its best. It is a team sport and it’s about to succeed it really does take lots of people different talents working together and and I think just kind of being that that competitive for that Long. Didn’t stop being fun at some point and you know I So I still ski a lot now and I’ve. Kind of redefine my relationship to the sport I’m still very competitive with myself when I Ski and I I think still Ski really fast, but it’s more about being in the moment um enjoying ah the sunlight and the snow and the world around me skiing with friends than it is about trying to win something and. Yeah I prefer I prefer my life whiskeing now than I’m than before.

    Alejandro Cremades: So I guess when it came to ah competitiveness how do you think about that when it comes now to your life when it comes that to business. How does that you know translate into things.

    Adam Nathan: I’m still intensely competitive and I hold myself to very high standards I hold our team tie standards I think one of the reasons people come to work at almanac is because they want to take a big swing and push themselves harder than they would anywhere else and. So I think it’s actually part of our value proposition to our to our team members the the standards that we hold each of the two that the competitive drive that fuels our efforts but at the same time I think I’ve also learned how important intrinsic awards are. Ah, you know, internal learning and growth getting better on your own developing mastery over things and doing things because you think they’re right and they’re important to you over just things that are important. You know, externally to the market and I think um, you know both both my internal value system. Um fuels my work. It’s almost disconnected from anything that’s happening externally with a business along with I think a strong desire to achieve and make an impact and change the world and so you know I still draw on a lot of that competitiveness. But I think you know competitiveness on its own can be very empty and you see you hear stories all the time about people who set some kind of goal and even when they achieve it. Um, you know it doesn’t hold any of the that there’s there’s none of the satisfaction they thought that they would get when they got there and that’s because I think having a reason to do something that’s important to you outside of anything else. The world is saying is is also critical for the level of energy and the amount of persistence. It takes to start and grow. A.

    Alejandro Cremades: Now your case you went to duke and then you know obviously after the the skiing you know like didn’t didn’t pan out the way that that you had hoped for or you know perhaps you know you got burned out as you said, but you went to Duke you did your studies you got excited about Social justice.

    Adam Nathan: Ah, business into something really big.

    Alejandro Cremades: And then all of a sudden you find yourself at the white house. So especially you know working there with with president Obama at the time. What what did you get out of leadership. What was what was what what what kind of definition did leadership. You know like get. You know for you, you know during that time. How was that experience for you.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, well just to set some context you know I um I remember getting a call. Ah maybe during the last couple weeks of my senior year at Duke I know I think it was from an unlisted number and it turned out to be the white house and they asked me if I wanted to come first. Join as an intern and this was in ah 2010 so’s about a year into the Obama administration or or actually more like six six months since inauguration and so this was the time that president Obama was trying to pass um health care reform. He was trying to pass what became. Ah, Dodd -frank the financial regulatory reform bill. Um, the the recession was still ah, very much a topic around. How do we get out of it and so I think president obama came into office with you know more challenges than really any modern president since maybe fdr and I was asked to. To kind take a work at the white house and I was 21 and had never had a full time job before and 1 of the interesting things about the white house is um, a lot of the people who are you know doing the work all the principles like ah advisors to the president and the people who are managing the work are all. Ah. People like me. Ah you know, young people with a lot of time on their hands. So it’s almost like a reverse pyramid whereas in most companies, you know the people who are managing at the top at the white house. The people who are managing and supporting are are at the bottom. Um, and you know it was an amazing first job because ah.

    Adam Nathan: It really set my expectations for what work could be what what making an impact could be you know at a lot of jobs you go in and they limit what you can do at first and you know like someone has to read your emails before you send them and you can’t speak up in meetings and there I was at the white house interfacing with ceos of major banks. And people who ran you know huge advocacy organizations as a twenty year one year old and you know even small things when you work at that level of government carry a lot of impact like and I was in charge of like inviting people to meetings with the president and and helping them manage. Um our work around. Ah the economy and so I think it. Um. You know it showed me what kind of impact I could have we could have when um when you really give your all to something everyone there worked incredibly hard and and like today you know spending an hour more on your work actually did lead to more impact and I think it’s some people think oh well. Doesn’t work hard work doesn’t really matter giving something my all doesn’t really matter because it won’t lead to some kind of result and I think I learned early on at the white house that working hard does make a difference. Ah, not just for me in my career but for for other people for even the the city of the world and I was young and I i. Probably didn’t have like you know that I was just one of many people working really hard. There. But I think um, you know working in a place where I could have so much impact at a young age set the bar really high for me and I think nothing’s really come to rival it except starting something on my own and and really being someone who can.

    Adam Nathan: Really being in a place where I can drive my own my own destiny.

    Alejandro Cremades: So obviously after this you did some consulting and then you did your Mba at Harvard I’m wondering like you did your Mba at Harvard and it sounds like you know that’s like the perfect you know shift or ah.

    Adam Nathan: Yep.

    Alejandro Cremades: Ah, gear shift you know towards starting your own company, especially if you had you know your parents you know as entrepreneurs. Why didn’t you start your company out of Harvard you know because obviously after Harvard you know you went to a few other companies like lived and. Envaral money and crossby. You know for a few a few more years before you started almanac so what were you waiting for.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, um, it’s a good question and just just for some context I was always interested in complex systems I I design my own major when I was at Duke as an undergrad and it was around leadership and systems change and developing economies I was really interested in how. You know 1 individual or a small group can actually change the world. Um, especially in environments that are ambiguous or fast moving and the the couple things I did before going to business school like working in the federal government working with large nonprofits working at an airline where really like practical exercises happen. How can how can one person. We’re going to really messed up complex ah space and and actually make things better and you know airlines and nonprofits and and governments are all examples I think of relatively dysfunctional markets and and often companies and I was just fascinating by how organizations work. Or or don’t work and so when I went to business school I was still really interested in this topic of like organizational behavior essentially and I did consider ah after business school starting my own company. Um, but i. You know I hadn’t never worked in tech and it it was clear to me that if you want to change the world make an impact the best way to do. It is to ah to work in technology and work on the internet you know software is eating the world has been for some time now and if you want to be part of changing things improving things for the better.

    Adam Nathan: I started to think the best way in was to um to learn how to build and sell and service technology and so I had had no experience in tech before and so working I interned at Apple and then I worked at Lyft where I ran pricing and I just wanted to get some experience in understanding functionally. Like how do you build software and how do you run a saas business. Um, you know, even at Hbs there was ah a focus on tech but you know Hbs I don’t think really knew at the time how to teach tech. It’s not like they had people whose founders who had started of big tech companies. Really. Um, there as professors it almost felt like the blinding the blind and a lot of the tech classes. You know, really I think to learn how to be a product manager or a marketer or an engineer you have to go to the source of the knowledge the practical knowledge which is is here in Silicon Valley in San Francisco

    Alejandro Cremades: So then in 2019 what what felt different you know at this point because you know you gave your nodes at Croby and then you get going with almanac so what felt different what what What was that the switch or that. Light bulb that they you were waiting for? yeah.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, well for me, it was kind of this idea that I I couldn’t get out of my mind and as I so mentioned you know I have ah my brain works in in a systems thinking kind of way and I have always been someone to quickly analyze how how people how processes how structures are working together or not. And you know when I um, when I worked at Lyft and avaro I worked as a product manager and the job I thought I was hired to do is to help build products but when I actually got into those organizations. What I actually spent my day doing was sitting in back-to-back meetings constantly trying to stay on top of slack and emails. Um, following up a people to see if they even read the proposal I sent or what they thought about it. You know work that I consider not to be work just like overhead tasks and it often felt like even trying to get simple things done like getting approval on documents would take my entire week as like pushing a ah ball through mud. You know it wasn’t the job I thought I was hired to do wasn’t the job I woke up in the morning to do and I had this contrast with the engineers I worked with who were using a tool called github which basically allows for engineers to collaborate on code. Um, even when they’re they’re not together and. These engineers who are on my teams were a lot more productive than me and actually getting stuff done and seemingly happier and so you know I was outlift and at first I thought well you know, maybe it’s one organization and so when I went to work out other places I started to see that this this feeling of like dysfunction and like the um work feeling.

    Adam Nathan: Doing work spending your days doing work that that wasn’t work wasn’t something that was endemic just to one company or even 1 industry. It was something that was happening across all types of companies and and even in like the what should be the fastest companies in the world like native tech companies and so I started thinking about this idea of. Um, that some people these engineers I were working I was working with were living in the future and the rest of us were like stuck in the past at using processes and and tools that were designed for for work from the 1950 s and at the time I didn’t really know much about like what the seeker was behind how developers collaborated but. I started thinking that there was there was some opportunity there and so it was for me less. Ah but it was more that I was ah start to get obsessed with this idea um of what if knowledge work could all be like um how engineers work together. Ah that made me want to quit my job and.

    Alejandro Cremades: So what happened next.

    Adam Nathan: And launch myself into a venture. So yeah, you know I this is 2019 maybe January Twenty Nineteen and I was thinking about this idea and I um you know had met ah someone who became? ah. My cofounder who ran our engineering team through a small consulting project I was doing and this company that this other company we’re working for wanted to hire both him and me to be full-time and I remember saying to him you know I have this other idea and you know would you be interested in maybe trying it with me and we can give. Yeah, this consulting opportunity like a couple weeks to see if that takes off and we can also you know, spend half our time on what became almanac um and we’ll see what kind of horse race these ideas and see which one took off and I remember almost instantly when we started working on almanac we got traction. We you know people. Customers were interested in paying for our product investors were interested in giving us money and it just it. It felt like this like massive pull. You know I think within like a week or so we had to tell this client that we wouldn’t be able to work with him because um, almanac just started it. It got that immediate. Traction so quickly and that was January Twenty nineteen and you know from there. It was clear that ah we had a real a real idea a real business on our hands and we started thinking about you know this? maybe this maybe we should start raising money to help us.

    Adam Nathan: Hire a team developer a small team of developers so that we can actually build a better product than the essentially prototype we had.

    Alejandro Cremades: And for the people that are listening to get it. What ended up being the business model of almanac. How do you guys make money.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, so at the time we built what was called the the first version of the product. We called the almanac core and it was essentially an open source repository. Ah best practices and so very similar to stack overflow and the developer side essentially was user contributed content that was free. Um. That helped people understand how to do best practices in tech you know there are all these spaces like product management and product marketing devops that really didn’t have codified best practices yet but were kind of the the fastest growing technical roles anywhere around and so at first we were thinking okay like let’s help people never start from scratch some. And find a template that they could copy and customize in their organization that was you know really created and validated by experts and what we the feedback we got that that worked really well actually but people started asking us hey we don’t just want the template. We actually want um like better rails for. Collaborating on that work for approving that work for sharing it. But but people start saying to us is we don’t want stack overflow. We want Github and and github is kind of the core operating system for how developers collaborate on code. Um, and so what we started building after we built this templates gallery was a document editor that had. Um, a bunch of workflows for getting structured approvals on documents for putting them in handbooks that then automatically updated over time. So that essentially you could create and collaborate and share information without needing to meet and this was in 2019.

    Adam Nathan: And you know we we looked at github often and say like oh well, what are the kind of killer features of Github and and github there are these things called pull requests which essentially allow you to ask for feedback or approval what we didn’t realize was what makes github really powerful is that these pull requests these structured approvals enable engineers to work. Across time and space without needing to meet they enable engineers to work on distributed teams and engineers have been working in remote context you know for 20 years before the rest of us did and as we started building our product and 2020 covid happened and what we realized is we we weren’t just building. Um, like github for documents we are building a platform for structured collaboration that could power remote teams and then all of a sudden it wasn’t just a small group of early adopters that needed our product. Everybody needed something that would help them work faster without meetings.

    Alejandro Cremades: So so obviously you know in this case, you guys raised for money how much money have you guys raised today now now now very interesting the way that you guys have gone about it because.

    Adam Nathan: Think over $50,000,000 across yeah

    Alejandro Cremades: Always making this big splashes. You know on each one of those rounds you know seat round How about how much was the seat round and then the series a how much was there series a I mean it’s a some really big rounds. So so why.

    Adam Nathan: It was $9,000,000 it was $40,000,000 yeah

    Alejandro Cremades: Why so much money in in in those rounds and and how did you guys go about really putting that together because I mean it’s It’s not easy to raise those those big rounds.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, and so ah, our seed round. We raised in 2019 and I remember as I said we we got immediate traction for the first version of our product I remember talking to my cofounders saying like should we raise money or should we just try and bootstrap this. We. Agree that raising some amount of money would help us hire some developers and accelerate our progress but we didn’t want to overraise and I remember talking to 1 of our advisors just trying to figure out the right amount and the right valuation and his strong advice was just go out and raise you know a couple hundred thousand dollars at a um. And a modest valuation don’t overraise don’t over optimizime for fundraising because that’s not the point of starting a company. The point is to you know, build a product people love and then grow the hell out of it and so you know initially fundraising it was it was not ah it has never really been a focus of ours. But I think we initially targeted like $300000 I thought it would take us. 3 to six months to raise I think be raised in like three days um and then you know with a lot of grade fundraising processes. There’s I think often. Ah a snowball effect where I like to compare it to um, like thermodynamics where often there’s a difference between um, you know? a. Ah, fire in a room and a room on fire and firefighters actually talk about this inflection point where when you like basically the whole um the way like air and and heat work in a room changes when the fire starts to just overpower things. It starts to just consume more and more and more oxygen and.

    Adam Nathan: You know that’s why often you see like oxygen getting sucked into rooms when there’s a really powerful fire inside. You know I think we were able to leverage the effects of fomo with investors where um, our rounds became a hot round. People started to hear about it investors who had committed started making more and more referrals and so there was this almost compounding that happened where we got increasingly more and more intros every single week that the fundraisers opened and so and I think this is this is a dynamic in in many successful fundraising rounds where. Ah, you know for us it happened pretty quickly. But sometimes you can go weeks or months with minimal traction then and then all of a sudden as soon as you get an investor or series of investors who are willing to really back the deal like things can take off quickly and and in our case that happened really immediately and I think you know, ah.

    Adam Nathan: I think we rate we structured the round really well, that’s the advice I always give to founders is you know, pay attention to how you set up your round and how you manage it because that’s just as important as the idea you’re pitching. Ah, but even the idea itself of like building a you know core productivity offering that’s designed for the internet and for the internet age. Ah, it was a big idea two and a half of the top 5 most valuable companies in the world are productivity companies. So huge huge market um and and you know to your to your question on how much we had to raise it often takes a while to build ah companies like this. Companies like notion and airtable and figma. All all amazing successes now took about 8 to 9 years to actually reach their inflection point and so I knew that if we wanted to really build something like github that isn’t just a product people use a couple times a week but is a product people spend their entire days in you know it would it would take. Years of investment.

    Alejandro Cremades: And obviously when it comes to um, getting investors you gotta share with them a compelling future a compelling story. You know, imagine you were to go to sleep tonight Adam and you wake up in a world where the vision.

    Adam Nathan: Depth.

    Alejandro Cremades: Of almanag is fully realized what does that world look like.

    Adam Nathan: It’s a great question I I think it’s a world where we get to spend our days doing work that only we can do yeah so much of our days are spent on excuse my french but bullshit ah you know doing tasks. Ah, sitting in meetings consuming and sharing information that all could be automated and you know even in this age of Ai. Um, so much of collaboration how we work together is deeply human even you know the ai tools that that we’re building an almanac and that other companies have built they all access data. About what has happened in the past but nobody can predict what’s going to happen when humans sit down together to solve a problem. Um, and you know even even on basic types of collaboration like getting your feedback or getting your approval or sharing out knowledge. Um, they’re they’re extremely manual and extremely time consuming. You know we. Um, did a survey recently where we asked thousands of white collar professionals how much of their time they spend sitting in meetings responding to messages and and looking for Files Mckinsey asked the same question ten years ago and the answer then was 68% which is already pretty high ah today in 2023 on average white collar professionals spend 95% of their working hours just on those basic 3 activities meaning they have no time to do their actual jobs and and I don’t think those hours are fun hours. They’re not fulfilling hours. It’s not the kind of work that ah you know calls to our our highest abilities and.

    Adam Nathan: You know I want to live in a world where I wake up excited to do my job every morning where my creativity is is leveraged and I get to work with people I trust and respect not sitting around in back-to-back Zoom calls and I think if we lived in that world not just would people be more fulfilled but um, our innovation and our productivity would go up. Um, we would solve bigger and more complex problems together. You know I think anything’s possible when we put our minds to it. it’s it’s amazing it’ll go back and look at headlines from the sixty s and the 70 s about things that we thought would end civilization that we basically just solved through. Like technology and engineering and innovation and I think a lot of the problems that we face today are are solvable problems so long as we don’t get mired in the muck of all this overhead work. Ah, and I think it’s our it’s really about the systems that we use and the tools that enable them that will either allow us to you know solve. The the biggest opportunities and challenges before us or or get bogged down by them.

    Alejandro Cremades: Now we we were talking about the future. So let’s talk about the past but doing so with a lens of reflection imagine I was to put you into a time machine and I take you back in time you know maybe to that point where you’re wondering. You know what you are going to do you know at Crossby you know you you you got the ad now you wanted to do something of your own it was it was time. Let’s say you had the opportunity of going back in time and and giving that younger Adam one piece of advice for launching a company. What would that be on why given what you know now.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah, ah well I think to your earlier question I would have told myself to to do it sooner. Um, you know I don’t think that entrepreneurship is for everybody I think it’s often portrayed as a ah you know, really sexy role. That’s full of like fame and glory and riches when the reality is that. Ah, it’s an extreme exercise and persistence and Grit. Ah,, there’s a lot of difficulty and self-doubt and pain involved and you know I think life is pain and work is pain and there’s often that the choice really is what kind of pain We. We want to take every day you know it’s painful to. Be a middle manager in a big organization where it takes a lot of work to get your ideas heard and politics to get stuff done in the same way that it’s painful to be a founder toiling an ignomy hoping that your idea gets to product Market fit and scale. Um, so I think really the choices that we all face every day is what kind of pain. Do We do? We prefer. And you know I I think I I wish I had recognized even earlier on that for me. Um, you know I’m built to be a founder. It’s the right job for me. Maybe it’s the only job for me I think a lot of founders and startup ceos come to the same conclusion and and I wish um. In some ways that I had started sooner. Ah you know I I don’t regret spending the time I did working in amazing organizations building my networks um probably getting skills and experiences that helped have helped me avoid mistakes later on you know, mistakes that I might I might have made if I had started as a company right out of school or something like that.

    Adam Nathan: Ah, so I I don’t regret at all the path I took and if anything I think it’s it helped me identify this opportunity that was the seed of the idea in almanac that’s helped it be such a success. Um, you know I may not have figured that out because without the experience I had in the working world. But you know if anything I I. If I could tell myself something knowing what I know now it would be to um to put off the fear know that no matter what I do is going to be hard and just jump in sooner.

    Alejandro Cremades: I love it now for the people that are listening Adam what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi.

    Adam Nathan: Yeah I think my dms are open on Twitter I’m at I think Adam P Nathan and ah come check us out at almanac io um, and we love to see what you do with our product.

    Alejandro Cremades: Amazing hey Adam thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an on earth to have you with us.

    Adam Nathan: Thank you.

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