Alexander Asseily has gone from being born in a war zone to creating breakthrough technologies that we use every day. The companies he’s been involved in have raised over $1B in capital, and he’s not done yet. His startup, Lilium, has attracted funding from top-tier investors Aceville, LGT, Atomico, and Lightrock.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Timing and your startup
- Investing in and advising startups
- Knowing when to walk away as a founder
- More groundbreaking technologies Alexander has been involved in
This episode is brought to you by Gelt. As a referral from the DealMaker’s podcast you can skip the waitlist and get priority just mention Dealmakers as your referral on the schedule a call form here.
.Tech Domains is sponsoring this episode. To unlock the special offer for the DealMakers audience, which includes 1-year domain for $10, or a 5-year domain for $50, go to go.tech/dealmakers.
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Alexander Asseily:
Mr. Alexander Asseily is the Founder of Zulu Group. he serves as the Chief Strategy Officer & Vice Chairman at Lilium. Mr. Asseily is a British-Lebanese entrepreneur. He is also the founder of mobile technology company Jawbone, having served as Chairman until early 2015. In 2013 Alexander co-founded Elvie, a women’s health and wellness company and maker of the award-winning Elvie Trainer and Elvie Pump, where he also serves as Chairman.
He is a partner and advisor to a number of technology companies globally, including Lilium, Nectarine Health, and Atomico. Alexander was raised in Beirut and London. He graduated from Stanford University with a BSc and MSc in Product Design and Mechanical Engineering. He also serves as the Advisor at The Joy Club.
See How I Can Help You With Your Fundraising Efforts
- Fundraising Process : get guidance from A to Z.
- Materials : our team creates epic pitch decks and financial models
- Investor Access : connect with the right investors for your business and close them
Connect with Alexander Asseily:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So super exciting guest that we have Today. He’s done it so many times that I kind of like lost track but day I think that you’re going to find his journey quite inspiring. You know, building scaling financing and all the above. So. Again without further ado. Let’s welcome our guest today Alexandra a silly welcome to the show. So originally born in London but raised in Beirut. So how was life growing up, give us a little of a walk through memory lane.
Alexander Asseily: Um, thanks Alejandro good to be here.
Alexander Asseily: I was young but I remember sandbags and tanks and hiding in basements when the bombs went off. Yeah, but but but always but always safe with the parents somehow. Um.
Alejandro Cremades: My God How how ah how old were you? How old were you when when when the when the war broke out.
Alexander Asseily: The war broke out the year I was born and like many people my parents thought the war would end every 2 months and I just kept going until I was 6 or 7 and then when the syrians and the israelis invaded in 82 that point people started to get kidnapped there was they were just like there were too many actors in the war and we we decided to leave and move back to London.
Alejandro Cremades: And how do you think I mean obviously you were young but I’m sure that day I mean you still you know, have flashbacks and I’m and I’m sure memories from from that day difficult time. How do you think that that shaped who you are today and and also dealing with with uncertainty.
Alexander Asseily: There’s an interesting question I think it it must have affected me in some deeper way. Um a sense of urgency a sense of needing to fix things at a kind of global level I mean I say at a global level like at a.
Alexander Asseily: Societal level like when when you see a society crumbling and it’s all around you in the stories that your family tells or that your family friends Tell. Think somehow it impregnates you with a sense of urgency about I got to do something with my life or I’m lucky to have the opportunities that I have we had never been. We’d never been destitute as a family we were fortunate to have Opportunities. We were able to get out. But my parents had always been involved with you know, trying to fix lebanon trying to help with a refugees trying to help with human rights and conflict resolution so that stayed with me and I think it drove a lot of the decisions I made later in life. Probably.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your end. You know you started getting into engineering eventually you know because that’s why you ended up starting later on I mean how did you get into perhaps math or or problem solving and things like that.
Alexander Asseily: Now.
Alexander Asseily: I think I always like building things and math and physics scared me for a long time because probably because concentrating on it requires. Level of focus that I didn’t have for many years and also probably a kind of bizarre distorted perception of what it means to be an engineer and and so I I traveled more through things like art and design initially and then realized that. Things like physics and math and engineering were actually massive enablers to doing the things I wanted to do and in the end I think studying engineering empowered me not necessarily to be a good engineer but to understand the capabilities of engineering. So that I could then conceive initially products and then companies built off those products so it’s really just a engineering and engineering thinking and design thinking became tools for entrepreneurship rather than things that I actually did if you know what I mean.
Alejandro Cremades: Now on your end I mean we’re talking about it after all that you know fortunate events in in Beirut in Lebanon, you know you ended up moving to to London and and you were raised in London I mean in London you have absolutely amazing. Universities you know also universities that they you know where you can get like engineering degrees and and some of the best ones in the world. Actually so how do you end up thinking that California is the right next step you know for you.
Alexander Asseily: I think look I think the universities are terrific in the u k I think they were already terrific in 1993 when I left but.
Alexander Asseily: You’ve got to consider that the world that we see today with best practices with the internet educating people almost bringing the level up globally amongst academic institutions and people as our people generally that didn’t really exist in 93 there was a bit more traditionalism. In the way that people taught in the way that universities thought about engineering and entrepreneurship and even in the case of american universities a place like Stanford was quite unique in the 90 s right um.
Alexander Asseily: That’s not to say that that’s the reason I went I think the main reason I went was probably a desire to get away from traditional structured approaches to things which I felt a little bit. Hindered by in the u k um, yeah, you know I didn’t want to run away from my family I didn’t particularly want to run away from my friends or even the country but though I did feel like California had this form of liberty that I couldn’t find in the U K and that ended up being true right it ended up being true that I could put forward ideas whether it was in class or eventually in companies in California that would have been that would have had me laughed out of meetings in europe perhaps even on the East Coast of the us. In some cases I was laughed out of meetings in California but but as a whole but the Silicon Valley the californian atmosphere was one of possibility.
Alejandro Cremades: But especially in Stamford where you landed and where you did your undergrad and also your graduate degree. So I mean the land of innovation. You know that’s for sure now let’s talk about innovation here and about I ideas let’s talk about that moment where the idea of Joe Bond you know, hits you.
Alexander Asseily: I mean we’re all. Ah you know I I don’t believe that there’s any idea that someone may have for almost any company or any product that doesn’t feed off moments of inspiration or even just formed ideas from others right. In my case, it was a combination of studying design studying the design of mobile devices in my coursework at Stanford and. Speaking to people from industry speaking to professors and observing the trajectory of where mobile phones were going and in a sense where mobile computing was going and this would have been around ninety ninety seven ninety eight and the insight wasn’t like looking back on it. It’s not like some extraordinary insight. The insight was pretty simple. It’s like as we become more mobile which is seems like a very natural trajectory people want more liberty they want more freedom. They want to move around. Mobile phones were already pretty established there people were moving from analog to digital phones in 98 um, the insight was quite simple if you want real liberty you’re gonna need to have something on your head. You’re gonna need have a headset and you look. Ah.
Alexander Asseily: You look like a bit of a fool if you’re going to walk around the street with a boom for a microphone that was basically the idea more. So than that there was a sense of possibility around what could happen if you design these things. Well so we set about thinking. What if we could design a headset that had really good voice quality that was really the key thing voice quality and. We were naive enough to think that we could do something and Brett have a breakthrough. We didn’t know what we didn’t know this is a classic example I think of where there’s a form of there’s a form again of freedom in being young and naive. And that you don’t really limit yourself from potential innovations because you haven’t built up enough knowledge to convince yourself out of things and that’s how we started you know and we went around and we tried to raise money it took us about a year year and a half to try to convince people to raise money. We license technology from um, a research a government research lab called Lawrence Livermore Labs which was in the East Bay which was really about using ah non-acoustic sensors to pick up vocal chord vibrations and then we leverage that.
Alexander Asseily: To raise money and then we leverage that technology also to to create a breakthrough voice processing capability and that was really the beginning now.
Alejandro Cremades: And what was the what ended up being the breakthrough for the company because as you were alluding to you know it was tough to raise money at the beginning. Obviously it became easier as you were generating tons of cash but at what point do you guys turn the corner I Mean. What kind of business model was that what were you guys selling and and were what what did the company look like.
Alexander Asseily: That’s a great question because of the beginning we were thinking to ourselves. Okay, so we’ve created so we so look let me take stick a step back the breakthrough that we had on a technology basis which we subsequently called noise assassin which was a. Noise suppression technology for mobile phones and for headsets essentially it allowed you to make calls from noisy places. We’re familiar with these technologies now and a lot of the patents that we ended up filing those innovations are now in things like airpods and Samsung headsets and Google headsets. The technology has become widespread now. We set the standard because what we said is if you add 2 microphones and some other forms of processing technology. You can do a lot more and we created one of the first really big breakthroughs on that. So the natural thing to do when you’re a small company of 7 people. There’s not a lot of money to raise this was in the. Nuclear winter. You might call it a tech of 2001 4003 where everyone just went home and there wasn’t a lot of funding the natural thing to think is we should license this to headset manufacturers and. And we met with everyone. We met with nocia we met with Motorola we met with clandronnics. We met with a lot of the incumbents and what ended up happening. We were like the offers that we got were just not worth it. They just did they wanted the tech but they didn’t want to pay us for it.
Alexander Asseily: So we were forced. Ironically, we were forced to consider building our own products and that’s when the idea of building a whole product which became the jawbone product came into being and building a whole product means you’re not just building this core technology. You’re conceiving of a whole experience. You’re designing it. You’re branding it. You’re marketing it. You’re selling it. You’re having to get a whole bunch of things right? like gross margins and operating margins contribution model all these complicated things and the first time we did that in 2004 we missed file. We created a headset that. Sohow proved the point but wasn’t successful commercially and then in in 2006 we launched a bluetooth headset which was staggeringly successful basically because we got the formula right? and we had just been thinking for so long. Perhaps along this kind of 10,000 hours kind of view. We’ve been thinking for so long about the optimal experience of headsets voice quality comfort look and feel user interface that we just got it right. And and I think going back to one of the points you brought up earlier. You know, deep tech in 2001 2002 no one wanted to invest in that well people wanted to invest even less in consumer hardware in that period.
Alexander Asseily: Was really hard for us to raise money and and we we managed to convince a few brave investors literally a hodgepodge of not even particularly experienced tech angels from around the world some in the Uk some in the us some from Middle East and we didn’t even raise that much I mean we were really scrambling along in that in that. Period of time but they invested in us and we got through to the other side and then we started printing cash I like to call it because it’s very rare when you launch a product in in in the tech industry that you make so much profit you literally don’t know what to do with it. We were shipping. Within. So I think within 6 to twelve months of short launching this we were doing 150000000 run rate with 50% margins. We were shipping 10 to 20000 of these a month we couldn’t produce enough I mean it was just right and and of course at that point venture capital firms that.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Alexander Asseily: We respected and we loved who had who previously turned us down because they didn’t understand this these business models. They didn’t understand hardware I mean in a sense. The only company that had succeeded and at the time wasn’t you know was rebuilding. Its its its legacy was Apple right with the ipod. At that time but other what other companies can we think of so Apple was the exception that proved the rule that consumer hardware’s tough so people didn’t want to touch it and then of course when we started making money they’re like well we’d be insane to not invest in this company and of course we then brought those investors in and we raised. You know lots of money in a short amount of time. Um.
Alejandro Cremades: Because all in all through the lifecycle of the business. How much did the company raise prior to the acquisition.
Alexander Asseily: So um, it we we got to think about the the fundraising in in into various stages. We prior to 2010. We probably raised. 35,000,000 from coastal ventures and sequoia. Then when we launched the bluetooth speakers in 2010 um I can’t remember exactly what the number is but we look we we raised somewhere around 50,000,000 from Andreessen Horowitz and that allowed us to kind of grow. Um.
Alexander Asseily: And expand internationally and build new products and then we raise a little bit more after that and we expanded into wearable so we expanded into wrist worn trackers. We were the first wrist worn fitness tracker on market what that ended up doing though is was. Stretching the company. So the company was never required the company got a big investment from blackrock in 2015 this is right after I left and it was to some extent you I don’t think it’s. Don’t think it’s a big secret that one of the reasons I left was because I didn’t necessarily love the direction. The company was going in. It’s not clear to me that I would have done a better job. But at the time I was non-exec chairman I was living in London so but there was really a push that in that period to say.
Alejandro Cremades: 6
Alexander Asseily: The opportunity for jawbone is not in audio devices like headsets and speakers the opportunity is in fitness and in health and I think there was some good justifications for that. It ended up not being the case. It ended up being the case that. That business wasn’t executed well enough and then the company ended up being sold in bits a couple of years later um so that’s the more or less a trajectory but you know look I think.
Alejandro Cremades: Right.
Alexander Asseily: I think we had a peak revenue of 350,000,000 at one point two thousand and twelve two thousand and thirteen like I can’t remember exactly about the numbers. Are you something around that.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s humble. You now now. Obviously you were at the company for about 16 years almost seventeen years I’m sure it was quite painful to ah to turn page.
Alexander Asseily: Yeah, really hard but you also learn a lesson I think from all of it that companies are not babies I don’t believe companies are babies and I think they’ve become less and less. But I think that think that it becomes more and more problematic.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, yeah.
Alexander Asseily: Think of them like babies as you grow bigger as you bring on bigger investors and more capital you have to shake this slump somewhat naive and childish notion that as a founder you have a right that goes beyond. Your role as an executive or as a board member and and actually in many ways. Um, you need to go above and beyond that that attachment and think of yourself as someone who’s held to a higher standard and and I think that was a breakthrough for me.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.
Alexander Asseily: Probably after after I moved back to London was this kind of realization like I love this company I had a big role to play in bringing these products to market and in creating this brand but people have put you know a 100000000 towards this company. It’s a serious business. We need to recruit serious people and in some cases I’m not the right person to drive things. So um, if I could go back I would do a whole bunch of things differently. But um, yeah I don’t I’m not a a not but I um, ah I’m not a big believer. Perhaps somewhat cynically now in the idea that companies are babies I think they’re just companies right.
Alejandro Cremades: And I I hear you on that you know but I find that ultimately when you’re a first time founder. You think that you are your business and you become emotionally attached on all levels to your own business and unfortunately you know that’s what happens typically for first time founders and. Something that we all go through as entrepreneurs now it’s just a bunch of cycles and you know one saying there’s going to be a moment where that page you know needs to be turned now in your case when that page was turned. There were 2 things that you started pushing one was the creation of your family office. That’s the sulu group. Where you’re getting involved with companies and making investments there and then the other one was you know, being part of a board. You know that was doing you know some interesting stuff packs and jewels so so tell us what was the experience there I mean the company at the peak was like 40,000,000,000 or so but they. I’m sure that was saying you know quiety dynamics and and a ton of complexity when it comes to really thinking strategy on a very complex segment.
Alexander Asseily: Yeah I mean look when I move back to London I think one of the reasons I moved back to London was to get closer to family to reconnect with my british european middle eastern routes. At a professional level I wanted to shift my attention to ah, just a different type of product a set of products I love the things we’ve done at Jawand but I wanted to work on things that were more impactful and that’s one of the reasons. Why. I started investing in you know impact led companies for profit but impact led whether it’s pro-occity pro women proc climatement. Um, the Pacs Jewel episode was an interesting.
Alexander Asseily: Um, it was an interesting scenario for me because um I thought the founders are very talented. They were also Stanford guys I thought they were very good product designers and some of the early investors in that one early investor in particular became a good friend. And because I’d had this very natural because I was a very natural fit for the company um being one of very few consumer products guys in the valley. Um I was invited to come and help and and.
Alexander Asseily: I Think one of the things that’s not seen very often in these stories is the underlying mission of these of these of some of these founders and I I guess at a high level I was attracted to the idea of of removing the smoke from the smoking.
Alexander Asseily: So How can we deliver people the social the social benefit of smoking whether it was smoking Marijuana or smoking tobacco but in a form that was not Carcinogenic. Um. And that ultimately was gonna be a tremendous advance on in a sense a very shitty product which was cigarettes. Um, that being said, the extent of my.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.
Alexander Asseily: Interest in that company had always been to be an advisor and and and a board member and not to go beyond. Even though there were a lot of temptations to do that because it was obviously doing very well and I think what’s interesting is when you look at companies like this from the outside and juul as you said jewel became a very big company. Right? It became I mean one of the top 2 3 companies in terms of revenue private companies in terms of revenue in Silicon Valley is a huge company and my view from the inside was. Here’s a bunch of smart people trying to do the right thing and the reason I’m here is because I want to help do the right thing but there are certain products and there are certain industries where it doesn’t really matter what you do. And it doesn’t matter what your intentions are if the winds blow in the wrong direction. You’re just gonna sweat get swept up in in some sort of scapegoating or some kind of mega trend against nicotine or against vaping or whatever and that’s essentially what happened to jo. Um, and it was a lesson for me in that you know you can sit there and kind of and I’ve been people have tried to interview me ever so many journalists reach out so tell us the story because you’re on the board and you got depose and.
Alexander Asseily: We Saw your emails and all this sort of stuff but it’s it’s a pointless task because at the end of the day. It’s very hard to convince people that. Ah, massive drop off in the number of smokers even if it comes at the expense of teenagers using Vapes is a good thing. It’s very hard to make the case for why it’s very hard. It’s too nuanced to say.
Alexander Asseily: Smoking rates have fallen off you know oncologists are reporting that lower rates of lung cancer because people are smoking less and weighing that against a perception. A very fair perception and a very fair worry that. Teenage vaping has gone out of control. It’s just not all is you You can’t win that kit even though there’s logic in it. You can’t win that argument and um, it’s not to say that I’m not happy to talk to you about it or to someone over tea or coffee or a dinner.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, yeah.
Alexander Asseily: But it’s not it requires a level of maturity that that doesn’t exist in public discourse except funly enough in like a podcast dialogue where you can actually get into the details and I don’t think even in this podcast will have time. To really dig into the details um of ah of a topic of that complexity but you know look the product was a great product and people liked it and it stopped people from smoking and it’s insane that like I always find it insane like there’s just amusing things that happened along the way like.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.
Alexander Asseily: San Francisco so the city of San Francisco banned Jewel but not cigarettes so you can walk into a shop and you can no longer buy jewel but you could still buy a product that we had known for 30 years was carcinogenic and a hundred times worse for you than.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, some sometimes you never know in in a market like this you know it could be lobbying. It could be like gut knows. But ultimately you know like you know it’s just trying to innovate in those markets that are really complex and ultimately not only you have the uncertainty of building and scaling something but then also doing it in a very.
Alexander Asseily: Vape.
Alejandro Cremades: Complex a regulated environment now in your case, 1 thing that that you did too that was starting state which was your next day company now you guys had um you know good initial run there but eventually you know you decided to pull the plug so you went from a massive success of a company. All of a sudden you know one where more than the success was the lesson learned that you took with you. What was that lesson that you learned with state and what were you guys doing there.
Alexander Asseily: Stay was 10 years too early and it was the wrong product so it was like 2 things were wrong. The intent was Good. We wanted to create a social network for opinions we wanted to link we wanted to link people through shared view viewpoints. As well as opposing viewpoints rather than existing social connections. Um, so it was a there was good intent it was we wanted to build in a sense. Ah.
Alexander Asseily: The town square in a much more in a much more deliberate way in a way that had would would have a clear outcome aggregate opinions understand what the the spectrum of opinion is on a particular topic but you know in 2012 people were like super jazzed about Twitter and super jazzed about Facebook and snapchat was coming out and it was just people were not conscious of the issues that led to that idea that was the first one. The second problem was I said by the way we we still had like a couple hundred thousand users I mean we had. Ah, great community. But it was like people who got it was just a very rarefied group of people and it didn’t it wasn’t enough to power a whole social network. That’s the first one. The other problem was Fred I was too complicated like it. It was a real lesson for me and. Just because I created a a successful product in hardware doesn’t mean I can go off and build a successful consumer software company. Um, but you know the. The amusing thing there is it’s now ten years later and a whole bunch of old users and and team members are reaching out and saying hey let’s let’s resurrect. It. Let’s fix the product problems and resurrect it because the world’s ready. Yeah I think the chances of me resurrecting. It are pretty slim. But I think.
Alexander Asseily: So just it’s a reminder that um when you start a company you want to be honest with yourself about the journey you’re taking not all startups are the same. They don’t have the same level of risk. You know if you come out and you start a better.
Alexander Asseily: File storage business. For example, right.
Alexander Asseily: The product mechanics around that are pretty well understood. The technologies behind it are pretty well understood. You might have a feature that makes you stand out against your competition but you’re not reinventing 7 different things. Um, you know this you started companies of your own um starting a new business. That’s essentially saying there’s a whole world that no one’s ever thought about over here and I need to educate you about it and build the product and it’s it’s just It’s exciting. It motivated a lot of great people to come work with us. But it’s just different scale of risk and I think that I wouldn’t go I love the experience. We loved it. But it it has taught me a lot in terms of how I invest.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.
Alexander Asseily: In terms of the kind of companies I get involved with now whether it as an advisor or board member or as an investor you have to be honest about what is that list of risks and how likely is it that this team will knock off that that. That list one by 1 the the items on that list one by 1 um and you know you did look you learn as you go along with these things I i.
Alejandro Cremades: Well you you always do you always do and you were able to also share. You know some of those lessons that you learn you know throughout your journey when you received a phone call from tania to get going with elvi. So what was that like because I mean it sounds like. She really benefited from those lessons. You know that that you had learning your own journey and she went from zero to incredible foundry in just 2 years alone. So what? what? What happened there.
Alexander Asseily: Um, so you may so you have to just imagine what’s happening in two thousand and twelve thirteen like everyone’s like oh it’s all about wearables and there’s like these almost like there’s is like there’s onion headlines like making fun of the wearables craveze.
Alexander Asseily: And of course Jawbone had been in the center of that craze with initially it’s headset and then the wristband but you you may remember but in those in that in that period. There was also google glass came out you know, remember that weird headset.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.
Alexander Asseily: They came out with which was like probably ah again ten years too soon and not necessarily very good. Um, so there was a craze around wearable. So I as as being a kind of wearables consumer products guy I got so much inbound right? I. Very naturally and I generally just turn but turn these things down for the for the simple reason that.
Alexander Asseily: Wearables are really hard because not only do you have to create the thing we have to convince people to put it on their body which is just like finding a seriously uphill battle against human nature like you know I’m excited for the Apple vision pro but it it. It’s not clear that it’s gonna win against human nature which is I don’t want shit on my face right? Um, so at the time Tonya reached out to me through a friend who she’d been in college with she was at Oxford and she was ah a mutual friend of ours said hey you meet you got to meet. Very smart friend of mine. She she the masters at Stanford in Public Health and she’s got this fun idea I got I don’t understand it but she wants to get in touch so she got in touch. She says hey 50% of the world populations women of those more than 50% suffer from. Pelvic floor weakness and I want to create ah an in a device that they insert into their vagina that helps them retrain their pelvic floor and I’m like okay this sounds like completely nuts. And super risky. Um, thank you? But no thank you and then I actually I went off to think about it for a week or 2 and it kept on coming back I’m like that’s a big opportunity and no one’s really building products for women I like the angle I like the angle of.
Alexander Asseily: Engineers build stuff for other engineers and engineers tend to be men and and although there’s a lot of beautiful products out there built by men generally speaking consumer products are male. They just they have a male thing about right? So I came back to I said okay, let’s give it a go and this is the interesting thing is that. Tanya had had really never been in business. She’d been in academia she’d done a ph d she she super smart. She’d never really been in business and on top of that she never started a business. She didn’t and she didn’t understand gross margins and like fundamentals of how you build a consumer product. Anyway, we recent an understanding I said listen I’ll help you do this? Let’s set up this company together and the incredible thing in her case was she went from knowing very little to being a phenomenal founder Ceo in a couple of years and we launched that product and it was really well received and then we went on the back of that to to build. Yeah, the first silent wearable breast bomb which which is ultimately a product that gone on to do even better than that first product. Um I don’t know what else I can say about that company. It’s It’s ah it’s a company that benefited from a lot of the lessons of Jawbone um, but you know women’s health tech and um, that space has its own set of dynamics some of which are better some of which are worse than jawbone.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously incredible. Incredible success. They’ve raised they at least publicly I see over 150,000,000. They have like 240 employees or maybe more and then they are like at about 100,000,000 or so in revenue so remarkable journey elby now. 1 of the things that they mean you you haven’t stopped. You haven’t stopped there because you also have been doing stuff for Lillian you know when it comes to sps so you were part of that thing you know craziness of the sp movement. So what were you doing there and how did you get involved and and tell us about this whole sp. You know by thing going.
Alexander Asseily: Yeah liliam is an unusual one but it it falls into the category of insanely cool products. Even if it’s a plane. It’s still a product. Um I met the founder Daniel who’s brilliant engineer.
Alexander Asseily: Unbelievably dedicated to his mission and had pretty good like business instincts I met him 2016 with nicholla zenstrom who’s a friend and who’s a founder of um he was a founder of Skype and then the founder of Atomico which is a venture fund. You may know and he calls me up. He said hey this.
Alejandro Cremades: Yep.
Alexander Asseily: Talented aerospace engineers coming to all founders coming to see us I don’t know much about hardware. Can you come in and see and let’s look at it together and we looked at it together I said listen’s we’ve got to do this and so we did it. We just love the ambition of building a fully electric. Vertical takeoff and landing jet aircraft not just an aircraft a jet aircraft electric jets thirty engines 30 electric engines. This thing looks like a private jet has 4 wings. It takes off and lands vertically just like insanely cool. So my kind of. Childish engineer persona kind of came shining through at that point and I was like let’s do it so we invested we joined the board and and and I sort of helped them through that journey at various times. Um. Mostly in like in in the most part as theres a non-exec for a few years raising money telling the story thinking about how to connect with tech in investors and so on and then and then of course you start to like with every company you realize there’s a bunch of stuff you don’t know and 1 of the things people don’t. Appreciate about.
Alexander Asseily: About aerospace but particularly about in aerospace innovation is it. It takes a long time and it requires huge amounts of capital and it’s also like in an engineering level. It’s. Is so engineering and and andertification so safety. So the safety rules imply that what you’re doing is I don’t know 10 times harder than building a car right? It’s really really hard because you got to. This thing can never fall out of the sky. it has to work and it has to work every time they have a saying which is first right? First time right? every time so move fast and break things is not the philosophy in aerospace. That implies you have to raise a lot of money because you have to have hundreds of super smart talented engineers who built engines before built landing gear built wings worked with carbon fiber worked with aerosructures and everything in between an avionics. All this complexity. You’ve got to weave them all together and then you’ve got to give yourself five six seven years to get it out and so in 2020, we all looked at ourselves were like guys. We have to go and raise like minimum $500,000,000 so we have a chance of getting to the next big milestone.
Alexander Asseily: And so I talked to the board and they said hey can you jump in and help do this with us and this was in the middle of covids I said well if we can do it all over Zoom. This is actually kind of optimal for me and maybe we can make something happen so that’s what we did and and it became clear quite quickly that the only. The most likely way of raising that e that that echelon of capital was gonna be through a merger with a sp which of course as everyone knows now was in vogue in those days and now of course it’s not in vogue. But in those days that was a way of. Raising that kind of capital and so we went out. We told the story we met with a bunch of sped we had banks and in ah March of 2021. We announced the deal to merge with a spec that was set up with but. Set up by the former president of Gm. A terrific guy called Barry Engel who had raised several hundred million dollars to his back and then we raised additional capitals in what’s called a pipe which is like this extra chunk of capital you do at the same time and then we dspa so we went public. Um, the Nas that in ah September of twenty one and I think in total we raised ah including a follow on. We raised $700,000,000 or so um.
Alejandro Cremades: My god what a journey what a journey alexander. So I have to ask you now question you know I want to put you into a time machine and I want to bring you back in time I want to bring bring you back in time to that moment that you were still in Stanford and you were there. You know, getting your undergrad and having ideas and you know thinking about a world where you could bring those ideas to life and let’s say you were able to just sit down next to that younger self and give yourself 1 piece of advice before launching a company but would that be and why given what you know now.
Alejandro Cremades: Maybe 1 with a bonus one.
Alexander Asseily: Um I can only give 1 piece of advice. Ah, okay, good.
Alexander Asseily: I think the primary one would be that all problems are people problems if you’re struggling with something whether it’s sales or firmware or. Business development or supply chain. There’s typically someone out there who finds it easy and who’s much much better and more experienced than you are and it is only through combination of ego and arrogance and laziness that we don’t go and find those people because. We think to ourselves like oh how hard it can it be and I think I made that mistake again and again and again I think fundamentally through Hubris like oh you know how hard is marketing or how hard is. Negotiating a supply chain contract. Um, so that that kind of autonomy and self-sufficiency helps to some extent as an entrepreneur but you can’t really build anything of substance without hiring phenomenal people. And we did. Of course we found phenomenal people in some areas but I wish someone had come whispered in my ear and said hey hire really good head of Hr now and then map out the problems that you have.
Alexander Asseily: Challenges that you have and how those map into roles and eventually into people and I think that I think looking back on it I probably approached it in just a way more ham fisted way which is like oh my god like. What are we going to do let’s pull an all nighter to try and figure out how to do this when. In fact, we should have sat down be like who can help us solve it contractor consultant advisor or full time higher and let’s actually just try to build teams that solve problems rather than just. Force it through through working long hours and and beating our heads against the wall. So. That’s the first one. It’s people is everything I mean look this is not new right? Jack Welsh famously said the most important hire after the Ceo is the head of a chop vp of hr. Which really is the person who partners with a Ceo to locate talent and apply that talent to the problems. The most important to the business. The second thing I would say and this is particularly an entrepreneurial hint is.
Alexander Asseily: Just keep going but not because perseverance for its own sake is worth it I don’t believe I think that sometimes you just like this idea doesn’t fucking work like stop and do something else right.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, right.
Alexander Asseily: Sometimes you have to just be like draw the line. That’s the maturity that comes later. That’s what I mean by the baby thing right? But to the extent that you believe there’s a there there that you believe that there’s a a real opportunity which is what we felt in the darkest the deepest darkest depths of Jawbone and eating like fried rice for the.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah.
Alexander Asseily: Tenth week running in Southern China trying to get the first product out you know in the back of my head I was like this is worth it because I know this product’s gonna work. Okay, so to the extent you believe it’s gonna work. Perseverance is huge because. The thing in my mind that defines breakthrough companies and products is the fact that no one else believes in it if everyone believes in it then it can’t be that breakthrough. It’s obvious at that point. And this is one of these weird reverse psychology to mind reverse psychology. It’s a complex psychological phenomenon for entrepreneurs to kind of digest because when they go and meet with investors or they meet with their friends. Their friends are inculcated with. prevailing view and the prevailing view is oh well, everyone knows that’s not possible or haven’t you seen what Microsoft just did or did you not know that Google just built an r and d center just to do this so you got this book. All the all the signals that you’re getting are telling you that what you’re doing is is slightly insane rather than interpret that as a sign to quit. It should be interpreted as a sign to keep going because every.
Alexander Asseily: Product that’s that’s been a breakthrough ultimately followed that path you I mean look at all of them Twitter you know Twitter apple you just go through the list Google launched there are like 6 search engines out there. Um, and if I look back at the moments where.
Alexander Asseily: Where the the seminal moments the critical moments in those journeys that I had it was the moments I trusted my instincts about the path. It’s really interesting looking back on I was like god it wasn’t when I was like arguing with people or defending myself at some conference it was when I was like 1 step in front of the other trust it’s going to happen because you’re seeing something that other people don’t see.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow, That’s a super profound super profound. Thank you so much for sharing that and for the people that are listening that are you know now like my God you know I will love to reach out and say hi. You know what is they? what is the best way for them to do so.
Alexander Asseily: Um, probably via email maybe through you I don’t if you have someone on your staff but um, it really depends on the volume. It’s.
Alejandro Cremades: So do you do you have or maybe to make it easier. Do you have Linkedin or Twitter or anything like that all right? Wonderful well easy enough. Why hey alexander thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Alexander Asseily: Um, yeah, like I’m on Linkedin I’m I’m on one to.
Alexander Asseily: Um, and andro. Thank you for the great questions and for the opportunity to tell some of these anecdotes I Hope they were helpful.
* * *
If you like the show, make sure that you hit that subscribe button. If you can leave a review as well, that would be fantastic. And if you got any value either from this episode or from the show itself, share it with a friend. Perhaps they will also appreciate it. Also, remember, if you need any help, whether it is with your fundraising efforts or with selling your business, you can reach me at [email protected]