Bharath Krishnamoorthy has gone from a young rebel to working for one of the world’s top M&A law firms, to a startup entrepreneur. His venture, Denim, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Crosslink Capital, REFASHIOND Ventures, Anthemis, and Trucks VC.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The importance of sleep for founders, and the impact it can have on your success
- Finding the courage and rationale to launch your own venture
- Debt versus equity capital
- Non compete agreements
- When your larger competitors try to sue you out of business
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 Bharath Krishnamoorthy:
Bharath Krishnamoorthy is CEO and co-founder of Denim, a payments automation and financing platform for freight and logistics. A graduate of Columbia Law School and James Madison University, Bharath worked as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher before starting Denim with his longtime business partner and friend, Shawn Vo. Bharath serves on the advisory board of the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship at James Madison University.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So I’m very excited today with our guest. We’re going to be talking about building scaling pivoting racing money on the depth side on the equity side. You name it. You know you’re going to find this interview quite inspiring. So. I guess without far ado let’s welcome our guest today. Let’s see if I say is right? Barat Krena Morey welcome to the show.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um, perfect man. Yeah, perfect. Thank you for having me here I’m excited to be on.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. So let’s do a little of a walkthrough memory lane here. How was live growing up because I know that you moved to quite a bit.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, growing up was great I think it was more fun for me than my parents. They both worked full-time jobs that three kids to raise and I was definitely a handful. Um I was a bit of a nightmare child got into a ton of trouble growing up was always a really bad student. Um, so I think that was tough. You know I think probably a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to this where it feels like this system is designed for a certain type of person and you know I wasn’t that person and so it caused a lot of issues for me and and sort of conflicts generally. But. Overall things are good. You know I’m I’m I’m happy with how everything turned out I had a lot of fun growing up. Um you know, looking back on it. Wish I probably didn’t I Probably probably wish I didn’t put my parents through so much stress but overall was good.
Alejandro Cremades: So your case I mean what would you say that ended up triggering you know going into the law you know path you know because obviously you ended up working at 1 of the top law firms actually in the country probably in the world. You know when we’re you know, talking about different types of practice. But. But in this case, why becoming a lawyer.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, so funny story I actually got into a lot of trouble in high school and I was 17 when I graduated so I wasn’t legally allowed to take out student loans by myself. So my parents conditioned them co-signing my loans on me. Agreeing to go to law school so it was it was very much a a sort of top-down decision. You know I think from my perspective it was also like I really didn’t know what I wanted to do I always had this sort of entrepreneurial itch but I hadn’t really thought about it as ah like a viable career path like oh this is something I can actually just go do. Um and so yeah I got into Columbia. It’s great school. Figured it can’t hurt to go there and and get this degree I think yeah part of the issue is that when you’re 20 years old and you’re making decisions about borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars those numbers are really abstract right? You you don’t really know what it means and so um to me the decision was like all right I get to move to New York ah make my parents happy and get this cool degree and so it it kind of seemed like a good move.
Alejandro Cremades: Definitely. It’s a cool degree. You know, also coming from a lawyer turn entrepreneur. So I guess here you know the question for you is what and what department were you? you know doing there in in Gibson done I mean what was the kind of practice.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um, so I bounced a lot bounced around a lot while I was there but it was primarily I did work in the M and a and private equity groups.
Alejandro Cremades: And when we’re thinking about deal making right? you know because I’m sure that you did see quite a bit of things there on the on the deal making side. You know, especially like negotiating stuff I mean what were some of the key ingredients that you saw on good deals really coming together.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um, yeah, that’s interesting. So I think one thing I took away from that is the quality of work product that Gibson done produced where. You know there’s just no mistakes in these documents right? They proofread things a hundred times. They were very precise about the way things were done that an extremely high bar for quality and that was very new to me, you know, coming from someone who really didn’t care much about the work product. He’s producing for school. And and that’s something I’m trying to carry over into my work at denim making sure that anything we produce and and share with an external party is like the best possible work that we can produce and it’s also thing that you know I look at when we’re evaluating people to work with right when we see law firms. You know we work with a bunch of different law firms when we work with firms that are like sloppy. You kind of assume that like all right if they’ sloppy with this stuff who knows if they’re handling the important stuff and so we’ve we’ve always tried to work with people who take that same sort of care with their work product.
Alejandro Cremades: Now it sounds like you had made it happen. You know you made your parents. You know, very happy you know by now being a lawyer city. So why you know what point you realized I don’t think this is for me and they.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Ah, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: And at what point do you realize you know that is time to obviously you know like take the leap of faith and and going at it and more importantly, you know how was that process of really coming to the realization that your time had come to really bring a company to life.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah that’s a great series of questions so you know I mentioned this earlier but I think I always had this entrepreneurial itch from the time I was very young through high school college I was always starting random businesses either by myself or with friends. Um I remember when I was like seven years old me and one of the kids in the neighborhood went around trying to play Violin for all the neighbors charge them like ¢25 a song which was a you know bad business because we were horrible. But I think it reflected this this internal itch that that I had to do something like that and. I guess it was around the time that I had graduated from college early in my time at law school where I realized that like this is this is like a viable career path right? like people just go and start companies and that’s kind of how the economy works right? That’s where all these businesses come from and so by that point. I think I knew like when I was in law school I think I knew that ultimately I was going to go start a business and it’s something that me and my cofounder Sean who’s my high school best friend had been talking about a lot you know throughout college while I was at law school. Um and and afterwards. And those conversations became more and more concrete that like yes we should really do this It’s not as crazy as it seems um, one of the big open questions for me is like when can I do this because yeah, by the time that I was in law school. It became clear that I was going to graduate with yeah two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in student loans.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Which is a pretty daunting position to be in as you know 23 year old and my initial thinking was like okay I will probably have to work for like 5 to 10 years to pay off the bulk of this debt before I can be in a position to take the kind of risk that’s required to start a company. Ah and. Actually had this one conversation that completely changed my perspective on this I I met Andrew Yang who um, you know a lot of your listeners probably know from his his campaign to run for president and he gave me this this phenomenal advice which was basically that you know girls don’t know how much debt you’re in. And it’s kind of a cheeky way and of communicating that ah regardless of how much student debt you have you’re still in a position to do things like go on dates right? You can still read books. You can still find work that you really enjoy you can take risks and the government’s not going to come after you and arrest you or something right. People use it as an excuse that they have a student debt to be like oh because I’m $200000 in that I can only do x y z and I can’t do it when I really want in life and he’s basically saying like that’s not the case right? you can. You can go out there and take risks and you’re going to have to adjust your life accordingly. But it’s possible. And and that one conversation really changed my thinking to the point where I was like okay I don’t need to pay off my loans the point at which I’m ready to quit my job and start a company is when I know what that company is going to be right? And so um.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Around this time. It also became pretty clear that if if I was going to start a company. It was definitely going to be with Sean and so Sean and I were ideating on different businesses and testing out different ideas by yeah, whenever we landed on ah on ah and an idea we talked to a bunch of people in that space to try to ah understand like is this viable doesn’t have legs. Um, and and 1 of these ideas was this idea for bus bot which was a pricing and scheduling solution for interity buses if you think about greyhound megabus there’s dozens of smaller regional operators. Um that essentially operate like low-cost airlines but they are making these pricing and scheduling decisions by hand so we figured hey we can build software. To automate and improve that process for them and we had gotten some early indication of of interest right? We got effectively like a letter of intent from 1 of the bigger operators on the the dc to New York corridor and we had just gotten our bonuses at Gibson. Um, and I figured like you know what now is as good a time as any so I quit my job um a few months later shan qui his job. He moved in with my and moved into my apartment I had like you know I put an extra mattress on the floor he was sharing my 1 bedroom inside a 3 hree -bedroom apartment in queens um, and you know that that was a whole interesting situation. But that that’s sort of how it happened you know it was like because we have this opportunity. We figured. Let’s go for it.
Alejandro Cremades: So then what happened next.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um, yeah I mean so we we tried to make it happen right? So we we lived very modestly Sean made us lentils and eggs for dinner every day we had soilent for for lunch every day which is you know it’s effectively like a protein shake. Um. We shared our 1 bedroom took turns thing over at our girlfriend’s places while the the hillfriend’s girlfriend came to visit there. Ah and we we tried to to get that business off the ground and you know it it kind of did get off the ground like it within six months it was doing about $8000 a month in revenue. Um, but we realized it wasn’t going to get much bigger because the in intersity bus industry is very small right? And so even if we knocked it out of a park and execute it perfectly and everything went our way the the potential for the business was just not that large and um so we we sort of came to that realization. Right around the time that we started the techstars mobility program in detroit this is like mid 2017? Um, and so we spent the full three months in techtars basically figuring out how to pivot the business into something else and you know we landed on something which is basically a solution to crowdsour demand for long distanceance transportation. Ended up raising just over $1,000,000 at the end of the techtarch program to to pursue that idea that one didn’t work either. We pivoted again. The next idea didn’t work pivoted again. The next idea didn’t work and it was basically a process of 2 years of us just pivoting through different business ideas.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Broadly in the transportation tech space before we landed on something that really clicked.
Alejandro Cremades: And and and what would you say that kept you guys going from trying so many different ideas for 2 years you know until you were able to you know, come ah come across denim you know which is this rocket ship that you guys are on now. But. But what do you think you know kept you guys going and and why you know denim you thought that he was the one.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, um I think Sean and I have very different personalities in a lot of ways. But 1 thing that we both have in common is that neither of us is ever going to quit. Um, and so it was never really a question that came to our minds like should we stop doing this. It was It’s just like how do we make it work in terms of why did denim ultimately work. Ah there’s a lot of things rights like over the course of this two years we got much better at understanding what would make an attractive business right? We started thinking about it more. The way that an investor would look at it rather than the way that a college kid would about like what sounds like a cool business idea right? and and looking at it from the perspective of if this product actually got traction. What does it look like at scale right? What does the economics of this business look like in the long run and we were basically looking for something that was. 1 an attractive opportunity in the in the long run that looks like a really big attractive market opportunity to something that we felt really good about ah in terms of like the mission we we felt like we were accomplishing something that was impacting the world in positive way and. Would feel good about devoting the next ten plus five years ten plus years of our lives moving it forward and 3 something where we thought we had some sort of natural competitive advantage and this opportunity in freight payments really checked all these boxes and sort of high-level. The opportunity was let’s digitize freight. Payments.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: We will start by working with freight brokers and we will automate their core financial operations we will provide them access to affordable working capital and we will help them better leverage their own data and you know it. Check those 3 boxes. It’s a massive market opportunity right? Logistics is one of the only sectors that is measured in trillions of dollars and so being able to capture a slice of that market allows you to build a really meaningful business. It is a it’s a mission we can feel really good about right? We are helping. These small businesses succeed and excel and helping them. Yeah, achieve their own dreams and then last piece is that it’s something that kind of plays to our relative strengths right? We already had by this time built a pretty extensive network in the transportation technology space Sean’s background was in fintech. My background is as we discussed was as a lawyer and so it all kind of played into this. Um, so that’s that’s kind of how you know we’re like this this is the 1 we want to make work if we can make it work. Let’s go for it and then we were able to make it work as we we started making phone calls about the people to to people in the space to try to.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: If the idea had legs and you know very quickly. We wound up getting our first customer and we got our second customer then our third customer and you know before you knew it this. This was the thing this is what we’re doing.
Alejandro Cremades: So for the people that are listening to get it. What ended up being the business model of then how do you guys make money.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, we um so like I said we we automate our clients financial operations and we provide them work in capital financing and so we charge a fee on each invoice that’s based on how big the invoice is and whether or not we are financing the invoice.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: And the nice thing about a usage-based product like this is that it really closely aligns our interests with our clients interests right? We grow when they grow. So when we think about what do we want to do from a product Perspective. We’re thinking about how do we make our clients businesses grow and that that type of alignment works really well from you know, a retention perspective from a marketing perspective and. Ultimately from business perspective.
Alejandro Cremades: And how much capital have you guys raised to date for the company.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um, we’ve raised ah ah hundred and sixty five million dollars in total. That’s forty forty million dollars in equity and one hundred and twenty five million dollars in debt.
Alejandro Cremades: And how has it been the the journey of racing money you know for for this and and what is the difference really between the debt side and and then also the equityities side for the folks that are listening to understand you know why you have that different blend of um, a voice of racing the money.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, So um, you know why do we have these 2 different stacks of Capital Ah the the equity we raise is similar to when other tech companies raise equity right? We’re raising money from venture capitalists this money funds. Ah. You know our team’s salaries our marketing like all the general business expenses. The reason that we are raising debt which is something that some fin text do but a lot of other companies don’t is that we are also providing working capital to our clients and so that money comes from these debt facilities. It wouldn’t be efficient for us to. Sell a big chunk of our company to raise some venture capital and then to just use that venture capital to lend out to clients instead. We can partner with these hedge funds or these banks who have much larger pools of capital and who are willing to deploy that for you know, attractive interest rate.
Alejandro Cremades: And now on the venture side of things you know. Obviously you guys came out of the Pivot. So How was that the you know experience of racing now money you know for a company that had pivoted and and how were you able to continue. You know racing. But what was that experience of going from one cycle to the next.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, um, it was actually a wild experience. So this was early twenty twenty we had um, you know we had something like six plus months of traction on this new business model and it was growing very quickly right? every month Month after month it was growing something like 30 to 50% um, we felt very confident that there was a big opportunity here. We had just started building the team so it was me my cofounder Sean who was owning the product and engineering we had hired a head of sales and we had hired a head of operations. Um, who were both. You know industry veterans and we are going into this fundraise process. It goes phenomenally well, we actually got a term sheet before we formally kicked off the process and then in the process of trying to close it. We get a cease and desist from. The former employer of our headers head of sales basically stating that he’s violating his non-compete and they’re going to sue us into oblivion if we don’t let him go and it’s a tricky situation to be in because you know this other company is worth something like $10000000000 there’s basically 0 chance that we can sustain a legal battle with them because we’re. Imminently about to run out of calf. We aren’t really in a position to let go of our head of sales because he’s a phenomenal salesperson and is a big part of the reason why we were putting over it. But that month over month growth and a big part of the reason why our investors were were backing us. Um, so we.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: You know we basically called the bluff of this this company and for month maybe a month and a half we’re just going back and forth trying to negotiate a settlement agreement with them. They’re sending us their response every Friday night to ruin our weekends you know like clockwork. Ah. Ultimately, we come to a resolution with them that allows us to retain our head of sales. Um, and you know we’re about to close the deal and then covid happens and you know all the investors are panicking and we’re super nervous that our our lead investor antheus was going to get spoofed and back out. And and to their credit through all of these infamous did not get spooked right? They didn’t try to retrade on any of the terms because of the changing market. They they basically just said as soon as you resolved this legal dispute. We’ll we’ll fund you and then you know we resolve the legal dispute. They funded us deal closed. Um, which yeah was a huge relief.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow now obviously you’re receiving you know those letters from the other party like you were saying on Fridays you know to ruin your weekend. Well why I guess you know that’s quite an uncertain moment because if you guys would have not been able to. Ah.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Are.
Alejandro Cremades: Really settle. You know with them then you know everything would have come crumbling Down. So I Guess who do you think you guys needed to be in order to be effective in this situation and then also to to really get out of your own heads you know and not you know, ask yourself too much what if what? if what? if so that you could actually you know. Come to terms and and and get this thing wrapped up.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um, yeah I think there’s a couple attributes that would make someone successful in that type of situation and you know which I would attribute our ability to to persevere in those situations to 1 is that you have to be a little bit stoic right? You can’t. There’s there’s so many hides and lows when you’re building the company and that’s just like 1 great example where we we got the term sheet and it’s like oh god we’re all going to be rich and then it’s like ah you know we’re about to lose our head of sales. Everything’s going to shit and if if you let those swings dictate your behavior. Your. Going to be totally incompetent right? You’re going to be alternating from these periods of like manic excitement to ah just being terrified of of making any decision and so you have to take kind of a stoic approach of keeping an even keel through all of this um part of that is that you need to be able to compartmentalize. And focus on the things that are in your control. So there’s a lot of things that still need to get done during this. We can’t spend all of our time sittinging here and negotiating the settlement because if we do that the business will stop operating and then we won’t be fundable so you have to continue working on the problems that you can do something about even knowing. That there are things that you might not be able to do something about that could kill the business right? And that’s just like ah a fact of starting a company is that there is always going to be a real risk of failure. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Got it now you know in this case for you guys. Imagine you know, like if you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of denim is fully realized what does that world look like.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um, I go to sleep I wake up brush my teeth get on the computer. Ah the the vision for denim is realized because I wake up and Denim is now a universal freight Payments Network and what I mean by that is that every carrier. Broker and shipper in the country is using denim when they need to exchange money or data with these other counterparties. So ah, a broker client for example is using denim to evaluate these other counterparties to onboard their carriers and shippers to. Confirm rates and generate and send invoices to ingest and audit paperwork from their carriers to reconcile disputes to make payments all of those workflows are being done on our platform and because of that we are in a unique position to offer them. Yeah. Analytics services powered by our proprietary data customize financing and insurance products. Yeah, like I said covering the the payments processes credit cards deposit accounts right? There’s a lot of different ways to monetize them once that core Payments Network is in place.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for the people that are listening to to understand you know as well. The scope and size of denim today anything that you can share in terms of number of employees or anything else that you feel comfortable sharing.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, we’re um, we we’re over 70 employees were we process tens of millions of dollars in in payments each month over $100,000,000 in payments each year um and that that payment volume is continuing to grow.
Alejandro Cremades: Now you know you were talking about the um, the the segment the fried segment I mean where do you think the market as a whole is heading.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: So the the freight markets are in a rough spot right now. A lot of people are describing it like a freight recession. Um, and if if you step back you know why is that the case 1 big factor is that demand in the economy as a whole is down. Right? And so people are buying less stuff so there’s less stuff moving on the roads and trucks and then the second piece is that 2020 ty twenty and 2021 were extremely hot years for trucking and so a lot of new trucking companies came into existence so you’ve got the situation where there’s an excess of supply and contracting demand. So. Market is really dampening. Um, so’s it’s a tough spot to be in. Ah you know as business operating in the space. But when I think about where is it going I think it’s very likely that these freight spot rates will bottom out sometime in the next you know 3 to six months ah you know a lot of people are are tweeting now that it looks like maybe they’ve already bottomed up but you know don’t want to count my chickens there. Um, and and then it’ll it’ll bounce back right? and it’s a cyclical industry so we’ll continue to see these ebbs and flows like we do in many other sectors. Um, but in terms of where the sort of Great tech space is going that seems like something that is you know it’s like once you’ve opened pindorra’s box. You can’t get everything back in there five years ago the industry was very reluctant to digitize. But now you’ve got companies like convoy and uber which are making a really big splash in the industry.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: And you have all of these other freight brokers who realize that they can’t compete unless they start adopting technology that gives them those equivalent 1 capabilities and so um I think you know 5 years from now every freight broker is going to be tech enabled some small percentage of them. Will be that way because they raised a ton of venture capital and built it software instead. But the really smart brokers are the ones who are using the profits. They’re generating from their business to pay for software that gives them those equivalent capabilities.
Alejandro Cremades: Now we’ve been talking about the future earlier. You know, just say taking here a step out and and you know moment to to reflect? you know if I was to put you into a time machine and you know I bring you back in time you know. Perhaps to that moment where you were still in Gibsondan you know, pushing some paper behind the desk where that’s what lawyers do imagineed you had the opportunity of showing up to to that you know this where you were at you know where you like doing one of those all nighters. You know that you will pull out you know and trying to to close a deal and.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: And.
Alejandro Cremades: And when you were thinking about that future where you know you were going to do something of your own and and and and put um you know, kind of like a solution on that problem that that it was in front of you if you were able to have a sitdown with your younger self. And give your younger self one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: I would definitely tell my younger self to prioritize his sleep and to start sleeping properly. It probably wouldn’t work because you know I think a lot of people told him that he didn’t listen but hopefully it would be more compelling coming from his future self. It. You know, with respect to why it’s hard to think of any 1 change that I’ve made in my life that has had a greater impact on every aspect of my life. So from the ages of 15 to 28 I slept very little whether that was from you know, partying or working or just. Reading books all night. Um I basically paid no attention to how much sleep I got and the quality of my sleep and just became accustomed to operating with an incredible sleep dad and um, yeah, at one point. In 2019 Sean literally pulled me aside and was like he said something to the effective hey I think you’re getting stupider and I think it’s because you don’t sleep properly which is pretty jarring feedback to get from someone who you know 1 probably more insight into that than anyone else right? because he’s he’s known me since we were fourteen years old and has seen my evolution over that time and 2 someone whose opinion I take more seriously than than almost anyone right? And so um, he was you know as is often the case he was right and I i.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Wound up completely restructuring my life paying a lot more attention to normalizing my sleep schedule and ah it’s it’s hard to overstate the impact that had on on everything on my health on my happiness and on my productivity so we went through that period of 2 years We’re pivoting around to different business ideas. Like I said in in 2019 we we landed on the freight payments opportunity I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I normalized my sleep schedule you know shortly before that I I think that the fact that I was now operating at this much higher caliber is part of the reason why we were able to make this last go at it.
Alejandro Cremades: So what’s the minimum you know, sleep that they that yo we shoot for.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Ah, so much more successful.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Um I I shoot for 8 hours a night sometimes I will get more sometimes I’ll get less. But I I try to average 8 hours a night.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s Amazing. By the way I’m I’m right there with you and I and I fully agree with the importance of sleep and I don’t think that Founders. You know, really think through you know and and and and really understand how important it is so. I Guess for the people that are listening that would want to reach out and say Hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: They can reach me by email. So it’s be at denim.com so just the letter b at denim d e n I m dot com.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey bra. Thank you? So so much for being on the deal maker show today with us. It has been an honor to have you.
Bharath Krishnamoorthy: Yeah, thank you so much for having me man. This is great.
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