Remote work now seems to be the dominant way to operate. A new era that isn’t going to go away. As many companies, from startups to international banks, grapple with the change, Chris Herd’s company is stepping up to help. The venture, Firstbase, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Andreessen Horowitz. B Capital Group and Alpaca VC.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Hardware as a service
- The 3 must-have components of a successful cold email
- Building relationships with investors
- Hiring the right people for your startup
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About Chris Herd:
Chris Herd is the founder and CEO of Firstbase, an all-in-one provisioning platform that lets companies provide all the practical equipment remote workers need at the touch of a button.
He believes that replicating office working styles remotely rather than leveraging the advantages of remote will lead to bad outcomes. The synchronous-first instantaneous gratification that adult kids club offices encourage destroys productivity, while remote empowers workers to do deep, focused work without distraction. The latter is what he passionately believes needs to emerge for remote to deliver on its promise.
Previously Chris founded a remote-first FinTech startup and installed physical equipment in the most remote environments on the planet. He regularly shares his thoughts on remote through Twitter, his blog, and speaking engagements.
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Connect with Chris Herd:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a we’re gonna have the battle of accents here with my spanglish and then also with a scottish accent but I’m sure that you’re all going to be very much inspired with the guests that we have. I mean incredible. We’re Goingnna be talking from almost making it to pro and having injuries to really going into. You know the the professional career and then becoming on entrepreneur and and building a rocket ship. So I think that without farther ado let’s welcome our guest today Chris Herd: Herd:heard welcome to the dealmakerr show.
Chris Herd: Herd: Great to be here. All Aleandro appreciate you having me.
Alejandro: So let’s do a little of our walk through memory lane so you were born in Scotland so walk us through life growing up there.
Chris Herd: Life’s good apart from I think right now where there’s a a heat wave here. Um, Scotland’s a prey. Great place to be lot outdoors. Not that many people weather’s not too hot and yeah, a lot to do so.
Alejandro: And in your case I mean it was a quite inspiring I mean you you grew up. You know, seeing your father you know, really um, controlling his own destiny. You know he had his own business. Obviously you know there was the ups and the downs too. But ah, but what did you learn from being exposed to.
Chris Herd: Fairly great place to grow up.
Alejandro: His journey as well.
Chris Herd: Yeah I think for for me, it was. We were always there right? He would take us to the the restaurant on a Saturday morning before we played football and we would see everything we would see him taking the doing the books we would see him working and interacting with his staff and his colleagues. And I think for me just being exposed to that at such an early age. It’s just always in the back of your mind that that’s possible and I think for other people who may not be around that growing up. It’s always this really scary thing to start a business whereas for me, it always felt like that was inevitably. A path I was going to go down based on what I’d seen from my dad.
Alejandro: I Mean even the the downs I mean you were even exposed to the disagreements to between co-founders. So I mean what? what did you experience there.
Chris Herd: Yeah I think it’s it’s one of those things which in retrospect I think means and colored my my childhood a lot more than you realize at the time you see the impact that has on your family as as those things happen you see how it. Changes how your parents work and the dynamic there and really forced us to endure some fairly um, hard times and I think for me now looking back at the struggle the stress and the strife strife that came off the back of that. Um. They’re really the things that become formative in who you become and the views of the world that you have so as hard as I think it was at the time going through it. Um, now looking back I appreciate how much how impactful that was and how important was to making me the way I am today? yeah.
Alejandro: Now for you I mean you’ve been quite competitive growing up I mean you played football. But then Also you got Injured. So I Guess you know there’s 2 things here I mean what did you learn from the game of Football. You know that you could apply to to to anything else right? and then also I guess leadership and. And other areas around it and then also you were injured so you know I guess dealing with uncertainty and and reinventing yourself.
Chris Herd: So Yeah I think taking the first part it’s It’s always such an important thing for me to understand the way that I want to build teams and looking back at the best teams that I was a part of from the sporting perspective and yeah, understanding that the best player isn’t always the one that’s going to score the goals. Understanding that different people have different responsibilities that they’re going to be held accountable for and understanding how you need to rely on other people to perform I think that is all um, incredibly pertinent to running a business and I think more and more thinking about how the team changes from year to year right? As you. Maybe improve as you grow older the needs of the team changes you swap in players you swap out other players I think there are direct parallels to how you run and operate a business on the other side. Um. Facing some of that stuff. Bad injuries coming back from that still trying to reach the the top level of sport. Um, you realize that some things are often out with your control. Um, you can’t predict Injuries. You can predict how you react to them. So I think for me, it was looking at all those hard times and. Um, trying to understand how you can learn from those moments where the path is is hard. Um, that’s I think something that you certainly learn from in a business where not everything is easy. There’s a lot of obviously hard times as as you grow.
Alejandro: So when you got injured I mean you were forced into academics and they landed you into the studies of architecture so out of all things Why architecture.
Chris Herd: Um, I mean right now I I forget the answer I think it was just something I enjoyed I enjoyed the thought of creating something and something that never existed before being able to make that real and I think in some ways there’s a lot of parallels to creating a business as well. Um. For me I look to architecture as how can we take things from the past reinvent them. Um for the for the modern world by integrating the modern technology of the day and that was kind of how I’ve always viewed business. You look at Napster and Spotify and the top the the parallels there. Look at uber reinventing the taxi industry for me. There’s a lot of creativity in building businesses. So I think it was just maybe trying to avoid doing the same thing. My dad did but then inevitably following it in the same thing almost by mistake. Um.
Alejandro: So why were you trying to avoid it now.
Chris Herd: I Don’t know I think it’s one of those things where you grew up. You’re like well I don’t want to do all the same things. The people that were older than me did I think there’s always this rebellious phase that you go through as a teenager where maybe you thought you were going to do that and then everyone else thinks I’m going to do that So I’m going to go and do something else. But.
Alejandro: So even you know you were talking about it that you were destined you know, even if you didn’t realize at that point to create and that’s why you like the architecture type of field but you land in the oil and gas industry which is a little bit different than.
Chris Herd: Yeah, eventually it caught up with me.
Alejandro: Then everything I mean obviously it served you well and we’ll talk about it. You know with with starting your next your the company that you have going on now. But but how did this happen and.
Chris Herd: Yeah I think it was as a combination of things I was still playing football like I played Sammy Pro soccer for probably None of the last thirteen years I retired last Chris Herd:tmas um, and I want to stay in the place where we were to keep doing that because you probably still want to. Maybe become a professional even though you know that that boat’s kind of sail. Um, and when you’re in the north of Scotland you’re in Aberde and Aberdeen’s the oil and gas capital europe is almost inevitable that you fall into that. It’s maybe not the most intellectually stimulating job. But it’s high paying and it’s relatively easy. Um, and I think the combination of those things meant I could do a whole week’s work in a very short period of time and then spend the rest of the time trying to satisfy that intellectual demand of of creation that we already spoke about and that then became the path. Or enabler to me doing the things that followed.
Alejandro: And obviously you realize that oil and gas was not for you. But then you got into this say path of Discovery discovering yourself discovering you know everything around you and what’s possible and everything started with a block. So what happened next.
Chris Herd: Yeah I think the way I the way I think is I put my thoughts on paper and I I sharpen them over time I think a lot of people feel paralyzed by putting thoughts and words and feelings out in the world and I guess I’m kind of broken in a way where I don’t have that thing that holds me back from doing that and. I would often publish things I would edit them along the way and I think my my thoughts would become clearer and as I was going through that I was spending a lot of time thinking about what the world might look like it was probably late 2017 Pre Ipo Craze in the crypto World. Um. And starting to think about the implications of that right? What does crypto Enable what does web 3 enable What does the sharing economy enable and by writing about that I just got exposed to a whole other world I started to connect with tech companies in the yeah Uk I started to connect and learn about venture capitalists. Um, and eventually you reach that point where it’s like okay well time acquit the oil and gas industry time. Ah stop harming the planet um and time to do something which lets you satisfy the demands of of that intellectual pursuit which obviously I wasn’t getting in the the other career.
Alejandro: So how do you fall into all these conversations with vcs and other entrepreneurs.
Chris Herd: Yeah, process of just writing um a lot of people began to reach out to me that blog grew to something like None followers and hundreds of thousands if not none of reads a week and I think in those conversations I then. Began to question like well what do I want to do do I want to go to the states and study an Mba should I go and work for None of these entrepreneurs and learn a lot from them if I do want to build a business down the way. Um should I lean into the venture capitalist side of things I think that’s always been something. That’s been really interesting to me as well. Um, and. Rather than following that path with one of those piping opportunities I decided to have no salary in found a tech star up which my parents weren’t particularly thrilled about.
Alejandro: So entering the venture world So tell us about you know those early days and and how things you know came together.
Chris Herd: Yeah, so we we kind of grew from this idea about how can we enable people to pay less for the things they use and that business was a financial technology company that plugged into your bank account. Analyze your recurring expenses and could. Convert you to cheaper deals. Automatically, um and what we found out along the way was people don’t really care about saving 4 or £500 a year which was really surprising to us but the other thing that we were. Exposed to because of where we lived like if you’re in the north of Scotland it’s really hard to access the most talented people in the world. So the other thing we became exposed to at the same time was well. We’re going to have to be a remote company and we just start going through all these challenges and obstacles where eventually we figure out we need to solve that problem for ourselves. And eventually down the road. We pivot to build none base which we’re obviously focused on today.
Alejandro: So Then in your guys’s case I mean landing on None base. You know what?? what’s kind of like a sequence of events you know at what point you know you realize that you know in your case I mean it became more and more remote and you experience some of those challenges but certain conversations with your. Circle of friends and and colleagues really made it more clear and crystallized more your thoughts. So Can you walk us through that motion of events because obviously you know there was quite a pivot here for.
Chris Herd: Yeah, well we we got to the point in the most startups do which is we raised an initial seed round the capital sorry it was an angel and angel round the capital we were burning through that we maybe had two or three months of cash left in the bank. And this is something a lot of startups end up ah where it’s like okay should we keep building. Do we have enough time to either raise more money to generate money from people paying us should we give up and find real jobs or should we try something else. And that should we try something else. Question was the light bulb which was like okay well we have a bunch of friends building remote businesses. Why don’t we go and ask them if they’re struggling with the same thing so we do that they power it back to us everything we already know this is super hard. It’s expensive to get our workers set up. Equipment doesn’t turn up on time people leave. It’s impossible collect it things break. It’s hard to fix it and as we continue to ask our friends about that and hear the same thing it was one of those situations where we’re like okay this just sounds like a startup problem and there’s a million things that startups struggle with. They don’t have enough money. They don’t have enough people. They don’t have enough resources so in our mind it kind of just felt like oh this is one of those startup problems and fortunately for us we were also talking to None of the biggest banks in the world. So we go to them. We asked them the same questions. 24 hours later we’re talking the chief people officer of one of the biggest banks in europe and verbatim. She tells us the same thing she says this is broken for us. It’s expensive. It’s time consuming so on and so forth and that was kind of the moment there was confirmation rate for us where it was like okay that’s interesting, not just a small company problem. Big company problem. Not just the nice to have. There’s an actual pain here. Why they need a better solution and that was the moment we pivoted which was September Twenty nineteen
Alejandro: You know one of the things that that I’ve seen of some of the most successful entrepreneurs is that they are able to embrace the art of listening you know, listening for really identifying the concerns that are in between them and. And everything else whether it’s customers investors or employees. So It sounds like you guys really honing in on on the listening there. So I mean what? what was your big lesson there from from those interactions and from the insights that you were able to gather.
Chris Herd: So I think it was there was a combination of things we started off with feeling the pain ourselves which obviously orientates you towards a problem that you want to solve initially and I think that’s always a great starting point right? you your friends your family people you know. If they’re facing problems. You can assume fairly um, strongly that other people are facing the same thing so that was number None find a problem which we knew other people were struggling with and now that we find the problem. We shouldn’t just solve it from our own perspectives right? We want to go and have a conversation with other people and understand the um issues at the periphery. So not just the obvious parts. But what are the actual pain points that we need to address like there’s the obvious one. It’s hard to get remote workers set up. But what’s the non-obvious pieces to that and as you start to go deeper there. What you really want to listen for are not someone telling you what the solutions are that never works out. You need to just listen for the pain and all the issues and you need to go deeper on them. Okay, well like you said this is a problem. Can you tell me more about that. Can you tell me like what that manifests itself as who faces that problem right? is it just you is it. Your team is it the entire company and as we started to go deeper and deeper. We began to build that picture up of. I guess it’s like a richer tapestry of colors where you take different pieces of information from different people. You synthesize that altogether and what ultimately comes out of that is something you create which is a solution to all those things and that’s a very typically long period of time because you need to refine that over time as well, right. You listen you ask more people you go back to them you test it again. You go other people and then eventually you end up with a product that you know quite a lot of people need.
Alejandro: So None base for the people that are listening what ended up being the business model. How do you guys make money.
Chris Herd: So companies pay us for 3 things number None they pay us when they take an action on the platform they hire someone. They let someone go so think about that almost as a delivery fee. Um, there’s a pure saas component to it. So it’s a None sided platform. There’s the company side. If you’re an hr manager you’re an it manager you’re going to use that to manage all your assets from None place to know where those pieces of equipment are to create catalogs of equipment that your workers can select from to hold inventory. So you never go through the situations which companies are just now related to supply chain. On the worker side of the platform we serve them up a beautiful ecommerce type solution where you go through and you choose the machine you want to work on the size a desk that suits the space you have at home. The color a chair the type of headset that you want. Really empowering you to personalize the equipment that lets you do your best work and then the final thing people pay us for is the physical equipment and rather than purchasing it. We serve them ah serve them up in a hardware as a service model where they effectively lease that over a None or 3 year period instead of paying $3000 upfront they pay us somewhere between None a and None a month
Alejandro: And in terms of capitalizing the business I mean you say you guys have raised money from from some of the biggest names in the world when it comes to to Vc so I guess how much capital have you guys raised today.
Chris Herd: So we have raised I think 200 k short or 65,000,000
Alejandro: Okay, now in this case you being from Scotland you know you’re not the native from from the Us. So what was that process to getting you know some of those big names.
Chris Herd: Yeah I think initially hard right? that networking piece is difficult if you if you don’t have people on the inside who can make warmint reductions. You can feel like you’re banging your head against the wall for a long time and I certainly was um I think there were a few. Key strengths that I had that enabled me a breakthrough so number one I’m a great writer and more specifically I’m a great email writer. So when I send a cold email I know probably at least 50 or 60 times in a hundred. They’re gonna read it. And probably more often than not. They’re gonna reply in me. So I always had that as a superpower the second one is I’m pretty good at social media and I think being able to create noise on places like Twitter or Linkedin or being able to write compelling copy and blogs naturally makes people gravitate towards us and. And basically I think there was a confluence of things so I was good at emails good at writing a few of the things I blew I wrote on Twitter blew up that put me in front of some of the leading investors in the valley and I think that was really the thing that enabled me to breakthrough from a non obviousious part of the world with. Um, having the connections that most people usually do so.
Alejandro: So I’m sure that there’s a lot of entrepreneurs that are listening to us. You know I’m sure many many of them. You know close to you you know in in Europe that are wondering hey you know how how can I open one of those doors for for those you know with those vcs and. And how incredible that Chris Herd: Herd:was able to do that with called emails. So for the people that are listening. What would you say that are they must have 3 components of a cold email.
Chris Herd: So for me has to be short has to have a very clear ask and it has to have the context as to why you’re the person to do this.
Alejandro: Okay, now now how was the because you you guys have done a few rounds. How has it been the progression shifting from one financing cycle to the next with first base.
Chris Herd: So we’ve been relatively fortunate in a lot of ways we’ve we’ve never really went out to raise money. It’s almost always found us and I think what I’m saying there is like we never. Raised around. But you’re always having conversations the the times I’ve seen friends and acquaintances be unsuccessful is when their backs are up against the wall. They need to run a process and everyone knows this right? like everyone knows that they’re running the process so they either fail or succeed. Um, for me, we we raised our initial seed round in August Twenty Twenty couple of million dollars and then almost immediately we began building relationships with investors at the next stage where we may want to raise money from. Um. And that’s a really important process for me I think in in an environment where which we’ve seen over the last couple of years where rounds are happening increasingly faster. Um, you almost have these like shotgun marriages overnight I really wanted to avoid that I wanted to build relationships and like obviously go back to the situation. My dad went through where he falls out with his. Cofounder like that leaves an imprint on you so it was really important for me to build relationships with people over four or five months get to know them understand the value that they can bring um and really answer the question of like do I want to work with this person for the next decade because in my mind getting to the public markets isn’t a finish line right? That’s just another starting line for us to go and crush it from and then basically continue that so we did the a five months after we did the the seed round same thing again with with the series b we got to know the folks that we might want to take cash from at that point. Began building a relationship and again you asked that same question right? Do I want to work with this person for a decade and I think that question served us incredibly well for making the right decisions in terms of who we want to partner with and in building the business.
Alejandro: I Think that’s amazing that you were already thinking about building the relationship early so that when you get to that point you can just trigger the relationship. But how do you go about building that relationship without having the other investor feeling like you’re wasting their time because you just raised around.
Chris Herd: Im just being super upfront right? we’re we’re not goingnna raise money anytime in the next six months like we’re we’re interested in building a relationship like we’d really like to get to know you but we’re not going to do this until we do Xy or ZAndXY or zd might be. Ah, revenue milestone. It might be building a leadership team. It might be daily active users you you basically define that path. But I think by going into that it actually defeats most of the bad things that happen in those relationships I think it lets me build a human relationship with the person at the other side of the call. Without any expectations around hey like I need money from you or the business is going to die and I think that is actually like a very different relationship that gets built where it’s like okay we’re raising $50000000 we’re going to do it two weeks from now. Okay, well now we don’t have time to do that. And like now we’re never going to answer the question of should we work together for the next decade because we haven’t taken the time to get to to know each other.
Alejandro: That’s amazing in in this case, you know for you? Um, you know how how big is none base today I mean for the people that are listening to really get our understanding on the. Scope and size I mean anything that you can share in terms of number of employees or anything else that you feel comfortable with.
Chris Herd: Sure yeah, we we went through um, a None employees I think three weeks ago four weeks ago um and we serve about 15,000 remote workers globally.
Alejandro: So that’s fantastic and if you had the opportunity. Let’s say to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world Chris Herd: Herd:where the vision of None base is fully realized what does that world look like.
Chris Herd: Yeah, so I think today first base is very clear right? We put tools and equipment in people’s homes for company and we make it incredibly easy for them to do that. Um, when you zoom out and you expand the aperture. What we’re actually building is an employee relationship management platform for modern work. The reason we start with physical assets is because we think it’s the hardest problem that companies face but from there we get to get exposed to all the other challenges that they face from a remote work perspective. So we’ll build out all the core infrastructure companies need to set up support and scale their teams globally.
Alejandro: So None thing that is very interesting here is that you guys really got started with with a company in 2019 so I mean one of the things that is true is that it’s it’s also all about timing and being at the right time in history. You know one year later. Whole kobb thing would accelerate by a mile the whole way people think and and engage with remote work. So how do you think that that has accelerated your guys’ momentum and then also realizing that vision. So.
Chris Herd: Yeah I think as ah as a general trend remote work and flexible work and hybrid work whichever adjective. You want to use to describe it accelerated by ten or fifteen years overnight in March Twenty Twenty and I think while we have been the beneficiaries of it. We were seeing a huge amount of interest before and I think that’s to say like if you really focus on the things that are happening like underneath the hood you often see trends that other people miss and you look at the rate of growth of remote work from 2008 to 2018 grew like 400% decade over a decade There were three point two million remote workers in the us alone. So like the people who were plugged in knew it was happening and if you looked at the types of businesses. It was happening. You saw that it was the most desirable businesses to work at so the assumption that you make then is like well. If the best businesses in the world and the best employees want remote work over a long enough time horizon this is going to be the way the world trends right more and more people are going to work remote more and more of the best companies are going to be more more remote. They’re going to force other companies to do the same otherwise they’re going to lose their most talented people to the best companies to work for. So I think that was like obvious to us and at the same time we were experiencing all the benefits of it right? working in an office I miss my kids walking laughing and talking for the none time. Over that period where we’re building the fintech business. We’re just getting exposed to all these other intangible benefits of of working remotely being being able to live where you want being able ah travel more being able to or not having to commute for 2 hours a day and I think what that meant is because we were focusing on the right thing. When the inevitable accelerant happens you’re in the right place to take advantage and don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of luck in that as well, right.
Alejandro: So if I was to put you into a time machine and I was able to bring you back in time you know perhaps to that time where you were writing a blog. Where you were engaging with people in the Vc world and you know starting to really think as to what would be if you had your own venture and you had the opportunity of sitting down that younger self and giving that younger self one piece of advice before launching a company. What would that be and why even what you know now. Chris Herd:.
Chris Herd: Herd: Yeah I think hiring the right people is still the thing that is most underrated if you don’t have great people on the team with you like good luck like the right people makes everything exponentially easier and the wrong people makes everything exponentially harder. Um, I think the the hard thing for NoneT -time entrepreneurs is just in realizing how true that is and understanding how quickly you should be extracting yourself from all the things you no longer have to do and my job is as as in leading the business. How do I ask the right questions. And how do I orientate the right people towards the right problems and every time that you start to ask those questions. It always comes back to like do we have the right people in the right places and if you don’t they’re distracting to the business if you do gout their way because you know they’re going to execute.
Alejandro: I love that and for the people that are listening that they that want to reach out and say hi Chris Herd: Herd:what is the best way for them to do so amazing. Well Chris Herd: Herd:thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Chris Herd: Ah, Chris Herd: Herd:underscore heard on Twitter.
Chris Herd: Appreciate the questions ala Andro Good good spending the time with you.
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