After building a billion dollar company and taking it public, he is now creating the technology that is fueling a new generation of robotics startups.
On the Dealmakers Show, Horowitz talks about game changing blog posts, finding product market fit, getting started during an economic downturn, taking your company public, robotics and autonomy, and what’s next in tech.
Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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Taking Your Startup Full Cycle
Eliot Horowitz is now on his third startup venture. Originally born in Connecticut, and spending a lot of time growing up between there and New York, he found an early love for computers, programming, and time by the water. All of which has come full cycle to show up in his most recent venture.
Both of his parents are doctors. His father was pretty big into computers. He brought home an early PC for the family, and would write basic games. Which in turn Eliot would try to hack.
That stuck with him as he went on to study computer science at Brown. Then an internship at DoubleClick put him on the path to launch a startup with Dwight Meriman and Kevin Ryan. Both of whom have also appeared on the Dealmakers Podcast for their entrepreneurial journeys and fantastic startup successes.
Their first venture together was Shopwiki. An attempt to aggregate and create a unified and simplified online shopping experience before Google or Amazon were big hits. Although they may have been surpassed by these giants, they were able to sell the company, giving them the full cycle experience of taking a startup the distance.
While Horowitz says there was still plenty of learning to be done in their second startup, by their third venture many things were a lot easier.
Things that seem complex, take up a lot of time, or need to be systemized, are just second nature by the time you are on your third venture. They don’t require time in decision making. You can just get busy executing on what’s unique about your company. These include how to hire people, run meetings, and more.
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The $14B Blog Post
After Shopwifi, Eliot and Dwight decided to start by tackling a problem they were struggling with which was databases. It was something they wanted to solve for themselves anyway. Which became MongoDB. Of course, countless other developers wanted their solution as well.
They started out just as the 2008 Great Recession was hitting. While that meant capital was harder to come by, Eliot says that many other things were easier. Hiring was easier and cheaper as everyone else was making layoffs. There was less competition. Their customers were hungry for ways to save money and have their developers working faster, more efficiently, and more cost effectively. Real estate space was also far cheaper and easier to get into.
Still, they launched version 0.8, and had just two customers. It wasn’t until someone wrote up a review of their tools on a blog that things really took off. Which led to building a great community, with lots of engagement, and sold out conferences from New York to San Francisco.
Gaining Visibility With The IPO
On the journey they also raised around $300M, before taking the company public. Which recently saw them with a market cap of around $14B.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Eliot Horowitz was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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The IPO only helped the company gain more visibility. Ignoring the great financial outcome momentarily, Eliot shares that he still gets very excited when he meets people who say their lives have been transformed by the technology they developed.
Having accomplished most of what he set out to do with MongoDB, Eliot says that he eventually decided to take some time off in early 2020 to spend time with family, and contemplate other big unsolved problems that he could tackle.
Enabling The Next Generation Of Robotics Startups
Again, kicking off a new venture in the middle of a crisis (COVID lockdowns), Horowitz decided to take on his biggest and boldest project so far.
Eliot’s latest venture, Viam, has raised over $40M in funding already. While Eliot was certainly able to contribute to that from the great exits he already had achieved, they also enrolled investors including Tiger and Union Square.
Eliot says that they chose these partners and funding route so that they could go big out of the gate. To be able to build everything needed well, and to have a sizable impact quickly, not just in 10 or 20 years
Viam is all about making robotics easier and faster. So that new startups and their developers can quickly and easily bring their own visions to life, and have their own impact on the world.
That can be anything from creating a robotic cat feeder and monitoring their eating habits, to storing data on robot activity for future reference, to automating the cleaning of the oceans, operating robots to fix potholes in roads, construction work, or something else.
The Foundation Of A Successful Startup
Eliot’s top advice when starting a business is all about ensuring that you really understand your customers. That is absolutely essential for having the basis of a viable and successful venture.
That means being cautious that you are not just trying to justify your own assumptions, but are digging into their real needs, and why they want them solved. Then becoming a partner with them in doing that.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Business models and product market fit
- Simplifying robotics and autonomy