Neil Patel

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In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, the journey is often as captivating as the destination. Duncan Logan, a seasoned entrepreneur with a trail of ventures behind him, sat down for an exclusive interview on the Dealmakers Show, providing a captivating narrative of his entrepreneurial odyssey.

From humble beginnings in St. Andrews, Scotland, to the bustling streets of Silicon Valley, Duncan’s story is one of resilience, innovation, and unwavering determination. He talks about his experiences with acquisitions, raising money, and navigating the due diligence process with his startups.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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Origins: From Farming to Finance

Born and raised in the scenic landscapes of St. Andrews, Scotland, Duncan’s journey began amidst the rolling greens synonymous with golf. Despite the allure of the sport, Duncan found his calling beyond the fairways.

His upbringing in a sprawling agribusiness laid the groundwork for his entrepreneurial spirit, instilling in him a pioneering drive and a thirst for innovation.

Duncan recalls that his father had an innovative streak when running his 5,000-acre farm and was always interested in growing new vegetables like broccoli and lettuce.

After pursuing a degree in agriculture in Aberdeen, Duncan ventured into the high-stakes world of finance, trading derivatives in London for industry giants like Lehman Brothers and Swiss Bank.

He did their graduate program and worked for a while before striking out on his own to be an entrepreneur.

The Entrepreneurial Leap

The turning point came when Duncan realized the limitations of a corporate career during bonus season—a wake-up call that propelled him toward entrepreneurship.

His entry into the entrepreneurial world came with the establishment of a customer relationship management business, CITYPRO International, focused on banking.

This endeavor bore fruit with a lucrative acquisition within three years when the company sold for $8M in 2020. As Duncan recalls, the acquiring company did their due diligence, but the folks at CITYPRO did not do the same despite being publicly traded.

When CITYPRO was made an offer, they were impressed by the money and accepted it. At the last minute, the company was swapped from high cash low equity to high equity low cash.

However, the owners went ahead with the deal, which wasn’t a good move. Eventually, the equity turned out to be worth zero.

Duncan recalls that he was 24 when he joined the company, and its operations were simply about receiving orders via the fax machine and deploying assets to fill them on schedule.

They made sure to keep the costs down and revenues coming in. Duncan was lucky enough to get the business to an exit.

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Lessons Learned: Acquisition and Building MessageLabs

Through the highs and lows of multiple acquisitions, Duncan gleaned invaluable lessons. From the euphoria of a successful sale to the harsh realities of due diligence oversights, each experience shaped his entrepreneurial learning.

The missteps of overlooking the acquirer’s integrity underscored the importance of thorough due diligence.

Next, Duncan connected with Ben White, over an idea that Ben came up with. He talked about scanning emails at the ISP instead of at the desktop. Duncan liked the idea so much that he was on board within 15 minutes of hearing about it. Together, the duo built MessageLabs.

Duncan was convinced that the idea could transform the security market and that the timing was just right for making an entry. His initial plan was to stay on for six months to a year, but they quickly grew the company to 700 people and sold it to Symantec in 2008 for $700.

Duncan stayed with the company for six years, learning about aspects like sales, product, product-market fit, and scaling, and enjoyed the experience.

MessageLabs Acquisition

Duncan talks about the acquisition as being a well-structured deal. He had learned SaaS metrics like ARR, recurring revenue, and more. Ben was a pioneer in the space, and companies were catching on to the subscription-based model and people paying per person per month.

Symantec informed Duncan and Ben that it was one of the early adopters into the majority and was poised to see exponential growth in the next four or five years.

MessageLabs, as Duncan reveals, was a much bigger company with a professional executive team. Unlike CITYPRO, this company had lots of investors.

After the sale, Duncan was ready to move to Silicon Valley and immerse himself in the startup space. He considers it the best move he could have made for his career.

RocketSpace: A Vision for Ecosystem Building

Duncan embarked on his next venture with RocketSpace—a visionary endeavor aimed at fostering innovation in Silicon Valley. Founded in 2011 in San Francisco, RocketSpace emerged as a thriving ecosystem, nurturing tech unicorns and aspiring entrepreneurs alike.

Duncan looks back at when the world had just emerged from the financial crisis and economies were starting to rebuild. The concept of RocketSpace came from the Y Combinator, the phenomenal accelerator program.

Duncan decided to build a space or ecosystem where Y Combinator companies could stay as a kind of graduation school. The company was not affiliated with Y Combinator, but it received a tremendous response when Duncan released the idea on the Internet.

He had yet to find a workspace for the program, but people were calling, and thus, he started the first co-working space with a very focused approach toward supporting tech companies.

RocketSpace fostered unicorns like Spotify, Uber, Kabam, Mogg, Flexport, and Supercell. The ecosystem harnessed this idea of building big, fast-moving companies and created an incredible innovation and entrepreneurship environment.

Despite the wins, there were unforeseen challenges, such as the difficulty in securing funding from a Chinese entity. This serves as a warning of the unpredictable nature of international business and geopolitical challenges.

The company raised a total of three rounds of funding starting off with an initial friends and family round. Next, they raised $336M from a Chinese entity called Hainan Airline Group. Uber had been pushing into China, and the country had been growing at a different pace.

Storytelling is everything that Duncan Logan was able to master. The key is capturing the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides. 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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Winding Down RocketSpace

The Chinese had been given a sort of taste of capitalism and spending time in the country; Duncan thought of a great opportunity to connect China and the US through technology and ecosystems. With this objective in mind, he accepted funding from Hainan.

The company had already acquired Ingram Micro for $7B and bought stakes worth 10% in Deutsche Bank and 25% in Hilton. Gategroup’s Menzies Aviation and many airline service companies like Avalan and Aircraft Lease were other acquisitions.

As Duncan remembers, Hainan had a very experienced team with Western thinking. They operated out of New York, and everything seemed to be going well until the Chinese government changed policies to bring the money back to China.

This quickly became a problem since Hainan also had a board seat at RocketSpace. Souring political relationships between China and the US resulted in having to quickly look for investors to buy Hainan out. However, the company was unwilling to sell its stake.

Ultimately, Duncan and his team had to wind the company down and return money to the investors. It was an unfortunate situation, and the macro change was beyond their control. The company had made it to the end zone percentage-wise, and having to kill it was a grueling experience.

Pioneering Climate Solutions: Enter 9Zero

Duncan’s latest venture, 9Zero, seeks to revolutionize the climate tech landscape. By building ecosystems akin to Silicon Valley for climate entrepreneurs. Duncan aims to catalyze innovation and drive exponential progress toward sustainable solutions.

Duncan talks about the inspiration behind 9Zero. He and his family lived in Santa Barbara, California, a fire zone plagued by landslides and forest fires. He could see the effects of climate change all around and then started to recognize climate as a marketplace.

In his opinion, people fail to understand that the climate revolution is going to dwarf the digital revolution, which produced four mega-companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Apple. In contrast, the climate revolution needs to produce 80 or more such companies.

Duncan could see that the problem needs capitalistic solutions, and a lot more people and investors are excited about solving climate change, which we’re going to be forced to do either over the next decade or 20 years.

Duncan recognized that the world is going to spend trillions of dollars on climate change, trying to defend against the effects of climate change and putting in solutions to reverse climate change. This is going to be a multi-trillion-dollar marketplace.

And his job is to encourage more entrepreneurs and investors to get involved. In Duncan’s opinion, leveraging capitalism is the best way to fund solutions.

The 9Zero Business Model

Through serendipitous connections and strategic partnerships, 9Zero aspires to be the epicenter of climate entrepreneurship, propelling the world towards a greener future. As Duncan explains, 9Zero is an ecosystem play. They are trying to build the ecosystem and find solutions philosophically.

9Zero is more likely to drive an exponentiation of the entire market versus a 1 in 100 exponential outcome for a single innovation. The company is trying to work out how to build a marketplace for entrepreneurs who are trying to innovate solutions for the climate.

9Zero is working on making the marketplace scale faster to drive success, and the starting point is eight cities in the US. Next, it will build a climate district in each of these cities, starting with San Francisco and then, moving on to Boston, New York, and other cities across the country.

In each city, 9Zero will build a community with event spaces, co-working spaces, and clubs with drop-in memberships. They are pulling together private equity companies, venture capital companies, and the sustainability teams of corporations.

They are also bringing in startups into an ecosystem where they can quickly make both digital and physical networks to pull this together to create a geofocus ecosystem for the Bay Area. The objective is to bring everyone working on climate in San Francisco and the Bay Area together into 9Zero.

Then, they will follow the same protocols in other cities, and once that network has been built across the US, they can start moving from the geofocus into the niche focus. Next, they can start pulling together all the people working on energy, energy storage, sustainable aviation fuel, and other products.

By moving from the geofocus to the niche focus, they can bring the community together. That’s how 9Zero will go about capitalizing the operation. It has raised capital and is building partnerships in San Francisco at 53 California Street, which is a 3,000-square-foot building.

The company is raising its friends and family funding round and will move to other rounds soon. As Duncan opines, they are building a LinkedIn for climate with their membership programs.

Key Takeaways: Navigating the Entrepreneurial Seas

Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Duncan offers sage advice for aspiring trailblazers. He underscores the importance of specialization and continuity, advocating for a focused approach within a chosen industry vertical.

By combining knowledge, networks, and expertise, entrepreneurs can maximize their impact and pave the way for enduring success.

Looking Ahead: A Call to Action

Duncan’s message is a rallying cry for climate entrepreneurs worldwide. He believes that challenges present opportunities for those bold enough to seize them. We can all play a pivotal role in the journey towards a sustainable future with determination and collaboration.

Duncan’s story reflects our own aspirations and challenges, and his insights can guide us on our entrepreneurial journey.

Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:

  • Specialize and stay focused within your chosen industry vertical to maximize impact and success.
  • Thorough due diligence is crucial in all business dealings, especially during acquisitions.
  • The entrepreneurial journey is filled with highs and lows, but resilience is key to overcoming setbacks.
  • Building ecosystems fosters innovation and accelerates progress, as seen with RocketSpace and 9Zero.
  • Climate change presents both challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs to drive sustainable solutions.
  • Compounding knowledge and networks within a niche industry can lead to exponential growth and impact.
  • Embrace serendipity and strategic partnerships to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship.



For a winning deck, see the commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here). 

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Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.


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Neil Patel

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