Neil Patel

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Welcome to another exciting episode of the Dealmakers Show, where we delve into the stories of entrepreneurs shaping the future. Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Matt Luongo, a visionary in the realm of Bitcoin and freedom technology.

Matt’s company, Thesis, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Asymmetric Ventures, Boost VC, and Dan Held.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Matt Luongo’s journey demonstrates that dedication and resilience are crucial for entrepreneurial success, even through personal and professional hardships.
  • Transitioning from a tech-focused role to a more comprehensive business role taught Matt the importance of understanding all aspects of a startup, not just coding.
  • The influence of dedicated teachers and mentors can significantly impact one’s educational and career trajectory.
  • The stress and lifestyle of startup life can take a severe toll on health, underscoring the importance of balancing work and well-being.
  • The failure of his first startup, Scholarly, provided Matt with invaluable lessons about the intricacies of business and the importance of having business insights alongside user insights.
  • Discovering opportunities in everyday situations, like turning Starbucks gift cards into a business, can lead to significant entrepreneurial breakthroughs.
  • With Thesis, Matt emphasizes creating a nurturing environment for new businesses and founders, focusing on projects aligned with his expertise and interests.



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About Matt Luongo:

Matt Luongo is the current CEO at Thesis. Matt has also worked as a tech lead at Agency Spotter, technical advisor at Insightpool, CTO at Scholarly, software developer at The Proven Method, and undergrad assistant at the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology.

In 2007, they tutored for an introductory logic course, CS 1050, through the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Matt Luongo received a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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Connect with Matt Luongo:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Alright, hello everyone and welcome to the deal make or show so today we have an exciting conversation ahead of us. You know we have a founder that is really talking to us a little bit about bitcoin and you know everything between you know I’m beyond. You know that you can think of on the freedom tech you know type of stuff. We’re going to be talking about the death of his first company you it was ah very painful way in the way that that happened and then asked what he’s learned about raising money and and other stuff without farther ado let’s welcome our guest Matt Longnggo welcome to the show.

Matt Luongo: Um, hey all Andra thanks for having me.

Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in the suburbs of Atlanta in Georgia you saw I walked through memory lane. How was life growing up for you.

Matt Luongo: Yeah, ah, yeah, you got it I mean ah you know George is a purple state now but it it was not when I grew up. So I mean I was the computer nerd when everyone cared about football. It’s pretty typical stuff. Um. Did I do I did a lot of scouting camping programming computers. Um south my family but ah, but yeah I sort of always felt like I don’t know I was the guy that wasn’t into football wasn’t in the sports and kind of had to find my own group.

Alejandro Cremades: So you were into computers. So how did you get into computers to begin with.

Matt Luongo: Ah, good question because my parents didn’t give a crap about them. Um, my dad was into carpentry and my mom was a psychologist so I’m really not sure I guess I guess one of those days I had a teacher who showed me like oh here, let’s ah. You can program the turtle or it was one of those early like painting programs I remember in like fifth grade and I just kind of got obsessed with it. Um I somehow found like 2600 like the the famous kind of hacking magazine and I don’t know I always just liked. Ah.

Matt Luongo: Like rules because you can exploit them if that makes sense you know and I realized kind of young that ah you know rules are great for people who will read the rulebook and take full advantage of it and I think that ah computers are just an extension of that right? um.

Matt Luongo: And one of my friends where it’s like being technically correct is the best kind of correct. So now I mean I remember um I got I got pulled in high school for quote unquote hacking and and enabling a bunch of people to cheat in my high school class and.

Matt Luongo: And they brought the it people in they were like you know we’re going to suspend you This is a big deal Yada Yada and I remember saying you know guys if you read your policy. What I did was actually allowed and so I just made this case like look this wasn’t unauthorized access because when how you defined it. You said it need to be authorized by the other user and all I did was let people basically chat on their local network. So. It’s funny. Everyone who participated in that was suspended but me and I got to walk. So I think I think that’s what I kind of liked about computers. It was nice to feel like you knew like something you had an edge. Um, when other people thought they were lying.

Alejandro Cremades: So you were also a gifted kit you know and obviously you know with that there is a positive and then also a negative you know to if if perhaps you know you don’t have the right type of resources or support you know around you I Guess you know in your case, you know you were on the underperforming.

Matt Luongo: Um, yeah.

Matt Luongo: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah I think um as an adult. The worst thing someone can tell you is that you’re smart because I’m like that isn’t something that you earned that’s not something to be proud of.

Alejandro Cremades: You know side of things. Why wasn’t the pace.

Matt Luongo: And as a kid when you hear that it really messes up your worldview because you think like like I am going to be praised for something that I didn’t earn so how that went for me in school is I got bored really quickly and um and it was just you know I mean it was stuff like ah. Was especially bad at math which is interesting I was terrible at math until senior year when I found calculus and I loved it why because physics and I love physics and suddenly math had a reason and I remember um this one chemistry teacher a mine who ended up being a big influence and kind of helping me turn school around. Because I was in this class and I was I had my head down and I was kind of ignoring everything and and she got on someone else’s case for I guess for closing their eyes or something and they’re like well what is Matt get to and she has Matt and she threw whatever question she had up she was like Matt can answer this and I answered it and then I put my head back down. She’s like that’s why. And I think um, that same teacher I remember I almost didn’t get a chance to learn calculus in high school because my math grades were so poor and that same teacher asked my peers who had a few classes with me like hey can he actually not do the work or is he just refusing to do the work like is he just not do something he said I he’s just refusing to do the work. And so she wrote a letter and she asked the calculus teacher to accept me and I mean you know that ended up being a cornerstone to to my engineering education later and and and a lot of the work that I’ve done professionally. So yeah I think um.

Matt Luongo: You know it’s really easy for people to talk about education and like too fast and too slow and and all that but I think teachers like that are really uncommon who will actually look at you as an individual and that was really my my takeaway.

Alejandro Cremades: So then in your case you know it didn’t take long for you to to get going with tech startups. You know the the first one actually was quite ah, an interesting journey where you go more from the engineering to the business side of things. So.

Matt Luongo: Now.

Matt Luongo: Um, yeah, sure. Yeah, so this was back in 2010 to 2013 and the project was called scholarly and it’s funny if I talk to a startup for now. It’s so obvious in retrospect, but.

Alejandro Cremades: So what were you guys doing there and and how did that transition happen. So.

Matt Luongo: Was an ed tech startup and we were focused on research search. So how could you more easily find papers. How could you dig through the citation graph. Um, both me and my co-founder had been considering academia and going deeper. And we were both really interested in How do you commercialize recent research and um and we had we had what we thought were insights but it turned out you know in retrospect they were user insights but they weren’t business insights and so yeah I mean a couple takeaways from that company I was the cto at the time and I used to remember um. You know, raised on like old Apollo Graham blog posts I remember reading like ah you know, just keep coding and talking to customers then your company can’t die and kind of like all these things that now are now are tired but we’re pretty new at the time and and well it turns out that’s wrong. You can keep coding and your company can die. And um, you know I think a lot of what I learned I learned a lot about the incentives of venture capitalal I learned about um, you know it’s really hard when you’re the tech guy and you’re just trusting your business person and even if they’re great, um, things don’t always work and and it’s hard. To like looking back There’s so many things I would have done differently and so part of my takeaway from that is I just didn’t want to just be the tech guy ever again I wanted to have more more control and more more input and um I mean the other part you know the way the company ended was pretty awful.

Matt Luongo: So we um in a time when it was a lot easier to get funding West Coast and there was a lot more I mean that’s that’s still true, but it’s very different after covid but there was a lot more infrastructure. Um, you know we stayed East Coast and we got a couple small angel checks in Atlanta. Ended up moving to the the Boston area and um and then you know things went sideways. We. We couldn’t get around after this accelerator we went through and and this is where it gets a little grim. You know my I knew this. Moving up to Boston but my dad had been diagnosed with cancer so part of my um, you know part of my kind of like rules for working was I’m I’m going to go back every other weekend and see my dad so like we need to set aside you know money for that. Um, and you know my dad my dad was sick and. We were low on money. We’re just trying to find a way to to keep alive and pivot and keep going and um and yeah, eventually my dad passed we we knew what it was terminal when we got the diagnosis. But through that I I kept just like trying to work out and code workout code workout code and go harder and harder and kind of just like cope and do something to distract myself and and I did all these things that are supposed to be good for your health I had a standing desk I was I was moving around a lot but it turns out the stress of my lifestyle actually triggered an autoimmune disorder.

Matt Luongo: And so the way this company ended was my dad died I found myself in the hospital for six months um you know we’re losing money. My co-founders trying to trying to find some more cash and like the low point like the rock bottom for me was um I was. Coding at like 1 of those little hospital tables those really small ones they kind of look like airplane tables on us but they like looks extend up and down and I had ah you know I had like a hospital gown on like bareassed coding and I remember taking a picture thinking. This is so hardcore and then I just felt sick to my stomach after I’d done that because.

Matt Luongo: What terrible priorities you know that wasn’t my life like this was one company and and users liked us but they didn’t love us and you know, no one was going to die if I stopped working but I might die and I was still working and um and so all that was really formative for me. Because you know after that what happened my cofounder did the dirty Work. He shut down the company. But I now had this I mean I’m fine now I’ll jump to that part I’m I’m fine but like I had this huge abdominal surgery that took half a year to recover From. Most of my hobbies like martial arts and whatnot I couldn’t do anymore anything high impact and um and so you know I just had to think to myself. Well I Want to do this again like that was the funny. That’s how you know your cut out for it is like oh I want to do this Again. That’s your response but but I knew that. You know next time I started a startup I wanted it to be I wanted more control over my destiny and I wanted it to be a lot closer to money I wanted to really understand how revenue was going to flow and not just do this.? Well we’ll figure it out thing because you know most of you don’t figure it out. And and people on podcast that’s survivorship bias and so you have to think like wolf doesn’t work. It’s important to be all in but it’s also important to know where your where your line is um, yeah, and that’s but that all is what land founding my current company which is quite a bit rosier. Yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: Well then let’s look about that. How do you bounce back? How do you bounce back from from all those dark days.

Matt Luongo: Oh oh gosh. Yeah, it was miserable. Um I I’ll first say I have a fantastic family I had I had just gotten married. Um and I’m fairly young and part of the reason is we wanted to make sure that my dad was ah was there at the ceremony. And so um, you know I mean in my case if I hadn’t had the health insurance from my partner I don’t know if we would be on this podcast chatting today. but um but yeah so how did I bounce back I mean I I worked in the local Atlanta startup scene for a little while. Um I met some new people I helped I was basically a cto for hire at a couple startups and um, but I knew I was building towards something and I wasn’t quite sure what yet and then I just you know if people are ever talking about startup ideas. You know you just have to be interested in something startup ideas are everywhere that part’s quite easy. Um, and for me I looked in my drawer one day and I was like trying to make rent and like piece things together and and I found this huge stack of Starbucks gift cards that people had just been giving me over the years and I was too snobby to ever drink Starbucks. So um I had all these gift cards and I like countered them up and I was like oh my god this is like 81200 somewhere around there like big money from gift cards for money that you didn’t think you had at all and so it’s like I wonder if I can sell them and so I found. There’s okay, there are secondary markets and of course instead of doing the normal thing sell them move on with your life.

Matt Luongo: Like well what does the secondary market look like and so then I started diving in buying for my friends reselling I worked with a local coffee shop so that they could accept starbucks giftff cards and then give store credit so you’d be like here I have the starbusff credit I want and then oh cool I’ll give you like you know, sixty cents on the dollar and here’s store credit. And then I would use them to buy and so I kind of built that up and um and then finally I was like why am I even doing all this work with coffee shops like money had started moving. Why am I even doing this why I can just go right to the public and so I did and Paypal shut us down like that. Um. And like for anyone who does fintech now. It’s like oh my gosh. That’s great finance and you have like all sorts like alarms and you’re thinking about um but it’s a nicely like it’s nicely carved out like gift cards are not nicely carved out on the regulatory side in the us but it is like high risk and so at the time there weren’t a lot of other options. This is back in late 2013? Um, and so I was trying to figure out. Okay well I don’t have enough cash to like set up like a proper merchant account and do all the other stuff I would have to do again back in 2013 and so I discovered this thing called bitcoin and we relaunched and we did $50000 in volume in the first two days. And and then I discovered this thing called float and all of the other pieces that you know any fintech founder can can turn on about.

Alejandro Cremades: So I guess for the people that are that are listening. You know, Obviously you ended up building thesis you know which is a studio where you guys have rolled out you know, multiple companies right now seven that you’ve made public I Guess for the people that are listening what is thesis you know what? what ended up becoming thesis.

Matt Luongo: Yeah.

Matt Luongo: Sure yeah, so thesis is a bitcoin and freedom technology interest studio. So what that means we’re not like normal vcs. We invest off our balance sheet. We build things ourselves. Um. It’s very exceedingly rare that we that we write an outside check um, and then yeah, we we aren’t sweat equity. Typically if I’m talking to a founder. We’ve already built the company and we’re looking for someone who wants to take it and make it their own. They’re not quite an external ceo or professional Ceo. But they’re like ready. Um. And so that first company that I was just talking about ended up turning into fold and which today is a bitcoin back rewards card that was built off this gift card business and it spun out its series a was by craft. They’ve got some new fun stuff. They’ll be announcing sin but and I won’t spoil I won’t spoil their news. Um. But then we kind of kept going and we realized that like you know something I had to learn about myself is I’m like a pretty good 0 to 1 founder. But I I haven’t been quite ready to be like 1 to 10 like I don’t I um I lose interest I’ll find someone else to do it and I’ll move to a different part of the company. And so part of thesis was just understanding that about myself and realizing that I really wanted to what I want to what I want to do is discover new businesses and then help help new talent run it.

Alejandro Cremades: So then I guess say for thesis you guys have raised a 120000000 you know about 120000000 yeah so so what? what makes you know you you were talking about 0 to one. You know how do you come up with an idea. How do you balally data and and how do you go to the point of hey you know what we’re going to turn this one into a company.

Matt Luongo: Across projects. Yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: And we’re going to roll it out. So.

Matt Luongo: Yeah, yeah, so I think um, there is a lot of different ways to think about this so like so again I told you I was kind of like raised on like early Paul Graham kind of like idealistic. 0 interest rate phenomenon kind of blog posts not all of them some from were obviously earlier than that. but um but so some things I’ve learned so one of them making the transition from like Cto to Ceo for me was understanding that like product market fit. There’s there’s market fit with investors and there’s market fit with users and there’s market fit with customers and all those things are different. So like if you can grow ah if you can grow a product and users. Love it. But no, one’s paid for it. You have fit with users. But that’s they aren’t customers yet right? In fact, they might. The things you’re selling later. Um, and similarly you can get an investor excited about something and they might love a narrative or love an idea so much that they don’t care about the numbers and and so what you want to find is like how can you get traction and line it up so that you get a little bit of everything everywhere. So um, you know for different products you know I think trying to do all of these 3 things that’s insane. You should really focus. But I think you have to you have to ask yourself who am I selling to first am I selling to a user am I selling dude like which is not really much for sale. Um, attention am I asking them for their attention.

Matt Luongo: am I am I actually selling to a customer how big or how small or really am I selling to an investor first and then trying to get the capital to find product market fit and um, yeah, so I mean as far as how we do it at thesis. It’s it’s so different because we’re so deep in our particular area. So every time we launch a company. There are things that we need that we don’t have um so across cryptocurrency a lot of the things that you’re used to and other startups where it’s like you know attribution just like attribution for marketing or just like a lot of basic growth tools or a lot of basic um obstacles don’t work. Um. If you look at how like thinops works people still struggle to get paid in in bitcoin they’re still mostly just getting paid in usd. It’s quite a bit of pain. But so like it’s very obvious There’s so much missing from our space that things kind of jump out at you and rather than deciding what’s the best. Idea which um, you know I think a perpetual motion machine is the best idea like right? That’s not really what you what you want to decide what you want to decide is like what am I best positioned to do with the pieces that I have on the board and um and so for us, it’s like okay well, what’s our existing portfolio. And then what’s our talent. Can we use our portfolio to get distribution in this new market. Um, can it help our portfolio and have like kind of like that moneyball effect on on projects. We already have um but that’s how we think of it and I think um, you know this is really bitcoin specific. But.

Matt Luongo: For the longest time people were too afraid to build for consumers in the cryptocurrency space because it’s very easy to get investment to build infrastructure and it’s very hard for an investor to have the guts to choose an application that they think will succeed and um. And so I think that’s the other thing you know with us is you know we have to kind of we we focus on infrastructure and then occasionally make an application play because you know it’s it’s more conservative. You know you’re going to have funding in 1 area but in the other the win is bigger and and I think you know. You always want to ship something at least I always want to ship something that my family will use and my friends will use. They might not even know I’m associated with it and um, and yeah, so I think it’s I think in our case because we’re building portfolio we get to balance. But if I order.

Matt Luongo: You know, talk to just ah, a new entrepreneur, especially if they already had a little bit of savings I would say like go go for the big thing you know.

Alejandro Cremades: Ah, hundred percent now I guess say you know obviously you guys have raised money you know across all these projects you know under the umbrella of thesis and obviously you know with that there comes you know a betting on a vision too. You know not only for this project but I could also for for you guys. So.

Matt Luongo: Yeah.

Matt Luongo: Um, yeah, of course.

Alejandro Cremades: If you were to go to sleep to and and you wake up in a world where the vision of what you guys are doing at thesis is fully realized what does that world look like.

Matt Luongo: Um, yeah, yeah, so um, it shouldn’t look in the happy case. It shouldn’t look that different but in the unhappy case. Um, it’s it’s completely completely different. So what I mean by that is um.

Matt Luongo: Everyone ah who wants to which in my in my in my view is going to be almost. Everyone will have opted out of the us financial system. They’ll be primarily holding bitcoin that’ll be where we store wealth. Um, which should mean ah. Less pressure on housing. It should mean you know there’s all sorts of like second order effects when you talk about hyper bitcoinization I mean in a big way. Um, but just holding bitcoin is super boring like that’s great. Um, like cool. There’s an asset you can hold maybe the number will go up but the exciting thing is then everyone should be able to. Trustlessly take usd loans against that. Um, and then at this point you are your own venmo you are your own like you know every fintech should now be something that you can do but the difference is that there’s no custody involved. So now you can send money to your friends. You can mess around on your fun local robinhood equivalent. Um, you can do you know, just sort of like all the usd things you you would expect. You could do um but the difference is that it can’t be. You can’t be rugged by a paypal by a venmo you can’t have these people decide that you’re now politically unpopular. And so I think one of the things that’s been hard in our space and especially with kind of like my perspective is people want what will how will this change my life and like in the us’s like it won’t that’s not a life change but you know that doesn’t change your life at all, you’re not getting targeted people aren’t deplatforming you um.

Matt Luongo: But anyone who has been in that situation either. They’re a refugee or or they’re just like our intense capital controls in their country that resonates quite a bit because what we’re talking about is you know you should actually deeply own your money. It shouldn’t be like you think you own it and then a middleman actually tells you it’s theirs. So um. So Yeah for the Us It’s more of a negative fish and what can’t happen. But I think for folks who who are are actively struggling with their local regimes. That’s the positive vision rule rule of law enforced by software.

Alejandro Cremades: And what have you seen too. You know like on as you’ve seen you know so many so many rounds you know capital projects. What have you seen that they is different from a financing roundout ends up being successful to another one that ends up being unsuccessful.

Matt Luongo: Yep.

Matt Luongo: Sure, um, so I think that so much of fundraising is about momentum and you can show momentum a lot of different ways. But ultimately you know the round that you’re going to be happiest with. Um, is going to have a couple things. It’s going to have a competitive dynamic but it’s also going to have people that you want to work with long term. So if you go to like 1 extreme and you’re always putting together party rounds and you’re always trying to pit people against each other. Um you can. I mean you know, especially for entrepreneurs who have never successfully friend raised before that that sounds like a dream because people want you and you get to kind of invert the relationship and especially if you’re working on something really ambitious. You’re used to being told that you’re doing something silly. Or that it’s a long shot or whatever and so now suddenly you have people competing for you so it feels really good. It’s great for the ego. But if you go that way too hard. Um on the other side. You don’t have anyone supporting you right? because if it’s everyone’s problem. It’s no one’s problem. So I think um. What I’ve seen for a good fundraise is you have to have this feeling of momentum every time you talk to an investor they need to know what you’ve done with your time and they don’t want to hear from you and be like oh nothing has changed well, it’s been two weeks how could nothing change in two weeks they want to see and and this is like almost cliche but they want to see a line. They want you to you be drawing a line.

Matt Luongo: And sometimes it’s user numbers and traction. But other times it’s like oh well I’m not an engineer but I found one? Oh ah, well here’s how I prototyped this business before I could write the software. Um, so I think I think that. Ah. Yeah, when I see success. You kind of see this momentum where there starts to be.. It’s kind of like when you see product market that there starts to be Suck. You start to you start to feel pulled and I think that’s ah, that’s a good sign that something’s going to go well but then on the other hand you know you really don’t want to see see that go to a founder’s head and have them get overfocued on on valuation or something like that. When really at the end of the day. Their job isn’t to be a good fundraiser. It’s It’s actually to to build a business. So.

Alejandro Cremades: Absolutely now Matt obviously looking back now you know after all these projects you know these years you know as you’re looking back now and you had the opportunity of getting that younger Matt you know 1 piece of advice for launching a business. What would that be and why given on you know now.

Matt Luongo: Yeah I think you know this is weird because I it’s it’s it’s funny. You would give yourself. You always give yourself different advice than you would give other people so maybe listen to what I say now more than what I would listen to if you just ask advice. But um I think looking back. It’s like. Ah, stick to your guns more like the you know in 2 14 everyone thought bitcoin was insane and it was right after Mount Gox and some people were like you know this thing’s dying what you’re spending your time on and um and I spent 3 4 years just sort of dedicated to to building fold. And then of course we launched the studio and and more projects and um like it would have been really reassuring to have someone tell me just you’re right and keep doing that and um, and so I guess you know that’s that’s probably what I’d say it’s just you know you’re right, keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Um, it doesn’t hurt to make money along the way it doesn’t hurt like suffering is not required to be to be successful I think a willingness to suffer is required but actual suffering is typically not helpful. So I think that’s the other one is just like letting the image of what a startup should look like lead you to make decisions. Also not good.

Alejandro Cremades: I hear you so Matt for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi where is the best way for them to do so.

Matt Luongo: Um, sure I’m still on ah good old x dot com it’s Mh Luongo and yeah, hit me up with love chat.

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well Matt thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.

Matt Luongo: Thanks a lot Alan Andre


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