Mauria Finley maybe one of the few female entrepreneurs who really helped give birth to the internet and mobile experiences. She has since launched two successful startups of her own.
After working for some of the most notable tech companies Finley started and sold her first company for $50M, giving her investors a 10x return. Now she’s raised at least $10M for her latest fast-growing marketplace startup.
Mauria and I caught up for a special episode of the DealMakers podcast. During the exclusive interview, she shared how she got her start in the Valley, her tips for building the company culture you really want, testing business ideas, and her top advice for other entrepreneurs considering starting their own ventures.
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From Small Town Texas To Stanford
Mauria was born and grew up in a small Texas town. Probably as different as you can get from the Bay Area today. Her mother was a teacher,
They didn’t have a lot of money growing up. It was the wrong side of the tracks. Mauria pretty quickly realized that doing well in school was her chance to get out. It also taught her the value of work ethic.
Even once she was accepted to Stanford to study computers and entrepreneurship, she was determined not to fail. Other students may have more advantages and the luxury of better schools before arriving there. She developed a fighting spirit, got a tutor and vowed to outwork everyone else.
Mauria counts her move to Silicon Valley as an incredible life-changing moment.
Now, with a Masters under her belt, Finley contributes what time she can to teach a computer science class back at her old university.
Right out of Stanford Mauria went to work at Netscape. Ben Horowitz was still there, but it was a challenging time. Microsoft had effectively declared an all-out war on them. She describes Netscape as an incredible place, which was aggressive, fun and full of great people.
Yet, Microsoft decided to drive them out of business by giving their browser away for free. It was a lesson to never rest and never stop innovating.
Netscape got acquired by AOL. That put this entrepreneur in charge of a 20 person team. She may have been the youngest, but she was driving some of the leading products in the world at the time. Including AOL chat and mail.
Next, she was hired by Good Technology, a Kleiner Perkins backed startup. It was recession time, but Mauria said that enabled them to hire amazing people who worked really hard, without all of the frothiness in the markets.
Then she joined PayPal to start their mobile service. That role took her all over the world and to create a product that would work on all types of mobile phones. Then it morphed into working on the eBay marketplace.
The Birth of a Great Startup
Mauria was ready to start something of her own. She had also just given birth to her second child.
She had compiled a Google sheet of all the different recommendations she had received for products related to her baby and motherhood. Then added how those recommendations and products turned out over the next six to nine months.
It went viral. New moms and dads were desperate for this information. They weren’t finding the resources they needed. They wanted to discover hot new brands. They wanted to feel they were doing a good job as parents. At the same time, the brands were desperate to be discovered and needed distribution.
She raced forward, raised a round from Greylock and launched a wildly successful subscription box business. Citrus Lane was born.
Mauria says “The prettiest girl at the bar is the one who doesn’t need to date anybody.” The same goes for startups. She was strategic in building a profitable business and positioning the company to either raise another round or attract M&A offers. It worked, and Citrus Lane was bought for around $50M. It delivered a return of close to 10x to investors. Finley had proven she could take it all the way. Of course, those investors were the first to line up to want fund her next venture.
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Storytelling is everything which is something that Mauria 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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Naturally, this experience only emboldened this entrepreneur to want to go back it again, and do something even bigger.
She knew money wouldn’t be a problem. It took a short four days to raise a seed round. However, before taking the money and rushing in, Mauria took the time to test. She was wise enough to know that money can be misleading. It can cover major flaws in a startup. At least for a little while.
She started testing. She tested 25 different ideas. Collected the data from the ads and landing pages and feedback, and kept filtering.
Then she spent three months bootstrapping it. She honed the model and made sure it could scale and was a big market. Mauria especially wanted to be sure that the unit economics worked, and it was profitable.
She is not a fan of the model where you just scale, scale, scale, and keep losing money. We’ve seen what’s happened to those that have pursued that path. Those like Uber and WeWork.
Curating Company Culture
Culture can be everything in a company. This founder says she believes the culture you get is a result of what you reward and punish in your organization. What don’t you allow to happen?
Who do you make the heroes?
At Allume one of their most important values is super transparency. Everyone knows what’s happening with the finances.
New hires are told clearly that is is all about the success of the company and mission. They’ll get the support, but no one is going to be allowed to jeopardize the big picture.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- The vital importance of focus
- Why you should slow down and build a great team first
- Mauria’s best decision when an idea didn’t work
- Finding a balance between life and work