Jeevan Kalanithi scaled and sold his first tech business before raising over $80M to fund and scale his latest startup venture.
On the Dealmakers Show we talked about taking your startup full cycle, the VC mindset, your role as a founding CEO, and embracing the pain of entrepreneurship. Plus, testing your business ideas, and launching what has been dubbed as ‘Zoom for the building industry’.
Listen in to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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Do What You’ll Regret Not Trying
Jeevan Kalanithi was born among the hustle and bustle of NYC. He credits a lot of his success to his parents, and the lessons he learned from them while growing up.
Both of his parents emigrated to NY from India. His father had arrived in the Bronx, with less than $20 in his pocket. Yet, went on to gain his medical degree, work as a doctor, and then eventually to start his own practice.
When he was eight years old Jeevan moved out to small town Arizona, where his father was starting his own business. A rural community in the desert. A place where he says you learn to be independent.
Having excelled in math, and having his two older brothers pave the way for him, Kalanithi got into Stanford to further his studies.
He was inspired by the community of smart people there. People who would go on to make real contributions in their fields.
Jeevan worked AI into his studies before it was cool. He became interested in what made smart things smart, and the foundations and support framework for that.
After graduating he landed a software job back in Brooklyn, NY. It was a short lived experience as companies began imploding during the dot com bust. An experience he is now thankful for. As he otherwise may have never taken the leap into entrepreneurship.
During this period he found the freedom to try out different things. Everything from computer modeling in a neuroscience lab to working on TV sets.
At a birthday party Jeevan ran into an old school friend who was at MIT. He convinced him to join their Media Lab there. Where they began working on projects, among a strong startup ecosystem.
They ended up being head hunted by the TED conference to give a talk. The response was strong. Leaving them at a crossroads. Should they continue in research, or turn this into a company?
The decision came down to deciding which they would regret not doing.
See How I Can Help You With Your Fundraising Efforts
See How I Can Help You With Your Fundraising Efforts
Jeevan’s first venture was Sifteo. A consumer hardware company, with digital sales on top of it.
True Ventures wrote them their first check as a seed stage startup. They went on to raise $13M, through a Series B round of funding.
When they hit their Series C, they approached it meticulously and professionally. They just hadn’t developed the scalable revenues that the capital markets were demanding.
They pushed through with backup ideas, and got the company acquired instead.
The VC Mindset
After Sifteo was acquired, and he spent his time with the new owner 3D Robotics, he became an entrepreneur in residence with Lux Capital.
That gave him a whole new perspective on fundraising, and what the VC mindset is really like on the other side of the table.
Some of his key takeaways and insights included:
- The tendency of VCs to jump on the bandwagon of trends to invest in
- How competitive the investment space is for venture capital firms
- The need for VCs to move fast and rely on signals, rather than deep analysis
- How the fate of startups are often decided in just five minutes or less
- How much personal connections between founders and partners matter
We also talked about the frustrating scenarios in which VCs seem to not even be listening, such as if they seem to spend meetings on their phones instead of listening to the pitch. Jeevan reminds us that while it isn’t the most professional behavior, VC partners are just humans too. Meaning they are dealing with all kinds of things in their personal lives, from relationship troubles to picking up the kids from school. That gets in the way of their work sometimes.
He also found how difficult it is to have a truly original startup business idea, making execution the most important factor. He says he would often be in back to back pitch meetings with founders, only to hear the exact same ideas coming meeting after meeting. So, make sure to do your research before an investor meeting, and if you’re not the only company in your space, make sure that you are unquestionably the best team to execute on it.
Jeevan’s newest startup venture is OpenSpace. A vertical SaaS computer vision company. One which specifically works with builders, GCs and real estate developers.
It’s all about giving their customers clarity to see what is going on on the ground anywhere, without them having to be there, and especially when they can’t. A huge problem, that has only become more pronounced from the pandemic lockdowns and in the new normal.
It’s a project he started with two MIT cofounders Philip, and Mike who sold his previous company to Twitter.
They’ve already raised $84M for OpenSpace, and like Zoom, have enjoyed great growth over the past couple of years.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Jeevan Kalanithi 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.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Great books for entrepreneurs
- How to test your business idea
- How to take on the pain of entrepreneurship
- Jeevan’s top advice when starting a company
- The real role of a founding CEO