Having spent time on both sides of the table, Shoaib Makani has learned a lot about the patterns of successful startups and how to find a unicorn opportunity to harness and ride.
Shoaib has not only worked with hot and fast-growing tech startups, but he’s funded them and raised hundreds of millions of dollars to build a billion-dollar venture of his own.
Makani recently made a special guest appearance on the DealMakers podcast. There we had the opportunity to talk important learnings for entrepreneurs, what venture capitalists want in a winning pitch, the art of scale, the flexibility and hard decisions you need to take on to survive as a startup, and who you should hire when you launch.
The Path to Entrepreneurship
Shoaib Makani grew up in very rural central Texas, before moving to Austin. For the last two years of high school, he embedded himself in a residential boarding school at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. It was a cohort of the 200 nerdiest kids in the state. A place where he developed an interest in math and science, but also began to get an appreciation for products and business.
He knew he wanted to build a company, solve problems, be involved in technology, and to become an entrepreneur.
Attending NYU, Shoaib realized he didn’t really need to study finance to be able to build his own company, so he switched to the London School of Economics.
There he gained an appreciation for the varieties of capitalism, how market economies work, and the culture that was necessary to drive success in various economic models. Essentially, gaining an eagle-eye view of how the world works and what motivates people.
The next logical move for Shoaib was to learn in the trenches. He found Google offered a fantastic balance between existing success, yet ambition and the aspiration to grow in many other lines of business.
He joined Google Checkout, which was effectively a startup within Google. It offered an insightful experience in what it takes to build a great product at scale, and distribute that to both a B2C and B2B customers. From the operational structure, he saw better outcomes resulting from a team who felt their work really mattered.
Digging deeper into entrepreneurship he joined AdMob when it was an early-stage startup. It was the chance to see what it was like to build something from the ground up, and even to take it international.
He led them into Latin America and helped them scale in India. He learned about hitting the right markets, being clear about your current capabilities and market fit when it comes to international expansion.
Google ended up acquiring AdMob for $750 million, putting him back in the heart of the tech giant.
The Other Side of the Table
The one missing piece left from his education in entrepreneurship and business was the capital side.
A chance introduction landed him on the team at Khosla Ventures. There he invested in companies like Indiegogo and Instacart. He got to get into the mind of being a VC and to see many different companies and teams and what works and doesn’t.
The characteristics of capital-efficient, high growth companies he witnessed include:
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