Winning TechCrunch’s Startup Showdown

Nanxi liu techcrunchTechCrunch, AOL, and 4A teamed up to host Startup Showdown in the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s auditorium. There were 15 ad-tech startups selected from around the country. I was impressed by the caliber of the startups and had a great time meeting their CEOs. I think Enplug was one of the youngest companies there so I didn’t expect to win.

The format was a pitch and then Q&A from the four judges. Then, the top three startups were selected to do one more pitch against each other. The three finalists along with us were Brander and Paedae. Both have compelling products. The audience then voted for their favorite and Enplug came in the lead :)

Here were some of the fellow companies that I enjoyed learning about:

  • Stipple: Founded in 2010. Raised $14.4 million. Stipple’s image-based marketing technology stack detects, recognizes, and identifies the content inside images at scale and enables Advertisers and Publishers to apply interactive curated content, accurate native advertising solutions, and connects organically to commerce.
  • TripleLift: Founded in 2012. Raised $4 million. TripleLift’s templating technology uses high-throughput, low-latency to serve ads and relies on computer vision technologies to ensure each brand’s advertising content looks great on each different publisher’s look and feel.
  • Paedae. Founded in 2012. Raised $12 million. Paedae allows publishers to give game players physical and virtual rewards for reaching certain milestones, and for brands to present their ads as part of the rewards.
  • Blippar. Founded in 2010. Raised from Qualcomm Ventures. Blippar’s technology is bringing “lightning-fast image recognition and augmented reality to mobile advertising.”

I’m looking forward to seeing the successes of these fellow startups!

How to find co-founders for your startup

Whether you’re trying to find a co-founder for a startup, company, or organization, here’s my experience with this art. To start, the most effective way to find co-founders is if you’ve already established yourself as someone who is a top talent and proven yourself as a great partner in past activities.

GETTING THE CO-FOUNDER YOU WANT
To increase your likelihood of getting a great hustler co-founder, I’ve felt these traits make a positive difference:

  • Make your decision to work with them or not quickly: If you take too long to decide whether you want to work with someone or not, that person will leave for another opportunity. For the dozen or so companies I’ve co-founded, most were with co-founders that I decided to work with within 24 hours of meeting them.
  • Chase: The co-founders that I worked with were regularly approached by others to start companies before I met them. I just happened to chase a little harder to convince them I’m a good partner.
  • Sell, sell, sell: Getting a superstar to work with you is just like a sales process. You pitch, you convince, you come back later if they say no the first/second/third time, and then you close the deal.

PLACES TO FIND THEM
Here are some non-traditional places that I or my co-founders have found co-founders:

1. Word of Mouth
I heard about my co-founder for Enplug, David Zhu, through a colleague when I was at Goldman Sachs. One day at the office, my colleague was talking about this insanely smart MIT-dropout turned professional poker player. This guy sounded like someone I wanted to meet. A few months later, when I was looking for partners to start my next company with, I asked my former colleague to connect me with David. David and I talked on Skype for an hour and he flew up from LA to SF a week or so after. I met with David in person for an hour and told him, “I’ll take a U-Haul and move myself to LA. See you next week.”

2. Craigslist
My co-founders Zach and Alex found each other on Craigslist. They were both UCLA students who had built successful tech products and companies while in school. Zach had a room open in his apartment and was particularly interested in having a fellow techie engineer live with him. Alex saw the Craigslist post and before you know it, they were living together and building apps together.

3. Airplane
My co-founders Zach and David met while sitting next to each other on a Southwest flight. Zach accidentally tripped on David’s bag as Zach was boarding his flight. As a result, he apologized and decided to sit next to David. The conversation basically went like this (if shortened in a few sentences):

David: Hi, I’ve built security software and am starting another company. I also made millions of dollars before I was 18 playing online poker professionally.
Zach: Nice. I built 2 Top 10 Downloaded Education Apps in the Mac App Store last year while I was in college.
David: Let’s work together.
Zach: Sounds good. I’ll drop-out of UCLA today and join you.

A week later, we all moved into one apartment to work together.

4. School
Except for a few companies, I found most of my co-founders in schools I attended. For example, for one of the products I was building in college, I reached out to a guy named Ryan who I hadn’t talked to since freshman year. He was known as the ultimate computer science nerd (that’s a compliment) living on our dorm room floor. I sent him a Facebook message that was basically, “Hey, I haven’t talked to you in a few years, but I remember that you were super smart. I’m building something and I want you to built it with me. Want to meet up for coffee?” We met up the next day and started building the product.

5. At the bar
After a random hack sesh with my old high school friends, Marcus and Alex, we went to a bar to relax. While drinking a Blue Moon, I noticed an attractive, tall guy standing on the other side of the room. I pointed him out to Alex, who them told me that Mr. Tall Guy was a biochemical genius that already had quite a number of successes under his belt as a twenty-something year old. It so happened that Alex worked in the same lab as Mr. Tall Guy. Alex jokingly said, “I’m totally going to tell him you have the hots for him.” Since I have no shame, “I said, go for it.” Mr. Tall Guy comes over and we start talking. The next day, we meet up and started a biotech company together that would eventually win Intel’s Top Social Innovation Award.

BOTTOM LINE
I found co-founders by just always keeping an eye out and being pretty aggressive with selling them. I’ve never found co-founders on a co-founder dating site or co-founder networking event. I feel like the top talents don’t need to go to those places to find great partners. If they’re so good, they’re being poached left and right by people or they’re already working on something cool. You just need to convince them that what you’re doing is cooler.

We’re in the Wall Street Journal!

Our team is so excited to be featured in the Wall Street Journal! It was interesting to see how articles are published in the WSJ. We interviewed with the journalist a few weeks ago and had a followup call this weekend. The photographer came to our house yesterday to take photos (and enjoyed a nice BBQ dinner with us!). We’re looking forward to making a team trip to the newsstand to buy every issue of Wednesday, July 31st’s Wall Street Journal! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324170004578638002403132048.html

I’ve read some of the comments of people saying that it’s a horrible idea etc…, but we’ve been living together for over a year now and I think it’s one of the best decisions we could have possibly made as a small and growing company. If you come by our house, it’s not like a frat party with footballs being thrown around and a keg in the corner. The house is very quiet throughout the day with people working hard at their desks. People are professional with each other and treat each other with respect. We’re a company building a great product, but we think of ourselves as a family first.

Enplug Wall Street Journal

Dinner with the Prime Minister of Monaco

I was selected as 1 of 5 entrepreneurs from around the world for an all-expense paid trip to present at The Edge Monaco, Monaco’s new tech conference. The conference was incredibly well put on with speakers including Prince Albert.This was my first time to Europe-I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction!

I also felt incredibly lucky to have been able to hang out and explore the city with the founders of Innocent Drinks (the leading smoothie seller in Europe), who recently sold their company to Coca Cola. At the conference, I got to meet with the founder and CEO of EasyJet (the largest UK airline) who is a very funny and inspiring man.

Many thanks to the Monaco Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (MVCA) and the International University of Monaco for this incredible conference.

Dinner with the Prime Minister of Monaco at his house/mansion/palace

Dinner with the Prime Minister of Monaco at his house/mansion/palace

The incredible view from the balcony in my hotel room

The incredible view from the balcony in my hotel room

Fireworks playing at night right outside our hotel on the water!

Fireworks playing at night right outside our hotel on the water!

Standing on the balcony of the Prime Minister's home with a great view of Monaco behind me.

Standing on the balcony of the Prime Minister’s home with a great view of Monaco behind me.

Listening to Prince Albert speak at the conference.

Listening to Prince Albert speak at the conference.

The main conference room where the speakers presented

The main conference room where the speakers presented

Speaking on stage

Speaking on stage

Winner at CES’s LaunchFest Startup Pitch Competition

Enplug won the Consumer Electronics Show’s LaunchFest Startup Pitch Competition! Thank you Angel Launch for hosting this fun event. We competed against 8 other great startups ranging from a kickstarter for films to a carsharing company. I really enjoyed meeting the founders of these companies, who came from all parts of the US.

AngelLaunch Logo

1st Place at Intel Global Challenge

Nanoly Bioscience, the biotech company I founded in college, won 1st place in Social Innovation at the Intel Global Challenge on November 5-8! Nanoly develops polymers that enable vaccines to survive without refrigeration. The week-long competition was held at UC Berkeley and the Intel Headquarters in Santa Clara. Nanoly was selected to represent the USA in this challenge. There were 28 teams competing representing countries from Russia to Mexico to Bulgaria to China.

As a student at UC Berkeley, I would see banners for the Intel Challenge around campus each year. I always dreamed of being a part of the competition and being selected to represent the US. It was such a joy and honor when I found out we were chosen earlier this year!

Thank you Intel for this incredible opportunity to meet fellow entrepreneurs from around the globe!

My badge + the competition booklet with descriptions of all the teams and bios of the judges.

Banner for the Intel Global Challenge at the Haas School of Business.

On stage presenting in the finals at Anderson Auditorium at UC Berkeley

We won 1st Place in Social Innovation and The Audience Choice award

We’re Named Top 10 in NASA’s Competition for New Technology for Space!

My biotech startup, Nanoly Bioscience, is a Top 10 finalist for NASA’s $110K Award for businesses creating new technology that will benefit space. It’s been more than exciting that a project I started with my friend last year has been recognized by NASA!

It has been an incredible journey with the Nanoly team. I don’t think any of us realized, when we first started theorizing our technology solution, that it could be so transformative-let alone something that NASA might use. Hopefully, this demonstrates how important it is to always Think Big!

A collaboration between NASA and The Space Frontier, The NASA New Space Frontier Competition recognizes entrepreneurs developing supporting, problem-solving, and game-changing technologies for the space industry.

Dell Social Innovation Challenge: The Awards Presentation

Nanoly won 3rd place overall out of 1,800 teams and we won the Audience Choice Award! Thank you Dell, The University of Texas, and Silverback Enterprise Group for hosting this incredible global event!

The Award Show Venue in Austin, Texas! It’s gorgeous!

Me pitching Nanoly!

3rd place overall!

We won the Audience Choice Award, where people in the audience and online voted for their favorite project. Thanks everyone!

Standing next to the Nanoly billboard at the award show. This was such a cool poster! Wish I could take it home with me. Maybe I can convince Dell to send it to us…

Our team!

The Dell Social Innovation Challenge Journey: The Beginning

What an absolute thrill this past week has been for Nanoly, a company that started out as a fun project my friend Balaji and I wanted to do because of our passion for global health. We found out that Nanoly was selected as 1 of 5 finalists out of 1,800 projects for the Dell Social Innovation Challenge. Dell flew us out to Austin, Texas for the final event where we stayed at the gorgeous W Hotel. Our schedule was packed! Here are the highlights from the week! Thank you Dell and the organizers for making this such a phenomenal experience for us!

Day 1

After checking into the incredibly beautiful W Hotel, Dell surprises us with a gift package complete with a new digital camera and extra spending money!

I didn’t get a picture, but we also had dinner with John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods! He’s such an inspiration!

Day 2

Lunch with the founder of Texas Disposal Systems

Petting a rhino at the Texas Disposal Systems headquarters. They have a mini-zoo inside the landfill! How crazy is that?!

My first time feeding a giraffe! The giraffe lives on the Texas Disposal System property, right next to the landfill!

Target shooting clay disks! Beginner’s luck: I got 1 for 1

Day 3

Video/Photo Profile

Interview with Youth Radio

With the team getting ready to pitch Nanoly in the final round!

Another video interview for Nanoly!

Day 4

And still more video interviews!

Speaking on a panel about social entrepreneurship

Meeting Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell