Sramana Mitra: Who was your co-founder? How did you know him? Why him?
David Barrett: His name is Witold Stankiewicz. He was my first hire at Red Swoosh. After I got fired, within a couple of weeks, everyone else quit. I was what was really holding that team at Akamai. They brought in some other manager and everyone else left.
Sramana Mitra: That makes a lot of sense. What did you tell him about Expensify? Did you tell him the whole complexity around prepaid cards, expense reporting, and banking relationships?
There is a huge gap between industry and academia today. Learn more about the lay of the land and identify opportunities for entrepreneurship.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with giving our audience a bit of context about Hands-On Learning (HOL). What do you do? What major online education industry trends are you aligning with?
The $19 billion WhatsApp acquisition by Facebook attracted a lot of interest in the mobile messaging industry. According to a Canalys report for November 2013, WhatsApp was the leader among cross-platform social mobile messaging apps. But it appears that WhatsApp now has a bigger Made-in-China giant to compete with.
The Force.com platform has been a great bootstrapping device for entrepreneurs. Read how Alex and Richard Britton bootstrapped CloudSense to a sizable product company on the platform.
Sramana: Alex, let’s start with your personal journey. Where were you born and raised? What are the roots of your entrepreneurial story?
Alex Fuller: I was born in Wimbledon in the UK where the tennis championship is held. My educational background was not focused on technology. I studied classics at Oxford University, which focused on Latin, Greek, and Linguistics. Before that, I had already acquired an interest in technology. I got into computing as a child when I was 12 years old. I had a keen interest in computing throughout my school years. >>>
David Barrett: Since they thought they were approving something else, they went along with it. In the first year of getting through that barrier, there were many false starts. It was a very depressing and difficult time. The most important piece of advice I would give anybody while going through this difficult time where you’re trying to come up with ideas is don’t tell anybody. The only person who knew what I was doing was my wife. No one in my circle knew anything about the prepaid debit card space, banks, or any of the stuff that I was working on. How could they be helpful? When you ask people who don’t have the ability to help to give it their best shot, they do a bad job. Most times, despite their best intentions, they just come off demoralizing. I’ve concluded that people can’t be helpful if they don’t have the capability to. >>>
Sramana Mitra: That’s true in general. Part of the error that the venture capital industry is making is to fund a lot of free stuff. This hides all the problems of whatever product or service they’re trying to sell. Entrepreneurs think that they’re doing great by offering something for free. Eventually, it doesn’t monetize. I’m more interested in companies that can deliver enough value so that they can actually charge for it.
Sari Factor: I agree.
Sramana Mitra: This whole MOOC thing, I don’t think it’s going to work.
Sari Factor: Good content costs something to develop. >>>
New age companies like Uber and Lyft have transformed the way standard cab services operate in a region. Airbnb is trying to deliver a similar transformation for the hotel industry. The service is attracting some high profile users with Warren Buffett encouraging people to use Airbnb as a staying option. Recent reports also reveal that Airbnb is gradually becoming more prominent on business expense reports.
Sramana: You have a unique situation in a founder-financed company. Where do you see things going in the future? Are you going to take a traditional route and look for an exit?
Ratmir Timashev: Our current vision is to continue growing as a private company. We don’t need venture capital funds to keep growing. We are almost at $500 million in revenue and we have publicly stated that we want to do $1 billion by 2018. We are not applying for an IPO and we are not actively looking to sell the company. >>>