Here is Part 3 of the Yac.com interview series with Justin Mitchell!
In the video, Justin tells the origin story of Yac.com, from a hackathon project to a venture capital startup.
Justin explains how Saw.com helped him get his business ready for launch by providing a smooth and efficient domain acquisition. “Initially I was unable to get in contact with the owner myself at all, and Brooke you were really the only way that we could even get into contact with them. It was a great process, much smoother than I expected it to be. We were on a bit of a tight timeline and saw.com came through and actually really tightened up that timeline for us and got us to our domain acquisition faster than we actually expected. So we were able to actually launch it in time for our big launch online.”
Justin: I’m doing good. Excited to talk with you today.
Brooke: A few little bonus questions, last ones. I love hearing about the fun and interesting story of how you guys found your company with the hackathon. I find that’s a fascinating way for a company to just all of a sudden be created and start. So please, if you don’t mind, give that back story.
Justin: Absolutely. I love talking about this because I think at the end of the day, the message is hope. And I think that’s really cool. You know, we’re based in Florida. We’re not your typical Silicon Valley company. We didn’t have venture capital connections. We didn’t know a bunch of investors. I didn’t graduate from Stanford. So we don’t fit the bill of your typical funded startup. And I think that’s awesome. It’s awesome because it resonates with everybody else in the same situation. That dude in Ohio that’s building something. He can get funding; it’s possible for that startup to build. I love talking to other founders and saying, “Look, I love what you’re building. Here’s a formula that worked for us.”
So the background on our story is we started this out of our design agency SoFriendly. We had no intention of launching a startup. Startups mean no sleep, long nights, lots of work, lots of not getting paid as well. So I didn’t want to do that at a stable job at my design agency. We built this thing as part of the product hunt hackathon in November, Thanksgiving weekend. We kind of corralled the team together. I said, “I’ve got an idea, let’s build something cool.”
It started out as walkie-talkies. You could click on somebody’s face and audio just blasted out of their computer. While cool, it was very distracting and annoying. But it worked for the hackathon. So we built this thing. We really found this niche in this audio voice-centric messaging system and thought, “Well, no one is building something that’s audio first, voice first.” And it’s centered around this idea of, “How do I bring a remote team together without forcing them to be on meetings all day long?” So we started playing a little bit more, we upgraded the brand a little bit, actually made a logo, made a website. These things didn’t even exist when the hackathon launched. We didn’t even have a logo for it.
So we started building it out a little bit more, and then out of the blue, while we were in las vegas for CES, I got mentioned on twitter. I looked at my phone and it is two people that I’ve never heard of, I don’t follow either of these people. But it says, @adamdraper “This seems like a very easy pivot for @justin.” And the tweet came from a guy named Aiden and said “Is anybody building an audio-centric social media network?” And I thought, “We’re not, but Aidan’s not wrong. It would be an easy path to eventually go to a social network for voice.” So I replied, “Yeah, sounds great. I’d love to chat.” And within five minutes, Adam Draper, a big vc out in the valley (his dad has this huge vc fund; their whole family, they’re all vcs), is on the phone with me saying, “I really dig what you’re doing. I’d love to give you some money to build this thing out further.” And I’m sitting there in my hotel room with my two co-founders going, “Man we should get a pitch deck together, form a company, build a website, like the basic things that you would have
Brooke: Things that you need to show that “We actually are doing something.”
Justin: But previously, you’d have to have that ahead of a call with a venture capitalist, not like after you get the call. And yeah it was just kind of a serendipitous moment. I can only assume Aiden found the app on the product hunt launch, happened to download it, happened to think it was cool, happened to see this tweet from Adam, happened to reply and mention me, and I happened to see it and immediately jump into the thread.
All these things combined and a couple months later, Adam called me back and said, “Don’t take my silence as me being on the fence. I’m definitely interested in investing. I’ve actually been on the side going off and pulling another investment group together, Betaworks out of New York City. I’d like them to co-invest with me.” Now, at this time Betaworks had just invested in my favorite podcast company and my favorite podcast creation app. And they had sold to Spotify. So Betaworks is pretty big for us and we just heard this whole story and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, that would be amazing. That’s like a dream come true for an audio platform for the kings of audio to invest in my platform.”
Alongside this, someone else on twitter, another vc had tweeted out that he was looking for a product that had high-resolution communication, that was what he called it. So I read his blog post, and I replied to him with a Loom video actually, which is funny because a lot of people consider Loom to be a competitor to us. I said, “Dude, we’re building literally this. You described our app in your blog.” Five minutes later, we’re in our dms, we hopped on a call, and he’s asking to invest.
So we raised our entire precede round off off twitter from people I’d never met before. And when we went back to do a seed round of investing, we raised an entire 1.5 million dollars entirely off of twitter. I’d never met a single one of these investors. It actually took like a year to even shake hands with some of these guys. Adam invested having never met us in real life. We met him a year later and that was the first time we’d ever actually met in person. So a lot of this is a credit to being remote and this idea of being able to meet someone on the Internet and give them money. Believe in what they’re doing without actually shaking hands.
I do thank adam for being the one to really kick that off, but a year later we’re raising one and a half million completely off of Twitter. We were actually 50k short for our round and I was so mad, I’m thinking, “How could I possibly be 50k short for one and a half million dollars?” So I go on twitter and I see this guy that tweets out, “Man it’s really annoying when a startup says they’re oversubscribed and I can’t invest in their startup.” So I reply to that guy and I say, “Hey we’re undersubscribed. I’d love to have your money.” He replies and says, “Oh that’s so funny. Sorry but we’re not interested.” But another dude dm’d me within 10 minutes and said, “I want in. How much do you need? Let’s do this.” And we closed 50k from that guy inside of 24 hours. So it is just unbelievable what being transparent and open and just battle crying your brand out on the Internet can really do for you. And I think that that passion and that openness to say, “We need help. We’re in Florida and don’t have VC connections. I’m just going to tell you upfront, I’m trying to raise. Do you want in on this deal?” And that resonated with a lot of people I think. And they liked that earnestness and openness to say, “Yeah, we’re actually very interested in what you’re doing, I’m glad you know that you’re being so loud.”
I always like to say I’ve never reached out to a single investor. Even that tweet; that guy never got back to me. But some other person saw that and by proxy came in and closed with us. I think it’s really cool that we didn’t have to go knock on doors and send a bunch of cold emails. Just by being so brash and loud about what we were building, people started to flock to us just kind of by proxy. I think that’s really neat because it proves that if you are just holding that torch for your brand non-stop, people will notice and they will come. They come around that camaraderie and say, “Wow I really love that you’re so passionate about what you’re building. How can i get involved?”
That’s kind of always been our story. We’re the little guys from a small town in Florida. We’re actually the largest cow operation in the eastern US in my Saint Cloud town. We were able to build a multi-million dollar startup because of the power of twitter. So that’s our story. It’s neat and I think it’s reproducible. I did a lot of hacks along the way when we were raising. I changed my twitter bio to “currently raising for our seed round.” Then I would follow an investor on twitter. And twitter auto recommends a new person based off of who you just followed. So I’d literally sit there and just spam the follow button following hundreds of vcs a second. Since they get a follow notification, they look at my bio. My bios is “currently raising our seed round for @Yac.” And they’re able to actually click into that and go, “Oh, I’m interested in this.” And that was my way of doing a cold outreach, just saying, “Hey look at me.” That was it, and it was enough to get people to come in and actually talk to us.
Brooke: But see, what I love about that story is the thinking outside the box. It’s not the, “Oh we’re gonna go down the normal road that everyone is saying that we need to do.” You guys went and we’re like, “Look, we don’t have that as really an opportunity, so here we go, here we are, we’re passionate, we have tenacity. Now let’s see what we can do.” And it shows through being able to actually have your brand and be successful that it can happen. People just have to think in different ways sometimes if the one opportunity isn’t there for you, you go in the other way.
Justin: Yep, absolutely.
Brooke: Well I really appreciate you taking the time and going over this. I love hearing about your company and seeing where it’s going. I love all of it.
Justin: I think you and I had a lot of fun going back and forth with the owner of the domain for sure. And it was a good process, very smooth. I was unable to get in contact with the owner myself at all and Brooke you were really the only way that we could even get into contact with them. It was a great process, much smoother than I expected it to be. We were on a bit of a tight timeline and saw.com came through and actually really tightened up that timeline for us and got us to our domain acquisition faster than we actually expected. We were able to actually launch it in time for our big launch online.
Brooke: Well thank you so much. I love hearing that. I love that I was able to be a part of that and as I said, I will watch you guys continue to grow and just wish you guys all the best.
Justin: Yeah absolutely. Thanks for having me today.
Brooke: Thank you have a good one.