Death and life- Six months of pain lands my company inside Facebook

We sold Vidpresso to Facebook after going through my dad's death, our company's near death, and endless rejection, until it all ended in a moment.

In 1847, Mormon settlers fleeing sectarian violence arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24th. It became “pioneer day.” My Vidpresso family were celebrating it in a distinctly Utah place: fiiz drinks. But not because we were appreciating our ancestors, instead we were appreciating the deal I had signed to put our company inside Facebook.

5/7 Vidpresso team members and families celebrating our success with some well earned soda.

This was our pioneer day. On August 13th we’d join Facebook. The seven of us had ended our five year journey. To everyone around us, they thought we were the most successful company they’d heard of! Someone selling their company to Facebook! Wow!

For me, it was finally being able to breathe. Our company wasn’t a success, but we failed in the best way possible.

Both personal and professional pain

We were all smiles, the most difficult 6 months of my life were wrapping up while I sipped a Momojito (Mountain Dew + Mint). The prior February, my dad died of congestive heart failure. We had a complex relationship, but it ended with closure… I took care of him the last week of his life. We joked about the Red Sox and my blue hair before he died.

In March, after losing our largest customer (BuzzFeed), our company was going to die. The only way to save it was to fire myself, keep the six other people employed, and somehow hope for a miracle to bring the company back from the dead.

I had till the end of April before I’d have to stop my paycheck… So we were going to tweak our product to a better market: Live shopping. If we helped people make money, they’d definitely pay us money.

Complete rejection, even from interns

I was desperate to launch the product, and I knew if I nailed customer discovery, we’d be able to get something profitable before our company died. I needed an intern!

I tweeted looking for interns, had a few people interested, but after talking to each intern, Vidpresso was the rejected one, not the intern.

At least five interns rejected Vidpresso in March 2018.

At the exact same time, Dan Sisco, an about-to-graduate MBA, saw a tweet from my friend Trevor saying an anonymous YC company was looking for unpaid interns.

Dan reached out with nothing to lose. He had an offer to work for General Motors in their connected car division after graduation. An about-to-fail Y Combinator startup would be a fun front row seat to a dumpster fire. And, at least the founder was decently connected to Silicon Valley, so for Dan, there was virtually no downside.

We talked on the phone on the literal worst day: The actual day I learned my startup was going to die unless I fired myself. I had miscalculated some numbers, and what I thought was a problem was actually a crisis.

I remember taking this picture on that day. I didn’t know why I thought it was important to capture that moment, but I did.

I told him everything honestly, and somehow he still was interested in working with us. I felt very fortunate that people still understood the vision and passion, and it still connected with someone so talented.

The hail mary product

Vidpresso built software for Facebook Live, and we had figured out a flow to allow people to sell things using Facebook Messenger. It was going to work, and at the time some pyramid schemes multi level marketing companies were using Facebook Live successfully. Being in Utah, one of the epicenters of pyramid schemes, we could nail our customer development and launch quickly.

Two weeks after Dan started, we had a go-to-market plan, some initial customers, and a proof of concept that worked. We launched a landing page on Product Hunt, put up some merch to try to raise emergency cash, and launched a demo video (I couldn’t find it!).

Obligation trade show fixes everything

While the live shopping product showed promise, we fulfilled an obligation to Facebook. We went to the NAB trade show, about to die, and attended mostly because we had already agreed to go. I remember thinking “should we even go? This is distracting from getting the product out.”

My BFF contacts from FB were all there, and I explained what was going on. Without going over all the details, Facebook threw us a lifeline, and I didn’t have to fire myself anymore. We had enough runway to make it at least 6 more months.

Down the HQ trivia rabbit hole

In 2018, HQ Trivia was taking off. It had captured much of the tech world’s attention, including Facebook’s. Facebook had launched some products to compete, and was interested in doing more to compete with HQ.

Our product was one of the most interactive tools for Facebook Live, and BuzzFeed had originally run a gameshow using Vidpresso back in 2016. We were in a great position to work with Facebook.

(I still work at Meta, so I’m going to skip over a bunch of this right now, since I don’t want to burn anyone unintentionally. After I leave, I’ll tell the full story thoughtfully, but this isn’t the time nor place.)

Our work eventually led to a bigger deal with Facebook which led us to receive more money in revenue than we’d received in funding. That led us to eventually to Pioneer Day. To Fiiz.

Paul Graham is right

If you can just avoid dying, you get rich. That sounds like a joke, but it’s actually a pretty good description of what happens in a typical startup. PG’s “how to not die

That’s what happened to us. August 13th, we announced the deal. They bought both our tech and team, and we joined the company.

I remember refreshing my bank account during FB orientation, and the wire hit just as they announced the deal. I couldn’t believe it.

Seven team members joined, including Dan who had only started four months before as an unpaid intern. He fully committed to Vidpresso, eventually ditching his GM offer, before acquisition talks were even on the table.

Lessons learned? Timing is everything

I wish there were strategies to get acquired that were generalizable to others… but honestly there’s only one:

There’s always an option when your company feels like it’s going to die, unless you are demoralized and can’t go on. There’s no strategy to get acquired, there’s no magic bullet, no cheat code, it’s a matter of not dying long enough till you pass the class.

The only true lesson I learned was humility my way to success.

In Vidpresso, I pushed hundreds of rocks up hills to make impossible things happen. When I went with things which were available to me, we were successful. My lack of humility prevented us from being successful the prior 5 years.

Unfortunately, at Facebook, I made the same mistake for the next 4 years. Maybe one day I’ll learn.

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