20 VC 014 Acquired by Salesforce turned VC with Kyle Lui



In episode 14 of the 20 minutes VC, host Harry Stebbings interviews entrepreneur and DCM Ventures principal Carl Louis, who shares his journey from finance to technology and entrepreneurship. Louis discusses his experience as co-founder and CEO of Choice Pass, its acquisition by Salesforce, and the importance of team dynamics, market understanding, and metrics in startup success. He emphasizes the significance of a strong team over product, and the need to take calculated risks regarding regulation in emerging markets, citing his investment in Eaze as an example. Louis also offers advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, urging them to reflect on their true motivations for starting a company.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Carl Louis and the 20 minutes VC Podcast

  • Harry Stebbings hosts the 20 minutes VC podcast and welcomes Carl Louis as a guest.
  • Carl Louis is an entrepreneur and a product specialist, currently a principal at DCM Ventures.
  • At DCM Ventures, Carl assists entrepreneurs in scaling their companies and advises on product development.
  • Carl co-founded Choice Pass, which was later acquired by Salesforce and Ripple.
  • Harry Stebbings offers listeners a chance to win a consultation with a VC from the show through a competition.

"Now I am extremely excited to welcome Carl Louis onto today's show. Carl is an entrepreneur and I'm really a product guy. He is principal at DCM Ventures where he helps entrepreneurs scale their companies and advises on product development across consumer, Internet and mobile and the Internet of Things."

This quote introduces Carl Louis, highlighting his expertise in entrepreneurship, product development, and his role at DCM Ventures.

"But before we jump into the amazing interview with Kyle, first it's your chance to win a consultation with one of the vcs from the show."

Harry Stebbings offers listeners a unique opportunity to engage directly with venture capitalists, adding interactive value to the podcast.

Carl Louis' Background and Transition into Technology

  • Carl began his career in finance, working in private equity.
  • His transition into technology began at Harvard Business School during his MBA.
  • The course "Launching Tech Ventures" sparked his interest in technology.
  • Carl co-founded Choice Pass after gaining experience in product management at Google.

"And it wasn't until I got to Harvard Business School that I started exploring technology. So when you get an MBA, it's a great time to sort of reassess what you'd like to do."

Carl Louis shares his pivotal moment of transitioning from finance to technology, emphasizing the MBA as a period for reassessment and exploration of new career paths.

"And ultimately that led me to start a company called Choice Pass."

This quote marks the start of Carl's entrepreneurial journey, leading to the creation of his company, Choice Pass.

Carl Louis' Experience with Coding

  • Carl had taken computer science classes in college but did not use coding in his finance career.
  • At Choice Pass, he was the business co-founder and later learned to code.
  • He emphasizes the importance of understanding technology even if coding is not a core part of one's role.
  • Carl learned Python through an online course called "Learn Python the Hard Way."

"I think it's important but it isn't sort of a core part of what I did at choice Pass I was definitely the business co founder, but you really have to learn much more about technology and it was very humbling in the beginning and it was a great learning experience for me."

Carl Louis discusses the importance of learning about technology and coding, even for those who are not primarily in technical roles, highlighting his own learning experience.

"Online is the easiest way and learn an easier language. At choice Pass we use Python and so there's an excellent course called learn Python the hard Way, which is an online course and it just walks you through, assuming, you know, pretty much nothing to being able to build kind of simple applications."

This quote provides practical advice for learning to code, suggesting online resources and starting with an easier programming language like Python.

Acquisition of Choice Pass by Salesforce

  • Carl Louis briefly mentions the acquisition of Choice Pass by Salesforce.
  • The specifics of the acquisition celebration are not discussed in the provided transcript.

"Now choice Pass was acquired by Salesforce and that leads me to ask you a few questions actually."

The quote indicates that the acquisition of Choice Pass by Salesforce is a topic of interest for the podcast, although details are not provided in the transcript excerpt.

Emotional Response to Acquisition

  • Carl Louis experienced mixed emotions about the acquisition of his startup by Salesforce.
  • The team felt excitement about joining a company they admired and had aspired to partner with or be acquired by.
  • There was a sense of sadness for Carl Louis due to the feeling that they could have built something even bigger independently.
  • The acquisition was strategic for Salesforce's new division, which heightened the team's excitement.

"I think it was a little bit of both, but I think it was definitely a lot more excitement, especially sort of with the team." "But part of me again was sad because you always feel like you can build something bigger and so there's always that aspect of it."

These quotes reflect Carl Louis's ambivalence during the acquisition process, balancing the thrill of joining a prestigious company with a sense of loss for the independent potential of his startup.

Decision to Join Salesforce

  • Salesforce's vision aligned with that of Carl Louis's startup, making the acquisition appealing.
  • The opportunity to build a new HR cloud and potentially a billion-dollar business within Salesforce motivated the decision.
  • Carl Louis was influenced by discussions with Salesforce executives and the founders of Ripple, who had recently been acquired by Salesforce.

"Well, no, not necessarily, but what they were offering was pretty appealing." "And it was really about continuation of the vision and building something bigger and building the next billion dollar business for Salesforce."

Carl Louis explains that while they hadn't reached their limits independently, the resources and aligned vision offered by Salesforce presented a compelling opportunity for growth.

Transition to Working at Salesforce

  • Adjusting from a small startup environment to a large corporation was challenging.
  • Initially, working within Salesforce felt like operating a startup due to the autonomy of the new HR cloud division.
  • Over time, Carl Louis transitioned to the sales cloud, which was a larger entity within Salesforce.

"There's definitely adjustment in the beginning because you're moving from there were ten of us that we see every day and the tech and product team, there was five of us." "And so that was actually really exciting. We were essentially our own division..."

Carl Louis describes the transition from a close-knit startup team to a vast corporate structure, emphasizing the initial excitement of maintaining a startup atmosphere within a larger entity.

Duration at Salesforce

  • Carl Louis stayed with Salesforce for a little over two years following the acquisition.

"Again? A little over two years."

This quote simply specifies the timeframe of Carl Louis's tenure at Salesforce after his startup was acquired.

Challenges at Choice Pass

  • The original concept for Choice Pass was a mobile membership platform for local merchants.
  • The data indicated that the original idea was not working, leading to a pivot.
  • The pivot was driven by the desire of local merchants to attract corporate and regular business, moving away from the clientele of daily deal sites.
  • Carl Louis and his co-founder held extensive strategy sessions to redefine their business model, leading to the creation of the first version of Choice Pass.

"Our original idea for choice Pass was a mobile membership platform for local merchants." "And so my co-founder and I, we locked ourselves in a room. We had an all-day, several day strategy session..."

These quotes highlight the initial struggles of Choice Pass and the strategic pivot that was necessary to address the needs of local merchants, demonstrating adaptability in the face of challenging market feedback.

Evolution of Corporate Perks to Employee Rewards

  • ChoicePass started as a corporate perks platform and later shifted focus to employee rewards.
  • Employee rewards became a key interest for Salesforce, indicating the importance of this aspect of the business.

"ass, which is a corporate perks platform, which then evolved into focusing more on employee rewards, which is actually the side of the business that was most appealing for Salesforce."

This quote explains the transition from corporate perks to employee rewards within ChoicePass and highlights that the latter was particularly attractive to Salesforce, suggesting the strategic importance of employee rewards in corporate structures.

Importance of Incentivizing People

  • Carl Louis believes that people are the most valuable resource, especially in the competitive talent market of Silicon Valley.
  • The right culture and incentives are deemed critical for a company's success.
  • Carl has remained involved with AnyPerk due to its strong execution and customer satisfaction, and he believes they can dominate the market for employee incentives.

"Well, I've always had this thesis that your people are your most valuable resource and there's no other place where that's more true than in the valley where talent really has a number of different options that they can go to."

Carl Louis articulates his core thesis that people are a company's most valuable asset, emphasizing the competitive nature of Silicon Valley's talent market and the necessity of proper incentives and culture.

Investment Strategy: Team Evaluation

  • Carl emphasizes the importance of the founding team's dynamics, their backgrounds, and commitment to the startup.
  • He insists on the irreplaceable value of in-person meetings with entrepreneurs, sometimes engaging in multiple discussions before making an investment decision.

"When I evaluate startups, I'm really looking at kind of three major areas. The first is the team and who's the co founding team, or what's the background of the sole founder, and how do they interact and complement each other, and how committed are they to this startup?"

Carl Louis discusses the first of three major areas he evaluates in startups: the team. He stresses the importance of the founders' interactions, backgrounds, and commitment, suggesting these factors are critical for investment consideration.

Importance of Education in Founders

  • A college degree is not strictly necessary for a founder when considering an investment.
  • Successful companies have been founded by non-graduates, but Carl believes they likely pursued other significant ventures or opportunities instead of traditional education.

"I don't think it's necessary, but if they didn't, if they didn't graduate from think, you know, they must have been doing something extremely exciting, like they started their first company or they've done something that sort of replaces that."

Carl Louis expresses that while a college degree is not a prerequisite for investment, a founder without a degree should have an exceptional alternative experience, such as starting a company or engaging in a similarly ambitious project.

Investment Strategy: Market Evaluation

  • Carl differentiates between generalist VCs and those with a focus on specific industries.
  • He believes that deep industry knowledge can provide tremendous value to startups.
  • Carl personally has an interest in mobile-enabled services, drones, AI, and enterprise software due to his background and expertise.

"And then you have vcs that are very focused. And I think that the value of being very focused on specific industries is that you really build deep knowledge in those industries."

Carl Louis highlights the second major area of his investment strategy: market evaluation. He points out the advantage of VCs having a focused approach, which enables them to gain deep knowledge and provide substantial value to startups in specific industries.

Investment Strategy: Importance of Metrics

  • Metrics are essential for measuring a company's current success.
  • Carl Louis values metrics as one of the three major areas he considers when evaluating startups for investment.

"And then the third area is metrics. So there needs to be some way to measure the current success of a company an"

This incomplete quote suggests that Carl Louis was about to discuss the importance of metrics in evaluating a company's performance, indicating that tangible measures of success are critical in his investment decision-making process.

Key Metrics for Evaluating Companies

  • In mobile consumer companies, engagement, user growth, and cost of user acquisition are key metrics.
  • For enterprise companies, churn, monthly recurring revenue (MRR), and customer acquisition costs are important.
  • These metrics help in assessing the health and growth potential of a company.

And for every company there is some metric, no matter how emerging the industry. And so we look at those on the mobile consumer side, they tend to be around engagement and user growth.

This quote emphasizes the importance of specific metrics for mobile consumer companies, highlighting engagement and user growth as critical factors to measure.

On the enterprise side, we look at, obviously churn is important and we also look at monthly recurring revenue and how that's growing over time and again, how much money they're spending to acquire those customers.

The quote outlines the key metrics for enterprise companies, focusing on churn, MRR, and customer acquisition costs as indicators of a company's performance and sustainability.

The Importance of Team in Company Building

  • The team is considered the most important element in building a company.
  • A strong team can solve problems and achieve success, while a weaker team faces an uphill battle.
  • Skills and performance of the team are crucial for success in the market.

The team is always the most important because you can't build a company without a strong team.

This quote highlights the fundamental role of a strong team in the success of a company, suggesting that it is the most crucial element in company building.

Yeah, I mean, the team is absolutely the most important because with a good team you can accomplish most things and fix most solvable problems.

The quote further reinforces the idea that a competent team is essential for overcoming challenges and achieving objectives within a company.

Venture Capital and Regulation Risk

  • Venture capitalists often have to consider regulation risk in their investments.
  • Making a call on the direction of regulation is part of the investment decision process.
  • The marijuana industry, like others such as drones or education, involves regulatory considerations.
  • DCM saw a shift in regulations that presented market opportunities for innovators.

I think that vcs generally have to take a bit of regulation risk.

This quote acknowledges the inherent risk that comes with regulatory changes when making venture capital investments.

And so this led to real market opportunity for innovators.

The quote suggests that regulatory shifts can create new opportunities for businesses, particularly in emerging markets like medical marijuana.

Entrepreneurial Advice and Strategies

  • Carl Louis would create an iPhone app that adds value to people's lives if starting over with limited resources.
  • Entrepreneurs should reflect on their true motivations for starting a company.
  • Doing something because it's trendy isn't a strong enough reason to start a business.

I would build an iPhone app to help people do one thing better.

This quote reveals Carl Louis's approach to entrepreneurship, which is to create something that improves an aspect of people's lives.

Think about why you're really starting a company.

The quote advises entrepreneurs to introspect and understand their true reasons for founding a company, implying that a deep personal motivation is important for success.

Show Resources and Listener Engagement

  • Resources and items mentioned in the show can be found on the podcast's website.
  • The host invites listener feedback and questions for future episodes.
  • Engagement with the audience is encouraged through email.

Now, for all the resources and items mentioned in today's show, head on over to www. Dot the twentyminutevc.com

This quote directs listeners to the podcast's website for additional resources, highlighting the importance of providing supplementary material for the audience.

In that case, please do email Harry at the twentyminutevc.com.

The quote encourages listeners to engage with the podcast by sending in their thoughts and questions, fostering a sense of community and interaction.

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