20 VC FF 031 James Beshara @ Tilt on Crowdfunding For A Mobile World, Finding The Perfect CoFounder & Beer Pong!



In a dynamic episode of the 20 minutes VC, host Harry Stebbings interviews James Bashara, co-founder of Tilt, a mobile-focused crowdfunding platform that's revolutionizing collaborative funding. Bashara shares his journey from studying development economics to creating a crowdfunding site for poverty alleviation before co-founding Tilt, which has raised $37 million from top-tier investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Alexis Ohanian. He emphasizes the importance of simplicity in product design, allowing users to start campaigns as quickly as composing a tweet, and discusses Tilt's growth strategy, which leverages successful campaigns to retain and attract users. Bashara also reflects on his personal growth, shifting from initial overconfidence to a more open, assumption-questioning approach as a CEO.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the 20 minutes VC Podcast

  • The podcast is hosted by Harry Stebbings.
  • It is a Friday, which is typically when a world-beating founder is featured.
  • Guest James Bashara, cofounder of Tilt, is introduced.

You are listening to the 20 minutes VC with your host, Harry Stebbings.

This quote sets the stage for the podcast, introducing the host and the nature of the show.

James Bashara's Background and Tilt's Origin

  • James studied development economics and picked up web development in college.
  • He worked on poverty alleviation in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • James built a crowdfunding platform for poverty alleviation that combined his passions.
  • He recognized the potential of crowdfunding and its fit for a mobile-driven web.
  • These insights led to the creation of Tilt, a mobile-focused crowdfunding platform.

The high level is I studied and my background is in economic development. Development economics specifically was my degree.

James Bashara's background in development economics is highlighted as the foundation for his interest in crowdfunding and poverty alleviation.

Introduction of Khaled, Tilt's CTO

  • Khaled was introduced to James through an investor.
  • Khaled had a background in strategy and technology, and was working at Rackspace.
  • James convinced Khaled to join Tilt instead of starting his own company.
  • Khaled is described as a phenomenal technologist and strategist.

He is the luckiest thing that's ever happened to the company was the introduction to Khaled.

James attributes much of Tilt's success to the addition of Khaled to the team, emphasizing his importance to the company.

Decision to Find a Co-founder

  • An investor suggested James needed a co-founder due to the anticipated challenges.
  • James recognized his own limitations, particularly in development.
  • Khaled's introduction provided a solution to James's need for a technologically skilled partner.

Well, there's a simple answer and a little more nuanced. A simple one is an investor said, hey, you need a co-founder.

This quote explains why James decided to look for a co-founder, highlighting the advice from an investor and his self-awareness of his limitations.

State of the Crowdfunding Market

  • Crowdfunding is still in its early stages.
  • A few hundred thousand have started campaigns, and about 10 million have backed them.
  • The discussion suggests there is significant growth potential for crowdfunding.

So it's a couple of hundred thousand that have started crowdfunding campaigns. A few million, about 10 million have backed campaigns.

James discusses the current reach of crowdfunding, indicating that while it has gained some traction, it is still early in its development with room for growth.

Crowdfunding Landscape and Comparison to Blogging

  • Crowdfunding is still a relatively small phenomenon despite the large number of connected devices.
  • The growth of crowdfunding is hypothesized to follow a similar arc to that of blogging.
  • Initial blogging platforms were less accessible and had fewer users.
  • Second-generation platforms like Twitter and WordPress democratized and simplified blogging, leading to a mainstream adoption.
  • The success of these platforms suggests that making crowdfunding more accessible could increase its integration into daily life.
  • Crowdfunding is expected to become more bite-sized and user-friendly.

"And we're five, six years into this being a topic that people have talked a lot about. But there's 2 billion connected devices in the world and that number is really small."

This quote highlights the current state of crowdfunding, acknowledging its presence yet small scale given the number of connected devices globally.

"But blogger getting to one to 2 million active users in the first few years, and Twitter really getting it to 300 million active users, it kind of shows, in our view, it kind of shows, if you can make crowdfunding a little more accessible, a little more bite sized, a little bit built for the every man and woman, then you might be able to introduce it into people's daily lives a little bit easier."

The quote draws a parallel between the evolution of blogging and the potential growth of crowdfunding, emphasizing the importance of accessibility and simplicity for widespread adoption.

Tilt's Approach to Crowdfunding

  • Tilt focuses on creating a more bite-sized, accessible form of crowdfunding.
  • Their campaigns are designed for smaller, more personal goals rather than large projects.
  • Tilt aims to simplify the crowdfunding process, making it as quick and easy as posting a tweet.
  • The app's design is geared towards casual users who can start campaigns rapidly.

"Our crowdfunding campaigns really are built around smaller. It's not for $50,000 documentaries. It's really built for $500 for a group gift for someone in the office."

This quote explains Tilt's focus on smaller, more manageable crowdfunding campaigns, contrasting with platforms designed for large-scale fundraising.

"You can quite literally start a tilt and quote, unquote crowdfunding campaign in 15 seconds. The time it takes to write a tweet."

The quote emphasizes the simplicity and speed of starting a campaign on Tilt, likening it to the ease of tweeting.

Importance of User Experience in Product Design

  • Reducing the complexity of starting a crowdfunding campaign has been a major challenge.
  • Tilt has placed a strong emphasis on simplifying the user experience to enable quick and easy campaign creation.
  • The simplification process is not immediately apparent to the user but is a result of significant behind-the-scenes work.

"I'd say that's one of the bit that has been one of the biggest challenges as a company or for a product is to take something that's conventionally been pretty ornate, pretty involved process, and break it down into its simplest form."

This quote addresses the challenge Tilt faced in simplifying the traditionally complex process of starting a crowdfunding campaign.

Customer Retention Strategies

  • Tilt boasts a high success rate for crowdfunding campaigns, with the majority exceeding their goals.
  • A successful first experience on the platform is key to retaining customers for future projects.
  • The platform's design and success rates encourage both creators and contributors to continue using Tilt for other campaigns.

"182 percent of tilts are successful. So you're very different than most crowdfunding campaigns where the majority don't reach their goal, the vast majority exceed their goal."

The quote provides statistics on Tilt's success rates, indicating a strong track record of successful campaigns, which is a critical factor for customer retention.

"That is huge. Second part of it and kind of where we grow is then people that join that first campaign because it's really built for a much more accessible version of crowdfunding."

This quote suggests that the success and accessibility of Tilt's platform encourage participants in a campaign to become repeat users, contributing to the platform's growth.

User Adoption and Growth Strategy

  • Tilt aims to become a ubiquitous tool for group funding by providing a good user experience.
  • Initial interactions with Tilt are designed to be for simple campaigns, which later evolve into more significant causes.
  • Users who contribute to one campaign are likely to recommend Tilt for other campaigns, creating a word-of-mouth growth strategy.

"Like almost everyone in the world over the next twelve weeks will have a chance to use tilt. If we can make the product good enough, the experience good enough, then you'll want to recommend it to the friend that after you join that nephew's campaign, you'll be on an email chain seven weeks later of someone trying to collect money for a grouped gift for the office admin who's having a baby, or there's going to be a family friend that is dealing with a fire on their house and has another cause that you say, you know what? We should use tilt for this."

This quote explains how a positive experience with Tilt for a simple campaign can lead users to recommend the platform for a variety of other fundraising needs, thereby increasing user adoption organically.

Product Evolution and Commerce Features

  • Tilt has evolved from simple fundraising to include commerce features.
  • New features allow users to sell items or tickets and "tilt" based on the number of items sold.
  • The simplicity of these features encourages users to start their own campaigns, thus reinforcing Tilt's communal utility.

"Now we've built in features for you to be able to tilt it. A number of items sold. So if you want to sell tickets to an event, and the event only happens if you sell 35 tickets or 135 tickets, or you want to produce a really simple item, you don't need to do a complex crowdfunding campaign where you have to make a five minute video and eight levels of rewards, but you just want to sell one item and it tilts at 25 sold."

The quote highlights the added functionality of Tilt that allows for simpler commerce activities, like selling a fixed number of items, which makes the platform more versatile and user-friendly for various types of group funding and sales.

Fundraising Process and Learning Curve

  • The initial fundraising process was challenging but formative, especially outside the typical Silicon Valley environment.
  • Early fundraising difficulties honed the pitch and communication of Tilt's value proposition.
  • Growth metrics, like a "hockey stick" growth graph, eventually made subsequent fundraising efforts easier.

"It's a question I don't get asked very often for the entrepreneurs out there. The thing that I'll tell you is one of the best things that we ever went through was the fundraising process when it was just two of us in Texas, way outside of Silicon Valley, trying to fundraise from, quite literally, investors that invest in real estate and oil and gas, in hardware companies."

This quote reflects on the early challenges of fundraising outside Silicon Valley, emphasizing how this experience was crucial in refining their pitch and strategy, which was beneficial in the long run.

Investor Perception and Long-Term Vision

  • Silicon Valley investors are interested in startups that aim to become standalone, durable, long-lasting companies.
  • Founders are encouraged to view their journey as "destinationless" to stay focused on continuous growth and improvement.
  • The mindset of building a company without a clear exit strategy aligns with the expectations of long-term investors.

"They absolutely have a destination mind, but their destination is the ultimate one, is being a standalone, durable, long-lasting company and going public that might be their destination."

The quote explains that while investors have long-term goals, such as going public, they also appreciate a founder's commitment to building a sustainable company without a fixed endpoint, suggesting a shared vision of continuous development and success.

Building Value Over Time vs. Investor Expectations

  • Entrepreneurs focus on building fundamentals and long-term value.
  • Investors are concerned with returns on their capital.
  • The best investors support entrepreneurs who aim high and take big risks.

But yeah, for investors, for sure, they're thinking about a destination and a return on their capital. But I think the best investors, they want to hear that these guys or girls are going for broke and they're swinging really big.

This quote emphasizes the dichotomy between entrepreneurs' focus on foundational growth and investors' focus on financial returns, while also highlighting that top investors favor ambitious entrepreneurs.

Personal Growth Through the Tilt Journey

  • Early overconfidence was beneficial for starting out but became a hindrance.
  • Transitioning to a mindset of questioning assumptions to avoid organizational overconfidence.
  • Recognizing the importance of flexibility and openness to being wrong for effective leadership.

I'd say a major one is having a lot of probably overconfidence at the beginning was really key... Now, as a CEO, you really don't want that because it can really inhibit the growth of leaders around you when you just operate each day like you know everything and you're super confident without data to back it up.

James Bashara reflects on the evolution from initial overconfidence to a more data-driven and humble approach, which he considers crucial for nurturing leadership and ensuring organizational growth.

Personal Favorites and Productivity

  • Favorite book for personal enjoyment is "100 Years of Solitude".
  • "The Power of Now" is appreciated for its emphasis on living in the moment.
  • Productivity is enhanced by writing down three important tasks on the hand and maintaining a to-do list.

Favorite book. Outside of... I love 100 years of solitude, but that has no relevance. And I love the power of now being able to live in the moment and appreciate the moment.

James Bashara shares his favorite books, highlighting different aspects of personal enrichment and mindfulness.

I write the three important tasks that I need to get done before I go to sleep on my hand. And I keep to do lists that get to 1213 items. But the three most important that I do before I go to bed every night goes on my hand. It's worked since high school.

This quote provides insight into James Bashara's personal productivity method, which involves prioritizing tasks and using physical reminders to stay on track.

Engaging in Competition and Play

  • Competitive spirit is shown through a willingness to challenge rumors through a game of beer pong.
  • Social interactions and games are part of building relationships and community.

Yeah, let's put that to the test. Those are online rumors. And I'll show you the online rumors.

James Bashara expresses confidence and a playful attitude in response to a challenge, illustrating the social aspect of entrepreneurial life.

Consumption vs. Creation in Learning

  • Shift from consuming blogs to focusing on independent thinking and expertise.
  • Blogs can feel productive but may lead to passive consumption rather than active learning.

I don't know if I read blogs nearly as much as I did before... one of the things that I think about a lot right now is really forming our own independent thinking and becoming experts in our own right in what we're doing.

James Bashara discusses the importance of developing independent thought and expertise, rather than relying solely on consuming content from blogs.

The Role of Mascots in Startups

  • Mascots can add personality to a product but are not essential for success.
  • Tilt considered but ultimately did not adopt a mascot designed by the founder of Reddit.

A tilt mascot not needed, very appealing, very attractive, and maybe helps some startups be able to build kind of a personality in the product, which is great but definitely not needed.

This quote reveals James Bashara's view on the non-essential nature of mascots for startups, despite their potential to add charm and personality to a brand.

Future Aspirations for Tilt

  • Looking forward to potential achievements in the next five years.
  • Aspirations include mainstreaming and mobilizing a crowdfunding platform.

I think five years out, we could be playing beer pong in San Francisco. And what I hope the conversation we're having around is that we were able to build a crowdfunding platform that took this really amazing behavior, this really amazing instantaneous, digital way for us to collaborate and how we spend our money and taking it mainstream and mobile.

James Bashara outlines his hopes for Tilt's future, focusing on the expansion and impact of their crowdfunding platform on digital collaboration and financial transactions.

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