Founder AMA with Vernon Coleman, Founder of ClickApp

On Thursday August 11, Transparent Collective’s Partner, James Norman, hosted a virtual Transparent Talk with Vernon Coleman, Founder of ClickApp (formerly Realtime), a social network built around bridging the offline-to-online divide.

Vernon Coleman started ClickApp after dropping out of college in 2019. By 2020 he became one of the youngest Black founders to raise venture capital with a $4M+ raise from the likes of Alexis Ohanian, Sam Altman, Kevin Lin, and the execs of companies like Snap, Twitch, Meetup, and Kickstarter to name a few. A year later, Vern joined Forbes 30 under 30.

Keep reading for a recap of our conversation with Vernon as we dive deep into Vernon’s founder journey, preview his next steps, and discuss his lessons learned.

James

We’re happy to have you here today, Vernon. I know you’re busy running around, building products, and doing what you do. But just to get started, I think it’s always good to understand the origin story, right? So you’re here as the founder of ClickApp, formerly known as Realtime.

Give us a little quick background of where you come from. How did you get inspired to be in the tech space? How’d you come up with the idea initially, which was called Realtime for?

Vernon

I felt like it all started in university. I grew up mostly in South Carolina, and I was always watching videos around the startup ecosystem. Specifically, YC, startup school, TechCrunch, and stuff like that.

And I was like, I need to get to California because I started building iOS and Android games in high school. Then I started saying, okay, well, there’s this thing where you raise money, have people that help you build, and build a team.

So, I started going to iOS meetups in South Carolina. I started going to all these events, basically building my capital and people network, which was really hard to do. After a year of trying to do that here while in school, I was just like, this doesn’t make sense.

So I got up to California and went to UC Santa Cruz. I wanted to meet and interact with other human beings that were like-minded. That’s where I started learning Swift development and native iOS.

I’ve always been a builder. Anytime I have an idea, I do it with as many resources as I can. And fast forward, over three or so years, I left school in my fourth year. It was really this idea that Realtime should enable people to like this vision of connecting people through experiences. The whole product was around connecting people in real life in 24 hours or less.

Though we had gotten this to 30, 40% of different large college campuses in under a month or two, I found it super hard to raise funding. Even after dropping out all the typical things you hear about how Silicon Valley works, it was impossible. They just weren’t working. That’s kind of how the origins of where Realtime started, as well as a little bit about myself.

James

Cool. So, you built a product, moved to California, and took the leap. What made you so passionate about that particular mission? Like you’re super mission-driven and focused on your product creation. What made you feel passionate about that particular thing to make that leap to put all your eggs in that basket?

Vernon

When I think about this concept of Founder-Market fit, I often think of what led me as a founder to want to care about it before I cared about it. Then I started thinking I was born in Okinawa, Japan, moved to New Mexico when I was three or so, grew up in South Carolina, and lived in different places around that time.

Growing up, I was homeschooled from fifth grade until senior year, and I decided to go to public school and see what that was all about to try different things. But my point is that I’ve always had this innate ability to build community quickly, no matter where I was and no matter which avenue, whether it be the church, talking to people in the grocery store, or whatever.

Finding friendships and building relationships was a thing that took a lot of time. And I recognize that even for somebody as good as it gets, and native as it was for me. So when I got to university, and I thought there were going to be a lot of people that would be interested in tech and psychology, but we are black, with all these different types of people, I’ll be able to have my community finally.

When you get there, people want to interact with one another, but it’s really hard. And then, it was just how the community forms and how you meet people today. Building relationships is a really slow process. And it doesn’t line up with being able to call a ride, find somebody’s house, or a date instantly. There are all these instant services. But when it comes to community and friendships, it’s a long and drawn-out process. So, I just wanted to form for my community no matter where I was. And I think I’ve always been that type of person. I just wanted to make it easier for myself.

James

Thinking about how relationships are formed and whatnot dives into the psychology of human beings, things, and nature. How do you feel about it? Because you’re focused on Gen Z, right? So there’s a reason for that focus. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Also, how do you feel there are differences between other generations in the current generation when it comes to forming relationships and community and things of that nature?

Vernon

Yeah, it’s very interesting. There are a lot of nuances. So I’ll give a little background here. So Realtime started off as a 24 hours or less thing, all in person. And we leveraged the method we used, which was asynchronous text. So a key from a group chat, if you will. And then during COVID, we didn’t raise any funding. Nobody wants to meet up in person, colleges are dead. We pivoted completely to video first. And there was a lot of design and nuances around that.

This was when my friends or acquaintances were working on products like clubhouse, which was the new house party, and I was seeing this new wave of what I call synchronous, social, or ways to communicate where you don’t have to check feeds. You kind of just be present. Anyway, that’s a little bit of a backdrop in terms of how the product evolves.

And where we are now is like, we learned a lot of different things with Realtime to produce what we’re doing now, which is ClickApp. One of those things is we targeted college campuses.

We targeted two different sides of Gen Z with the video product, specifically a lot of Gen Z who hadn’t finished school or just weren’t in school. And with Realtime IRL, which we then launched and did a bunch of tests from February through May, we also launched HBCUs, Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark, which had some success. We had 60% adoption at all three campuses in less than five weeks.

But the thing is, we really asked ourselves questions about the psychology of how Gen Z connects and wants to build relationships with one another. So one is, most Gen Z communities still went on a groupie, and that’s not the case for a lot of people after 28, 29. Nobody’s really using GroupMe, but it’s still a very prevalent thing on college campuses, making its way outside college campuses.

There’s a lot of psychology around building for Gen Z, from the design to the aesthetic to the limitations to the format you’re offering. But we can get into the nuances of that design, depending on how deep you want to go.

James

Yeah. Alright, so let’s hop back a little bit. You get the Realtime thing going, which got funding yet. But you’re on the path of trying to figure it out. How did you start to try and set that past when you realized the most basic things you had read about and learned about didn’t play out for you the way you thought they might? How’d you start thinking, okay, I still need to get to these people? I need to do these things. How did you start recalibrating yourself to figure out how you would get to the Capitol?

Vernon

Because I think it was like, okay, I spent all this time before you come upon years, not realizing. But studying the game, if you will, from the peak… I don’t want to say the originators of the game, but the people who have realized the mentality of the game, YCombinator.

So I really tried to understand that ethos and form a mentality. I had a certain mentality coming into it. But I realized there’s a knowledge gap between what I believe and what I know and what I’m telling an investor or any person and their understanding or what they believe to be even with the case. Is this an investable company or not?

James

How did you make the realization that there was that gap? In that communication, what was happening?

Vernon

I wasn’t getting the results.

James

Yeah, how many times? How many pitches? How many results? We can talk about that.

Vernon

Let’s assume casual and formative pitches or conversations, and you can say 40–60. After I dropped out, it was a year and a half before COVID happened.

So, this is me in San Francisco. This is me taking buses down to LA. This is me borrowing funds from my little brother to Uber to the city. I’m talking about a negative bank account here constantly. This is me flying to New York City, meeting people, and crashing on their couches.

This is me just going off of a feeling and a vibe that I believe what I’m working on will define culture for at least the next decade, as many network-based products are, due to being called to be doing this, so I wouldn’t be here.

I think it was just one of those things where I put this belief. Faith is belief plus work or belief plus action. I believe I was acting, but nothing was happening. So something was off. If you’re not getting the results, at the end of the day, my thought process is it’s not really on anybody else. It’s on you to understand how to get the result you want. Even all kept failing and failing. I can still talk about shifts I made to start changing that tide, consciously or unconsciously, to be honest.

James

Let’s go to that part. Let’s talk about making that shift, closing that gap, and some of the tools you use in the process.

Vernon

Yeah, let’s close the gap. A lot of it was related to soft skills that I already had back to the aspect of building community. I hadn’t seen Santa Cruz before I decided to sign up, go to school there, and take on probably 200k in debt. I hadn’t been to San Francisco before I had a whole place to live. This was before I dropped out.

I had started taking buses from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, which is about 2–3 hours, give or take. I started meeting people. I started seeing things like AfroTech Detroit. I’ve never been to Detroit, and I just went to Detroit for three days. And then I see how he talks on stage about his company. And I’m like, okay, this is interesting. Then there were all these different people, and I continuously had less than a grand in the bank, putting myself in a position to be around people that had done it.

Whether they were black, Hispanic, Asian, or whatever the case may be, I was going to put myself in a position for the people who had hit from the results I needed to hit. And through brute force.

I saw the founder of Meetup, recalling him from the news I watched years ago, and I tweeted them. I asked Scott if he was in town, and I would love to meet up. But we had never connected. I think he had followed me, or we’d been following each other, but we had never connected.

Then it was Demo Day and I tweeted him publicly, he responded, DMed me, and gave me his number. I went down, and I took a walk. That was the start of the relationship.

I also met this woman, one of the founders of Waze, which was sold to Google for a billion dollars. I’m just putting myself in these positions to build these relationships, even if it requires me to fly to New York or take a bus down to LA.

As time passed, I started understanding the knowledge, one more of the lexicon, and how people talk about their ideas. t I was able to take all those learnings and kind of do some artistic shit in the pandemic to be able to raise.

James

Yeah. Let’s talk a bit about the dynamics of the actual fundraising process, which I would call a unique way for a black person. From a different point of view, this might not have been so intuitive to you, but something you would pick up over time, especially when it comes to doing these things.

I think people have to realize there is always some serendipity involved. There’s always some sort of timing involved. And these billion-dollar companies weren’t built because they’re just going to be billion-dollar companies like that tight. During the pandemic, you couldn’t do everything else before. You wouldn’t be in a position to do anything.

So let’s talk a little about that run. How do you kick off the fundraising process? How did you become the person to think that you’re in to create?

Vernon

Yeah. So we raised a little bit of money, and a little less than 50, 60k. And when you’re in Cali, there’s nothing safe. There’s nothing to build a company off of, especially in consumers. So we started getting some results. I think we had burned most of the capital, but we were able to raise 10k.

. I remember waking up every single day at my parent’s house in the mountains in South Carolina because even though I had the apartment in SF, I knew it wasn’t my environment for me to be in.

I saw the writing on the wall that shutdowns were going to happen. We raised a little bit before, but one can’t go to market right now with the company you have. It doesn’t make sense.

Then there was a lot of hysteria around, like a downturn and all this other stuff. You know what? I don’t care what is being said on the media or Twitter. I don’t even care what my friends are telling me about the state of the world. The fact of the matter is, I’m just going to build.

I remember talking to different people about this product, like Paul Davidson. Before dropping Clubhouse, I talked to him because we met in San Francisco. Before the shutdown, we talked about the product and the aspect of designing simplicity, synchronous, and social, and we’re seeing things pop up with the video.

Fast forward, in 8 to 12 weeks, we did it. We conceived and built an entire product. It was janky and rough, but it was an app that took you to open a browser for video. And then, we later integrated video as time went on. It was enough to start getting things going with less than 100 people. I’m talking less than 50. Mind you, add 1000s, 10s of 1000s users, and all that stuff.

I also learned that as consumers, your users don’t matter. Most of everything, your metrics don’t matter before you’re honest. Right? It’s how you form your thesis and what you have. It’s like lining up the whole story. So anyway, we had that. I had this relationship or connection with Sam Walton because I ran into him at the Apple Store and asked him what YC does for black people. I didn’t go up to him and talk about my company, even though I wanted to raise money and all this stuff. He’s someone I watch. He was probably one of the first people I ever watched from YC. But the thing was, I was an artist first, and I’m always going to say what I feel and do as I feel, and everything will follow.

We had an interesting conversation that day ended up. We exchanged personal emails. Two years later, Sam talked about something unclear about black funding, and I reached out to him. He wasn’t at YC anymore. It wasn’t announced at that time yet, but he was ready to hop on a call with me. I was like, I’m busy.

So we talked the next day or two, and we talked about a lot of different things. I spoke of my ideas. And he was already working on something else. Also, I had just finished a pitch deck to apply to NFX fund because they were giving out money and terrible terms. But we got rejected, and they can’t even take a meeting. I was pissed off.

But that deck was what I was able to use on the summary deck and on Sam, as well as this janky product and the metrics we had around it. It sounds like putting a few 100k from my personal funds. And that started to kick. Now I can go back to all these other relationships I have. The founder of Meetup, the founder of Kickstarter, and other VC friends asked for intros.

And then, little by little, it eventually led me to meet the founder of Reddit, and he ended up leaving the round. So that’s a little bit long drawn out. I feel it’s very important to talk about how there wasn’t just the product, and there wasn’t just a deck. It wasn’t just a set of connections. There was all of that plus knowing how to talk about this thing.

James

I got a couple of notes. One, I just want to throw out there. So I have to throw the plug at some point. How did the Transparent Collective help you around the conversation or anything with the deck? How did it play a role in your journey?

Vernon

Transparent Collective was very critical. In that process, we raised an initial set of money to survive the pandemic. Funny enough, they were key in helping us understand how to talk about, frame and condense things.

As founders, sometimes we want to talk about everything about why the idea is great and how it’s better. But the reality is, only a few things really matter. And those are the anchor points of your narrative or your story, and that’s it. So I think that the workshops where we were meeting other investors from, like mock pages, allowing me to talk to you, Lara, Rohini, and Carlos about things and work through these thoughts and ideas were super helpful and critical to learning how to get to a point where you design a deck in a day or two for the NFX thing.

That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone to deck workshops, and just the 10,000 hours are not skippable in the startup game. And you have to plug and chug constantly. Regarding the community, I still keep in contact with Obi or Jada. I want to call it a fund, a firm, or an organization.

James

With that said, I know you cruise over that process. But if I was to ask you for some do’s and don’ts of early-stage fundraising, I feel you’d have a couple of things at the top of your mind.

Vernon

Oh, yes, of course. I wrote a few things on January 1, 2020. I had this idea for something called Human X, where I wanted to start a way for founders to be in founder therapy. It was this idea of having this cool room where eight founders a week come and share what they’re going through. So that was important.

The second thing I wrote down was what VCs wanted to hear and what they did based on people’s perceptions. It wasn’t about what we were doing but how we were framing what we were doing. I thought they didn’t want to hear about college campuses. They don’t think it’s too small. They don’t want to hear any business model. They don’t want to hear some of these things. Now, you’re not monetizing, and you’re targeting college campuses. They want to hear Gen Z about the same thing, right? Just literally framing it in a larger conversation.

So I started to think that one, you must paint the largest picture you can that’s as clear and concise as possible. Two, clarity is better than density. Sometimes we try to make things as simple as possible. But it’s not clear, especially when you use a bunch of buzzwords.

We were workshopping last night, building a product, constantly working every day, and getting ready to release ClickApp. We form connections in your communities. So what does that mean? Well, what is community? Oh, well, a community is like Discord, a group chat. Okay, cool. How about forming connections? Well, we make sure it’s really where they hang out through video chats and in person. Okay, so you help people, take their group needs, message group chats and discord servers, and allow them to connect through video and in-person experiences. It’s a little bit more lengthy.

And we’re going to workshop that even more, but it says more of what you actually do. It was so dense that nobody understood you, nobody cared about you. Also, I think one key thing is understanding why this should exist in this world. I think it’s important for a consumer.

But I like to look at us and ask, why do you really want this? I know people say you shouldn’t do that. But at least for how I build, I’m very instinctual. I talk to people and stuff, but I’m very instinctual about whether something should be like this or that. I like to ask why not this or why not that. Be honest with yourself because that helps you go and have a conversation. Then you can start thinking about the other customer or VC types and knowing who to target because if you don’t know what you’re doing or why they exist, you don’t even know who to target to sell your stuff to.

James

That part of the conversation is super important. It’s like knowing where the real value people derive from it. It can’t be just fully driven by you. This person wants to bring it into the world and has to be received by people. And I’m going to take you a bit off track because you said something I felt was important earlier. Also, I honestly feel it is the one thing I learned from you.

Watching you was like watching my younger version in a different timeframe. I see it now. Remember you said the metrics don’t matter, right? It’s not that they don’t matter because they don’t matter to them. They still matter to you. So even if somebody’s helping people, they matter to me because I knew how hard it was for you to create them. But everybody else who embraces these checks has never done it before. So it doesn’t matter to them.

Vernon

And the ones that have written the checks and done it are so far from their identity as a builder that they’re now evaluating you as how VC should evaluate you. I think they should evaluate you in a way that lets you raise your next round, so they can raise their next fund, right? Sometimes, founders get into a pit of “I need to hit these metrics to raise my next round,” which VCs do when they get a metric to hit to raise their next round. Obviously, there are more genuine people in certain scenarios, but you realize that you have to separate ideas. It’s like you are programmed to think a certain way, but that’s not their program.

James

Yeah, for sure. And is there any strong trick you put out there to tell people this is what you do to be able to push your fundraising conversation forward?

Vernon

I look at the design and raising, then I look back and ask why I was in it. I look at it as a film. It’s like getting somebody to come to the theaters. It’s like you have a teaser trailer and a movie. The best part about the people who weren’t convinced to see the movie after the teaser and the trailer are the other people who talked about the movie. So you need people to talk about it. You got to give them something to talk about.

Now, the teaser is like an initial email, that small blurb that somebody forwards to somebody. Before that, you must be willing to go back a bit to try to raise and spend three or six months on building connections relentlessly.

People believe in your process when you bring them into the process. It’s how you get right when you arrive at something, and they need to feel it was their idea. Or they need to feel they were a part of your journey and helped you arrive at where you are now. They want to support that. There are a few psychological factors, but before that even happens, or after that happens, you’ve got a small blurb, and you lay out a clear process.

Also, I think it’s smart to tranche rounds. So you’re raising a seed round of 5 million. I would say break it up into 5 million caps, 8 million caps, and 14 million caps, then break it into 500k at this cap and that cap. People thought I was a little weird when I was doing this. Even the people who gave us money wondered why I did it. Well, I’m inventing my path and playbook on how you raise, and this is just what I felt made sense. And it worked.

I have plenty of smart people telling me to stop doing it. Then we started hitting different milestones that encouraged people to close or commit, which allowed you to join the next conversations. When I think about the trailer, it’s like a summary deck or a memo. They got the teaser because of this small blurb that encouraged people to watch the whole trailer. So they look at this summary deck, and it’s so simple. Our summary deck was super simple. I’m happy to show it later. We have less than 13 slides, including the team in the investor slides.

Lastly, when we talk about the film itself, make sure that your blurb, trailer, summary deck, and what you say in those meetings lead to a court thesis. These come from a story and a narrative designed from the onset but appear very natural and not much of anything. It’s a little more drawn out, but I’d like to get the nuances of this stuff because it’s really not as simple as getting intros. Like no, that’s not how this works.

James

Yeah, and I think it’s also important to emphasize the fact that running it in such a process or using some of these tips requires time to build relationships. So the pipeline number of conversations is not so limited, right? If you’re only going to be talking to 10, or 20 people, you can’t run that process. Like you need to be talking to tons of people.

Vernon

You told me if you’re not having two or three meetings a day, you’re not raising. You’re not doing it.

Well, now that makes it very quantitative. Are you having this amount of meetings a week or not? If not, they’re not happening. It’s simple.

James

Yeah, it changes up because I’m always around right now. Once you’ve done that, or in my case, where you never did that, you build something that matters, then you choose whether you want to get down or not. You can talk to five people and get a few million dollars. But at the onset, nobody knows. You have to chew up those conversations to make that happen. It’s like wrapping up and then getting some questions. Know where you’re now, what made you pivot the brand name, and what you see coming over the remainder of the year.

Vernon

In short, the true product-market fit has an insane amount of growth and cultural relevance, and it’s at its highest level in terms of what I see coming this year. But it was more than a brand main pivot or rebranding. We’ve done what we’ve done at Morehouse, Spellman, and Clark. We’ve now seen this grow at UT Austin. We’ve run the IRL, college person experiment, and adoption experiment. We’ve talked to other founders, some of whom are investors who have now raised $10 million for their college-based social networks. Others are my friends who are at these companies raising $5 million.

One key thing here is that it costs a lot of money, intention, and time, besides just building a great product to gain adoption on a college campus. So, if you want to do college campuses this year, you must be taught and prepared to capture that same density level. I’m talking about 40, 60% density in 15 to 20 campuses over the next three months, so you need to be prepared to drop $2 million.

You need to have that many campuses quickly and spend that money because there’s a way to do these campaigns, considering the average acquisition costs. For every user that doesn’t turn out on a college campus, you have to spend 15$ to $30. You still have to get a certain amount of density and get the product right for it to be useful when people aren’t in school. This is how you don’t lose all the things you just built.

We looked at it as a few things.

One, we’re targeting a completely new market. I’m talking about older Gen Z whose first work was remotely remote and are either back at home or moving to a city with no real social environment to create community. So they’re most likely 23 to 28 years old.

Two is that instead of being a free app or one day monetizing, we’re going to be a $3/month or base membership to use the product. The product is no longer like a feed in terms of a social network. It’s all driven based on community. It’s like what Slack did for teams, in the sense of how they took to email and made it better. So it’s a place that takes Discord, these group meetings, and group chats and turns them into real communities where you can truly interact with one another.

For us, this isn’t Realtime anymore. You should not be holding on to the years of inference. I laid out all the learnings from Realtime over the years, and these are the things we’re going to build ClickApp upon these learnings, but it’s not the same thing.

James

Now that makes sense. Definitely. So it’s good to reset those consumer expectations and things of that nature. Between the people who had been using it, who may continue using the product, and even the press, anybody who gets involved isn’t holding hands with old things.

There’s one question I didn’t ask you, which is a little bit out of order, but I definitely want you to at least put the thoughts out there. As you’re building a company, and the real thing becomes building a team, what have you learned about team building and putting the right people in the room to grow a product?

Vernon

I think the story is not finished yet because I believe there are multiple ways to build a team. There is one true way to build something sustainable. You have people that don’t just do work or complete tasks or check off things on Lever or Asana or whatever the case may be. But you also have people you can think with, build with, and are talented. They’re feeding you. That’s reciprocity throughout the whole relationship.

One thing you can’t do in this game is stop, especially once you’ve raised. And it’s not simply because of pressure from the vessels, POC, and all that, but from a perspective of needing to keep moving and learning if you’re not learning. Or else you’re just slowly dying. You’re prolonging your death. Right?

James

That’s a Sean Greene quote. Yeah, every day, if I’m not growing, I’m dying every day.

Vernon

If you’re not inching towards the things that will tell the formula that’s going to work, it’s not it. So I think there are times when you need people who can execute on task and go when you have a clear vision and are clear on how that vision is implementable. But you must be very careful in building the whole team that way.

You need to bring in people who will be your thought partners and thought leaders and push the company forward to figure out things. I’m saying this because what happens once you get success from a group of people that just did what you asked them to do? Well, it’s how you’ll keep it because you have to think about using this growth rate, so you just disallow.

So your team is one of the most important, if not the most important. I would say otherwise if it weren’t so hard to raise and build that network, but it was equally as important to build relationships with talented people, which I’m not doing now because I always say if I knew what I do now, then what would I change and I’ll just change it.

James

You can’t change that because that component comes more naturally to those who have been the typical founders. They’ve also been given more access to jobs like that, right? So those people who worked at Google went to the Ivy League and did those things. That stuff starts to come intrinsically, having been in those environments.

Vernon

Right, exactly. What I do now is I reach out to people I think are talented. I fly out to people that I want to work with today or in the future. I’m just building this network. As you know, we have a lot of very talented people on the team full time now and some contractual. But the reality is, you have two people like CEOs who are just tired of raising money. They have the vision like it’s really true.

In the day, especially when you know what you’re doing and so, you know, teams are very critical. I’m also not doing this for most stuff anymore. We’re in the process of getting an office in Tribeca/ Soho, and our next few hires are all in person. I don’t believe you can build a great consumer company fully remote, pre-product market.

James

I think that’s your story. Yeah. But I think it’s possible in other fields because it’s about human interaction. So if you guys are not figuring it out, and you know, it’s really impressive thing, even pre-product market fit for anything. Being with the core team in person is just going to be different.

Vernon

I mean, I just want to reduce latency always. So in something where you’re selling to businesses, you might have an approach and learn over a two-week, three-week, four-week, or six-week period. For consumers, you can have them pay today. Test it tomorrow, and change it. So it’s the latency of having a scheduled call that pings them. I’m not doing it.

James

Yeah, for sure. All right, man. Let’s open up the floor to a few questions before we wrap up here.

Audience

Oh man, I have a question. So here’s the question, king. There’s a little bit of noise going on in my head. So what is the one thing you would tell your younger self?

Vernon

This is going to sound like the cheesiest thing ever. But I would literally say, always follow your instinct. No matter what. That’s all I would say because my instinct is what allowed us to raise. My instinct is what allowed us to build certainty. My instinct allowed me to call people for 10 minutes, and then boom, this intro happened, or this thing happened.

Leaning on my instinct is something I lost over the last year. Probably from last summer to the start of this summer, I lost my confidence, and I thought I had never faced impostor syndrome and never felt any of that stuff. But that was a trip because of different things that were happening. And I found it’s just me and money and other things, as opposed to really leaning on instinct.

If I look back at all the money we could have, we could have saved here or done this. But all these were lessons to learn, which is why we raise money. You have to learn lessons to get to the inevitable. So yeah, I would just tell myself always to follow my instinct no matter what.

James

I think that’s a good one. You can learn a lot of stuff but frame it. Make sure your instinct is present in the decisions you’re making. Yeah, I like that.

Audience

I see a question. How has raising VC money changed the way you approach your company?

Vernon

It’s a good question. Honestly, I was like, this is how startups should work. You have to get the test product, which costs time and money. You have to test hiring in a way you’re not testing and hoping that every hire is a great hire.

But the reality is, it’s not true. You have to put yourself in environments, especially in a remote area, fly to these cities to get in the room with people now and get certain knowledge or information for the raising or building products or working growth channels. You need capital to do this. It’s made me just more who I already was. So I was always an instinctual person. I would go down, hop on a bus to LA or fly out to New York and crash on the couch. But now it’s just like, I’ll fly out to Miami and stay at the hotel where I know certain people will be because it puts me in a position. It made it to where I looked at the capital as a resource to speed things up. And I try to look at how to leverage that resource as smartly as possible.

James

I would say that’s a keynote note right there, right? It’s about leveraging the resources to speed things up. I think too often when you have resources, you don’t try to leverage the resources to do things the way you would at that moment. Once you get those resources, you have to change your mindset a little about how you might do things to make it go even faster than you thought possible.

You got a little bit of money, you can survive, and you can use it as a weapon. Like, you can be on the offense instead of operating and being defensive along the way. You can really own something like this. The money for venture capital is about owning a market. It’s not about building a business.

Vernon

Exactly. You can’t just say we were making a little bit here. I have friends that were at 500k ARR and killed those entire businesses to start something new. Not like the whole business, but this is not the product that will get us to 10 million and 100 million ARR.

I’ve seen it. If it’s a win or not, I know people don’t like to hear the winner take all that. That’s fine. Just don’t raise venture capital.

James

Yep. It’s not a game. Well, I think that’s the biggest wrap-up there. Unless there’s another thing in the queue here, shout out your socials quickly so that people can follow you.

Vernon

I’ll be on my socials: @VernTheLegend on Twitter and @vernnew on Instagram. If all of you need anything, feel free to reach out through a DM, a LinkedIn message, or whatever. My email is vernon@userealtime.com.

James

So all right, cool, man. Well, I appreciate you coming out to spend the time. Thanks for everybody showing up. Appreciate the time.

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Transparent Collective

Transparent Collective

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Transparent Collective helps Black, Latinx, and women founders access the connections & resources needed to succeed.