Here at Catapult, our goal is for our resident companies to leave. While this may sound harsh and counter intuitive, there is a reason we call our companies "scale-ups." The success of our resident companies is our first priority, and for them to outgrow the Catapult space serves as a testament to their promising futures. To help prepare our resident companies for Life After Catapult, Chicago Ventures hosted a panel with Catapult alumni (and Chicago Venture portfolio companies). Topics ranged from raising capital and finding new office space, to company culture and hiring, to growing pains and lessons learned. Kevin Willer, Partner at Chicago Ventures moderated the candid discussion with Eddie Lou, CEO/co-founder of Shiftgig, Andrew Cronk, CEO/co-founder of TempoIQ, and Aaron Dallek, CEO/co-founder of Opternative.
The audience of Catapult residents was all ears - as it was clear that these alumni know what they’re talking about. Let’s start with Shiftgig’s Eddie Lou who has changed the way service workers get gigs. In 3 years, Shiftgig has over 1,000,000 users and 25,000 registered businesses, and has raised over $13 million. TempoIQ (formerly TempoDB) came to Catapult from TechStars, and has raised over $4.1 million in 2 rounds of funding. Andrew Cronk was measuring and analyzing sensor data for the Internet of Things before IoT was even a thing. Aaron Dallek's Opternative is disrupting and innovating the eyecare industry with the first ever online refractive eye exam that will provide a valid prescription. In 2 years, Opternative has raised over $2 million.
On Raising Capital:
While the alumni had different types of capital raises, they agreed that raising capital is about more than just the money - although the money is nice! "Find the right investor that will be here for the long term," said Dallek. Cronk strongly advised to "find the 'crazy one,' the true believer, and everyone will follow. Get deep with that one person first."
On Company Culture:
They may go about it differently, but all 3 CEO’s work hard at having a strong company culture. For Lou, culture at Shiftgig comes from "communication and leadership" - it doesn't have to come from the physical office space. In contrast, Dallek feels the office environment is important to the culture, and works hard to create a “homey” environment at Opternative. Whether it’s using a “cultural playbook”, monthly self-reflection/self-learning exercises, or weekly team meetings, company values play a big part in how these founders lead their companies.
The conversation about Company Culture clearly resonated with our current residents. As Aksh Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Occasion said:
"First off, it is absolutely great to see Catapult alums doing well. What I believe Catapult enables companies to do, and what attracted us here, is what these panelists talked about today: company culture does not need to wait until your own space. You can start building your own company culture at Catapult."
Hiring is a key part of growth and in many ways tied to company culture. Andrew Cronk advocates for having a defined strategy for hiring tech talent - and being transparent about it. In fact, he has written about TempoIQ’s process: "How we do technical hiring at TempoIQ". On the other hand, he recently hired for sales which he joked "is a very different process." Aaron says about interviewing candidates, "It's as much a sales pitch for your company as it is a screening process." When you’re ready to ramp up your team, Eddie Lou strongly suggests bringing on a head of HR to “get ahead of talent” - advice that was given to him by a trusted advisor. While you may not think you need this, it will ensure the quality of prospects and provide processes for onboarding.
On Real Estate:
Obviously, outgrowing Catapult means finding new office space - which, according to these three alumni, is not the most fun part of company growth. They talked candidly about the ups and downs of finding the right space. They discussed the benefits of short terms leases and the importance of understanding broker lingo.
Thank you to Chicago Ventures and Kevin Willer for hosting the lively discussion (and bringing in lunch!). And thank you to the panel of Catapult alumni Eddie Lou, Andrew Cronk, and Aaron Dallek for participating and sharing their candid experiences.