This week in the TZ Startup Hot Seat is Andy Wilson, CEO of Graphight which he considers “the ultimate networking tool.” By aggregating all of your existing address books and professional networks, it tracks who you know and how well you know them so that you can systematically enhance the value of your business network.
What made you decide to begin working on your company?
In my roles as a Venture Capitalist and high tech CEO, my professional networking skills have been crucial in my day-to-day operation — so at this point, I have accumulated a digital rolodex of almost 3,000 business contacts. Staying on top of all those contacts is a constant challenge, and it is only getting more complicated with the growth of all the communication and social networking platforms. I searched the market for a tool that would help me systematically nurture new contacts into valuable relationships and also enable me to tend to those relationships that I already I have – but unfortunately, I could not find any solution. So, like most people, I was relying on my intuition and memory to guide my professional networking efforts; but even for the best of networkers, this leaves a lot of room for error and often results in high value contacts falling through the cracks. I figured there had to be a way to make the process of managing and developing professional networks more organized, focused and efficient. When we came up with the idea of an algorithm that could measure and score your relationship strength, combined with a way to automatically track your networking activities, I knew that was the answer. . . . because if you can measure it you can manage it.
What is the market opportunity?
It’s huge. Graphight is a relevant solution for the 10 million business professionals who must effectively manage their networks in order to “make the cash register ring”. This includes a wide range of professions, such as salespeople, wealth managers, insurance brokers, lawyers, commercial real estate agents, just to name a few – and in all cases, they have to focus a significant part of their time on developing relationships “above the funnel”, in order to ensure their future business 6 months to a year down the road . We believe that Relationship Management is a $1-2B market segment that is not yet being addressed in the broader $10B CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software industry.
How big is your team?
We have a core team of 5 very experienced full time employees, leveraged by contractors and part time resources . . . and growing.
Are you Funded? How did your company get its initial funding? How much funding do you currently have?
We have raised $500K of funding so far from Momentum Ventures and several prominent angels, such as Jim Armstrong of Clearstone Ventures, Sean Moriarty of Mayfield Fund and the former CEO of Ticketmaster, as well as Ted Meisel of Elevation and the former CEO of Overture, to mention just a few. We anticipate seeking a formal series A round in late Q2
What made you want to start your own company?
It’s what I do. I’ve been incubating and accelerating companies for the past 6 years through Momentum Venture Management and love the entrepreneurial experience. I am excited to return to my roots where I can focus my energy on a single enterprise rather than jumping across a portfolio.
Have you ever needed to change direction/focus with your company? If so, what was that like?
No so far with Graphight but I certainly experienced the “pivot” at other Momentum portfolio companies. Many companies come to a point where they have to change their focus, and it can be challenging, but it can also represent an opportunity to grow in new ways. The important thing is to keep a very close pulse on your market and to make sure the company is structured and has a mindset that allows it to nimbly shift direction when necessary.
How do you deal with competitors? Do you keep up with other companies doing similar things?
You cannot successfully nurture a start-up without keeping a close eye on competitors! However, in the case of Graphight, there aren’t any true direct competitors. Other companies in this space are providing products that are more complementary to ours, rather than competitive. We are focusing on measuring and scoring relationship strength, known as “relationship management”, while several other companies are focused instead on aggregating information around your contacts and connecting like-minded professionals. In watching them, we are typically thinking more in terms of collaboration than competition. The space for relationship management is large and undeveloped.
What are the most difficult and best things about being an entrepreneur?
Lack of sleep, the intense amount of hours, the starting pay… all are pretty tough aspects of being an entrepreneur. Watching your creation come to fruition and succeed is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s quite a roller-coaster – thrilling, a little scary and exhilarating all at once. . . . .all in all, it’s addictive!
Describe your company’s culture.
Very international, very genius, dedicated and involved… with a daily dose of really stupid humor. We try to take our work seriously but not ourselves. . . . .life is too short!
What’s one of your most successful decisions?
Recruiting talented professionals I’d already worked with and trusted for the initial core team.
Where have you struggled? What mistakes have you made that you believe other entrepreneurs could learn from?
The original concept was a bit too complex. Based on early feedback from our advisors and potential users, we greatly simplified the concept to be more approachable. Focusing the product offering and software interface to better address the core needs of our customers, rather than emphasizing the science behind relationship management, has been a good improvement.
Who are your three most influential entrepreneurs?
Steve Jobs — so great at product design & building a brand
Jeff Bezos — stuck to his vision despite the naysayers
Marc Benioff — he is outrageous but he truly believes in his product and is not afraid to cheerlead
What does “failure” mean to you?
Quitting . . . .simply not an option
What does “success” mean to you?
Right now? Bringing the product in on time and keeping the lights on until it gets perfected. Eventually? Being known as the company that successfully brought relationship management into the mainstream.
What is coming up next? Your goals, new products, new direction? (Either for you as an entrepreneur or for the company as a whole)
We’re excited to get real customers using Graphight — I encourage people to get in the queue for our beta. I cannot wait to get their feedback as we quickly iterate to get to a general release in Q2.