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The Secret Science of Fundraising (Part 1 of 2)

Jason Yeh
January 5, 2021
43
 MIN
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Listen on Apple Podcasts
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January 5, 2021
43
 MIN

The Secret Science of Fundraising (Part 1 of 2)

Much like the "secret master plan" for his company Levels, Sam Corcos openly talks about what he was able to decipher when it comes to the science of fundraising. This is exciting because fundraising approaches have traditionally been shared with tribal knowledge, feel-based language. In this conversation, Sam talks about how how he decided to follow his training as a scientist rather than rely on fundraising folklore. The result was a data driven process that has left even the most experienced investors speechless. Part 1 of this 2 part series focuses on how he built the base for his approach and features inspiration for 2021 goal setting.

Episode Summary

Much like the "secret master plan" for his company Levels, Sam Corcos openly talks about what he was able to decipher when it comes to the science of fundraising. This is exciting because fundraising approaches have traditionally been shared with tribal knowledge, feel-based language. In this conversation, Sam talks about how how he decided to follow his training as a scientist rather than rely on fundraising folklore. The result was a data driven process that has left even the most experienced investors speechless. Part 1 of this 2 part series focuses on how he built the base for his approach and features inspiration for 2021 goal setting.

Topics Discussed

  • Sam's background[2:11]
  • Sam’s first experience starting and running a company [4:52]
  • The influence of the On Deck fellowship [6:58]
  • The early origins of Levels [8:45]
  • Transitioning from CTO to leading fundraising pitches [12:27]
  • Sam’s thesis on networks [15:38]
  • How the Levels co-founders vetted potential funds [21:47]
  • How personal relationships led to an angel army [25:57]
  • Sam’s goal of keeping in touch with 1,000 people per quarter [26:43]
  • Jason breaks down the episode and discussion concepts with show producer, Olivia Reingold [30:00]

Resources Mentioned

Follow Us

Sam Corcos
Levels
Funded
Jason Yeh (host)
Contact Us
  • Reach out to us on social or email me directly at jason@fundedpod.com if you have any questions or would like to share your story with us!
  • Subscribe to the Funded newsletter at funded.substack.com

If you’re fundraising, make sure you send your materials via a document sharing tool. Even if they weren’t our presenting sponsor, we’d still recommend you use DocSend - www.docsend.com

Also, group giving is an amazing way to bring teams closer together and give back. If you already are a part of a group that supports charities together or if you run an organization that is looking for a positive team building activity, we highly recommend you start a giving circle on Grapevine for FREE (www.grapevine.org)

Episode Transcript

Jason (host): [00:00:00] Before we start the show. I wanted to let you all know that this conversation with Sam Corcos, the founder behind Levels was one of our most fascinating interviews yet we talked for over an hour and honestly I could've kept going. And it was that interesting. So instead of leaving some golden moments on the cutting room floor, we decided to turn the interview into a two part series, starting with the episode you're about to hear now.

Sam: [00:00:27] I've had the quarterly goal of staying in touch with a thousand people that I care about. And it takes a lot of time, probably 30 hours a week, but it's also the single most valuable thing that I do.

Jason (host): [00:00:43] This is funded to show her founders who raised millions in venture capital share the gritty side of what it actually took to get that money in the bank. I'm Jason Yeh, your host. Not too long ago, I was trying to get my ideas funded. And back in the day, I was a VC listening to founders, pitch me for money.

How often do you talk to your colleagues from your very first job? When was the last time you emailed your favorite professor from college or that person? Who did you a small favor five years ago. For me, I think most people, the answer is those check-ins have been sitting on my to-do list for ages, but that isn't the case for Sam Corcos, because what you'll discover very soon is that Sam isn't, most people.

As you heard, he keeps in touch with thousands of connections. In fact, that's the reason he points to for how they were able to quickly launch Levels, an innovative health tech company with a cutting edge bio wearable device to track metabolic health. Part one of our two part series with Sam is all about the power of relationships and networking, because the way he talks about this fairly well covered topic is unique and special.

Like with most other things in his life, for him, it's not an art, it's a science and one that he approaches like everything he does, he gives it everything he's got.

Sam: [00:02:11] I'm probably pathologically competitive itself. It is maybe, uh, the, the single greatest motivator for things that I do. I also play a lot of board games. That's, uh, like new unique and interesting strategy games are something that I really enjoy, uh, learning how to do. I, I, uh, I really liked playing board games against people who are better than me, cause I always tend to learn something from them.

It's, uh, it's a really fun thing. 

Jason (host): [00:02:41] And it's, uh, it's so tempting to start jumping to the future of the board game that you played, uh, against venture capitalists. But, uh, I don't want to do that. I'd rather ask, um, you know, if you put yourself in the seat of 13 year old, Sam, would you have imagined the career for your, uh, for yourself and where you got to today?

Sam: [00:03:03] Not at all. Um, I, when I was, is that age, the thing that was most interesting to me, to me was science. I, I actually, uh, worked in oncology lab for two summers while I was in high school and, uh, published a paper on non-small cell lung carcinoma, uh, with a med student. And my goal was very much to go the route of like basic research and science.

Um, and that was what I was most interested in. I got, I got pretty frustrated with academic science early on. Through some personal experiences through those two summers. And, um, I'm fortunate that I, I did, because I think, uh, I have a lot of friends who ended up going that path. And, um, it's a little bit late after you get your PhD to decide that you want to do something completely different.

So yeah, I would definitely say it would have been a huge surprise as is not, not the path that I expected I would be on, but I'm glad that I did. 

Jason (host): [00:04:02] I've been able to do some research around your path. It looks like after that stint and research where you dodged a bullet, um, you jumped onto the entrepreneurial train.

And when I look at your background, it does look like elite preparation for a startup. Um, you know, you, you're the CTO, a couple of startups. You went 

through the two prestigious programs and Y Combinator. As well as like the very buzzy On Deck fellowship program. Um, so a lot of stuff went into getting to you to where you are today.

Um, as you look back on all those experiences, what do you see from each of those things that kind of drove you to one, starting Levels and then two, set you up for what you know, and what you executed? Um, just a few months ago. 

Sam: [00:04:52] I honestly, I think the biggest ones were more like emotional hurdles to overcome, you know, when, when my first company, which I started largely just after college, when my first company effectively failed, it was in construction software and we were doing, I think, 60 to $80,000 a year in revenue after a year of effort.

And it was pretty clear. We bootstrapped it so we didn't raise any capital for it, but it was pretty clear it was not going to grow in the way that we wanted it to. And in the back of my mind, was this lingering fear that everyone would perceive me as a failure. And like, my life would be worse. And it just, wasn't the case.

When you give it your best effort and you stay a high integrity person and you don't cheat people and you're making an honest effort to do your best people actually really respect it. Um, there's, there's a quote. Which I think has a lot more to do with like vulnerability and conversation generally. But I found that really resonated was, um, what we see as courage and others, we see as weakness in ourselves.

And so when you see like, man, that was such a brave thing for that person to do, but like if I did that, everyone would see me as weak. And it really just being able to, to see yourself from like a third-party perspective and having been through it and being on the other side of it, realizing like everyone, everyone was very positive as opposed to very negative.

And it really, it was mostly the emotional hurdles to overcome that were, I think the most influential. 

Jason (host): [00:06:29] Yeah. And you know, it's, it's funny. I think you describe some elements of imposter syndrome, things that I see in a lot of super elite founders, executives, et cetera. I'm actually thinking about myself here.

It took way longer, deep into my thirties to get that realization that it sounds like, um, kind of your early startup experience really drove you towards very, very cool to hear. You know, the thing that I want to transition to is a little bit about On Deck and why you decided to go into On Deck and how it led you to this company in particular.

Sam: [00:07:06] Yeah On Deck primarily I got involved because it was just intellectual really interesting to me. 

Jason (host): [00:07:11] Hmm. Tell me more about that. 

Sam: [00:07:13] Yeah. Um, I, I've been thinking a lot about what, what is it that gets society to the next level. And, uh, there's actually a great book by Andrew Yang. Smart People Should Build Things, that, uh, I wish I had read it in college.

It would have really. Helped a lot, but I remember reading it and there were moments in this book where he talks about the social pressure to go into finance or law. If I'm just like, I lived with this, this book, this book is describing my lived experience and how hard it is to overcome those emotional barriers of like, Leaving a comfortable job and being judged by your parents and like being, uh, taking those risks.

It's a really hard thing to do. And the thing that I liked intellectually about on deck is that it is a program that the goal is to increase top of funnel of people, starting companies. And they find really capable people who probably otherwise may or may not start their own company. They might also just be perfectly happy being an engineer at Google.

But if you provide them an ecosystem of support where they can see other people who have done it and they think like, wow, this is actually achievable. If you can increase the number of people who are willing to take those risks, uh, I think the world will be better. So that was really my main motivation for getting involved was just to understand how this works.

Um, I'm a huge fan of what they're doing, if they can really scale that out. I think, I think it will have a meaningfully positive impact on the world.

‍I Took a year off of work after Car Dash and I, I spent the better part of that year thinking through how I wanted to spend my time. And one of the things that I found was I really wanted to work on something that was meaningful.

And I think at, at peak I was experimenting with something like 16 different projects. Um, each of which were like plausible company ideas. And I would put a little bit of time into them. I do some market exploration and I would see like, does this really have potential? And, uh, I would call my friend, Eric. Eric's now at Founders Fund, but he's a friend from college and I would call him somewhat regularly and pitch him on my ideas and he would always shoot them down and he would apologize for it.

So then I'm like, I'm really sorry that like I keep saying no to all your ideas. And I kept telling him like, every time you say no to an idea saves me like five years of my life. So like, I should be thanking you more than anything. And, uh, it's just helpful to, to socialize these things and to learn from it.

And, uh, what I did end up getting from On Deck specifically, I met my co-founder Andrew. Um, we have five co-founders at levels. Andrew is one of them and he's an incredibly capable and he's, uh, he manages all engineering at the company. I've been on the technical side for basically my entire career. So I thought it would be a lot harder for me to let go of it.

But Andrew is so capable that anytime I look into it, like on what engineering is up to, they're always way further ahead than I thought we were. 

Jason (host): [00:10:22] You're like, wow, this guy is way better than I was, which is what you want in that co founder. Right. 

Sam: [00:10:28] Exactly. So. 

Jason (host): [00:10:29] What about the very specific topic around, um, high-level health and optimization of health, you know, and what sort of drove that for you?

And is that a passion of yours or is it more something you took off the shelf? 

Sam: [00:10:42] I would say less of a personal motivation of like my own health and a lot more to do with solving global scale problems. Um, the thing that really flipped the switch for me taking Levels more seriously was when I started using a continuous glucose monitor, really just as a novelty.

And I didn't expect that it would be interesting. And within a couple of days I started discovering things. Things that I thought were super healthy for my entire life. Like orange juice and oatmeal. And I was seeing numbers that healthy people are not supposed to be able to see. And it was when I started digging into.

The scope of the problem that I started to realize, like, this is a leverage point to start to tackle metabolic dysfunction. I wrote a little bit about this in the secret master plan that we published on our blog, but the, the fact that more than 10% of the United States is already diabetic. And it's increasing at an increasing rate.

Uh, the, the second derivative is positive. When I realized how serious this problem is and that it, it was basically this recognition that this company needs to exist and does not exist yet. And I'm in a position to make it exist. So. I felt some responsibility to do that. This is really the motivator. 

Jason (host): [00:12:06] I would love to transition to what we love talking about here at funded and a little bit more about fundraising.

You know, I want to ask you what your experience level with fundraising was before you. I noticed that you had been a founder co-founder in the past, but you may or may not have been sort of the point person on fundraising. 

Sam: [00:12:27] Yeah. I've I have been. I've always been on the technical side. So this is definitely my first time leading a fundraising effort or being involved in any meaningful capacity.

Um, I have in the past, been in the room during pitch meetings, um, mostly to answer technical questions that people have them. So, um, we bootstrapped my first company, we largely bootstrapped the second one. And then at Car Dash, we, we raised from Index and Felicis and a few others. But my, my involvement in that process is really sitting in and answering questions much more than it was being active in the process.

Jason (host): [00:13:08] After the break, Sam goes from watching from the sidelines to being in the action, calling the plays.

I spend most of my days, one-on-one with founders, helping them understand strategies that make a difference in fundraising. One super important tip I always stress with founders is to make sure they send their decks and materials using a document sharing tool. And for that, I always recommend DocSend. DocSend lets you know, what's happening with your deck after you send it along with real-time analytics and notifications.

Did the VCs actually open it? What slides did they spend the most time on? And if you think it got shared with the wrong people, or maybe you made a mistake and sent it to quickly, DocSend lets you control access and make updates to content even after sending. Sign up for a free two week trial at docsend.com/funded that's D O C S E N D.com/funded.

When you're fundraising for the first time, it can feel a lot like you're winging it because while on the surface asking investors for money seems pretty straight forward. Once you start digging in, you'll find a convoluted mess of hard to access networks, frustrating power dynamics, and make your head spin processes on top of that, no matter how much you Google or endlessly scroll on Twitter, you'll be hard pressed to find a definitive guide.

What you find online from one expert will oftentimes completely contradict another so-called expert. But Sam well. He took a different path and the results were nothing short of amazing. What you're about to hear is not unlike a mad scientist testing ingredients to come up with the perfect potion for fundraising.

It blew me away because these are things I had never thought of before. And I think about this space a lot. I wouldn't jump to this conclusion with all founders, but given your, your scientific background and everything you've told me, it sounds like. And correct me if I'm wrong that there, there probably wasn't a preparation process.

So how did you decide what you were going to do? Did you have mentors, people that you, whose brains you picked, uh, books, we love to kind of hear your process around that. 

Sam: [00:15:38] Yeah, totally. I mean, it was basically just thinking about the fundraising process from first principles and understanding how it works and how information is distributed through venture networks.

During my year off, I actually spent probably a good three months deeply studying network and graph theory, just to better understand how networks work. And one of my biggest conclusions was that in my next company, I wanted to build an early cap table of really well connected angels and founders, specifically people with high eigenvector centrality.

Who can give me access to other disparate networks that I otherwise would not be able to reach? 

Jason (host): [00:16:22] Is that the definition of eigenvector centrality? Or can you give us a couple more words? 

Sam: [00:16:27] You can think of it as like second order centrality. There are many different types of networks and  one is just degree centrality, which is like, it's the more technical term of what people would just call popularity.

How popular is this person? How many people do they know. But you can be, you can have high degree centrality if you're like the mayor of a small town and you know, everyone in the town, you have high degree centrality, but you probably have low eigenvector centrality because you only know people within one dense network.

So I can vector centrality is how many people do the people that, you know, know. So, yeah, it's like one degree beyond that. So people who are very well connected among other people who are well connected are the kinds of people that you want to get involved early. Um, because networks are incredibly hard to predict and they're very complex.

So if you get somebody who is very well connected and can think in a networked to way you can, uh, you can start to get access to things that you would be shocked that you have access to. Like, I want to talk to this basketball player. And you just ask a group of people that, you know, have high eigenvector centrality.

They're like, well, I don't know him personally, but my friend Mark grew up with him. It's like, why, how, how did that happen? 

Jason (host): [00:17:44] Yeah, it would never have guessed it, but yeah, it's there. 

Sam: [00:17:47] Yeah. And this is proven to be an incredibly bountiful source of value for our company. I don't know if you've talked to any of our investors, but I'm pretty aggressive in asking for things.

I probably send an ask once a week to each of our investors of like something that we need as a company, somebody we need to be connected to. And it's been, it's been a huge source of value for us. 

Jason (host): [00:18:06] Well, you know, I'll pause you right there and kind of we'll transition this, some picking apart of this, but you've already said two things that I'm like very, very fond of

encouraging founders around. And the second one is not being shy about asking for help. I think there are a couple of problems that I see with founders a lot. One of them has to do with maybe a little bit of that, of that, um, you know, imposter syndrome or a little bit of that hero's journey. Like I am the founder CEO.

I have to fix every problem. And I'm like, no, like. You've helped people all the way until where you are today. It's now your time to start asking for help, because this is a really difficult journey. And if you don't ask for help, it's going to be very tough. So I'm glad that you're able to put that out there and how much you ask for help.

I think I'm funny enough too, I think investors want to see their founders be the squeaky wheel. Right. Cause they want their best companies to do well, but they won't think about the help that they can give unless it's asked to them. So kudos to you for that. 

Sam: [00:19:04] Yeah. I would actually, I would add to that, that, um, knowing how to ask well is actually something that takes a lot of practice.

Our asks are very specific. I've done a lot of AB testing on this. I used to have our asks within our, our monthly investor update. And I did some testing where I removed the asks from the investor update. And then I, the next day after the update, I would just send a personal message to each of our investors that I would actually type up myself.

And the conversion rate went from like 1% to about 80% on the asks just by reaching out personally. And also, because when you reach out personally, we might have eight things that we need. But I know for example, like Dick Costolo is not going to convert on like seven of these, but he can totally do this one, one, I'll just send him an email without one thing.

And like a specific thing would be. I'm looking to talk to people who understand, uh, data systems with healthcare. Can you tell me the name of one person, you know, who knows a lot about data systems, like being that specific, uh, or I'm looking to connect with other health tech founders, just because I'd like to know more people in the ecosystem who are the two best health tech founders

you know. If, if you give the investor enough of a, a lead where they can spend 10 seconds converting on your request. Uh you're you're much more likely to get those conversions. So that's learning how to ask those questions, I think is also an important skill. 

Jason (host): [00:20:34] So many like helpful tidbits around this. Uh, I could riff forever on these things with you.

Yeah, it's fascinating. So I wanted to go back to that other thing, which is a thing that I love sharing, but you've, I mean, you've broken down, essentially the science behind it. Um, I've always talked about this idea and it's not for everyone, but I call it an angel army strategy. And it's when you're going out to raise you think about, look I'm, I know I want to raise, call it X million dollars.

Let's call it $2 million. But the raising of that $2 million will probably go much faster if I can essentially pull together an angel army, right? So it can be a small amount. It can be a hundred thousand dollars where, you know, the capital that you're raising is less about the dollars for operations and more about bringing what you called.

I've already forgotten the term people with high degree of network. So you, you talked a little bit about knowing that when you did raise money. Okay. That you knew you wanted to bring on a bunch of people like that on to your cap table first. So as you're thinking about executing that step of the process, tell me a little bit about how much you had when you were going to talk to these people.

Sam: [00:21:47] Yeah. I mean, the, the thing that we indexed on most heavily was do they care about what we're doing? And I think that's something that is often underestimated. Like we've, we've turned down capital from some very brand name people because like they wanted to put in capital, but they just, they weren't excited about what we're doing.

And I, I'm a believer that the world is, is bountiful. And you can find people who are, uh, equally notable, but who are also interested, who actually care about what you're doing. And so that was the first thing. It was just like, do they care? And oftentimes the answer was no. And if the answer is no, it's just like a polite pass.

The second would be how willing are they to be active? And like we set the expectation pretty early on, and many people, uh, opted out just saying like, look, I love what you guys are doing, but I'm going to be honest. I don't even have one hour per month that I can answer these questions. Like I would send them a, one of our most recent investor asks.

And if they say like that's too much for me, It's like totally cool. Like really not a problem. It's totally okay. The next thing would be, we would think through, uh, network access, uh, in terms of just the disparate networks, meaning networks of people that don't overlap. So like there's the, the tech VC world is like one dense network.

Uh, entertainment is a network. Um, robotics is a network like you can, you can think of, there are so many of these networks. So like, uh, fabric manufacturers is a network you can think of like a nearly infinite number of these and like, do they give us access to a new network that we otherwise would not have access to?

And what's interesting is that it's often hard to predict in advance how useful disparate network access will be. Hypothetically, you have somebody in the fabric industry in your network who does apparel. And you're like, well, you know, we're in health tech, why on earth would we need that person? And then six months later,

you're like, man, we really need some expertise on something related to fabric. And we're like, Oh wait, we have a guy who knows everything there is to know about this already. You can just get that information. It's really hard to know.

Jason (host): [00:24:07] Uh, look at how Sam built the network that would get him funded.

Nine months ago, a Zoom fitness community I help run, wanting to make a group donation to support feeding America. That's when I discovered both the excitement and the complexity of group giving. On one hand, our community was thrilled by the prospect of doing good together, but on the other, the complexity of organizing individual donations,

sending communications and providing tax receipts almost kept us from getting started. Luckily we discovered an amazing group giving platform called Grapevine, which takes care of all those challenges for free. If you already run a group that donates the charity together, or if you run a startup or any sort of organization looking for a way to bring your team closer together, I highly recommend starting a giving circle at grapevine.org.

And if you do start one in January, send it my way. And I'll personally donate to your cause. Okay. Back to the show.

Have you ever heard the saying, it's not what you know, it's who, you know? Sam would agree with that. If you've ever slept on networking or thought it was a dirty word, but you're about to hear his motivation to open up that email app and reconnect with people. Sam says that perspective is one of the keys to his success.

Sam: [00:25:47] We, we started the company. We incorporated, I think June 26th of 2019. So a little over a year ago. Um, We started the company by basically just raising a million dollars from other friends of mine. I came to this realization maybe five years ago that I was doing one of these, uh, I guess, I guess you could call a gratitude exercise of just writing down all of the good things that have happened to me in my life and trying to think about them.

And I realized that. Maybe 98% of those things were all because of somebody that I knew and really not because of something that I did, which is kind of a weird recognition that just being, being present and being a high integrity person that other people trust is like 98% of the battle of all of the good things that have happened to me.

Um, and so I really started emphasizing personal relationships after that. Um, I've had the, I've had the quarterly goal of staying in touch with a thousand people that I care about. Um, for several years now. Yeah. 

Jason (host): [00:26:56] Oh my gosh. I love that. 

Sam: [00:26:58] Yeah. And it's, it takes a lot of time, probably 30 hours a week, but it's also the single most valuable thing that I do.

Like my co-founders Josh, I've known for four or five years. And he's somebody that I stayed in touch with. Uh, David I've known for probably six or seven years. Casey is the only person I didn't know beforehand, but she's also kind of the exception that proves the rule because her brother is somebody that I've stayed in touch with for years.

And so when I was telling him about it, he was like, you have to talk to my sister, this is what she has been talking about for years. So like, even that is just through networks and maintaining contact with people that I care about. Um, so like it's beyond just professional. It's also like. Personal personal happiness really comes from this as well.

Um, so okay. When it came time to, yeah. When it came time to raise the initial capital, it was, uh, it was a pretty simple process. I, uh, in fact, I think the first money in was my friend, Zach. Who I had known for probably a year at that point. And we really connected. And, uh, he was early at Zappos and somehow over the course of a year of knowing him, we'd never talked about work.

And I know I knew that he was really into health and wellness. He'd gone through his own health journey. And I was telling him about this idea that I had. And he was like, Oh, well, that's, that sounds really cool. Are you guys raising capital? And I was like, I am thinking about it. Do you know anyone? He's like, you know, I'm a professional venture capitalist, right.

It's was like, I did not know that 

Jason (host): [00:28:29] actually. Very endearing. 

Sam: [00:28:31] Yeah. It's like, yeah. I mean, that, that would be great. And so I, I basically just had some calls with friends that I knew had access to capital who did angel investing and, uh, or who ran funds that could connect me to other angels and founders.

And, um, we, we raised it very quickly. Um, like there were some people, one in particular comes to mind who like wired us $75,000, uh, before even signing the documents. And like, didn't even know what it is we were doing, but like, because I known him for long enough, he was like, whatever it is you're working on, I want to fund it.

Jason (host): [00:29:06] That's great. I mean, I think this, and I'll just say. Something I encourage young entrepreneurs around is like everything you're doing today builds into what you're going to be doing in the future and the things that you'll be able to accomplish with the people around you. Because just telling that story shows how high integrity you are and, and.

And that like, people have been waiting for you to do this. People have been waiting for you to be the man that they could back. Right. So that's right. That's exciting.

That was the first half of my conversation with Sam  founder and CEO of levels as always my producer, Olivia was listening and we were both excited to get to the debrief and unpack all the remarkable things Sam shared with me.

What were your quick, first reactions on everything you heard? 

Olivia: [00:30:00] I mean, so interesting. In some ways he seems like the quintessential guy. I'm, I'm not in the startup world, but he seems like the quintessential startup guy in that he is so data-driven like from what he eats to, who he talks to, to like what, what he talks to people about when he does talk to them.

That was a super interesting perspective to hear. 

Jason (host): [00:30:27] I think that is such a good point because there are a ton of people whose first exposure to the startup world was HBO's Silicon Valley. Right. I imagine Sam being in an episode of Silicon Valley because he is very extreme when it comes to data-driven approaches and how he thinks about those things.

But yeah. I honestly took so many things away from that conversation, things that I would love to bring to other founders, things that I kind of want to bring to my own personal life. Um, he has such a wealth of experience and, um, you know, take such a scientific approach to improving things that you know, where he's landed, um, has really obviously generated some really great results.

So the, you know, especially in the initial part of the conversation, was there anything that. You know, stood out to you as being fascinating or something that we should discuss. 

Olivia: [00:31:21] Definitely his approach to networking. Like that was one place where his data centered approach really shined. Like he talked about this thing called the Eigenvectors centrality.  

Jason (host): [00:31:34] Yeah, of course.

I knew what that was obviously, but D did you know what that was before? 

Olivia: [00:31:41] No. And seeing the way that it's spelled, like Google obviously had to correct it for me. 

Jason (host): [00:31:46] Yeah. I mean, he brought out the terminology that totally blew my mind, but once he explained it was like, ah, that makes so much sense, you know?

I think, yeah. There is so much done, um, within fundraising and within networking. That is so feel-based. But to have someone who is a scientist by trade, explain the inner workings of like how networking works or what the most powerful forms of networking are was such an interesting thing to hear. I talk a little bit about this in the interview and with other founders, but this idea of creating an angel army, which is essentially what he did.

Um, but in a much more detailed and scientific approach, I think is so interesting for people to hear. It's like, you want people that support you, but, um, people that have, uh, high degrees of eigenvector centrality, or in lay terms, people that know people that know people are the most powerful ones that can support you in a fundraise, but honestly, you know, like we, like we talk a lot about in these debriefs can support you in life and it's great life advice, um, was just really interesting to think about.

So, um, I love this idea that knowing people that know people can be such a powerful tool within fundraising. Have you, have you ever thought about that degree of specificity when meeting friends or networking in your own life? 

Olivia: [00:33:19] No. No. It is advice that someone one time gave me this mentor in the journalism space.

One time gave me, and I am embarrassed to say that I didn't really use it, I think because it felt uncomfortable. To me to like ask people. I mean, I was so early on in my career, like to ask people who I already hardly knew that it's something that I found really hard to pull off, I guess, at the beginning of my career, when I didn't really have like solidified connections.

Jason (host): [00:33:53] Yeah and I actually wanted to bring this up too, because I think we have listeners of all ages and experiences within the startup world or within fundraising. And one thing I did want to point out, is that a lot of what Sam talks about is extremely sophisticated levels of thinking. And so for you to even say like, Oh yeah, I get it.

But like, I think that would have been really hard for me to do, uh, at the start of my career. Or even to a certain extent now, you, you, you know, shouldn't feel anxiety around that. Um, It's it's fair to point out that Sam has been a co-founder or a founder and a startup CTO multiple times. He's gone through two incredibly elite programs, um, in Y Combinator, as well as the On Deck fellowship.

And so, you know his ability to say, look, you should cherry pick who you bring into your network and on your cap table. And only bring people that have high degrees of eigenvector centrality is something that he is able to do because he has such a wealth of experience and has already built up credibility and a network where he can start cherry picking.

And so if I were to point out something, as it relates to networking, or like building that part of your career, that is maybe more generally accessible, something that someone can take back with them at an earlier stage of their career, it, it is kind of what he talked about in terms of living a life of integrity, where people respect you and want to support you?

Um, you know, I would say when he was first graduating from college, he probably couldn't lean on a bunch of different networks, but knowing that like everything you're doing today is setting yourself up for something bigger in the future, um, is like a really important mindset is hard to pinpoint where the value

yeah if you're, if you're really rational about things, where's the value in me being a good person today. Um, he describes it perfectly, right. He kept working on small projects, things that weren't exploding, things that never like never really went anywhere until Levels. And so when he went to go raise that first round of capital, like this is his opportunity

to really cash in, on all of the integrity that he's built up. So I thought that was something that was worth pointing out.

Olivia: [00:36:24] One thing that interested me is that he said that he, he wants to tap into different networks. So he wants people from like a diversity of backgrounds. 

Jason (host): [00:36:34] Yeah. I mean, I think there are a couple of reactions I have to that.

So one is this realization that he has a specific product, but there are a diverse set of challenges that the company is going to run into. So yes, it is a healthcare product, but they are a technology company. They are a consumer good. Um, to a certain extent they're a brand and not knowing that in the future, they would do something around fabrics and clothing is just a realization that startups and businesses are highly unpredictable.

Um, so one, knowing that you should surround yourself with a diverse set of talents to help you solve any problem, I think is a really good thing to think through. And then secondly, you know, he, he talked a little bit about friends that would challenge his thinking. Um, and people that helped him refine what he should be doing.

And I think this idea of diverse, uh, voices in a room, you know, it's something that, honestly, in the last couple of years in the startup world has been brought to the forefront. Um, this idea that, you know, boards need to have more diversity group think can be very penalizing to the progress of a company and knowing that, you know, 50% of the population is male and 50% is female.

And if you don't get both perspectives and how you think about solving problems, you're, you're not really considering all the different solutions or the approaches to things. So, um, this idea that diversity and networks can be a very powerful thing. Um, I think it was a great takeaway. 

Olivia: [00:38:16] Yeah. Another cool thing is that he believes that there are enough investors out there who will be interested, um, in his product and will meet all of these criteria.

He's laid out that he, he can find the people he's looking 

Jason (host): [00:38:34] for. 

I mean, there is so much in what Sam talked about in this episode that blows my mind, his, his thinking around life and startups. He's an impressive guy. Um, that comment in general is so tied to this abundance thinking that he, that he brings to the table, which, um, I think is hard for a lot of founders when they're thinking about, um, fundraising that, you know, they have the 10 investors that they,

that they think they have a shot at, at pitching. And so each one is just so precious. Like if I mess up on this one, uh, I might not get funded. Whereas Sam is like, there are thousands in his head and he's like, um, he's ready to pitch an investor, knowing that he's going to mess up in order to learn. Uh he's that's the type of guy he is.

Um, In order to get to the next one to be better. And he almost doesn't care because he just knows that there are more out there and that there are investors that will understand his perspective and what he's trying to do. Um, you know, and it kind of like leads me to thinking about the conversation around networks.

I loved his cataloging of all the good things that have happened to him in his life. And his saying essentially like, almost every one of them, 98, 99% of them weren't because of anything that I did, but just more because of who I knew. And, and with that realization in mind, he was like, man, I really need to

prioritize my personal relationships. I think he said he has a goal to, um, keep in touch with thousands of people. I forget the exact number two to 3000 people every year. And he spends hours and hours a week dedicated to that practice, knowing that it has brought him so much of his own success. And so, you know, for my own self, I have, I heard that and it, you know, it made me

mixture of embarrassed, ashamed. And because like, I know how bad I am at keeping in touch with friends and colleagues, et cetera. Um, and it really did make me want to be better on that one because like, I think 2020 has shown me that even as an introvert, my, my personal relationships and seeing people are super important, but now like hearing.

Again, Sam breakdown. What I sort of instinctually knew into something much more scientific makes me really realize that I need to be focusing on my relationships and networks. 

Olivia: [00:41:08] Yeah, no, you brought up 2020. I'm going to bring up 2021. I think he. Gave us so many new years goals or resolutions, whatever you want to call it.

Like, I am going to channel my inner Sam during 2021 and reach out to people that I've been meaning to check in with people, because I totally believe in what he's saying. You know, it will pay off and it also just would be nice in this time of the pandemic too. I should invest in those connections, you know, just to feel more, um, connected.

Jason (host): [00:41:46] I love that. And I think I'll probably do something similar, a, a Sam from Levels themed, a set of 2021 goals and aspirations, but you know, between concentrating on my network, staying in touch with people and then living a life of integrity. I mean, I, I go back to that one that we can all kind of embrace.

We all remember the first time it's something special to us was exposed as a fraud. For me, it was finding out singers weren't actually singing in music videos. I couldn't believe the first time my sister told me they were lip-syncing. Sam said that's happened to him many times with some of his favorite health 

Sam: [00:42:32] foods.

When I connected the dots for the first time that a lot of these things like green juices

oftentimes they're like 50 grams of liquid sugar. They're not actually great for you. Add 3-4 sec of music interlude (gap in speaking with just music playing)

Jason (host): [00:42:43] Thanks a bunch for listening. If you have any questions about today's show or maybe you're raising money yourself and want some help problem-solving if so, shoot me an email at jason@fundedpod.com. I'd love to hear from you.

Find us on social, where we share fun behind the scenes content. The show is @fundedpod and I'm @jayyeh. That's J A Y Y E H. This week. I'd love listeners to be inspired by Sam and reach out to someone new you've wanted to meet. Or reconnect with an old contact, then tell us how it went. I'll do the same and share on Twitter.

This episode was produced by Olivia Rheingold. Hello, thanks also to Jordan Pascasio from Adamant Ventures. Hey guys, and thanks so much to Sam core coasts, probably the best connected person I know in terms of [indistinct chatter]. You know what I mean.

‍And of course, one last thanks to our sponsor DocSend -the most trusted document sharing platform.


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