According to Fortune, the 2020 IPO market was breathtaking. Baker McKenzie recently shared a recent report that mentions a 41% increase in volume of listings compared with 2019. US IPOs accounted for 130 billion dollars of capital raised across 411 listings, a 118% increase in capital raised in 2019.
But each of these now public companies started as the vision of a group of individuals. And, it’s venture capitalists like Elizabeth Yin, founder of the Hustle Fund, that often make the difference between a dream denied and one that grows up to become a Unicorn.
I was introduced to Yin through Ben Huffman, CEO of the very successful freelance startup Contra.com. I found her comments – what she looks for in making investments, and the difference between startups that make it and those that don’t – very enlightening. The Hustle Fund focuses on very early stage startups. As Yin, who was previously a senior member of the 500 Startups team running the accelerator program at scale, explained her learning from that experience, three learnings stood out to me as helpful tests of whether the startup is likely to succeed:
1. Learn and adapt quickly. A new startup can anticipate hard knocks, dead-ends and moments of confusion as you experience “agile whiplash”. The key test for a startup team is how fast you can learn, pivot, and clarify a compelling and financially viable vision and value proposition. “A successful startup team is focused, learning fast and sharply focused on the critical things.”
2. Speed and quality of execution is a strong differentiator. As Yin pointed out, “At 500 Startups, watching hundreds of teams, I noticed that the most successful startups excel at the speed of execution. Time is a much scarcer resource than money. A successful startup team de-risks its product or service as early as possible and operates a hustle speed.”
3. Although not one of her key decision factors, Yin also commented on the importance of the co-founder relationship. She points out that starting up a new enterprise inevitably tests the co-founder relationship as difficult decisions need to be made about the business, product, and team. As she said, “You go through hard decisions and have to make tough choices.” But The challenge is maintaining the partnerships over time. It’s not easy but it is important.
Yin’s wise counsel got me thinking about TmrO (TmrOapp.com), a relatively new freelance platform supporting creatives in the music industry, led by CEO Kayla Shelton and Don Cannon as co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer. The platform works closely with music creatives, and offers a marketplace connecting opportunity to 1100 skilled designers, musicians, song writers, and videographers operating primarily in the US.
Shelton and Cannon are, first and foremost, creatives themselves. Cannon, described as an industry innovator and mogul by Respect magazine, is a well-known music industry leader who has produced beats for the biggest names in music: Jay-Z, Tyler Perry, Lil Uzi Vert, and Jack Harlow among others. And Shelton, as CEO, brings a unique combination of early success in her career as a song writer and recording artist, who’s business skills developed from experience, for example, negotiating her contract with a record label.
It’s the clarity of vision, determination, and focus that Shelton and Cannon infused in TmrO early development that reminded me of Yin’s advice. As Shelton put it recently, “TmrO is rooted in the need to solve the challenges my peers and I faced as creators and freelancers in this new market landscape. With TmrO, we are looking to build a dedicated community that provides talented music professionals the opportunity to service their work and at the same time, enable businesses to find them quickly and efficiently.”
For producers, the challenge is finding the right talent. As Cannon put it, “Having worked in music and entertainment my entire career, I am consistently looking for creatives whether be graphic designers, songwriters, and videographers to help with projects, oftentimes in a rush.”
For creatives, the challenge is an often unreliable and unpredictable industry, that frequently takes advantage of talent, and leaves hardworking professionals underpaid or unpaid for their time and the hard work they’ve done.
TmrO checks all three of Yin’s “hustle” boxes. They have started strong, quickly corrected problematic initiatives, identified and shut down dead ends, have a very clear vision and purpose in an area of need that, until now, has been poorly served, and the strong partnership of Shelton and Cannon is obvious. It’s always a pleasure to interview co-founders who complete each other’s sentences, and generously share credit with one another and the team. It’s very clear that they have hustle.
TmrO also has the goal of building a strong community of freelancers that will help them find interesting, well-paid work, to ensure they are paid fully and sooner, and guarantee payment before they show up on the set.
I was also impressed by how they’ve chosen to fund their startup. As Shelton said, “We’ve taken a different approach to funding by launching a StartEngine campaign for those interested in joining us, investing in our future, and owning a piece of the company.” They see this as a way to further build out the platform and add new services.
It won’t be easy for Shelton and Cannon to grow TmrO into a Unicorn. They know that. But, they’ve each been successful in an extraordinarily tough, competitive, industry; and I’m guessing the combination will be powerful. And, without doubt, they have the hustle that Yin and her colleagues at the Hustle Fund believe makes is so important.
Viva la revolution!
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