Podcast Transcript – Series THREE, Episode 47
Sean Bovell, Invidica April 2022
[00:00:00] He invited everybody to the class, like, Hey, you know, having a birthday party, but he didn’t want me to hear him. But I thought I was invited because my friend was invited too. So I like did all these chores. And I like how my mom around the house. And she just like gave me an allowance to like go buy a lava lamp.
[00:00:19] I bought this kid a Lava lamp and showed up to his birthday party and what ended up happening. And he was surprised when that was. And basically the guy was telling me, he’s like, wow, like, you know, I didn’t invite you. And you know, I want to let you know, like I used to be racist and I was so young at the time, I was just like, What’s a racist? And he was like, nevermind, man, it’s all good. I ended up becoming friends with the kid, but it was a pretty big transition.
[00:00:42] We are back. What is up Unfound Nation? Your podcast hosts Dan Kihanya here. I’m hoping that 2022 is off to a great start and treating you well. We at Founders Unfound took a few months off from the podcast. We reset, recharged, and were back more excited than ever.
[00:00:59] Thanks so [00:01:00] much for checking out our first episode of this, our third season of Founders Unfound. You just heard Sean Bovell founder and CEO of Invidica, a company building a marketplace platform that is transforming the reseller economy, one product at a time. Sean has an amazing story, born in the UK, raised in predominantly white communities in Utah and Idaho before landing in Oakland for his formative years.
[00:01:24] He’s a natural at math and STEM and has been drawn to tech from an early age. He built his first e-commerce company from the ground up, alternately celebrating and struggling with the highs and lows that come with ever changing rules in technology. But it was through this bootcamp of sorts. that Sean zeroed in on the key insights that would lead to the creation of Invidica. With funding from 500 startups and comparison to the likes of Alibaba and eBay, it’s no wonder he has many investors filling up his inbox these days. Sean has a great story. You’ll want to listen in.
[00:01:56] Our episode is sponsored by AfriBlocks, the global pan African [00:02:00] freelance marketplace and collaborations. A great resource for devs designers and virtual assistance. Check for a link in the show notes.
[00:02:08] And please make sure to like, and subscribe to the podcast we’re available anywhere that you listen to podcasts, even Youtube. And if you like what you hear, go ahead and drop us a five-star review on apple or at podchaser.com. And make sure to tell your friends about us. We appreciate it and every new listener.
[00:02:25] Now on with the episode, stay safe and hope you enjoy.
[00:02:37] Hello and welcome to Founders Unfound, spotlighting, the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds. This is the latest episode in our continuing series on founders of African descent. I’m your host, Dan Kihanya, let’s get on it.
[00:02:53] Today, we have Sean Bovell co-founder and CEO of Invidica, a company that is [00:03:00] transforming the reseller economy one product at a time. Welcome to the show Sean, and we’re super excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time.
[00:03:06] Thanks. Appreciate you guys having me on this is my first podcast is, you know, heads up. So getting used to it.
[00:03:15] You’re going to be great. We’re excited to have you on. So just to get started, let’s help the listeners understand what is Invidica?
[00:03:23] Well, we do at, Invidica is we are essentially digitizing the reseller economy. So essentially turning e-commerce into like, almost like a stock investment for consumers to even get involved into.
[00:03:35] So you can basically buy products through our platform and we predict where they’ll sell how much money you’ll make. It’s almost like in investing in stock and we’ll ship it off to like a third party marketplace, like Amazon or eBay. So it’s like really changing the game and it’s letting a lot of people jump right into the resellers.
[00:03:51] I love it. It’s a brilliant platform and I want to dive more into exactly what it is and how it works in a bit. But first, let’s [00:04:00] start with, let’s learn a little bit about you, Sean, where are you from? Where’d you grow up?
[00:04:04] I have been all over the place. Why mom is from Brooklyn and my dad’s from the UK. So my mom met my dad over in England and I was born over in London.
[00:04:14] I have three siblings at that point, so all of us were born in England. So I grew up there for like a year or so, maybe a couple of years. And then I moved to Utah, Ogden, Utah lived there for a bit know, I was like one of the only black kids out there. So I’m not my city, but you know, my school, then I moved to Pocatello, Idaho because my mom needed to go there to go to school, stayed there for a couple more years.
[00:04:36] Soon as she got her master’s degree, we booked it and moved to Oakland where I kind of went to finish my middle school, went to high school. So I got to really live in. I wouldn’t really say rural America, but I got to live in like a lot of different places. He gave me like a lot of interesting perspectives.
[00:04:52] So went to Oakland High. I went to Laney college here in Oakland and went to San Francisco State and I was majoring in applied [00:05:00] math and EE. And that was like the start of. Well, I would say I was doing a little bit entrepreneurial stuff before between that, but yeah, I’ve been kind of just dipping my hands in everything that I could possibly do over the past couple of years. And now it’s kind of brought me to building my own startup.
[00:05:15] That’s awesome. Interesting experiences. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I want to explore that a little bit. So that’s really interesting journey to go from UK. Do you remember being in the UK?
[00:05:25] Not as a kid or not as baby, but I went back to a school there for about six to eight months down in Sheffield.
[00:05:32] So my family had some, a house out in Sheffield. So when I moved out back to visit, like I just stayed there and like some weird. I do remember that. It was very interesting when I was in England. Everybody’s like, oh, let’s see, American kid. And then when I went back home, I was like, oh, it’s the British kid.
[00:05:47] And I’m like, was both true.
[00:05:50] True that tension. Yeah. I can understand that. I’m curious though. Maybe you can share a little bit about like, like you said, Utah and Idaho, very [00:06:00] different than Oakland. What was that transition like for you to go. I guess you went from Idaho to Oakland. And was it hard? Was it easier because you were maybe less?
[00:06:14] I’ll get into Utah. I mean, living in Utah was relatively peaceful. I think I probably had like one bad interaction, but I was so young that it flew over my head. But when I lived in Idaho, my family was like the only black family in their school in Pocatello. You know, a couple of things happened by my teachers would like say, oh, you can’t read these Harry Potter books.
[00:06:34] It too advanced for you. So I was getting blocked from doing that. So I have to go during lunch. And check out the books and so do to check them out during class, I’d play with like the, all the white kids. And at the time I didn’t really know what being black was like, you know, I, I, I was playing with the kids and they were like, you can’t play with us because we’re playing World War II.
[00:06:53] And there were no black people, in World War II. And I was like, oh, okay. So I left, went back [00:07:00] home and I was talking to my mom about it because I was confused and she was getting her master’s at ISU. She had to come back and teach the civil rights movement to every single class at our school. And then afterwards, like it was, it was very interesting.
[00:07:19] A lot of the kids, I was going to high school or not in school, elementary school with. They were like, I’m so sorry. I had no idea how I was like, shoot. I didn’t know either. So it was different, you know, I think I would say the racist experiences were more in your face. You know, when I was living in Idaho, it wasn’t just incidents like that.
[00:07:36] I’ve had kids like parents that tell me, like, we don’t want a black kid at our house. You know, stuff like that. Really? Yeah. My friend even, I mean, who was my friend later, but he invited everybody to the class, like, Hey, you know, having a birthday party, but he didn’t want me to do. But I thought I was invited because my friend was invited too.
[00:07:54] So I like did all these chores and I like how my mom around the house. And she just like gave me allowance to like go [00:08:00] buy a lava lamps. I bought this kid a level app and showed up to his birthday party, like anyways. And what ended up happening? He was surprised when I was there. And basically the guy was telling me, he’s like, wow, like, you know, I didn’t invite you.
[00:08:13] And you know, I, I want to let you know, like I used to be. And I was so young at the time, I was just like, I was racist. He was like, nevermind, man, it’s all good. But I ended becoming friends with the kid, but it was a pretty big transition because all of the other black people that I had grown up with in Idaho were only there for school.
[00:08:30] I mean, you didn’t really live in Pocatello, Idaho, unless you’re going to school. If you were black, you know, when nine 11 happened, my Indian friend moved into town and they were being racist to him and call his dad like a terrorist. I’m like the same in the same country. It was a really weird place. So when I moved to Oakland, after my mom got her degree, I landed in deep east Oakland.
[00:08:51] So it was like the complete opposite interaction than what I had experienced in Ida. Um, not just that, like, it was my first time seeing [00:09:00] like really impoverished black people. Because you were there for school, you know what I mean? Like it, everybody was like really like tight niche basically. Yeah. It was a big culture shock for me.
[00:09:08] I think for the first couple of years, I didn’t talk a lot because this is a huge culture change. I went from like middle of nowhere, Pocatello, Idaho, to like deep east Oakland where it’s like, you know, shooting. The school that I was going to, it was just really Gatto and it was, it was a mess. So I basically had to kind of crawl my way out socially when going from like, being very introverted, not wanting to talk to people, to like having to like push myself out.
[00:09:30] But I would say, yeah, it was a journey, you know, by the time I got into high school, Wanting to hang out with different people. So I hung out with, like I said, I’m going to push myself. So I started hanging out with like a lot of Asian kids and during the Asian service clubs, whatever, I could kind of put me in an uncomfortable position to force me to socialize. That’s kind of like what I had to go through to kind of break out.
[00:09:50] That’s a great story. I mean, it was hard, story. I really appreciate you sharing that. And I think that’s something that a lot of folks, particularly non people of color don’t [00:10:00] understand that there isn’t sort of this, oh, well, you know, I’m returning home and there’s going to be a bunch of people in the black community and it’ll feel, you know, welcoming and warm. And not that it isn’t welcoming, but if you haven’t experienced that, it’s not necessarily organically something you plug into. And so there’s a really, it’s a really interesting perspective because. Some people listening to this might think, oh, wow, that was great. He went to Oakland and then everything was fine.
[00:10:25] Yeah. It was a huge culture shock. But I would say, you know, throwing myself in a position of being uncomfortable is like, what kind of helped develop, like who I am today? Like. Went from going, like being really quiet and you know, not wanting to talk to people to like saying, Hey, let’s go hiking. Like I had, I had to deal with like racism here too.
[00:10:43] I was doing Asian people were being racist to me. Like their parents would lock up the jewelry before I’d com in the house. It was some really crazy stuff. Like my friends would tell me after like, yeah, cause we waiting at the door and then they’d hold up one sec. Maybe just hiding stuff. But I was like, it’s okay, Sean, just, it’s a different culture. It’s not right. [00:11:00] But I at least understand. Cause I’ve lived in other places. Like I kind of get where the bigotry.
[00:11:05] Yeah, and we’re talking a little bit lighthearted about it, but I think it’s probably this thing that, you know, we all have to learn right. As black folks that, how can I maneuver this? How can I, can I fight it or should I just figure out a way to navigate through it?
[00:11:21] And I’m sure you’ve had to sort of process that yourself.
[00:11:24] Yeah. I think my particular, from my experience, like, you know, I always thought about that lava lamps situation. Like that kid did not invite me to his party. Like, I, I just showed up with a gift and I mean, I’m not saying you have to go out and give gifts to people, but I think by going in and kind of saying, Hey, like, I’m not what you think.
[00:11:42] Like, a lot of people don’t want to be that person that I have to do that, but it really like, they’re already kind of like imagining you a certain way. You know what I mean? Sometimes by just saying. I’m not like that. It changes their narrative, not just for you, but like towards other, other black people as well.
[00:11:56] I mean, I think we all do it to each other in our own ways, but it’s, it’s, it’s a lot more painful [00:12:00] with all the stuff that black people have gone through in the country and what not.
[00:12:03] That’s quite a journey. So you get to high school and settling in finding your way. Did you have a sense that you were a technical person or entrepreneurial? Like what did you think about what you wanted to do when you were in high school?
[00:12:16] No, not really. So kind of, so I was pretty good at math when I was younger. And so when I got into high school, I actually tested it into an honors STEM program for minorities. At Berkeley, UC Berkeley. So every summer we would take classes there. It was hard. Cause like at the time my other friends were like, you know, they’re from me. So they’re black. And when I got into this program, they were just like, I didn’t want to be there with those losers. You should come with us and get some girls. And so after my first year I listened to them, I was like, yeah, you’re right.
[00:12:43] honors program, that’s going to give me a scholarship. You know, I didn’t get any girls in high schools and it was complete scam, but, and they all got kicked out at some point, but it was definitely different. You know, I think being in that program even for a year, it gave me a really strong sense of like wanting to be in the science space.
[00:12:59] So [00:13:00] I went into college, kind of knowing what I was going to do. I said, Hey, I’m going to go into bioengineering. And I went from not having really good grades in high school. Taking calculus. My first summer, a lot of my friends, even my Asian friends have been taught. You can’t learn calculus. Like it’s too hard for you.
[00:13:15] And I was like, Hmm, I don’t think it’s that bad. But I went out, I actually, I took out my first year in college and then I got through all the math classes and, you know, it was interesting, but I always kept my mind open though, just because I wanted to learn so many different things. Like I put on like a video game convention.
[00:13:31] I had a club with over 70 people in it and we’re like, can we service. Anime and stuff like I joined student government I’ve eventually got on. That was like on the student government board as the club affairs officer. So I like really got my hands dirty with whatever, you know, like people would be like, oh, that’s hard to do.
[00:13:47] And it wasn’t like I was trying to like out shine somebody. I was really just trying to see, like, is it, let me check to see if I can tell you this. If somebody was like, oh, I had a friend putting on conventions for example. And he was like putting on conventions. It’s really hard, you know, just getting [00:14:00] the schools to fund you and getting.
[00:14:02] And like, I was like, I’m going to wing it. And I put out my own video game convention, we got sponsored by the fry university and like this other company, the school covered sometimes thousand students that I got the school to cover, like most of the expenses. And we got like 300 people and got featured on the east bay express.
[00:14:17] Like if you ever like looked at the event, you can you’ll see it. But yeah, they gave out money and everything. And I was like, it was hard, but it wasn’t like impossible. And I think building that, that mindset really helped jump into the startup space.
[00:14:31] That’s a great point. And I was just gonna say, it seems like the journey you’ve been on is this crucible that has led you to this place of being a leader, being somebody who’s a risk taker, somebody who wants to try new things and get uncomfortable, which is all part of the entrepreneurial journey.
[00:14:49] So that makes a lot of sense.
[00:14:51] Definitely developed a high risk tolerance, I’d say, yeah, all these just dipping your hands into stuff and you’re going to make mistakes. I think that’s something people are afraid to try to [00:15:00] do. And you know, they’re afraid to tell their people that they’ve made mistake, but you know, I feel like they’re just part of the journey.
[00:15:04] It’s so true. They are. If the founder journey involved, never making mistakes, nobody would start anything. I don’t think.
[00:15:11] Right. Right. I’ve met a lot of founders now that I’ve been in this space a little bit longer, that they just don’t want to take that leap. And I’m like, yeah, it’s okay. Just go out and fail.
[00:15:21] And you’ll learn from that failure. But yeah, you’ll, you’ll still see people not taking the risk that they need to get to where they need to get to. I think all the things I’ve just piled up in life just kind of helped build who I am today. And I’m pretty nonchalant. I can come off nonchalant, but I’m not actually not like I’m very analytical, but because I’m so used to being uncomfortable, like when bad things happen, I’m just like, well, I’ll be freaking out.
[00:15:44] This can make it worse. So people see that as like, is this guy not care? I’m like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Trust me. I care. I’m going to stay calm and kind of work through
[00:15:52] Even keel, even keel, uh, not too high, not too low. We’re going to find out how that applies to your entrepreneurial life in a [00:16:00] moment. But we’ll be right back after a short break with Sean Bovell from Invidica.
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[00:16:45] So we’re back with Sean from Invidica . So Sean. Invidica is not your first entrepreneurial journey, correct?
[00:16:52] Not including the convention I put on. It’s probably my second or third, but I put on the video game convention first. And [00:17:00] then I started my own e-commerce company for about like six years. That’s kind of what span into in vinegar. So you had videos like my third business venture, but my first venture backed company.
[00:17:11] So tell us a little bit about the e-commerce company and what was it about the core value proposition for Invidica that emerged from that experience and that journey.
[00:17:22] Back in college, and you see a company called they call it labor. And what we would, they would do is they’d post these jobs. And it’d be anything like moving to like office work. And I’ll tell you, I, I did everything on there and I haven’t got to the point where I was taking other people’s jobs. Cause they would like flake out, and the CEO would call me like, Hey, can you like head over to Marin or San Francisco? I’m like, I’ll do what I gotta do. So I would take everything. So one of the jobs I had was I ended up working for an Israeli tech company and downtown SF. And what they were doing is they’re paying us to drive around at night and collect parking data and it was good pay. So I got to hire my friends at the time and they had no management here.
[00:17:59] They [00:18:00] were all in Israel. So I fired two of my friends who didn’t show up, or one of them just did a really bad job. And the guys were coming out here to raise some money or talk to some investors and were like, yo, you find. Friends. I was like, yeah, I mean, I gave him a job and they didn’t do the job. And then they ended up promoting me to managing all of the operations as they scale throughout the U S so I got to keep one of my friends and when we, like, I split my pay with him while I focused on school.
[00:18:27] You know, he did the hiring and stuff and I would just do all the admin business stuff. So it was really cool experience that the second job that I got, those really impactful as I was working for an 500 Startups mentor before I knew what 500 startups was out of his condo in downtown SF. And I thought, wow, this is like super interesting.
[00:18:44] What is this guy doing out of? I mean, what he was doing was he was shipping stuff to like Amazon and eBay. So you ship stuff to like Amazon warehouses, like they’re fulfilled by Amazon centers. You know, they have everywhere and they would ship directly to customers on eBay and I would help them with [00:19:00] shipping stuff and processing orders.
[00:19:01] And how did you meet. Through college labor, the same website gives us a bunch of random jobs you did up getting. So I ended up working for him directly outside of college labor for a while, and I saw how much money he was bringing. He was bringing out about 140 grand on Amazon every month. And sales.
[00:19:18] Yeah, maybe they call it that was this guy doing this. And, you know, he was telling me like, yeah, you know, I there’s this data that you can kind of like in tools that you can use to figure out what products sell. And I was like, huh. And he was like, I don’t have any even admitted. He’s like, he wasn’t really that technical.
[00:19:33] So he couldn’t really get into the specific. But I was a math and engineering major. So I was like, I think I can decode or deconstruct what’s going on here. And so that’s what I did. So I realized that there was, yeah, there was data on these marketplaces that you can kind of aggregate. And I only had two grad and I saw what he was doing, which was a really janky business practice.
[00:19:53] He was like basically kind of flying to brands and saying you wouldn’t sell online. And then he would sell online, get kicked off after a [00:20:00] while and then move to the next. I started with like two grand and, you know, I realized nobody wants to sell to me. I got the money from my friend. I had literally no money to start my own business venture.
[00:20:09] We scaled a little bit. And then we ended up getting sued because we actually bought from a really bad, we bought some products that looked like it was a real, like from a real manufacturer, but it was from China and it was like some off-brand stuff. So I end up getting sued for that. They took that business down.
[00:20:26] I also took down the company that took me down to, I reported it a year earlier. If I knew something was wrong saying we didn’t get sued that hard because I was the one that reported the counterfeit. Really interesting experience. Yeah. I ended up restarting with one less business partner. Last that one, the first one we did with three people, again with two grand, and then we scaled it legitimately working with distribution companies.
[00:20:47] We eventually found some brands that wanted to work with us. And I went from spending $2-3K every month, 45 days to spending about $60 to $80 grand every month. And in 20, that was 2018 or 2019. [00:21:00] I brought in about a million dollars in sales, out of my basement. I was getting to the point where I was like, okay, what else can I do with this?
[00:21:06] So I started teaching people for free, how to get into e-commerce, you know, I didn’t want people to have to go through the same crap that. And through that you get people started referring people. Then they started referring people and I was doing all this for free. I met some guy at Berkeley that was a product person at Macy’s.
[00:21:23] I approached them with like, Hey, I think we can use this data to also create a product. I said, let’s create this vitamin granite, found it around the stats on it. We will put our money in. He designed, he did the design work and help do the ads. We ended up becoming a top 1% product on Amazon. I sold the brand to him, and then I went back to kind of helping people do e-commerce reselling for free until the point where it was getting out of hand.
[00:21:47] And I was like, there’s way too much of a demand for this. And like, I’m not making any money, like even run my business because I’m putting all my time to this. So I got together with a friend from college and I said, Hey, we should build a platform to help people find [00:22:00] products online. Although they don’t have to open these brand accounts at these minimums analyze this data.
[00:22:04] And so we crafted Invidica. He brought in his boss, Dimitri, who was a lot older than us at the. And he came in as CTO. Uh, we launched our company as like a wholesale marketplace, and then we went out to fundraise and we had no idea what we were doing. Like people were like, how much money are you guys bringing in?
[00:22:23] Like we’re bringing in like a quarter mil a month. And then they’re just like, like in sales on the site. And they’re just like, whoa, this is interesting. I just don’t know the business model. I don’t know how this thing works. So we eventually got into, I first started out. Through pitching to one of the venture partners.
[00:22:36] And while I was talking, I was just trying to explain this weird concept of how marketplaces work without having to like over-complicate. And then the venture partner at 500 was like, hold up, you guys are disrupting the wholesale e-commerce or distribution space. And he pushed the meeting for it. He’s like, if you want an investment from us, like, you know, just sign up, sign in. And then he pushed us through to get it, to get approved. And I was like, wow, that [00:23:00] was a lot easier than I expect.
[00:23:02] So hold on, hold on, hold on. There’s a lot to unpack there. So first of all, like for the e-commerce business, I mean, to me that was like this baptism by fire, you know, bootcamp really right. Where you went through, like, how do you start with modest? You know, startup capital, how do you lever that up by, you know, doing business, essentially the nuances of brands and this idea that you know, is copyright or a, this infringement aspect, right? So you really got this complete understanding of the marketplace, which really was the sounds like the foundation for Invidica, which is awesome. I think a lot of people think that. Since to a startup it’s about the product or the platform and the technology, and that’s important. But if you don’t understand the, where the value can be delivered and how you’re going to support the marketplace or the market in general, and you have intimate knowledge because you lived it and [00:24:00] breathed it and celebrate it. And you need to celebrate it or, or suffered with how things went. Right. That’s a great story. So connect the dots. So for us, because a lot of people will listen to this and think, oh yeah, people gloss over, like how do you connect with investors? How do they even find interest in you? How do you show up in front of them? How did you connect with 500?
[00:24:21] It’s actually really hard to get any VC attention. And then one of my biggest complaints, even after getting funding was, you know, they post all this stuff. Like we support founders can reach out to us. They barely reply to most emails. So if you’re out here with a really crappy pitch deck, nobody knows you are.
[00:24:38] The likelihood of you getting a response is really low. So I was able to only book meetings with two firms while I was first starting, I got into 500. I ended up working with this fund called 1517 fund who actually passed on my deal initially and later recently invested and 500 startups. And the way that I got in touch with [00:25:00] them was during, I think when George Floyd was married, All the VCs came out, right?
[00:25:05] Oh my God. We really got to really got to help all these black founders out when they were just like posting up, like we are office hours and resources. And so, you know, I mean, it was unfortunate. I capitalized on the event and I said, Hey, look, you know, I’m doing this. And I think that’s what got me in the meeting with Brian over at 500.
[00:25:24] It was during that time I was in a discord meeting with him. It was an interesting process. Like, you know, I’d applied, I think to 500 and YCombinator. And I got declined a bunch of times. So finally, what I got this meeting, you know, it was just me really trying to massage and digest this idea that was working.
[00:25:42] And I felt like I was onto something like, Hey, like I have something here. You know, I just need somebody to give me a chance. And fortunately, I had traction and when we first started, we didn’t have anything really. We didn’t have a site up. There was a landing page, Excel like Google docs, Google. And Stripe [00:26:00] handling the payment processing.
[00:26:01] Like you couldn’t even log onto the site. It was super early. So 500 took me in and after you get into 500, you know, and I was one of the few companies, I was making revenue and making a lot of revenue. So I got approached by a lot of really big VC firms at craft ventures. Serena Williams firm reached out to me.
[00:26:19] IFly, SoftBank. One of their funds reached out. So I had gotten a lot of attention. Initially, and my team besides my two engineers was like, basically I hired a sales person from somebody. I was high school with. He kind of worked in tech, but he wasn’t like really like a techie. He was just like, he just had a job in tech.
[00:26:37] It wasn’t like actually technical or like business development. He just something that I just knew. So I hired him and they started hiring random friends that I knew because I didn’t have any connects. I dropped out of college now to do my e-commerce company. So whole bunch of traction from VCs and customers, and we didn’t even get, we still even have the site up.
[00:26:56] And then, uh, when we pitched in demo day in January of [00:27:00] 20, I think 2021, we again got a lot more VC interests. Like we were booked up and, you know, raised like, you’re going to raise your raise. I’m like, oh my God, this is my first time raising. And the problem was, I couldn’t explain the story. I explained what I was doing as an entrepreneur, but the vision of the company was.
[00:27:19] It was hard. And also during that time, some of those key hires that I had hired, those are those initial hires, those friends, one of them got a bunch of our customers banned when they first started and they didn’t help yet. Like we got like at least 20 people banned immediately because of the way that we were doing.
[00:27:36] And we kind of had to like Deek, I, while I was putting out fires where I should have been practicing my pitch and then developing the business and costing me a lot of money when we probably lost over a 100, 200K in customer orders each month. Because so after I finally put out the fire. Demo day was over.
[00:27:53] I had burned through most of those meetings. I got burned through Serina Williams, VC firm. Like they were like, we don’t know what you’re [00:28:00] doing. And I’m like, okay. And I had to kind of have like a real realization, you know, and I got some, um, advice from a founder for the 500 an hour. Chris Bennett over, at Wonder School.
[00:28:10] He gave me some more. Feedback on how to fundraise properly and how to go network. He gave me some early introductions, but I had so much going on at the time that lane, I couldn’t capitalize on it. Like I wanted to. So I spent the next couple of months basically gutting out the team. I said, okay, I looked at what other people had on their team.
[00:28:29] Unfortunately, you can’t just hire your friends to build a company. It was really tough. So I had to fire some friends, burned, some bridges by accident. Didn’t mean to. I spent the next six months, six, eight months after demo day, redoing my pitch, Jacqueline iteration after iteration and pitched out to Harlem Capital.
[00:28:48] They were interested in, you know, the, the past on the deal, but I leveraged the relationship I was going with. Gabby thinks she’s a. She helped me out with my pitch deck. And she was like, Hey, look, this is the [00:29:00] storytelling. And she gave me like really good insight on what was wrong. And I was able to kind of hone in like all of the, the advice looking at like everything I’ve done from the past, all the tech that we were developing.
[00:29:10] And I created like something really cool. That changed the way that we were doing. E-commerce completely. It wasn’t just. Finding products to buy. And this all aligned. Like I was like at scale, this is almost like investing in stock. Like you’re turning these digital products or these consumer products.
[00:29:25] It’s like a commodity asset class on its own. And if we could predict the risk, get access to the product, give them the best pricing and all that good stuff. Really changed the game. So I re honed my pitch. And then in December I went back out to fundraise, but you know, nobody raises in the winter. So January hit, uh, reconnected with a 1517 Fund who passed on me and, you know, they ended up coming in and doing our pre-seed round and I closed some more capital with, from like a angel syndicate out in DC.
[00:29:53] We landed our partnership with American express. We just had so much really cool stuff happen. Once I finally started to really. When [00:30:00] I was supposed to do. And yeah, so it’s been a very interesting journey. I’ve now closed by pre-seed round. And you know, now we’re getting ready to do our seed round in June, may, June into may of June, you know, we’re redesigning the site or simplifying things, automating a lot of things, building, bringing in financing. So people don’t have to use their own money. It’s like a lot of cool stuff that’s never really been done before. Like not at this scale.
[00:30:24] That’s great. And that’s a story that we hear a lot. Right. Which is your struggle, struggle, struggle. And then something unlocks, right? There’s an investor or a, some signal from the market or a partnership or a traction milestone. And then it seems like you’re you go. A steep uphill climb to kind of cruising a little bit. Right. And so…
[00:30:46] Yeah, that’s kind of how it feels now being able to pay everybody.
[00:30:49] Well, we’re going to take another short break and we’ll be right back with Sean. Bovell from Invidica.
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[00:31:35] So we’re back with Sean from Invidica. So Sean, before we dive into other topics, maybe just tell the audience a little bit about like, how does invidica work? Like how do you find resellers? How do they get on the platform? What’s the business model.
[00:31:50] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So I’ll take a quick step back and saying how marketplaces. You know, essentially the marketplace is just, it’s a platform that stands in the middle between [00:32:00] usually a buyer and a seller. eBay started like the first e-commerce or one of the maybe first, but it’s one of the first e-commerce marketplaces. So a lot of people like, you know, people like me and you to go out in buying.
[00:32:10] So I think they originally set for mom and pop stores, but eventually anybody could buy and sell on eBay. And that was a big thing. So, you know, you could basically resell anything from like potato chips, dog food, and you can be doing it. Amazon took it a step further and they basically automated a lot of the logistics customer service, if they’ll handle the storage of your products.
[00:32:32] And instead of having 50 million different listings, they’ve pretty each unique item. If we’re selling potato chips, like the same Lay’s potato chips, they just throw us on the same listing and then they kind of alternate us through. So everybody kind of. You get chance to sell the product. So what we do is we kind of work on the back end of this reselling e-commerce process.
[00:32:52] Amazon has basically created the gold standard of what marketplaces are like the see marketplaces kind of operate as we [00:33:00] kind of take a step back and we say, Hey, let’s disrupt the B2B part of this. So we worked directly with a consumer brands, like we’d go directly with lays, for example. And we say, Hey, you know, we want to basically.
[00:33:11] With you guys as a distribution company, or, you know, just whatever type of partnership. This was a partner in lays gives us access to their data of all their products they have. And so what we do is we basically go in and we have our own algorithm that calculates the risk and opportunity on these marketplaces of which lays product sell, where they sell, how much we’ll sell month, how stable is the pricing, all of that stuff.
[00:33:33] And then we take all that data. And access to the product. And we basically give these resellers who, at this point, if we’re making it easy enough for anybody to buy products and Amazon, and these other platforms are making it easy for anybody to sell these products, you know, essentially because a consumer can use in vinegar and open up shop easily without having to even talk delays by directly as our, through our platform, as a distributor and have the insights [00:34:00] and data to figure out what your product selling.
[00:34:02] And they can just buy it. We’ll in the, we plug ourselves into Amazon or eBay or whatever, ship your product to the fulfillment center, set up all the pricing, all that we tell you how much to buy, how long it should take to sell all that stuff. And it basically starts selling for you. A lot of our resellers don’t have to, even, there’s not that much management for their account.
[00:34:20] So you could probably check in once a week, once every two weeks, see how your inventory is going. It’s pretty hands-off process. So we essentially want to make it so anybody can buy into. Even in our beta phase, we have of these grandma buying and selling on Amazon and she has her own Amazon story. You know, a lot of people don’t know that, uh, two thirds of Amazon sales come from retailers and about 30 to 40% of them are reselling products like Lay’s chips or whatever the rest of them are making their own products. So we really want to disrupt this whole space on the back end and let anybody kind of go in and buy and sell.
[00:34:55] And do you take a cut of the transaction?
[00:34:58] Yeah. Yeah. So we work with the [00:35:00] brand and we charge the brand a fee for it. So the reseller doesn’t get hit with anything. Currently we’re not charging a subscription plan where they’re just grandfathering, whoever signs up and gets on the site right now. But in May, June, we’re going to be charging about $40 to about $300 for a subscription. We want to make it affordable enough to where, you know, anybody can kind of come and open up shop, which for a lot of people who are like looking to invest in like Bitcoin and all these crypto NFTE assets that are kind of like really random, you know, you have something that’s a lot more tangible and consistent. So, you know, for those people you could easily, instead of dumping three grand on to Bitcoin and opening that explodes, you can buy some products to invent it consistently, you know, get sales each month or each week.
[00:35:46] So if we project into the future, and let’s say, you know, five years from now, or a few years from now, whenever the journey takes you and or if somebody asks you, was this a success and you say, yes, [00:36:00] what would be the things that would indicate, like, what’s going to be the definition for you to say this was successful?
[00:36:07] I think the way that people would visualize e-commerce right now is it’s pretty outdated. So it’s like, yeah, I don’t like people like, oh, like you, by yourself, there’s margins, there’s ad costs. But what we want to do is we want to build the next wave of e-commerce entrepreneurs, like as the web is developing.
[00:36:24] So instead of building these like random products that you hope will work, I hope. And vertigo creates a standard for leveraging data, actually leveraging data to make smart decisions. So once I start seeing other companies, either trying to replicate that or try to come out and either work with us, something like that.
[00:36:41] And they’re like leveraging our insights. I will say that. Like, if we can really change the way that consumers and people who want to get into this, but they’re scared and they don’t have the resources to get into it, to feel comfortable and empowered to jump into it. Like, I, I think we want, even if there’s other competitors out there that try to replicate us, I think we’ve made our statement.
[00:36:59] I love [00:37:00] that. And that’s such a powerful way to look at the world. Right. The legacy of your business, right? Obviously you’re building a business there’s economic aspects of how you measure that growth and success. But to have a leave behind that said, the world was this way before we were here. And now it’s a different way. I love that. I love that aspiration.
[00:37:20] I have a mentor from Alibaba and you is telling me that, you know, you guys do this right. Alibaba may buy you. And we ended up getting introduced to the first hire over at eBay. The two founders, when they first started, they reached out to me, Mary, I think Mary Lou Song. I don’t know if her whole name was like that, but she reached out to us and it was like, yo, you guys are building something interesting.
[00:37:42] Yes. Reminds you like the next eBay project. So now I’m getting like super well connected and they’re like, dude, eBay’s gonna buy you some. I was like, dude, Amazon. It’s just like Shopify, Alibaba, and those are great indicators me. I’m like, wow, it’s crazy. Like just a year later after dropping the ball completely, you get all these legacy. Uh, [00:38:00] e-commerce people saying like you’re going to get acquired.
[00:38:02] Go through the valley to get to the top of the mountain. Definitely a hundred percent. So let’s shift gears a little bit. How does the world remind you that you’re not just a founder, but you’re a black founder. Positive ways, negative ways.
[00:38:18] You know, it’s a hard one. I’ve had a mentor at 500 Startups. He was Asian and his co-founder was black, but when they would pitch the VCs would approach him like, Hey, well, the CTO is black. They would approach my friend or the mentor who was an Asian guy. Like, so how does the software work? How does the stack work? The law? And there was the black guy who was actually coding. And I think unfortunately like Silicon valley, even just the VC space and there’s still a lot of catching up to do. I would even say sometimes even with other black venture capital firms, I can only see a black founder maybe doing something outside of the space, like what they would consider the space.
[00:38:56] Like if a woman made like, I dunno, like a make-up rarely. Oh yeah, that sounds about right. But if. [00:39:00] Yeah, they’re going to kind of question, like, I don’t know if you have the qualifications to build this thing. So there’s definitely that. I think people doubt whenever you start building something, that’s outside of what they expect black founders to build.
[00:39:13] But on the flip side, I think a lot of people are starting to open up to the idea that there are black founders that are like, they have really good ideas and, you know, Essentially like sleeping on them, like by, by ignoring them. And they’re the ones that have been giving me chances in some of those aren’t even black firms.
[00:39:30] They’re like even other white firms. Like, yeah, this guy may have something here. I’m hoping that as time progresses, like, you know, the bias goes away like slowly or hopefully rapidly, but definitely hope that the bias goes away. Even from like pitching to black VCs, like sometimes they will, they’ll just stay, it may be the same exact thing.
[00:39:47] And then I may go and talk to like a white VC firm who may give me that chance because I feel like they can afford to, you know, like, I feel like if a black VC has a little skepticism, if we screw up here, it’ll hit us [00:40:00] harder. Like versus like the white from me, like, oh, here’s a half a million dollars or here’s, here’s $5 million, whatever you need.
[00:40:04] Like, and they may be, that’s a drop in the bucket maybe for that fund. They can take that risk, but it’s definitely been interesting. I think just trying to gauge, I have one other black person on the team. Everybody else is like mixed Asian white. So it’s a different dynamic than what you see with traditional.
[00:40:19] I would say like black VC or black startup companies, like usually like the other, both founders are black or so I have like a pretty weird makeup. It almost looks like they put me there to be the black face. I can get some black VC funding. Like I definitely think some people would probably looking like, okay, he’s probably not the real CEO of the company.
[00:40:36] How does that make you feel though? I mean, to know that’s what people are thinking, right? I mean, if it was the opposite situation, nobody would have second thought about it, right?
[00:40:44] Yeah. I have an advisor that I was having such a hard time raising, but he knew the business was viable because he’s done it. So he was like, you should probably just hire a white person to be the face of your company. And that was from like a non, that was not from a non-black person. So it was. And it [00:41:00] sucks, but it’s a very real situation. You know, one of my buddies, you know, he’s a white guy and I added him to my pitch deck. I, he’s not a co-founder, but you know, you just joined the team kind of, but having a white face on a team where there’s like a Russian guy and another black guy and Asian guy, you know, adds that level of confidence that I think VCs like to say.
[00:41:19] I’m hoping it changes, you know, but I understand why I’m upset, but I don’t want to let myself being upset, derail me from building this company out. Like I have to keep pushing it regardless if this firm invests in me or not. I need to keep building this up.
[00:41:34] Wow. Thanks for sharing that. That’s a, this has been an awesome conversation.
[00:41:38] So one of the last things we like to ask the proverbial. What if question basically. So if you could go back in time and give advice to the pre entrepreneur version of Sean, then you can pick whatever that might have been, but what’d you tell him, what would you say to do not to do, to watch out, for, to run towards?
[00:41:59] It’s kind of a [00:42:00] weird one because those very mistakes help me avoid those mistakes, those same mistakes moving forward. So I would almost want, want to warn myself, but if I could jump in my body can take control of that plate with the knowledge of. I would make sure I picked the right team. I think when I first started, I was just so desperate to bring on whoever and that’s what I did.
[00:42:18] And that was like probably one of the biggest mistakes. I think the second thing, there’s probably three things. The second thing is the storytelling. I think really sitting down and figuring out what exactly this company could have been. There were, couldn’t be, it can be, and like what resources are out there?
[00:42:34] What tech is out there for me to expand or, you know, attach, that’s probably something that. Don, if I could go back, spend a little bit more time developing the business concept. And then the last thing would be to when it comes to pitching. I think I went too hard. I got a lot of advice because of our traction.
[00:42:51] You’re like go raise 5 million at 20 and being a first time founder and a black dropout, you know, like those things [00:43:00] as like your first seed round raise looks a little sketchy. I scared off a lot of my, those early investors who were really cool that would have invested at a lower valuation. I would go back and essentially start small, build our reputation up in this space.
[00:43:15] Either build my tech stack big enough to where I can justify it to what I’m doing now, or raise less money, do maybe do a pre-seed round and then do my seat after like, I probably the way that I’m doing it now, if I could go back, I would have saved me like a year, but who knows? I mean, it was hindsight, you know, just really navigating the space better and navigating my company better.
[00:43:36] That’s really what it boils down to at the end of the day.
[00:43:38] Very wise, very wise, indeed. And you’re right. Some of the things you have to live through and some you wish somebody would have said, you know,
[00:43:48] I got really good advice from, like I said, from Chris Bennett and because I was getting pushed the other way, it’s like, go, go hard, go hard just to push your valuation out.
[00:43:57] And people would ask, Chris was like, no, no, no, no, no, [00:44:00] raise a pre-seed at a lower valuation. And then didn’t do it gradually. You want to build kind of investor confidence. And I was like, Hmm. I’m listening to the other guy, the other person. And I went back and ended up telling Chris, I was like, Hey dude, you’re you were right.
[00:44:16] I closed the ride like two or three weeks. Like Laura evaluation. Shouldn’t shit is listen to you. But no, I mean, it’s it’s hindsight. And I will probably say like, the last thing is part of the reason I felt like that was because of the way that the messaging and the spaces like. Advocates for people to go out there with like, not put, well put together projects, like just like go out with, use your idea.
[00:44:37] We’ll invest in founders. We believe in people, not companies. Like they put all this stuff out there where it makes you feel confident that you can go out there with like, without like a properly refined business model or. Concept town, or even with like your apple pro all the way. So it makes you think like, wow, this guy just raised $20 million with just like a napkin idea like that, man, I have revenue that I [00:45:00] have a crappy website, but I can at least raise five, you know?
[00:45:04] And that’s that really messed up my framework. And I think I, a lot of bad advice. So I would tell other founders just, you know, make sure your stuff is tight niche and you’re strategic with your fundraising. It’s a job. Fundraising is a, is a full-time job. No, you need to make sure you understand what exactly these investors are looking for.
[00:45:21] Great advice. So as we wrap up here, Sean, we always like to leave a call to action to our audience. One of the ways that we can be helpful to you or to invidica.
[00:45:30] If you want to become an e-commerce reseller, you know, feel free to sign up. We’re not onboarding until summertime, but if you shouldn’t need a message directly, I’ll I could hook you guys up.
[00:45:39] And if people want to follow what you’re doing or reach out to you, is there a ways people should reach you or do you have social media handle?
[00:45:46] Yeah on Twitter. My handle is @acollatzconject. That’s a math thing. C O L L A T Z. And then Conject I didn’t, you couldn’t put the whole thing for conjecture, C O N J E C [00:46:00] T.
[00:46:00] So you could reach me on Twitter and then if not, you can reach me through my email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any e-commerce questions, I’m always down there.
[00:46:10] Awesome. This has been a really great conversation, Sean. We really appreciate you taking the time today.
[00:46:16] Yeah. Thank you so much.
[00:46:18] We’d like to thank our guests, Sean Bovell and our sponsor AfriBlocks.
[00:46:22] This podcast was produced by me, Dan Kihanya.
[00:46:25] With audio editing and production by We Edit Podcasts.
[00:46:29] Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to foundersunfound.com/listenedto. That’s listen T O. And follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. @foundersunfound.
[00:46:42] Thanks so much for tuning in. I am Dan Kihanya, and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.