Hey, founders between gigs: What now?
If you exited your last company for airplane money and are now independently wealthy, congratulations! If you want to build another company, just self-fund. If you want outside capital, VCs will chase after you to invest.
Unfortunately, most founders are not in that position: nine out of 10 startups fail. Even if you achieve a high valuation, you might end up like FanDuel’s founders: Their investors got the benefit of a $465 million exit; the founders got zero.
As someone with “founder” on your resume, you face a greater challenge when trying to get a traditional salaried job. You’ve already shown that you really want to lead a company and not just rise up the ladder, which means some employers are less likely to hire you. One research paper found:
[F]ormer founders receive fewer callbacks than non-founders; however, all founders are not disadvantaged similarly. Former founders of successful ventures receive even fewer [emphasis added] callbacks than former founders of failed ventures. Through 20 interviews with technical recruiters, we highlight the mechanisms driving this founder-experience discount: concerns related to the applicant’s capability and ability to fit into and remain committed to the wage employment and the hiring firm.
At my prior firm, ff Venture Capital, we invested in a company co-founded by Nate Jenkins, who had a successful exit, but not quite enough to buy a private plane. He’s now researching his next opportunity and interviewing for some jobs. At the end of a recent interview, the interviewer summarized, “I’ll hire you, but is this what you really want to do?”
That said, Samuel Sabin, CEO of HireBlue, observed, “Some founders who work better with more resources at their disposal may be tapped for intrapreneurship roles. Also, some companies value a self-starter mentality.”
So what should you do? Especially if your life partner and/or bank account are burnt out on the income volatility of startups?
I’ve been in this situation myself when I shut down one startup and exited two others. I think you have six main options:
If you want to work on your startup idea, the bar for starting a company should always be very high. VCs have a diversified portfolio and most of their investments die. You don’t have a diverse portfolio and so you’re taking far more risk than the VCs. For free resources to help research your ideas, see What startup will you build? Identifying market white space.
France’s competition watchdog, L’Autorité de la concurrence, has fined Google up to €220 million (~$268M) in a case related to self-preferencing within the adtech market which the watchdog found constituted an abuse by Google of a dominant position for ad servers for website publishers and mobile apps.
L’Autorité began looking into Google’s adtech business following complaints from a number of French publishers.
Today it said Google had requested a settlement — and is “not disputing the facts of the case” — with the tech giant proposing certain ‘interoperability’ commitments that the regulator has accepted, and which will form a binding part of the decision.
The watchdog called the action a world first in probing Google’s complex algorithmic ad auctions.
Commenting in a statement, L’Autorité’s president, Isabelle de Silva, said: “The decision sanctioning Google has a very special meaning because it is the first decision in the world to look into complex algorithmic processes. Auctions through which online display advertising works. The investigation, carried out particularly quickly, revealed the processes by which Google, relying on its considerable dominant position on ad servers for sites and applications, was favored over its competitors on both ad servers and SSP platforms. These very serious practices penalized competition in the emerging online advertising market, and have enabled Google not only to preserve but also to increase its dominant position. This sanction and these commitments will make it possible to restore a level playing field for all players, and the ability of publishers to make the most of their advertising space. ”
At specific issue is preferential treatment Google granted to its own proprietary technologies — offered under the Google Ad Manager brand — on both the demand and supply sides; via the operation of its DFP ad server (which allows publishers of sites and applications to sell their spaces advertising), and its sales platform SSP AdX (which organizes the auction process allowing publishers to sell their ‘impressions’ or advertising inventories to advertisers), per the watchdog.
L’Autorité found that Google’s preferential treatment of its adtech harmed competitors and publishers.
Reached for comment, a Google spokeswoman referred us to this blog post discussing the settlement where Maria Gomri, a legal director for Google France, writes that it has “agreed on a set of commitments to make it easier for publishers to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies” — before detailing the steps it has pledged to take.
The publishing groups that made the original complaint against Google in France were News Corp Inc., the Le Figaro group and the Rossel La Voix group, although Le Figaro withdrew its referral last November — at the same time as it signed a content-licensing deal with Google, related to Google’s News Showcase product (a vehicle Google has spun up as legislators in different markets around the world have taken steps to force it to pay for some content reuse).
France’s competition watchdog had earlier ordered Google to negotiate with publishers over remuneration for reuse of their content, following the transposing into national law of updated, pan-EU copyright rules — which extend neighbouring rights to publishers’ news snippets. So the adtech giant’s operations remain under scrutiny on that front too.
Google has agreed to improve the interoperability of Google Ad Manager services with third-party ad server and advertising space sales platform solutions, per L’Autorité, as well as agreeing to end provisions that favor itself.
“The practices in question are particularly serious because they penalized Google’s competitors in the SSP market and the publishers of sites and mobile applications,” it writes in a press release (translated from French with Google Translate). “Among these, the press groups — including those who were [the source] of the referral to the Authority — were affected even though their economic model is also strongly weakened by the decline in sales of paper subscriptions and the decline in associated advertising revenue.”
L’Autorité confirmed it has accepted Google’s commitments — and makes them binding in its decision. The commitments will be mandatory for a three year period, per the agreement.
The commitments Google has offered appear to speak to some operational details that have emerged via a Texas antitrust lawsuit also targeting Google’s adtech.
Earlier this year, documents surfaced via that suit which appeared to show the tech giant operated a secret program that used data from past bids in its digital ad exchange to allegedly give its own ad-buying system an advantage over competitors, per the WSJ — which reported that the so-called ‘Project Bernanke’ program was not disclosed to publishers who sold ads through Google’s exchange.
In the area of data access, Google has committed to the L’Autorité to devise a solution to ensure that all buyers which use Google Ad Manager to participate in its ad exchange receive equal access to data from its auctions — “to help them efficiently buy ad space from publishers”. Including when publishers use an off-platform technique called ‘Header Bidding’ (which enables publishers to run an auction among multiple ad exchanges but which, as a result of how Google operates, has meant such buyers may be at a data disadvantage vs those participating through Google’s own platform).
Google claims it is “usually not technically possible” for it to identify participants in Header Bidding auctions, and thus that it cannot share data with those buyers. But it’s now committed to address that by working “to create a solution that ensures that all buyers that a publisher works with, including those who participate in Header Bidding, can receive equal access to data related to outcomes from the Ad Manager auction”.
It notes that “in particular” it will be “providing information around the ‘minimum bid to win’ from previous auctions”, going forward — which would address one disadvantageous blind-spot for publishers taking an off-platform route to try to earn more ad revenue.
Another commitment from Google to the French watchdog is a pledge to increase flexibility for publishers using its Ad Manager product — including by letting them set custom pricing rules for ads that are in sensitive categories and implementing product changes aimed at improving interoperability between Ad Manager and third-party ad servers.
Google also writes that it is “reaffirming” that it won’t limit Ad Manager publishers from negotiating specific terms or pricing directly with other sell-side platforms (SSPs); and says it is committing to continue to provide publishers with controls to include or exclude certain buyers at their discretion when they use its product.
The third batch of commitments focus on transparency — and the opacity of adtech has long been a core criticism of the market, including for the competitive dimension as unclear workings by dominant platforms can be used to shield abusive practices from view. (Indeed, L’Autorité already fined Google $166M back in December 2019 for having what it billed then as “opaque and difficult to understand” rules for its ad platform, Google Ads, and for applying them in “an unfair and random manner.”)
On transparency, Google has pledged not to use data from other SSPs to optimize bids in its own exchange in a way that other SSPs can’t reproduce. It also says it’s reupping a promise not to share any bid from any Ad Manager auction participants with any other auction participant prior to completion of the auction.
“Additionally, we’ll give publishers at least three months’ notice for major changes requiring significant implementation effort that publishers must adopt, unless those are related to security or privacy protections, or are required by law,” it further notes.
The commitments made to L’Autorité will apply to how Google operates its adtech in the French market — but are also set to be applied more widely.
“We will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally,” Gomri added in the blog post.
L’Autorité‘s action comes after years of attention paid to the online advertising market.
Back in 2018 it published a report that delved into a number of competitive advantages leveraged by Facebook and Google, noting how the duopoly’s ad targeting offerings benefit from their leadership positions in respective markers and the resultant network effects; and also from their vertical integration model (playing in both publishing and technical intermediation); as well as from the ‘logged’ environments both have developed, requiring users to log in to access ‘free’ services — giving them access to a high volume of sociodemographic and behavioral data to power their ad targeting products, among other competitive advantages.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has also conducted an online ad market study in recent years — findings from which are underpinning ‘pro-competition’ regulatory reform that’s now being targeted at tech giants with ‘strategic market status’ which will, in the future, be subject to an ex ante regime of custom requirements aimed at preemptively preventing market abuse.
The European Commission has, meanwhile, issued multiple antitrust enforcements against Google’s business in recent years — including a $1.7BN fine related to its search ad brokering business, AdSense, in 2019, and a $2.7BN penalty for its price comparison service, Google Shopping, back in 2017, to name two.
More recently, the EU regulators have been reported to be further probing Google’s adtech practices. So more interventions could be forthcoming.
However the Commission’s preferred approach of not imposing specific remedies itself — nor obtaining specific commitments, beyond a general requirement not to continue the sanctioned abuse (or any equivalent behavior) — seems to have failed to move the needle, certainly where Google’s market dominance is concerned.
Still, EU lawmakers’ experience with Google antitrust cases has certainly informed a recent pan-EU plan for a set of ex ante rules to apply to digital ‘gatekeepers’ — incoming under the Digital Markets Act, which was presented by Brussels last December.
The Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s very active competition authority, isn’t letting the grass grow under new powers it gained this year to tackle Big Tech: The Federal Cartel Office (FCO) has just announced a third proceeding against Google.
The FCO’s latest competition probe looks very interesting, as it’s targeting Google News Showcase — Google’s relatively recently launched product which curates a selection of third-party publishers’ content to appear in story panels on Google News (and other Google properties), content for which the tech giant pays a licensing fee.
Google started cutting content licensing deals with publishers around the world for News Showcase last year, announcing a total pot of $1 billion to fund the arrangements — with Germany one of the first markets where it inked deals.
However, its motivation to pay publishers to licence their journalism is hardly pure.
It follows years of bitter accusations from media companies that Google is freeloading off their content. To which the tech giant routinely responded with stonewalling statements — saying it would never pay for content because that’s not how online aggregation works. It also tried to fob off the industry with a digital innovation fund (aka Google News Initiative), which distributes small grants and offers free workshops and product advice, seeking to frame publishers’ decimated business models as a failure of innovation, leaving Google’s adtech machine scot free to steamroller on.
Google’s stonewalling-plus-chicken-feeding approach worked to stave off regulatory action for a long time, but eventually enough political pressure built up around the issue of media business models versus the online advertising duopoly that legislators started to make moves to try to address the power imbalance between traditional publishers and intermediating tech giants.
Most infamously in Australia, where lawmakers passed a news media bargaining code earlier this year.
Prior to its passage, both Facebook and Google, the twin targets for that law, warned the move could result in dire consequences — such as a total shutdown of their products, reduced quality or even fees to use their services.
Nothing like that happened, but lawmakers did agree to a last-minute amendment — adding a two-month mediation period to the legislation which allows digital platforms and publishers to strike deals on their own before having to enter into forced arbitration.
Critics say that allows for the two tech giants to continue to set their own terms when dealmaking with publishers, leveraging market muscle to strike deals that may disproportionately benefit Australia’s largest media firms — and doing so without any external oversight and with no guarantees that the resulting content arrangements foster media diversity and plurality or even support quality journalism.
In the EU, lawmakers acted earlier — taking the controversial route of extending copyright to cover snippets of news content back in 2019. (And Monday June 7 is the deadline for Member States to have transposed the rules into national law.)
France was among the first EU countries to bake the provision into national law — and its competition watchdog quickly ordered Google to pay for news reuse back in 2020 after Google tried to wiggle out of the legislation by stopping displaying snippets in the market.
It responded to the competition authority’s order with more obfuscation, though, agreeing earlier this year to pay French publishers for content reuse but also for their participation in News Showcase — bundling required-by-law payments (for news reuse) with content licensing deals of its own devising. And thereby making it difficult to understand the balance of mandatory payments versus commercial arrangements.
The problem with News Showcase is that these licensing arrangements are being done behind closed doors, in many cases ahead of relevant legislation and thus purely on Google’s terms — which means the initiative risks exacerbating concerns about the power imbalance between it and traditional publishers caught in a revenue bind as their business models have been massively disrupted by the switch to digital.
If Google suddenly offers some money for content, plenty of publishers might well jump — regardless of the terms. And perhaps especially because any publishers that hold out against licensing content to Google at the price it likes risk being disadvantaged by reduced visibility for their content, given Google’s dominance of the search market and content discoverability (via its ability to direct traffic to specific media properties, such as based on how prominently News Showcase content is displayed, for example).
The competition implications look clear.
But it’s still impressive that the Bundeskartellamt is spinning up an investigation into News Showcase so quickly.
The FCO said it’s acting on a complaint from Corint Media — looking at whether the announced integration of the Google News Showcase service into Google’s general search function is “likely to constitute self-preferencing or an impediment to the services offered by competing third parties”.
It also said it’s looking at whether contractual conditions include unreasonable terms (“to the detriment of the participating publishers”); and, in particular, “make it disproportionately difficult for them to enforce the ancillary copyright for press publishers introduced by the German Bundestag and Bundesrat in May 2021” — a reference to the transposed neighbouring right for news in the EU copyright reform.
So it will be examining the core issue of whether Google is trying to use News Showcase to undermine the new EU rights publishers gained under the copyright reform.
The FCO also said it wants to look at “how the conditions for access to Google’s News Showcase service are defined”.
Google launched the News Showcase in Germany on October 1 2020, with an initial 20 media companies participating — covering 50 publications. Although more have been added since.
Per the FCO, the News Showcase “story panels” were initially integrated in the Google News app but can now also be found in Google News on the desktop. It also notes that Google has said the panels will soon also appear in the general Google search results — a move that will further dial up the competition dynamics around the product, given Google’s massive dominance of the search market in Europe.
Commenting on its proceeding in a statement, Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, said: “Cooperating with Google can be an attractive option for publishers and other news providers and offer consumers new or improved information services. However, it must be ensured that this will not result in discrimination between individual publishers. In addition, Google’s strong position in providing access to end customers must not lead to a situation where competing services offered by publishers or other news providers are squeezed out of the market. There must be an adequate balance between the rights and obligations of the content providers participating in Google’s programme.”
Google was contacted for comment on the FCO’s action — and it sent us this statement, attributed to spokesperson, Kay Oberbeck:
Showcase is one of many ways Google supports journalism, building on products and funds that all publishers can benefit from. Showcase is an international licensing program for news — the selection of partners is based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria, and partner content is not given preference in the ranking of our results. We will cooperate fully with the German Competition Authority and look forward to answering their questions.
The FCO’s scrutiny of Google News Showcase, follows hard on the heels of two other Google proceedings it opened last month, one to determine whether or not the tech giant meets the threshold of Germany’s new competition powers for tackling Big Tech — and another examining its data processing practices. Both remain ongoing.
The competition authority has also recently opened a proceeding into Amazon’s market dominance — and is also looking to extend another recent investigation of Facebook’s Oculus business, also by determining whether the social media giant’s business meets the threshold required under the new law.
The amendment to the German Competition Act came into force in January — giving the FCO greater powers to proactively impose conditions on large digital companies that are considered to be of “paramount significance for competition across markets” in order to pre-emptively control the risk of market abuse.
That it’s taking on so many proceedings in parallel against Big Tech shows it’s keen not to waste any time — putting itself in a position to come, as quickly as possible, with proactive interventions to address competitive problems caused by platform giants just as soon as it determines it can legally do that.
The Bundeskartellamt also has a pioneering case against Facebook’s “superprofiling” on its desk — which links privacy abuse to competition concerns and could drastically limit the tech giant’s ability to profile users. That investigation and case has been ongoing for years but was recently referred to Europe’s top court for an interpretation of key legal questions.
If you didn’t want to shell out $9.99 per month to watch the meme-worthy iCarly reboot, now you won’t have to. On Monday, Paramount+ will launch its ad-supported Essential Plan, priced at $4.99 per month.
This less-expensive plan will replace the CBS All Access plan, which included commercials, but also granted access to local CBS stations. If you’re currently subscribed to that $5.99 per month plan, you can keep it. But starting Monday, it won’t be around anymore for new subscribers.
What makes the Essential Plan different from CBS All Access? Subscribers on the new tier will get access to Marquee Sports (including games in the NFL, UEFA Champions, and Europa Leagues), breaking news on CBSN, and all of Paramount’s on-demand shows and movies. This includes offerings from ViacomCBS-owned channels like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel, and more. But, local live CBS station programming will no longer be included. So, if that’s a deal-breaker, you might want to subscribe to CBS All Access this weekend.
The existing Premium Plan ($9.99 per month) removes commercials and adds support for 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision. Like other streaming services, only Premium subscribers will have access to mobile downloads.
Both plans include access to parental controls and up to six individual profiles. The service doesn’t have a watch list at this time. But that has become a baseline feature for being competitive in this space, so it’s not a matter of if, but when.
For comparison, the basic Netflix plan costs $8.99 per month, but only lets you watch on one screen at a time. That makes it harder to share an account with family or friends. Their standard tier is $13.99, making it a bit pricier than Paramount+.
Earlier this week, HBO Max unveiled their own lower-cost, ad-supported subscription tier, priced at $9.99 per month. The WarnerMedia-Discovery merger could also have major implications for the popular streaming service, though how that shakes out in terms of content libraries, or even possibly a combined streaming app, remains to be seen.
Ultimately, consumers will make their decisions about which services to pay for based on a variety of key factors including content, pricing, and user experience. On the content front, Paramount+ plans to announce a slate of big-name titles when the new plan goes live on Monday, in hopes of wooing new subscribers. But the low-cost plan may also appeal to those who don’t necessarily care about top movies – they just want an affordable add-on to their current streaming lineup that provides them with access to some of the programs Netflix lacks.
Paramount+ owner ViacomCBS said it added 6 million global streaming subscribers across their Paramount+, Showtime OTT, and BET+ services in Q1, to end the quarter with 36 million global users. Most of those come from Paramount+.
It was August 2019, and the fundraising process was not going well.
My co-founder and I had left our product management jobs at New Relic several months prior, deciding to finally plunge into building Reclaim after nearly a year of late nights and weekends spent prototyping and iterating on ideas. We had bits and pieces of a product, but the majority of it was what we might call “slideware.”
When you can’t raise big on the vision, you need to raise big on the proof. And the proof comes from building, learning, iterating and getting traction with your first few hundred users.
When we spoke to many other founders, they all told us the same thing: Go raise, raise big, and raise now. So we did that, even though we were puzzled as to why anyone would give us money with little more than a slide deck to our names. We spent nearly three months pitching dozens of VCs, hoping to raise $3 million to $4 million in a seed round to hire our founding team and build the product out.
Initially, we were excited. There was lots of inbound interest, and we were starting to hear a lot of crazy numbers getting thrown around by a lot of Important People. We thought for sure we were maybe a week away from term sheets. We celebrated preemptively. How could it possibly be this easy?
Then in July, almost in an instant, everything started to dry up. The verbal offers for term sheets didn’t materialize into real offers. We had term sheets, but they were from investors that didn’t seem to care much about what we were building or what problems we wanted to solve. We quickly realized that we hadn’t really built momentum around the product or the vision, but were instead caught up in what we later learned to be “deal flow.”
Basically, investors were interested because other investors were interested. And once enough of them weren’t, nobody was.
Fortunately, as I write this today, Reclaim has raised a total of $6.3 million on great terms across a group of incredible investors and partners. But it wasn’t easy, and it required us to embrace our failure and learn three important lessons that I believe every founder should consider before they decide to go out and pitch investors.
In 2019, we were hunting for what some referred to as a “mango seed” — that is, a seed round that was large enough that it was perceptibly closer to a light Series A financing. Being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.
When we did get offers, they involved swallowing some pretty bitter pills: We would be forced to take bad terms that were overly dilutive (at least from our perspective), work with an investor who we didn’t think had high conviction in our product strategy, or relinquish control in the company from an extremely early stage. None of these seemed like good options.
As startups and venture capital grow in tandem, fundraising has gone from a formal affair on Sand Hill Road to a process that can happen anywhere from Twitter to Zoom.
While fundraising may no longer require a trip to California, it might depend on whether you got an invite to a private audio app. And while you may not need to be an insider, second-time founders — largely male and white — still have a competitive advantage.
The growing complexity of fundraising has the opportunity to make tech either inclusive or exclusive. For new founders looking to raise money, let’s dismantle the myths about raising your first check and instead focus on how investors and other successful founders describe the nuance needed to secure money.
This question is existential, but it should be at the forefront throughout your journey as a founder. Elizabeth Yin, founding partner of Hustle Fund, says startups should be able to hit one of two goals: reach $100 million ARR by its fifth year or get to $1 billion in valuation in the same time period.
“This is hard to do. And most businesses will never get there — not for a lack of trying — but there’s a lot of luck whether your idea has that much demand that quickly,” she added.
“I think you will know in the first year or two how ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ it is to get customers and whether you think on that trajectory you can get to $100 million a year in a few years,” Yin said. “And if it’s really hard, it doesn’t mean you throw in the towel. … There are many great companies that are not VC-backable where the founders will make a lot of money, but it just means you need to think through where to get your financing. Perhaps it’s from angels. Perhaps it’s from revenue-based financing funds. Perhaps it’s from customer crowdfunding.”
While VC is the flashy gold medal, the rapid growth of emerging fund managers means that a first check can be piecemealed together from a variety of different sources. The options for financing are seemingly endless: syndicates, public crowdfunding, VC firms, accelerators, debt financing, rolling funds, and, for the profitable few, bootstrapping.
“When people go around saying, ‘Do you want to run a VC-backable company?’ that feels weird — you don’t necessarily get to pick how fast you can grow — the market just may or may not be there,” Yin said. “There’s a lot of luck with that.”
Leslie Feinzaig, founder of Female Founders Collective, said that beyond economics, the hardest part of knowing whether your startup makes sense as a VC-backed business is understanding your own goals as an entrepreneur.
The world of hybrid work is here, and the usual 10-minute intro call, swag bag and first-day team lunch are just not enough to make your new employee feel welcome.
While many companies have found a way to interview and select candidates in a fully remote environment, fewer have spent time and resources on aligning the “pre-boarding” and onboarding process for the new hybrid world of work. Many employers still rely on old ways of welcoming new hires, despite our totally changed work environment.
It’s important to capitalize on candidates’ enthusiasm and eagerness from the moment the offer is signed, instead of when they log in on Day One.
In our experience at Greenhouse, where we help companies as diverse as BuzzFeed, HubSpot and Intercom hire talent across their organization, first impressions can make or break a candidate’s chances of staying at a company.
In fact, 69% of employees will stay for more than three years if their onboarding experience is good, while 20% will leave within 45 days if it’s bad. That difference is costly, as it takes, on average, around $4,129 and 42 days to fill a position.
Replacing someone can cost up to 50%-60% of their annual salary. At the same time, 58% of organizations said they were guilty of centering their onboarding processes on administrative and paperwork requirements alone.
Here is how we advise our clients to set up every new hire for success right from the start.
Most of us can remember the excitement (and anxiety) of receiving and signing an offer for a new job. It’s important to capitalize on candidates’ enthusiasm and eagerness from the moment the offer is signed, instead of when they log in on Day One.