Allan Isfan is a co-founder of FaveQuest, a young start-up. This blog covers start-up topics.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


getting over the fear of a start-up

Marc Andreesen (of Netscape fame) wrote an excellent blog recently listing the top reasons not to do a start up. He was really bang on ... An excellent read with many other fantastic blogs and comments In the end it is either in you or not but how do you know? Most often, fear clouds the judgement and people don't do what they really want to do. Once you do away with the fear, you think more clearly.
When I think about my own situation, I can point to so many people that gave me confidence. This ranges from my own parents who always had incredible courage leaving a communist country with two kids and absolutely nothing else. My parents had incredible conviction and perseverance. I still remember being seven years old (just before we left Romania) and my dad signing me up for a bike race in the 10 year old group. I had a crappy bike but he ran beside me the whole way giving me so much strength I actually won. They didn't want to award me the cup because I was too young but there was no way my dad would give up until they did. I still have that cup.
The extensive list also includes my wife who has supported me since we started together when I was in grade eight! Don't know what she saw in that skinny guy with big hair and a pack of smokes rolled up in his cut-off tee shirt. Glad she stuck with me ... not sure where I would be without her. After I quit my job a Ciena a year ago, she agreed to start Isfan Solutions Inc with me even though her own graphics company was doing just fine without me.

It also includes strong bosses who would not put up with crap forcing me to aim higher while also checking with my wife to see how I was doing when I got Myasthenia Gravis as we were about to have our first child and I could barely stand, hold a fork or even swallow. As I decided to leave Ciena, several of the executives as well as some of the original founders of Catena encouraged me as they continue to do. A couple of them even got me consulting opportunities which helped me get through the worry of at least some income while I pursued my dream of creating a great new start-up. It made putting in the resignation letter that much easier.

Since I left, Leo Lax from Skypoint Capital gave me the opportunity to join Skypoint as an Entrepreneur In Residence. It has been a fantastic learning experience and has opened up a new world. I now have amazing partners and advisers that keep me on my toes every day. They are all much better at what they do than I would ever be and I am extremely fortunate to be leading such a fantastic team. People always recommend to surround yourself with people that are better than you and I certainly have managed to do that.

I recently had the third annual Isfan Palooza in our back yard, complete with a live band by the pool and later around the bonfire. We must have had close to 100 people or so, with quite a bunch sticking around by the bonfire late into the night.

Many of these were ex Catena people and it reminds me of the amazing times we had, especially when we hit critical milestones: the first ASIC out of the fab and working in the lab, the first time we made a phone call or streamed a video through our new product, the first tradeshow, the first customer and so on.
We are now pitching MYDYO to VCs and I certainly get the feeling it will be a long hard road which is not a surprise. We will get there but continued support is always helpful. I am a lucky man indeed. When we hit it big, I will have many people to share our success with and those that know me certainly don't doubt it will be a good time.
Allan Isfan
PS. Come find me on facebook and check out the photos of Isfan Palooza

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 10, 2007


4 VC meetings, many more to go

It has been a while since I blogged and much has happened since. Note that I will be transforming the blog into more of a short "daily musings of a start-up founder", similar to Fred Wilson's blog entitled "musings of a VC in NYC" that I have been enjoying so much (

I was recently in Williamsburg, VA for a panel discussion on regulatory issues affecting broadband deployment. This is connected to my other personality as the "engineering" component of Isfan Solutions Inc. ... a consulting firm my wife and I founded a year ago (she had been running her own company for about fourteen years). A very interesting panel discussion and got to very briefly check out this pretty cool colonial town. Will definitely go back this summer with the family on our way to Charleston, SC to celebrate my niece's 16th birthday.

Also got to see Roger Waters play a fantastic show in Ottawa while the Senators unfortunately lost to the Anaheim ducks in the Stanley Cup final. It was a truly magical show and I strongly recommend not missing it if you have a chance (though it was extremely political ... a pink pig flying around the arena with anti-war and anti-bush messages).

On the VC front, we finally kicked off requests for VC meetings and managed to pitch to a few major VCs and a strategic investor so far and overall it went very well. So what does that actually mean? What makes an entrepreneur think a pitch went well?

1) very likely to have a follow up meeting
You don't really know until the next meeting actually happens. However, indications are that we will have follow up meetings with an expanding group of partners.

2) lots of good dynamic discussion
All meetings involved lots of great discussion with many great comments and questions. The partners were clearly enganged and involved which shows some interest in the topic. They also appeared genuinly interested to continue the discussion.

3) learned something new and useful about the VC and ourselves
In one case, the VC is very interested in knowing about our technical intellectual property. Unfortunately, we didn't focus on that very much but at least we now know it is very important to them so that will be a major focus during the next meeting. Fortunately, my partner and I both have credibility in terms of IP as we both have patents and history in complex technology. We have lots of patentable concepts but need to get moving on filing them.

In another case, it was less about technology but more about go-to-market strategy and shooting for the stars. We are actually not planning for a huge A round after the seed and are able to become profitable on only one round. This can create a perception that we are not thinking big enough even though we are. The basic question was "once your trial is complete and you have validated/adjusted your assumptions, how do you aggressively bring this to market to secure your place in a significant way, i.e. land grab". Another question in a similar direction was "if you could raise more money than projecting right now, what would you do differently?".

Answer I gave was not great ... more work there to make the our case and pitch that aspect more convincingly.

4) every pitch gets better
Every time we pitch to a partner, VC or other interested party, we learn something very valuable that gets folded back in to the plan and pitch and the whole story gets better.

I continue to be convinced that we are on to something significant and have credibility in the space. If we continue to evolve as necessary, make every pitch better than the last one and get follow up meetings with partners and VCs, we'll close our funding and step on the gas. In the meantime, we have been experimenting and implementing some of our concepts and I'm really enjoying being a customer which bodes well for the future.

Let me leave you with a question/comment that I hope will generate some thoughts and feedback. Our strategy has always been to think about the consumer first. We want to build a very simple, intuitive and personal service that amazes people by what it can do for them. You always hope that it takes off like wildfire and virally ramps to millions of people. We get picked up by a major player for some crazy valuation and everyone is happy even if we never made a dime. Think YouTube, Skype, MySpace ... you get the picture. However, as I always say, hope is not a strategy. We have therefore been spending a significant amount of time and effort creating a strong go-to-market strategy and business model that actually creates revenue instead of just thinking about how to get as many consumers to sign on, regardless of potential revenue. I believe in solid business concepts and creating a viable entity that can grow and make money without having to cross our fingers and pray that someone picks us up before we run out of cash. Are we crazy?

Labels: , , , , ,