When it comes to raising funding, Amit Avner's been there, done that. He's the founder and CEO of Taykey, a New York City-based advertising startup that on Tuesday will announce its fourth major round of venture-capital backing.
The new infusion of funds totals $15 million, and comes largely from the same slate of investors who have reliably backed the 100-person company in the past, including SoftBank Capital, Sequoia Capital, and Tenaya Capital. The funding is slated to be used for launching and supporting Taykey's new marketing platform, which will automate the ad-buying process for its customers, which include large companies such as Disney, MasterCard, and Toyota.
In addition to the New York office, Taykey also has a sizeable engineering operation in Israel, where Avner was raised, and maintains small sales offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It has recently hit its stride, with revenue rising 600 percent over the past two years.
I said "largely the same slate of investors," because something's different this fourth time around. This round includes one of Silicon Valley's most boldfaced names, that of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who is also managing partner of his own investment firm, Innovation Endeavors. I asked Avner how he caught Schmidt's attention and secured his backing.
How did you get introduced to Innovation Endeavors, Eric Schmidt's venture arm?
We started to work on raising funding three or four months ago. Dror Berman, who I run into often through events and stuff, runs the fund. He may have brought it to Eric's attention. He's Israeli. It's really great when someone understands startups as much as Eric's investment team does--they are incredible.
So did you meet directly with Eric?
We met with him a few times during the process.
Were you nervous?
I was. You assume before a meeting like that that this person is super-intimidating and very smart. You sort of think of every word you say ahead of time because you want to sound smart as well, and be memorable. He's probably meeting Bill Clinton, or someone like that, after me.
What did you talk about?
He asked what we were struggling with. As a growing company, we do have logistical issues: We have four offices, and keeping them coordinated across time zones is a challenge.
Did he help?
He suggested we do a monthly New York meeting for all our managers from around the world. He has scaled huge companies before, and he gets it. He's an amazing operator.
Did you say anything that you think particularly impressed him?
I have an accent. I'm foreign and I talk really fast. It makes you look more exotic. That's almost always a good thing.
How long was it before the conversation turned to funding?
Well, not long in the end, but I probably met five or six people from the fund over a couple of years before anything happened. And I've become closer with Dror, the managing partner. He's the driving force of the fund--and he has zero ego, despite having a really unique personality.
What would you recommend to a founder just starting an attempt to raise outside money? And how can they get to Eric Schmidt?
All of Eric Schmidt's investments are managed by the fund, Innovation Endeavors. They do amazing events and have a great network. I'd say it's one of the top funds in the Bay Area. They are very much about the culture of getting their founders together. I've known them for two years before this all happened--I was always friendly with this fund because they are really smart people. Go to their events.
Let's not act like you don't run a company full time. How do you even find time for events?
You want to--when you're just starting out--go to a lot of events, until you have a solid network. I met Dror at an event called f.ounders in Dublin. I met my Sequoia investors in an Israeli event. I used to go to a lot--but now I have it narrowed down to about four really good events per year.