First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Forest Richter: Thank you for thinking of us. All things considered, we’re fine. It’s certainly been a challenge, and there is a heightened sense of anxiety, but we have stayed safe and healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Uncrowd.io.
Forest Richter: My background is in operations. Five years ago, I was burned out in my corporate role and transitioned to an ops role at a startup that had just secured seed funding. This was my first exposure to the startup world and venture funding. That experience has shaped every move my career has taken since then. I left that first job to run ops at an earlier stage startup. In my spare time, I launched a consulting firm and co-founded Uncrowd.io.
Uncrowd.io was born from my frustrations around the venture funding ecosystem. The entire process is inefficient (warm intros, networking events) and exclusive (90% of venture funding goes to white males). Investors claimed they had a “pipeline problem” that lacked diverse founders. We knew we could solve that problem, while also streamlining the startup discovery process.
How does your company innovate?
Forest Richter: Much of our innovation has been driven by the community, as opposed to technology. Our original goal was to make it easier for investors to discover startups they would have otherwise overlooked. What we have found is that we need to provide significantly more support to our startup users. We’re working to build more resources and education around venture funding while building a community for underrepresented founders.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Forest Richter: Our entire go-to-market strategy was based on in-person events. We intentionally launched our MVP at the end of February with plans of connecting with new users at SXSW. From there we had mapped out a road tour across various tech ecosystems throughout the summer. Obviously, that whole plan was scrapped, and we’ve had to find other ways to onboard new users.
Coronavirus has created some opportunities for us, too. Traditional networking is dead, and our platform has provided an easy alternative for investors to connect with startups. We’ve also been able to connect with incredible founders and investors from all over the world. I don’t think a lot of those conversations would have happened without the transition to video chat.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Forest Richter: Building a company from the ground up is very hard, and doing so during a pandemic sometimes feels insane. Still, we’re seeing growth and finding new opportunities to make an impact in the startup ecosystem. It’s reaffirmed a lot of the lean startup principles I ascribe to. We’ve had to be very smart with resources and have been able to keep our operating expenses low.
There have been a number of difficult choices, and usually, they relate to what we want to do, versus what we can do given our resources. Still, as a team, we’re incredibly passionate about the mission. This summer has highlighted the need for racial equity, and its importance to all of us that we make a positive impact where we can. For us, that is the startup ecosystem. Our commitment to the mission and understanding of its importance makes the work much easier. The lesson I’ve learned is to build a team of mission-aligned people.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Uncrowd.io in the future?
Forest Richter: In general, I deal with stress through physical activity. I love rock, climbing and volleyball. I teach yoga. However, during the coronavirus pandemic, I have been less physically active. Honestly, I have not been managing my stress particularly well. For the first time in my life, I’m seeing a therapist, and I think it’s important to share that information. Life as a founder is hard, and there is a lot of pressure to “grind” until you achieve success. Taking care of yourself is an important investment in the success of your company. There is no shame in self-care.
As we look to the future, I see a lot of opportunity for Uncrowd. We’ve had positive conversations with investors who understand what we’re building, and more importantly, why we’re building it. We are on the cusp of a tidal wave of successful underrepresented startup founders, and we’re hoping to be a key contributor to many of those investor connections.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Forest Richter: Our primary competitors are sites like AngelList, Gust, Pitchbook, and Crunchbase. These are the default platforms for investor deal flow; however, none of them are built (or optimized) for discovery. There is a very cool company called Valence, that is doing something similar to us, specifically among black founders and investors.
However, our largest “competitor” is networking. It’s hard to change investor habits, and warm introductions are an important part of deal flow for investors. It’s also the reason that the VC ecosystem is so homogenous. Of people that identify as venture capitalists, 82% are male, 70% are white, and 40% attended Harvard or Stanford. 90% of venture investments go to straight, white males. This is a byproduct of warm introductions driving deal flow. Its also created an inefficiency that some investors are starting to understand. We don’t think we’re going to replace networking, but we don’t need to. Uncrowd complements the existing top of funnel deal flow to expand visibility beyond investors’ immediate connections.
Your final thoughts?
Forest Richter: Innovation is driven by people who are not satisfied or not supported by the status quo. In the United States, black household income is 54% lower than white households, and black household net worth is 10X lower than white households. The next great innovators in our country will be founders of color, who are tired of working twice as hard for half the pay. Investing in these founders is not charity. I have had to repeat this point more times than I count. This the single biggest opportunity in venture funding. These founders are going to create some very wealthy investors.
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