My Startup Story #13: Recruiting the Beta Team

Walking off the plane after the long journey home from India, Mammalz co-founder Rob and I had a fire burning. This time, it wasn’t just our bellies. Our experiences with the tigers of Ranthambhore and our team of developers at KiwiTech brought our passion to a new level. We had several months of MVP (minimum viable product) development to go before we could release the first version of Mammalz to the public, but we needed a team in San Diego well before that happened.

To find a team, you typically need money. We had none. Our deal with KiwiTech had tied up all of our previous investments. It was time to jump back onto the pitching wagon. Throughout the summer of 2019, we spent as much time as we could socializing with the San Diego startup community. We were winning pitch competitions, traveling to investor events put on by our accelerator, and even submitting for grants in every category we could think of, but all we heard was, “No.”

Mammalz co-founder Rob Whitehair (right) and I after our pitch to investors in San Francisco.

It turns out that no matter how good your idea might be, how much market research you’ve done, or how much 5-year planning you’ve detailed, investors don’t want to take a risk before you have a product. Fair enough, but frustrating. Like many other entrepreneurs at this stage, we were in a catch 22.

Rob and I enjoying the summer in North Park, San Diego with friends and family. It turns out that “networking” isn’t the only way to find people who believe in you enough to invest.

By the end of the summer, we were a month out from the completion of our MVP. We were starting to feel desperate. Out of the blue, another “friends and family” hero showed an unusually high level of interest in Mammalz. Just in time, she committed to our proposed investment terms with exactly what we needed to bring on a team for a three-month beta. Repeatedly, Rob and I find ourselves in situations like these where you feel as if you’re going to reach some unfulfilling end. You begin to question everything you’re doing, and each time it happens, you struggle more and more to stay confident. You listen to investor feedback and pivot your pitch, then you get different investor feedback and pivot again, and pretty soon, you’ve pivoted so many times you’ve almost come full circle. Our pitch deck today tells the same story we were telling three years ago. So, why don’t we stick to our guts? The truth is, it’s terrifying to be stubborn when you hear so many nos. I’m not saying you should be endlessly stubborn until someone says, “Yes,” because I see that in our industry, too. That gets you nowhere. Don’t stick your head in the sand and block out feedback. The key is knowing what feedback to take, and that’s where your own creativity and expertise come into play. That said, once you feel like you’re striking the right chords for both yourself and your listeners, drive that story into the middle of the Earth if you have to. And be nice while you’re doing it. Based on our experiences so far, someone always comes to help if you show enough dedication, intellect, and kindness. As I’m sitting here at home during the Coronavirus shelter-in-place, I’m repeating that last sentence to myself like a crazy person. It’s okay Alex, everything will be okay… look at that dedication! So proud of you.

Did you like that small rant? I’m glad. Okay, so there we were in August with a new, shiny investment in our pocket. It was time to find some people who believed in us. Pam, our Head of Marketing, and I teamed up to find a few growth strategists who could help us make the Mammalz beta a success. We didn’t have any money to spend on marketing, so we needed to find people who were creative and dedicated to our mission. Ideally, they would stick around long-term and ride the Mammalz train into the sunset (unlike the team we had assembled the previous year).

As seemingly impossible that sounded, we were pleasantly surprised by San Diego. Our decision to move here was a good one after all. Within a week of posting job offers on sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed, we had hundreds of applicants. Everyone wanted to save the planet and work the startup lifestyle. After dozens of interviews, we honed in on a team of three whom we felt would work perfectly together and offered them jobs. In a day, the Mammalz team doubled in size. The only downside: Rob’s kitchen table only had four chairs. We needed to find a workspace.

By the 1st of September, we had found our community growth team and a workspace in the heart of North Park, an inland neighborhood of San Diego. To enter the space, we needed to pass through a flower shop. Isn’t that cute? I think the only thing more “startup” than that is your parents’ garage, but that’s not as cute.

The entrance to the flower shop — and to our first workspace!

New Mammalz Team size: 6 awesome people. Time remaining until beta launch: 7 days.

The Mammalz beta team from on September 4th, 2019.

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Alexander Finden

Co-founder of Mammalz, underwater cinematographer and Divemaster