How My College Startup Got Backed by Legendary VC Tim Draper

My college startups logo and tagline

It was the year 2013 and I was a senior at my university which bears the infamous nickname Zoomass Slamherst. It was a really fun school but because my major was computer engineering, I didn’t get to fully enjoy the social aspects of college. I mostly remember sleepless nights in the library with my fellow classmates. As seniors, we were required to spend the entire year building a real physical product for our final huzzah! I had seen several previous years projects, some were viable products I could see myself using. The best example was this project that was essentially Tile or more relevant now, Apple AirTags. They spent a whole year building this real product that real people would use and at the end they just scrapped the entire thing. I was personally offended. Why would students spend so much time and effort on a product they could try to turn into a company and gain invaluable experience? I decided that I was not going to waste this opportunity. This is when I realized how much of an opportunist I am.

The Idea

The typical student group looked like 4 computer engineers. Not mine. I put together a team of computer science students (different major) and brought them to a hackathon at Yale. We placed in the top 6 and walked away with $500 for an idea that allows seamless contact exchange with just a handshake. We even got honorable mention in a TechCrunch article. The idea was inspired from my summer internship in FAANG in the year 2013 when I went to countless networking events and met so many future founders and builders whom I wished I could remember and had saved their contacts. Imagine a world where you automatically have a log of people you’ve met (confirmation pending) with just a simple handshake.

We proved, to some degree, product market fit and technical viability by using an existing wearable called the pebble smart watch (RIP). My mission during senior year was to turn this idea into a full blown startup. I had 3 computer science students to now build the android, iOS app, and website. I had 3 other computer engineers to design the algorithms and custom wristband pcbs (printed circuit boards) that housed the processor, bluetooth module, and accelerometer. I then continued to recruit because we needed designers, a mechanical engineer for the enclosing unit and wristband materials, and I wanted a business co-founder who could just focus on fundraising so I could focus on managing the technical team. By the end I had a roster of 15 students volunteering out of pure excitement for being apart of a startup which was rare because UMass was no Stanford or MIT.

The Startup

Our school didn’t have the same resources as others like startup celebrity alumni. We managed to get mentorship from Jim Giza 1st technical employee at Kayak and Steve King 2nd sales hire at Facebook, but TBH they weren’t much help. My business partner was doing a great job winning pitch competitions and getting grants but eventually we decided to go our separate ways and split as co-founders. As the end of the year approached, we had built something amazing but there was still a long road ahead. There was too much risk involved for my 15 volunteers to join me on the long road of building a company from scratch. This is right about the time Tim Draper comes into the picture, but not in the way you’d think.

About halfway through the year, I did a comprehensive search for competitors and found only one. They were a team based out in California, the opposite coast. All my research indicated that we started around the same time and have reached roughly the same milestones as us with one huge difference. They were venture backed by the billionaire, Tim Draper known for investing in Baidu, Skype, Tesla, Twitch, and Bitcoin. It gave me hope that we were competent enough to compete, but probably not for long. Setting aside my pride, I cold emailed the CEO Brian who was around my age and he responded!

The Competition

Long story short, we ended up meeting in person after he offered me to crash with him at SXSW in Austin where he was a panelist for a wearable tech conference. He was the real deal and seemed to be way more mature and knowledgable than me. We got a long really well and I showed my entire hand telling him that I’m convinced that we’ll end up working together when I graduate. He introduces me to the inventor of the Nike fuel pods who after hearing of my hackathon experience (I attended a lot) invites me to go to London and throw a hackathon for his new company. It was the coolest experience - I felt like a hotshot. On my flight back to the U.S. I get an email from Brian saying he can’t attend this all expenses paid trip to Taiwan to tour manufacturing companies and asks if I can represent his company, Loopd. My nationality is Taiwanese and I’ve been dying to go back to visit family and I said yes without hesitation. I spent very little time my senior year in classes.

May 2014, immediately after graduation I move to northern California to work with Brian and his team of 3 co-founders. I essentially dissolved my company and joined them as the first employee. We worked out of Tim Draper’s Hero City, a co-working space for startups. I had worked my ass off to get a full time offer from my internship the summer before but I had to explore the potential of this startup that I felt was just as much mine as theirs. I pushed back my start date to October and the next 5 months were, to this day, the most fun i’ve had in a professional working environment. Every day was different and there was so much progress all the time. I felt like we were on a rocket ship. We launched a successful Indiegogo campaign and were even one of the first to accept bitcoin.

I was even able to convince my previous investors from college to invest hundreds of thousands into our seed round. That’s when things got sticky. Essentially there was some drama between the founders and investors which I was not a part of because they had a plan that they failed to communicate to the investors or myself. That plan, which involved all three cofounders to physically spread out across the world, did not fly with the investors and I decided I wouldn’t stick around to see the end of our glory days.

I started my new career as a software engineer in FAANG in October 2014 and I’ve been there for almost 8 years as of this post. So that’s how “my” startup got backed by Tim Draper.

© 2022. All rights reserved. Marco Chiang

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