It’s official! Microryza is now a part of the 500 Startups family. After a month of ironing out the details, we’re proud to say we’ve accepted an investment from the 500 Startups fund, led by Dave McClure.
Not only is it a special because it’s our first investment, but also because the 500 Startups family is truly special. We’re looking forward to joining an incredible group of founders, mentors, and staff.
So to commemorate the moment I figured we would follow a rite of passage of all 500 companies. Here is our story of how we got our first investment.
Our story of serendipity started with a hackathon. Back in June, I bought a few tickets to Angelhack, a nationwide weekend event in multiple cities including Seattle. We mainly bought the tickets thinking there would be tons of food (we were not disappointed), and after hacking together an idea for an open-access science lab notebook called Sciants, we were somehow selected by the judges to represent Seattle as finalists. So off we went to Palo Alto on a free expenses-paid trip!
We figured we might as well get the most out of the free trip, so Cindy and I packed our extra days with meetings. The trip was spectacular, as I ended up meeting some of the most incredible people I’ve ever known - folks like Jonathan Nelson of Hackers and Founders, Ann Miura-Ko at Floodgate, the Learnsprout team, Niko Bontasos, Elizabeth and Dan of ScienceExchange, Paul Gu at Upstart, Biocurious, TapIn and their pizza eating team, and many other insane people.
We were actually on our way to a meeting at a small Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Mountain View. So, we were driving down the main street looking for parking, when suddenly we see Dave McClure shuffling across street (in flip flops) directly in front of us.
I think I noticed him first, but it took Cindy and I a few moments as our brains went into fart mode. We had heard that it was 500’s Demo Day, so we were slightly confused as it was unexpected to see Dave walking around. It was only after he had walked past the car and towards a small convenience store that I blurted out “That’s Dave McClure!”. Without needing to say anything else, Cindy immediately bolted out of the car and chased after him.
After the slight panic passed, I started driving down streets desperately looking for a parking spot. I got out of the car and ran to where Cindy was, and found her there standing triumphantly with a business card. Dave’s business card!
Cindy had followed him into the crosswalk and pitched him on the spot. She told him “We’re from Seattle and we’re revolutionizing science”. He was really preoccupied but was really polite about the whole thing, and said to “call him” before we left.
So for the remaining three days of the trip, Cindy kept calling and texting Dave nonstop asking when we could meet, or if he had 10 minutes. Surprisingly, Dave would always respond immediately, but in a very ambiguous, mystical, and non-committal way. We later learned that’s just how Dave talks.
The last day of our trip rolls around, we’ve had all these incredible meetings, but we still haven’t formally met with Dave. So the morning of our flight, we said YOLO and decided to drive to Mountain View to try to get into the 500 office. With no address but armed with Google-Fu, we somehow find the building and get inside the elevator. Once we stepped out, we were flanked by two shut doors with signs that said something like “IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MEETING THEN GO AWAY”. We bravely knocked on the door anyways, and were greeted by a very busy looking Christine Tsai (on her desk was a small mountain of business cards and papers) who instantly demanded, “Do you have a meeting?”
“Of course!” we said, “well, Dave kind of, sort of told us to stop by”. Before we could say anything else, Christine starts looking for him and gave a big sigh, complaining about how “Dave always does this”. Off we went on a semi-tour/man-hunt through the 500 space.
After 20 minutes, we couldn’t find him, at which point Christine started asking us questions and getting suspicious. In a perfect move of deflection, Cindy actually starts pitching Christine Tsai, which very clearly annoys her. So we left dejected thinking we’d done all we could, and we were ready to fly back to Seattle without having pitched Dave. But as we were leaving through the lobby of building, we see Dave! So we lurked in the lobby for a few minutes, he spotted us, and invited us back up.
What followed was supposed to be a pitch, but ended up being a mess. We didn’t have laptops, and Cindy was scrambling to download Dropbox, so that we could download our deck, all the while we’re trying to explain to idea to him.
Imagine trying to show Dave McClure your deck on this phone. We actually did.
Dave was silent the entire time, because I think he was intimidated by how quickly Cindy was talking and how little breathing she was doing. By the end, Dave was impressed enough to give us his card (again) and say “You guys have the right to call me anytime, I’m interested”. As soon as we leave, we start pinging advisers who know Dave well to put in a positive word for us.
We leave SF on a high, when a few weeks later we get a call directly from Dave. He chats with Cindy and says “So. I’m on vacation. But we’re quickly filling up spots for our next batch of statups. Would you guys be interested in being a part of it? Oh, also, next week I’m going to be on a train going from Portland to Vancouver”. That’s it. No offer or specifics. Again, super ambiguous.
The event was a Geeks on a Train trip up for Grow Conference being held in Vancouver. Dave’s cryptic message seemed like a hint, so we decided we had to be on that train. Tickets were sold out, but they were also like $200 each. We decided our plan was to buy tickets for the train to Vancouver and sneak into the compartment where all the geeks, and thus Dave, where.
Once we get to the Seattle train station to wait for the train’s arrival, we are immediately greeted by Ben Huh carrying 16-racks of beer, who of course hands us one. Sweet, we blend in. Once we’re in the train car, it’s chaos. Tons of drinking, networking, and loud music is going on, and Dave is surrounded by people. We say hello to him, and he’s like “Give me 10 minutes, let’s talk”. Of course, several hours pass and we still can’t even get into the car that he is in.
This is actually a picture of me in a Geekwire article where I was furiously trying to make changes to the deck while waiting to catch Dave.
Finally we decide to plant ourselves next to him. After he finally notices us, he’s like “Let’s chat!”, so we leave the car and go into the standing space in between train cars.
It was loud, I was sitting on the floor, but we had Dave to ourselves for a glorious 30 minutes. He went through our deck, gave us tons of honest feedback on our progress. Finally hearing him open up was well worth the effort to get there.
Once we got to Vancouver, we immediately took a 3 hour bus back to Seattle, hopped on a plane to Mountain View the next day, met with Christine Tsai, and pretty much began the process of becoming a part of the 500 Startups family. Over the following few months, we got to know more about the staff, exchanged great ideas, and solidified Microryza’s first investment.
Hope you enjoyed our story!