It’s been a wild ride in the last seven days – since we launched Glowforge at Makerfaire, we’ve had more than $5M in pre-orders. To put that in perspective, the most-backed 3D printer in history (as best we can tell) raised $3.5M, and that took 30 days. If we were a Kickstarter, we’d be nipping at Levar Burton’s heels. And we still have three more to go.
I love numbers, and I’m somewhat embarrassed that, in all the fuss, we didn’t properly instrument conversion tracking on glowforge.com. We know visitors, but not buyers. My bad. I’m going to share as much as I’ve got, regardless.
I’ll start with the stat that blew me away the most: top referrers. Here’s the raw data, courtesy Google Analytics.
|Source / Medium||Sessions||% New Sessions||New Users||Bounce Rate||Pages / Session||Avg. Session Duration|
|(direct) / (none)||126906||81.65%||103617||36.46%||2.56||140.15|
|google / organic||99287||76.58%||76030||39.17%||2.67||183.57|
|m.facebook.com / referral||31096||94.13%||29271||59.71%||1.67||54.06|
|facebook.com / referral||27966||79.39%||22201||44.38%||2.56||164.35|
|news.ycombinator.com / referral||19108||86.18%||16468||2.79%||3.27||104.53|
|t.co / referral||9839||79.21%||7793||36.02%||2.46||101.01|
|boingboing.net / referral||3079||77.88%||2398||14.55%||3.55||182.80|
|l.facebook.com / referral||2961||77.61%||2298||50.32%||2.37||134.49|
|uncrate.com / referral||2080||86.73%||1804||57.98%||1.95||179.96|
|producthunt.com / referral||1942||82.70%||1606||38.21%||2.39||141.64|
|tested.com / referral||1920||63.91%||1227||21.61%||3.76||251.15|
|yonkis.com / referral||1705||93.72%||1598||39.59%||2.12||77.50|
|bing / organic||1264||70.81%||895||34.10%||3.25||231.78|
|yahoo / organic||1077||75.86%||817||36.12%||2.92||237.61|
|techcrunch.com / referral||1055||70.71%||746||14.31%||4.53||258.92|
|thenextweb.com / referral||1013||74.33%||753||19.25%||3.29||160.95|
|core77.com / referral||976||84.12%||821||44.77%||2.31||208.62|
|hackernewsletter / email||887||88.05%||781||48.93%||1.93||131.16|
|youtube.com / referral||885||44.86%||397||29.83%||2.94||190.92|
|makezine.com / referral||861||64.92%||559||25.09%||4.15||264.43|
|reddit.com / referral||841||41.14%||346||39.83%||3.30||166.17|
|inplus.tw / referral||778||87.53%||681||48.97%||2.14||130.74|
|xconomy.com / referral||721||77.81%||561||11.93%||3.93||220.14|
|feedly.com / referral||702||86.89%||610||36.04%||2.83||115.90|
|feld.com / referral||673||65.68%||442||30.16%||2.64||106.21|
|geekwire.com / referral||635||62.36%||396||24.72%||3.45||203.10|
|wired.com / referral||532||53.38%||284||29.32%||4.48||241.35|
|plus.url.google.com / referral||510||64.12%||327||36.27%||3.14||152.87|
|ozbargain.com.au / referral||414||84.78%||351||62.56%||1.84||199.29|
Now: knock me over with a feather. After direct and facebook, the number one referrer – by a huge margin – was Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com). Not only did it deliver the numbers, but when compared to the averages, it killed in pages/session and bounce rate. I’m actually a little puzzled by the bounce rate one – how could 97% of people have not bounced? It boggles the mind. Something’s odd there.
I did miss something interesting there though: mobile facebook beat desktop. I don’t have an explanation for that at all; most of our traffic is desktop, so that doesn’t make sense. Another mystery. But it’s a good thing the site design is responsive.
In any case, twitter was next, then boingboing. Uncrate, producthunt, tested.com did an epic 22 minute hands on video so those all make sense. Then… Yonkis? I’ll save you an oops-click: Yonkis is quite NSFW, and entirely in Spanish. I’m just not sure what we’re doing there. Maybe someone who speaks Spanish (and isn’t at work) can tell me.
It’s cute to see Bing and Yahoo waving from the back of the bus. I was surprised Techcrunch punched so low. Makezine.com sent us some really engaged traffic (4.15 pages average, and look at the huge time on site!) and there were some solid contributions from articles in xconomy, geekwire, an old Wired article, and of course our board member Brad Feld. It’s good to have a board member who can drive $60k in revenue overnight with a blog post.
Moving on to actual orders, we had some internal bets about what % of total orders would come from overseas. At first I thought I was going down – I guessed 20%, but it was coming in at 10%. We knew it was going to be low because it’s stupidly expensive to ship a 46″ x 29″ x 16″ box halfway around the world. I’ve investigated cheaper international shipping options before, but the time it would have taken to make this happen would have just come out of the logistics work that we needed to do to ship to the rest of our customers in a timely fashion.
But here’s the funny thing: the international percentages crept up, and are now nearly 20%. I think I know why. But to explain, I have to jump over to another set of analytics: customer support.
We’ve had 4,000 trouble tickets pour in since we launched. And that’s not counting the questions on Twitter, comment threads on articles, and the conversation on our own Discourse-powered board (for backers only) at community.glowforge.com. As soon as we went live, we convened a war room in our hotel, and the entire company shuttled between booth duty doing demos (like this) and answering tickets. Our backlog exploded as thousands of tickets went unanswered.
We’ve got things under control now and are clearing out the last 800 or so backlogged tickets, but what we found was that international customers had a disproportionate number of questions. As we answered them, they started buying. That was unexpected, but cool – we unlocked a ton of revenue by ceasing to suck at support.
Finally, the sales breakdown. We got a lot of stuff wrong, but this was probably the biggest. We offer three models: basic, basic with air filter, and pro with air filter. Everything seen on our site can be made with the basic, and it’s priced at about a fifth of the most popular lasers from companies like Epilog and Trotec. We figured people were going to flood to it, then maybe upgrade to the air filter. The air filter is another steal because similar hardware goes for $2,500, but it’s just $500 additional. But our favorite offering was the Pro model. We almost didn’t make it available – paradox of choice and all – and we thought people might not want it. It’s meaningfully more expensive at $3,995. But it’s the one all of us are getting. It’s faster (upgraded optics and tube). It can run all day (upgraded cooling). And it has a passthrough, coupled with software to optically track the material as it goes through – so you can cut material that’s 20″ x 8 feet long. Laser furniture!
The Pro has a big drawback though: while the Basic is a Class 1 laser device (like a blu-ray player), the passthrough makes the Pro a Class IV device. It requires safety precautions like warning signs and safety goggles. Anyway, our rough guess was something like 50% basic, 40% basic + air, 10% pro.
Knock me over with a feather: the mix turned out to be 23% basic, 29% basic + air, 48% pro. Everyone wants the Glowforge Pro. Which is awesome, because we know Pro users are going to have the best possible Glowforge experience, and we really want as many people as possible to have that. (Safely though! Make sure you don’t have little ones around if you’re buying the Pro, and read up on laser safety).
That’s what we’ve got for data so far – hope it proves interesting!
One of our most common requests from customers is that they would like us to add a standard warranty. OK! We’re going to do it. While this isn’t the full legal warranty (coming soon, from our friendly neighborhood lawyer), this is the basics of what we plan to cover with it:
The short version is that there’s a 6 month warranty on basic and a 12 month warranty on Pro.
And some details:
- If your machine is defective when you receive it, we’ll make it right immediately.
- For US customers, if it develops a problem later that’s our fault, we’ll either (at our option) ship you the parts that need to be replaced along with detailed instructions, or ship it back to us for repair or replacement – in either case, for free, including shipping.
- For international customers, parts and repairs are free, but shipping is not included.
- The warranty covers everything except the air filter cartridges.
- Unfortunately, if you modify your firmware, we can’t cover your Glowforge under warranty (because it’s easy to break your Glowforge by modifying your firmware!)
We just got back from doing more than 100 prints on a single Glowforge at Makerfaire – by far the biggest workout we’ve given a Glowforge in a single day! It went beautifully. We really believe in these machines and are excited to be able to support them like this.
We’ve heard a ton of amazing feedback from our community in the 12 or so hours since Glowforge has launched, and one question stood out to us: what if you buy a Glowforge, and something happens to us?
This came up both in person at MakerCon while we demo’d the unit and online, particularly in the lively discussion on Hacker News. Because Glowforge is powered by the cloud, it’s an important question. Long term, we’re working on some cool solutions, but short term, here’s a commitment we’ll make right now: When we launch Glowforge, we’ll also release a copy of the firmware under GPL.
Glowforge firmware is user-flashable, so you’ve got both an escape hatch (if something happens to us) and a platform to experiment with. If you buy it, it’s yours – you should be able to do what you want with it.
Thanks so much for your interest and excitement in what we’re building. If you’re in NYC this weekend, come by Maker Faire to see us and make something!
PS: no pentalobe screws either.
Today we’re delighted to announce our first three products: Glowforge, Glowforge Air Filter, and Glowforge Pro.
For $1,995 – half off our planned MSRP – you get all the amazing features we’ve been working on. A laser that can fabricate beautiful things from dozens of materials. Cameras that can scan your art and align your materials. 3D depth sensors that calibrate to your raw materials. The list goes on and on, and we’re constantly developing more with our cloud software that drives it all.
We’re going to be launching at Maker Faire, where we’re going to let hundreds of kids design acrylic toys for themselves with just a pen! I can’t wait to see what they do.
For $2,495, we have another option: we’ll add the Glowforge Air Filter. With the Air Filter, you don’t need to position Glowforge near a window – you can put it anywhere in your home or office. The Air Filter sits right underneath Glowforge and makes it 7″ taller. They communicate, so it only runs when needed. It’s a great accessory.
For $3,995, you get the ultimate Glowforge: the Pro model. The Pro model isn’t for everyone. The basic Glowforge is a Class I laser, meaning it doesn’t require any special precautions to be safe. The Pro model is a Class IV laser, so you have to take additional safety precautions like posting warning signs and wearing safety glasses. But you get a more powerful tube, upgraded optics, upgraded cooling, and – best of all – a passthrough. This lets you cut materials that are 20″ wide and as long as you want, so you can make incredible, enormous projects like furniture. The cameras track the material as it goes through to keep perfect alignment.
We’ll ship the first units in December of 2015 and then ramp up production in early 2016. We’ve been working for what seems like ages on this, and now we can’t wait to share with you what we’ve done.
I hope you’ll pre-order one so you can take advantage of this price and be one of the first people to see what it can do for yourself.
Starting today, Glowforge will pay $5,000 for introductions that result in us hiring a woman, underrepresented minority, or person with a disability.
A little background: It turns out that only about 12% of the people who apply to work at Glowforge are female (it’s harder for us to estimate the number of people in other categories). Of our ten fulltime employees, three are women (in marketing, operations, and our shop supervisor). While they’re in critical positions, none are directly designing or building our products.There are no employees who are people of color.
Update: as of 3/1/2016, nine months after this post was written, our company is 36% women and our software engineering team is 50% women.
We’re building a desktop laser that can make beautiful things quickly. We think that’s going to completely reinvent what it means for things to be ‘homemade’, and we want to make that available to everyone. For that reason, we believe it’s critical to our business that the team at Glowforge reflect the diversity of people we are working to to serve. We believe that with a diverse team, we’re going to better understand the needs of our customers and produce better products. What’s more, after reading current research (like this McKinsey study), we’ve come to believe that we can make better decisions in all areas of our business if our company is diverse.
We have a particular challenge in that our founding execs are all white men. That narrows our perspectives and our recruiting networks. While we’re fortunate to have a steady stream of amazing resumes from people who want to help us, far too few of them represent the full diversity of the customers we want to delight with our products. We’re especially lacking in diverse engineering applicants, which puts blinders on the team building the product that is our livelihood.
We’ve already tackled problems of job offer negotiations and opaque insurance, but we wanted to go farther. So I sat down with some of the smartest people I know – our advisory board, some of our investors, and some of our employees – and brainstormed solutions. The answer, when it hit us, was pretty simple: we’re a company. If we want something, we should pay for it.
Which leads us to our new program. Here’s how it works.
- We will ask new employees who, if anyone, referred them to us.
- We will also ask them if they consider themselves a member of an underrepresented minority group, and point them to the National Science Foundation research on the subject.
- If a new employee names someone as a referrer and identifies as a member of an underrepresented group, we’ll pay the referrer $5,000.
An important aspect of this program to us is that we’re putting the new employee in full control of the reward. They may opt not to identify a referrer. They may choose not to disclose any minority group status. They’re in charge, not us (or the referrer). We’ll defer to their wishes.
We have no idea if this is going to work. We’ve talked to lawyers, brainstormed problems, and looked for examples of other people doing the same thing. We couldn’t find any. If it doesn’t work or backfires somehow, we’ll have to do our best to fix it. But the goal of a diverse team is so important to us – both philosophically, and as a business necessity – that we’re going to give it a try.
We expect this will generate some questions, so we’ll collect answers here. If you have any other questions or suggestions, we’re all ears – you can reach us at [email protected] or @glowforge on Twitter.
Who are you hiring?
You can see our open positions at www.glowforge.com/jobs. We are particularly excited to hear from experienced, senior engineers (leadership role or individual contributor) in software, electrical, and mechanical engineering!
I know great people. How can I send you resumes?
Please dont! We want candidates to be in control, so we only consider candidates who contact us themselves. We want people to tell candidates about us, not take matters into their own hands and introduce them directly (lest that happen without their consent).
If you know someone who you think would be awesome at Glowforge, suggest that the candidate contact us themselves at [email protected].
What do I need to do to be a referrer?
Anyone who is not a Glowforge employee or shareholder can qualify as a referrer. The new employee just needs to identify you as their referrer after they’re hired. The best way to make that happen is by talking, tweeting, blogging, or otherwise spreading the word about us. When we hire a new employee, we’ll ask them something along the lines of, “Is there anyone who deserves credit for telling you about us?”
How do I qualify for the referral?
If the candidate identifies you as the person who referred them and tells us that they identify as a member of an underrepresented group, you qualify.
What if a candidate that I send you doesn’t tell you about my referral, or doesn’t self-identify as a member of an underrepresented group?
We’re going to err on the side of putting the person we’re hiring in control. Payment of the referral fee is entirely determined by them.
What if I’m a recruiter?
We don’t accept resumes from recruiters. However, you’re welcome to tell potential candidates that we’re hiring, and if they apply themselves and list you as their referrer (and tell us they identify as a member under-represented group), then you will qualify for the referral.
Which employees are considered members of underrepresented groups?
The new employee themself decides. We’ll ask them something like this:
“Glowforge has a referral program for women and minorities that are under-represented in our industry. Do you identify as an underrepresented minority? If so, is there someone who told you about us who should receive a $5,000 referral payment?”
Are LGBTQ candidates eligible? Seniors? Religious minorities? Other minorities?
Our new employee tells us if they identify as an underrepresented minority. We trust everyone on our team so naturally we will trust their decision.
What about people who have complicated ancestry?
Every person is different and thinks about themselves differently. For example, someone who has one minority grandparent may or may not identify with that minority group. A transgender person may or may not identify as a member of an underrepresented group. We leave it up to our new employee.
What jobs qualify?
Any full time, permanent, salaried employee role qualifies.
Are resumes from diverse candidates treated differently?
No. Candidates for a job at Glowforge are evaluated equally and without regard to race, gender, or other factors.
Does the employee get anything special, or just the referrer?
All employees are treated the same; we do not pay more or less to employees based on their gender or minority status.
Are you only hiring women and minorities?
No! We are hiring people of all kinds and welcome resumes from anyone. We just have a larger number of resumes from non-diverse candidates, so we’re instituting this program to bring our applicant pool into balance.
Why are you willing to pay for women and minority referrals, but not other candidates?
Our three founders are white men. Unfortunately, our networks of great candidates are also largely white men. We want to build a company with the most amazing people from all backgrounds, not just people who look like us, so we need a little help to widen the diversity of our candidate pool. We’re a company and this is a business problem, so we decided that we should pay the people who help us solve it.
I was listening to NPR on the way in to the office this week when Melissa Block started talking about Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. Her story got me thinking about an exchange I had with on Twitter a few weeks ago. It started when Leigh Honeywell tweeted about the kind of culture she looks for – specifically, that she wants to know if a company’s health insurance is transgender-inclusive, even though it’s not an issue that affects her directly.
This is my new standard reply to recruiter emails (lol “culture fit”) pic.twitter.com/NhaSDik94m
— Leigh Honeywell (@hypatiadotca) February 13, 2015
This started me to thinking. But what prodded me to action was when Trynity Mirell posted that she was looking for a new job. She said she could only consider roles with trans-inclusive health insurance.
It seems obvious in retrospect, but I’d never thought of it before this conversation started: for some people, the fine print in the insurance coverage is the difference between being able to take a job or not.
I had no idea if our insurance was inclusive. It had never occurred to me to check. But it didn’t take much imagination to realize the predicament of someone searching for a job, knowing that the details of the health insurance offered could spell bankruptcy for them. What’s worse, there’s no way to find out the answers short of asking directly – an uncomfortable conversation for some people that could expose the job-seeker to questions and illegal discrimination.
What’s more, it’s not just transgender men and women who face this challenge. If you’re facing chronic illness, bariatric surgery, or mental health issues, you need to know if your job will cover your needs. The fine print on a health insurance plan could turn your dream job into a financial catastrophe. In some parts of the country, even benefits we here in Seattle take for granted (like the coverage of contraception) are at the whims of the plan or employer.
It’s not fair to force candidates to disclose these deeply personal matters in the course of a job interview. I sat down with our head of business operations to try and find a way to fix this. We wound up doing two things that we think are extremely important, and we urge other companies to do the same.
First, we’re posting the full insurance summaries of our current insurance plans. Candidates can look at these documents even before applying to understand what coverage we offer and know if it will work for them.
Second, we’re publishing important details that are not covered in the summaries. We asked our health plan representatives about the major issues that we’ve heard are important and are not addressed in the insurance summary, but are only buried in the fine print of the actual plan documents: fertility, bariatric surgery, and gender reassignment. Here’s what we learned about the insurance we offer at Glowforge, beyond the broad strokes of the plans (attached below):
- Fertility treatments are covered when they treat an underlying condition, but not otherwise. IVF is not covered.
- Bariatric surgery is covered if it is medically necessary.
- Gender reassignment surgery and other transgender-related care is covered if medically necessary.
I wish these answers were even more inclusive, because otherwise, we’re pretty proud of our insurance at Glowforge. As a small startup, our options are limited: we can’t demand additions to the big insurance companies’ standard coverage list, so we can’t get them to cover all three of these conditions under all circumstances. When we get bigger, we intend to do that. For now, we’re doing what we can: we chose the plan that we could find with the most coverage for our employees, present and future.
Beyond that, though, it’s coverage we’re excited to offer to our team. We offer high quality medical, dental, vision, life, short term & long term disability insurance. Glowforge covers 100% of the premiums for the employee, plus 50% of the cost for dependents. This includes Domestic Partners too!
You can look at the documents linked below for more details. If you have any other questions or if there are any major omissions, you can email them to us at [email protected]. Feel free to use an anonymous ‘throwaway’ email account, for example using http://mailinator.com. Also, feedback is very welcome. There are a lot of thoughtful people who’ve thought about these issues more than us, and we’d welcome opinions on how we could improve.
One important caveat: this post was correct as of the time of publishing, 1/30/2017. Insurance changes at least on a yearly basis, and sometimes more often. We’ll do our best to update this when it changes, but if you’re considering a job with us, and this question is an important one for you, email us (anonymously or not) to be sure you’ve got the latest information.
We’ve just raised a $9M Series A financing round. Leading the round was Brad Feld from Foundry group, which puts an unusual burden on me as CEO: following in the footsteps of my friends and role models Rand and Danielle, it’s time to write a very long blog post about the whole surreal experience.
We initially planned to bootstrap Glowforge ourselves. But a crazy and wonderful thing happened. As I went through asking smart people for advice about the nascent company, they started asking if they could invest. That was pretty neat. Before long, we had an amazing list of angels like Google’s Chris DiBona, Greg McAdoo formerly of Sequoia, Renee DiResta, coauthor of “The Hardware Startup”, OnVia founder Kristen Hamilton, Cards Against Humanity‘s Max Temkin, and Exploding Kittens‘ Elan Lee.
I just had one regret coming out of the process. We stopped by True Ventures to meet Tony Conrad (hereafter TC), one of the founding partners there and a legendary good guy. We knew it first-hand: after my cofounder Tony Wright (hereafter TW) graduated Y Combinator in 2008, True Ventures led the investment round in his company, RescueTime.
Once we told him about Glowforge, TC blew us away with his knowledge of the space. He told us about a conference where mutual friend Brady Forrest had dragged him over to a corner to meet a Seattle schoolteacher who was playing with laser-cut plywood boxes filled with reels of plastic. A then-unknown Bre Pettis showed him a robot jerkily piling gobs of plastic goo on a plate. That’s how TC became the first investor in Makerbot, later introducing Bre to Brad Feld who lead his Series A round. TC went on to introduce us to his partner the incredible Jon Callahan, now the president of the National Venture Capital Association, and we continued to be impressed by the wisdom of the team True had put together.
Unfortunately, TC told us that our angel round was just a little too small for his fund to participate in, and that the Series A we were contemplating soon was just a little too big. We were the anti-Goldilocks. This stunk, but we finished up the investment round with a respectable seventh digit in our bank account and used it to accelerate our development process.
But hardware is expensive, and the Glowforge is particularly expensive to design and develop. Part of the way we’re able to drop the price of a desktop laser from $15,000 to under $2,500 is by investing in specialized design and tooling, and it adds up fast.
As a result, we knew we’d need a multimillion-dollar round of VC funding to bring the Glowforge to market. Raising this financing round was more scary than our angel round. There are lots of angels, and each angel often does many deals. Early stage angel investing is a hot space.
Conversely, the average VC does just one deal a year, so any investment has to be a near-perfect fit for them to say yes. What’s more, there’s been an explosion of early-stage angel deals, but the number of major venture investments hasn’t increased to boot, meaning more companies seeking the same number of dollars (the so-called “Series A Crunch“).
Investors usually consider companies based on team, technology, and market. While I’m lucky to have solid-gold co-founders (team) and the Glowforge makes people’s eyes pop when they get a demo (technology), the market scares off those who are fainthearted. As best we can tell, the worldwide market for non-industrial laser cutter/engravers is about $100M. It sounds like a lot of money, but at VC scale, that’s a fail in the market department: too small of an opportunity. For an investment to make sense, a VC has to believe that we are going to create new markets for laser technology, tenfold larger and then some. That’s a lot of faith.
Sam Altman of Y Combinator described it thusly:
a huge VC blindspot is focus on current market size. what matters is the market size in ten years.
— Sam Altman (@sama) May 19, 2015
worth remembering: the ridesharing market and the electric car market were both near $0 when uber and tesla started.
— Sam Altman (@sama) May 19, 2015
We made a list of every firm we knew – nearly a hundred of them – and then started striking them off the list. It was disconcerting how many dropped by the wayside. Some were too early stage like True; some were too late. We didn’t want to be the VC’s first experience with hardware, so software-focused firms got crossed out. Others stayed on the list until I spoke to friends who’d taken their money – entrepreneurs are a chatty bunch, and we heard about everything from micromanagers to sexist jerks. The most painful one were the conflicts: anyone who was an investor in a company that we thought could intersect with our business was taken off the list as well.
Once I got off my high horse, I found myself with a distressingly small number of investors left. But I buckled down and started making calls.
Every firm was more or less the same process:
- Last week of March: intro from a friend or investor
- First week of April: meeting with one of the partners
- Second week of April: meeting with more of the partners
- Third week of April: spring break and passover, just email Q&A
- Last week of April: full partnership meeting with everyone at the firm.
The one exception was Foundry, who seemed to be moving in a process from a parallel universe. Before I explain how the Foundry conversation came to be, though, I should share a bit of background. When I started working on my first startup in 2005, my go-to resource was Brad’s blog. When I wrote my book Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook, I referenced Brad and Jason’s book Venture Deals often enough to qualify as a running joke. I heard tales of wonder from two of my favorite startup CEOs, Rand Fishkin and Ben Huh, about how great Brad was as a board member. Entrepreneurs I admire like Danielle Morrill and TA McCann had raved about him. I got a little breathless and excited when he showed up in the comments of my blog.
It’s fair to say I was a bit of a Brad Feld fanboy.
As with most of the VCs I approached, I asked a mutual friend for an introduction – in this case, Ben Huh of Cheezburger (I’d already bugged Rand for other intros). Our first email exchanges consisted of Brad asking a couple of smart questions, followed by me keying out overwrought essays in response. I’m surprised he managed through them. Brad introduced me to his partner Jason Mendelson, which I figured was going to be the end of things – Jason had very thoughtfully, politely, and quickly shut down my call about investing in Sparkbuy (my startup two companies ago) for being off thesis. But this time Jason and I had a fantastic call, and he deeply understood what we were working on in a way that few others did.
The next step in our conversation happened during week two, when I got a last minute email from Jason saying he was going to be in Seattle tomorrow and could we meet. I was in the valley, pitching everyone else, but I invited him to visit the office without me. He dropped by and got to chat with everyone on the team in person – except me. Our shop supervisor, Lauren, made him a leather Moleskine cover on the Glowforge with the Foundry logo engraved on it. He held it up to his heart and proclaimed it the best startup giveaway he’d ever had. The team called me up and said, “We really, really like this guy.”
Brad and I scheduled 30 minutes for a Google Hangout. Hangouts choked so we switched to Skype. Brad asked me some smart questions and I asked him some dumb ones. We ended the call on schedule.
We exchanged some more emails and he started introducing me to a host of spectacular people. Bre, Makerbot’s cofounder & CEO, had already invested in Glowforge but Brad connected me to Jennifer Lawton, who was with Makerbot since 2011 and took over as CEO once Bre left. We had an amazing phone conversation and I immediately started scheming to get her more involved (she joined our board of advisors a few weeks ago). I talked to Brad’s other two partners, Seth and Ryan, and the conversation ranged from our business model to the time I accidentally smashed our mezzuzah with a chair and laser cut a replacement a few minutes later. They seemed like a good group. I wasn’t quite sure how they were going to get to a decision, but I was enjoying the conversation.
Then something bad happened. Brad suggested bringing Tony Conrad and Jon at True Ventures into the round as partners if Foundry did the deal.
That may not sound bad: I wanted to work with that team. I thought they were great. But they had passed on us.
Most people, if they decide not to do something, will back up their “real” reasons with rationalizations. After passing, True had probably decided we were not just wrong-stage, but wrong-time, wrong-place, wrong-shoes… we would be sour grapes. And Brad would hear all about it.
I wished I could somehow wave Brad off for what I was sure was going to be a doomsday call with TC, but didn’t have any good reason other than a sense of foreboding. I told him the truth: I would love to have True involved, but they wouldn’t have me. Brad said he’d give them a ring. A few hours later I got a call from TC. He told me he was delighted to have another chance to invest, and if Brad and I could work out a deal, he hoped I’d let him invest. Hooray!
Finally schedules lined up. Brad told me he was going to be in New York at the same time I was flying out for some other final meetings. This was my chance to close the deal. I got ready for what was likely to be the definitive meeting: the one that would ultimately determine if we were going to get terms from the guy who was frankly my dream investor.
Then Brad sent me an email with the subject “Foundry/Glowforge Status”. My stomach dropped. That’s not the subject you use for a status email. That’s the subject you use for a “status change” email. The bad kind of status change. It’s like the skinny letter from the college admissions department.
What did I do wrong? We hadn’t even met yet! I opened it up and Brad told me that they had decided…
I had yet to meet a single member of the Foundry team in person.
What followed was, according to my attorney, the one of the easiest startup financings in his many decades of experience. We used Brad’s documents and Brad used our lawyer (saving us tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees). We never bothered with a term sheet; a few emails and a short call or two settled every outstanding questions. We signed and funded in a month. And today I want to welcome the whole Foundry and True families to Glowforge. Brad’s going to be joining our board of directors, and I’m looking forward to getting out to Boulder to visit.
We’ve got a lot of work to do together.
I can’t wait.
(By the way: if you’re curious about what we’re cooking up with all that dough, sign up on gfclone1.wpengine.com and we’ll let you know just as soon as it’s ready. And if you want to be a part of the team that makes it happen… we’re hiring!)
Negotiating your salary stinks. You’re excited about your new job, but before you can start, you have to have a giant argument about your personal finances with your soon-to-be-employer. You’re torn between being rude and being a patsy. Play the hardline? Take what’s offered?
I always hated this, no matter which side of the negotiation I was on. It’s unfair that people get paid more because they’re better negotiators. And it’s downright outrageous that, according to academic research, women get penalized for negotiating* – meaning, in many cases, they opt not to do it, and get paid less as a result.
At Glowforge, we’re trying to make things a little better, so we do it differently. Here’s how a Glowforge job offer works**.
Before we even open the job position, we describe the role and figure out the right amount to pay by pulling data from Payscale, Glassdoor, Salary.com, and others. We aim to pay just above the 75th percentile for salary, meaning the majority of companies pay less than us for similar work. But it also means that anyone who’s working here could choose instead to work at one of the giant local tech companies that write bigger monthly paychecks, if salary is the most important thing.
Early on in our conversation about the role, we’ll encourage you to look at some of those websites yourself so you can see if our typical pay differs from what you’re making now.
When we get closer to making an offer, we’ll talk to you about equity. I couldn’t find any good explanation of the expected value of startup equity so I wrote a blog post about it – be sure to check out the comments at the bottom for some great alternate perspectives. I’ll explain personally to you our financing situation, our long term goals, and answer any questions. Long story short, if you believe in our company, the equity is a great deal; if you don’t, you won’t want to be here anyway.
Then we give you a job offer, with an important caveat: we tell you that we’re going to make the offer better. You have the opportunity to sleep on it and decide what’s most important to you. Do you need more salary to make the numbers work? Are you OK with the salary, and want to go all-in on the stock? Or maybe just split the difference? It’s important to us that you find the right balance for your needs, and the best way for us to do that is to just ask.
Once we know what part of the job offer is most important to you, we’ll come back with the very best job offer we can. It will be better than our first one – more stock, or more salary, or more of both, depending on which you ask for (it won’t get lower). We won’t keep a secret negotiation budget in our pocket or make you pretend you have counteroffers to get our best deal. We’ll just put it on the table.
We realize that this is a tradeoff. There are some self-described “rock stars” who are really good at negotiating their salary and follow the money wherever it goes. With this approach to job offers, we don’t hire them.
But that means we all get to work with people who are here for something a little more than the paycheck. People who are excited about creating the future together. And we think that, ultimately, that’s the very best part of the offer.
* Glowforge advisor Cate Huston recommends the book “Women Don’t Ask” for a more detailed look at this. She also points out that people of color may have the same negotiation penalty, although the research we could find on it wasn’t specific to job negotiations.
** For most but not all roles – for example, if and when we hire a VP of Sales (a role where we actually do want to pay people for their negotiation skills), we’ll tell them openly that this doesn’t apply.
There’s a lot of strange things that happen at startups. Even though it’s my fourth one, I’m constantly surprised by the opportunities and challenges that scream past us every day. For that reason, one of the best parts of working on my book about startup CEOs was talking to entrepreneurs of all stripes and learning about their experiences.
One of the smartest startup executives I’ve met along the way is Jennifer Lawton, formerly CEO of Makerbot. She has a ton of experience at scaling companies from small to earth-moving, and has been in the trenches of building a business that delivers desktop fabrication tools. Some folks are great listeners, some are great storytellers; Jenny combines the best of both.
That’s why I consider myself extremely lucky that Jenny has agreed to serve as an advisor to Glowforge. Having her wisdom on hand is going to make my job that much easier.
Welcome to the Glowforge team, Jenny!
I’ve been calling Cate Huston a lot lately. The first time it happened was when I was asked to speak on a panel called “Male Allies to Women in Tech”. I was honored to be invited but felt like I was at great risk of doing more harm there than good. I had just read Cate’s post about plans for a similarly-named panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration and the deep problems she saw with how it had come together. In fact, her writing was so good and so relevant that they read part of her blog post at the beginning of the session.
I was fortunate when Cate took the time to talk to someone she only knew through a random Twitter request. She was thoughtful and helpful; as a result of her advice, I agreed to participate, and was a lot more cogent and thoughtful about the topic.
Then I started reading her blog, particularly the parts about interviewing. When we started talking about how to do interviews at Glowforge, I got on the line with Cate again and got a more great advice. In fact, her advice was so good that we hired Cate to help us improve our recruiting process, from questions to job descriptions to actually doing interviews on our behalf.
So I’m delighted to announce that Cate is expanding her role with us by agreeing to join us as an advisor. Welcome, Cate!
If you want to benefit from her knowledge and perspective too, be sure to follow Cate on Twitter.