I’m super excited about this week’s episode because it hits close to home. If you’ve listened to the pod before, you’ve probably heard me mention the passion project I’m involved with, a platform that’s helping to democratize access to capital called Thunder. On this week’s episode I sit down with Thunder’s Co-Founder and CEO, Jason Kirby.
To give a bit more context, Thunder is a company that’s come out of the Interplay Foundry, the part of Interplay that builds companies from scratch. Jason is the incredible CEO we brought in to build and grow Thunder.
Thunder is a platform that connects founders and VCs by utilizing a double opt-in, AI-based matching protocol that not only creates relevant deal flow for all parties, but also helps everyone save time and avoid spam. We started this with the mission of helping founders that lacked a strong network raise capital.
Jason is a serial entrepreneur and has done an incredible job so far. Not only has he advanced the business, but he has also advanced the vision. I think this company is going to materially improve the way capital flows in the alternative asset classes such as venture capital. I’m so excited to watch what he does and help support him. Be sure to check it out at thunder.vc.
During our chat we talk all about how Thunder works, how it helps both founders and investors, why it’s important for platforms like it to exist and much more. Enjoy.
Transcript (this is an automated transcript):
MPD: Jason. Thanks for being here today, buddy.
Jason Kirby: I'm excited to be here.
MPD: Okay. Let's start at the top. Do you mind giving us an overview of Thunder?
Jason Kirby: Yeah. Happy to do so Thunder is a tech enabled investment bank where we are focused on early stage ventures. To make it easier for founders to raise capital from the right people and VCs to vet and catalog and analyze and rate deal flow faster than any other solution with our AI.
MPD: What's the problem we're trying to solve here. Why does this need to exist? The machines working right, the whole industry is transacting right [00:04:00] now.
Jason Kirby: Why. Yeah, it was a value that's raised, $40 million or less over years for a couple different companies. Fundraising is, a full-time job and it distracts from founders, focusing on building and creating value in their companies.
And I'll be, it's a necessary evil to to have in the, you as a founder, ultimately it comes down to family, spending time with the wrong investors. Countless investors will just take deal flow and they'll be like, oh, this is interesting to listen to it. And they'll keep their thinking on the, keep the door open, but not really actually be serious about the opportunity leaving the founders on the hook to be like, oh, I'll make sure to follow up and continue that conversation.
Maybe it's there, but reality it's like a 99%. And so what we're trying to focus on is, rather than opening up the door to a hundred VCs, we're trying to laser focus using our AI to identify, the three to 10 VCs that are actually going to be willing to check for [00:05:00] specifically what you're building and having you focus your rifle shot on those VCs, as opposed to a shotgun approach, which is unfortunately what a lot of founders do.
Maybe they get lucky, but in a lot of cases, they're just losing a lot of time and not being able to focus on their product. So that's one of the main reasons that, I got excited about this opportunity was to solve the problem for founders, but then we learned, like what's a problem that VCs have because it's a two-sided marketplace.
And so what we'd like to add is that VCs out there don't necessarily have deal flow problems, especially well-established, VCs that have brands or have, following up on in some capacity, but there's 2,500 VCs out there in the U S and more growing, more coming up into the the ecosystem every day, and new emerging fund managers that don't necessarily have.
The those connections and that deal flow. And a lot of VCs that are outside of the major markets, where a lot of the deals are happening, but one access to great deals. And our technology [00:06:00] enables them to be a part of those opportunities at the earliest point, to have their chance to get allocation at the great deals and also our technology in itself, your VCs that have too much deal flow.
We have the ability to process capital. Analyzing rate, their deals to only bring attention to the best deals, for them, streamlining their processes and effectively acting as a, as an analyst, saving every one, substantial amount of time.
MPD: Okay. But let me pick that apart a little bit.
There's a lot of ECS. I think that don't want founders to know. Exactly what they're looking for. And the reason why is because they want to be opportunistic, right? So they are, I used to say, every VC based gives the same website, right? They don't articulate nuances with thesis and when you meet them and you chat with them, it's very clear.
Many folks are investing in debt, very different things. And it may not even be different sectors. It may be different dimensions of the business or strategies or types of founders and those little nuances. Once they come to life, [00:07:00] they really do guide a bit of the matching in this game. But I think there's an argument for VCs where they just want to see all of it and be overwhelmed in order to just make sure they don't miss the one out of, the needle in the haystack.
How does this, how does that fit within the kind of thunder framework?
Jason Kirby: So I think that's what specifically separates us from your, what might be out there in the market already, where, it's a lot of bullying, checklist, type things that you know, founders or VCs use to identify, deal flow effectively.
What makes us different and how we take advantage of that opportunity is a lot of generalist species is the label I put on them where they just want to see it all. Yeah, we sit down with the BCS in our platform. We do, anywhere between a 15 to 30 minute call to understand those nuances.
To understand, do they just want to see, the best deal that's hyper relevant to their investment thesis? Are they more of a generalist where they want to see anything that could potentially be of interest? And so [00:08:00] we take that into consideration and send them what they're looking for. And again, in some cases it's, it's automated, in some cases, it's a human relationship where, we're looking through our deal flow due to our relationship with those weak seats.
It was going to peak their interest. What's going to get them excited, whether they're more of a early stage, team kind of focus, whereas less, so much about the idea. It's more about the team or, broad sector focus where there's just general SAS. We have the ability to identify what correlates with what VCs want and have that flexibility to tailor it specifically to them.
For a lot of VCs that don't want a lot of deal flow, cause they are, they feel that they have it all and they're doing whatever they got. We know that when we send that one email is going to get answered. Whereas some VCs, I want to see a lot coming through. We have a dashboard for them to navigate sort and filter and do whatever they see fit.
They can follow our scoring and rating mechanisms that they wish, or they can dive into the mix. And we have hundreds of companies coming by. Providing information, giving a lot more detail and insight than they would get, beyond just the [00:09:00] deck, other things, to be able to sort and standardize the information that they, it's important to them.
Now, I know
MPD: You have a rating system. Can you describe what the rating system does? I think there's probably an appropriate level of fear that your ratings will be wrong, right. For that venture fund, everyone feels to a certain extent that they've got a kind of a special lens for how they're picking their company.
And also, they may not be looking at the same image, mentioned the same deals as other people. A rating, isn't a universal thing, right? Beauty is a little bit in the eye of the beholder. So how do you, how does the rating work for VCs?
Jason Kirby: So we had three scores. We have a company success score that takes into account a variety of different.
Variables from what stage they are and what sector they're in and depending on what sector they're in, what level of traction they have in relation to their sector and stage that give us high signal, a lot of noise [00:10:00] is this company venture back-haul, does it have what it takes to, to get that.
And so that gives us our success score, which we use, see scores, kinda think of a standard deviation for negative three to plus three, it's the extreme outliers are the ones that we really focus on. These were the ones that we doubled down on and make the intros for. Those kind of three plus type companies.
So those are the ones that we, reach out and go through our due diligence process. We prefect them and you'll highlight them on the platform and make the interest manually. But the rest of the companies, the score respectively take into consideration the company score the investor score, which is the investor's willingness or unlikeliness to invest in that particular.
So this takes us to get a situation of, what fund they're on how much capital they have left in their fund. What check sizes they write? Are they a lead or they, don't lead. Do they like the occasionally they get a cold lead. So I take all those considerations in to factor in comparison to the company that's [00:11:00] it's being presented against.
And then we have a compatibility score that day takes into consideration. We'll call it the secret sauce of the faculty, of the VC in terms of what they're specifically looking for their criteria. Like I said, there's things to fill out data to collect on the platform, but in those intake calls that we do other VCs, there's an extra, something special that we try to cake incineration either we populate into the model, or we just have it as notes on this.
So before we make the intros we referenced that to make sure it's going to be aligned with what they're looking for. So all three of those scores effectively go into what we call a simplified match score. And that's, what's published on the website or for VCs only two companies don't see this information.
Companies are not allowed to, start reaching out to any and all investors. We give the investors a control of who they want to interact with that they want to take action on the platform, or they can just sit and wait for us to send them email notifications and the director validation recommendation if they want to move forward with the company or [00:12:00] not.
So that's how the scores work. It takes in right now. It's about 85 different points of data, both first party and third party data from other sources. To basically pocket the spores.
MPD: So when this started, it was simply just a game of, is the company in the right sector, stage geography, et cetera, the basics true or false for this investor match.
Yep. And you've taken it to the next level and built this whole algorithm. So now these scores are. The rating of a company for you as an investor for each individual person, it's this personalized recommendation engine, what kind of math and technology is going into making those scores work?
Cause the way you're describing, the reality is I don't understand it. It's too much data for me to crunch in my head. How do you get all those inputs to jive in a way that actually yields something that's. [00:13:00]
Jason Kirby: So for that, I was bringing my partner, our chief data scientist, Matt, who's a PhD from Columbia and behavior, data science, and doing his post-doc at Princeton right now in terms of the data that we collect and how it's processed.
I would probably butcher it if I try to go into the finance data, the not financial, but the models that he uses to, weight the different characteristics. So it takes into consideration. Human until, intelligence, both from, VCs in the market in terms of how things are weighted over others.
And then it takes into consideration. No third party data inputs that are trained from taking Crunchbase data in terms of what makes companies successful from historical data. That's able to be captured from there in terms of past funding rounds public information that's available and other sources to identify, trends that happen at different sectors.
So it's a pretty convoluted and complicated model. To be honest with the constantly evolved and trained [00:14:00] to deliver on expectations. Right now we're fortunate in the way that it's built to be almost as if the model was built for each and every single investor specific to their criteria, but there's gonna be certain nuances in different sectors.
Some things we don't necessarily have a good grasp on or things of more like detail. That, there's traction is very different in terms of what, when they're raising, for different rounds, biotech, those types of things. So there's certain sectors that, require a significant, the different model with different data butts, but for your traditional VC backable startup especially, any kind of level of tech or CPG those ones, we have pretty strong confidence that we'll feel solid results.
MPD: So th the bit you were saying before, the key value add for VCs that are big brands, they've already got plenty of deal flow is it's like high signal to noise ratio, right? What's the narrative for the venture firms that are not big brands [00:15:00] firms that maybe not everyone knows about.
Jason Kirby: So there's a lot of great firms out there.
A lot of what I call like part of the poorly marketed capital pools, billions of dollars, being managed by great VCs that, chose not to be big on Twitter or LinkedIn in terms of influencers, a lot of deals happening within their network. And so the value proposition there is getting access to deals that are far outside their network.
There's a lot of amazing merging founders that are diverse, that don't necessarily have the broad network to access to capital that, some other, maybe previous founders or other founders that easily identified. And that are building great companies, but are truly struggling to, to get access to the right people.
And there's something I dealt with when I was my very first company, I was in San Diego back in 2012, trying to raise capital for our marketplace. And it just couldn't get in the room with the right people. And I was pitching all the wrong [00:16:00] investors because that's all I had access to in my network.
Ultimately, we're growing 40% another month, we had $40,000 a month in GMV and. Could not get in front of the right VC. That was going to be excited to work with us, but just couldn't open those doors called email, all that kind of stuff. Just went to the bottom of this. And so we act as effectively that warm intro, that partner to that VC, that prevents deals that are specifically related to that VC and align it with, founders that we think this is going to be a smart money play, for them to make sure that they're going to get the capital they need to build out their future and their future product and, credit great return for VCs.
I think the
MPD: natural reaction to this as an investor is that it's going to lead to a bunch of spam. That's the fear. There are services out there that have basically crawled the internet and added a lot of VCs and their personal information, including their email addresses to the web. I get it. [00:17:00] But why would people with wanting to sign up for something you go and sign up for something like this?
Yeah, I think there's, it's natural to be afraid that there's just going to be an onslaught of interest that maybe isn't relevant for you, which is just more. And also it sucks. No one, no VCs wanting to reject companies. It's the worst feeling ever. Is your people passionately working on something to improve the world?
How do you handle the spam dynamic?
Jason Kirby: Exciting to us that, when we talk about how the platform was originally designed, that's ultimately what it led to. And it was to open allowed founders that, didn't do their homework to basically have direct access to these investors. And based on the data and what we collected through that experience, what we've seen on other platforms that, ultimately never succeeded was the spam factor.
It's just more noise. It's just another cold email as far as how, the platforms originally signed. And so what we've doing now acting as the effectively. The middleman in terms of vetting these deals prior [00:18:00] to them getting fronted to BC. So of the hundreds of companies, we're not sending you a newsletter with, Hey, check out these 20 companies that we think are cool and just more noise that you're not going to click on.
No, we're looking at again, having a relationship with the BCS, knowing what they're looking for. And then when we send that email, we're talking about sending one, maybe four emails on. Know, we're not looking at sending, 20, 30 deals a month and just adding to the noise. So if the deals that pass our vetting process, we're looking at a few a month, maybe the dozens of bond once we start hitting scale and what be more there.
But again, those are all gonna be different categories, different sector. That most VCs that are on our platform have gone through our entire intake process. And like I said, I get one for deals of month that are hyper specific with an explanation as to why we feel fit to. And you know what you're looking for.
So there's that human intelligence and that human layer there that allows us to go above and beyond in terms of that expectation, as [00:19:00] opposed to just, again, trying to automate everything and make it a SAS and just, allow free for all which many companies have tried before. And it, it doesn't lead to success and, it's basically the same thing as cold email.
MPD: I also love the double opt-in nature on the platform. Do you want to recover that?
Jason Kirby: Yeah. So we're removing the ability for founders just to have direct access and vice versa. So effectively making sure that both parties opted for this, because, if you're a founder and you want to help fundraising, there might be a really great VC, but they've invested in a competitor.
So you don't necessarily want your company information, your proprietary information, your debt getting in the hands of that particular VC. So that's, vetted before those intros or potentially. And for the VCs, getting deals we reach out to that VC. We show them, the material and, information about the deck.
Then, Hey, we recommend that you take a meeting with this company, but you might not have interests. That might be something that, you know Hey, we did a similar investment or, Hey, we [00:20:00] don't like the space, whatever it might be. And then that founder never gets any notification every time. Yeah, they, we basically, log that into our system.
We might alter the algorithm or something information to profile the better, make better bits, but that both sides are protected in this case. So that founders are not wasting their time spinning their wheels, sending 10 follow-up emails that they're not going to get an answer to. And, VCs are not having to deal with, trying to explain their reason why they turn them down or, feeling like they have to go.
MPD: Got it. What kind of information are you giving the investors when they're, you're saying, Hey, we like this one, have a
Jason Kirby: look. So it's twofold. It's one, there's a very simple introduction, couple it's of what we think makes this deal sexy. And then a link to the deck and a link to their profile where it's like all company.
And if they request to move forward that VC is going to not [00:21:00] only have the option to meet with that founder, but also once that meeting happens, I found her can unlock their data room, which you've already pre-established and already have ready and due to our pre-vetting process. So all the data room details and information that at least probably 70 to 80% of what a VC would look for is already going to be ready to go.
And for them to be able to do a deep dive. So the founder has control of when that information is released. Considering, the progress of the meeting.
MPD: Okay. So unfortunately I'm becoming an old VC and I only know that because some of the younger folks keep reaching out as they're starting their funds and asking for advice.
And I share what I can. I'm still learning as well. A lot of them are asking for LP intros and I've been using thunder as a solution for that. I'll say, look, there's a bunch of people on thunder who are looking to invest in funds, go there. I think their heads explode sometimes because, they're the way you find most LP introductions is [00:22:00] through a series of emails.
It's a chain. Yeah. Do you want to cover the value in this for LPs?
Jason Kirby: Yeah. So as far as our new product, that's launching, we're allowing, high net worth individuals, family offices, and other forms of LP expensive. To have access to GPS. So in, we've been focused primarily on the founder to VC, conversation, but I'm glad you brought up the LP to VC.
So effectively LPs put in what they're looking for, pretty simple information to provide, whether they're acting as an individual. And that information, is able to go into, again, our batching specifically for LPs to BCS, which we haven't touched on, but effectively GPS decide whether they're operating out of a closed fund that's, not love or raising funds or they're actively raising a fund or.
Operating of deploying capital out of an active, the raising fund. And we asked different questions based on, what fund there aren't actively [00:23:00] raising. And if they're actively raising, there's the opportunity for us to match LP to GP, based on, what type of fund they have, what's a check size, what they're looking for, what exposure, what markets are getting exposure to that, LPs.
And then we're able to make, exact same process as founder to VC in terms of making those intros and those recommendations and the exact same process. So that's something that we're gonna be scaling up in Q2 to be able to bring that together.
MPD: So this is a big behavioral change for a lot of folks, right?
You're talking about nothing new in the sense that founders are getting touch with GPS and GPS are getting in touch with LPs, but this is historically been done just over email. Whether it's a cold email or a warm email or a message through LinkedIn or whatever else, it's basically some form of digital messaging platform.
And it's bespoke. Have you gotten a lot of pushback on the behavior change here? What are you seeing with people reacting to this, but what skepticism debunk? [00:24:00]
Jason Kirby: I would say on the skepticism side, a lot of people will just have a system, I do deals. Why do I need this? And a lot of the reason I would come back with that is, popular term NBC, but I'm not, you don't know what you're missing out on in terms of, the deal flow and opportunities that we're going after and we're bringing to the table.
But then something that I think is really interesting, just the market dynamics as a whole, as you're starting to see. Significant wealth being generated for the first time, as millennials and some gen Zs, coming into money whether they worked for a big tech firm for awhile and their options invested.
And now they're, they have seven figures of capital and I don't know what to do with it, or maybe they gambled in crypto and, stock market recently made a ton of money, but now they're coming to terms like this market going south real quick. I don't really know how to manage this.
Maybe I need to put my money into someone who knows what. And, specifically for me, it was like I got into angel investing. [00:25:00] And once I figured out how to get deal flow, it was just massively overwhelmed as a full-time job to make the right bets. And rather than deploying individual $25,000 checks, I was like, maybe I should just throw my money into a fund that kind of aligns with, what I believe in and falls my investment strategy than trying to do this myself.
And that's ultimately what I did. And I see there, I think we're seeing a lot more of those types of people come to the market. But they don't necessarily have the connection, especially like top tier funds. You can't write a quarter million dollar, half a million dollar check and get exposure to, big funds that have been out for a long time.
You can exposure to great funds, but you might not know who those people are. You might not have access to those networks. And to be cold emailing as an LP you probably give an answer, who knows if it's good fit and maybe that GP has certain requirements. So we basically take care of that unknown aspect and make the relevant connections when the time is know Ryan, both parties aligned.
So that's how we basically are taking advantage of when I think to be a big market shift [00:26:00] that a lot of people are, talking about.
MPD: Okay. But on the surface, there's a handful of other sites that look just like the. And the market. And there, I think they have the same mission it's to facilitate the matching of investors and people seeking capital, but there's a big difference.
So how does, how are those folks, those other platforms, how have they affected your ability to get the message out here? Because I would imagine anyone who's been on one of the other platforms is having a, they figured out that it's a Spanish. And I would imagine you're being met with hesitation.
Jason Kirby: Yeah. Cause people put us in that bucket, especially now with the, the MVP is still in the market. By the time this comes out, a new product will be out and that problem be resolved, but that is the initial concept. And that's why we have changed how the product experience will work is to eliminate that negative connotation of spam.
[00:27:00] Yeah, the perception that is just more noise and we'd listen to the audience, we listen to both sides and you have from founder's species to LPs. And, we feel that we're taking a very difficult approach, but with the right technology, to make sure that it scales without having to sacrifice quality of, the genuine connection.
So using AI is great. Technology is great. But left to its own without any kind of humorous intervention or intelligence or relationships involved, ultimately becomes just like every other product out there. And so that's why we went to the broker dealer route and, our focused on success based outcomes, as opposed to, a SAS referral where anything and everything goes and, mostly just turns into noise and spam that gets.
MPD: Are there geographies where this has been more relevant as you're looking at the data and the patterns I know people from around the world can tag into this, but not all investors invest in, [00:28:00] other geographies, what
Jason Kirby: So at this point, we are predominantly focused on the broader us Canada.
We do see some deals coming in from Latin America and Africa and Europe. But from a primary is prioritization and systems, process perspective. We're focusing on us, but we are seeing a lot of founders outside of major. That are being attracted to NBC's that are either in other markets and, or the top markets.
And so being able to make those connections, again, solving that, you don't know who you don't know a problem and making those types of introductions to founders that are building great companies, they're just outside of the traditional tech ecosystems, which with the massive work from home movement that we've seen is opening up doors.
And, it used to be a talent issue. If you weren't at the top market, you didn't get the top talent. There's a lot of tap talent, moving all across the country and, having that freedom to work [00:29:00] wherever that's no longer restraining factors. So we're capitalizing on that trend in spa.
MPD: Okay. Right on. So look, I know there's a huge roadmap for this, right? You've got a extensive plan here that you're putting together. Where does this go in the next three to six months? How does this product evolve? What should early adopters be? Except.
Jason Kirby: Yeah, as of right now we're really optimizing our flow through and get your diligence and finding the best company.
So both sourcing and bedding, deals. So that's going to be our primary focus. We'll be rolling out the GP to LP functionality, allowing that to grow organically and identify, room for improvement. Probably three to six months. We'll be tripling down on that. That area we'll be allowing it to happen.
We'll be focusing on making some of those deals happen so we can continue to evolve and adapt the platform to meet those specific needs. And then beyond that, we're looking at. Being able to close and, the dozens, if not more, [00:30:00] deals in terms of companies to VCs, just given what we've learned in the last, six months.
And we feel we have the right pieces in place and, our BD license, coming together we'll be able to execute on that front and beyond there. When something that we haven't touched on is some of the data that we're collecting, one of the integrations that we want to make in terms of the road, Is third party connection, similar to a Zapier type API type connection where founders are able to connect certain data sources to thunder, to auto-populate their monthly, traction updates so that we can have trending data over a period of time because a lot of founders have come, they sign up, but they're not necessarily right for funding, just yet they need a couple more months to prove out their traction, solve some of the problems maybe to find product market fit, or at least get closer to.
And so our platform will enable them to have that information. Auto-populate if not, be able to manually populate. So we collect all different types of [00:31:00] KPIs that are all standardized, that, some will be more relevant to other, to depends industries and to BCS. And that information will be trending over time once they make that connection.
So try to streamline and simplify. That process. And then once they hit certain thresholds that recalculates the algorithm. So once they hit that a hundred, I get, a hundred KRR or a millionaire or, whatever type of business, it might be, whatever those K you know, KPIs might be. The algorithm gets updated, and that might bring certain matches to the top that weren't there before two, it sends signals to our team to reevaluate and reassess, that company that we might not have brought through our process.
And being able to do when the time is right and, or alert the right VCs to then take action independently without waiting on us to bet them, or they put them through a process if giving BC's app, options to see some of that progress. Jason, can
MPD: you give us an overview of your background?
I think that gives a lot of color on the business, but I think it'd [00:32:00] be helpful T to hear more about how you arrived here.
Jason Kirby: Yeah, I guess I can, it's a long story. I'll try to keep it somewhat reasonable, a reasonably sharp, always a founder, always a, kind of entrepreneur from the start Genesis.
I was 19 when I started my first business in college, really hated going to school and not really know what I, what it all meant. So I wanted to apply what I was learning and started a small business to do that ended up becoming a full-time career for, seven years, eight years or so.
I ended up selling that business because I just wanted to move on to bigger, better things. Worked on a startup, raise a little bit of angel funding. That was the story I was telling earlier. We just couldn't raise the venture capital that we needed had an acquisition offer come in from Kodak, which was pretty awesome to, to think about know back then it was more of an acqui-hire type opportunity, but it's something excited to explore and go through that process.
And, basically as we go through the due diligence process Kodak had some internal shakeup things and basically that deal [00:33:00] ended up falling apart in the last hour, which was unfortunate, but I've learned a lot through that process, and those negotiations, those discussions, but ultimately ended up moving to out of San Diego, into New York.
I wanted to move a little faster. San Diego was a very chill, calm, let's go surf environment. And I was more of I want to build big shit and, cool shit and, do bigger things. And I moved out to New York, joined a company called liquid sky as their chief marketing officer as a first hire, me and the two founders ended up helping them, taking them to race at $12 million and getting to one and a half million users in 130 countries on a cloud gaming technology similar to what's out now called Luna and stadia, which built on pretty much similar technology that we had launched back.
Amazing experience, took us from, there's three of us to about 40 plus employees. Building really complex technology, working with major, Microsoft Walmart, [00:34:00] Samsung and other big brands. Ultimately had the point where. We got acquired by Walmart, which I can dive into a little bit more towards that acquisition experience, dealing with bankers and whatnot.
But ultimately, as we we got acquired, we went on to build Walmart gaming, which is going to be as amazing, awesome experience. Walmart was, really on the bleeding edge of this type of stuff and what was going on behind the scenes. A couple of weeks before launch Things change when Amazon was tripling down on same day delivery, Walmart wanted to compete and they reallocated our massive nine figure budget to, the next day delivery.
Instead, it hurt, hurt us quite a bit. But as the Silicon valley show says, I got put up on the roof which was interesting experience. Yeah, it was like legit on the roof, like on the floor above our actual main offices of Walmart. They put us in reaches pretty pretty funny, but ultimately.
Yeah, big corporate [00:35:00] was in my life. It wasn't gonna be for me anyways. I ended up joining a startup out of Kansas city and talking about being out of major markets learning about that ecosystem. It was a Scholastic e-sports company, bringing e-sports to schools all across the country, seven guys eating ramen and doing a hundred K a year, ended up getting them to, by the time I left raised $11 million series a, $1.4 million in a quarter.
Revenue and you're really scaling that to 65 people, in the company. And then ultimately just go back forth to Kansas city, just wasn't gonna work boundaries. And I saw, differently how things should play out. So it was best that I move on. And then that's when I reached out to, to mark to see what's going on as angel investing and seeing what's going on in the market.
And, I'd actually signed up for thunder before tack talking with you and and doing so ended up. Really believing in the mission and having dealt with bankers, having dealt with M and a having dealt with raising, several million dollars across multiple different [00:36:00] companies advice for another company that raised 20 million in their series B.
And so that gave me a lot of exposure to how this world works, both on the investor side, the banker side, the M and a side and the founder side. And I thought I was the perfect combo to, to really bring this product to fruition and be grossly different than what's been the marketplace to date.
Mean, so we, for thunder came out of our Foundry at interplay, we had done a really crappy MVP by the time you showed up just to test out the concept. Cause we believe there was something here. How did you think about joining an existing company as a founder? I think the psychology of that is fascinating.
Jason Kirby: Yeah, it's interesting because it's something I've dealt with pretty much at every decision, in the last several years, brothers, inviting someone into my first company as a founder and dealing with that experience and the struggles that we've wasted so much time on in terms of negotiating equity and all that kind of [00:37:00] stuff is equity is an important discussion to have, but also it's like equity is worth nothing until it's worth something.
Being smart about those types of negotiations and really focusing on chemistry and in good relationship. We have just like having been a founder, in the past, and then, joining as an executive and others. The only thing that I really realized in terms of my core strength, I was never the original idea guy.
I'm always the guy that turns a good idea into a great business. And that's been my core strengths and I've allowed the ideas to evolve, similar to thunder and it sparks, the spark something with me and I find the way to make it relate to me and my experiences.
And then I'm able to draw upon those experiences, which is exactly what liquids. In terms of bringing gaming to any device was a huge pain point to me as a kid. Not being able to keep up with technology. When I was a kid with all my friends, generation e-sports bring an e-sports to kids all across the country with legitimate curriculums things I could get [00:38:00] behind things.
I was really passionate about that I was able to grow and evolve and say what thunder, having dealt with all my personal experiences and raising money in M and a this is something that I could truly be passionate about and jumped two feet in. I know that, I might not be, the original idea of conceptualizer I'm not getting, the hundred percent ownership and blocking away other people, but it gives me the autonomy to make my own decisions, bring in the right people, build teams and develop out ideas.
In every previous situation I've been in have built up great companies that you either raised a ton of money or get a buyer that's totally
MPD: spot on. You've definitely taken this to the next level. It was, you had some clay to mold, but you've molded the hell out of it. Okay. But you've been an entrepreneur for a long time.
Is there a bit of wisdom, a lesson you've learned that would be helpful for entrepreneurs or kind of a little, maybe a little earlier in their [00:39:00] cycle? Some wisdom.
Jason Kirby: Having been affiliated with entrepreneurs my whole life and just being so close to so many of them, that's basically how I am, who I am today.
Just the relationships I've built with fellow small business owners, entrepreneurs. He was always this common deem, especially for new entrepreneurs. Like they want to be there own, they want to be their own boss. They want to call the shots and maybe even a corporate job or, maybe just traditional life wasn't for them.
And they, they feel trapped in their own path is the right way to be that, oh, be their own boss but they don't really realize. Is your clients or your investors, or actually your boss, you're serving them day in and day out. It's, you're not necessarily working less hours, you're working more hours, you're making less money, but it's got that vision of you feel you're capable of bringing more value to the world than would otherwise be possible if you didn't pursue it.
And you ultimately do get to call the shots. As the, as a founder, you get to choose who your investors are. You get to choose who your clients are. So there's a level of control and autonomy that. And so I was trying to [00:40:00] remind founders of that because, if you're just coming in to be your own boss and to chill, might not be the best path for you.
Maybe there's other lifestyle type businesses to pursue, when it comes to building a venture back company, you're ultimately truly not your own boss in a lot of ways. You're still servicing investors and clients on a day in day out basis. Working harder for less, until you figure it out and you get it right.
And then, then you get rewards, but we all know how those success ratios work out. Yeah.
MPD: I think that's a really interesting concept. It takes a village, there's not a lot of going it alone, lone gunslinger and building these new age companies. Everyone's got someone else there depending on collaborating with VCs of LPs have usually have investors obtain from them.
It's a group collaborative thing, and you have to be able to work with people. Do you have
Jason Kirby: to believe that's why I joined because I would not be able to take vendor where it is today. If it wasn't, working [00:41:00] with you guys. Yeah. That's something that I, like I mentioned before, I'm not the guy that does it by myself, come up with the idea, build about it, but the ground up I've I take good ideas from great people and turn them into great businesses.
MPD: I love that. You've also done a lot of M and a, any big insights or aha moments you can share with.
Jason Kirby: Can I share a little bit about the Kodak thing, before that was, super early days, small transaction size. And I saw my small business again small pennies, was the grand scheme of things, but you have lots of experience in terms of just making sure expectations are managed at those stages.
But what was the, the big story is now they get to talk about liquid sky to a Samsung was our biggest investor and our previous. And they had moved forward with acquiring us. And I was deeply involved in both the negotiations setting up the, the date of room going through the due diligence process.
Yeah. It was called like all the different [00:42:00] code reviews that we had to go through to validate that our code is legit or SARS, making sure we weren't the only thing, just the significant amount of work that goes into not only just coming to terms as to, okay, why are we doing this acquisition? And what's it going to be good for?
Acquisition, but all the work that goes into actually making a deal come together and checking all the boxes that have to get to. Because, once you come in with a decision maker, whether it's a CEO, the acquire, or, some of the Corp dev team wants those things to discuss, then you just give them a, not, this is horrible, boring stuff, just like checking all the boxes.
And what was amazing is Samsung was going to work out really great. We were all super stoked. We had bottles of champagne. We have all this stuff ready to go the morning of the acquisition. We have buses ordered to pick up our entire team, offer contracts, ready to go. We're like so excited.
Ian, the CEO, myself we were talking late at night, about, how much fun this is going to [00:43:00] be. And then he gets a call. I think it was like 5:00 AM or 4:00 AM from Korea. Whenever it was like morning time in Korea because they just had a massive regime change in Korea and Yeah, I forgot the, the son of the chairman or whatever, the CEO of basically corruption caused a lot guy.
He went to jail and that was all going on during our negotiations. They kept assuring us. Everything's gonna be fine. Everything's gonna be fine where to get this deal done. Just so happens. The new CEO that has been in place for a couple of weeks had just gotten signature authority and he decided that every deal on the table, And needs to go, to, to review.
That was the morning we were supposed to close three thing was that's crazy. Everything was down. We had champions, like I said, we had a new office already leased with Samsung, ready to go all this stuff and, deal falls apart last minute. And talk [00:44:00] about. Having to come out of that, oh word, got this whole new plan to go back to what we were doing and having to bring in massive six, figure seven figure B2B deals to make sure that the lights keep on.
So that was an insane experience, but that was working directly with the Corp dev team and the senior leadership at Walmart. At at Samsung. And the next experience was, after we went through the experience our board basically is like we going to, we got to sell, because Microsoft's coming in, Amazon's coming in and Google's coming into this space.
We are, they need to shop our technology around to them or, someone else because we're not going to necessarily going to be able to raise the a hundred million plus that we're going to need to compete with them, especially knowing that they're coming in tomorrow. And so our chairman who to which I was not a huge fan of and we definitely have had some better circumstances when I'm brought in a banker to basically shop us around.
And I have to say, No, there's definitely [00:45:00] a good reason why there's some bad raps for bankers in the space know they don't necessarily understand, the, the technology that VC the venture capital world, as much as they should, when coming into these types of spaces and in the being where all the, you know, the work that they were supposed to be doing was ultimately myself and, the CEO doing a hundred percent of the work.
And then more or less just taking up space in the room. And so it was a very negative experience that we had dealing with that banker. So ultimately it was me that brought Bob mark to the table. I had signed a deal with them to, do an initial MVP. And then they ultimately came in and started talking acquisition once we were out of it, the Ida with Samsung and that process started being handled by me and the CEO directly to HR baker just had to have, be in the room just to justify their existence.
But ultimately wasn't there. Contributing. And so we went through that whole experience, negotiating back and [00:46:00] forth to the Corp dev and they brought it down, similar experience we did with Samsung. We were happy with everything ready to go, or we're able to move pretty quickly.
And it was a really positive experience, with the Walmart team, just, it takes a lot of time. Yeah. I would say it was probably a year from initial conversation to acquisition, closing, moving into the Walmart offices.
MPD: What did you learn from that? As an entrepreneur going through the MNA process, any like top tactical things, it sounds like you had a bad experience separate from that one or two things, but are there one or two things that you took away where you're like, okay, everyone needs to know this and they don't know it.
Jason Kirby: There's a lot of things like you mentioned time, it's just an extensive amount of time typically. Yeah. Easy. The legal side is, Yeah. As a founder, if you're in this process, there's just a ton of paperwork and, things, you have to [00:47:00] have locked down and ready to go.
You have to be extremely organized because as much as the decision maker might be totally cool with everything. And it's actually legal that you need to make sure you check all the boxes with and deliver everything to, in a timely and effective and legible manner and deal with all their dumb questions, because they don't know how your business operates.
They're not actually, wanting this deal to get down. They're trying to find every way to kill this deal because that's less work for them if this deal dies, so their job to protect their client. Exactly. And so that's their perspective. So you have to, as a founder, not.
Lose sight of that. You really have to win over, legal and corporate teams, not just, the decision maker just make her get to ultimately be on time. That's, that's your leverage. You use that person to, push things forward when legal is pushing back on things that are unreasonable.
Another thing is managing your team because deals fall [00:48:00] through all the time. Like I mentioned, I have two deals that have fallen through and there's, I haven't talked about the acquisitions I've worked on in terms of acquiring other companies in my past deals just fall through all the time and you can never just assume a deal is done until it's done and you have to keep the lights on and a 95, 90 9% of the time.
You can not tell anyone. You can not tell anyone on your team, you have your senior executives and maybe any key personnel that might be involved in terms of the due diligence process. But if, just by you talking at a bar about what's going on, or are you talking to friends and family or any of your employees that could kill a deal and then you have to be super careful about the information you don't divulge and it's exhausting because your employees come to you and they're like, we've got to work on this.
We've got to work on that. Let's do this. Like, why aren't we doing this? I can't tell you, and you got to find a way to make it sure that they don't get discouraged or quit. We had two people [00:49:00] quit during M and a activity because they were so frustrated with, me and the the CEO, not moving forward with some of their ideas, because it was a direct opposition of the acquisition.
And we could not tell them. And it was like so difficult and, two people that they got that Yeah, they weren't key boys, but it's still frustrating to yeah.
MPD: Probably soured relationships. You didn't want to sour.
Jason Kirby: Exactly. We're cool. Now let's say solid. Everything happened, it's still frustrating to do that.
A lot of founders just don't know about that. Like M and a is a grueling process. It's a
MPD: psychological meat grinder. I've seen people have really hard time, so that it's very stressful. There's a lot at stake. The whole entrepreneurship thing is too right. You've got a lot of higher suicide rates.
You've got a lot of challenges in the entrepreneurship game, from a mental health perspective. What do you do for mental health, at any wisdom you have on that, that you think is [00:50:00] important for founders to pick up on whether they're in M and a, or.
Jason Kirby: I think something that, I can speak for myself and the other founders am really close to, build great companies, you really need to do take care of yourself.
What matters to me is, staying physically fit and just making sure my body is functioning properly, trying to eat clean especially can definitely not perfect by any means, but knowing how your body reacts to certain foods and making sure you're putting the right things in use so you can function properly throughout the day.
Yeah, I'm an exercise guy, at least working out three to four days a week, if not five training sessions and running, just to make sure my body can keep up with long hours, exhausting, situations. It's important to make sure your body's, taken care of. And then from there from a mental perspective, having outlets, having people that you trust that you can candidly [00:51:00] speak truth to.
A lot of founders, they feel alone because they're VCs or investors. They, you might be struggling with something and you want help, but you feel like you're giving back signals to the VCs. If you tell them actually what's going on behind the curtains or how the sausage is being made.
And if you don't have friends like minded individuals to share those experiences with and have, candid feedback sessions are radical candor from people that care about you and don't just care about your company, because that's, the other thing is, talking to your employees or talking to your best.
They're incentives, they have different reasons to give you different feedback, because they have skin in the game and they want you to do a certain thing that may or may not be in your best interest. And so it's important to build a friend group or a network group that you have access to, to enable that.
So I'm part of different groups that allow for those types of conversations to happen. Quite a lot
MPD: of folks joined ven wise. That's trying to make it a less lonely [00:52:00] journey
Jason Kirby: yeah, I fully support those peer groups. And the last thing is, something that I personally do, I've done.
I've only done a few times but have been absolutely transformational when coming to, a fork in the road where tough decisions have to be made. And you have a mental block. Something that I've explored is, psychedelics like Iowasca or mushrooms it's, something that's becoming more commonplace, but it's, it isn't.
Exactly and it's, it helps release some of the stuff in your subconscious things that you might be blocking yourself without knowing. And I made some of the most important decisions of my life coming out of those sessions. Coming in from a very, like more of a specific mindset, not just trying to have a good time type thing, but actually trying to unwind my brain, get into my subconscious and try to figure.
Difficult decisions that ultimately the decisions are within you. And like most [00:53:00] advice you get from people it's just you talking and then regurgitate back to you and it's so it's a way for you to access, the, your thoughts that, Aaron and your subconscious, that otherwise would be very difficult to get that helps release some pressure on you.
So going back to the mental health,
MPD: how about as a parent? You've got a newborn at home. Most people would be pretty scared to be starting a journey when they've got young children. Have you been managing that? Any particular tactics or advice on how that works for folks? Yeah. And personally I'll throw in.
I started interplay actually when my daughter was one and I had friends and family who thought I was crazy, but it's what I wanted to do for my life. My wife was supportive, so I went for. What is your what have you figured out since having your child about being a founder with young children,
Jason Kirby: having a great wife and a great partner is crucial that, understands [00:54:00] that if I wasn't to go down this path and I was go down and say path, I'd probably be more miserable.
Yeah. If I were to stay at Walmart or something and play it safe and have the good insurance and all that kind of stuff, my wife knew how not happy I was in those search, that situation. And I come home much more refreshed knowing that I'm, a control of my own destiny. And there's certain things like, I, I am particularly fortunate enough to where I have, built enough up before going into a new venture to where I'm able to have help, at home, whether it be, nanny or my in-laws being able to have, support at home to know that my child is safe, taken care of.
But also knowing that like from six to 8:00 PM, I am home a hundred percent, nothing else distracts. Completely present with my family for dinner and putting down my daughter and then spending time, quality time with my wife a super crucial. Because if I'm not stable at home, I'm not going to be [00:55:00] stapled at work.
And yeah, and just being completely transparent with my wife and making sure that, she knows what we're getting ourselves into and then be making certain commitments to her, knowing that these will, I will not fall through on these regardless of the certain, situations. But knowing that she's going to give me a lot more flexibility to lean on.
When I need it. And she's also a full-time employee for large corporations, she's senior directors, managers, like 30 people, like she's, busy and ourselves. So I have to respect that as well and make sure that I pick up the slack for her. So it's a very important family dynamic that unfortunately we have some help.
So that gives us a lot more flexibility that would otherwise, probably not. But that was by design, to make sure that we have that kind of comfort and flexibility before doing something like this. Incredible.
MPD: You're making it all work. It seems easy for you on the outside, but it's not always, Hey, Jason, thanks for being on this was awesome.
I'm sure there's a lot of insights in here for [00:56:00] folks. And I appreciate you
Jason Kirby: not really appreciate having me on. As you're bringing me on the journey.
MPD: So if it's not obvious at this point, I'm pretty fired up about this project. I think there's a real potential for thunder to have massive social impact. I'm making it really easy for entrepreneurs to find the capital they need. This is where I do my pandering, which I'm forced to do my by my producer will, if you like what you heard, please look up the or a five-star review and feel free to share with a friend.
You can find me on Twitter at MPD. And hear more of my conversations with innovators. Subscribe on YouTube, Facebook, or any major podcast platform. Just search for innovation with Mark Peter Davis.