Succeeding Where Others Have Failed, Daniela Perdomo, Podcast #114

Daniela Perdomo is the Founder & CEO of goTenna, a peer to peer communication device which is advancing universal access to connectivity through decentralization. Their mesh networks are used by consumers as well as the U.N., Google, FEMA, the French Army, US Special Operations Forces & the City of New York. Our conversation is long but her journey is inspiring starting with being a community organizer to an entrepreneur. Her insights into being female and raising capital is one that everyone should hear.

You can listen to this on iTunes here.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Bryce T.

    Episode #114Daniela Perdomo, goTenna“Communications orthodoxy calls it the ‘last mile’, but we see this horizon of opportunity (as the first mile).”1:00 Where did you grow up? Lived in Brazil until 18. Born in of all places in South Dakota after father transferred there. Parents grew up in Guatemala. Father from Spain, Mom’s family from Israel and Spain. Moved to Miami, “capital” of South America. First language Spanish, then English. 2:45 Considers self Brazilian, but feel more and more American.3:15 For some people that come to (New York), “I’m a New Yorker now.” You just know this is where you belong.4:09 Where did you go to school? Went to Tufts, studied international relations and English. “Thought I was going to work for the U.N. or do something political and socially minded, nothing with technology. But I always really loved writing. And I thought journalism is a place to tell important stories. And I got the job of my dreams (in Los Angeles), which was to be a newspaper reporter.”5:25 “And I realized, that it wasn’t for me.” 8:17 So what did you end up doing? Visited best friend in San Francisco. “Wow, things are really happening here, in a way that feels like it’s very forward facing.”9:10 “And I just remember feeling like I kind wanted to do something, instead of write about people doing something.” “It’s probably somewhat narcissistic thought to have at age 21,22, sometimes I thought my ideas were more interesting than those of the people I was reporting on.” 10:28 “On a lark, I interviewed for a job I found on Craigslist, and ended up getting a job at a start-up as a project manager/community manager.”10:55 “Didn’t love that job, but I learned so much, and to this day there are still some best practices around community growth or engagement and marketing.”11:09 Early jobs make such a difference. JW: “Whatever they may be, they really do in many ways, connect us later in life.” “I have learned more than anything, from not just my own failures, but failures I’ve observed or been a part of.”11:45 Time in San Francisco.12:17 Digital consulting for non-profits. “Which brought me back to the stuff I really cared about, but in a way that applied these practical skills that people in non-profits didn’t have at the time.”12:38 And then the recession hit.13:24 Around three months of not knowing what I was going to do with my life. “About everyone I knew had lost their jobs. It was a crazy time.”14:23 “I realized I was so attached to San Francisco. But what I learned, is that I was less attached to the city, I was attached to who I had become in that city. And once I realized…I started to look at jobs in other places.”14:52 Therapy. JW: “It can be game changing, if you are willing to change your game.”15:30 Interviewed at Twitter. “I didn’t get the job. And I knew why. It’s because I was obviously not excited about it. That comes out in interviews.”16:41 Found job with Huffington Post in New York City. AOL acquired a six months after starting.18:19 Went to Japan for two weeks by self in middle of winter.18:58 Quarter life crisis. “Realized how upset I was. I felt like I was going nowhere career wise.19:49 Quitting your first job.20:46 Moving around a lot growing up, makes an impact, made more resilient, “made me lean into change.”22:39 How did goTenna come to you? Executive recruited. To be head of growth at that point, just raised Series A. “I took it for some of the right reasons. I liked the startup vibe more. I really like to work on things that feel like they are additive to society, and not just solving say a tech problem for tech sake.” JW: “You really have to drink the kool-aid.” 24:19 And then hurricane Sandy hit. “And I thought why don’t phones work, when we need them most?” “And I started to think about all the different ways in which communication infrastructure lets us down. It’s crowded events, it’s natural disasters, it’s when you’re geographically out of range of physical infrastructure, small towns, emerging markets.”28:00 “And then I started to think, how does communication infrastructure work? Why does it fail? Why isn’t there an app for that to fix that problem?” “I started to think about what it might look like to build something diametrically opposed to the communication infrastructure we have. What if it was instead of being top down centralized it was bottom up and decentralized. What if we could unlock our phones ability to create peer-to-peer communication regardless of what’s happening with centralized communication.”29:13 Parted ways with startup. “And then I had in front of me was open space.” 30:20 “And I kept asking does something like this exist. And the answer was no. Could it exist? And the answer kept being yes”30:38 Quickly learned there wasn’t going to be an app, going to have to develop hardware.31:19 Teamed up with brother, who had the original idea. About 4 months after Sandy, had built first prototype. 32:55 How did you come up with the name?33:34 Raised a seed round after being bootstrapped for a year. First working prototype March of 2013, first public pre-order of first generation consumer product in July 2014, didn’t ship until a year after that. 2nd generation consumer product that ‘meshed’ shipped in late 2017. Last year shipped full product suite (hardware and software) for public sector.34:31 “And now our technology literally saves lives.” “It’s used by people, that don’t just need connectivity, they need connectivity in a way that keep just not them safe, but the rest of us safe.” 35:11 Barriers to entry. “There just really hasn’t been a fundamental rethinking of what tactical communications should be like.” “We brought basically this consumer sensibility.”36:17 “It’s much harder to build a consumer business, then it is an enterprise business. Because our consumer product is used by people in certain occasions. Whereas our enterprise business, it’s used everyday.” 36:55 Now, entirely focused on enterprise business opportunity. Hard, with only 50 people. Difficult and expensive to focus on two different things. Hockey stick growth is on the enterprise side.37:22 “My vision for the company is that, if we can really just tackle this amazing b2g, this government public sector opportunity, b2b is next.” 37:45 “We have this massive IoT opportunity. So if you believe in a future where a billions of connected things need to be connected all the time. I think it’s pretty much a given at this point.”“We need to find scalable ways to connect all these things to each other. And so what we’re trying to build is basically this programmable mobile infrastructure. That connects not just people to people, but people to machines, machines to machines in a really low cost low power easy way. And as a result you can imagine having billions of goTenna mesh connected things and people, because it’s affordable, because it’s long range, because it’s easy to use, because it’s easy to integrate into other things.”38:31 “Communications orthodoxy calls it the ‘last mile’, but we see this horizon of opportunity (as the first mile).” “We want to be that connective tissue for all other systems. We’re not going to replace what cell networks and ISPs do for you.” 40:17 When you went to raise money as women in this world, and the reality is you didn’t have the tech education, did you find it frustrating? “My fundraising experience ranges from bazaar to appalling.” 40:55 Seed round end of 2013. Raised $1.8M “Yeah I had a working prototype, but I think at that time they’re betting on you.” “Our cap table in the seed round was absurd, there was a ton of people, I took checks as small as $10k.” “It took forever and I just really had to scrounge for every dollar.”42:39 Series A, 2015. Got one term sheet. “It was a great term sheet and I just took it and ran for the hills.”43:08 Series B (A-1). Same size of series A, $7.5M, round that USV’s Albert Wenger led. “Fortunately we had kept in touch and he’d seen all this progress.”“It was two things, one, I had kept in touch often enough where he knew kind of what was going on, and two, I did what I said I was going to do.”45:05 The last two years of the series B runway have been massive. “Always made several million dollars a year on the consumer product. But it’s not a massive growth business.” “But the second we launched the goTenna Pro product June last year, it’s like multi-million dollar contracts are in the pipeline…”46:32 Bad experiences with VC’s. “You don’t look like an enterprise CEO, you don’t look like Mark Benioff.”47:38 JW: “If you go into someone’s office and they are so inappropriate, you don’t want their money anyhow.”48:18 “I don’t have that many options. I have been lucky.” “There are very few people who want to invest in companies that have hardware elements, that have public sector business elements, and then the gender thing.” 49:00 At time of series C, had grown so much. The team was incredible. The business was going so well. “And in this fund raise, I kept getting people who told me ‘it can’t be done’ That what I was describing that we are already doing, was impossible. And I couldn’t help but think was, you don’t believe me.”49:59 Elizabeth Holmes and Jessica Richman have done an incredible disservice to women, in deep tech in particular.51:38 “But it’s a really really big idea. I can’t help but think that if I one had the track record, of course, and maybe also look like Elon Musk, you would believe it more.” 52:25 JW: “Good businesses are always going to find the right investors.”52:50 Founders Fund led this round.53:25 Data research from Crunchbase-Only 2.6% of the total $383 billion of venture dollars invested from 2014 to today, have gone to female only led teams-Even though female only led teams represent 4.92% of venture backed companies, so that’s 44% less than their fair share-But in female business categories, venture capitalists are actually rather equitably investing 22.39% of capital funneled to female only led start-ups in these sectors. Which comprised 20.74% of these companies. So what that means is if you’re a female founder in a female business category, you’re raising 110 cents to the dollar in this sense.-The female only led startups which operate non female focused businesses represent 4.1% of venture backed companies but receive only 1.88% of venture dollars or 54% less than their fair share.-And it’s even worse when you get into deep tech.-Female only led teams represent 1.2% of wireless companies, but get 0.3% of all the capital that are given to those companies. And that’s 75% less than their fair share, so they get .25 cents on the dollar.-Female only led teams represent 1.8% of all robotic companies, but get 1% of all the capital that are given to those companies. And that’s 45% less than their fair share, so .55 cents on the dollar.-Female only led teams represent 2.8% of all AI companies, but get 1.5% of all the capital that are given to those companies. And that’s 47% less than their fair share, so .53 cents on the dollar.-Female only led teams represent 1.2% of all infrastructure companies, but get 0.3% of all the capital that are given to those companies. And that’s 75% less than their fair share, so .25 cents on the dollar.55:55 “If VC’s want to invest more equitably, they need to not only invest in more women, but they need to invest in also different kinds of women.”57:10 JW: “You’re going to make a change.” “You’re doing your series C, and you have a product that works. Elizabeth Holmes never had a product that worked.”

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Bryce…particularly the info at the end!

      1. Bryce T.

        Definitely. I like how she broke it down.