False starts, bad timing, wrong co-founder, no technical co-founder. Jason Nadaf could have written the book on what can and will go wrong when you’re starting a company. Oh, and make sure that no accelerator will accept you, no matter that you did manage to make it to the finals.
All of which helps to explain how Nadaf, with his company SureDone, a one stop shop that allows vendors to sell across today’s biggest marketplaces, just closed $1M in funding, not to mention having beat all of his sales projections, at the same time.
Company names mean something and SureDone explains how Nadaf surmounted all obstacles and defied probability to get to where he is.
The California native came out of school with a bunch of ideas.
“I just wanted to build stuff,” Nadaf told us, when we sat down to talk about his latest round of funding at SureDone’s headquarters at Cowork.rs. Not surprising: his mother has had her own jewelry business for the last 30 years. Entrepreneurship is in his blood. He turned to the web, but knowing a little HTML and CSS didn’t exactly qualify him as a coder. However, SEO was something he did know (always stick to what you know), so he launched Seeking Venture Capital, which was a placeholder for his ideas and rambling. And which “still comes up as the fourth link on Yahoo,” Nadaf pointed out.
Third, when we tested it.
His first real idea was to build a niche site that would automate mortgage loans for potential borrowers. Long story short: there were cofounders issues and it was 2008, when the mortgage industry crashed. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Nadaf went back to SEO and increasing traffic on other people’s sites.
Doesn’t it always seem to go that, just when you decide to put your dreams and plans on hold for a bit, that someone comes along and changes everything?
In Nadaf’s case, it was a guy who was selling motorcycle parts on eBay, who decided that it was time that he had his own website. He happened to stop into a friend’s motorcycle shop, where Nadaf also happened to be at the time, and asked Nadaf if he could build him a site (“Sure. Done!). Cost: $500. Two weeks later, the site was #1 on Google in its niche.
It was then that Nadaf knew that what he really wanted to do was to reinvent ecommerce. More specifically, he wanted to create a way for a businesses to basically go from zero to 60 in a click. There were solutions out there, but at $10k per month, the price tags were a bit steep for SMBs, not to mention the fact that they were complicated to use: products needed to be listed one by one, unless you had a resident engineering team.
He did run into a few problems. Like the fact that he was broke. And living in Las Vegas, which, at least at the time (2009), was not exactly a hot bed for coders. Which is when he realized that he needed to learn how to code (“Sure. Done!”). What should have taken him three days to build, took him a year.
In the meantime, he did build and launch the prototype for motocycleparts2u, in exchange for room and board. It was worth it: Nadaf launched his prototype in early 2010 and sales skyrocketed from $300k to $1.1 million. Nadaf did get a percentage of the revenue and some equity in the company, but realized that if he wanted to scale SureDone, it wasn’t going to happen in Vegas. So he packed every thing he owned into an SUV and with $5k in cash, he took his first vacation in years, setting out on a cross-country drive, which landed him in New York City.
Why New York?
“I didn’t want to drive anymore,” said Nadaf. “Plus, there are more women than men here. There was an Internet community here, too, and I thought it would have a strong ecommerce infrastructure – which was wrong.”
It was December 2011 – not the most warm and welcoming time to hit town. He didn’t know a soul. He had no money. He did manage to find New Work City, though, where he settled in and coded before moving on to General Assembly, networking, hustling to get by, and otherwise settling in to the community. It had been a few years since he’d launched SureDone, which was a B2C play, but having gotten no traction, he did what every any determined founder does: he pivoted. He would turn his platform into B2B play.
“And that’s when things started getting interesting,” said Nadaf.
It was at a pitch event at AlleyNYC where he met Brian Cohen and several other investors. His platform was built. His guerilla marketing efforts had brought him a few customers. The motorcycle site was now generating $3+ million in annual revenue. All, compelling reasons for Cohen to suggest that he come in and pitch to the New York Angels.
By May, the New York Angels had invested $500k in SureDone. Now the real work would begin.
“Building the platform was the simple part – not the easy part. It’s platform- and industry agnostic. It’s high performance – one of the fastest loading platforms in its vertical. Now we had to take that platform and scale it into a business.”
He worked out his plan: customer acquisition, lean budgeting, and keep the projections conservative. No one ever went wrong by under promising and over delivering.
It wasn’t long before he brought on Yelena Osin, whom he met at an ecommerce meetup that he had helped put together. She was instrumental in helping Nadaf to reach his first hundred customers in under six months.
Time out and full disclosure: while he didn’t make it into any of the local accelerators, Nadaf was accepted in to Friends of eBay, a six-month program that gives early stage tech-based startups free office space and mentoring. The program did help Nadaf to figure out how to scale his company, and gave him free office space, mentoring, and some crucial introductions.
“We were the first company that was actually integrating with eBay,” he noted.
Of course, like all good things, that came to an end and you know the saying: when one door closes…
It was about this time that Cowork.rs opened their doors and while he had checked out several coworking spaces, he decided that Cowork.rs would work best for him.
“I literally found it at the last minute and I liked the feel of the place. And the hybrid model: open coworking in the middle, and private offices available, too.”
Not to mention the services of his fellow Cowork.rs.
“We worked hard to come up with a provable, scalable model. There were lessons learned and cash wasted, but, we came out of it with an engine of growth and now we’re starting to scale.”
In fact, they exceeded their initial estimates and expectations, which is when Nadaf decided to raise a Seed 2, rather than a Series A round.
“The idea to do this follow on round came from one of our investors,” he explained. “We didn’t want to deal with the noise of explaining what I was doing to VCs who didn’t understand my business. Or who didn’t believe in our model. Now, we’re growing, with an oversubscribed round.”
He was hoping to raise another $500k, but closed $1 million on the last day of May.
“We hit our projections and more than doubled our valuation for this round. And we’re going to be profitable by early 2015,” he added.
With the fresh infusion of cash, Nadaf opened a sales office in Albany, where he just brought on six people.
“It helps us reduce operating costs. But the engineering and marketing talent is here in New York City.”
Which is where SureDone just expanded into a second office at Cowork.rs, where he hopes to realize his vision of listing and managing multiple channels with just one click.
“We’ll see what happens. It’s not over yet. It’s just starting,” he said
Nadaf’s office is on the 3rd floor, where you’ll find him most days (and evenings), tirelessly working away. It has been a wild ride and he pretty much hasn’t had any down time since he first arrived in NYC.
“We have 12 employees now. Our clients are top 500 retailers. For the first time, I can take a step back and really blow it up and scale it.”
Any other big plans for the future that he’d like to share?
“I’m finally going to take another vacation,” he smiled.
Done and done!