Milestones on a Rewarding Journey
Today is a big day for me for two reasons:
1) One year ago today, I moved with my family to Silicon Valley from Washington, DC, a city we love and miss very much.
2) Also today, DotNetNuke Corp., the company I co-founded, announced that we have closed on our Series A round of venture funding.
Adjusting to Silicon Valley has had its challenges. Having to drive everywhere after getting around mostly on DC’s Metro was the hardest adjustment. Our friends, DC’s breathtakingly beautiful monuments, abundance of fantastic (and free) museums and overall character of the city are all missed. That my daughters were both born at George Washington University hospital in DC means that my family has an unbreakable bond with the city and we expect to live there again in the future (perhaps when I run for Congress, a dream of mine).
The past year in Mountain View has been a year of discovering California, rekindling old friendships, making new ones, enjoying great weather and the many playgrounds in this area. We are slowly adapting and beginning to enjoy what Silicon Valley has to offer. I’ll be candid, reaching the funding milestone is certainly going to make a difference in terms of quality of life.
All startup entrepreneurs make sacrifices to see their dreams come true. In this business, it’s called “skin in the game.” I can say unequivocally that my co-founders (Shaun Walker, Joe Brinkman and Scott Willhite) and I have a lot of skin (and probably additional layers) in this game. Building a company based on a free, Open Source product is challenging, to say the very least. But we had a vision and continued to persist despite the challenges we encountered. Raising growth capital was one of them.
In the summer of 2007, Shaun and I made several trips to Silicon Valley to meet with VC‘s. Everything that followed was textbook venture fundraising. We had many positive meetings but no takers. Our team quickly realized that we were missing three things:
- Feet on the ground. It is expensive to travel to Silicon Valley every couple of weeks for meetings (Note: Most VC’s that fund Open Source companies are located in Silicon Valley). It is also a huge disadvantage that you cannot meet with an interested investor at short notice. And finally, missing out on the powerful network effect of Silicon Valley is a serious impediment to raising capital here.
- Solid Business Model. While we had achieved tremendous success as the #1 Open Source web project on the Microsoft stack, the business model we articulated to VC’s was not polished enough to merit their serious interest.
- Experienced Advisors and Management. VC’s invest first and foremost in people. Having a solid management team in place is critical for the success of any company, and more so for venture-funded companies. While our team is very strong technically, we did not have the depth and breadth of business experience needed to take the company to the next level. (While DotNetNuke Corp. is the fourth company I have founded/co-founded and the third of my companies to receive investment capital, I still have much to learn.)
We decided to address these three issues as best and as quickly as we could.
Since I had the lead role in the fundraising process and did not have significant constraints on where my family lived, moving here was a no-brainer for me. While it was a major move, I was determined to do what needed to be done to ensure the success and longevity of our business. I did not see any way we could be successful at raising capital without having a local presence in Silicon Valley. Savi, my wife was supportive as ever in this decision. The other co-founders and I agreed on a course of action. I took on the role of CEO with a charge of focusing on raising capital and prepared for the move.
But there were more challenges. Savi was pregnant with our second child due in late October. Gia, our first daughter, was three years old at the time and we had to find a Montessori in Silicon Valley that met the standards for teaching and cultural diversity that we had become accustomed to in DC. Also, since we paid our own health insurance, we could not make the move until after the baby was born, otherwise we would have to assume the full cost of the delivery — totally impossible for us (and most people, I would imagine). We decided to wait until January 2008 to move.
We made a couple of trips to the Bay Area, checked out schools and settled on a Montessori in Mountain View. With that done, it was now time to find housing. We did not find anything suitable during our visits. It was extremely challenging trying to find housing in Silicon Valley that met our requirements remotely from DC. A couple of these requirements greatly restricted our options and I remember checking CraigsList every 20 mins., all day, hoping to find a place we could call home. We were getting very frustrated and then things took a turn for the worse.
On the evening of Sept. 5, I accompanied Savi for a routine pre-natal check-up, while my parents who were visiting from India at the time, watched Gia. The news we got from the doctor was scary. We were told that we had to go straight to the hospital as our baby was going to arrive five weeks ahead of schedule. With a great sense of fear, we got Savi admitted and began a very long night. In the morning, the chief resident told us that the baby was in distress and they had to deliver. Kaamya was born on Sept. 6. I got to hold her for one minute and then she was taken to the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit). The next 12 days were a blur. Savi and I took turns keeping her company in the NICU hoping and praying that she would be OK. Our prayers were answered. Today, Kaamya is a healthy, happy and active one-year-old.
After Kaamya’s birth, we were able to move to Silicon Valley a little sooner than planned. Housing was still an issue. On a whim, Savi looked at short-term rentals, and found a place in Mountain View that matched all our criteria, but was only available for 3-6 months. My brother-in-law who lives in San Jose checked out the place, we found it acceptable and signed the lease. We decided that we would move immediately after my Las Vegas trip for Open Force ’07.
Thus, on Nov. 25, 2007, we arrived in Silicon Valley.
I immediately began connecting with and setting-up meetings with people/firms to enable progress on the fundraising front and also to identify and work with business advisors and potential additions to our management team. Larry Augustin, founder of VA Linux and one of the most respected names in the Open Source world, was already our business advisor. He referred me to several exceptional people and firms, one of them being Navin Nagiah. At the time, Navin was CEO of Cignex, a company that specialized in services around Open Source CMS solutions.
I met Navin at a Starbucks in San Jose on Dec. 18, 2007. Almost immediately, Navin saw DotNetNuke’s tremendous potential. I too saw how Navin’s experience in the Open Source Enterprise CMS space would be valuable for DotNetNuke Corp. We started meeting regularly 2-3 evenings a week. Within a couple of months, Navin formally became our business advisor.
Working closely together, and with the support and input of the other co-founders, we developed a solid business model and investor pitch. We were a little slow off the blocks, but with all three of the missing items addressed, we were confident that getting funded was an inevitability. We made rapid progress through the summer culminating in today’s announcement. (I have been working on collecting my thoughts around what we learned in the process and will blog about it in the future.)
I am incredibly gratified to have reached this major milestone. There are many, many people who made it possible, many of them are behind the scenes. To all of them, I am grateful. A special thanks to my family and the families of my co-founders, who stood by us and supported us through thick and thin (mostly thin) as we made it to this point. And thanks to everyone in the DotNetNuke community who have time and again demonstrated support for DotNetNuke Corp. and confidence in our product — DotNetNuke.
This is the first step in a journey. We have a great team and I am looking forward to doing my part in building a very successful and profitable company while making DotNetNuke the platform of choice for .NET-based websites. I am very excited for the future.
Below is a link to Shaun’s keynote from the recent DotNetNuke OpenForce ’08 conference. It will shed some light on where we are and what our vision is for DotNetNuke Corporation.