Gaurav Jain’s introduction to seed-stage investing began on the other side of the table.
While studying Software Engineering at the University of Waterloo, Jain – a first-generation immigrant – co-founded Polar Mobile when he was 22. “We were students who barely had a product together,” Jain said. “But an angel investor decided Polar was worth the risk. Essentially, they placed a bet on us.”
That bet came in the form of a check for $600,000 – capital the young start-up, building a mobile publishing platform for media companies, badly needed. But Jain soon discovered that building a start-up required more than just capital.
"We made every rookie mistake under the sun,” Jain said. “We ended up with the wrong head of sales several times in a row. We wasted so much time with waterfall product development. And I can’t even count how many atrocious channel sales contracts we signed.”
While Polar Mobile secured $9 million in venture funding, 18 million users and became one of the largest mobile software companies in Canada over time, the journey could have been far easier. “At the time, the entrepreneurial support network in Toronto was very thin. There weren’t many entrepreneurs we could turn to for advice and mentorship.”
Now Jain is working to provide entrepreneurs with exactly the sort of guidance he so sorely lacked in the early days of Polar Mobile. As Principal at Founder Collective, Jain’s passion is to provide the tools, resources, risk capital, and – perhaps most importantly – the support network that entrepreneurs need to make their vision a reality.
Playing the Long Game
Though his experience with Polar gave Jain a firsthand look at the challenges that early-stage start-ups face, it was hardly the end of his real-word education. After leaving Polar Mobile, Jain joined Google as a Product Manager during the early days of the Android platform.
"Android was a five-year overnight success story," he said. “One of the biggest lessons I learned there was that anything worth building takes time. You don’t get it right on the first try. That’s why we stick with our entrepreneurs through thick and thin.”
Another opportunity for learning came when Jain was given the reins for the Nexus One product line, the first Google experience device for AT&T.
“My work with the Nexus One taught me that distribution is just as important as the product itself. While the phone received rave reviews, the online-only distribution model with no carrier subsidies just didn’t work,” Jain said. “We quickly changed strategy, discontinued the web-only model and future versions of the Nexus product line have been available both online and offline. It took many failed attempts and iterations to get to a billion users and 80% market share.”
The Right Tool for the Right Problem
“My experience at Google was invaluable,” Jain said. “More than anything, it taught me about potential. If you have the right people tackling the right problem, you can do great things. When I am evaluating companies, I try to understand why this problem is worth solving and this the right team to do it.’”
But as Jain learned from founding a start-up of his own, changing the world doesn’t come cheap. “At Google, they say ‘life’s too short not to work on really big problems.’ But in the startup world it’s hard to focus on disruptive ideas when you’re worried about making payroll. At Founder Collective, we’re helping early-stage start-ups tackle Google-sized problems by alleviating that need to worry about funding.”
“I’ve never forgotten how it felt when an investor decided to take a chance on my start-up years ago. Now I get to be on the other side of that, and I get to provide young start-ups the same help I got, and more. It’s not just access to capital,” Jain said. “It’s access to opportunity.”