This year Experience Camps is opening two new camps, one of them will be our first camp for girls but we need your help in order to make it happen. PLEASE click on the link below and help us open this camp. $25 pays for a kids miniature golfing and ice cream outing night, $100 sends a kid to camp for a day, $500 for the week. If you need a reminder of the kids we help and why, see Raul above. 🙂
Today I am saying goodbye to my teams at SinglePlatform and Constant Contact, and saying hello to my new team at First Round.
I have learned a lot over the past 15 years. I served as a member of the SeamlessWeb Exec team for ten years, started SinglePlatform, which was eventually acquired by Constant Contact, and became a member of Constant Contact’s executive team. But the most important lesson I’ve taken away from these experiences is about what makes great team members. Great team members are not only talented at their position — they also possess a burning desire to improve, continuously want to achieve more, empathize with others while problem solving, and deeply care about their teammates. I will truly miss being on the same team as my amazing team members at SinglePlatform and Constant Contact, and I am the luckiest person in the world to have had the opportunity to be a part of their team.
I have hundreds of people to thank. But rather than thanking each person individually (which would make this post much longer than anyone would want to read), I am going to thank groups of people and provide examples of people who made me proud to be a member of the SinglePlatform and Constant Contact team:
1. I am thankful for the few people during the earliest stages of the business who wore almost every hat in the business to help get it off the ground. People like Cory Grude, Kim O’Rourke, Henry Lihn and all of our early outside sales reps paved the way for those who came later.
2. I am lucky to have been part of an amazing Executive and Leadership Team who hired and managed unbelievable teams, and built an award winning product and culture from the ground up. People like Kenny Herman, Adam Liebman, Pete Chen, Stephanie Lasker, Randy Jimenez and Matt Doumar were the hungriest executive team I have ever seen. I am honored. Truly honored.
3. I am proud of the dozens and dozens of hires who built their way up to managing huge portions of our business. This includes Lee Zucker, Max Appelbaum, Erica Anderman and the rest of the Sales Leadership And Mng’t Teams; Katherine Fischer and Chen Cheng in Product; Peyton Hawkins and Liz Donaldson in Account Management; and Scott Britton in Biz Dev. The list goes on and on, and I am so excited to see each of these people continue to grow in their careers. The sky is the limit for these stars.
4. Thank you to the rest of the team, who before and after acquisition filled our sails and made it possible to break through the waves we hit along the way. As you know, there were a lot of storms. The local space is not easy, and whether you were here for three months, or over a year, we could not have done it without you.
5. I am thankful for the people and teams outside of our business who took a risk on us—from our first three publishers and partners, Eric Friedman at foursquare, Maria Kermath at YellowPages, and MZ Goodman NYTimes, to the first businesses that signed up for our initial product. Thank you all for taking a risk on our startup. We never would have made it without your foresight, feedback, and willingness to take a risk on our team and vision.
6. A huge thank you to the earliest of reporters who put us on the map, gave us a voice beyond our walls, and even helped us get acquired (true story). People like Courtney Boyd Meyers, Alyson Shontell and J.J. Colao will be friends of ours forever.
7. An enormous thank you to Gail Goodman, Joel Hughes, Bob Nicoson, the rest of the executive team, Tom Lasaffre, and other leaders at CTCT. If you ever wonder if big public companies are run the right way, this is an amazing example of a public company that is run by an amazing leadership team who strives to build a big business the right way. I have so much admiration for Gail and her team, and I was honored to be a part of her executive team. Typically, company cultures and teams struggle after being acquired, but it is a testament to the great environment that CTCT has created that even a year after SinglePlatform was acquired we were named one of the top 22 places to work in New York City by Crain’s.
8. I am thankful for all of our investors and attorneys, and especially Howard Morgan at First Round Capital, Thatcher Bell, the founders of Seamless, and Ward Breeze and his team at Gunderson. You were all part of our team, and I appreciate the advice you offered, bridges you built, and support you provided along the way.
9. I am thankful for my fellow CEO friends and mentors who were always there for me to share their stories, support, and friendship. A special thanks to Irving Fain, Erik Schreter and the rest of my VenWise CEO forum group, Stephen Messer, and Ben Sun.
10. I am proud to leave the business with a great leadership team in place, with the best GM, Pete Chen, at the helm. A business could not ask for a better leader.
Eternally grateful, proud, and thankful,
Wiley B. Cerilli
Today, I’m officially joining First Round as a Venture Partner in New York. I couldn’t be more excited, but it’s also given me a chance to think about the long, unexpected road that got me here —a road that many of you either know well or are just starting down.
When I was 19 years old, I dropped out of New York University to join the founding team of a new startup called SeamlessWeb. The company became successful early on, and after leading the sales and partner services divisions and serving on the executive team there for 10 years, I felt “ready”to start my own company, SinglePlatform. I left thinking my business would follow the same ascending path as Seamless.
I opened SinglePlatform’s doors with a beautiful vision of success on the horizon. About 99% of me felt good and optimistic, and 1% was completely stressed out. Of course, it only took a couple of months for those numbers to flip. I worried that my product sucked, that customers weren’t buying, and about any number of bizarre bugs.
I also couldn’t help but notice the dwindling balances in my bank accounts (personal and business) and the effect it was having on every aspect of my life. With a lot of hard work, fingers crossed, and experimentation —especially around sales —things turned around, and SinglePlatform was happily acquired by Constant Contact two years ago. I have learned a lot from these experiences, and from sitting on the executive team of a public company for the last two years, but one thing is clear: I know for a fact that I couldn’t have weathered all the storms I encountered as CEO without my amazing teams at both companies, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
An entrepreneur friend of mine recently observed that starting your own company is like that scene in Top Gun when a relatively calm Tom Cruise sees an enemy fighter plane coast across his radar, and then, seconds later, a dozen other enemy planes appear. It’s too late for him to turn around, all he can do is fly and fight.
The truth is, if founders knew what they were up against, many would never leave the runway. That said, hearing other entrepreneurs share their startup experiences has saved me from hundreds of metaphorical fighter planes. They gave me the data points I needed to make more educated and confident decisions. Just like the best teachers I had in school, they didn’t tell me what to do —they simply offered me their stories, stories that included some good decisions, many wrong decisions, and more than a few times when they were flat out luck. They left their stories with me, to apply the wisdom of their experience as I chose.
So when I first heard about the opportunity to join First Round, I was intrigued. Here is a firm that is all about helping founders share stories to help each other win. I may not be a seasoned investor, but with this emphasis on community, I feel like I can play an important role.
What I am is an entrepreneur. I am an entrepreneur who knows what it’s like to spend countless sleepless nights worrying. I am an entrepreneur who has 15 years experience scaling very effective sales operations. I am an entrepreneur who made many mistakes, but who was still fortunate enough to be a part of two incredible teams that scaled businesses from day one through successful acquisitions. I am an entrepreneur who will not tell you what to do, but will tell you a lot of stories to help you as you build your business. And finally, I am an entrepreneur who loves, more than anything, to help other entrepreneurs achieve their potential.
That is why I am taking this job —for the same reasons I wanted First Round to lead SinglePlatform’s seed round and sit on our board. First Round is a rare, remarkable team run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. They offer both a tremendous amount of operating experience and an amazing platform that connects dozens of experts across the portfolio to share their knowledge, compare notes, and achieve together. Additionally, because I had the pleasure of seeing First Round in action as investors, I know that they go above and beyond to do the right thing for founders in good times and bad. This is truly unique.
I am thrilled and honored to be First Round’s first ever Venture Partner, and to be joining Howard Morgan and Chris Fralic on the investment team in New York. I can’t wait to help the hundreds of entrepreneurs in this community learn how to build and sell to the best of their ability —and learn from some of the best investors and entrepreneurs along the way. Starting today, I invite founders to reach out to me any time to talk through their business challenges and opportunities. I’m looking forward to working with all of you.
Always here to learn and help,
Wiley B. Cerilli
On May 15th we will be hosting our 5th annual event benefiting the Manitou Experience camps. Please follow the steps below.
1. Watch the video above and keep a lookout for Stephen. He will be speaking at the event, and he is an an amazing person and inspiring to us all.
2. Go to http://www.manexny.com and buy tickets to the event.
3. Smile because you just helped another kid go to camp 🙂
Last week I had the honor of giving the commencement address for the graduating class at Moses Brown. I am incredibly thankful for having gone to school at Moses Brown for thirteen years. The school’s faculty and staff were there for me and my family during the worst of times, and really had an huge impact on me both professionally and personally. Here is the video of the speech.
Here is an excerpt from the speech:
“When you choose to face your fears. When you choose to aim high — to solve problems you may not think you are capable of solving, and immerse yourself and work relentlessly to get there. Regardless of whether you hit your exact goal, you’ll end up higher than where you are now… Choose to be different, choose to aim high, and choose to be fearless. In the end it’s all about the choice we make every day: to either let life happen to you, or to make life happen.“
I wrote the letter below to the First Round Capital CEO’s after the Constant Contact acquisition. FRC recently posted the letter again to their site, and Howard Morgan wrote the following intro.
Dear startup CEOs
Being a founding CEO is hard. It’s an emotional roller coaster filled with incredible highs and unimaginable lows – sometimes in the same day.
The weight of your team is riding on your shoulders and it’s up to you to make things happen. It can be a lonely job. However, through that process, amazing things can happen and you learn a lot along the way.
This was most certainly the story of Wiley Cerilli and SinglePlatform. In just 2.5 years, Wiley built the company from a napkin sketch (which he sold door to door) through successful exit. We were fortunate to partner with Wiley when he raised his first round of capital back in 2010.
When Wiley exited, he did what many other First Round CEOs have done – he wrote a letter via Network (our internal collaboration platform) to his fellow First Round CEOs to share what he had learned during his journey. It was one of the most thoughtfully written summaries on company building I’ve ever read. He agreed to share it here for the first time publicly.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Dear First Round CEOs-
As some of you may know SinglePlatform announced that we were acquired by Constant Contact. Although this is an amazing event for all of us here at SP, one downside is that I will no longer be a First Round Capital CEO. I wanted to take this time to quickly thank you all, thank the FRC team, and also share a few things I learned along the way besides what was in my exit interview here
I’ve learned a lot from being at two companies with successful exits. Most of all, I’ve learned that I’m not very good at many things, and that I’m only good at a few things. I can’t tell you how to build the best product, how to manage your financials, or how to best market your business, or even write a grammatically correct letter (see this letter). I can tell you, however, that focusing on the following fours areas where I am actually good at, helped me get to where we are today.
1. Building & Managing a Team
“Great teamwork is the only way we create breakthroughs that define our careers.” – Pat Riley
– Your job is to create the best team. It’s not to execute.
– I spent over 60% of my time trying to improve the talent on my team at all levels.
“The one thing I know is that you win with good people.” – Don Shula
– We defined our culture very early on. We hire people we really like over more talented people, and we let go of top performers because they were disrupting the environment.
– This goes for investors as well. FRC are not good people, they are great people. We could not have done this deal without them. Howard and FRC were always there to make the right decision when I needed them.
– We even hired GREAT lawyers. Ward Breeze and his team at Gunderson helped save our business and get us the best terms. Great lawyers, great people.
“He who says he can, and he who says he can’t, are both usually right.” – Confucius
– Hire those who say they can and have shown that they can.
– Hire people with positive outlooks, negativity is viral and it only takes one person to turn a team upside down. It happened to us twice, and both times the people were gone, our company was better.
Fire people as quickly as you hire them. “ (I think it was Jeff Weiner of Linkedin, but I’m not sure though)
– I believe he said something to the extent of, “As soon as you are having doubts about someone, it means they are no longer doubts.”
– Do not settle for people who are “OK.” As soon as you settle for OK, your business will be only that.
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” -George S. Patton
– We never made our plans very complicated. We focused on monthly goals and didn’t think too much beyond that.
– We poured our resources into doing a couple of things right until we had the money to then focus on 3 things.
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve martin
– Our management team decided early on that we were going to make a name for ourselves, and it could only be for 1-2 things.
– Pick those 1-2 things and tell the market you are known for it. Tell them in articles, tell your team, tell everyone, and then execute.
The winner in the fight between the bear and the alligator is determined by the terrain. – Jim Barksdale (I think) (Angus Davis from Swipely told me about this quote)
– Compete on the terrain in which you can win on.
– We compete in the local space and I know how to sell and create teams. Product is not my specialty, and neither is marketing, so we didn’t try to be the absolutely best designed etc… product.
“We will either find a way, or make one.” – Hannibal
3. Inspire and Motivate vs Dictate
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
– People want to be led. They yearn to be inspired. Give them a higher meaning to being at your company.
– Challenge them to be better. Do not let people settle.
“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” – Henry Kissinger
– Convince people that together you will help them to take the company to where they thought was not possible.
– Make sure the leadership team is the most on board because they will be the ones getting everyone else to drink the juice.
– If you can’t give motivating speeches, use ppt with music.
“Don’t be an idiot. Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat, just get on.” -Eric Schmidt to Sheryl Sandberg
– In my last company wide email l referenced a part of Sheryl Sandberg’s speech that she recently gave at the HBS graduation. During the speech, she described her hesitations in accepting a job offer with Google, which vanished when Eric Schmidt, the company’s former CEO, told her the above. I love telling this to people to help them to see a longer-term fit with them and the business and to stop worrying about their tasks they are responsible for today.
4. Celebrate with the team
“Celebrate your wins.” – Jed York CEO 49ers
– Make sure you and you team celebrate the wins even when they are small wins. I know it’s stressful being the CEO, but you must celebrate with your team.
– Set goals earlier on that you can hit to build the team’s confidence in their ability to hit goals and that you know how to set them.
– I send out a weekly email to the whole company of what each dept’s goals are and if we have met them. We go go-karting, have a gong in our office, and we celebrate once per month if every group hits their goals.
“It’s not whether you can become successful, it’s how many people can you help become successful.” – Magic Johnson
– My proudest moment was knowing that every person in our company was in a better place because of our deal with Constant Contact.
– If you can put your people in a position to win, your business will win.
I feel the same about a lot of things. Its true about both the best and worst of times, they both reveal your true character. You find out what really motivates you, what you value the most when everything is going your way, and when nothing seems to go your way. Its so great to see the character of our exec team revealed since the acquisition. The best part is that even when the company was at its worst, when we thought we were going out of business, this team’s character stayed the same. We have an amazing team at SinglePlatform, and I am so proud to be a part of it.
I’ll never forget where I was when Jonathan Wegener posted this article, naming us one of the “Top 5 Pre-Funded Startups to Watch in NY”. It was the summer of 2010, and there were only of few of us (Kim O’Rourke and Cory Grude) working at SinglePlatform. I was on the rooftop of my apartment in Brooklyn (our then office), and I received a google alert. When I look back at all the moments of SinglePlatform, this is one of my happiest moments. I remember calling Cory and Kim about it, feeling like we had just won the world series. It was the first time I allowed myself for a couple hours to just breath and smile, as it was the first sign that I had made the right decision to leave my job and work family at SeamlessWeb. The post generated a lot of buzz in the VC community and firms started reaching out to us, giving me the confidence I needed going into fundraising. Jonathan should be a VC considering he also picked Yipit and Kickstarter. Jonathan ended the post by writing, “This ones gonna be big…”, which was our first of many rallying calls. Thank you Jonathan!