Martin Strutz, Co-founder of AND CO Interview

Interview with Martin Strutz by Todd Stone

AND CO provides invoicing and time tracking services to freelancers, from developers and designers to writers and consultants. Among other features, users can input their work information and AND CO generates and submits invoices once the user’s work has been completed.

It was founded in 2014 by Strutz and Leif Abraham, both of whom worked at creative digital agencies. AND CO has received funding from BoxGroup (David Tisch and Adam Rothenberg) and Thrive Capital.

Strutz and Abraham met more than a decade ago working in advertising and created AND CO while working together at Prehype, a company that helps corporate clients become more entrepreneurial.

Q. I see the Gold membership for $14 per month. Do you have other revenue streams?

That is very much our primary revenue stream at present. Going forward, we’re excited to [make money] by facilitating payments to freelancers from clients. There's an opportunity to earn a portion of the processing fees charged by the likes of WePay, Stripe and PayPal. Beyond that, we’re always interested in thinking about what other services independent workers are lacking, what problems they face, and how we can contribute to a solution. We expect those to provide additional revenue opportunities.

Q. About how many users do you have?

Our user base is comfortably in the tens of thousands.

Q. What is the salary of your average user?

Our user-base tends to be made up of high-skill professionals; the annual salaries we see reflect that. These are individuals that have, typically, held impressive positions in leading agencies, consultancies, and design firms. Their income reflects that expertise.

Q. Have you had any big surprises?

Too many to count! One in particular I’d cite: at first, AND CO placed a greater emphasis on connecting freelancers to professionals they might need to talk to: CPAs and lawyers, for example. What we learned is that those needs are infrequent, and not typically high-priority. There is considerably more demand for robust tools that remove the need for those conversations to begin with. For example, strong, intuitive contracts.

Q. Would you say that AND CO empowers freelancers? If so, how?

Definitely, it does. It frees up valuable time to focus on growing your business, personal growth, etc. and gives freelancers access to the professional tools they deserve.

Companies do some things phenomenally well when compared to freelancers. Typically, those are things related to process: payroll, accounting, internal protocols. We don’t want that expertise to remain solely in the domain of corporations.  AND CO sets freelancers free from taking that on themselves.

Q. Tell me more about the Standard Freelance Contract you created in partnership with the Freelancers Union.

We launched on February 22nd, 2017 and it has been one of AND CO’s greatest successes. It’s something we’re immensely proud of. We’re seeing really strong uptake across professions and countries. That was a major goal of ours: to make this as universal as possible, and as applicable as possible.

We’ve had thousands sign-up and use the Standard Freelance Contract already. It has proven to have filled a real need for independent workers.

Q. What are some of the benefits of operating AND CO out of New York City?

New York is an ideal city for us to be headquartered in. The freelance scene is especially strong, and perhaps more critically, diverse, which is true of NYC more generally. Whereas other hubs spike on one industry in particular, NYC is multi-talented. That means we’re close to freelancers from a ton of different industries. We’re grateful to learn from them all. It’s also great to be so close our friends at the Freelancers Union.

Q. To me, being a freelancer is a lot like being an entrepreneur. You control your time and make your own decisions. Can you see an application of AND CO for entrepreneurs?

First of all, I 100% agree. Freelancers are entrepreneurs -- the company their running just happens to be themselves! That’s a trend we’re seeing across industries and job types -- individuals are increasingly running themselves like a business.

In the short-term, early stage entrepreneurs and small business can definitely benefit from using AND CO. Creating contracts, tracking time, invoicing, income management and task management are all features relevant to those individuals.

In the longer-term, we hope AND CO will develop into a tool that will make life simpler for every type of worker. As more people switch between full-time, part-time, freelancing, side-hustling, and entrepreneurship, the need for an underlying infrastructure for work becomes all the more vital. That’s what we’re building.

 


Company of Entrepreneurs Brings Lean Startup to the Fortune 1000

Written By Todd Stone

As the leadership of corporate America continues to recognize the value of startup methodology in preventing atrophy and inspiring innovation, CEOs of large companies continue to evaluate how best to incorporate entrepreneurship into their massive organizations.

Big Company Startup Strategies 

Some companies have pursued the mergers and acquisitions path, acquiring successful startups, holding onto those teams and having them operate either independently or as part of the bigger company. Other large companies have created innovation labs, or incubators that operate like startups and exist as separate entities within the company. Both of these can work to bring innovation to a bureaucratic behemoth.

But there is another, and probably better, way.

Arshad Chowdhury is a successful serial entrepreneur who now works for a New York City-based company whose motto is “an army of entrepreneurs.” His title is Entrepreneur and the company is called Bionic. What the company does is bring lean startup methodologies to some of the world’s largest companies. That includes validating assumptions, being agile, celebrating failure as an educational tool, and failing fast. Not unlike a consultant, Chowdhury and his colleagues make trips to the offices of their Fortune1000 company clients. But instead of simply offering advice, they implement a system they call the Growth Operating System (OS) that mirrors a real startup ecosystem.

Growth OS includes the creation of what Bionic calls validation teams, which are essentially early stage startups. Bionic’s entrepreneurs assist these teams, composed of the client company’s employees, many of whom have expressed interest in the system. The teams generally have ideas about a new product or program and Bionic entrepreneurs like Chowdhury help them figure out if their assumptions are correct. If they’re not, then on to the next idea.

“What’s very important about these validation teams is that they’re doing very low cost, on the ground, gritty experiments that barely make a dent on a large company’s balance sheet,” Chowdhury said.

Finding the Great Potential

Chowdhury regularly sees great potential in the people he works with. “There’s a lot of untapped talent in large American companies,” he said, “And large companies have resources that are the envy of every startup – from cash to talent, experts, offices and reputation.”

Unlike other approaches to incorporating entrepreneurship into large companies, Bionic installs a governance body, called a Growth Board. This group is composed of the company’s senior leadership, and they are coached by Bionic to act as venture capitalists.

“We say no to work when we realize that there isn’t [commitment] from the CEO. If there’s noopportunity to have a meaningful relationship with the decision makers who can turn well-validated ideas into supported businesses, we don’t proceed,” Chowdhury said.

Venture Capital

Venture capitalists are a crucial part of any startup ecosystem, and Bionic believes that they, too, must be replicated inside a large company in order for the system to work. Hence, the aforementioned Growth Board. In the real world, a startup will not continue to be funded unless it reaches certain benchmarks. Investors don’t want to lose money on companies that are clearly failing. So why should a large company sustain a project or product that is also clearly failing?

“We teach around the lean startup methodology, but we also coach around funding, starting with seed funding and followed by rounds,” said Christina Wallace, VP of Growth at Bionic.

Wallace explained that sometimes a large company will put millions of dollars behind a product that hasn’t even been validated – that doesn’t have a proven market or is based on incorrect assumptions. This is exactly what Bionic is trying to prevent. According to Wallace, helping to prevent massive time and financial waste on un-validated projects is just as important as creating new profitable products and businesses.

How Bionic Started

Started in 2013 by veteran entrepreneurs David Kidder and Anne Berkowitch, Bionic has operated largely under the radar. Its first client was General Electric, which they worked with to create FastWorks, the name of GE’s implementation of Growth OS, according to Wallace. Beth Comstock, then GE’s Chief Marketing Officer, was instrumental in developing FastWorks with Bionic, evidence that involvement with senior management from the outset is crucial.

Bionic is not the only company of its kind. There are a handful of others that are also capitalizing on the need of big business to innovate by operating more like a startup. But Bionic’s Growth OS is definitely thorough. And the caliber of its entrepreneurs is impressive. Wallace herself, who is even an “Entrepreneur” at Bionic, founded two companies prior joining to Bionic.

Why entrepreneurs work with Bionic

Now, why would a serial entrepreneur with successful businesses under his or her belt be interested in working for a company like Bionic? After all, don’t entrepreneurs want to be their own boss? Yes, that’s true. However, Bionic entrepreneurs get to build startups constantly – and they get a paycheck.

“I really thrive on focusing on the early stages of a company – trying to validate things that work and don’t work,” Chowdhury said. “So Bionic is perfect for me because it distills my skills down to those core attributes I think I’m best at.”

Plus, Wallace says that the organizational structure of Bionic is very decentralized. Inspired by a book written by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal about organizing army units in the war in Afghanistan, co-founder Kidder consciously chose to create highly independent workteams. As Wallace said, the teams “join together, and then disperse.”

Speaking of being inspired by books, Kidder is also the author of the acclaimed “The Startup Playbook.”


KISI Interview... The Future of Locks

Kisi is a company that allows keyless door entry via cell phones for growing communities.

Max Schuetz from Kisi Interview

 

I recently had the pleasure of Interviewing Max Schuetz Cofounder of Kisi (pronounced like a combination of the words Key & Easy). Kisi is a Brooklyn-based company that provides cool security solutions, that replaces traditional lock and key door entry.

Check out the video for some more details

Max and his team founded Kisi when they were working at a high tech fitness company in Munich Germany. When the fitness company grew from 5 to 30 people there needed to a be a secure way to let everyone in and out of the building.  Regular keys became an issue because of the high turnover rate in the fitness industry. So they created a secure way to allow people entry and without keys. Eventually Max and his team went on to start Kisi.

Competition Winner

In 2013, Kisi entered and won a startup competition called the NYC Next Idea Award. The award came with a monetary prize of $30,000, as well as a special condition: Max and his team had to move to NYC.

Just like that, Kisi was moving from Munich to NYC. Within 3 days of landing in New York they had their first client in midtown. New York has provided many clients for the young company, from coworking spaces to commercial offices, any building that wants intelligent security management is a potential client.

Max explained that NYC is a great place, and a great place to run a startup. Although the city itself can be expensive there are smart and affordable ways to deal with transportation and food. They key according to Max is knowing how to get a good deal in the city.

By 2014 Kisi had secured its first round of venture financing totaling $1.5 Million.  The Seed round was lead by Point Nine Capital. Point Nine is a Berlin based VC firm with over 100 investments in over 80 companies according to Crunchbase.

Max says that his company has been extremely careful to avoid overspending and that has allowed his team to stretch the VC funding. He believes they will likely seek another round of capital in the future to help accelerate growth.

After taking the time to hear all about Kisi it’s always great to understand founders. Below are a few Question and answers with Max

Interview Questions

 

Josh: Who are your mentors?

Max Mentors should know more than you do and experienced what you want to experience or avoid it. So the range is broad from old family friends to customers who are a couple of steps ahead of Kisi and are willing to share their experience.

Josh: What are your personal goals for the next 12 months?

Max: In order to do great work you have to love what you do, there is very little separation between work and play. So my personal goals are very much those of the business. I would like to see us double our clients in the next 12 months

Josh: What books have inspired you most?

Max: Keith Richard’s autobiography is a great read. It’s exciting to get a peek into his turbulent career and to learn more about music history and how technology influenced music. Keith Richard’s passion is infectious.

Thank you for being late by Thomas Friedman- It’s about accelerated change in technology, economy and nature and what will happen since we enetered the second half of the chess board (see the legend of Paal Paysam).

Closing Thoughts

It was great talking with Max. He and the rest of the Kisi seem to be moving quickly with new technology and are offering a cool take on the 4000 year old concept of the Key. We are looking forward to seeing them grow and watching how they evolve as part of the NYC startup community.

 

Full Disclosure we will likely use the Kisi solution at our Coworking space as well.

 

Cheers

Josh Bobrowsky