Cover photo for Emma Lawler
Hey! I'm launching Velvet's new AI SQL editor today on Product Hunt. We make everyone on your team a data engineer.  Velvet was designed to solve our own problem. As an early-stage startup, we're built on top of Supabase, Stripe, and other tools. We needed an accessible way to unify data and run queries. Velvet lets any team member access real-time data, write complex SQL with AI, and turn those queries into re-usable components. I’d love your support today! And, I'll be publishing a new article soon about the journey of iterating through 0-1 product-market-fit over the past year. Support the launch on Product Hunt →
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Experimenting with web3

I’m sure you’ve all heard the news that the future is here. It’s distributed, it’s crypto, it’s NFTs, it’s web3, and it’s all leveraging blockchain technology. The world’s most ambitious technologists are building infrastructure to transform art, music, money, identity, regulation, government, passwords, and documents. Really any exchange of information.  I’m here for this future. I believe the next phase of adoption is about education, accessibility, and regulation.  Velvet Cash  Pay people, stores, and for anything online using our app & card. Spend and manage your money using any currency - from Dollar to BTC to Yen to ETH. This proposal felt polarizing and controversial to a mainstream audience (note, posted in early 2022). The first website was written to target a less sophisticated audience than the average crypto product. Everyone had an opinion about why this wouldn’t work or why they loved it. The most common objections were ‘the US government will never let this happen”, “it’s too volatile, I don’t trust it”, or simply “I don’t understand”. People wanted to talk about it for most of the call and were curious even in their hesitancy. Most people thought of crypto as an investment, rather than as a tool or a new technology. The lack of accessible applications makes it hard for the average consumer to start experimenting in the ecosystem. This is the space where we’ll be focusing our attention moving forward. It will evolve into something very different moving forward. — Update: Check out the Velvet website for where we’re at today.
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Why I need an MBA to be a startup founder

People with MBAs have a bad reputation in the world of tech startups. Elon Musk devalues the skillset (“they don’t know how things work”).  Peter Thiel famously pays young people to drop out of school to start companies and doesn’t like to hire MBAs (“extremely herd-like thinking and behavior”). The world’s most successful tech founders never even finished their college degrees. Just to list a few: Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook, James Park: Fitbit, John and Patrick Collison: Stripe, Jack Dorsey: Square and Twitter, Steve Jobs: Apple. An MBA is not a requirement for any career, and it’s even frowned upon if you’re aspiring to be a tech entrepreneur. I knew this, and I still applied to business school with the sole focus of being a startup founder after graduation. What patterns do you see in that list of entrepreneurs who dropped out of school to find huge success in tech? They’re all men, and most still had the pedigree of being accepted to a school like Harvard or Stanford. When I started researching women who made it to a similar level of success, the pattern was slightly different. Most finished college (yes, there’s still a strong Harvard contingent), and many have Master’s degrees or MBAs. Sheryl Sandberg: Facebook and LeanIn, Jennifer Hyman: Rent the Runway, Katrina Lake: Stitch Fix, Anne Wojcicki: 23andMe, Michelle Zatlyn: Cloudflare. It’s also just harder to find examples of successful woman entrepreneurs since only 2% of Venture Capital funding goes towards female founders.  — After my co-founder and I sold Moonlight in 2020, I decided business school was next.  I spent the next year working as a technical product manager, taking online business classes, learning GRE/GMAT math, and hustling to get enough scholarships to offset the risk of my entrepreneurial plans. Chicago Booth offered me a spot in their full-time class of ‘23 along with the Herman Family Fellowship for Women Entrepreneurs. I gratefully accepted. Their flexible curriculum is more amenable to entrepreneurs than other schools, and includes the opportunity to compete in the New Venture Challenge with investment of up to $1M for winning startups. Companies like Simple Mills, GrubHub, and Braintree had come out of the program. One quarter in, I’ve learned invaluable lessons I wouldn’t have prioritized on my own time. I used learnings from entrepreneurial discovery, microeconomics (this required teaching myself calculus 😭), and statistics classes to validate or disprove each of my startup ideas. I learned the math of insurance prices, how it serves as income distribution in some ways. I understand more about credit card fees, the cost of calculated consumer risk. I got access to Nobel Prize-winning economists, world-renowned entrepreneurs, and meaningful experience as a VC investor while interning at Chicago Ventures.  More than anything, I’m gaining access to a prestigious world I’ve never had access to in the past. I’m spending my time with world-class investors, executives, academics, lawyers, consultants, bankers, and aspiring politicians. I can feel the doors of access and privilege opening up around me. It would have been easier to stay in my comfortable bubble. I could have kept my job, skipped the rigorous MBA vetting process, then coded and launched a lean business in my free time. But I believe the humility of resetting as a student, the time away to truly learn, and the access unlocked by a top business school will lead to a more impactful long-term outcome for me as a founder. I intend to increase the 2% of Venture Capital funding that goes towards female founders as an entrepreneur myself, and eventually as an investor. I expect to report back that this MBA was one of the things that increased my chances. 
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My journey as a search founder

The term you’ve probably heard before is a search fund  - where an entrepreneur raises money to acquire and run a company. The goal is to find an existing opportunity with potential for an exit, kind of like house flipping in the real estate market. I consider myself a search founder, constantly seeking my next venture-scale business idea to build from the ground up. I’ve worked in startups for the last decade, experiencing the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship as both an employee and a founder - and I’ve been lucky to experience everything from stagnant growth to fundraising to acquisitions to an IPO. During the pandemic, I had a lot of isolated time for reflection. I realized my primary skill set and passion is around being an entrepreneur. Whether as the founder of a company or working as an employee, I find myself rethinking the status quo, iteratively building things, and creating organizational change with others. Now I’m pursuing an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth, with the primary focus of discovering my next startup idea to work on after graduating. Most of my peers in business school are taking part in a more known recruitment cycle like banking or consulting. I’m choosing a far riskier path, without any guarantees. So, I want to hold myself accountable and share my journey with you here. How I got started in Silicon Valley  I started my career in San Francisco as an app product designer in 2013 - it was my dream job at that time and I felt so lucky to be there. After working at a product consultancy called AKQA for a year after college, I realized I liked going deeper on one problem rather than giving other companies short-term advice. I used a new job marketplace called Hired to find my first startup job, at an early-stage fitness app company called Fitstar.  I loved my new startup life at Fitstar. We shipped an iOS app to millions of subscribers, then launched the platform on web, Android, and Apple Watch. I was learning from smart people, working on a product I loved, and even got to design a personal passion project of mine - Fitstar Yoga.  Six months after joining, Fitstar got acquired by Fitbit, and suddenly I was a product designer at one of the best-known consumer brands in the world. The product design team alone at Fitbit was made up of 60+ designers, split into specialists in ‘human factors engineering’ and ‘user interaction design’. Again, I was given a growth opportunity to learn from some of the best designers and engineers in Silicon Valley.  Fitbit went public in 2015, just a few months after I joined. We celebrated the ringing of the NYSE bell at 6 AM in the brand new San Francisco office with champagne and Fitbit-designed mini cakes. I had experienced the full upward trajectory of the quintessential startup story in less than a year - from joining a scrappy team of 10, to being acquired and given meaningful ownership, to seeing the Fitbit founders do a roadshow and go public. I was in awe of the non-traditional career path I had been fortunate enough to find myself in. I worked hard for the next two years, becoming more specialized in mobile app development, and building a network of as many smart entrepreneurs and product people in San Francisco as I could.  Becoming a founder I left Fitbit in 2017, looking to move away from San Fransisco and live as a digital nomad. I had a few consulting projects lined up with early-stage female founders I met in SF - like Simple Habit and Modern Fertility. I got a virtual mailbox to maintain residency in California (don’t ask me why I chose that state 🤷), sold all my things, and found an international insurance plan. The first city I moved to was Mexico City, where I spent four months with my partner. Friends from San Francisco and around the U.S. were curious, wondering how we managed to live this international lifestyle but maintain a Silicon Valley salary (this was before remote work became ubiquitous during the pandemic). We started to realize there could be a business model around this working style - living remotely, working in SF. To test it out, we bought a domain (moonlightwork.com), put up a Squarespace site with a Typeform, and posted it to HackerNews and Twitter. Within a few days, we had thousands of signups from developers looking for highly paid software work. Over the next two years, we hustled to bootstrap the remote work marketplace while living in 8 cities around the world. Once we figured out a sustainable subscription model, we raised money from institutional venture capitalists and hired a remote team. We moved to New York City, with a roadmap to double down on growth and automation. (If you’re interested to read more about the Bootstrap journey, read my interview with IndieHackers here) When it came time to raise a second round of funding, it was early 2020. Coronavirus was on the horizon, VCs were cooling off on investments, companies stopped hiring, and Moonlight had not achieved the hockey-stick subscription growth we promised to investors. The team was burnt out from three years of building, evangelizing, acquiring, and scaling the business - and our investors offered to introduce us to three potential acquirers. After a few weeks of negotiations and conversations, we got an acquisition offer from one of the startups. We took the offer and the deal closed - Google-backed PullRequest bought Moonlight and gave us offers to join the team and keep growing the platform. All considered, we were ecstatic to end the Moonlight journey with an acquisition. I joined PullRequest for three months through the transition, then left to join theSkimm as Lead Product Manager up until I started business school. On the search for something new Being an entrepreneur is addicting. It’s the opportunity to discover a secret insight and imagine a future that’s different from today, then work relentlessly to make it happen. I think there are lots of ways to take on an entrepreneurial role, even as an employee working within a larger organization. During my time at theSkimm, I was able to identify an opportunity with a forgotten mobile app, create a new strategy and roadmap, then hire a team to re-launch the subscription platform. This opportunity to create change kept me as activated in many ways as being a founder, but with the stability of a great paycheck and supportive benefits. But in the end, I was working towards someone else’s dream, which has its limitations. A year and a half after selling Moonlight, I finally have the headspace to start thinking about something new. What’s the next opportunity I want to devote myself to? The must-haves in my next startup: • A product that needs to exist in the world and that solves a large problem • An end-user who I care deeply about • A clear path to monetization that doesn’t require ads • Venture-scale growth The big unknowns I’m looking to discover this year: • What problem I’ll be solving • The exact industry (broadly within fintech) • Who my co-founder(s) will be • Yes, I realize these are really important unknowns! So, I’ll be writing about my discoveries here. I won’t have all the answers and I’ll surely be wrong in my assumptions. If you read something I get right or wrong, if you want to get involved, if you have ideas, please tell me about it.  Your feedback is always welcome, and thank you (really, thank you!) for following my journey.  Oh, and wish me luck! I’ve got about 18 months to figure this all out before I finish business school in May 2023:)
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