With a marquee list of local investors, an even larger-than-life executive team, and a lead position in an emerging hot space, EVOAPP was poised to reach great heights. But, that was all of 6 months ago and over the past few weeks, they have notified their key investors, shuttered their product website, leased their space to ReverbNation, and today released all of their employees.
The timeline of EVOAPP reads like a recipe for success:
• Founded in June of 2009 by 20-somethings (Joe Davy & Alexey Melnichenko), from the NC School of Science & Math and UNC-Chapel Hill.
• Raised $500k of angel funding in October of 2010 from Ryan Allis (iContact founder), Tom McMurray (former Sequoia partner) and Christy Shaffer (former CEO of Inspire Pharmaceuticals) to name a few.
• Hired Marco Fregenal as COO and sales champion in late 2010 as their first experienced hire.
• Turned around 3 months later and raised another $1.5M from most of the same investors with key additions including Lee Buck, Steve Nelson, Tom Darden, Henry Kaestner and Kimberly Jenkins.
• Added longtime venture capitalist and executive-for-hire, Kip Frey to join as CEO & President in September of 2011.
• Named NCTA’s “Small Technology Company of the Year” in November of 2011
• Took venture debt from Silicon Valley Bank in November of 2011
• Added additional investment from TAP (Triangle Angel Partners) in January 2012
• Moved into the former Ogilvy & Mather space in downtown Durham and immediately created EVOLABS to sublease to promising startups in January of this year
• Named CED’s “Company to Watch” in June 2011.
But the combination of tier-A investors, a serious chunk of investment dollars to establish a strong product foothold, and experienced executives like Kip, Marco and Lee were not enough. Over the past 24 months Joe could be seen at many events extolling the progress of the company. That is/was his job – to share his enthusiasm and passion for his company. Did he have the same passion for the product? We’ll see.
Is there a lesson for startups, entrepreneurs and the greater community? Sure is, and maybe we can uncover specific insights in a few more months, but there are a few obvious high-order thoughts we should consider:
1. There is no perfect recipe for success. Sometimes the ingredients just don’t come together the right way at the right time. It’s still very much a crapshoot out there. And, don’t discount luck, serendipity and timing.
2. Be careful of your context. At times, EVOAPP looked like the big fish in our smaller pond (Whiz Kid?) Being the darling of RTP buys you very little. And, it’s a big world out there and likely to have 3-5 companies thinking the same thing you are. The competitive landscape is brutal. Is $2.5M over 3-4 rounds and 2 years enough to play big in a big emerging space?
3. Are you ready for the struggle? This sh*t is hard. Don’t confuse activity with achievement. Did EVOAPP achieve, or did they just raise money, hire people and get super-cool space that they could share with other equally cool people.
4. Lastly, make big swings and sometimes you miss the ball. Even the best fail often. Failure is an integral part of the long-term equation. Safe bets are not enough to drive the community forward (though this looked pretty good from the cheap seats!). So, relax and learn from this experience.