How a 27-Year-Old College Dropout Went From Failed Startup to $18.5 Million in Funding

It all started with 30 days of blog posts.

The average venture capitalist has god-awful vision. They’ll tell you otherwise, but they can’t see the future. Even the great VCs are far from 20/20 eyesight.

Mattermark is a startup that helps decision makers in the finance industry – like venture capitalists – have better vision. Using various tidbits of data, Mattermark gives decision makers a better way to, well, make decisions.

The business idea is great and all, but what’s fascinating about Mattermark is how they got started.

In 2012, Danielle Morrill was winding down her first failed startup. Deflated, she pledged to write one blog post a day for 30 days on a topic she was familiar with: failed startups.

Danielle compiled huge amounts of data on startups and then explained what the data meant in her blog posts. It didn’t take long before she had a massive spreadsheet filled with interesting data points on startups.

After a few weeks, Marc Andreessen (along with a few other investors), emailed Danielle. They were curious how she was getting her data and if they could pay to have access to it. She showed them her spreadsheet and knew she had a potentially great business idea on her hands.

And that, my dear friend, is a perfect example of the phrase “turning shit into gold.”

At Hustle Con Danielle will explain her early process for building Mattermark’s prototype and how she landed her first customers.

Of course, not all of you will make it to Hustle Con, so we made an infographic that shows Danielle’s journey and how Mattermark came to be.

And if you’re interested in meeting Danielle in person and learning how she built Mattermark then click here to get your ticket to Hustle Con. Early bird tickets are on sale now so you’ll save $200 if you get your ticket before February 9th.

Want more infographics like this? Click here to subscribe to The Hustle, a weekly email magazine for folks interested in business.

(The Full Text ↓)

What’s Mattermark?

Mattermark is an intelligence platform that uses publicly available data to help investors and other deal-makers make decisions. Mattermark tracks how fast a company is growing, how much money they they’ve raised, who their customers are, and other pieces of information that help give insights into that company.

Investors pay $499 per month and use the data provided by Mattermark to decide whether they want to invest.

Only 2 and a half years old and founded by 29-year-old Danielle Morrill, Mattermark has raised $9.9 million and has over 500 paying customers.

By the numbers

  • 31% monthly growth
  • 35 employees
  • 6 office dogs
  • 1 failed startup (Referly)
  • 1.2 million+ companies catalogued
  • 0 college degrees (the founder is a dropout)
  • $9,900,000 in funding
  • $4,491 – 1st month of revenue in July 2013 from 9 paying customers
  • $200,000 – 18th month of revenue in December 2014 from 500+ paying customers
  • 500+ paying customers

Danielle’s Story

1985: Grows up on an island 30 minutes outside of Seattle.

October, 2001: Joins the family business, Reliant Consulting & Research, as a part-time financial analyst and software developer. She uses this as a launch pad for a career in analysis.

2003: She doesn’t have the start you’d expect. “I was playing in a punk/emo band, working full time at McDonald’s and part time for my dad, dating my high school boyfriend, living in a cheaper nearby military town and really going nowhere at 18. Fortunately, my boyfriend and I were into 3 things that would end up turning things around for me: philosophy, massive multiplayer online videogames and building websites.”

She wants to go to an Ivy League school but her parents couldn’t help pay for college so she went to Olympic Community College. Drops out shortly after enrolling, despite scoring a 1390 on the SAT. After dropping out, Danielle takes a job handling logistics for a huge shipping company outside of Seattle. While she’s there, she begins to notice patterns amidst all the chaos of millions of packages coming in. These “trends” eventually form the basis of Mattermark.

April, 2005: Thanks to her background at the family business, she lands a job at Expeditors International in Seattle as a business process analyst.

September, 2007: Works on the Data Team and as a Community Manager at Pelago (acquired by Groupon in 2011). Begins to realize that she wants to move to Silicon Valley.

March, 2009: Moves to San Francisco and lands a job as the Head of Marketing at Twilio. She doesn’t have marketing experience, and is hired to do customer service and create content for the company. But she convinces her manager to give her a more senior title so she can get meetings (and does). Becomes a student of marketing, and eventually helps Twilio acquire first 100,000 users. She lives out of the Travelodge in the Presidio for $49/night because she hasn’t found an apartment.

April, 2012: Quits Twilio and gets into YC as the founder of Referly, an affiliate program that helps normal, everyday people make money by sharing links on social. She had been working on this as a side project for 3 years.

March, 2013: Shuts down Referly. She and her two business partners nurse their wounds and reconnect with one another in her parents’ home in Washington state. They realize that the biggest traffic drivers to Referly were Danielle’s startup-focused blog posts. They consider the prospect of creating a “TechCrunch killer” media company.

April 2013: Pledges to write a post a day for 30 days to test the new idea.

April 3, 2013: Publishes an article ranking the growth of Andreessen Horowitz’s portfolio companies. Receives an email from Marc Andreessen commending the piece.

April 5, 2013: Publishes an article on Zombie VCs, companies who have raised money but now appear to be inactive. Post goes viral and inspires Danielle to focus on “data journalism” – basically, the start of Mattermark.

May, 2013: Publishes the spreadsheets she created to organize the data for her blog posts and receives dozens of requests to download the spreadsheets. Decides that detecting buzz about startups is way more exciting than starting a media company.

June, 2013: Shows the data to previous investors. They say they would pay a lot of money for this kind of data. Danielle has $350,000 leftover from Referly, and rolls that investment into Mattermark. Marc Andreessen and VC firm NEA contribute to her bankroll so she can hire developers to build the MVP for Mattermark.

June 3, 2013: Mattermark officially launches, and VCs begin signing up to be on the Mattermark waitlist.

July, 2013: Starts charging $499 per user per month for Mattermark, which at that time is a glorified spreadsheet with hundreds of data points on startups. Moves into a real office. Makes $4,491 in the first month.

February, 2014: Danielle goes door to door to VC firms in Menlo Park to sell them subscriptions to Mattermark. Hires account manager to ensure customer success, and grows the team to 15 people. Grows Mattermark revenue 10x in 8 months.

December 2014: Hits a $1.4m in annually recurring revenue.

May 13, 2016: Speaks at Hustle Con, is blown away by the data showing that Hustle Con attendees are 150% happier than non-attendees.

How Mattermark makes money

Mattermark is a platform that finds, analyzes, and explains data about startups to identify rising companies and help Investors make smart investment decisions. The majority of the data that Mattermark uses is publically available.

Step 1: Mattermark crawls sites like AngelList, Crunchbase, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and the Wikis to collect data on companies.

Step 2: They use this data to identify trends, like employee growth rate, investment rounds, customer acquisition, revenue, webpage ranking, web traffic, and burn rate.

Step 3: Mattermark’s team flags data that doesn’t match up, and manually checks certain pieces of data to ensure accuracy

Step 4: Mattermark looks at all the data and assigns a score to each company they index. The higher the score, the better the company is doing, and the more likely they would recommend it to a potential investor. A negative score means that the company stopped hiring and is losing web traffic (a bad sign).

Step 5: People hear about Mattermark through the company’s blog, which publishes daily updates on startups and investors. VCs pay $499 per user per month to access this data.

Step 6: VCs make smarter, more efficient decisions on which companies to invest in.

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