This crowdfunding campaign has me thinking about my start in the Valley.

I knew nobody and had few marketable skills.

I didn’t know the difference between an API and a VC.

Within 3 months, I’d met @erenbali and@caglaroktay and we had started @udemy.

**Read On**
I graduated during the 2008 recession. I was sure I was gonna lose my job at Accenture.

My mother had just lost hers, & I was freaking the fuck out. All first-year analysts were joking daily about the situation.

One day, I got the ominous email from Accenture management...
... The good news: I still had my job.

The bad news: I had to relocate to Washington DC.

I had one friend in DC: Vikrum.

I told him about my dream of working in tech. He gave me my golden ticket: “Check out TechCrunch, that’s what all my tech friends read.”
I consumed TechCrunch voraciously.

I read Every. Single. Post. For months on end.

Eventually, two posts appeared that changed my life.

One was a hiring post for MobileCrunch, TechCrunch's sister blog.

The other was about @founding, a new incubator for idea-stage companies.
To get in, I had to "hack" the process.

I had no technical background and was just a number at Accenture.

What I did have were my days of TechCrunch consumption. I'd read so much I could tell you about the writing style and personal lives of major writers Leena, Mike and Erik.
I also knew the writing style of MobileCrunch editor @Grg Kumparak.

I wrote my application channeling this understanding and within hours, got the response:

“You're in. You start tomorrow.”

At MobileCrunch, I used a combination of ambition and opportunism, with luck sprinkled on top.

To be a recognized journalist, your articles need to get page views. To get page views, I had to get articles cross-posted on the parent blog, TechCrunch.
I monitored what types of articles got cross-posted and realized that posts about funding announcements and company-level news often appeared on the main page.

By focusing on articles that got cross-posted, I increased my profile quickly.
Working at MobileCrunch helped me recognize that one of my unique advantages was communicating a vision through writing.

At this time, I was in @founding as well and looking for a technical co-founder to build out an education company offering video courses online.
Despite sharing this vision with everyone in the program, no technical co-founders joined.

I was about to get kicked out of the program, but @adeoressi gave me an out.

He introduced me to the founders of this nascent idea called Udemy and told me to join them.
Eren and Oktay were the smartest engineers in the program, but were overlooked due to their backgrounds.

We bonded over being immigrants, and they gave me a demo of Udemy. It blew my mind and I used my TechCrunch connections to convince them to let me join the team.
I had no title or role to begin with. We were all working part-time. I had no equity or agreement for future compensation.

This was the Valley in 2008. You just showed up and worked.

Luckily, we got along and they gave me a co-founder title and the equity to go with it.
A few lessons for those looking to break into the Valley:

Lesson 1: Silicon Valley is network-driven. To thrive, understand its code of conduct.

Luckily, the code is public. It's on Twitter, it's on blogs, it's on podcasts.

Use this public information to become an insider.
Lesson 2: Take shots

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” - Wayne Gretzky

If I’d never applied to the positions on TechCrunch, I could still be in DC, I may have never co-founded Udemy.

There wasn’t a clear path or connection, but the dots connect in retrospect.
Lesson 3: Find your edge

For me, it was writing, communication and a passion for education.

Each person has a different edge and needs to find a way in. Take what you can get; don’t let your pride get in the way of a great opportunity. Use your talents every chance you get.
Lesson 4: Fake it til you make it

Never lie, but don’t undersell yourself either.

It wasn’t obvious to others that I should be at MobileCrunch or founding a startup, but I believed in my abilities.

Self-awareness is about understanding your strengths, not just your weaknesses.
Thanks for reading!

A full blog post on this topic is at…

For more stories like this, check out

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More from @gaganbiyani

7 Dec
Want to invest in @wes_kao and my startup?

Today, we're debuting a new approach to seed rounds:

... Open Application Investing 💥

We’ve launched a public form where anyone can apply to invest in the company:

Small check sizes welcome!

More details 👇🏾
ICYMI, we closed a super over-subscribed seed round led by @firstround with @naval @shl @ljin18 + more investing over $4M at a $20M cap

More info here -

Many saw it and asked to invest, and we worked with @joinrepublic to make this possible
Investing in startups is the ultimate "who you know" game; you must be an insider and have significant access to capital

The open application process helps us provide access to non-accredited, non-traditional investors AND maximize the impact this has on our company's success
Read 6 tweets
16 Nov
Advanced Fundraising Strategy:
For most, fundraising is a chore. These days, more companies are fortunate to have competitive rounds.

What do you do when you have options? How do you optimize a competitive round?

@wes_kao and I had options... Here's how we approached it.

We named our priorities up-front:
1. Involve investors who backed us in the past
2. Find a Lead who would help raise the A
3. Leverage Lead + large syndicate to create traction (our market is aligned with this strategy as many investors can be instructors or help promote courses)
To make room, we had to raise $4M. If we raised less, we'd have to exclude too many people. If we raised more, the company would be over-valued or over-diluted.

I do not believe in having a valuation over $25M for a pre-seed company. Too hard to beat those expectations.
Read 15 tweets
12 Nov
It's been a year in the making...

Today, @wes_kao and I are announcing a $4.32M seed round led by @firstround for our new company

We're building a platform for Cohort-Based Courses (CBCs):

The backstory 👇🏾
In 2009 @erenbali, @caglaroktay shared the Udemy vision w/ me. Back then it was a marketplace for live online classes.

They wow'ed me with a Zoom-like product that was ahead of its time (built on Adobe Flash 😅)

I tried to market it for 1 year but couldn't get any traction.
In order to get traction, we pivoted into video-based courses (now known as “MOOCs”). They took off and the rest is history.

I'm really proud of what the Udemy team has done - 400M course enrollments and counting! 👀

Read 12 tweets
22 Oct
I’ve been thinking about co-founders a lot lately.

In 15 years of building companies, I’ve had >10 different co-founders.

They’ve fired me. I’ve fired them. But I’m still friends with 100% of them to this day.

... 15 Rules on Co-founder Relationships

**Read On**
Rule 1: You don’t have to know each other in advance.

@erenbali and @caglaroktay didn’t know me when we started @udemy, but I think all of us would agree the company wouldn’t have happened without any one of us.
Rule 2: Create a pre-nup through role definition.

99% of companies should have a clear CEO. If you are not that person, you report to them.

Co-founders firings should not be done lightly, but if it happens, the CEO decides.
Read 17 tweets
7 Oct
At Udemy, we were 3 first-time entrepreneurs trying to raise seed capital. We made every mistake in the book.

We got 200+ no’s and wasted 12 months fundraising.

We eventually pulled through, just barely. 😅

This thread shares our mistakes as lessons for founders.

**Read On**
We built an impressive product, but we were nobodies.

We thought: we need money to build our vision, so let’s go talk to some investors.


Nobody gave a fuck that we needed money. We needed to prove we deserved their money.
We met some associates and intermediaries who might introduce us to investors.

Few decision-makers wanted to meet with us.

We should’ve stopped there.

If getting meetings is hard, it will take you forever to raise.

Instead, spend your time building product + getting traction.
Read 12 tweets
30 Sep
Most investors add no value, but when they do, it can be company-saving.

In 2010 as @udemy was just picking up steam, eBay-owned PayPal was cracking down on marketplace businesses for violating ToS. Without warning, they shut our entire payments system down.

**Read On**
We had a few months of runway and were starting to raise our Series A. It would take weeks to implement an alternative system, and that would've killed our traction story.

It was all-out panic mode.
We asked everyone for help - many were experiencing the same problem.

PayPal was notoriously bureaucratic at this time and was completely inaccessible to small startups like us.

The "best case" scenario, we heard, was 3 months of downtime.

That would've been a death blow.
Read 7 tweets

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