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Startup Spotlight: Novel
All Things Venture #067
Hey Everyone - Markets are down, crypto is down, everything is down. One of my favorite twitter personalities Josh from Party Round, had a banger of a tweet the other day to summarize how we’re all feeling:
BUT. Have no fear. As long as their is cold brew in my fridge, and functioning electricity in the great US of A. All Things Venture, and Startup Spotlight, will be doing one thing and one thing only - coming to you every Thursday on a semi-regular schedule to share candid, relatable insights on the wonderful world of venture. And to that end, I’m going to shut up so we can get right into today’s article on Novel. Novel is a really interesting business, based here in NYC, and building at the intersection of traditional e-commerce enablement and Web 3. In their own words, here’s what they do:
At Novel, it is our core belief that to bring the next wave of builders and consumers to Web3, we must meet them exactly where they are. To this end, our initial focus is the Shopify ecosystem, where Novel enables next-gen brands to enter Web3, and makes onboarding for the average consumer as easy as buying a t-shirt from their favorite storefront.
I had the chance to catch up with Anna, one of Novel’s co-founders and chat about her journey to starting Novel, how serendipity as made an impact in her career, and why she thinks Web 3 is here for the long term. For anyone interested in Web 3 or DTC brands, this one is for you. As always, let’s dive right in.
Anna! Tell us a little bit about yourself, what is Novel, and what is the problem you’re trying to solve?
Hi! I’m Anna, I’m the co-founder and CRO at Novel. We’re a no-code platform simplifying the Web 3 commerce experience for retailers, brands, and creators. I’m a 2x founder prior to novel I started a company called Algopay. It was a tech-enabled bank in the Middle East. So kind of bringing frontier products to market is something that I learned well doing Algopay and I’m bringing over to Novel now.
In terms of the problem we’re solving. When Roger and I and Brian (my co-founders) were thinking of starting the business, and we looked at the space we saw a really fragmented ecosystem. There were a lot of piecemeal solutions that you would have to pull together in order to create a Web3 commerce experience. You needed to find a platform to do the drop, you needed to find a secondary market, you needed to layer on utility - you needed to pull all these platforms together so what we set out to build was a very robust, end to end solution that kind of answered the brands question of “now what?” when they’re setting up their NFT project. We handle the drop end to end, including the creation of the smart contract, the generative art collection, the drop on the Shopify storefront, your customer on ramp (i.e how they buy), and the utility you can layer on top of the collection.
What kind of attracted you to the Web3 space and why not stay in traditional fintech given you started a Neobank in the Middle East, and the dominant narrative is that fintech has plenty of room to grow?
I think new and emerging markets are really exciting to me because the possibilities of what you can build and create are pretty endless. Something that I love about Web3 is that you have a really unique space where you have a robust technology blending with a really creative industry. I think it’s rare to have deep tech and creative space to come together, so just through that I personally really enjoy Web3.
Prior to starting Novel, when we were iterating on a few ideas and deciding what to build, I reached out to a few mentors of mine to get their take on the space and whether or not it was going to last, whether or not it was a fad. A mentor of mine told me that her kids, who were 8 and 10 were buying NFTs and using them the same way we used to use Club Penguin or Sims. And to me that told me, where the space was headed and that it was likely very much here to stay. That was one of the moments where I knew I wanted to be apart of Web3.
Two pronged question. What was the first NFT you bought, and why? And also could you talk about the formative moment for Novel? How did you meet your co-founders? did you work together previously? It’s a question that I know a lot of people ask who are interested in starting a company, and they just ask - “How do I meet someone that I can build with and trust, over a 10 year period?”
Yeah. So Roger and I, Roger Beamen, who is the CEO of Novel, we got connected through a mutual investor in our previous companies. When Roger and I met, we paced Union Square for 4 hours talking about different company ideas. It was one of those lightning strike moments. Roger knew Brian who is our other co-founder through a mutual investor as well, John Cowgill at Costanoa Ventures, and the three of us naturally came together. So when we were thinking about different company ideas, we had all tried to buy NFTs previously and had a really difficult time doing it. We had all found that it was a pretty difficult experience for the true Web 2 consumer to step into, and Roger given his experience in the Shopify space (he’s built Shopify apps in the past), we thought “okay this is where brands and consumers are living, we should create a Web 2.5 experience and bring it to Shopify.”
And yeah so in terms of the first NFT we ever bought - Roger and I are both members of Club CPG. It’s an awesome community of folks that are interested in the CPG space, the D2C space but also Web 3. We joined that ecosystem along with Brian and that was the first place where I really started to get into a community and learn from people who were super active in it.
We both grew up in a suburb outside of Texas. A pretty conservative area, Friday Night Lights type of town. Great environment, great schools but I wouldn’t necessarily be a hotbed for tech innovation. How has that experience shaped your perspective on entrepreneurship? Where did this initial desire to be a founder come from?
So everything that I’ve done entrepreneurially, comes from my Dad. He started the company that he still runs today when he was 22. He dropped out of high school, started picking up various jobs, and taught himself everything that he knows. So the idea of creating your own trajectory was something that was always a given for me when I was child. It was something I always knew I could do just by having him as an example. So when I graduated high school, I went to school for Middle Eastern Studies & Arabic at USC and I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to do with that but Algopay came out of it pretty naturally. I think that is very similar to what my Dad took in terms of his career, in terms of not being sure what you’re going to take from this but knowing that you’re picking up learning from all of these different pieces and creating your own trajectory through it.
What role does serendipity play in your life as a founder? What I’ve found as an operator and as an investor is that some of my most “light bulb” or “magic” moments stem from being curious and open to something and that exposing me to something new, and then I go deep on the new thing. So would be curious to hear how that’s played a role for you.
So they do say that you make your own luck, but I think that if you work really hard you’ll end up in the right rooms, as long you stay open to feedback, and you stay open to opportunities. There were very serendipitous things throughout my career that involved no work from me. I went to a banquet at USC. I was 20 minutes late. I grabbed the only seat that was available, it was next to a professor at the USC business school, which I was not a part of, who became a mentor of mine for about 5 years. They introduced me to every investor I met for the first time in Los Angeles when I started Algopay. It was pretty serendipitous and still a bit of work to get into USC as a school and to be in that environment for that serendipity to take place, but I think it’s a little bit of work - it’s a bit of luck and hard work together that can create the magic.
So coming back to Novel specifically, where do you see Novel evolving as a platform? What excites you most about this next wave of commerce?
I think the possibilities of it excite me the most. We see a lot of brands picking up Web 3 and starting to experiment with it, and the next phase is going to be brands ingraining Web 3 into their DNA and making it a long term part of their business. When we kicked off the company, a question of ours was “will brands be interested in Web 3? Will they pick up NFTs? Will they want to do drops?” and within the first 24 hours of launching our marketing page, we had sign ups from over 100 brands including 3 Fortune 500 companies. So right off the bat we knew there was demand for Web 3, so now that we’re starting to work with brands we’re asking ourselves, “how do we make this a long term part of your business?”
So let’s rewind the clock a little bit, before you launched the marketing page and had 100 inbound customers. What was your initial “aha” moment when you realized that something was working at Novel?
I mean when I met Roger, I immediately knew this was someone that could build what we had envisioned. I think having a really strong technical leader on your team, if you’re building in Web 3 is critical, so you know John, Brian, and I, being non-technical leaders, knowing that Roger was on our side gave us the confidence that we could build something incredible. The “aha” moment I would say - we kind of touched on a few of them. One of them was the conversation with my mentor, that told me that the market was here to stay, the marketing page that we launched was another one. And when I say “launched” I mean a few of us shared it on Twitter where we had less than 500 followers combined, and we also shared it on LinkedIn. That is what created the flood of inbound that led to 100 sign ups. I think what that tells me is that people are already searching for this, it’s not something they’re stumbling upon, it’s something they’re seeking out. That eagerness for discovery and for finding something that’s in the market - that’s very telling.
What defines success for Novel over the next few months?
In terms of success for Novel, the biggest piece that working on for brands is creating a Web3 experience that is really integrated into their business. And so seeing that through and supporting brands as they take their first step into the ecosystem and introduce it to their customers, is what we’re going to be heads down focusing on. We’ve proven that there’s demand from brands in the Web3 space, now it’s about executing on creating, integrating it into part of their business. For example, right now the average brand doesn’t have someone who is owning NFT projects within their company and so starting to affect that change and making Web 3 a more integrated priority is super top of mind for us.
What advice do you have generally for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be decisive and move quickly and do that on repeat. No matter what you’re building, decision paralysis and staying busy, but not really executing are two traps many founders can get caught in. So be decisive, move quickly it’ll make a difference.
That’s it for this week everyone!!! Have a great rest of the week!!! And if you are A) interested in working at Novel, they’re hiring or B) a Brand interested in working with Novel, holla @ ya boy at firstname.lastname@example.org