How the Founder of Crypt TV Funded a Total Nightmare (in a Good Way!)
Crypt TV is a social video startup that creates horror shorts for mobile. Here's how its CEO kept it alive when it seemed like he hit a dead end with investors.
“We’re not going to get there.”
This is the polite way a VC tells you they are passing on your company. And these were the last words I heard before a flight attendant angrily told me to put my phone in airplane mode.
I tried to get comfortable for a cross country red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York thinking I had just gotten the call that was going to doom the company I founded. Existential panic and a coach seat on a JetBlue red eye are not a great combination for a good night’s sleep. I didn’t get a single minute of rest. I remember looking out the window at the night sky wanting to stay in the air forever so I wouldn’t have to face what felt like impending failure back on the ground.
A harsh morning in New York City didn’t offer much of a reprieve. It was approximately 20 degrees when I landed on December 14th, 2016. I took the trip desperate to turn around a stalled fundraising process. Not being able to find the entrance to my hotel as I froze my face off at 7 am didn’t feel like a great omen.
Rising from the dead
Confidence is the absolute key to running a startup and I was having trouble faking any self-belief in my 8:30 am meeting. What really hurt wasn’t that I had lost faith in my company, our mission or our value proposition. If anything, I believed in what we were doing more than ever. It’s that for the first time I was starting to lose belief in myself.
That morning was my absolute lowest moment. And then a few hours later everything seemed to magically turn around.
Two new friends who would soon become mentors – Rob Fishman and Andy Weissman – took me to lunch at Lure Fish Bar and asked how everything was going. They could tell I was a little beleaguered but their sunny disposition and infectious belief in my business broke through my malaise.
As I started to opine about how inadequate the fundraising process was making me feel as a human being, they told me I was going about it wrong. They gave me pointers I never considered and framing that really helped my perspective. Rob and Andy encouraged me to focus on how big my market could be, to be proud of and own the ways we were different than a traditional media company and to highlight how the specific background of the management team set us up for success.
I walked out of lunch thinking maybe my company wasn’t so worthless after all. Less than an hour later a VC I never thought would make an offer sent us our first term sheet in the process.
Two business days later I spoke to Lerer Hippeau for the first time.
A month later I signed a term sheet to have Lerer Hippeau lead our $3.5M round. Lerer Hippeau is a blue-chip VC brand and was an incredible fit for many reasons but chief amongst them is how excited they made me feel about my business. You start a company with dreams of conquering the world and then the day to day riggers and rejections beat the life out of you a bit. Lerer Hippeau’s genuine belief in our company and unique experience in media and focus on developing entrepreneurs within their network electrified me at the time and has proven to be a massive help to our business in the years since our first
A fundraising process that felt like it was going to break my spirit almost instantly turned into an oversubscribed round and I could hardly process the rollercoaster ride I had just been on. Or, at least at the time it seemed like a rollercoaster ride.
My company Crypt TV has grown in the subsequent 3 years to a profitable, $20M a year revenue business with millions and millions of fans engaging with our original monster stories every month. In the last 3 years we’ve made shows for Facebook Watch and Netflix, had our characters open theme parks, sold tons of merchandise on our website and seen our audience balloon to over 13 million fans across social media.
But when I think about the moment that changed the landscape for me, the moment that really sticks out in my entrepreneurial journey I always think back to that red-eye flight and punishing New York City winter morning.
That feeling of fear, panic and dread sucks. Never feeling that again certainly motivates me. Those feelings were real. But when I think back to why this moment changed the landscape for me is because with the benefit of hindsight and a few more years maturity I now realize….things weren’t actually as bad as they seemed and didn’t actually turn around in two hours.
Sure it felt like my company was doomed when I got that phone call that the VC I considered our most promising lead was passing. But really we had other irons in the fire and enough runway to give ourselves a cushion. It felt like the sun fortuitously decided to shine on me when an auspicious lunch with friends and an unexpected term sheet happened back-to-back, but the truth is those moments were built months in the making and came in part because of the real value and promise the company had built.
Looking back on that day I realize nothing is ever as bad as it seems. And you aren’t as good as your best two-hour stretch. The truth almost always is somewhere in the middle and that is the thing that should comfort you as an entrepreneur.
Being the founder and CEO of your own company can be incredibly lonely. The same emotional energy needed to dive into making your crazy dream a reality can at times turn into a crushing weight of expectations. I certainly felt like I was going to collapse on that cold December day.
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But that experience and the perspective from it reminded me your fate is never final. A world increasingly focused on data often discounts the fact that we as human beings have the power to change the inputs to the equation and alter the result.
My company wasn’t as close to falling off the edge as I thought and our ‘turnaround’ was really the result of months of work and not a dramatic reversal of fortune. No one moment makes you and no one moment breaks you.
Daily dedication, self-discipline and tirelessly striving for consistency might not be what jumps off the page, but it is always the thing that sets you apart.
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