Gagan Biyani '08, Co-Founder and CEO of Sprig and Co-Founder of Udemy; along with Matt Kent, Co-Founder and Engineering Lead at Sprig, sat down with a room full of aspiring Cal entrepreneurs recently. A Berkeley Founders’ Pledge member, Biyani is committed to supporting Cal entrepreneurs and shared some important lessons learned. Organized by the Cal Startup Network and The Foundry, this is part of a series of events designed to connect today’s students with Berkeley’s innovative founders and startups.
While Biyani was at Cal, he split his time between his economics major and seven different jobs and internships, eventually deciding he wanted to go into tech. The market downturn that hit as he began his career with Accenture sparked his entrepreneurial instincts. Looking for interesting ideas, he offered to work with the engineers responsible for what would become Udemy, now the largest marketplace for online courses, and quickly earned his way onto the founding team.
Biyani raised Udemy's first $4m in venture capital, hired 10 of their first 20 employees, and managed the team that generated over $2m in sales in the platform's first 18 months. His biggest takeaway from the experience: “You can’t plan if you are going to be successful. You just need to identify the opportunities and you better take them. That is what ‘luck’ in the Silicon Valley is.”
After Udemy, Biyani became fascinated with the ridesharing industry and spent six months advising at Lyft, where he learned how to take an existing system and apply the startup and tech mentality to it—a lesson he turned into his next venture, Sprig.
As the CEO and co-founder of Sprig, a mobile meals-on-demand service, Biyani is pushing the mission to make eating well simple. The startup allows users to order a balanced meal, which is prepared in Sprig’s industrial kitchen and delivered in 15–20 minutes. In March 2014, Sprig raised $10 million in Series A funding.
Sprig Co-Founder Matt Kent didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur. “But I wanted to solve problems and build interesting products. While I was interning at IBM a bunch of us started an open source project. We learned how to build software and build a community around it.”
With $30k in angel money, Kent moved cross country to San Francisco, quickly realizing the key to success was finding and taking opportunities. The team tried to meet as many people as possible at meet-ups and hackathons. But, he says, “we were stereotypical engineers. That was all we had. There was no business perspective. We couldn’t understand why the tech wasn’t enough.”
So Matt worked a “real job” for a while, learned about fundraising and team building through observation and then met Biyani through mutual friends. He jumped on board immediately. “Know when it’s the right time to jump on it. You learn through experience what opportunities are worth it and what aren’t. If you aren’t out there, if you don’t know people, you won’t see opportunities. You’ll eventually see the obvious choice.”
Biyani concurred, “The concept of a stealth startup exists because people are afraid someone will take their idea and steal it. But if you don’t tell anyone about your idea then you won’t meet people who can help you. If we had followed the stealth model, we wouldn’t have met.”