The beauty of Berkeley’s entrepreneurship ecosystem lies in the opportunities for entrepreneurs from all ages and backgrounds to assemble the perfect founding team – to incubate their startups in Berkeley spaces and celebrate launches and milestones with the whole Cal community.
One such startup, Vyrill, launched this month with support and talent from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, College of Engineering, School of Information, and Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.
A one-stop shop for consumers to see products in action with videos and hit buy, Vyrill’s co-founders include Berkeley-Haas lecturer Ajay Bam, I-School alumna Barbara Rosario PhD '05, and Berkeley Engineering undergrad Brian Nguyen '17.
Vyrill enables consumers to discover, search, compare and buy products with verified product videos posted by fans, experts, press, and brands with one click. It aggregates and classifies videos and offers from multiple websites to centralize and streamline the user experience. Consumers can also post product questions and receive video responses from brands, the user community, or from Vyrill’s video database.
To make the product even more powerful, the founders are developing natural language processing, computer vision and machine learning algorithms to process and contextualize videos.
We sat down with the founders to learn more about the product and the impact Berkeley has had on their work.
What is the most significant challenge you’re working to solve at this juncture in your startup journey?
The most significant challenge is finding good talent that shares passion for solving our problem, brings expertise, and respects the values of our company. We are lucky to have been mentored by two top faculty at Cal – Professor Marti Hearst from Berkeley’s School of Information, who is an expert in search interfaces, and Professor Michael Jordan in EECS and Statistics, who is an expert in machine learning. They have given us solid advice on building our product, team and company, and have helped us find talent from their networks.
Hint: They’re recruiting! Greatest needs right now include senior UI/UX designers and advisors.
I’m glad you mentioned recruiting – it can be one of the biggest challenges for an early stage startup. And many Berkeley students are in high-demand. When students are looking at startup job offers, how should they evaluate which path to take?
There are three criteria to evaluate startup job offers:
- Team is the most important one. Ideas change but people don’t. Are you willing to put trust in the team? Will they deliver on the promise of their startup? Are they open to change? Do they have relevant industry experience to bring insider insights to solving the problem? Many founders fail because they are not willing to let go and adapt to the reality.
- Work for a team that respects diverse of points of view – a team that has diversity of gender (has women on the team including board and executive level), age, race, and nationality. Look for a team with minority and international team members. The best ideas and results come from conflict, debate and discussion among team members, and from respecting different points of view. The best learning comes from being exposed to different ideas, people and conflict.
- Do you believe in the startup’s mission? Most startups do not pay well initially, but they are working on changing the world and do offer an experience of doing more with less. Thus only deep passion or belief in the team and mission will make an employee a successful contributor to the startup. You are wasting your own time and the startup’s precious resources if you don’t believe in the mission.
You spoke beautifully about the value of diversity, which is an important topic in the startup sector right now. Vyrill’s founding team certainly seems to represent diversity of age, gender, race, experience, training, etc. Did your experiences at Berkeley play any role in your attitudes about diversity?
Berkeley represents the diversity of people, experience and minds with different points of view. We are building a company that represents diversity of gender, respects different points of view and works hard with humility to win – while also achieving the academic rigor that we experienced at Berkeley and that we observe over and over again from our interactions with the UC Berkeley community. We are rooting to build a company with 50% women employees and where employees bring different points of view from different backgrounds and from around the world.
What is the hardest thing about co-founding a startup? What keeps you up at night?
The hardest thing is that you are constantly juggling between the opportunity on the one hand, and resources that you have available to deliver product on the other.
The two things that keep us up are:
Are we delivering enough value to both consumers and brands to draw consumers to our site and prompt brands to pay us for our services?
There are 100 new ideas and features that we could build into our product, but how do you throw away 99 of them and stay focused on one that will deliver the most value to your customers, bring revenue, and drive growth? Delivering that one winning feature is tough, especially when you have limited resources. This is where smart growth hacking strategies need to be developed.
These difficult questions are certainly an important part of launching a startup. Aside from the things that worry you, what are you most proud of in your work with Vyrill?
We are most proud of truly working as a team – committed to the company, working hard and with great competency, and very respectful of one another. We believe we manage to do so effectively while also having fun!
You’ve offered some true words of wisdom today. To wrap things up, what advice would you offer Berkeley students just beginning their careers in the startup world – either as founders or as early team members?
Our big piece of advice is to find a compelling problem to solve that affects millions. Then, develop deep focus and expertise on solving that problem without distractions. Do one thing, but do it so well that everyone wants what you have built, and is willing to pay for it.
Want to learn more? Follow Vyrill on Twitter (@vyrill) to learn about new products daily, and learn about job opportunities at http://vyrill.com/company. The company is preparing to raise a seed round and welcomes conversations with potential investors.