At the age of 12, Justin Borgman knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. But when he arrived for his first year as an MBA student at Yale’s School of Management he didn’t have any startup ideas and almost went into venture capital, instead.
Luckily, an internship in Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research, which helps to commercialize academic work, helped him rediscover his entrepreneurial ambitions. Borgman read a paper by Daniel Abadi, a computer science professor who was working on a solution to bridge the divide between different data platforms so they could interact with each other. Borgman was convinced that Abadi’s research held commercial potential. He met with Abadi and his PhD student Kamil Bajda–Pawlikowsk and eventually persuaded the two to cofound Hadapt, a big data analytic platform that allows customers to examine all of their data in one place.
Borgman says this platform is especially useful to the ecommerce industry where companies are trying to keep track of every click, product review, and social media response. Hadapt enables these businesses to collect their information in one area so they can study consumer behavior. “We try to help people take advantage of the data they are already collecting, but just not making good use of,” Borgman says.
Investors understand Hadapt’s advantage in the big data phenomenon. The startup raised $17 million in Series A funding from Atlas Venture, Norwest Venture Partners, and Bessemer Venture Partners. But Borgman notes that while they’ve achieved success now, securing their first check was a big challenge.
“I think the first round of funding is the hardest for anyone because it seems so risky to investors,” he says. “There’s this weird psychological phenomenon that when you raise your first $500,000, you suddenly are less risky to investors even though nothing has changed from a business perspective. But literally from the day before you get the check to the day after you get the check, your level of perceived risk just drops dramatically. So how you get that first check was a struggle, and is probably a struggle for anyone. My lesson there is to persevere and network like crazy. Don’t be afraid to get rejected a bunch of times.”
These highs and lows of the entrepreneurial experience make it one of the most emotionally taxing choices, Borgman says. The only way to survive the roller coaster is an unfaltering dedication to your startup. “You just have to commit,” he says. “You have to have this fire in your belly of commitment, drive, and determination that you are going to make this startup successful at all costs.”