For the first time, we’re not featuring a current member or client as a part of our CIC Spotlight series. We focus today on one of our alums! Daniel Faggella started one of his many ventures, Science of Skill, many years ago in C3 at CIC Cambridge, and was profiled in Forbes Magazine this past month for having successfully grown and sold that business. We sat down to ask him about what he’s been up to and to share a bit about his early days with CIC.
CIC alumnus Daniel Faggella
You’re a CIC alumnus but you just sold the project you were working on while at C3. Tell us about it!
“Science of Skill was built explicitly in order to fund my larger venture in artificial intelligence, which today is TechEmergence.com. My life purpose since the age of 24 has been to influence or encourage a global conversation around AI and neurotechnology policy and innovation, and the beginning of that mission is to build a business that informs business and government leaders about the applications and implications of AI, which is what TechEmergence does today. I knew when I moved to Silicon Valley I’d have two options:
- Show up with little money and immediately give away a huge amount of equity for a small amount of cash, or
- Make a substantial sum of money with a more immediately lucrative business (such as subscription eCommerce) and use those funds to carry the growth of my bigger venture
I decided to go with the latter option, and Science of Skill (my eCommerce business) was focused on selling martial arts and self-protection gear and instructional courses – via an online subscription – to tens of thousands of customers per year. At CIC we had barely hit $45,000 per month in revenues, but at the time of sale (two years after leaving CIC) we were doing well over $200k/mo in sales. Because of the systems I’d put in at the state, and my hands-off approach to management, the business was sold with 90% cash down, and with very little time commitment from me (the previous owner) – so I now have the time and resources to pursue what I care most about. Explaining the impact of AI on society and our species is a bit far-out for a business blog of this kind, but my last TEDx talk was on this topic and this might be a good start.”
How’d you hear about CIC back in the day?
“Google and Quora. I heard it was the single greatest density of startups in Boston, and that it was by MIT’s campus. That was enough to let me know that I should start my company there.”
You mentioned that a good part of your success was due to your time with us. How so?
“At CIC I was able to meet people with experience working in bigger businesses, and they brought ideas about (a) business processes, (b) project management software, and (c) analytics – and these ideas helped organize our erratic activities into a more organized effort. I met a fellow named Vlad Antohi at CIC who worked with us for 3-4 months, and who helped bring his experience from bigger software businesses into our business processes. That’s one example of the kind of outside influence we had in CIC. We met a data scientist (Mike Shewmake) at CIC who helped us assess our email marketing campaigns to determine the best subject lines and keywords that drive the best results. We met many other great folks at CIC who helped us mold the business for the better.”
What was your favorite thing about CIC? It’s okay to say avocados.
“…How did… you know… I was going to say ‘avocados’? I also miss the cheddar Sun Chips. In all seriousness the best part for me was being around other smart people working on exciting projects. I met some people there who I am good friends with to this day, and I may never have met such an eclectic crowd if I was at a regular ‘co-working’ space.”
What have been your biggest milestones? And, your biggest ‘learning opportunities?’
“Our biggest milestones were: (a) Breaking $2MM in annual sales, (b) Getting my time [as owner] to under 20 hours per week, (c) Getting a sales price of over $1MM.
Biggest learning opportunities were: (a) Learning the hard way that brokers, banks, and buyers will all want and need completely clean, clear, organized financial records, and a seller [like myself] should know his books inside and out. Eight months into the business I definitely did NOT – I was focused only on sales – but for the last three years of running the company we were able to have extremely clean financials that helped us make smarter business decisions and double the business year-over-year for three years straight.”
What advice can you offer entrepreneurial millennials?
“Nothing specific to millennials, but in today’s day and age it’s so much easier to get started in a business with limited upfront investment.
The articles that might be MOST helpful for other entrepreneurs would be from Business Insider and TechEmergence. The Business Insider one focuses on how we got the company started and profitable, and the second article talks about the details around selling a company and preparing for an exit, which was a BIG learning curve for me and I hope is really useful for other entrepreneurs at the CIC.”