When I was in high school I had the good fortune to earn a spot on the Jones Beach Lifeguard Corps. It was a job that was every bit as fun as it sounds, and because we were unionized state employees, it paid decently too. Our days involved sitting on the lifeguard stand every other hour, staring intently at our patch of ocean, followed by an hour off, during which we were encouraged to exercise, take out the surf lifeboats, or “patrol” the sand. I remember commenting to one of the grizzled veterans several decades my senior that “I would do this job for free.” He looked at me with a knowing eye, tinged with the pitying look of a chess player who knows they are at least two moves ahead of you, “but the thing is kid, they do pay us to do this.” Those summers were an early lesson in the harmony of getting paid for doing something you truly love.
Because I am passionate about entrepreneurship and software, I am still earning a living doing what I love, as an early stage technology venture capitalist. For many people, however, neither business nor technology sparks joy. For them, teaching yoga, or fitness, or cooking, or magic, or art, or you-name-it, is what they love. Being chained to a laptop with seven browser tabs open so they can create email campaigns, manage customer lists, process payments, and balance their business accounts, is at best a necessary evil to enable them to earn income pursuing their passion.
The aforementioned state of affairs has long held, but in March of 2020 Covid19 threw a curveball at small businesses everywhere, but especially those dependent on serving clients face to face. All of a sudden small business owners needed to go virtual by figuring out how to use Zoom, accept online payments, and hopefully make up some of their lost revenue by serving a potentially bigger, geographically dispersed audience. And for the employees of these small businesses, many of them saw their work hours shrink, or faced painful furloughs. For some of these employees, however, necessity led them to branch out on their own, serving clients directly through video conferencing, with neither the limitations nor safety net of working for someone else. Add to the mix countless others who saw the opportunity to turn their personal hobby into an income producing “side hustle” as virtual services quickly went mainstream.
Enter Luma, a startup founded, quite appropriately, by two engineers who had* only ever met over video conference. In March 2020, Dan and Victor quickly saw the need to help solopreneurs, small businesses, and groups invite people to virtual events, accept payments, and manage customer relationships. They applied their skills as full-stack programmers to quickly launch an MVP, which met with quick success. Because Zoom was designed primarily for business meetings and webinars, Luma saw an opportunity to leverage Zoom for many other use cases by enabling customizable event pages, CRM and membership management, subscriptions, payments, and easily understandable analytics for event hosts. Luma has been used for hosting fitness classes, magic shows, cooking classes, writers workshops, live podcasts, PTA speaker series, and a myriad of other activities. The list of future features, use cases, and target user segments grows longer everyday.
While Dan and Victor were quick to jump into action with Luma back in April, now that Zoom has become a verb they are hardly the only ones to see the need for a virtual event platform. What drew me to invest in these two founders, however, is their incredible ability to get stuff done, their high bar for quality and customer service, and their relentless intellectual curiosity driving them to best understand how to improve the lives of their users, so that hosts and guests alike can spend more time doing what they love, while the fiddly bits of technology and managing a business become nearly invisible.
One great example of Dan and Victor’s commitment to customer centricity was the following. One evening a few months ago I was about to log on to a parent education event hosted by Common Ground Speaker Series. What I soon realized was that I had failed to pre-register and so I was missing the appropriate Zoom link. I found a live chat help button, not knowing whether anyone from Common Ground would actually be there at this late hour, and lo and behold Victor pops up in the chat within seconds and immediately works behind the scene with the event host to get my registration accepted so I could receive the link. Victor himself was providing live support to an event host at the end of a day filled with coding new features, working on strategic planning, creating marketing campaigns, recruiting team members, and donning dozens of other hats as a startup founder does. All that, and I’ve never seen either Victor or Dan without a huge smile on their faces. Luma’s founders embody the commitment, optimism, and truth seeking that great founders embrace, which is ultimately why we invested in them, and are so excited for the journey ahead. Luma helps people earn a living doing what they love. I am fortunate to earn my living helping great founders like Dan and Victor.
*Dan has since relocated to San Francisco and the two founders are now bubble-mates working together shoulder to shoulder.