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August 22, 2023 · 39 min read

Season 4, Ep. 27 – Founder to Founder, with DeVaris Brown, CEO and Founder, Meroxa

What kind of role models did you have growing up? For DeVaris Brown, CEO and Co-Founder of Meroxa, it was seeing the innovative ways his family started on their own entrepreneurial journeys that led him to a life in tech. This week on Founder to Founder, he sits down with Teja to talk about the difference between being a CEO and a CTO, learning on the go, and why being “always on” can leave you hungry.


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Teja (00:05):

Yo, what’s up, y’all? Today we got a cool episode with DeVaris Brown of Meroxa. Really fascinating and impressive dude, and I think you guys will like this one. Former engineer, I guess still an engineer, still a software engineer, turned CEO. I learned a lot about how he manages his day, stays motivated, and we kind of commiserate upon not being able to eat, ’cause you’re too busy. So you guys’ll like this one. Alright, see ya. Take care.

Teja (00:37):

What’s up, man? How’s it going, DeVaris?

DeVaris (00:40):

Pretty good, man.

Teja (00:41):

Tell me about yourself, kind of how you got started in like, entrepreneurship, you know, background, how you grew up, all that stuff.

DeVaris (00:48):

I grew up [on the] south side of Chicago. My grandmother and grandfather were entrepreneurs, themselves. My grandmother, she was an artisan, and so she created clothes, and jewelry, and furniture, and all that type of stuff. My grandfather, he was in the aluminum business, and so I had a very, very early exposure to entrepreneurship’s up and downs of that. But fortunately for me, my mother, she was in the tech industry, and I saw, you know, during the first dot com boom, how, you know, interesting and  crazy those things are, and I was just like, “Wow. I gotta take a part of this [in] some way, shape, or form, because people are just going crazy with ideas.” And I mean, it was just very, very exciting. So, for me, just being able to be exposed to just higher forms of entrepreneurship early was super, super helpful.

DeVaris (01:52):

So I knew at some point in time that I will always be, you know, doing this as a founder in some way, shape, or form. But yeah, my granddad, he was, you know, one of those people that was always inspiring me to, he would always say, man, “Just go get a group, a couple group of your friends and, you know, you should start something,” and you had, you know, “Take your own destiny in your hand.” So that was really the inspiration behind my entrepreneurial journey.

Teja (02:24):

That’s cool. Did you have a chance to kind of like, understand what drove your grandfather to be an entrepreneur?

DeVaris (02:33):

You know, it was actually kind of crazy that he came up from Alabama when he was 17, ’cause that’s when he got my grandmother pregnant, and he was like, “I gotta get a job.” (Teja: Yeah.) First job that he had was sweeping the floors at US Steel, and he learned every single job that was in the foundry. And so he was the first black foreman at US Steel, and he got up to a point where he was supposed to, you know, be vice president, and 1981, they basically told him like, “Look, you know, we can’t have a black person being over [us] as an exec.” And so he ended up leaving, and he needed to get some brakes fixed on the car. It was a Dodge Super Bee, and he went to Montgomery Wards, I don’t know if you remember that store, way back, to get his car fixed, and he saw some guys taking brake pads out in, you know, like a big garbage can.

DeVaris (03:35):

And he asked him like, “Hey, what are you doing?” And he goes, “Oh yeah, we’re recycling brake pads, and we’re taking brake pads, melting them down to specific, you know, alloy and all of that, and then we resell it back to, you know, the car manufacturers,” and blah, blah, blah. And he was like, “Look, I’ve been at US Steel all this time. I know about melting things better than anybody else. And so, yeah, he started his own secondary aluminum smelting company, and, you know like, Ball, and Rexam, and Logan Aluminum, and Reynolds Aluminum, and like, all these, you know, Bethlehem Steel, and all those folks, they were customers of his, and it was very, you know, sometimes when grandparents tell you these like, “big fish” stories right? You like, “Oh yeah, this is, you know, whatever.” But, you know, just meeting some of his friends and colleagues over the years, right, like, you know, they confirmed it. It was very like, especially at this age, right? Like, when I actually heard the story as an adult, it was very, very inspiring.

Teja (04:39):

Yeah. That’s crazy. And you have like, the context now to understand like, all the little decisions, the meeting the right people, maybe…actually, I’m curious. Like, how did he like, did he have to raise capital? Like, did he have to go to a bank? How was that processed? Especially in the ‘80s? Like, what…

DeVaris (04:58):

Yeah, he got a SBA loan, put up our house as collateral, (Teja: <Laugh>.) so that was that. (Teja: <Laugh>.) That was his starter capital in 1981 and took out a second mortgage on the house. And so that was the genesis of, you know, his entrepreneurial endeavors.

Teja (05:20):

Wow. Did he ever talk like, what was your grandmother’s opinion of that move?

DeVaris (05:26):

You know, I think, for her, she was just very, very excited about him being able to have his own destiny in his hands, and I think like, just very, very supportive. Like, the whole family, at one point, worked at the plant. I mean, I got a picture, I was two years old like, me driving a forklift, you know, it’s like, three years old actually, right? So everybody, you know, at one point in time, it was like the family business. Every, you know, uncles, cousins, you know, friends of the family, everybody worked there at one point in time. So it’s all sorts of pride.

Teja (06:07):

That’s cool. And so, I should have asked this earlier, but are these your mother’s grandparents? Like, maternal grandparents?

DeVaris (06:15):

Yeah, maternal grandparents. Yeah.

Teja (06:17):

And so from that, basically, your mom actually sort of also was interested in entrepreneurship, was in the tech industry. (DeVaris: Yeah.) Was she, did she do that in Chicago, or did she also move out to the west coast?

DeVaris (06:33):

Now, everybody was in Chicago, and she…well, clarification, I have two moms. So I was Modern Family before it was a TV show. So my mom’s partner is the one that was in the tech industry, and she wasn’t necessarily involved in entrepreneurship. (Teja: Gotcha.) She studied criminology, and she was a QA tester and led QA teams, and it just so happened that she got a job at a, I mean, they called it a startup, but it’s essentially like a consultancy back then, but they were building software for other other startups. So one of them was It was like a legal billing kind of thing. The other one was, a sports memorabilia site. And so, yeah, I was very, very young, you know, interfacing with, you know, coming to work with her, you know, talking to founders and things like that, the people that she was working with to get their things out. I mean, they’re 18, 19, 20 years old, and I’m, you know, 14, 13, 14, 15. Alright, and like, being able to see that every day and just, you know, being able to see the ups and downs of that, it was just always cool.

Teja (07:48):

Yeah. That’s so cool. Okay, so you got grandparents on one side, then mom on the other, that sort of showed you that this is possible to kind of be in this game and have a lot of success at an early age. Your background like, did you kind of grow up having like, small things that you started, did you have like, the classic lemonade stand, or were you like, a good student like, kind of scholar athlete or like, you know, what’s your background?

DeVaris (08:19):

Yeah, I mean, I was all the above, man. I was in band. I had a uncle that was in a punk band, early like in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and then, you know, we were really into skating, and BMX, and stuff like that, so I used to charge kids to like, we built a halfpipe in my backyard. (Teja: <Laugh>.) I used to charge kids to like, you know, come and skate and stuff like that, man. So I’ve always been on the hustle side of things, and for me, it was just, you know, when I was the first kid with internet on the block, because, you know, my mom needed it for her job, right? And so, man, I was the first kid that had internet, so I would charge kids to come over, use the internet, you know. I was burning CDs. You know, I had my own, you know, I was going on, you know, bulletin boards, and downloading stuff, and, you know, selling those things, right?

DeVaris (09:07):

Like, you know, those, man. And so I was like, always that dude. And then, you know, my mom was, you know, I played sports and all that type of stuff, but my mom was always like, you know, you always, you gotta make sure that you have, you know, a few things going on at the same time, because you just never know when one of those things make you tip over, and so I learned how to DJ, cut hair. Like, so when I got to college, I was like, I had the academic knowledge and all of that, and then I had, you know, kind of the hustle, too. So it was just, for me, it was just like a natural evolution.

Teja (09:43):

That’s cool. Okay. What do you think sort of made you interested in like, all those things?

DeVaris (09:50):

I think, for me, all of the computer stuff, right, was, you know, just seeing the startup industry at its nascent back then, right? And so seeing kids that were not very much older than me, having the ability to go do these things, it’s like, yo, I taught myself how to program after that, right? Like, just poured myself into, you know, making video games and doing anything on the web. Then, you know, DJ and cutting hair, all that type of stuff, like, you know, I had friends that did that, and so just being able to, you know, just be in that circle and be exposed to those things. I think that was really the biggest thing for me, right, and helping, you know, doing those things. So, you know, for me, having the friends, having people around me that were also involved, you know, it’s really, really kind of like, you know, having a bunch of founders around you that you can commiserate with, right? So, you know, that’s something that’s super important is the, like, that’s one thing a lot of folks don’t talk about like, when you’re building startups, especially as a founder, it’s super lonely. So you really, really, really have to go find a community of people to commiserate with, because you just don’t, sometimes you feel that you’re the only one dealing with this type of stuff, you know?

Teja (11:06):

Yeah, no, I get it. It’s like, what about it feels lonely?

DeVaris (11:13):

You know? Sometimes you have to make decisions or sometimes, you know, you’re not like, even though I come from an entrepreneurial family, there’s levels to it, you know? And it’s kinda like, the things that they’ve dealt with, they might not have the most exposure to. (Teja: Yes.) And so that was, you know, just one of the tough things that I had to deal with. You know, I would say like, during this journey, you know, you can talk to, you know, I got a therapist, I got an executive coach, you know, we got a board, right, like, that type of stuff, but sometimes you just need to, yo, is this, are you going through this right now? Like, does this seem real?

Teja (11:53):

Yes, totally. No, I know. I mean, hiring, firing, making investments in the business, burn rate, stuff like that, you sort of are like, it would be nice to have somebody to talk to, but everybody around the business has some set of incentives that are driving them that may kind of color their perspective, as do we, right, as founders. (DeVaris: Yeah.) Well, yeah, it’s super interesting. Do you feel like you have a good network of founders? I mean, you’re based in the Bay Area, so I’m sure you’ve met a lot of cool people doing the same thing, right?

DeVaris (12:31):

Yeah, definitely, and I also, you know, I’m in YPO, which is a good founder group, and then, you know, then I got like, a black founder group that I’m in, as well, with, you know, kind of up and coming black founders of things, and we can talk about things, you know, from that lens and that perspective, right? And so, for me, it’s just important to have a good amount of cover. And then, you know, all of the companies, I mean, the VC firms, they also have communities, right? And so, you know, being able to talk with people that are like, in the industry or the particular subfield that I’m in, you know, that’s something that’s super important.

Teja (13:12):

Talk to us about your company, how you got started, how you sort of determined the need. Let’s go there.

DeVaris (13:18):

So the company Meroxa, started that because, while my co-founder and I, we were at Heroku and, you know, building the world’s best platform as a service for web applications, and we just kept getting questions about the data ecosystem, right? Like, when is it gonna be easy for us to just provision data components as easily as it is to provision web applications? And we tried to do something internally, but you know, it just didn’t work out. And so then, we started our own thing, and we really just kind of sat down and said, “If we can build an end-to-end solution that allows people to ingest, process, or transform, and then kind of orchestrate data in real time, you know, what would it look like?” And really, what we came up with was like, yo, we should really do this with code, because look, there’s, you know, a 10th of the number of qualified data engineers out there than there are software engineers.

DeVaris (14:14):

So why not empower the software engineers, right, and make that an easier thing. So yeah, that’s our whole thing. Just like, yeah. I make it easy for people to move data with code and, you know, get them an easy on-ramp to this real-time universe that they’re gonna wanna participate in, because the customers are asking this thing, you know, for this stuff now, and they’re asking for those types of experiences, right? Like, when you go to Uber, do you wanna wait 10 minutes to get drivers? Like, absolutely not. You wanna know now where the drivers are. Same thing with Door Dash, same thing with Netflix, right? But you gotta realize, all these people have big data departments, and they built some of the software that, you know, most people leverage, and it’s like, not everybody has that luxury, and not everybody has a luxury to play Frankenstein with all their shelf components, right? Like, kind of cobbling this stuff together. And so how do we just make it easy for people to do it? And that was really the genesis of what we did with Meroxa.

Teja (15:05):

Who do you guys sell into? Do you guys try to sell into like, individual like, data teams of like, mid-sized companies, or what’s sort of the target?

DeVaris (15:15):

Our target really is enterprises, because, you know, we can, like I said, we can turn your entire software engineer organization into a data engineering, or give them data engineering superpowers. And I think that that’s really the biggest value proposition, is that look, you know, to get things up and going, it takes weeks, and months, and, you know, all this complexity, and all that type of stuff, and it’s like, those weeks and months are costing time, and dollar, and attention. And so if we can, you know, level the playing field, it’ll be a bright future for us <laugh>, for our customers.

Teja (15:48):

So what are, I mean, you might be under disclosure agreements, but what are some of your customers?

DeVaris (15:55):

One of our largest customers today is the Department of Defense, right? And so we got Air Force, Space Force, NASA, as well, you know, some of those folks out there. And we’re just helping them, you know, track data in real time with things all over the place, and that’s really the biggest, you know, the best use case that we have.

Teja (16:16):

And so do you guys have to kind of put like, an implementation team on the ground like, to kind of onboard some of these customers, or it’s all done through the client?

DeVaris (16:25):

Yeah, yeah. It’s all done through the client. Like, we try to be as self-service as possible, right? I mean, we do some white glove things, but it’s not as hands-on, because we just want to make it super easy for people to get up and going, right? Like, once we show you the pattern, then it’s just easy to replicate.

Teja (16:42):

Is this the first sort of swing like, by yourself in entrepreneurship? Well, you have a partner, but is this sort of your first company that you’ve incorporated and all that stuff?

DeVaris (16:54):

No, but it’s the first time I’ve been a CEO, though. And so like, doing it as a chief product officer to a chief technical officer, right? Like, that’s different than being a CEO, because the buck ultimately stops with being right, and that’s a new level, man. That’s why like, when, when product managers say like, “Oh, I’m the CEO of a functional area,” I’m like, yo, you know, most PMs that I know don’t understand budgets, right? Like, you don’t have to deal with managing people. That’s really the biggest variable all the time. I guess you can influence people, but you don’t, you aren’t really managing them, right, and that’s a different thing. And so, yeah, man, this is a whole new level, and this is the, even though I’ve started companies and have been a co-founder before, this is something completely different.

Teja (17:44):

What’s something that’s surprised you about being CEO, relative to your expectations?

DeVaris (17:51):

The thing that surprised me, is that the thing that you’re probably the best at in the world, the reason why you became a CEO and can start a company and all that type of stuff, you’re probably only gonna be able to do that 10 to 20% of the time at, you know, at best, ’cause the rest of the time you just, you’re, you’re being a utility player, right, and dealing with stuff that is far beyond your control. (Teja: Yeah.) So that’s the type of stuff that surprised me the most, right? Like, I thought I would have much more time to be a product manager, but it’s like, no, you know, it’s more HR, and finance, and, you know, fundraising, and sales, and, you know, like, all that type of stuff.

Teja (18:34):

How are you sort of learning like, the skill sets to stretch in those areas? Or are you just kind of learning by doing?

DeVaris (18:43):

Learning by doing, man. Trial by fire. I mean, you can have, and that’s why it’s important to have a community of people that you can go ask, because it, you know, it helps shortcut some of the, you know, upfront learnings that you have to do, but yeah, a lot of the stuff is trial by fire. (Teja: Yeah.) And sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not, but, you know, if you’re in the right mindset, it’s like, you will never make that mistake again. You know?

Teja (19:09):

Totally. How would, so how would you compare like, your enjoyment of maybe the co-founder, CTO role to that of the CEO? Like, let’s say controlling from the compensation and upside and all that stuff, like, how did the job/life compare?

DeVaris (19:23):

Just, the remit is so much more broad and expansive. Like, as CTO, I’m just responsible for building, you know, and I’m responsible for hiring the technical team, and I’m responsible like, every once in a while, I can be on the fundraising call and, you know, do my dog and pony show and blah, blah, blah, but like, it’s more internally focused, right? And like, being a CEO, like, you gotta really be internal, external, all the way. Like, and man, it’s a completely different world, but I think the benefit that I’ve had, though, and the reason why, you know, me and my co-founder get along so well, is that I’ve been in his shoes before, and so I’m blocking and tackling a lot for him, right? And so I’m always asking like, “Hey, is this something that you want to be on?” RIght?

DeVaris (20:09):

Is this something that you want to do? Is this something that you want to, you know, tackle in all that type of stuff? So that’s really the, you know, the biggest difference. And I think being on both sides of the fence is an advantage. Like, I am a technical co-founder, right? But now it’s just like, yo, I’m focusing on different things. So, you know, it alleviates him having to do things like, “Oh, well, I need this report pulled, or I need to make quick website updates. And, you know, and all this type of stuff. like, for me, that feels like blocking and tackling, you know, it’s like, you know, in the early days it was like, yo, you know, know Ali and I were jamming on, you know, our C L I you know, tools and, you know, I was doing the website and, you know, he was working on the back end and like, all that type of stuff.

DeVaris (20:56):

And then I was also doing the fundraising and, you know, product management, blah, blah, blah. It’s like, I just did enough so that he could just focus on being the best technical person that he could be, and I feel like more founders need to do that, right? It’s like, you know, you can learn how to Select Star something, right, or, you know, like that type of stuff, and you don’t always have, especially with ChatGPT now, like, you don’t always have to go bother your technical co-founder, right? So, yeah, I mean, look, for me, it’s been a, like, I pride myself in making sure that my engineers and my team, especially technical kind of parts, you know, they feel supported, and they don’t feel like they’re getting randomized.

Teja (21:33):

Totally, yeah. You try to keep them from context switching. If you need something like a data pull, and you need to run some analysis on it, you can just handle it yourself so they can stay focused. So, I mean, in our audience, we have like, a ton of developers and technical people, and I think a lot of them probably aspire, like you are doing, to kind of start their own company. So it would be interesting for you to kind of walk through like, what’s your schedule look like, like, today? 

DeVaris (22:05):

Oh, god <laugh>. (Teja: Like, yeah.) Depends on the day, right? So Fridays are usually a little less crazy, because it’s just how we design the week. You know, it’s one of those things where most of the days I try to have, you know, status meetings, but I try not to do more than 90 minute blocks at a time where I’m meeting, right? So I do 90 minute blocks, and I have like, an hour, 90 minutes, then an hour, then in [the] afternoon, I try to like, have working time. Unfortunately <laugh>, that ends up not always, you know, working out the best, especially on Mondays where it’s like, yo, I gotta meet with all my direct reports and like, that type of stuff. And then, you know, once I get through the meeting days, and it’s like, time for deep work, so it’s time for things I gotta think about, and, you know, all of that type of stuff.

DeVaris (22:53):

And then if I’m, you know, I basically got founder-led sales, you got pretty much all day, every day, where you’re trying to, you know, talk to people, and get insights, and get conversions, and things like that, right? I mean, as a CEO, you got, you know, your duty is to keep your team resourced, right, with people, money, and information. So, you know, you just gotta use that as a filter for all of your meetings and things like that. And so, you know, you try to make the best of your time, but yeah, man, it’s some days like, yeah, easy 14, 16 hours, right? Like, nothing, you know. (Teja: Yeah.) You know, try to take, take time off to eat, and stretch, and do stuff in between. But that’s, you know, sometimes it’s not always feasible. I mean, that’s the thing where it’s like, the thing that people never talk about like, publicly, is founder stamina, right? And this is tough, man. It’s like, the toughest thing, you know? Because look, if you’re working a bigger job at a, you know, at a company, there’s always somebody else that can come pick this up, you know?

Teja (24:00):

Yeah. That’s so true. No, talk a little bit more about founder stamina. What’s that mean to you?

DeVaris (24:08):

I think founder stamina just means like, just having the mental fortitude to weather out or go through these long days.

Teja (24:18):

Yes. Not get sick, not get covid.

DeVaris (24:22):

Man, all types of stuff, man. And it’s like, you know, just weathering the ups and downs and not get too, you know, excited about the good times and not get too low about the downtimes. Like, you gotta figure out what that equilibrium that balance is, man, and that’s tough if you’ve never been in this space before, ’cause It’s like, “Oh, man. We got a customer this week!” and then next week it’s like, “Oh, man. This person, you know, walked out on a deal!” right? And it’s like, yo, it’s just that ebbs and flows.

Teja (24:52):

No, I mean, it’s so funny. You mentioned like, eating. Like, this is one thing that me and one of my partners, we always talk about. Like, I will forget to eat or just not be able to eat. (DeVaris: Yeah.) You know, you wake up, like, you start with a cup of coffee, and then it’s like, 4:00 PM before you have your first meal, and you’re like, I promised myself this would never happen again, and yet, it’s happening every day. So I haven’t cracked the code on that. I don’t know, I probably just have to have meals like, given to me, so I force myself to eat.

DeVaris (25:21):

Yes, exactly. I mean, you know, I tried everything, man. It was, you know setting calendar invites or, you know, this, that, and a third. Like, you know, you try to do the best. You have the best of intentions, but look, man, at the end of the day, it’s like, I don’t know if you feel this way, but like, sometimes when you take time for yourself, or you take time for things that are not related to the business, I start feeling guilty. (Teja: Same.) You know, it’s like, you know, I could be doing X, Y, Z, I could be doing this, I could be doing that, right? Like, you know, that’s why…even eating, right, or going to the gym, or like, shit, sleeping, you know? It’s like, yo, I try to get as much hours as possible, but, you know, sometimes it’s, yeah, you know, it’s just tough, man. And you have these narratives of like, oh man, you gotta, you know, you sleep when you’re dead, or you gotta grind, you know, all the stuff. And it’s like, no, that’s not the healthiest thing, ’cause the reality of it is, if you’re not healthy, the business isn’t gonna be healthy either.

Teja (26:17):

I’ve definitely found that like, I will feel guilty if I don’t work, such that if I’m stressed about something, even if I’m on like, vacation or like, I’m at a wedding or something, I still have to like, pull out my laptop and just like, do it. There’s no…‘cause that’s gonna make me feel less worse, even if I’m being rude, and I just gotta get it done, and I’ve sort of understood that about myself, you know? But the one thing I have not like, I figured out the sleep thing, which is, I try to get as much sleep as possible. That is one thing. Like, I just establish those bounds, but the eating and the gym, I’m probably not as good at that as I can be. 

DeVaris (27:04):

Right, right. Yep. I mean, that’s just, you know, and the thing is, is like, we gotta talk about these things as founders, right? And like, you know, there’s not a lot of Medium posts that talk about this stuff, you know, or like, think pieces that talk about this side of the business, man. It’s tough. It’s really, really, really tough.

Teja (27:23):

Yeah, totally. But I think, you know, I take some solace in the fact that like, Jeff Bezos didn’t get jacked until he quit Amazon. Like, you know what I mean? Like, he just did it. He just was like, “I’m building this company, and like, later I’m gonna get jacked.” And it worked out for him now, so we may be so lucky, but like, (DeVaris: Yeah.) you know, I think that’s just the reality that we have to accept, maybe, about this life, you know?

DeVaris (27:51):

Yeah. I don’t know, man. It’s a, you know, we probably have to do a lot better, but at least like, having the energy and the physical help to tackle this problem, like, that’s something that we have to be better about. But, you know, a lot of folks just don’t talk about these things. Like, you know, founders I know got Covid multiple times and, you know, dealing with all types of health issues that pop up because of stress. Like, you don’t understand what stress does to your body, right? Like, it’s absolutely insane.

Teja (28:23):

Totally. No, I have, like, one of my best friends, actually, he is a software engineer for like, a big company, and, you know, he’ll be, in the middle of the day, sending in like our Signal chat, he’ll be like, “Hey, guys, I’m gonna go get my car waxed. Is anybody busy?” And it’ll be like, 11:00 AM, and I’m just like, looking at this, and I’m like…<laugh>.

DeVaris (28:41):

You know, it’s a good living, man.

Teja (28:46):

It’s a good living. And what’s funny is like, I’m like, if I didn’t see that, I probably wouldn’t be as angry at like, what, like, the next 20 hours worth of work on a Friday in my cycle, like, the rest of Friday and then half of Saturday that I have to do. (DeVaris: Yeah.) Okay, I don’t even have time to eat. Like, this man is waxing his car right now. So, I mean, it highlights the importance of organizations like YPO and different, like, founding sort of, you know, communities, I think, for sure.

DeVaris (29:19):

Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Teja (29:22):

What are a couple of things that you wish, or that you know now that you wish you knew, starting your current company?

DeVaris (29:33):

Focus on distribution earlier. (Teja: Okay.) Like, the thing that I am the best at in the world is building and focusing on product, because that’s just my wheelhouse, but like, definitely have to understand like, how to sell the thing and distribute it, right? And the earlier that you focus on that and, you know, get clearer signals, the better. (Teja: Mmm <affirmative>.) And that even helps you in fundraising too, right? Because, you know, everybody’s like, “Okay, cool, I get it. You know, I get how this product will solve the problem,” but how do, you know, push this into, put this in the hands of people cheaply and in mass, right? Like, if you can answer that earlier, I think that that’s something that is, you know, focus on distribution is the thing, because that’s really the advantage that, you know, most successful companies have, right?

DeVaris (30:23):

Like, they know exactly who they’re selling to and how to get your wares into those, you know, people’s hands, and there’s just tactical stuff, right? Like, I never use Gusto or Rippling, right? Because, you know, like, always choose a PEO, because it’s just hours of time that you won’t get back. Like, I don’t know how to fill out this random tax form in Florida, right? Like, you do that for me, you know, (Teja: Yeah.) and it’s like, this is what I’m paying you for, right? Like, yes, I might be able to go read instructions on how to do it, but it’s like, it’s not the best usage of my time, you know? (Teja: Yeah.) Absolutely not. The other thing is, make sure that, you know, as you raise money in subsequent rounds, put them in different bank accounts. As we have all seen with the SVB and the FRB collapse and like, all that type of stuff, you need to understand cash management and treasure, you know, and it’s like, design your cash kind of withdrawals or, you know, kind of cash story based off of where you’re at as a company.

DeVaris (31:32):

So if you raise seed, you know, you want to throw it in, you know, in the Mercury account or whatever it is, because it’s like, alright, well, cool, I can, you know, resource it well, you know, hire for this, use these kind of things, like, having a budget, you know, earlier on, you know, not just spending like crazy just because you can. It’s like, no, like, I know who I’m gonna hire, how much money I need to have for them, right? Like, you know, whatever employees that you have, just add 15% to their salary, because it’s just, you know, whatever it is, right, and model that out. And then that way, you just take the extra cash, and you move it over into a treasury account, right? And so, you know, having a, you know, big brick and mortar bank that, you know, is never gonna go anywhere and then like, one of these startup banks, like, just use that, right?

DeVaris (32:18):

And like, you know, that’s the type of stuff. Like, being good about cash management, I think was, you know, we did it early, and so we were able to kind of mitigate against all of that stuff, but man, it was, you know, those are the types of things that you learn. So choose a PEO and, you know, worry about, you know, figure out the cash management strategy. So the other part of that is like, look, you can actually make money while it’s just sitting there, you know, (Teja: Yes.) and if you get one of these high yield accounts from some of these places, like, you know, things are okay. Always ask for discounts and deferrals. Like, you don’t have to pay your bills on time, always do net 30, and then, for all of your vendors, right, like, especially legal and all that type of stuff, right, just ask for deferrals, you know, and that type of thing. I also say like, if you know that this is gonna be a good business, hire a lawyer.

DeVaris (33:14):

The thing that we’ve kinda screwed up on is like, we used one of those like, SaaS, “start your business” kind of things. (Teja: Yes.) It was like, Clerky, or Savvy, or one of those things, right? And it’s like, you know, when you press a, you fill out a couple forms, and they do everything. Like, when we had to get our funding, they had to redo all of that stuff and all of that, and it’s like, yo, I wasted my deferral dollars, you know, basically get my company formation stuff all in in order so that we can have, you know, raise funds, right? Like, yeah, just hire a lawyer early, and they’ll most likely defer and discount your fees, you know, just doing corporate, you know, company formation stuff.

Teja (33:53):

What’s like, your heuristics to determine if a lawyer is worth hiring or not?

DeVaris (33:58):

<Laugh>. Well, for a lawyer <laugh>? I mean, have they done it before? And this, again, this is also stuff that you can talk with other founders, right? Like, founders’ll give you the real about anybody and everything. (Teja: Yup.) You know, if you ask the other founder, “Who do you use? Do you like them? Have you had, you know, here’s who I’m thinking about.” And the other thing about lawyers and even bankers and like, all other stuff, it’s like, it’s down to the person. (Teja: Yes.) And so you might have a different experience like, “Oh, I’ll go with this big law firm, I might have a bad experience with this particular partner, but you know, there’s other partners at that firm.” Same thing goes with VC, too, right? Like <laugh>, yeah, you know people have had crappy experiences with this VC partner, but yo, it’s a great firm, so there’s other partners that you can deal with, you know?

Teja (34:49):

Totally. What’s been the experience like in raising money? Has your background, race, do you feel like that has affected anything in the venture capital space? No?

DeVaris (35:03):

Yeah. I mean, I’m sure sure at some point it did, but like, I don’t really feel it, because, you know, I haven’t had, I’ve had pretty good success in raising funds, right? It’s not taken me very long to do that. But it’s because I understand the, you know, the economics of VC, right? Like, I understand what they’re trying to optimize for, and, for me, it’s like, well, let me just change my pitch to match that, right? (Teja: Right.) Which is, yo, you give me 2 to 3 million bucks in five to seven years, here’s the plan for me to give you over a billion back. (Teja: Right.) You know, smart people will be like, first, “Is it legal?” (Teja: <Laugh>.) Secondly, people will be like, “Oh, tell me more.” And this gets back to my point about like, yo, you need to understand distribution, right, earlier on. It’s not about the product, right? Like, you know, it’s not one of those things, if we build it, they’ll come, you know? That’s once in a blue moon for most people, but the people who understand distribution and their, you know, ICPs, and personas, they can plot out a plan that’s like, okay, well, here’s how we’re gonna get the first 10 to 20 million. Here’s how we’re gonna get the first million. Here’s how we’re gonna get the 10 million. Here’s how we’re gonna get a hundred million, right? And here are the resources that we need, like, here at blah, blah, blah. And like, if you can do that, and you can convince somebody that says, “Yeah, this plan is possible,” then it’s like, holy shit, this is basically what VCs want to hear, right?

DeVaris (36:33):

And so you just work backwards from that. And like, that’s really what I’ve done. The other thing that’s helped me is that I understood founder/market fit, right? And like, you know, the things that you realize that all these other industries, the VC is just a bank, right? Just an insurance company, and a bank, and all the other stuff. All they’re trying to do is mitigate risk, so they can have maximal returns, right? And every aspect of who you are as a founder, and who you are as a business person, who you are as a company, right, like it has to talk to mitigating risk, and one of those things is, I don’t start companies outside of, you know, what my expertise is, you know, (Teja: Totally.) because now, I can point to you and say, “Yo, I’ve done the thing that I’m starting, so give me money, because like, I can tell you that if you give me 2 to 5 million bucks, here’s how we’re gonna get more than a billion back in five to seven years.” And it’s like, “Oh yeah, I believe you. Yeah, this makes sense,” you know?

Teja (37:27):

Totally. I heard this on a podcast, and I feel like it’s true. You know, if you look at like, the way, like, these VC deals are done, and like, the preferred equity is basically just debt that comes due in like, a decade, right? It’s debt that they’ll give you without a personal guarantee, that’s like, cool, this seems like a sick business, and you got a hundred exits. Like, let’s go. Like, where do you think your career is going? Like, do you wanna kind of build this company out over the next decade or so, and when you have that big win, what do you do next? Will you start another company? Will you run this company until you retire? Like, have you thought about any of this?

DeVaris (38:04):

Yeah, I mean, we definitely want this to be a legacy company, but I mean, I told myself, man, I’m trying to retire about 45. (Teja: Okay <laugh>.) Like, I’ll go do something else at that point, man, go back to school, go be a professor, go do something else. Like, yeah, man, I’m not gonna do this forever. You know what I’m saying? And like, I do believe that this can be a legacy company, but for me, it’s just like, you know, I want to, you know, broaden my impact, right, outside of B2B SaaS, and a lot of that is community-driven stuff. And so for me, you know the credibility that I get as a founder who’s had success lends to me having more impact on that lens, and that gives me the ability to go do that more in more impactful ways.

DeVaris (38:55):

You know, kind of more full-time to, you know, galvanize resources and interests to help solve some systemic issues, right? Like, that’s the thing that I want to do, and how that takes shape is gonna be a little bit different. So yeah, I mean, like, that’s really what the ultimate goal is. May I start another company? Sure, but I don’t necessarily, it’ll be, I mean, every company’s a tech company, right? But it won’t be like, a VC-backed company. It might not be a VC-backed company. I shouldn’t say won’t, might not be VC-backed. You know, it’ll just basically be, you know, something that’s probably a little bit more sustainable, right?

Teja (39:33):

Like a gym, or like a spa, or like a restaurant. And you can…

DeVaris (39:36):

Yeah. Well, never a restaurant, but the thing is like, for me, you know, training programs that get people into…like, I can start a company and then like, have, you know, bring people off the seat, give ’em the ability to train, and give them living wages, and all that type of stuff, so they can start building their pathway. So if I do start a company, it’ll be along those lines. You know what I’m saying?

Teja (39:59):

Yeah, totally. So, okay, so what’s next for your company? What do you got going on in the next 12 months?

DeVaris (40:05):

Building out the enterprise rhythm. Like, 99% of our business is in government today, and so, you know, we wanna make sure that we’re building out our enterprise revenue, and enterprise verticals, and things. That’s the biggest say for me in the company, next. And then also, too, you know, expanding into less technical verticals. You know, giving people the ability to build applications, you know, from a visual standpoint without having to learn how to code. I mean, we can take advantage of a lot of the AI stuff and those types of things and give people the ability to, you know, excuse me, get insights on data and all that type of stuff and build applications with that data. And like, now, that’s the type of stuff that I’m thinking about is, you know, real time data should be a utility for any organization, right? (Teja: Right.) I should be able to get information to help you make decisions in the moment when I need to without having to always go ask my engineer to build something for me to go do that, right? And if we can be the you know, ushers in that area, I think that that’s something that would be super powerful.

Teja (41:13):

That’s awesome. DeVaris, dude, it’s super inspiring to talk to you and to like…

DeVaris (41:18):

I appreciate it, man.

Teja (41:18):

Yeah, man. I can feel that energy like, for your mission and the company like, coming from the screen. So I think folks that are listening or watching will sort of feel the same. Where can people find you and your company on the interwebs?

DeVaris (41:32):

Yeah, Easiest place to do it. I’m on LinkedIn, you know, you can find me there. I’m not like, a LinkedIn influencer yet, so (Teja: <Laugh>.) you know, you won’t see me like, 10 different, like, yo, funny enough, I tried to like, put out a post, ’cause I, you know, sometimes like, you just feel certain things, and you’re just like, yo, I just wanna put something out there, and I got put on Reddit, like, CEO Assholes, and you can tell, man, I’m not an asshole, but the genesis of it was like, alright, so me and you are homies, right? You come to me, and you’re like, “Yo can you help me with this work related thing?” (Teja: Totally.) And like, let’s say it comes up, you know, you end up breading out on it, you get a bag from it. (Teja: Yup. Yeah.) Me, I just said like, “Look, yo, if I gave you some information that helped out, or you gave me some information to help me out financially, I’m gonna give you a little bit of money for that, even if we’re friends.” (Teja: Totally.) It’s just like, yo. (Teja: Totally.)

DeVaris (42:35):

Ask the homie for a W, too, so you can, ’cause it’s not like, “Oh, help me move, right?” Or, “I could give you some beer and pizza for that.” (Teja: Yeah.) It’s like, no, I asked you for some work related stuff, and I’m saying like, “Yo, I wanna pay you, because you helped me,” and they said I was an asshole (Teja: <Laugh>.) And they were like, “Oh, why would you charge your friends for it?” and I’m like, yo, clearly reading comprehension is not part of the Internet, right? Like, it was the most insane thing ever, but fortunately, for me, I had a whole bunch of friends that were like, “Yo, DeVaris is like, one of the…” like, the thing that I do is that, you know, I have, you know, friends in every industry and like, every bit of, you know, specialties and expertise, and if I ask them, I’m just like, “Yo, what’s your consulting rate?”

DeVaris (43:23):

Right? “I’ll pay you for your time, because the other part of it is I need your expertise,” (Teja: Yes.) “and I need it in a certain amount of time, so I don’t need you to be like, ‘oh, I’ll get to it next week.’” (Teja: Yes.) “Nah, bruh or sis, let me get this right now.” (Teja: Yeah.) “Do it like an official business, so you know how serious it is,” right? Like, I don’t understand why paying people for their time makes me a CEO asshole, you know what I’m saying? (Teja: <Laugh>.) Like <laugh>, you know, that was the wildest thing, man. So I appreciate you saying that, because I’m like, “Oh man, we gotta start normalizing like, you know, valuing people for their expertise,” you know?

Teja (44:00):

A hundred percent. Yes, yes. Normalize like, capitalism and free <inaudible>. (DeVaris: Yeah, yeah.) Yes. That’s crazy. Well, Reddit is like, I mean, Reddit is like, an echo chamber of people like, you know, I think so it’s funny, any topic on Reddit, people criticize it. It could be like, the sickest car, a bike, a UFC fighter, I mean, even you go to the Joe Rogan like, subreddit, and people are shitting on Joe Rogan, just as an example, but they’re in the Joe Rogan subreddit. So you’re just like, “Why are you listening to this man’s shit? You don’t have to.” And then commenting (DeVaris: Exactly.) like, “Oh, this guy’s an asshole. He is, you know, this, this, this.” You’re like, “Okay, that’s interesting.” So that is, yeah.

DeVaris (44:45):

But yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn, and I <inaudible> put all of that <laugh>. (Teja: <Laugh>.) Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn. I used to be on Twitter, now formerly known as Twitter, but X, you know, like, that type of stuff. But you know, I’m not one of those online guys, man. But LinkedIn is where I’m at, but the main thing is If you go there, you can learn all the things you need to know about real <inaudible>.

Teja (45:09):

Dude, the Internet would benefit from you being more of an internet person. 

DeVaris (45:14):

I appreciate that, man. (Teja: Yeah.) I appreciate, that was the other reason why I’m not, I’m like, yo, do I really have anything to add to the conversation? You know what I’m saying? Like, that’s the thing.

Teja (45:24):

Of course you do, but I definitely feel the same way. I mean, I feel the same way every time I log into this to like, do a podcast. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) I’m like, does the fucking Internet need another fucking bastard (DeVaris: <Laugh>.) just talking shit? Like, really, I don’t know. But then like, even if there’s like, five people who are like, “Ah, that was sick. Like, I appreciate that you asked that question. That was a cool answer. That was valuable to me.” That’s like, okay, that’s like, an hour well spent. Like, that’s good.

DeVaris (45:52):

Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate that, man. Yeah. Appreciate that perspective

Teja (45:55):

For sure. Alright, man, well thank you so much, dude.

DeVaris (45:58):

No problem. Thank you for the time and opportunity.

Faith, via previous recording (46:02):

Thanks for listening to The Frontier Podcast, powered by We drop two episodes per week. So if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @theFrontierPod and we’ll see you next week.