Tag: Austin startups

Joel Trammell and Alicia Thrasher Created The Manager’s Playbook and Training Program to Help Businesses Thrive

Managing employees is one of the hardest tasks within a business.

Joel Trammell and Alicia Thrasher know how to do it well. Trammell, a successful tech entrepreneur, CEO, and investor, and Thrasher, a successful executive who has led programs for eBay/PayPal, Google, and Anheuser-Busch, teamed up to create a management system.

Together, they co-founded Austin-based MGR360, a certification training program for managers. They have also co-authored a book, The Manager’s Playbook. The book and certification programs are largely based on their combined 50 years of management experience in various organizations. It helps managers lead knowledge workers within their organizations to achieve high-level results.

In this episode of the Ideas to Invoices podcast, Trammell and Thrasher share their experiences and talk about why management training is essential for organizations to succeed.

Trammell also wrote a book “The CEO Tightrope” in which he writes “like tightrope walkers, the best CEOs appear to be doing the least while moving the business forward.” That means managers must serve as orchestra conductors and balance all kinds of activities within the organization and trust experts in each area to do their jobs effectively and help the business reach its goals, he said.

“Balance is just a key concept in any leadership role,” Trammell said. “Any leader you have to have a destination. Where are you going and where are you going to take the organization.”

The incredible thing is many managers never receive any training, said Thrasher. They are simply put in the position and a lot of them flounder because they don’t know how to manage people, she said. That leads to turnover in the businesses.

“People don’t leave their job, they leave their manager,” Thrasher said.

In fact, during their lifetime, people spend about 90,000 hours working and 70 percent of the workforce reports being disengaged at work, according to Thrasher’s research. The Manager360 program teaches managers how to coach their employees, so they are content and productive in the workplace, she said.

Trammell started his first company at 25 and he didn’t know anything about being a CEO. He was running a quickly growing business.

“I woke up one morning kind of in a cold sweat,” Trammell said. The business had added 100 new employees and they were being managed by people two or three levels below him.  That’s when he realized that it was important that everyone have a consistent management experience, Trammell said.

So, he began developing a management training program. A few years ago, he teamed up with Thrasher who had been working on a similar program. Together they launched Manager 360, an in-person training program, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down in the Austin area.

This week, Thrasher and Trammell are launching the Manager 360 app that provides goals, tips, and training on the go through a mobile app.

With the great resignation going on, the need for training managers has never been greater, Thrasher said.

What motivates people in the workplace goes beyond money and perks, Trammell said. It’s about accomplishing goals and recognition, he said.

“And so, this idea of what motivates people at work it’s really all around achieving things,” Trammell said. “Everybody wants to win. The problem is in a lot of organizations they don’t make it clear what winning is and they don’t’ celebrate when they do win.”

A big piece of this is being very clear about what the goals and objectives are and sharing those with everyone, Trammell said. And then doing everything to facilitate them to achieve those goals and objects, he said. That leads to high-achieving organizations and people making a difference because they are accomplishing things every day, he said.

For more on this subject, please listen to the whole podcast, pasted below or on iTunes, Spotify Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also visit MGR360 for more on the certification training program, mobile app, and book.

RealWork Labs Lands $2.5 Million for its Software that Helps Home Service Providers Attract New Customers

While building a tiny home in Austin last March, Rusty Fincke turned to his neighbors and friends to find an electrician.

“I was using Nextdoor and asking friends for referrals,” he said.

That sparked the idea for RealWork Labs, which creates lead generation marketing software for the home services industry. Fincke joined with Pierce Birkhold, to launch the company in August of 2020. Its software helps home service providers improve their web presence by using video testimonials, customer recommendations, and social media to market. Its customers include plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, roofers, landscapers, and more. It also has a check-in feature that pinpoints on a map exactly where the workers have done jobs in a particular area.

In a short time, RealWork Labs has gained a lot of traction, Birkhold said. It has 500 customers in just about every state including Alaska and Hawaii, he said. They have also hired 30 employees and leased space at the WeWork University building.

On Thursday, RealWork Labs announced it had closed on $2.5 million in seed-stage funding, led by LiveOak Venture Partners. And Krishna Srinivasan, founding partner at LiveOak is joining RealWork Labs’ board along with John Berkowitz, co-founder of OJO Labs and Yodle.

RealWork plans to use the funds raised to accelerate product development and hire more employees to provide customer service and sales, Birkhold said.

Previously, Fincke and Birkhold worked at Yodle and Digital Pharmacist. Unlike other founders who come from a product development background, they both have experience in sales and customer service. They also only put in $3,000 each along with Warren Lentz, another Digital Pharmacist alum to startup operations. The company has been profitable and generating revenue since its earliest days, Fincke said.

“We’ve grown organically,” Fincke said. “We haven’t taken out a loan to hire a bunch of people.”

Now RealWork Labs is spending millions of dollars on continuous product development. Birkhold said.

“The business is profitable and cash-flow positive and we’re able to grow our support team and sales team and invest in tools and best practices for our teams to support those customers in the best way,” Birkhold said.

RealWork Labs origin story is like a lot of bootstrapped entrepreneurs in Austin who tend to be scrappy, resourceful, and run-on revenue before seeking funding.

“We definitely have the taco truck approach to getting to where we are now,” he said. “We’re not full P. Terry’s yet, or Torchy’s but we’re a little bit above hanging out in a truck.”

RealWork Labs has done a good job of keeping its finances in control and not spending above its means, so the company doesn’t go into debt, Fincke said.

“We’ve had a lot of laughter and a lot of arguments to get to where we are today and everything has continued to pan out in our favor,” he said.

It was important to the founders to build an employee first organization, Birkhold said. All employees have health insurance and are on staff, not contractors, he said.

“As we bring the best of breed from all the places that we’ve worked at we are hyper focused on our employees,” Birkhold said. They wanted to create a company that they enjoyed working at, he said.

“We have known the founders both by reputation and by working with them previously, as being simply exceptional in building and scaling software solutions that target SMBs. The incredible traction the company has had in such a short period of time is both a testament to the founders’ abilities in this area and the magnitude of the market opportunity”  Krishna Srinivasan, board member and Founding Partner at LiveOak Venture Partners, said in a news release.

The pandemic has slowed down the home services industry lately with material shortages and labor shortages, Birkhold said. Some home service providers are not taking on new business until next year, he said.

“Even devices like garage door companies and HVAC servicers are seeing shortages of materials that are impeding their ability to grow,” he said.

“The pandemic is both a headwind and tailwind at the same time,” Birkhold said.

But those businesses still need to develop and maintain relationships with customers. And the key is to generate trust. That comes from customers endorsing businesses, he said. With the RealWork Labs software, field technicians can use their cell phones to capture on-site video and tell better stories about their customer service, he said.

“We are doing that at the neighborhood level and generating media and furthering the ecosystem so neighbors nearby can see the video and content of what’s happening near them,” Birkhold said.

“It generates leads for the company,” he said.

“The first step is getting found. The second step is a new customer calling you. How do they choose one plumber versus another?” Birkhold said.  “You can engineer behavior between technicians, prospects, and current customers through the use of technology and cell phones and a platform that can really overhaul the way home services businesses operate.”

The best advocate they could ever have isn’t a marketing agency that edits their work it’s their customers, Birkhold said.

“And the best people for their customers to be speaking to are their neighbors and people near them,” he said.

What makes RealWork Labs special is that businesses can’t fake or force what it does, Birkhold said. Its video testimonials and social proof only work if the business does good work, he said.

Serial Entrepreneur Andrew Eye Discusses ClosedLoop.ai’s $34 Million in Funding and its Technology on the Ideas to Invoices Podcast

ClosedLoop.ai’s Co-Founders Dave DeCaprio and Andrew Eye

ClosedLoop.ai, a healthcare technology startup, recently raised $34 million in funding.

The Austin-based company plans to use the funding to hire additional staff and to further develop its data science platform for the healthcare industry.

Andrew Eye, ClosedLoop.ai’s CEO and Co-Founder, recently sat down for an interview with the Ideas to Invoices podcast to talk about his latest venture. Eye previously founded and sold two other technology companies.‍

In 2012 Eye co-founded the mobile software company Boxer, email management software. In 2015, VMWare acquired Boxer.‍

Before Boxer, Eye co-founded the cyber security firm Ciphent in 2007. Ciphent grew to nearly 100 employees with 1,000 customers by 2010 before being acquired by Accuvant (now Optiv).

Eye teamed up with Dave DeCaprio to found CLosedloop.ai in 2017. Eye had previously worked with DeCaprio, who was working on applying machine learning to the healthcare industry.

The venture became even more personal to Eye following a healthcare challenge after his youngest daughter was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis.

“The diagnostic odyssey we kind of went on in that process made me really realize how little our health data as patients is used in trying to figure out what’s wrong with us or what to do about it,” Eye said.

In April, ClosedLoop.ai beat out more than 300 participants including IBM, Mayo Clinic, Accenture, and Merck to win the $1.6 CMS AI Health Outcomes Challenge.

“We thought this contest was tailored made for us from the beginning,” Eye said. “What they were asking the industry to build was AI that physicians trust. We had already been working on that for two years at the time. The contest ended up being a two-year-long contest because of COVID, it kind of stretched out.”

ClosedLoop.ai had been building software that could create proprietary algorithms uniquely tailored to each clinic or hospital system to identify at-risk patients and recommend the best course of treatment for each person. The company had created the right product at the right time for the challenge, Eye said.

“One of our favorite sayings is the harder we work, the luckier we get,” Eye said.

The final submission for the contest was due the week the massive snowstorm hit Texas last February. Eye had no power in his house for six days. He drove his truck to the end of his road because he couldn’t get out of his neighborhood. He parked in his car and used his cell phone to tether to the Internet and he worked up to eight hours each day on the project and then uploaded ClosedLoop.ai’s submission documents for the contest.

“We put every ounce of effort into winning this because we think it’s really important in demonstrating what artificial intelligence can do in healthcare,” Eye said.

“One of the things we like to say here at ClosedLoop is we predict the future so you can change it,” Eye said. “You – being a doctor, you – being a patient, you – being a nurse, you – being a care manager. So, the idea is to leverage any linkable patient data that is available to predict future health events.”

Usually, patient data is anchored in historic electronic medical records, admissions records for hospitals and clinics, and social determinants of health like whether you live in an area with good grocery stores, Eye said. ClosedLoop.ai takes all this linkable data and takes other features like prior diagnosis, current medications, and other variables and puts them into an algorithm and what comes out on the other side is predictive analysis, Eye said.  

“There is no one master algorithm that is accurate for everyone,” Eye said.

Because the reasons people get admitted to a Medicare-focused practice in South Florida is different from the reasons people get admitted to a Medicaid-focused practice in the Bronx, Eye said.

“You’re going to have kids with asthma exacerbation in the Bronx and you’re going to have retirees who are falling and breaking hips in South Florida.”

Winning the CMS Challenge promoted ClosedLoop.ai to raise its Series B round of funding about 18 months earlier than it had planned, Eye said. It had the opportunity to get some really strategic investors on board, so it raised the $34 million relatively quickly, Eye said.

The Series B investment round was led by Telstra Ventures with participation from Breyer Capital, Greycroft Ventures, .406 Ventures, and Healthfirst. Notable angel investors Adam Boehler, former director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and CEO of Landmark Health, and Sam Palmisano, former CEO of IBM, also participated in the round. 

For more, listen to the entire podcast, pasted below, or wherever you get your podcasts – available on Google play store, Apple iTunes, Spotify, PlayerFM, Libsyn, and more.

From a Cold Email to an IPO: DISCO, a Story of Domain Strength, Grit, Collaboration, and Serendipity

DISCO became a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange on July 21, 2021

By Krishna Srinivasan, Chairman of the Board, DISCO and co-Founding Partner, LiveOak Venture Partners

In October 2013, we received a cold email – it had all the elements on first glance that begged to be ignored.  The email came from a person named “CeCe” who talked about a founder called “Kiwi” and a company called “DISCO” in the legal tech space, which was also a category that did not have a history of great companies or large outcomes. But, boy, am I glad that we did not ignore that email! 

LiveOak’s entrepreneur-first philosophy meant a commitment to look at all deals, even cold, inbound ones, and we quickly discovered that this showed a lot of promise. Kiwi was the youngest ever graduate from Harvard Law (graduated at 19), was the managing partner of his law firm, and, while practicing law, had hacked together a product that was generating early revenue. When we first met him, we were blown away by his domain knowledge and passion for transforming the future of law. Additional deeper diligence through some friendly litigators in our network indicated that this was an industry that was sorely in need of better products. During deeper discussions with Kiwi, we uncovered a fierce entrepreneurial spirt and a desire to learn and evolve into a world-class tech leader. Armed with the conviction around a domain-rich entrepreneur and large market opportunity, we decided to proceed forward as a founding investor. Ultimately, the company was formed (spun out of his law firm) at the same time as our initial investment.

            Wow, aren’t we delighted that we embarked on this journey. Since being founded in December 2013, the company has grown from minimal revenue to now a successful IPO (NYSE: LAW) with a first trade market capitalization above $2.5B As stupendous this trajectory has been, it neither has been a straight line nor influenced by a single factor. I would attribute the success to a combination of domain strength, grit, collaboration, and good ol’ serendipity.

Domain Strength

Yes, Kiwi’s rich domain expertise was what attracted us to DISCO (N.B. the LiveOak playbook entails backing domain-rich, often first-time entrepreneurs and helping them grow into world-class tech entrepreneurs by helping with all aspects of company building). Kiwi’s obsession with using technology to help lawyers practice law has permeated into a company-wide focus on infusing deep legal knowledge into every piece of code shipped out. Every product was conceived after thinking about the problem from the shoes of a lawyer. As a result, DISCO has fused seemingly orthogonal disciplines of deep understanding of law with world-class engineering to create powerful user experiences that lawyers and other legal professionals love. Lots of entrepreneurs have deep knowledge of their respective fields but Kiwi and team exemplified the desire and capability to create magical products – an incredible distinguishing feature of the company. In an industry not known for user delight, the product has an impressive NPS of 63. 

Like any other ambitious entrepreneur, Kiwi, even from the first pitch, articulated a multi-stage product roadmap for grabbing a market that was tens of billions of dollars. While that looked like a pipe dream then, today, the company is well on its way to grabbing that exact market he had outlined. 

DISCO is very much a story of Kiwi parlaying his rich knowledge of law and thinking many moves ahead for their customers and creating products, services, and experiences to meet current and future needs. That domain-rich inventor’s spirit is what positions this company to define and lead legal tech!


Kiwi and the company have gotten here in no small measure due to their grit. As with most startups innovating in markets not yet proven, there was some doubt from prospective investors, employees, and so on.  They questioned how difficult it may be to attract future investments in legal tech, to show strong traction in the market, whether the business model was right and the impact of competition, even with the strength of DISCO’s product. Now seeing how far DISCO has come, their uncertainties have not come to fruition. These folks simply underestimated Kiwi and the team’s grit to bludgeon their way through these issues. 

The financings of the company certainly involved significant effort. However, through them all, Kiwi never had a moment of self-doubt or reduced conviction on the scale of company that he could build here. So, for all the entrepreneurs out there, don’t be disheartened if there are challenges in getting the financing dollars and terms you want as there is not often a ton of term-sheet-love spewing out there.

There were challenges in hiring the optimal leaders for every function, given the preferences around possessing both legal domain knowledge and world-class enterprise software sensibilities. This unique combination is not often available due to the lack of standout winners in legal tech. In absence of optimal leaders, Kiwi has operated as a functional head for practically every department at some point of time. Waiting for the right leaders and gritting it out until the right one was available became the mantra. Today, more than half the executive team are lawyers and several others have deep backgrounds in the legal industry as well as experience at hyper-growth software companies.


            The DISCO success story has also been a textbook example of collaboration between a venture capitalist and an entrepreneur, one that began the day we signed the term sheet. We had finally agreed on all the terms, but that was only after a relatively intense set of discussions where I felt that Kiwi came across as a nitpicky litigator who was focused on corner case scenarios rather than a typical pragmatic tech entrepreneur. I told him, to go forward, we needed to be convinced that our relationship could be more collaborative rather than one that felt like a legal scrimmage. Kiwi countered that he would drive over to the office to “make his case”.  Now that was a rare icy November day and he was in Houston, 200 miles away!  But that would not deter him from driving to Austin! His action to make this future relationship successful was itself enough of a powerful signal that we signed the deal the moment he strode into our office – that cast the die for a trusting, collaborative style throughout our relationship.

            Indeed, we have had many spirited debates – should we stay as a pure-play software business or be full-stack with an AI-based review platform, what is the optimal organizational design to sustain our stunning land and expand model, should we stay mostly channel vs. make a big push on the direct business, how should we position ourselves (as a vertical software player or as a horizontal software for legal category), are we ready to go public – the list goes on and on and on. Every one of these questions had enormous underlying ambiguity and given the magnitude of the consequences, of course, had some fierce opinions on both our sides. Unequivocally, in all these situations, the process was intensely collaborative, intellectually honest, and with the sole emphasis on what was best for DISCO.

            It was hard to predict it that icy night in November, I simply could not have hoped for a more collaborative partner than Kiwi in this incredible journey.  


The origins of our first investment in the company was itself serendipitous. We at LiveOak were fortunate that we could spot this “diamond” in the volume of cold emails we received. 

Many of the unicorn-esque hires on the leadership team required deep legal and enterprise tech expertise and happened as a result of happenstance. We were so fortunate to find Michael Lafair (a lawyer-turned CFO). We were also lucky to find Andrew Shimek, a rare lawyer-turned Head of Sales who embodied both legal and enterprise sales traits, and Keith Zoellner, our Head of Engineering with expertise building world-class products and legal domain. Many other people and key board members such as Jim Offerdahl, Colette Pierce Burnette, and Scott Hill were connections that were made at the right place, right time. 

Finally, it was of course serendipitous that Kiwi and my favorite soul food cuisine was Sichuan food! Ma-Po Tofu from Mala’s Bistro in Houston or A+A Sichuan in Austin was added motivation to meet, eat and strategize often!

After all, good fortune favors the brave and those with grit!

In closing…

The future is even brighter, and the opportunity is seemingly unbounded, and we believe that the company is indeed poised to be one of the largest and innovative software leaders for decades to come. This is the first software IPO out of Austin in a while, and it’s extra special given it was birthed in Texas and seed invested at inception by a Texas VC firm. 

The success of DISCO and its IPO will be even more impactful for Austin and Texas at large as outsized successes are bound to beget many, many more in the future. Also, with Kiwi and a management team that is committed to building a long-term standalone company, DISCO is bound to have a powerful accelerating effect on the Texas ecosystem. DISCO Cares is a company initiative that is helping drive programs that support vulnerable populations across Texas. There are a number of DISCO-alum startups already sprouting, in Austin and Houston. 

Having started this journey as the only other board member besides Kiwi at the time of inception, I am honored to now serve as Chairman of the Board as a part of this milestone IPO event. I look forward to helping Kiwi drive and shape DISCO’s next phase of growth for years to come and to contributing to DISCO’s legacy-shaping initiatives, from their community impact to the spawning of more promising entrepreneurs in the decades to come. In particular, we look forward to partnering with many more entrepreneurs who might learn from and imbibe many of this successful young lawyer’s characteristics around domain strength, grit, and collaboration while building their respective successful ventures!

LiveOak Venture Partners’ journey with DISCO began with a cold e-mail from Kiwi Camara which led to its initial investment and today reaches a milestone IPO with a first trade market cap of $2.5B. LiveOak Venture Partners’ Founding Partner and DISCO Chairman, Krishna Srinivasan, shares an intimate look at this remarkable success story.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and has been reprinted here with permission.

Rocket Maker Firefly Aerospace Lands $75 Million in Funding and Becomes Austin’s Latest Unicorn

Tom Markusic, Founder of Firefly Aerospace, photo by Errich Petersen

Rocket maker Firefly Aerospace has landed $75 million in venture capital funding, giving it a $1 billion valuation, making it Austin’s latest Unicorn.

The company’s Series A funding round was led by DADA Holdings, with participation by Astera Institute, Canon Ball LLC, Reuben Brothers Limited, SMS Capital Investment LLC, Raven One Ventures, The XBTO Ventures, and other investors.

The round was oversubscribed, which led Firefly’s seed investor, Noosphere Ventures, to sell approximately $100 million of its holdings of Firefly equity to investors through secondary transactions, according to the company.

The funding comes as Firefly is set to launch its flagship Alpha small launch vehicle. The company plans to raise an additional $300 million later this year to fund its growth plans through 2025, according to a news release.

“It is gratifying to see such strong investor interest that far exceeded our near-term funding goal of $75 million,” Tom Markusic, Firefly’s CEO, said in a news release. “Firefly is excited to welcome our new partners, prior to our inaugural launch of Alpha. Post launch we will embark on a second larger round, that will enable Firefly to execute fully its business plan of new spacecraft and launch vehicle development. With our recent major contract wins and the arrival of new, strong financial partners, 2021 is proving to be a breakout year for Firefly.”

In addition to the funding, Firefly recently was awarded a $93.3 million NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract to deliver 10 science payloads to the surface of the Moon in 2023 using its Blue Ghost lunar lander.

Firefly is currently completing preparations for the inaugural launch of its Alpha launch vehicle from Vandenberg Space Force Base Space Launch Complex 2.

“Noosphere is proud to have supported the early development of Firefly Aerospace and the Alpha launch vehicle, “ Max Polyakov, founder of Noosphere Ventures, said in a news release. “As Firefly transitions into commercial service and embarks on additional ambitious programs such as lunar payload deliver, the time is right to expand the Firefly Investor base. We are delighted that Firefly has succeeded in attracting new investors that share Firefly’s long-term vision of “Making Space for Everyone.”

Geek athletes compete at Austin’s Startup Olympics

Put Geek athletes into the Google search engine and what do you come up with?
A correction suggestion for Greek Athletes.
So the conclusion must be that Geek athletes are an evolution of the ancient Greek athletes that invented the Olympic Games in 776 BC in Olympia in Greece.
And as part of that evolutionary process, now a team of Austin innovators have created the first Austin Startup Olympics which features Austin’s elite startups Adlucent, Boundless Network, Build-a-Sign, Mass Relevance, SpareFoot, Spredfast, uShip, and WhaleShark Media competing in 10 grueling activities including Ping Pong, Foosball, Darts and Trivia.
The games begin today at 2 p.m. at the uShip headquarters. The event is closed to the public, but an after party to raise money for charity will be held at Club De Ville. “Bands performing at the after-party include The Lemurs and Burgess Meredith. All proceeds from the $10 cover charge will benefit local charities,” according to a news release.
You can also follow today’s action on Twitter.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Austin Children’s Museum, Austin Pets Alive, Austin Pro Bono, Capital Area Food Bank, Communities in Schools of Central Texas, the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas , Kure It, and Livestrong/Lance Armstrong Foundation. Sponsors for the event include Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Cedar Door.
The Startup Olympic organizers want to challenge other startups, particularly those in Silicon Valley, to come to South by Southwest and compete in the second Startup Olympics. Contact StartupOlympics.org for more information.
“Guys like Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican Bobsled team were true innovators, giving their particular sports a new twist, a new look that made them legendary,” Shawn Bose of uShip and co-Chair of the Austin Startup Olympics said in a statement.
“You’ll find that same innovation among Austin’s startups – not only among those competing in the event, but citywide,” said Bose. “We’ve brought new ideas to existing industries and businesses. Many of these ideas came about during fierce games of ping pong, beer pong or even Connect Four while squatting at ‘innovative work spaces’ like Crown and Anchor Pub and Mozart’s Coffee Roasters.”

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