Our interview with Bunndle CEO, Maxine Manafy (500 Startups company)

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Recently we caught  up with Maxine Manafy, CEO of Bunndle (a 500 Startups company), where she tells us about her company as well her advice on the business planning process.

Bunndle offers products that provide discovery, user acquisition and monetization solutions for software providers and developers. Without the right tools and data, developers can spend a lot of time trying to get distribution right. Some of the world’s top software companies use Bunndle as their distribution and monetization platform. 


Tell us what  your company is all about.

Bunndle is a distribution platform and ad network for downloadable desktop and mobile applications. A “bundle” is a collection of apps distributed to the same end user.  For example, download one app, get another one. We help developers and software vendors acquire users and monetize their audience by co-promoting applications during the installation flow.

How did you come up with the idea for your company?

I started working on distribution at Yahoo about eight years ago and had the opportunity to touch almost every product at Yahoo because of the exciting growth the company was experiencing. From there, I went to work at a few startups and heard the same story over and over. User acquisition, distribution and monetization for any new company or product is hard. Small companies don’t always have the right contacts or the financials to compete with the big guys, and so they get cast aside when it comes to doing any type of meaningful distribution deals. There is a lot of competition in the market and getting in front of the end user takes a lot of work. Not that big companies also don’t face the problems with user acquisition and monetization. But the hurdle to get a deal done isn’t usually as bad. And the other tools out in the market — SEO, SEM, display advertising, etc. — those don’t always scale when you are competing for an end user’s attention. End users today are very efficient and don’t search the way they used to  – say five or ten years ago. We have become masters at blocking out ads which results in a difficult discovery process for new products. There were other services and competitors in the market but I thought there might be a different approach and so I started Bunndle.

Can you walk us through some of the early stages of starting Bunndle? (Ex. Inception, Validating demand, MVP, User insight) 

I spent the first four months doing three things:

(1) building the product spec

(2) trying to hire, and

(3) talking to customers.

In fact, I had customers signed up six months before we launched. I did test runs manually, making sure the product was solving a real need, adjusting the product spec along the way. We didn’t even have a website! There was no better way to understand the product than to hear complaints first hand from customers.

Fundraising also took a lot of time in the beginning. I got my ass kicked. And I am now grateful for every bit of it. Some investors believed in what we were doing. A lot of them thought we were crazy. I’m sure most startups go through this phase and it’s no fun. The economy wasn’t doing well, raising venture money was tough with a lot of new startups competing for the same dollars and we just weren’t in an industry that was sexy. Advertising isn’t sexy. Without a big treasure chest of cash to protect you through tough times, you are forced to really think about your business, your customers, and building something that is sustainable.

But I would say the most important thing that I had to learn as a founder in the early stages was how to hire. The market here in Silicon Valley is very competitive and it takes a tremendous amount of energy and time trying to get someone excited about your idea. It’s nuts! Why would someone want to take a huge risk, join an early startup, with no real revenue, a small amount of cash and a dinky office. This is where you bring in your “A” game to sell what you’ve got. I am grateful to every employee who joined the company and believed in our vision.

You’re part of 500 Startups, how have they helped you? 

500 Startups is a great platform for any new entrepreneur. They provide tremendous amounts of support and resources that really help move a company forward. As a new entrepreneur, there are so many things you don’t know: How do you hire? What’s a recruiter? Do I outsource my design? Do I work with someone in house? What’s accounting? What’s payroll? Who should I use for payroll? Why do I need a lawyer? How much do I have to pay them? Why do I have to pay them so much? Someone said I should network. Network what? What is mysql? How do you spell it?   500 Startups works with their companies to try to address some of the basics as well as bring in experienced mentors and business leaders to do the coaching. It’s a great program. Providing an environment and ecosystem where other entrepreneurs can support one another and work together day-to-day reduces a lot of the anxiety and chaos in the beginning.

For me, Dave McClure was the reason I joined 500 Startups. He understands distribution. He got that our business was unsexy but had the ability to scale.  And he says a lot of bad words. I love that.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into 500 Startups?

I would suggest trying to get a customer before you pitch the 500 crew. It’s usually a no brainer if you can prove you have a business without a product.

What progress do you hope to make in the next year?

Next year brings a lot of exciting opportunities for Bunndle. Despite the fact that everyone thinks the PC is dead, the market grew 40% from 2010-2011. We hope to continue scaling our desktop business and then grow into mobile devices. Two very different markets with a similar problem.

What advice would you like to give to an entrepreneur thinking about writing their first business plan?

If the pain point you are addressing in your business plan is one you have directly experienced, it will be a lot easier to build your plan and sell your vision.  Building a business around something you can’t relate to will be difficult.   Although this seems obvious, sometimes I hear entrepreneurs pitch their ideas and there is no personal connection. I don’t want you to sell me something I can buy on a shelf. Sell me something you’ve designed specifically with me in mind because you know what I’m going through.  Then maybe I’ll pull out my wallet.

What were some mistakes that you learned from?

I didn’t build enough buffer into the amount of money I thought I needed to raise when I started.  I didn’t take into account all the mistakes, prototypes, and code that would be thrown out.  I didn’t know how many times we would start from scratch.    Knowing what I know now, I would have built those assumptions into my expected launch timeline and my financial projections.  Rookie move.

Big thanks to Maxine Manafy for taking the time out to give us some great answers! Be sure to check out Bunndle, as well as their Twitter!