One day during sophomore year, I was walking in front of the campus center when an idea hit me -- there needs to be an easy way to offer my peers (read: myself) a risk-free way of expressing a crush wherein their (my) identity is only revealed if there's a match. It was then that I built the "CrushFinder."
The CrushFinder was simple -- type in five people you have a crush on and we'll let them know someone likes them but won't reveal it was you unless they crush you back. If your crush is a GoodCrush, you two live happily ever after...or at least for a few days. If there's no match, nothing happens, no risk.
Within 24 hours of its launch the day before Valentine's Day in 2007, 30% of Princeton's student body used it -- and it was incredibly exciting and kind of surprising to see it catch on so quickly. Every year since, I've been bombarded by requests from people to reveal who crushed on them via phone, texts, in-person visits, instant messages and tweets. Unfortunately, our focus on privacy protects the ultimate mystery.
It was from the CrushFinder that GoodCrush.com was born. The success stories I heard and requests from other schools showed that there was a desire for this service beyond our campus. Valentine's Day 2009, GoodCrush's CrushFinder debuted successfully at other schools in partnership with the respective student governments.
I took courses that piqued my interest in entrepreneurship during my junior year: "Web-based Social Research," a course with that professor on social networks, and "Innovation Process Management." A year later, I started to play with the idea of pursuing GoodCrush further.
By the suggestion of Joe Perla, who helped me build the 2009 CrushFinder, I applied with two friends to Y Combinator -- an early stage venture program -- to "spread the love," as our tag-line read. We made the cut-off and excitedly flew to California for our interview. The trip was a blast, but unfortunately we weren't accepted.
Nonetheless, after the last lecture of "High-Tech Entrepreneurship" -- my last college class -- I had a strong sense I should further pursue GoodCrush. I had begun to attend entrepreneurship club meetings and chatting with angel investors.
Soon thereafter, during my senior year, I had received a job offer from the company of my choice -- a consulting firm in NYC -- I was extremely fortunate and excited. My start date, however, wasn't until 7 months after graduation. After graduation, I decided to actively pursue GoodCrush at least until then.
I reached out to an alum for advice, and he forwarded me on to a well-connected venture lawyer. After reviewing my slide deck (PowerPoint presentation) and executive summary, the lawyer introduced me to over a dozen venture capital firms -- primarily in NYC and Boston, plus one or two in California.
Y Combinator aside, I had never pitched before, so I wasn't 100% sure what I was supposed to do. I was about 10% sure of what to do. Quickly, I began to do some reading and understand the mating ritual that is pitching to VCs. Over the next few weeks, I was e-mailing, on the phone, and meeting with venture capitalists. It was all happening so fast. It was exhilarating to really get things going.
VCs were somewhat interested, ostensibly because of our quick adoption numbers. Most weren't sure or weren't convinced, though, how we could a) expand b) retain users beyond Valentine's Day and c) make money -- the sort of standard venture questions you don't think about when you create a simple site for your own use.
After brute force and iterations from the dozens of phone calls and meetings, I started to put the pieces together. The last VC I spoke with was FirstMark Capital. Unbeknownst to me, this early-stage fund was starting a seed-stage investment program. The timing was completely fortuitous.
We chatted on the phone and two days later I was in their office answering follow-up questions. The next Monday I presented in front of the firm. That afternoon I had a verbal offer for a seed investment. I was on a high. It was an absolute rush, one of the best days of my life.
Although I was passionate and yearning to become an entrepreneur, I still had to make a choice between consulting and GoodCrush. To help me decide, I spoke to my parents, other entrepreneurs, and friends. Although some felt I should pursue the job, most felt I should take this potentially once in a lifetime opportunity. When the consulting firm allowed me to defer my offer, the decision was infinitely easier -- I had the best of both worlds.
My dad, himself an entrepreneur, has advised and encouraged me. My mother was and remains hesitant, suggesting work-life balance and a larger group would be beneficial. Despite her preference, she is supportive, as is my sister. My grandparents also think it's pretty exciting.
Most of my friends aren't too surprised when I tell them what I'm working on. Those that knew of my other offer were initially surprised but very supportive of my decision, or at least the decision to test the waters and hold on to the offer for the following year. My peers have served and continue to serve as inspiration, motivation, and support for me.
GoodCrush was forged out of a core premise: simple web functionality can spark new or enhance pre-existing social and romantic interactions in dense and insulated social networks - namely college campuses. The goal is not to have users spend time on the site, but rather complement and catalyze off-line activities and opportunities. Simply put, we are "connecting student bodies."
We officially launched with a lot of buzz and excitement on February 8th. I'm very happy with my decision - it's a unique opportunity. If the venture isn't as successful as I hope, it should be a great experience, as it has been thus far. If it is successful, it should be an even more awesome and exciting ride. Stay tuned, it should be a fun journey.
Follow Josh Weinstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoshRWeinstein