An Interview with Na’ama Moran, CEO of Cheetah, Alchemist Class 2
Na’ama Moran came to the US from Israel to study economics, math and political science at Cornell. After school, Na’ama joined NYC’s emerging markets hedge-fund, Greylock Capital Management, as an analyst. She left finance to pursue her dream of building products that make people’s lives better with technology. She moved to Silicon Valley where she concurrently took classes in Computer Science at Stanford and co-founded Zappedy, a services platform enabling local businesses to close the loop between online marketing and offline sales. The company was acquired by Groupon in 2011. While working at Zappedy, Na’ama encountered a large variety of restaurant owners and food entrepreneurs. She discovered the hardships of running a restaurant and was surprised by the lack of transparency and ease-of-use in such an important marketplace. She decided to do something about it. Na’ama met cofounder Peretz Partensky while camping together at Burning Man. The two started working on what would eventually become Sourcery and raise $5M in funding. Her experience at Sourcery led to her founding Cheetah Technologies to be the easiest, fastest, and most affordable way for small-medium businesses to get their daily supplies and services. In her spare time, Na’ama loves to practice yoga, hike the beautiful Bay Area trails, and read science fiction books.
What exactly is your startup bringing to the marketplace today?
My company today is like an Instacart for small businesses. We enable businesses to order their daily supplies from their mobile phone, anytime and from any place, and connect to a large network of local and national wholesale suppliers.
What was the impetus behind starting that? What made you think this is a good idea? What was the inspiration behind this venture?
I’ve worked with small businesses for the last couple of years, initially with restaurants in my previous business, Sourcery. What was really interesting about this market is the lack of transparency and the lack of a convenient way for small business owners to manage their daily purchasing and know product pricing in advance. The way they manage their businesses is very antiquated. By accessing wholesale suppliers that are priced transparently on our app, and building this alternative supply chain, we’re enabling small businesses to have access to both local and national vendors, and benefit from a very convenient same day or next day delivery.
Can you talk a little bit about your background before the startup?
I worked in finance in a hedge fund for a couple of years right out of college. Then I moved to the Bay Area and I’ve been doing my own startups since then. For the last couple of startups I’ve run, I’ve been working with small business owners primarily in the food service space. That gave me insight into the types of problems they were having.
Is there any previous experience or situation, either personally or professionally, that you felt helped prepare you for this startup? Was that working in finance or working with food services? Is there one thing that helped prepare you for what you’re going through today?
I don’t know if there was one thing. I think it’s the connection of all the different businesses I’ve been doing for the last ten years. All of those startups taught me something different about finding product-market fit, building a scalable business, building and scaling a team. At my previous company Sourcery, which is the company that was enrolled in Alchemist, is when I got most familiar with the problems of small restaurants and small businesses in the food service space. It gave me deep familiarity with the problem and the impetus to come up with a solution.
On the topic of Alchemist, what made you apply to Alchemist?
I really like Ravi and his focus on the B2B space.I thought they had a very strong network of mentors.
Now that you’ve gone through Alchemist, what do you think was the most valuable thing you took from going through it?
It has a very strong network of mentors and alumni that is valuable for early stage startups. Especially people who are creating very large businesses in the B2B space and have a lot of knowledge and experience to share. The preparation for the demo day was very useful as well.
What is the most challenging matter you guys are currently facing? Fundraising, talent recruitment, product development?
I think recruiting in the Bay Area continues to be a very challenging endeavour, because the environment is so competitive. I would say being able to recruit top talent continues to be our biggest challenge. Our business is operations heavy and therefore, the various challenges we are facing have to do with scaling operations.
Can you talk through one of the highest highs and lowest lows of the last month?
We’ve grown our topline by more than fifty percent on a quarterly basis, compared to last quarter. This is definitely one of the highlights. One of the low moments we had, had to do with recruiting. We gave offers to people that we really wanted to bring onto the team and they we were not accepted. This was pretty disappointing.
Looking to the future, what constitutes success and what are your goals in the next twelve months?
Being able to meet or exceed our goals would be a strong indication that we had a successful twelve months. We have certain projections and they’re pretty aggressive so being able to, as they say, “meet them or beat them” would be really good.
What entrepreneurial lesson or skill do you think took you the longest to learn or are you still continuing to work on?
I think there is a skill in finding product-market fit. Unless you get lucky, you need to develop this skill in a very methodical, focused way. I believe I have been able to develop this skill over time, but I’m sure there is still a lot to be learned. Today, with my current company, I think we have a proof that we have found product-market fit and the biggest challenge is to scale the business very rapidly and be able to confront very strong competition in our markets. The challenge is different. The challenge is really about scaling a business and being able to sustain it, rather than figuring out if we have product-market fit.
And so if you could hypothetically go back to yourself on the first day of your startup, what advice would you give yourself?
Be able to let go of bad ideas and bad people faster.
Is that similar to the Silicon Valley saying, “Fail quickly, fail often”? Is it better to get through a bad idea and move on to something good than to hold on to it?
Yes. Being able to let go of bad ideas or bad strategy or bad people a lot faster probably would have made me successful faster than I have been.
Do you personally have any advice for founders who are not from the US?
It’s all about the network you build here. For people who are not from the US, it might be a little bit harder to build their networks. Being able to build a network as fast as possible is probably the biggest advice I can give.
Has there been anyone specifically that helped you get to where you are today, that you think you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them?
There are various people like that. Some of my investors have been incredibly supportive and informative in helping me to get where I am. There have been people I work with and colleagues that have been instrumental in helping me get to where I am today. I don’t think there is one person. There are multiple people, between investors, colleagues and mentors, that I can point to.
How did you get in contact with some of these people and develop that relationship? That is something a lot of founders struggle with, building networks and trying to get to know these people. They find it really hard.
It’s a good question! It’s just a matter of always trying to make connections or initiate meetings. Even if the meeting doesn’t necessarily work out to provide you what you want, ask the person to introduce you to other people that could be useful. Just constantly build that network with every meeting that you have. Be able to build a network through friends. I went to Stanford for a certain period of time, I met some people there. I went to Alchemist and YC, these are networks I am a part of. All these different organizations are ways to build those networks.
Of all the jobs you can have, startups are more on the intensive side. The types of people that start companies, tend to have a passion for it. For you, whether it be five or ten years from now, what constitutes success for you personally and this venture? What would make you feel this was all worth it at the end of the day?
I think it would be the impact I end up having on the lives of my customers and employees. Hopefully, I will see some significant monetary return for my efforts as well. I’m doing this to really have an impact and change the way people are doing business, and change the way our employees are living their lives. Creating wealth for both my customers, employees is my number one goal and inspiration.
About the Alchemist Accelerator
Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley — including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures/year. Learn more about applying today.