Murtaza Bambot is the founder of Heartbeat, a startup that helps you build and scale profitable communities by collecting conversations, events, content, and analytics, all under your own domain.
A member of the 2018 Future Founders Fellowship, Murtaza has spent the last year scaling Heartbeat from an idea into a robust tool that helps a diverse range of customers cultivate passionate communities. We recently caught up with him to see how things were going, and to learn a little more about his journey as a young entrepreneur.
That’s a good question. I think I had been bumping into community most of my life and not really realizing it. When I was in college, I was running this business fraternity for a couple years. I didn’t really see that as a community, but that’s what it was. We were bringing people together around college student needs like figuring out how to get internships and jobs after college. And that was actually the impetus for the first company that we built, InternshipBlitz, which then turned into CareerBlitz.
That company shut down around the end of March 2020. I was basically depressed as hell for about a month, and couldn’t check my email without getting panic attacks. So I would wake up and play League of Legends, and that was like it for a month. I couldn’t do anything right. I was just useless. But while I was playing League of Legends I would jump on Discord and I would have these conversations with like four random people Then I’d jump off and another 45 minutes later I’d jump back on and just do this over and over and over again. And it was weird to me how, with gaming, we figured out how to build real genuine relationships with humans on the Internet.
I’ve lived in Atlanta my whole life, and have always struggled trying to build relationships with founders and investors in San Francisco and New York. But then I started working with the Georgia Tech Startup Accelerator. The thing that every accelerator actually gives you is a network. And when we went virtual, we weren’t building people’s networks. So my mentality was, “alright, overwhelm the bottleneck”. Let’s figure out how to really solve this problem. I started stitching together Slack and Airtable and all these tools trying to make virtual networking work. Soon enough, founders were making intros for other founders, and it was accelerating sales and accelerating fundraising. Founders from our collegiate accelerator in Atlanta were raising funds at Y Combinator level valuations, and we were beating out some of the best accelerators in the world in terms of our outcomes.
That was kind of the obvious tipping point for me. It showed me that virtual community works and creates a ton of value, yet there’s no tooling to actually support it.
Yeah, I think just how resilient human beings are.
At our peak times when we were running CareerBlitz, I was effectively working 15 hours a day, seven days a week. But I was so depressed, I was basically putting in like four or five hours of actual work a day. And I think mentally I was like, “oh I guess I’ve just gotten to this point where l can’t work these hours anymore”.
But thinking back to the first week that we started on Heartbeat, it wasn’t even like a ramp up period, I just instantly went back to long hours, and now I’m still at the same hours and I’m happily doing it. I enjoy a lot of the work that I’m doing, so it’s not really a chore to do those hours. It just makes me think about how much you can bounce back from adversity. I am kind of surprised that we have a fully functioning company a year after shutting down…and it’s already doing much better than CareerBlitz. We beat a lot of our CareerBlitz KPI’s and metrics probably four months into Heartbeat. It’s wild how much those learnings compound on each other, and you can just put them to work for you.
There’s so much stuff. All of fundraising! Any Forbes article that tells you how to fundraise is wrong…
I think the more interesting thing that I found is that you do not have to be passionate about the space to build a startup. The way a lot of college students will start a startup is like, “Oh, I found this really cool area. I want to do a bunch of research in it and then I want to start building. And as long as I listen to my users, build stuff fast, and have a team of people that’s decently competent, I’m going to be good, right?”
That’s the conventional wisdom – you can overcome anything. The reality is there are a lot of spaces that have really strong barriers to entry that don’t appear on the surface because there’s a lot of entrenchment from people already in those industries. This is something we didn’t know about recruiting until we had gotten two years into it. Every recruiting startup that you look at basically got all of their first 10 to 20 customers through introductions. Like nobody has actually done cold sales to get their recruiting customers. And we didn’t know that, and that was the reason why we were struggling so hard with our first 10 sales.
So now when I think about startup ideas and building your team and all of that, more than anything, it’s thinking about the unique advantages your team actually has that you can build into the startup. That’s probably the biggest piece of startup wisdom that I don’t think I was ever taught. It’s not about being passionate about this space. It’s about thinking like an optimization equation…how do you min/max the advantages that your team specifically has to get to success as quickly as possible.
Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s really competition, and wondering if we are moving fast enough. I think the wins have this diminishing feeling on how you wake up every day. From the first sale to the second sale, it’s a massive dopamine hit. But the 20th sale to the 21st sale is significantly smaller. The reality is that it’s still just as important, but it just doesn’t feel like it is. And then the losses feel just massive. And they always feel massive. I still remember all my losses way more than I remember my wins. Especially once we raised VC funding. I very much feel the weight of our investors’ expectations. Some of it is just me putting it on myself, but some of it’s also coming from them…like these are quarterly goals and we need to go and hit them. So I think that’s the thing that always sort of keeps me up at night.
The thing that gets me excited is that we’re in this explosion of online communities right now. I can’t even predict half of the communities that are coming in. We have communities like Future Founders and other fellowships and university programs, and those are cool. But we also have really weird ones. One of my favorite ones we have is a community for people that own cats and dogs, and your cats and dogs are fighting with each other. That’s the community! They have all of these training programs to help train your cats and dogs to stop fighting with each other. It was started by somebody who was a former pet trainer, and she wanted to scale the work that she was doing. And so she started building a community and now she charges $99 a month to join and she has a substantial number of members that are happily paying this. It’s fascinating!
My girlfriend gives me a lot of crap for this. She’s like, “you’re never gonna be satisfied”. And I’m probably not. I was very fortunate to grow up upper middle class. I’ve never really had issues with money. So me growing up and getting to this point, money has not really been a big issue for me. We want to hit a billion dollar company not because a billion dollars actually matters to us, but because of the impact that allows you to have.
I grew up Muslim in the south, and a lot of my respite and where I would go to feel at home was digital communities. So our goal is to create radically inclusive spaces on the internet where anybody can jump online and instantly find their tribe. That’s really our big metric of success – how inclusive and how accepting a space we can create on the internet.
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