Interview with Alex Negrea – CTO of docTrackr, after their recent $2mil seed round

Not long ago we heard of another great news about Romanian tech entrepreneurs. This time, it was about DocTrackr, a startup with a Romanian co-founder, raising its seed round of $2mil after having graduated TechStars Boston. The round was raised in the States, being led by renowned Polaris Ventures and Atlas Ventures.

DocTrackr helps individuals and businesses keep their documents under control; know wherever they’re stored and whomever they’re shared with; update the docs in real time, know what people are doing with them and even destroy them remotely. The startup was founded by Alex Negrea, together with Clement Cazalot and Alexander Gentea.

Read on for an interview with Alex Negrea, who is also the CTO of docTrackr, about how it all happened – how they got to TechStars, how they got to seal the deal with the investors, how the co-founders got together and what will the next developments of DocTrackr be.

How to Web: Tell us about how it all happened. When did you leave for Boston, how did you meet your investors and how long did it take for you to seal the deal?

Alex Negrea: We left for Boston in late January 2012 for 100 days of TechStars, which is a mentorship driven programme with the main purpose to help you transform in a real company with a real vision and strategy for the future. But that’s not all – there are a lot more other things we learnt from Techstars..

We met our investors partially from the mentor sessions we had early on and secondly by being active in the ecosystem and having introductions to the right people. At the end of Techstars, there was a so called “Demo Day”, whose main purpose was to present the newly graduated companies to a series of potential investors. We had multiple meetings right after Demo Day that concluded or not in a commitment. Nevertheless, looking for investment is a long process and if you’re looking for money you can’t start after demo day because that might be already too late, so you need to build a relationship before..

HTW: Can you tell us how the investment process went? Was it someone who noticed you first? How did the others get on board?

AN: We had started talks/meetings about 1 month before Demo Day and they were concluded after the whole round was full. The whole process probably took about 3-4 months being more or less full time involved in this. Process varied depending if we were talking with an angel investor or a VC firm but they were more or less structured like this: a first meeting of discovery where you would pitch your company without getting into details – most of the time these were happening at an event or by just walking down a corridor (elevator pitches were very common). After this, followed one or more in-depth due diligence meetings on different topics like: the business model at scale, company risks, team or technical architecture. The hardest part is probably having the first one committed that will create interest around your startup (especially if it’s a well known angel or VC firm) – then others follow fairly easy without getting too much into detailed meetings because they put trust in the due diligence of the first one.

HTW: Tell us a bit about docTrackr. How did you start the product, did you go through any pivots, where is it headed now?

AN: docTrackr started in January 2011, as a pivot to an initial idea of protecting the photos you share on the internet. We started in Paris as part of the first batch of the newly born LeCamping startup accelerator. After 6 months of building our MVP and doing some customer development, we had our first customer that was signing a Proof of Concept with us for internal deployment. We decided to apply for Techstars in late 2011, being encouraged and supported by one of the Entrepreneurs in Residence from LeCamping..

A second pivot followed business wise, during Techstars, where we realized that if we wanted to scale and do a global relevant business we can’t rely only on our SaaS platform to gather users. Therefore we decided that to reach a mass of high profile users, that are educated to the problematics of document management and security, we would need to integrate in the daily workflows of users, in the tools they already use. The solution we are actively pursuing right now is channel partners and integration with platforms like Box.net (to be announced soon), DropBox or YouSendIt and make docTrackr the central hub or your own personal dashboard where you can remotely control all the documents you have shared with others, no matter where those may be stored.

HTW: How did you guys meet? And what are your working arrangements now?

AN: Clement and myself met back in summer 2010 in the south of France, while working together at a multinational company (Gemalto) on different innovative projects. We had a good fit and neither of us really wanted to go work for somebody else. At first we worked from LeCamping since we were provided co-working space there, then we worked a bit distributed (Romania and France) until we reached Techstars, when we were back together in Boston. In addition, while in LeCamping, 4 months after we started, a third person joined us, friend and colleague of mine – so we were basically three of us until early 2012.

After Techstars we returned to Europe with a growing team (we are now 7) and relocated the Product Team in two locations: Paris, France (where we initially started) and Bucharest, Romania. We will still keep a strong link with the US since most of the business, investors and partners are there. For the moment we have only one person dealing with Business Development/Partnerships there. We decided short term not to move the whole team in US for Visa and budget reasons.

HTW: Going back to TechStars. How did you choose that particular accelerator, was it the only one you applied for? What do you think was the plus that got you accepted?

AN: We applied only for Techstars after LeCamping. We felt that it is either TechStars or nothing since we already had spent 6 months in another European accelerator. Now that I think of it was probably the best choice we made for our company for many reasons. Techstars’ secret sauce is the deep engagement of world class mentors who are smart, experienced people that think about the unique challenges of each company. In the selection process we also talked with a few Alumni that shared their experiences and I think that what we really needed was mentorship so we don’t sail in the wrong direction. We emerged from Techstars with clarity, focus and a strategy on how to expand the business.

We have been selected primarily for great team dynamics and secondly for having a product that had good market potential (B2B). It definitely helps if you are referenced by an Alumni of the Techstars network.

HTW: How’s the life of a startup CTO? What are your greatest challenges at docTrackr?

AN: Early on, as in any startup, I had a ton of other roles other than the CTO role. At first since we were only two and we had to wear some “official” hats, we decided easily since Clement had more business background than engineering and I was the only one with pure engineering background. As time passes, I’m trying to migrate into this role and bring great people to help us build an awesome product. Probably the most challenging task at docTrackr for the CTO role is to evaluate and bring the right technologies into the product and understand how they could benefit the enterprise at scale.

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