Big things happen when brilliant people come together to build. Expa launched in 2013 as a venture studio, incubating category-defining companies like Current and Metabase. Since then, it has applied that hands-on approach to help catalyze new companies via early-stage investing.
While Expa has expanded, building new Studio companies will always remain core to Expa’s DNA. Expa Partners sponsor Studio projects and work closely with CEOs to launch new ideas, and the Expa team dives in to help with company formation, domain purchasing, setting up HR benefits, branding, and much more. To date, Expa Studio has launched 16 companies.
One of these companies is Collective — the first online, back-office platform designed for businesses-of-one. These freelancers, consultants, and other professionals represent the largest group of founders in the country.
Collective co-founder and CEO, Hooman Radfar, joined Expa as an executive-in-residence (EIR) in 2014. At the time, Radfar was taken by the “by builders, for builders” ethos that Expa founder Garrett Camp aspired to imbue in the firm, as well as the opportunity to build an innovative platform providing early entrepreneurs with a new kind of partner to help them transform their visions into iconic brands. After collaborating with Camp and the rest of the team, Radfar joined as a founding partner quickly thereafter.
As a Partner, Radfar started the early stage venture investing part of the Expa business, and through him, Expa was able to make early investments in companies like Convoy, Fabric, and Sleeper. After building and launching Expa’s investing capability — which he continues to do as an Expa Venture Partner - he found he missed building and working with a team focused on a single mission. Radfar researched a number of ideas he was interested in pursuing and found himself continuing to return to the concept of setting founders up for success. At Expa, Radfar loved being a founder helping founders. Collective represented the perfect opportunity — a chance to build a platform and be a founder helping founders, at scale.
In 2018, another entrepreneur introduced Ugur Kaner to Expa. As a freelancer and immigrant, Kaner realized there was a huge opportunity to build a platform designed to help freelancers and other solopreneurs easily manage administrative tasks like taxes, billing, and bookkeeping.
As a first-time entrepreneur in the US, Kaner was excited to build a business and eager to maximize his opportunity for success with a proven set of builders. He and Radfar quickly realized that they not only shared the same vision “to enable businesses-of-one to focus on their passion, not their paperwork,” but also a deep conviction and commitment to people and learning.
“36% of the workforce identifies as self-employed solopreneurs — these businesses of one. Whether they’re freelancers, gig workers — we all know people like this — my parents were psychiatrists, my friend’s a sole practicing lawyer — that’s the founder group, and it’s growing. And it’s not like it’s getting easier for those people to run their businesses. They have to think about formation, taxes, payroll, bookkeeping, insurance — all the things you and I as employees, it’s abstracted away from us, so we don’t have to think about it.
“And so the vision is, ‘Can we enable people to focus on what they love?’ — their passion, not their paperwork. If you’re the best designer, do that. If you’re the best psychiatrist, do that. And have a trusted partner who can provide a platform and team (all virtual) so that you have that resiliency to do what you love,” Radfar said.
Initially, Radfar had planned to focus on incubation — assisting with financing, analytics, and go-to-market strategy — while co-founders Kaner and Bugra Akcay steered the company.
As the trio continued to work together, Radfar grew more conviction in the mission, as well as in his co-founders. Given the potential of leveraging their shared and complementary abilities to solve a $100B problem, he joined as a full-time co-founder. After joining the company, they quickly went to market to raise and received five term sheets within a week.
Following a $7.5 million seed round, the company hired its early team and began work on product-market fit (PMF). Less than a year later, after demonstrating PMF and accelerating growth, the company raised a $20 million Series A led by General Catalyst.
Radfar said Expa Studio is unique with regards to the level of commitment and co-entrepreneurship offered to company leaders. Partners don’t typically step into the companies to become CEO as he did for Collective, but they are heavily involved in the early days.
“You get a partner, and they’re deeply experienced and committed. They don’t do a thousand studio projects,” Radfar said.
And for new founders, this support and commitment can go a long way.
“I think Expa was the right partner for where Kaner and Akcay were,” Radfar said. “They were two guys who needed space. It was their first time building a company in the U.S. with a venture-backed process, so it was mostly helping them understand pretty ‘playbook’ things that we do — strategy, fundraising, testing product-market-fit, setting up analytics like Metabase.”
After three years of building, Collective is live in 12 states and has big plans to expand to the rest of the United States in the coming year.
The current economic climate might have many investors holding back, but Radfar says bold builders can take advantage of the moment.
“There will be less noise — a lot of the tourists on the investor, employee, and founder sides will leave the ecosystem. There’s no rat race,” Radfar said. “You have to survive and thrive and be lean, but there are going to be a lot of interesting outcomes for people who have that resiliency.”