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Customer Stories

Customer of the Month: Behind the Scenes of Sunrise App

By September 10, 2015 No Comments
Behind The Scenes - Sunrise App
From a small town in Belgium, Jeremy Le Van has already seen more than some may dream of in a lifetime.  A world traveler and brave entrepreneur, Jeremy set his course at the young age of 22 when he decided to leave his friends and family behind in search for something great. And Jeremy found great. As the founder of the popular calendar app, Sunrise, Jeremy grew a business that, in just under 5 years, was purchased by Microsoft for more than $100 million.
We met Jeremy when he was in the growing phases of Sunrise. Here’s his story:
We met you after you launched Sunrise app, but you have a history of being a part of wildly successful startups – how did you get your start?
When I was 22 I decided to uproot and take a chance at life in the States. My plan was to get a good degree, then move back to Europe. So I moved from Belgium to San Francisco where I went into web design and mobile apps.
I thought I would only go for 2 years, but realized I may be staying longer than expected when I got my first job as a designer at Seesmic. Soon after I started, Seesmic was acquired by Hootsuite. After that I decided I had seen enough of San Francisco, so I moved out to New York where I joined this small company you may have heard of ….called Four Square.
So you went from Seesmic/Hootsuite to Four Square. How big was Four Square when you started? Did you have any idea it would grow so quickly?
Sunrise app - jeremy leI started in 2011 as a mobile designer. At that time, there were about 60 people on the team. When I left just a year later, there were more than 200 employees.
I loved my time at Four Square. I didn’t realize it then, but I think the reason I was there was to meet my partner of Sunrise, Pierre Valade.  We both spoke French so it was an immediate connection. We were inspired by what was going on in San Francisco and New York, so we decided to leave Four Square and start Sunrise.
How was it to go from a very cushy job in NYC, to a bootstrap startup?
The moment we left Four Square, our U.S. work visas expired, so we had to head back to Europe. We had no money and at that point, didn’t even have a product. We found ourselves in London, Paris, Belgium, and an array of other cities as we worked on our business plan.
It wasn’t easy. We had no investment money and were living on our small savings from Four Square.  We worked our way to the development stage, but neither of us had the skill set to build an app. So we traveled back to the States to find a developer.   This is when we met Joey Dong. Joey had just graduated from college in New Jersey and we knew would be a perfect fit – the only problem was – we didn’t have a dime to offer him.
We told him our vision, offered him equity and promised to take care of a place to live in Europe. Despite these glaring uncertainties, Joey came on board without a salary or guarantee we would make it. Fortunately for us, and Joey, things did work out well.
That is a very brave leap of faith from someone you barely knew. So once Joey started, how long did it take to build the app?
We built the app in just three months. Once we had the app, we came back to the States and worked on raising some money.
Sunrise app raised money and grew fast. What do you think helped you scale so quickly? 
Our user base was growing, so we realized we needed to be intentional with which people joined our team. We saw we had a gap in our financial management and our team did not want, or have the resources, to handle it all.  So we found AcuityComplete to help us achieve our goals.
What made finding a financial partner so important to your business?
Well, we had worked with an accountant in NYC that was not on top of things. They were skilled at some of the basics, but it became clear they wouldn’t be able to scale. After all, they were only one person and our business was outgrowing their abilities.
We realized we needed more advanced services so we initially worked with a company in San Francisco, but they were not structured well and left us with a ton of problems. Sunrise was in a mess, and accounting can dramatically impact your business. So we sought out AcuityComplete.
Within a few months of working with their team, they fixed the problems that the other company created. We were beyond grateful. They scaled with us as we grew and played a major role in helping us prepare for the Microsoft acquisition. Not only did they help us prepare, but they walked us through every single step of acquisition process as a business partner, not just service provider.
I’m honestly not sure where we would have been without Acuity’s help. Their team allowed us to run more efficiently and helped us navigate some very important financial decisions.
Sounds like Acuity filled an important role in your success. We know there were dozens of other decisions and services you used as you scaled, so what are some of your favorite apps?
We try to not have too many meetings to stay efficient, so some of our favorites are:
  • Slack –  functions as our meeting room, especially since we have so many remote employees across the globe (Seattle, Paris, New York, San Francisco)
  • Git Hub – highly valuable for our engineers. Helps them communicate and stay on track with all of their tasks.
  • Email – Just kidding, we hate it. 🙂
Alright – ready for lightening round? Here are a few questions from our readers: 
1. You are from Belgium but have lived and traveled all over the globe, do you have a favorite place that you’ve called home?
Great question – and I would say that Belgium is truly home. No matter how long it takes me to get back, it always feels like home, like nothing has changed when I return.
My second favorite would have to be NYC.  I moved to New York and fell in love with it. I’ve been here for the past 5 years.
2. What are some non-negotiable items that are always in your travel bag?
Easy – my headphones. I love music and I listen to music every day as much as I can.
My favorite music right now it is relaxing lounge music – mostly just instrumental.
3. Do you have any pets?
Nope, my New York lifestyle doesn’t really allow it.  Though maybe someday!
4. Do you have any wise advice on how to keep a healthy work/life balance?
I love Yoga. I spend about 15 minutes on breathing every day, right when I wake up.  I focus on the way I breath in order to get into the mood of the day, to remove distractions and focus on what needs to be accomplished. 
5. What is the biggest risk you have taken in your life or career?
I was only 22 years old when I left all of my friends and family to venture to the U.S. I decided I would leave it all and ‘go for it’.
Sometimes the scariest leaps are the most rewarding ones. These leaps may change your life forever.