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Last year's expert champ, Avi Cavale, of Shippable.
Last year’s expert champ, Avi Cavale, of Shippable.

It all started at last year’s GeekWire ping pong and anniversary bash.

I had just founded my company, Qhode (now called Shippable). We were building a geeky product, a continuous integration and deployment service targeted at software developers. Even though we were solving a real problem, I had no idea how to market it.

I asked myself: How will people even find out about us?

Having spent more than a decade building Microsoft products, I was somewhat insulated and unaware of Seattle’s growing startup community.  Time to enter and embrace. I started attending local tech meetups, made a few connections, and perfected my story.   But with most meetups being pretty small, it was a slow and daunting process trying to get our name out there.

GeekWire's John Cook interviews Avi Cavale after the Shippable CEO won the 2013 GeekWire Ping Pong Tournament.
GeekWire’s John Cook interviews Avi Cavale after the Shippable CEO won the 2013 GeekWire Ping Pong Tournament.

Then I saw an opportunity.

GeekWire’s annual ping pong bash. I had played a lot of ping pong growing up in India, but hadn’t held a paddle in more than a decade. Even though it seemed like a long shot, I decided this was the only way to get some quick press and be noticed. I showed up at the tournament hoping to create some noise. My rationale was simple:  I can’t win if I don’t show up.

And then it happened. With each successive game, I felt more at home. My years of training came back to me, as did my will to win the whole thing. It paid off and I won the expert bracket in a gruelling final match against former Japanese national champion Tetsuo Kasahara!

The event was a great example of the domino effect that we sometimes need to get our businesses going. I met Greg Gottesman from Madrona Venture Group at the GeekWire event. We bonded over ping pong tips and he was kind enough to help with our initial pitch. I was hoping to join the YCombinator accelerator where I was invited for an interview, but Greg suggested TechStars Seattle instead. It was local, provided tremendous mentorship, and was a better fit for our company. He even connected us with TechStars managing director Andy Sack.

Qhode was accepted into the TechStars Seattle 2013 (by the way, they just opened applications for the 2014 class), and the program put us through the three busiest and most fruitful months in our company’s existence. In those months, we rebranded as Shippable. We met and learned from excellent mentors like and Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens and Urbanspoon co-founders Adam Doppelt and Patrick O’Donnell. We launched a beta and got 2000+ users, and had a wonderful Demo Day experience with a lot of investor interest.

We closed our $2 million seed round in December 2013, barely nine months after the ping pong tournament that started it all.

We launched Shippable 1.0 last week, and guess what? It’s time for the GeekWire ping pong bash 2014. I’ll be there hoping to recreate history!

Avi Cavale is co-founder and CEO of Shippable. He’ll be competing again in the Ping Pong & Anniversary bash this Thursday

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