Dear reader,

This is the sixth of many blogposts in a series that I’m calling the Investor Pitch Deck Series. I am creating a post about each investor pitch slide, why it is important, the common errors, and how to communicate that you have what it takes to achieve your goals for this company.

Posts in this series

(note, this is NOT a suggested order for sides in your deck)

 

 

 


The mantra for this series is, “Above all, make sense.”


 

The Customer ROI Slide

The customer ROI slide is a new take on the old business model slide. By the end of this slide, your audience will feel confident that your user will use your product, and your payer will pay for it.

 

User: The person or business who uses your product.

Payer: The person or business who pays for your product.

 

With traditional consumer goods, the user and the payer are the same person. However, with many business models, the user and the payer are totally different entities and you have to acknowledge both for your investor to really GET your business.

Think about your toothpaste at home on your bathroom sinktop. It’s a simple product. It’s pretty basic. Do you buy the same kind every time you run out. Do you switch between brands? Why? Your investors will need to know why potential users will switch from whatever they are currently using (or not using) and start using your product. This value to the new user is called the User’s ROI or Return On Investment. Users are not investing capital; they are investing the energy required to make a change in their habits. Identify the User’s ROI and your venture capital or angel investors will feel much more comfortable with your product.

Now about the Payer’s ROI. It’s graduation season so I’ll use a college analogy about parents who send their kids to college. Parents are paying for the education, but not directly using it. Of course there is a benefit for Mom and Dad. By paying for college, their kid is more likely to get a degree thereby lowering the odds that they will move back into Mom and Dad’s basement bedroom. How do the parents choose which school to send their child to? The Payer’s ROI often a complicated answer when they are not also the User. The Payer wants a good deal financially, but they also want a perceived value for their dollar that has nothing to do with direct use of the product.

Other examples of payers who are not users:

  • Insurance Companies
  • Companies that pay for advertisements
  • Companies that purchase the data collected from free software
  • Governments who provide free public services
Your goal with this slide is to uncover who your users are, who your payers are, and why these entities are willing to use and/or pay for your product.

Cringe Factors

Cringe Factor #1 – You have a few paying customers and they aren’t increasing in number over time.

Why this makes us cringe:  Status quo, apathy, and disuse are the reasons that products die.

How to do it right:  Your investors want to be reassured that you are a realist. A realist knows that a new product, no matter how sexy, inexpensive, functional, or perfect, will not become instantly adopted by the world. There are plenty of products out there that consumers are happy to use for free, but will abandon when a financial transaction is required. If you are in revenue, you must show your potential investors a trend of increasing paying customers over time. If you cannot show this positive trend then you must have a good reason for a lack of increasing adoption. Alternatively,  you can devise a way that you can monetize your product without the user having to pay.

 

Cringe Factor #2 – You aren’t clear about WHY people will pay for your product.

Why this makes us cringe: Investors are afraid that no one will be willing to pay for your product.

How to do it right: Make the Payer ROI very clear in your pitch. If your product is faster to install and cheaper to run than the current solution, then you have a great argument. Visually show your audience that a payer can currently expect to pay $2000 a pop for the current solution and would only have to pay $800 for yours. Further, you can install yours in minutes instead of days.  We want specifics with the Payer ROI description. Beat us over the head with your Payer ROI.  Don’t leave it to the imagination.

 

Cringe Factor #3 – You aren’t clear about WHO pays for your product.

Why this makes us cringe: Many products are free to users these days. (Thanks, Google!) So, who are you planning to get your revenue from. It’s not always obvious.

How to do it right:  Even if you are selling a product directly to users, be explicit about who pays for your product. You can go one step farther and discuss your price point. It’s a lot easier for investors to picture a successful transaction when they understand whether the cost of the product is reasonable.

 

Example Customer ROI Slide

 

One of the simplest ways to show customer ROI is to create a graph of potential savings that a customer might experience if they were to switch to your product.

If your user is not going to pay for your product, you will need to describe a non-financial ROI. It’s not enough to have a better product. People need a very compelling reason to change their habits.

 

 

 

Article by Nicole Gravagna, PhD, Director of Operations for the Rockies Venture Club as part of a series on the elements of an investor pitch deck. The next in the series is ….


Jon Weston is convinced that his company’s product can help take away pain, help the body heal twice as fast in some cases, and even save lives. It is particularly interesting to see a former pharmaceutical executive get so excited about a non-drug, non-invasive therapy that helps people use less medication. After I saw him pitch, I had to find out more.

I was first introduced to BioCare’s product when Jon presented at the Angel Capital Summit in Denver earlier this year. He showed the LumiWave, a powerful and safe near-infrared light therapy used to relieve pain and promote healing in many tissues in our bodies. The device uses rectangular pods of LEDs a couple of inches wide to emit a frequency of light, which provides pain relief, increased blood flow, and even the growth of new blood vessels when applied to an injured area. This means that in addition to relieving chronic pain like arthritis, it can cut healing time by more than 50% in some injuries – and in other cases can re-start healing where the body has been stagnant in an injured state for years. The science is fascinating, but too involved to go into on this site – check out my explanation here. (coming soon)

I had heard of (and played with) infrared light therapy before, since my father, a MD in Michigan, had been using another device in his practice for the better part of the last year. He’s been finding profound and sometimes unexpected success, especially in curbing or curing a variety of chronic ailments for patients who weren’t responding effectively to traditional medicine. My mom tried it on her arthritic hands, and the pain all but disappeared after a few weeks of sessions. My dad calls pretty frequently to talk about the latest treatment or a cool new medical device, but it meant more to hear my mom talk about how a light therapy took away pain that has invaded her life for years.

While that device certainly helped people heal well, they have some limitations. They’re not as easy to use, and not cheap, either – the units he’s purchased have cost over $2,000 per light. BioCare’s product was entirely different from the other infrared treatment devices I’ve seen (and dramatically less expensive) so I had to take a closer look.

I gave Jon a call to hear about it in more detail, and we were able to grab coffee by DU, where he got his MBA, and I got my bachelor’s degree. He is a molecular biologist by training; a former pharmaceutical executive who spent years bringing products from R&D to market for companies like Searle (now Pfizer) and Gambro. While some of these medications went on to do very well, he’s convinced that infrared can be safer and more effective than traditional drugs for some problems. A number of years ago he met BioCare co-founder and Chairman Sherry Fox, who worked with her late husband (a biomedical engineer with 15 patents) to develop the initial technology for the LumiWave. Jon came on board as COO in 2005, and stepped into the CEO role in 2009.

It’s no secret that medical device companies need a longer runway than other startups due to the intensive R&D process. Techstars CEO David Cohen joked at a Silicon Flatirons event this week about a “17 year accelerator” if they were to have one in the biotech industry. Many investors aren’t comfortable with or don’t understand the R&D process, so thankfully BioCare has been able to bootstrap the company so far. Before opening it up to investors, they wanted to make sure the biggest risks were taken care of – the technology was sound, real units were selling and being used extensively, and strategic partnerships were in place. They’ve also had the chance to acquire patents, an over-the-counter FDA clearance, and they’re sailing toward the next approval level. Their patents and years of progress in these areas provide particularly high barriers to entry for even large medical device companies.

While IP is great, it doesn’t make money… well, until it actually makes money. That’s why it’s so valuable to have product sales and revenue while rounding out the R&D process. Aligning with lean startup practices, they signed high value, paying customers (who generated real market feedback) as early as they could. They’ve made some pivots, and their open-mindedness has allowed them to find some of the fastest growing sectors of their potential market.

It can be both a blessing and a curse to have a product that can be used so widely. Pinpointing not just the largest markets, but the ones most motivated to act on their literal pain points was of key importance. Perhaps the most common use of infrared light therapy is for the treatment of osteoarthritis or other types of chronic pain, like my mom had, so that was BioCare’s first major application. While the chronic pain segment may have the largest number of people and dollars in it, Jon saw early on that the only way to really make a difference there is with widespread adoption by the health insurance companies, not known for moving quickly and fairly preoccupied with legislative items at the moment.

While the insurance companies are still moving toward adopting infrared, he wasn’t going to wait for permission. The sports medicine and physical therapy industry was another reasonable market choice, and once they tried, he saw considerable traction here. This segment is especially motivated to pay for faster healing times, especially at the highest levels of competition, where there is also often significant pain with injuries. Thankfully for BioCare, the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was only a short drive from Denver, and the Olympians took to it very quickly. The effects were so dramatic and positive that the Manager of Sports Medicine and Training for the US Olympic Centers offered to be on BioCare’s advisory board. She’s joined on the board with others who have volunteered after seeing the device in action – a few top orthopedic surgeons, three professors of medicine, and a trainer for the US Naval Academy, among others.

While sports medicine seems to have done very well for BioCare, they’ve kept an eye out for other substantial markets on the horizon. The most exciting and revolutionary development recently is the treatment of injuries that are less obvious and often more damaging – traumatic brain injury. As a neuroscience nerd, this was particularly riveting for me. More of the science here (coming soon)

For the treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI) BioCare is partnering with Cerescan, an industry leading, Denver-based brain imaging company. I was able to tour Cerescan with CEO John Kelley, who told me they have tested literally a team’s worth of NFL players for the diagnosis of TBI, some after suicide attempts. There is another group terribly affected by TBI – our nation’s military. BioCare and Cerescan joined with the Tug McGraw Foundation for the Invisible Brain Injury Project to study just that. This project will continue remarkable pilot testing they’ve done with veterans so far.

The military experience often adds a dangerous element to a volatile situation in the brain – the high prevalence of PTSD upon returning from service. The number of deaths from combat is horrifying and significant – and the increasing number of veterans who take their own life is a sad, and unfortunately frequent tragedy. It is made worse by being poorly understood, with few effective treatments and no real cures available – so far. In the initial round of testing, they’ve seen remarkable success with every patient they’ve tried it on. One particularly moving story involved a vet with TBI, PTSD, and a few recent suicide attempts. After a brain scan confirmed his neurological issues, and then a number of weeks in treatment, he was off all of his psychiatric medications. He had a follow-up scan, and then went back to work for the first time in a year and a half. Other participants have had similar stories, and while this treatment still needs to be validated in a study with a larger sample size, all signs are pointing in the right direction.

If these treatments continue to work so effectively, how much value will someone place on getting their life back? What will the family think as they watch a loved one go from nearly dead to “feeling like their old self again”?

I see a fair number of startup pitches. Most have at least pretty good ideas, and nearly every entrepreneur projects a hockey stick-shaped growth. A few have the chance for real traction, and it’s rare to find a company that claims such a big impact on the real quality of life for its customers. Biotech is hard to launch, but when it works, it can return big. It will certainly be interesting to follow BioCare as they attempt to change the world by healing the people in it.

 

 

RVC Academy: Valuation of early stage companies

workshop to learn how to price early stage companies

by Thought Leader: Peter Adams, MBA

Executive Director, Rockies Venture Club

Free to Keystone Members

  • Tuesday, May 28, 2013  5:00 PM – 7:30 PM
  • Shift Workspaces 383 Corona St. Denver CO, 80218


Register

This class is designed for both investorand entrepreneurs to learn valuation side by side.

  • How can you assign value to a company with no income and no assets?
  • Does discounting future value work?
  • What is the role of risk quantification in early stage valuation.
  • Find out how an inflated valuation can deflate a company.
  • Learn how to use valuation methodologies for negotiation.
  • How to make valuation a “transparent” process, even when all parties don’t agree.
  • Learn FOUR different valuation methodologies you can use for early stage companies.

Meet and learn with other Rockies Venture Club participants in a relaxed environment. We will enjoy refreshments while we outline the tricky topic of valuation.

Includes a FREE one week subscription to ValuSource on-line business valuation tool $147.00 value.

http://www.valusource.com/Products/BusinessStakeholders.aspx

Colorado has a lot to offer cleantech entrepreneurs, from targeted grants, to easy access to NREL’s technology commercialization resources, to cleantech focused entrepreneurial programs at top research universities, to name just a few. There is no more supportive place in the country to launch a cleantech company, which gives local angels a distinct advantage when investing in this growing, and complex, industry. Colorado knows about investing in cleantech.

The only way the community could do more to support cleantech would be to scour the country for experienced, successful entrepreneurs, bring them to Colorado and immerse them in the local cleantech ecosystem, then provide guidance from industry experts as they develop business ideas around one of the numerous innovations emerging from local government labs and universities. Enter the Cleantech Fellows Institute, a Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) program established to do exactly that.

The Institute kicked off in 2012, with a class of 5 Fellows who had considerable entrepreneurial experience outside the cleantech industry. The Fellows knew how to start a business, but they didn’t know cleantech, so they spent 175 curriculum hours listening to 160 speakers, and took almost 30 cleantech related tours, to come up to speed. Each Fellow undertook a capstone project centered on a new cleantech business idea, and in the Institute’s inaugural year this exercise led to the creation of two seed-stage companies and one non-profit.

Under the direction of Executive Director Steve Berens, the Institute is now accepting applications for its second class of Fellows. This year the program is undergoing some changes based on lessons learned from the first class, including an expanded international component. The program will include a week during which delegates from around the world descend on Colorado to participate in the Institute’s activities and make connections between the cleantech communities in Colorado and their home countries.

Clearly, Colorado is putting a lot of effort into stacking the odds in favor of the Fellows and the cleantech companies they hope will emerge from the Institute. The VC community has taken notice, as evidenced by the 19 venture capital partners the program has brought on board to date. However, there is room for additional engagement from Colorado based angels, who have an advantage in their ability to participate throughout the process since the Institute is based in their own backyard. Interested angels can send an email to mailto:info@cleantechfellows.comto learn more and sign up for regular email updates.

Even with all of the support Fellows will receive through the Institute, cleantech remains one of the most challenging industries in which to start a new venture. The Cleantech Fellows Institute provides access to critical knowledge and a great support network, which will reduce risks in my opinion but it certainly doesn’t come close to eliminating them. The real determinant of the program’s ability to spawn successful cleantech startups is underway right now: the Fellows application process. The quality of the Fellows accepted into the program will have the greatest influence on how successful it is, and the ability of local angels to get to know the Fellows over the course of the program is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Jay Holman is Principal of Venture to Market LLC, a Boulder based consultancy providing go to market services for new ventures in the cleantech industry.

 

 


Fundraising for start-ups is a popular topic these days. There is a lot of glory in receiving big money from investors. After all, there must be promise in your company if Angels or VCs are willing to invest.

Have you ever tried to reach the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? Literally. Like, have you ever seen a rainbow and tried to walk or drive to the end of it? It’s impossible. The end of the rainbow is elusive. And its location fluctuates and often disappears altogether. This is a fantastic metaphor for fundraising.

An entrepreneur is sometimes more likely to  grow a company by financing it themselves and working hard to build their business from the ground up. What’s more, the bootstrapping entrepreneur will gain better control over the future decisions–something that may disappear with big investors on board.

Sure, some start-ups do gain a bit of notoriety when they become venture-backed, but at what price? If someone is going to give you loads of money, they don’t do so without expecting a lot in return. Fundraising is “really like celebrating someone going into debt. Even equity investors expect a payback.” Does a business founder really want to owe everything to backers?  If you have a strong notion of how you want to build your company, it can pay to make your way independently.

So what exactly does bootstrapping a business involve? Bootstrapping in business means building a start-up by using internal cash flow (as opposed to money from family, friends, or investors) and little to no external help.  This method of growth is undeniably slower than big investments up front, but the time and effort can pay off. As “angel investor and wine entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has said, ‘My dad taught me that when you borrow money it’s the worst day of your life.’” The bootstrapper can obtain financial independence and pursue the mission of her start-up unabated if she is willing to go the distance. Nobody will be knocking on her door looking for a return on investment except herself.

What are some ways bootstrappers can keep the company afloat in this entrepreneurial journey? After all, it’s not easy by any means, and there will be perils around many a corner. Startups can grow by reinvesting profits in their own growth if bootstrapping costs are low and return on investment is high. The entrepreneur can also continue working otherwise to fund the new venture. Or the business model might require customer financing – asking for payment up front before the service or product is delivered. And of course, there are an unlimited amount of other creative solutions for bootstrapping, ones to be determined most useful on a per-company basis.

What are some examples of successful bootstrapping? You might see somebody with experience in start-ups creating a new business. Nick Denton is a good example –after leaving his first company, First Tuesday, this guy worked out of an inexpensive storefront to build Gawker, a company now valued at $150 million.  On the other end, you have Sophia Amoruso who worked inconsequential odd jobs until she earned profitability and $30 million in annual sales with her clothing start-up, Nasty Gal. She bootstrapped her way to success in five years of sales on Ebay.

All of this bootstrapping talk isn’t meant so much as a deterrent to fundraising as it is used to suggest an alternative method for more securely and independently building your business instead. Nobody can deny the allure of that pot of gold at the end of the entrepreneurial rainbow. I mean, who would say she doesn’t want her idea or product to hit it big in all senses of that phrase? It’s just that very few ventures will actually end that way so easily and without consequence. If you want control, financially and structurally, of your company, it just might be better to spend the time buying a pot, finding gold bit by bit to fill it, and then painting the rainbow yourself.

 

Stacy Gregg is an educator, runner, reader, and mom to two energetic pre-schoolers. She joined the Rockies Venture Club at the end of 2012 to support the communications side of the organization.

BizGirls CampBizGirls Open House is this week as a part of Boulder Startup Week. Come visit Thursday evening 5:30-7:00 at the Boulder YWCA and hear Colorado School of Mines professor Joy Godesiabois speak about her research recently published in BusinessWeek about how Venture Firms that fund companies with women CEOs do better than the rest. We will also have Patty Laushman talking about her leadership lessons when she was thrust into a leadership role in her startup company.

BizGirls Camp is a one week leadership and entrepreneurship program for high school age girls. Each girl founds her own e-commerce company and as CEO guides decisions about marketing, brand, product, pricing, supply chain and finance. Girls receive ongoing mentorship after the camp from local women CEOs and entrepreneurs who help the girls grow their companies.

Register Here (Free)

From time to time a new ranking of the VC must-read blogs appears on the internet. During the research for this post I went through many of them, some based on the number of unique visits some others on the author´s quality scale or personal preferences. As it turns out, the first fifteen positions are always taken by the same guys.

In a world where internet has taken over and leadership claims to be global, it occurred to me to check the relationship between an active and prolific VC community (based on # of deals and $ invested) and the existence of VC thought leaders in that community.

California, Massachusetts, New York, Washington and Texas ranked in the top five positions in terms of venture capital invested based on the 2012 figures provided by the National Venture Capital Association (Colorado was 6th. Yay!). Let’s see who are the most relevant venture capital bloggers in these communities and what are they saying.

 

For the purposes of this post a state is considered a Community and blogger is a thought leader. In the VC world, bloggers aren’t just opinionated, they are professionals with years of experience.

1. California:

Eureka! We have found it, the world champion in Venture Capital based on number of deals and amount invested. Thus it doesn’t come as a surprise that it is also the winner for the number of relevant bloggers!

Area: Menlo Park / Silicon Valley

Firm: August Capital

Blog: Venture Blog.

Area: Los Angeles

Firm: GRP Partners

Blog: Bothsidesofthetable

  • Paul Graham: Co-founder of the Y combinator and for many the “king” of bloggers. In his minimalist looking website you can find gripping essays (no blogposts) that won´t leave you indifferent, just check his last one on how to get startup ideas.
Area: Mountain View

Firm: Y Combinator

Blog: PaulGraham

  • Chris Dixon: Entrepreneur and investor with a moderate style. Dixon is considered a “greater explainer of trends” and so he does in hardware startups.
Area: Menlo Park / Silicon Valley

Firm: Andreessen Horowitz.

Blog: CDixon

  • Ben Horowitz:  self declared a rap fanatic, Horowitz uses rap lyrics as prefaces of his blogs and doesn´t have a problem disclosing numbers and strategies. Check his last post on how to hire sales people.
Area: Menlo Park / Silicon Valley

Firm: Andreessen Horowitz

Blog: ben´s blog

The list doesn´t finish here it goes on and on with other brilliant bloggers such as Bill Gurley or Dave Mcclure. So it seems the most VC active state has the most active and relevant bloggers.

 

2. Massachusetts:

Meanwhile on the opposite coast, Massachusetts emerges as the second VC power.

  • Rob Go, Lee Howe, David Beisel. These three VCs are the cofounders of Next View Ventures, but apart from sharing their company they also share a passion for blogging each one of them with a different style and point of view.
Area: Boston

Firm: Next View Ventures

Blog:  Rob Go, Lee Howe, David Beisel

Area: Boston

Firm: Volition Capital

Blog:  Thinking about Thinking.

 

3. New York:

With New York City as largest, richest and most influential regional economy in the United States, and Manhattan as the home to six major stock markets, venture capital is rapidly growing in this region.

  • Fred Wilson: The raising voice for the New York Tech Scene. Famous for his blog section MBA Mondays  with around 160 posts in MBA topics such as revenue models-gaming. His blog constitutes an enormous body of work and knowledge worth a deep dive in.
Area: New York

Firm: Union Square Ventures

Blog: AVC

Area: New York

Firm: Brooklyn Ventures

Blog: Thisisgoingtobebig.com

 

4. Washington State

Nobody stood up in the Seattle community until the 7th of October of last year, when the VC Greg Gottesman wrote his first blogpost.

  • Greg Gottesman:. The VC mixes personal opinions and experiences with business tips and life style advices in a looking promising blog.
Area: Seattle

Firm: Madrona

Blog: starkRavingVC.

 

5.Texas

“The exception that proves the rule?” With a GDP bigger than The Netherlands or South Korea Texas ranks the 15th economy in the world and the 5th state in VC investment… And there is nobody taking the lead out there in the bloggosphere… The more I think about the whys of this, the more my fingertips tingle for a new blogpost.

If you are reading this and you know of someone please let us know we will be happy to include a Texan blogger!

 

6. Colorado:

Yup! I know It´s out of the top 5 but…

  • Brad Feld: In a mix between personal and professional thoughts Brad Feld has gained the respect of the VC and entrepreneur community not only in Colorado but also worldwide. Prolific, eclectic and sometimes controversial FeldThoughts is full of articles worth your time. Check out his last post on Software patents.
Area: Boulder

Firm: Foundry Group

Blog: Feld Thoughts

 

In a nutshell, in California, Massachusetts, New York and Colorado  the equation seems to work and a high levels of investment are accompanied by well-know blog leaders spreading the word out. On the contrary, Texas and Washington don’t follow the pattern! Yes, on the internet area leadership is global, but to certain extent VC investments and communities are still local and so they are their know-how and customs. Texan and Washingtonian bloggers or bloggers-to-be raise your voice! We avid readers, entrepreneurs, innovators, angels and investors want to know and are waiting for you!

 

About the Author: Sara Rodriguez is the new Associate Director of the Rockies Venture Club. Please consider welcoming her and introducing yourself when you see her at RVC events. 

 

 

Guest post by Yuta Okkotsu, Principal at Okkotsu Design

In 2012, when Peter Adams and Nicole Gravagna took over RVC, they envisioned a modernized version of the historic Denver angel investor club. Along with the addition of classes, closed-door investor meetings, and entrepreneur support meetings, the duo decided that they needed to update the branding and the logo for Rockies Venture Club to reflect the big changes.

Brandmarks (logos) are visual representations of organizations, from small individually-run websites to large international corporations alike. The essence of the brand is represented by the emotional, conscious, and subconscious connections that one makes with the brandmark. If these connections are positive, it can lead to long-term brand loyalty.

 

 

When I was asked to redesign the RVC brandmark, I considered several important parameters.

They were:

  1. to introduce a new take on the Rockies Venture Club brand using similar colors and themes
  2. to make it easily recognizable
  3. to best represent the younger generation of startup/biotech/small businesses in the state of Colorado
  4. and to preserve the familiarity that previous clients of the 28-year old organization has had.

 

What resulted was the new RVC brandmark in use today:

 

At the same time, I designed was the greyscale version that is less commonly seen:

 

I enjoy studying corporate brand marks and incorporating the ideas I get from them into design work. There’s deliberation in color choice, shapes, negative space within the shapes, font, and the context in which it is presented. When properly designed and used, these qualities will help distinguish the brand from others to reach a broad audience.

While the redesign in the brandmark was an important factor for the revitalization of the Rockies Venture Club in the past year, logos by themselves do not and cannot define a brand. Logos, after all, serve to communicate the brand quickly and effectively. Real change, as seen by Rockies Venture Club’s transformation, happens internally, and the new brandmark is a reflection of that change.

 

 

Article by Tim Harvey, regular contributor to Rockies Venture Club Blog

This week, Fusion-io acquired Louisville, CO based NexGen Storage for $119 million. The next day, I had a chance to sit down with venture capitalist Kirk Holland of Access Venture Partners, who was also on NexGen’s board. Access Venture Partners co-led the $2 million series A round with Grotech Ventures, and Next World Capital later led the $10 million series B.

NexGen founders John Spiers and Kelly Long have been around the venture capital circuit before – they were co-founders of Boulder-based data storage company LeftHand Networks, which sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2008 for $360 million. A few years later, they again had a vision for a better data storage technology and started from scratch. This time around, solid-state disk drives and cloud infrastructure were ever more important, and they developed their product from the beginning with these ideas in mind, building it to intrinsically protect their competitive advantage. John and Kelly bootstrapped NexGen to get started in 2010, and reached out to Kirk regarding venture funding after about 6 months. Due diligence meetings, which went on for a few months, were held in Kelly’s basement where they first hatched the idea of NexGen – and a few short years later the $12 million in capital turned into an acquisition nearly 10X that amount. The exit was faster than expected, but they thought the terms were great and they were excited to work with Fusion-io.

Kirk’s previous firm, Vista Ventures in Boulder, began investing in LeftHand in 2001 so he had the chance to get to know John and Kelly over many years. He was impressed with the team more than 10 years ago, so in this deal he said “working with John and Kelly took the team risk off the table.” Given this strong relationship and the fact that LeftHand had one of the biggest VC exits Colorado has seen, they were ready to do it again. “The industry was pretty crowded when we made the investment,” Kirk said, with both venture-backed and big name tech companies all trying to do the next big thing in data storage. He thought NexGen’s technology could leapfrog the other products, and the experts Access Venture Partners brought in for due diligence confirmed that. “They were really passionate about building a great, sustainable business. NexGen reinforced the idea of working with trusted relationships,” Kirk said.

Access Venture Partners is a big name in the Colorado venture capital landscape. This is the second fund they’ve closed, and the MD’s there have invested over $100 million in more than 50 technology startups so far. These companies as a group have gone on to raise over $1.1 billion in additional capital, growing revenue 15X since initial investment, and creating over 3500 high paying jobs in Colorado. AVP currently has 20 companies in their active portfolio, with 19 successful exits. Their focus is on high-margin technology businesses in large or rapidly growing markets, especially in data security/storage, cloud computing, and digital media/consumer internet businesses. They lead the vast majority of fundraising rounds they participate in, and while sometimes that means writing the largest check, they also lead by investing first and getting other VC firms on board. They also like to work closely with entrepreneurs after the investment is made, often taking a board seat and using their connections to help place key executive talent, as they did with NexGen.

Kirk is a heavy hitter in the area as well, after moving to Colorado from the Bay Area. In addition to the nearly $500 million in exits he’s been involved with through LeftHand and NexGen, he led the Series B round for Rally Software, which raised $84 million in an IPO in April 2013. He was also an investor/board member for MX Logic, an Englewood, CO SaaS company that sold to McAfee in 2009 for $140 million. He’s been a TechStars mentor from the start, with Access VP also supporting and investing there early on. His focus within AVP is on cloud technologies and SaaS/consumer internet companies, and although he likes to leverage existing relationships, he also explores as many other startups as he can. “You have to keep looking under rocks and be open to the next generation,” he says. He believes in entrepreneurs who are passionate about building a great company, not looking for a quick buck. “It’s a red flag when I think someone is only in it for the money,” he says. Nonetheless, many of these companies have gone on to create substantial value here. “We’re really most happy for the founders and the (NexGen) team’s success. We’re here to support the entrepreneurs, but they’re really the ones that drive it.”

Big exits, especially in the 9-figure range like NexGen, are going to really help put Colorado on the VC map. While Boulder may be famous from investors like Brad Feld and TechStars, Kirk believes there is a shortage of early-stage capital in the area. “Early-stage investment has dropped in Colorado over the last 5-10 years as VC’s didn’t raise follow-on funds, while the number of young companies has grown”, he says. Venture capital isn’t limited to state lines, but it’s certainly helpful to have investors nearby. Fusion-io actually has offices just miles from NexGen, so this acquisition was sort of in their backyard as well. The universities in the area (CU, DU, CSU, Mines) attract technology and engineering talent, and many of the students that come to Colorado don’t want to leave after graduation. That’s what happened to me, and even though skiing might’ve been my excuse to move here when I was 18, it’s the people and the startup community (and the weather) that have keep me here. These schools also have close connections to the startup community, through groups like CU’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship, and Colorado School of Mines’ Technology Transfer program to help students commercialize their inventions. Big players like Google, Microsoft, and Oracle are also importing talent by adding to their already-large ranks in Colorado. “The people here are very motivated and passionate about what they do,” Kirk says, “without the focus on a quick buck that leads to higher employee turnover rates” that concerned him with some companies he saw in the Bay Area. Colorado is also a less expensive place to build a business than anywhere in the big coastal cities, and still has solid venture capital groups like VCIRRockies Venture Club, as well as the sweetheart of Boulder, TechStars.

Although April was a great month for Colorado VC-backed firms, we have to keep innovating and building great companies to strengthen the region. More investment capital will certainly help – but it’s the people here that drive entrepreneurial success.

Article by Tim Harvey, regular contributor to Rockies Venture Club Blog

If you really want to understand venture capital. Read venture capitalists’ blogs. Here is the most complete venture capitalist blogroll I’ve ever seen. Shamelessly stolen from National Venture Capital Association amazingly informative website.

 

VC Firm Name of VC Blog Name
Andreesen Horowitz Marc Andreesen pMARCA
Atlas Ventures Fred Destin Fred Destin’s Blog
Atlas Ventures Max Niederhofer Max Niederhofer
August Capital David Hornick VentureBlog
Ballast Point Ventures Navigating Venture
Battery Ventures The Whole Stack
Benchmark Capital Bill Gurley Above The Crowd
Bessemer Venture Partners David Cowen Who Has Time For This?
Bessemer Venture Partners Sarah Tavel Adventurista
BOLDStart Ventures Ed Sim BeyondVC
Canaan Partners Alok Mittal VentureWoods
Canaan Partners Izhar Shay’s StartupStadium
CommonAngels Chris Sheehan Early Stage Adventures
DFJ Esprit Nic Brisbourne The Equity Kicker
DFJ Portage Venture Partners Matt McCall VC Confidential
Draper Fisher Jurvetson Tim Draper The Riskmaster
Edison Ventures Edison Community Blog
Finaventures Rachid Sefrioui Rachid Sefrioui on Venture Capital
First Round Capital Josh Kopelman Red Eye VC
Flybridge Capital Partner Jeff Bussgang Seeing Both Sides
Flybridge Capital Partners David Aronoff Diary of A Geek VC
Flybridge Capital Partners Michael Greeley On The Flying Bridge
Flybridge Capital Partners Chip Hazard Hazard Lights
Flybridge Capital Partners Jon Karlen Venturing Forth
Flybridge Capital Partners Matthew Witheiler Bits of Cents
Foundry Group Jason Mendelson Mendelson’s Musings
Foundry Group Brad Feld Feld Thoughts
Foundry Group Ryan McIntyre McInBlog
Foundry Group Seth Levine VCAdventure
GGV Capital Jeff Richards, Partner 13 Hours to Think
GGV Capital Glenn Solomon, Partner Where Sand Hill Road Meets Wall Street
Grotech Ventures Don Rainey VC in DC
Highland Capital Partners Alex Taussig ataussig.com
Highland Capital Partners Bijan Salehizadeh TheBij.com
Highway Ventures Highway 12 Ventures Group Blog
Hummer Winblad Will Price Process & Iteration
Institutional Venture Partners (IVP) Jules Maltz better late than never
Intel Capital Christine Herron Christine.net
JumpStart Inc. JumpStart Blog
Levensohn Venture Partners Pascal Levensohn Pascal’s View
Lightspeed Venture Partners Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Blog
Matrix Partners David Skok For Entrepreneurs
Matrix Partners Antonio Rodriguez The Onda
Mayfield Fund Allen Morgan allensblog
Mohr Davidow Ventures David Feinleib vcdave
New Atlantic Ventures New Atlantic Ventures Blog
New Enterprise Associates NEA Blog
Okapi Ventures Mark Averitt OC VC
Point Judith Capital Lee Hower AgileVC
Polaris Venture Partners Ryan Spoon RyanSpoon.com
Polaris Venture Partners Mike Hirshland VC Mike’s Blog
Safeguard Scientifics Safeguard Scientifics’ Blog
Scale Venture Partners Rory O’Driscoll VC Matters
Trident Capital Evangelos Simoudis Trident Capital Blog
Union Square Ventures Fred Wilson AVC
Venrock David Beisel GenuineVC
Volition Capital Larry Cheng Thinking About Thinking