Venture Capital Bloggers: Who's who in the top 5 states

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. 

 

 

NexGen Storage Acquired For $119 Million – From the VC's Perspective

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

The Very Basics of Anti-dilution in Early Stage Financing

First Post by Sara Rodriguez-Lopez

For those (many) who don’t know me, I moved a few months ago to Denver where I began to volunteer at the Rockies Venture Club. After only 3 months I met a lot of interesting people and learned about so many different things that my head was ready to explode!

I earned my Master’s in entrepreneurship and I did start my own company in the past, but it was at RVC where I got to see, for the first time, how Angel investors work. Eventually, I thought “Ok, I got it! I’m starting to see the big picture” until Nicole Gravagna invited me to Pat Linden’s Anti-dilution class!

Anti-dilution, now that’s tricky stuff!

A couple of days before the class I started reading about anti-dilution… oh boy!!! Full ratchet, narrow weighted average, broad weighted average, pay to play…This stuff really made my head spin…  At the end, I think I ended up having a “more or less” clear picture about the anti-dilution provisions… So, here I am writing down what I learned (just the basics… very basic) and hoping this blog-post would help someone out!

 

What is dilution?

Dilution is the subsequent sale of shares of stock at a price per share less than that paid by the preceding investor. Therefore, to protect their rights investors usually include an anti-dilution clause in the term-sheet.

If you are an investor you may be wondering now: why when the shares are sold at a higher price it’s not considered dilution if my ownership percentage will be reduced?  Because, although it is true your ownership is being diluted, the increment on the share price implies that the valuation of the company went up. As a result, the overall value of your investment increased and you should be happy. Cool! First thing clear!

 

What mechanisms can be put in place to avoid investment dilution?

There are two main formulas:

A. Weighted Average Formula: is the most common approach to anti-dilution protection and calculates the price considering the price and the amount of money previously raised as well as the price and amount of money being raised in the subsequent dilutive financing.

There are two primary variations of this formula that are basically differentiated by what constitutes “issued and outstanding common stock”

a.1) Broad based: the term “issued and outstanding common stock” includes all shares of stock outstanding, common and future stocks.

  • For Founders: This is the anti-dilution clause more “company friendly” and also the most customizable one, many investors will agree upon this formula.

a.2) Narrow based: the term issued and outstanding common stock” includes only the common stock issuable upon conversion.

  • For Investors: Narrow based is the most beneficial for you since this formula provides a higher conversion rate than the broad based.

B. Full Ratchet: “when the conversion price of the preferred stock outstanding prior to such financing is reduced to a price equal to the price per share paid in such a dilutive financing” or in other words: if you bought a share per $1 and the new price is $0.5 the conversion rate is two. For each of the “old” shares you get two of the “new ones”. Under this formula it doesn’t matter if the company raises $20,000 or $200,000,000

  • For Founders: awful, no matter how you look at it you don’t want to be here (it seriously jeopardizes your ability to raise money from new investors).
  • For Investors: it is a great deal and the most protective clause you can get, but be careful in this way you can lock down the company to future investors.

 

Is there something the company can do to mitigate the cons of an anti-dilution provision?

One of the most common clauses that companies usually include in the term sheet in order to protect their rights is the “Pay To Play”  clause that provides anti-dilution protection only for investors who will participate in the next dilutive finance. With this formula the founders incentive their investors in keeping on investing in the company and therefore, avoid some the major problems of the Full Ratchet (It can also be incorporated in the Weighted Average Formula).

 

Is there something else that helps reducing the dilution risk?

Yes, having the “right valuation” can be, for both the entrepreneur and the early investor, the best measure against dilution. Why is that? Well, the answer comes easy, having a feet-on-the-ground valuation will avoid the issuance of future stock at a lower price as well as will save money in lawyers exercising crazy clauses in crazy terms sheets. I know, valuation is hard but definitely something worth spending some time on.

 

There isn’t a better contract than the one based on trust and transparency

Founders: the Investor is now part of your team (and you aren’t giving anything away).

Investors: the founders love the company and more than anyone they want the company to succeed… they don’t want to run with your money away!

Guys, let’s work together!!

 

So…I started writing this post for my own sake, it isn’t perfect and it doesn’t cover all the points but I think now I really understand what is anti-dilution and hopefully you do too.  Now time for a “fat tire”! Hope you enjoyed your reading 🙂

 

Further information at: http://www.stanford.edu/class/e145/2008_fall/materials/The%20Venture%20Capital%20Anti-Dilution.pdf

Bringing big problems to Denver

An original guest post by Jay Holman, Principal of Venture to Market

101010Denver

Update: Get information about 10.10.10 on 101010denver.com

10.10.10 will Bring Big Problems to Denver

Entrepreneurs have a unique ability to see opportunity in the problems others face, and they are irresistibly drawn in by the desire to create, and sell, solutions to those problems. This is the guiding principle behind the upcoming 10.10.10 event in Denver, which will bring 10 would-be CEO’s to town for 10 days to brainstorm solutions to 10 big problems. The goal is not just to see if participants can come up with feasible solutions to the problems, but to go beyond that by turning one or more of those solutions into successful startups led by members of the group.

The brainchild of Denver entrepreneur and Vokl founder Tom Higley, the 10.10.10 is an experiment to see whether the creative genius that leads to startup success can be reproduced in a laboratory environment. Along the way, the event will highlight the positive business climate and culture of the Denver area, which was already given a boost recently when the SBE Council named Colorado one of the 10 most entrepreneur-friendly states.

The 10.10.10 is not a business plan competition; instead, it is about collaborative business plan creation. When CEO level entrepreneurs apply to participate, they will identify a problem they’d like to discuss with the other participants. They won’t suggest a solution in their applications; those suggestions will come during of a 10-day working session in Denver during which all 10 participants work on all 10 problems. If a feasible path to a solution emerges for one or more of the problems, it will be developed into a business plan.

The focus will be on big problems, as bigger problems lead to bigger opportunities. Since a primary goal for this exercise is to start one or more profitable businesses, applicants will need to provide proof that large companies or groups of consumers are willing to pay for a solution to the problem the applicant describes. That means charity projects are out (sorry Jimmy Carter, but if all goes well the participants will be in touch after their exits).

So, will it work? Like any experiment, or any startup for that matter, 10.10.10 has its risks. 10 days is not a long time to come up with a solution to a major problem, and participants won’t have much of an opportunity to gather additional information to flush out the details of their proposed solutions. Lots of problems seem easy to solve until you look at the details; hence the ubiquitous pivot.

However, there is something to be said for taking a step back, putting your head together with a group of smart people with access to capital, and looking for good opportunities that others have missed (I refuse to use the term “low hanging fruit”). How many times have you asked yourself, “why didn’t I think of that?” after you see someone strike it rich for rebranding off-the-shelf paint as liquid paper or repurposing a small box as a humane mouse-trap? There are so many solvable problems out there that I think a group of successful entrepreneurs with resources should be embarrassed if they don’t knock a few off and make a bundle in the process. Just don’t forget Jimmy on your way home from the bank.

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.

101010 Denver 101010Denver

 

 

 

Fundraising: Friends, failure, and excellence

Fundraising in all its forms is about three things: having a reputation for excellence, developing true friends, and accepting failure.

Getting people to give you money is one of the hardest things on the planet. Ask anyone to give you clothing, food, time, a couch to sleep on, or their car for the day and you will likely be more successful than if you ask for money. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not about the value of the money. Frankly, time is our most precious resource. Yet, people seem very willing to offer their time. The scarcity of the resource doesn’t seem to matter.

Cash money has a universally defined value. One US dollar equals 0.76 Euro, 54.56 Rupees, and 6.38 Kronor. Across the planet, we can all agree how much our currency is worth in relation to other currency.

Applying cash value to the value of goods can get a little tricky. A watch is not always $50. You can pick one up for $14.99 at Target. Or you can get a real deal–save $43,355 on a blinged out Rolex on sale for $439,995.

Reputation for Excellence

What’s the value in the Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II Ice timepiece versus the Merona round face watch with changeable strap? I’m going to venture a guess that it isn’t the sense of peace you feel when you walk onto a crowded subway wearing it.

It also isn’t really about the way the watch looks. I have an expensive watch that was given to me as a gift. It was a hand-me-down from someone who can afford the luxury of an expensive watch, two actually, since I gained ownership of this one when they bought a new fancier version. I’m not known for my lavish income and I’m guessing that people have no idea that it’s expensive. To that point, the Rolex serves to reinforce a person’s brand, not create it. A poor man wearing a Rolex looks like a poor man with a knockoff. However, for the right man, the Rolex Oyster will serve to reinforce the idea that he is doing very well indeed.

This brings me to my first point about fundraising. Rolex has developed a reputation for excellence. The value of a  Rolex is higher than that of Merona which has a reputation for affordability. Those who shop for Rolex don’t question whether the particular watch is worth the price tag (of course it isn’t). They are paying for an item that will support their personal brand.

Whenever you are fundraising, you have to have the reputation for excellence so that the person giving you money will feel as though you are supporting their personal (or business) brand.

Make True Friends

Sometimes you will get very lucky and a random person holding cash will knock on your door to tell you that they want to give you the money. Ok, you’re right. That never happens.

You must create a relationship with a person (or institution) before you can ever hope to get money out of them. Apply this in your head, right now across all the situations where people exchange money.

  • Customers want to know the business and product will be around for a while and that they can depend on it.
  • Donors want to be (or feel) involved with the mission and activities of the organization.
  • Investors want their money back in 5-7 years, and they want to have a successful portfolio to chat about at cocktail parties.

Think about it on a personal level. How often do you buy a brand you’ve never seen or heard of before? How many charity causes have you given money to? Let me guess, someone you knew was running a race or otherwise raising money for the charity and you gave to support Breast Cancer research, but deep in your heart, you gave because you wanted to see your friend happy.

Investors give money to the people they like. They have to qualify their investments by calculating whether the investment has the possibility of making them a lot of money. But it’s not the future trips to Tahiti that make them sign the check. It’s the knowledge that they get to be involved in the company as it grows, if only to drop knowing comments about the company’s burgeoning success to their friends.

You can get a lot closer to your fundraising goals by developing real relationships with the people who can help you access capital. I’m not talking about the, “let’s do lunch” schmoozing stuff here. I’m talking about remembering birthdays, being genuinely curious about how someone’s child did in their big soccer game, and really enjoying the person for reasons that have nothing to do with money.

Learn to accept failure

Failure is almost as complicated as money. When you fail, you feel way more miserable than the failure should actually feel. A failed marriage can bring an otherwise successful person to disability and depression for a year or more before they buck up and move on. Getting fired, losing a big account, having a stock portfolio crash, all these things make people feel worse than the failure actually requires. In short, we are very bad at getting over it.

When you ask someone for money and they say no, you might feel terrible. You stuck your neck out and got rejected. You might even feel like cutting ties with them. They clearly aren’t supportive. Right? To be clear, a no is not a rejection. It’s not a failure, it’s an open ended sentence…. It’s a relationship that you need to build before you can get to the possibility of a yes.

I guarantee if you try to raise money for anything, you will hear more nos than yeses. Accepting that as a part of the process will make fundraising much easier.

 

 

 

An E-Commerce Revolution with Infinite Possibilities

As a mom with little time outside of childcare, I want shopping to be as painless and efficient as possible.  I don’t dare waste time in malls.

I would like to buy a Kettler Kiddi-o Air Tire Tricycle. It is sold by a multitude of websites including eBay, Amazon, Walmart.com, and so forth. After searching two hours for the best price and comparing shipping costs and coupon codes, eBay won the sale with a price of $89.99. Now I really don’t want to spend that much, but that was the best price I could find.

Brian Grega and Anthony Sanchez, veterans of sales and marketing, are coming to my rescue. Shortly after Christmas 2011, they began to discuss how they have spent their careers figuring out buyers, trying to be better guessers of who will buy what when.

Here’s the conversation that changed everything:

Sanchez, “I wish there was a way to know when someone wants to buy something so we don’t have to spend so much time and money marketing to them.”

Grega, “Why can’t we have that?”

Within the few minutes of that interaction, these guys had started the ball rolling on what would shatter the existing models of today’s online marketplace and start an e-commerce revolution with infinite possibilities in today’s environment and technology.

What started in that brief exchange between Sanchez and Grega, quickly took form as the only C2B (consumer to business) online shopping model in e-commerce, Infinite Buyer. They created a site where the buyer arrives with a specific product in mind and makes an offer for it to registered sellers. Venders, in turn, respond with an acceptance, counter, or refusal of the customer’s price. In this simple exchange, Infinite Buyer has revolutionized the online market in a radical shift of power to the buyer.  Both the buyer and seller save time and money in an unprecedented way with this model.

Infinite Buyer entered a market saturated with successful online stores like Amazon and eBay. How it can contend with such formidable forces? It doesn’t have to. These big guys serve the general, uneducated shoppers at the wide mouth of a shopping funnel whereas Infinite Buyer captures the decided buyer at the narrow end of that same funnel.

Grega likes to say, “The little red book of selling will tell you that people do not like to be sold, but they love to buy.” This statement is the best testament for Infinite Buyer’s goal – create a place where buyers have the power to guide the market and sellers enjoy the profits without as much of the usual expense of earning them. Imagine that you wake in the morning with a purchase in mind and can simply enter the item on Infinite Buyer with an offer to sellers within your budget. Then you go about your day fulfilling other responsibilities and return later to find which sellers have accepted your price. Finally, you can complete the transaction quickly, wasting almost no time shopping.
Sanchez puts it this way, “There’s no more waiting for the right seller offer to pass in front of you, no more waiting for a summer sale. Everyday everything is on sale at the exact price you want.”

While the control currently lies mostly with Infinite Buyer’s consumers, sellers still reap many benefits. Without the expense of sales and marketing teams, they get feedback as to what buyers want and what they are willing to pay. And while the beginnings of Infinite Buyer focus on the consumer, the future holds many exciting possibilities for sellers. Grega and Sanchez envision capturing more and more of the funnel described earlier, moving up a bit, if you will. For example, the site will eventually allow sellers to post items for offer. When buyers use Infinite Buyer to pursue specific items, they can also submit an offer on other items sellers have displayed.

Grega, CEO of Infinite Buyer, spent the majority of his 30-year career at high tech Silicon Valley start-ups. He’s an expert at market development, sales operations, marketing, and industry pioneering activities. Sanchez, CMO of Infinite Buyer, is a former Fortune 500 Marketing Executive with 25 years of experience in marketing strategy, digital marketing, branding, website development, and entrepreneurial pursuits. He was one of Silicon Valley’s first web marketing professionals at Oracle. So you’ve got two of California’s Silicon Valley business gurus forging the way with an exciting new company in Colorado’s “Silicon Summit.”

Besides Grega and Sanchez, Infinite Buyer’s team includes experienced advisors on the Board of Directors and field experts on the Board of Advisors, such as Skip McGrath, eBay’s only endorsed Online Sales Coach. There are also technical experts and highly skilled architects in product development.

The niche Infinite Buyer has filled in the marketplace and its leadership combined to earn the company a finalist pitching spot in Denver’s Angel Capital Summit, hosted this week by Rockies Venture Club. Infinite Buyer will join many other Colorado start-ups in a quest for funding.

Grega and Sanchez see funding as a vehicle for supporting Infinite Buyer’s viral growth potential. Once monies are received, they will exercise their marketing expertise and put many features into place that will guarantee a rapid increase in the user community, platform development, and the creation of a mobile app. Additionally, funding will focus on creating loyal customers by utilizing data acquired through transactions for augmenting features and options. Grega and Sanchez envision tens of millions of buyers within 3-5 years and tens of thousands of sellers by then. The funding amount they seek now ($400K) is relatively low considering their playing field, but they say it is enough to carry them through the impending viral growth period that will, in turn, lead to enough revenue for independence.

As with any start-up, there are issues to address. Infinite Buyer faces an imminent viral growth period, one that will surely entail the need for a lot of customer support. Once a transaction is complete, there are shipping and handling, quality assurance, and other processes to ensure. Also, there are worries that buyers won’t be loyal if they aren’t experiencing successful transactions, and current sellers, in turn, expressed concern about buyers being bottom feeders. Sellers also want anonymity for brand quality assurance.

Grega and Sanchez, in their business wisdom, have addressed these issues up front. Part of the funding they seek will go to developing customer support needs and toward analyzing data to provide buyers with guidance for successful purchases. Furthermore, current data already shows that buyers are offering reasonable amounts consistently and sellers are satisfied with revenues from the site. Infinite Buyer also rates buyers based on offer and purchasing records, so sellers can have more confidence in transactions. Also, sellers’ names are not publicized, only buyers know the source of an item.

Because of its radical C2B nature, Infinite Buyer stands alone. There is a huge $250 billion e-commerce market in the US, projected to expand to $330 billion in the next five years, so it there is plenty of space for Infinite Buyer to fit without posing a nuisance. Besides, the big guys have no incentive to switch their successful models nor risk established relationships to compete in an untested market.

Interestingly, therein lies the true challenge to Infinite Buyer. Grega and Sanchez recognize their obligation to shareholders is to build this niche in the market so well that when Infinite Buyer becomes large enough to constitute a nuisance to the titans, it will have enough revenue and customers to be acquired rather than squashed.

Back to me. I’ve cancelled my purchase from eBay for the Kettler Kiddi-o Air Tire Tricycle. I’m going to offer $50 for it on Infinite Buyer. Then I’m going to bed because I don’t have to spend any more time on it. I’m sure a seller will be waiting for me in the morning…

 

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.

RVC News Blitz – Spring 2013

 


In this edition:

 


 

Angel Capital Summit News

The Angel Capital Summit is scheduled for March 19 and 20th at the DU Campus in Sturm Hall. This is the same location as last year. Don’t take that to mean that we are repeating the same old conference! We’ve revisioned the ACS to include suggestions from last year’s suggestion box. All the seminars will occur on one stage. No more choosing between two awesome talks. Just relax and take it all in!  Similarly, pitching companies will not compete for attention; they too will pitch on one stage.

Local Legends, David Cohen, founder of TechStars, and Jon Nordmark, CEO of eBags will both be giving Keynote addresses at the ACS. We have confirmation that many angel and venture capital investors will be in the audience. We have a growing list of VCs who will be attending so they can browse our local seed stage companies.

Pitch applications are in Executive Review through February and companies will be invited to pitch in early March. We have seen some hot new companies come through both the Gust and Business Catapult application databases. Companies will be matched with trained Pitch Coaches and the Finalists will be chosen during the week of March 11 after we’ve seen the pitches in person.

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No Pitch Event in April

Since the Angel Capital Summit is late in March (corresponding with DU’s Spring Break), we will have a bye in April. Although we won’t have new pitches in April, the investor Forum will still meet in April. This allows the Investor Forum to fully digest the large number of companies that pitched at the Angel Capital Summit. A Bye in April is good for entrepreneurs and good for RVC staff. Whew!  We will resume our normal pitch event schedule in May.

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New RVC Staff Roster

We’ve been growing!  RVC is an amazingly complex organization at the cutting edge of angel investing and private equity community development. We are so thankful to have found some amazing new staff members so we can accomplish our goals this year. As a new non-profit, we are thankful to have the deep experience of executive-level interim staff. We really are lucky to have such a great team! Here’s what our roster looks like right now…

Peter Adams, MBA – Executive Director

Known as the brave soul who took over the Rockies Venture Club in Dec of 2011, Peter is the visionary force shaping RVC today.

Kevin Andresen – Interim Staff

Most recently VP at Urban Lending Solutions, Kevin is experienced with the crazy world we call Private Equity and Venture Capital.

Patty Laushman, MA – Interim Staff

Past CEO of the Uptime group, she now calls herself a “cashed out entrepreneur”, Patty is intimate with the inner workings of start-up operations and knows the path from zero to exit.

Nicole Gravagna, MS, PhD – Director of Operations

Just like the human brain strengthens useful neural connections and removes extraneous ones, Nicole is constantly developing new Standard Operating Procedures to keep RVC running smoothly as it grows.

Stacy Gregg, MA – Communications Manager

With two advanced degrees in education, Stacy is well-suited to managing the constant stream of three-way communications at RVC.

Rebecca Wiedemer, MBA – Events Manager

Senior Financial Analyst at Standard and Poor’s by day and master of Event Management by night. Rebecca is responsible for the high quality of our monthly Pitch Event these days.

Mimi Zheng – Analyst Intern

Soon-to-be-graduate of Metro State University, Mimi is involved with Analysis at RVC this year. She’s taking a deeper look at operations, revenue, and communications to make RVC a sustainable non-profit for Colorado.

 

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Writing Venture Capital for Dummies

We have a confession. We’ve been moonlighting. Peter and Nicole are writing Venture Capital for Dummies with John Wiley & Sons, Inc. publishing company. We were excited to take on the project when Wiley approached us in the fall since we already wanted to build extensive educational curriculum around fundraising. This book will walk founders through the process of fundraising in an easy-to-grasp “for dummies” format. VC’s for Dummies will be on shelves by September 1st of this year.

 

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RVC Classes are a big hit!

Speaking of educational curriculum (see above), we have been thrilled with the quality of education and the amount of energy that arrises from each RVC Academy class. We’ve had a couple of stellar classes so far, A Good Investment Deal, Marketing and Branding, and Due Diligence. Our thought leaders bring specific expertise to the table, and the small setting allows for amazing discussion around the issues facing everyone in the room. We will try to do 2 or three of these classes every month.

We’ve had a request for a class on Anti-dilution Clauses in term sheets. These are the sticky clauses that can help early investors feel safe in their investment, but can ruin the deal for future investors if done poorly. Does anyone else want to learn about this topic? Send Nicole an email or mention your interest in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

 

 

Kickstarter Project Experience and Education

Tim Harvey, Software & Biotechnology Consultant

Joni Gale Kripal’s idea for a Kickstarter project began with just her and a friend, looking for something they wanted and couldn’t find on the market – an iPad attachment with practical organization and the elegant design they were looking for. Joni says simply, “I made it for myself because I wanted it,” and they saw the potential in the market as well as talent within themselves to build a business. Although her project wasn’t fully funded, she considers it a positive experience and has some thoughts for anyone considering crowdfunding.

Kickstarter (funded by Index Ventures and Union Square Ventures, among others) is a way for anyone in the world to fund creative projects and is open to creators from the US and UK. Kickstarter specifically requires that all projects be creative in nature, although other platforms focus on different areas. These types of crowdfunding platforms rely on “backers” not investors, people who find these campaigns online, believe in the idea, and agree to put in cash for the project at certain levels. Based on their level of support, backers get rewards, such as the products they’re funding, or a one-of-a-kind experience. There is technically no “investment,” so the creator(s) keep 100% of their equity. This also means an entrepreneur is not likely to find mentorship or guidance going through crowdfunding.

So far, Joni and her partner had just invested sweat equity and personal money, and as they were looking to scale the business they realized they needed more cash to do so. They chose Kickstarter over other services primarily because of the “all or nothing” premise. Other platforms, like Indiegogo or RocketHub have a “keep-it-all” scenario, where an entrepreneur keeps all of the money raised, even if the campaign hasn’t met its fundraising goals. With an all-or-nothing premise, if the goal isn’t reached by the deadline (as in Joni’s situation), no money is collected from the backers. In this case, they won’t expect anything else from you, which limits your risk and sets their expectations upfront. In addition, backers may recruit others before the deadline just because they want to see the idea succeed. For these reasons, ideas tend to be either popular and hit their goal, or don’t get very far – there is little middle ground on Kickstarter. Joni’s biggest take away from her experience was market research insight and real world feedback, and she also had some more specific recommendations as well.

If you’re considering crowdfunding, the first thing to do is to back a few projects that you find interesting to get a feel for how it works. It’s a good idea to have a solid website and a multi-channel social media campaign running prior to launching your project. Keep in mind that having established users liking, tweeting, and blogging about you prior to the project can create credibility for new people finding your idea. Twitter can certainly be useful, and Pinterest could be even more important, especially if your idea is visual in nature and/or is more targeted toward females, as they are 80% of Pinterest’s user base (TechCrunch on Pinterest). Be thoughtful with the rewards that you give backers, and structure the package levels simply. Rewards that are close to the heart of your idea are likely to do well, because backers resonated with them in the first place. Decisions made on social media tend to be fast, making first impressions ever more important, so if you use video (which is a good idea) don’t be afraid to spend some money on video production. It can also be helpful to overestimate your funding needs, as fees and unexpected challenges always come up.

There are things to be careful with as well. As always, read the fine print and keep up on any changes in your business environment. A platform’s rules may change during your experience with them, as Joni’s did, so pay attention to the ones that affect your project. When the JOBS act is implemented (Forbes infographic here), it will change some things in the industry, so be aware of that as well. Fees will cut into your margins, 10-15% in Joni’s case, since Kickstarter takes 5%, Amazon Payments 3-5%, and shipping for backer’s rewards are usually included. “You have to discount to get on Kickstarter,” she says. Competitors can see your ideas out in the open, so if necessary look into filing patents or other IP protection. As always, be careful in hiring any outside professionals, as there are shady “consultants” who cold-email to offer marketing, design, or other little services than are little more than a scam. Do your diligence if you hire someone, and if the offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Joni sees her Kickstarter project experience and education as a good thing and something she would do again. She doesn’t consider it a failure, but a learning experience that is part of her entrepreneurial process. It gave her a new level of market insight as well as a chance for market exposure and feedback from potential customers. In the end, Joni’s positive attitude and learning from her project means that her experience is a valuable stepping stone in building her business.

About the author:

Tim is pursuing a Master’s from CU-Boulder in Engineering Management, after a few years working with entrepreneurs following an undergrad in Cognitive Neuroscience at U. of Denver. He started his first business at age 19 and currently consults for startup companies, primarily in software and biotechnology.

 

 

Crowdfunding Myth Busting Series – Quick Fixes

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Here we look at crowdfunding as a quick fix.

Myth #6:

Once the SEC releases its guidelines, funding will become easy and freely available.

Reality:

Even if Crowdfunding portals do become popular, it will likely take years before people begin investing with them regularly. There are several factors that may slow the adoption:

Many “accredited investors” today do not even think of themselves as Angel Investors.  It is unlikely that the existence of a portal will change this perception. Accredited investors are individuals with a net worth of $1 million or more, not including their primary residence, nor an income of $200,000 or more a year with a reasonable expectation that it would continue. These investors are typically working with wealth advisers who are not motivated to move money to angel investments where there can be significant work in doing due diligence and risks with unknown investments. So, even though these people are qualified to make angel investments, few actually will engage in angel investing. It’s reasonable to assume that the same resistance to angel investing may exist among the non-accredited investors as well. While one upside of the JOBS act is that those who want to have the opportunity to experience the significant returns that angel investing can provide, it may take time for these individuals to get used to the idea of investing through a funding portal.

Platforms like E-Bay took years before people became used to the idea to bidding for things in an auction format.  People were simply not used to bidding for things and had concerns about whether they would actually receive the items they had won in an auction. It took E-Bay years to develop their buyer’s insurance program and for word to spread of the deals that could be had on their platform.

Even if Crowdfunding becomes as popular as E-Bay, it will take some time before it catches on in the mainstream. They will likely need to develop their own version of buyers’ insurance in order to gain investors trust.

 

 

Crowdfunding Myth Busting Series – Public Offerings to Non-Accredited Investors

Peter Adams, Executive Director at Rockies Venture Club

Let’s tackle crowdfunding myth busting to better prepare for raising capital. What are the most commonly believed myths in crowdfunding? Let’s look at many of them to find what’s truth and what to debunk. Here we look at how existing offering exemptions already allow for public offering to non-accredited investors. We’ll examine one more myth, so look for our final blog post in a few days.

Myth #5:

In Colorado, many of the crowdfunding opportunities created by the JOBS act are already available to entrepreneurs.

Reality:

The Colorado Division of Securities already offers SCOR and RL limited registrations for public offerings to non-accredited investors for in-state deals. These registrations are rarely used, even though in some cases they represent less work for the entrepreneur than filing with a crowdfunding portal.  Entrepreneurs can pay $50 and fill out a few forms and in a few weeks of regulatory review they may be legally entitled to publicly market their securities to accredited and non-accredited investors alike.

Many people confuse the two things that must occur for successful securities sales.  The first is that it must be legal. There has been much excitement about the SEC releasing the details the JOBS act, but since many of these opportunities for lightweight registration have already existed for years, there must be something else missing.

That second thing missing is the marketing effort that must be expended to raise capital.  Most companies seeking capital are not prepared for the process. They are promoting their companies without having put together a working team of people, without having done the detailed financial projections and analysis needed, and without having done the market research to gauge market demand and competition for their product.  Even those who have gone through these steps to prepare for raising capital are often not ready for the extraordinarily difficult process of marketing their securities.

Funding portals will help companies to some extent in that there will be a place where investors can look at a good amount of deal flow in one place.  Entrepreneurs will likely find that it takes more than a portal listing to sell securities and they will need to develop significant social networks and spend significant dollars and time in putting together presentations, traveling to meet investors, advertising and more.

 

Stay tuned for the next crowdfunding myth busting blog post on quick fixes