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10.10.10: Helping CEOs Find The Next Problem To Solve

10.10.10 is an innovative program that combines 10 wicked problems, 10 prospective CEOs, and 10 days together in Denver. The bigger the problems the bigger the opportunities, and they’re intent on finding the most massive problems out there and empowering CEOs to create solutions. The first program launches in August, 2014 and is the first of its kind. Read more

Do YOU Have What It Takes To Exit? Find out at the Colorado Capital Conference

You think you can sell your company? Learn from those who have done it at 2013 CCC next week!

 

The entrepreneur’s dream: starting from scratch, building something significant, and creating value for everyonesuccess-next-exit on your side. Maybe that means holding on to a business you could retire on or pass down to your family. If you’re in the VC world, taking on investors means you are expected to cash out, hopefully for far more than was invested. Acquisitions and IPOs are great, but why doesn’t it happen more often? A successful exit can be a rising tide that lifts the boats around it – why do so few entrepreneurs actually make it? Beyond a little luck, what does it take to get there?

I don’t know all the answers to these questions. If I did, I might be taking a yacht to the island I just bought to relax for the rest of my life. More likely, I would be looking for the next masochistic opportunity to work really hard at something for no cash for years, in order to do it all over again. I haven’t exited a company (yet) so I can’t tell you the secrets from experience. Thankfully, a few serial entrepreneurs who have been through it all will share their minds on the subject at the Colorado Capital Conference November 6th and 7th.  This year’s theme is “begin with the end in mind” – Habit #2 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Here are this year’s speakers, who together have built billions of dollars in value in Colorado:

Ryan Martens, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Rally Software. The Boulder Colorado-based company, which specializes in agile project management software, priced its 6 million shares at $14, raising $84 million at a valuation of $315 million which has more than doubled since it’s IPO earlier this year.

John Spiers, CEO and Founder of NexGen Storage. John Spiers story of entrepreneurial lightning striking twice, first with his sale of LeftHand Networks to HP and this year’s sale of Nexgen to Fusion-IO for $119 million.
Kevin Reddy, CEO of Noodles & Co.   Noodles started with $73,000 in personal funds from founder Aaron Kennedy and raised $200,000 from friends and family.  The company grew to $300 million in sales and had an IPO that more than doubled in its first day and has continued to grow since then to a market cap of over $1.3 billion.
– Steve Georgis, CEO of LineRate.   Louisville based LineRate received early venture backing from Boulder Ventures and wroked in stealth mode with its Software Defined Networking product that increases speed and efficiency in data centers and just ten months after their product announcement achieved success with an acquisition by F5 Networks in one of the largest acquisitions in the Boulder area in the past several years.

Jared Polis, Congressman and a two-time successful entrepreneurial exit success story! His first exit with BlueMountainArts.com for $780 million and then ProFlowers for $480 million.

– Morgan Rogers McMillan, Executive Director of Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO). EFCO brings together local venture capitalists and start-ups to set aside 1 percent of their profits to charity.

Register here for the 2013 Colorado Capital Conference. The opening Gala in Denver is the evening of Wednesday November 6th, and the full day conference in Golden is Thursday the 7th. Hope to see you there!

RVC Announces the Companies Selected for the 2013 Colorado Capital Conference

The Rockies Venture Club has announced the companies that will pitch at the Colorado Capital Conference. On Thursday, November 7th, the following 12 will give investor presentations:

 

 

These companies are now working with their volunteer individual ‘pitch mentors’ from the Rockies Venture Club. RVC will also provide volunteer ‘deal mentors’ experienced in startup financing to help entrepreneurs navigate investor term sheets and the post-pitch process.

 

This year marks the 25th annual Colorado Capital Conference and will be hosted in Denver and Golden on November 6th and 7th, 2013. It is one of the biggest events for early stage companies and investors in Colorado, and features a great speaker lineup this year. Register here if you haven’t already!

5 Reasons Your Pitch Stinks (When Your Startup Doesn't)

before and afterYour pitch is often the first impression your company will make with an investor. The company can be amazing and if your pitch is still rough, your company looks rough too.

When you are in front of VCs or angel investors you know it can make or break your fundraising efforts. Combining two of the most challenging things someone can take on (entrepreneurship and public speaking) your presentation can be anywhere between enlightening and embarrassing for both you and everyone in the audience. Here are some ways I see people screw up the pitch of otherwise good startups. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just the most exhausting things I see on a regular basis. 

I’m only talking about the pitch itself here; assuming that you have a company with a real product, a solid team, and traction in the market. You know what you’re asking for, your valuation is reasonable and defensible, and you don’t look like an idiot. Perhaps you even have over a million dollars in revenue and strategic partnerships in place – even those companies can mess it up. Whatever the case, you’ll probably have a short 5 -15 minutes on stage, and only a few slides (at most) to make a first impression.

Don’t blow it! Be mindful of what the audience is here for, and you have a much better shot at closing your round. 

Here are 5 ways to screw up your pitch: 

  1. Too narrow of a talk. Frame the problem you’re solving and why it’s important, and go from there. Hold off on the technical aspects – while they may be easy for you to talk about, it’s not so easy for someone who hasn’t heard of your startup to understand. Most of the time, scientific or detailed answers are best left to the Q&A, or (even better) one on one with the prospective investor after the pitch. Get out of you own head, and make sure you put your idea in context of the problem you’re solving and the ecosystem in which it operates.
  2. Forgetting what investors do. Keep in mind that they are investors, so they want to hear about the investment. Unfortunately, that sense in that isn’t as common as it should be. Know what investors want to accomplish, and learn from CEO’s who have raised and exited successfully before. Understand your valuation and think about the exit, because that’s how investors get paid, and many entrepreneurs forget that. Talking about the cool idea you have without any numbers to back it up might work with an unexperienced angel or a rich uncle, but it won’t work with people who know what they’re doing. 
  3. Acting like you’re in business class.  Avoid industry-specific jargon and MBA-speak. Your audience is smart, but it’s your job to make sure they can understand you. They may have already heard 20 pitches that day, with the same acronym in 3 different contexts, and once you lose their attention it’s very tough to get it back. Also, trying to appear impressive with something other than actual accomplishments may give the audience a signal that you’re not coachable, which is a big red flag. Investors also won’t care about your 50-page business plan like a marketing professor would – be concise (in large font) in your deck and save the business plan for due diligence.
  4. Not practicing enough. It’s okay to feel nervous about the pitch. It is not okay to ignore what makes you nervous. The single best thing you can do to reduce fear is by practicing what you’re going to say, many times over. Practice on your own, in the mirror, and in front of real people. I joined Toastmasters when my career led me to frequent public speaking, and it’s the best thing I could’ve done to improve my presentations. Public speaking wasn’t brand new to me (I had probably spoken to over 1,000 people in public at that point) but the difference I saw was dramatic. I’m still not an expert, but it was a steep and useful learning curve. Not all CEOs will have the time to join a public speaking group, but you at least need to dedicate ample time to practice.
  5. No feedback. Learn all that you can from your practice. Record yourself on video and watch it – it’s probably humbling. Feedback from other people is extremely valuable as well. Toastmasters does a great job of this (on the technical speaking points) and it’s one of the most best parts of the program. Rarely in life are we given honest, realistic feedback (even if it stings) so soak it up when you can. Ask knowledgeable people in the industry like angels or other CEOs to watch and critique both your business and the presentation. If you’re able to get a pitch coach to work with you through the process, be thankful and take advantage of it.

Overall, make an effort to be more aware of what your investors are looking for, and how you communicate most effectively on stage. If you’ve gotten to the point where everything else in your business is solid enough that the only thing holding it back is the pitch, consider yourself lucky. This isn’t an easy process, so learn as much as you can. Then go out, get more feedback and practice, and keep polishing!

 

Article by Tim Harvey, regular contributor for Rockies Venture Club blog. 

 

 

The End of the Rainbow: Bootstrapping a Business to Gold


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.