Posts

Like many of you, I attended my first virtual conference a few months ago and while the content was great, I missed the networking that I value so much from conferences. 

Now, I’m planning my second virtual conference of my own and I’m prioritizing not only implementing technology that supports networking, but making sure that I create a culture in the conference around actually using it.  What follows is some advice for both conference organizers and attendees to get the most networking out of an event.

Principle #1:  Talking heads put people into “passive mode” and they check out.

Solution: Mix up engagement models throughout the conference. 

Sure you can have keynotes and panels if you must, but then have breakout sessions where people are encouraged to talk, question and share.  Build in plenty of “white space” – time where people can engage with the networking opportunities your virtual conference has provided.  And finally, provide opportunities for both one-on-one networking and small group interactions.

My first virtual conference had built in networking functionality, but I really couldn’t figure out how to use it, and when I did reach out to others, they apparently couldn’t figure out how to respond either.  Online networking is as much a “warmware” issue as a software challenge.  Conference organizers need to not only have software that facilitates networking and collisions, but they need to train users to make sure that they understand how it all works and that using this functionality is expected of them.

I started planning by thinking about how networking happens at face to face conferences.  There were six main ways that I connect with my peers at conferences:

  1. “Collisions” where I run into peers in the hallways at events.
  2. In session connections – it can be rude, but finding someone you know and sitting next to them and chatting when appropriate.
  3. “Clusters” where three to five people meet up casually in-between sessions and chat.
  4. Meals and Cocktails where you seek out people you want to meet with and have lunch, dinner or cocktails with them.
  5. Trade show style booths are also a way to meet with vendors you’re hoping to connect with.
  6. Pre-scheduled meetings are a more intentional way to make sure that you meet up with the people you need to see at an event.

All of these are based on finding a physical space or place to connect which seems to run counter to the structure of a “virtual conference.”

When planning for my upcoming conference, I thought of it not so much as a website, but as a physical event space.  Here’s a blueprint I came up with to designate the reception and checking area, hallways, breakout sessions, plenary sessions, and vendor booths. 

By breaking all of the different ways that people would interact with each other into a physical space model, it makes it easier for conference attendees to get a feel for how they are supposed to interact in this unfamiliar virtual conference space.  As an attendee I can see the expo hall options, the network drop-in sessions, one on one opportunities and the presentation spaces.

To make this work, we ended up doing something a bit unconventional.  We used Hopin as the reception and networking areas for the conference, and Zoom for the Plenary and Roundtable sessions.

We did this because Zoom is well established and familiar to everyone.  We needed a platform that our speakers could plug into easily and that would have familiar interfaces for presenters to share their screens while viewers had the ability to connect via chat.  But Zoom means talking heads and we wanted to break out of that mold. We really like the concept of Hopin and it has some of the best networking options we’ve seen, but the Main Stage is quite difficult to navigate and getting someone backstage is tricky.  Once they’re there, sharing screens and seeing what you’re presenting is not so easy.  Rather than risk a disaster, we opted for the dual platform.

Hopin’s networking allows us to facilitate multiple types of networking on the platform, which is really great.  Here are the ways we used Hopin to facilitate connections at the conference:

  1. Hang out rooms – We created Hopin “sessions” where participants can join in with smaller groups to get to know each other.  These sessions are open during the entire conference, so attendees can stop by any time and see who’s in the rom.
  2. One-on-one Networking is a great feature in Hopin.  This zone automatically pairs participants who opt-in to be connected with each other for three minutes (or longer if they want to extend) and then the platform facilitates sharing contact information if they want to connect later.  I found this function to be fun and to be a great way to meet people in a way that I wouldn’t easily have available to me at a typical in-person conference.  It is similar to speed-dating networking sessions I’ve seen at certain events, but not typically at conferences.
  3. Wine-Down:  We’ve created an end of day small group networking opportunity for participants to grab a glass of wine, beer or cocktail of their choice and connect with others at the conference in a casual setting.  We supply sample discussion points to get things going, but those are strictly optional and people can chat about whatever they like.  We set up a wine sponsor who sent discounted gift boxes of high quality single serve wines to participants who opted in for that. 
  4. Trade Show Booths
  5. Impromptu Sessions with one or more participants

For the Roundtable sessions, we opened up Four Zoom Rooms so that each of the different breakout topics would have their own room.  With this structure, we were able to allow all participants to be able to turn on their video and microphones and actually engage in discussion.  (Of course, microphones go on mute when not speaking.)  We could host between 100 and 500 people in each of these sessions.

Plenary sessions where everyone is viewing keynote speakers or, in our case, venture capital pitches, were also done in Zoom.  This allowed us to switch rapidly between presenters and everyone was already familiar with the platform.  The key, though, is never to have more than sixty minutes with any one kind of interaction.  Keep it moving by switching up how attendees interact and their brains will be stimulated.

Final advice for attendees:  be proactive in how you approach a virtual conference.  If done right, attending a virtual conference with a good networking platform can provide you with MORE rather than fewer networking options! 

Look through the registrations (if available) and identify who you want to meet with in advance.  Learn the connection options and reach out to make connections with one or more people at a time.  Make sure you get contact information to follow-up with people you’re interested in.  If you have to miss a panel or two in order to make great connections, don’t worry.  Most virtual conferences record the sessions, so you’ll often have a chance to catch up on the content later while focusing on relationship building during the conference.

Shameless Plug:

If you’d like to see all this in action, and get great startup content about resiliency during the pandemic, be sure to check out the Colorado Capital Conference.  Even if you’re not from Colorado, this event is open to anyone and the speakers and pitches apply virtually anywhere.  We’ll have Brad Feld from Foundry Group to talk about many types of resiliency and some of the themes in his new book, The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem  We’ll have Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock sharing the unique resiliency the city has shown in responding to the pandemic.  Join us! 

This holiday season, we are so grateful for our portfolio companies and the awesome products they make. We are excited to share gift ideas from local Colorado companies, so you can find the perfect gift for your friends and family while supporting our local economy and startup community. Check out our list below for gift ideas along with special offers for the RVC community:

Recoup Cold Recovery Kit

Looking for a gift for the athlete in your family? Recoup’s Cold Recovery Kit includes 2 go-to recovery tools – Cryosphere for trigger-point massage to roll out and relieve sore, tight muscles or pain points. Cryosleeve for convenient, passive recovery to bring down inflammation and reduce soreness.

Just for the RVC community: take 15% off your Kit using RVC15

Shop Recoup here: https://recoupfitness.com/products/recovery

mcSquares Sticky Notes

The perfect stocking stuffer: reusable, dry-erase, adhesive-free sticky notes! These fun gifts are an eco-friendly replacement for paper post notes. Stickies stick like magnets to most smooth surfaces using BubbleBond® micro-suction foam. The premium whiteboard surface writes smoothly and erases easily. Post them to glass walls, appliances, laptops, whiteboards, mirrors, cabinets… anywhere you’re using sticky notes. Reusable thousands of times! Save money and trees.

Shop mcSquares here: http://www.mcsquares.com 

Bitsbox

Bitsbox teaches kids to code by delivering insanely fun app-building projects in the mail every month. Kids code their projects on the Bitsbox website and their apps work on any device with a web browser. Bitsbox aims to be the friendliest way for kids to learn to become programmers—even if they want to be doctors, firefighters, or fairy princesses when they grow up.  Learning to code is just like learning any other language; the earlier you start, the easier it is. Bitsbox works best for kids ages 6-12.

Discount: Save $25 on any Bitsbox subscription of $50 or more and get free shipping with code: RVC2019

Shop Bitsbox here: https://subscribe.bitsbox.com/

Wander + Ivy Gift Set

Wander + Ivy is the premium and organic single serve wine brand based here in Denver. Treat yourself or a loved one to one of their new varietals – a Rosé, Chardonnay, or Cab – this holiday season! Buy individually as stocking stuffers or in a beautiful 4-pack gift set. Available online and throughout Colorado. 

Shop Wander + Ivy here: http://www.wanderandivy.com/ 

Vortic Watch

Vortic Watch Company salvages and restores antique American pocket watches and turns them into one of a kind wristwatches. Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, this RVC portfolio company is doing something no other company can do… building a new, one-of-a-kind wristwatch every single day for the last 100 days of 2019: 100 Days of Vortic 

If you’d like to purchase more than one watch, like for corporate gifts or for a high performing sales team, contact R.T. Custer (rt@vorticwatches.com) for special RVC-only offers. 

Shop Vortic here: https://vorticwatches.com/collections/watches

TiLT

Do you know someone who is awaiting the arrival of a new family member? TiLT-ify their Christmas with access to their very own TiLT web platform! TiLT will help them master the whole working parenting thing – imagine a Christmas elf guiding them through the before, during, and after their parental leave! Gift access to TiLT resources as they prepare for their parental leave and return to work, as well as the guidance from an expert TiLT Client Delight Manager for the duration of their parental leave experience.

TiLT would love to offer the gift of one active TiLT user for an expectant working parent for the price of $299.00: contact jen@ourtilt.com

Explore TiLT here: www.ourtilt.com

Sheets & Giggles Sheet Set

Sheets & Giggles’ 100% Eucalyptus Lyocell sheets are naturally softer, more breathable, and more sustainable than cotton and bamboo. “We’ve been told that our sheets are ‘like sleeping with Jason Momoa.’ We’re not saying that; we were told that.” Available in 8 colors: White, Pearl, Gray, Light Blue, Blue, Mint, Navy and Purple. 

Sheets & Giggles is currently offering 10% off sitewide for the holidays. 

Shop Sheets & Giggles here: https://sheetsgiggles.com/products/eucalyptus-sheets 

Big Stevie’s Seasoning

Produced by RVC’s 2018 Angel Investor of the Year Doug Mandic, Big Stevie’s Seasoning is a handcrafted family-recipe spice rub and seasoning from the family butcher shop in Montana. Delicious on steaks, chops, chicken, eggs, popcorn, sandwiches, potatoes, vegetables, pork, beef, fish, lamb, guacamole, almost anything…No MSG, gluten free, cage free, worry free!

Purchase Big Stevie’s Seasoning here: https://www.amazon.com/Big-Stevies-Seasoning-Original-Recipe/dp/B0764NLCSM?th=1

RVC Membership 

An RVC Membership is a perfect last-minute gift for the Investor or Entrepreneur in your family! As a member of the Rockies Venture Club, you have a front row seat to the growing, developing, and accelerating Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem. Over 100 events, workshops, and classes held each year to help investors and entrepreneurs learn, network, grow, and invest. Treat your loved one to the gift of angel investing!

Now through December 31, buy a one-year membership and receive two additional months free: email emily@rockiesventureclub.org to register.

Register a member here: https://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/investor-members

From all of us at Rockies Venture Club: Happy Holidays!

Rockies Venture ClubAs the cost of starting a tech company has gone down, VCs have moved upstream, funding bigger and bigger deals while angels and angel groups have taken up the sub-five million funding space. Meanwhile, accelerators and platforms have also taken a place with funds to jump start companies going through their programs.  MicroVCs are venture capital firms with assets under management of less than $100,000,000.  That sounds like a pretty big fund to angel investors, but in the big picture venture capital world, these truly are micro venture capital funds.

MicroVCs have taken on a huge role in filling the gap between seed and angel funding and big scale unicorn-track venture funding.  If you think about basic fund structure, a $100 million fund will invest about half of committed capital, or $50 million into its first round investments.  The fund will want to diversify to twenty or more investments, so you might see an average of $2 million for a first round.  Then they’ll have the remaining $50 million to continue investing in the top winners from the portfolio.  $2 million is a great amount for a post-angel round, but is far less than the $10 million that an average VC deal is doing today.

The MicroVC area is more understandable if we look at what kind of entities fill this space. There are sub $25 million funds, also known as NanoVC Funds which operate very differently than $100 million funds.  Then there are the accelerators which are actually MicroVCs.  Also, more and more angel groups are creating funds (Like the Rockies Venture Fund) and are moving upstream a bit to do larger deals.  Finally, angel groups are syndicating actively, so they can move into larger and larger deals.  Some examples of the power of angel groups leveraging their investments by working in syndicates include Richard Sudek’s work at Tech Coast Angels who syndicated a $10 million raise via syndication and similarly Rockies Venture Club Participated in a Series F syndicate for PharmaJet locally.  These are not deals that we would typically expect to see angels playing in.  This means that angels, when working together can start filling the space occupied by the MicroVCs.  Rather than competing, we’re seeing angels investing alongside MicroVCs at an increasing pace.

There are other considerations, however.  MicroVCs will typically hold back half of their fund for follow-ons, while angels are less predictable and many still use a “one and done” approach to their investments.  Even with MicroVC follow-on investment of up to $10 million, this is still not enough to propel some companies to the scale they’re shooting for, so they’ll still need to engage with traditional VC once they get big enough.

Angel investors should help startups to figure out their financial strategies so that they can work on building relationships with the right kinds of investors from the beginning so that they don’t paint themselves into a financial corner by working with the wrong investors.  Similarly, startups need to understand the goals of any type of VC so that they don’t waste their time barking up the wrong tree.

 

To learn more about the evolving role of MicroVCs, consider attending the RVC Colorado Capital Conference.  It’s coming up November 6-7th in Denver, CO.  Visit www.coloradocapitalconference.org for more information on speakers and presenters.  This event is on of Colorado’s largest angel and vc investment conferences of the year and there are great networking opportunities.   We hope that  the audience will come away with an idea about how all these types of capital are evolving and the different strategies that companies can take in choosing who they want to pursue for their capital needs.

Peter Adams

Managing Director, Rockies Venture Fund I, LP
Executive Director, Rockies Venture Club, Inc.
 Buy Venture Capital For Dummies on Amazon

 

Too many startups stress about how to get their whole story into a five minute pitch and they don’t think enough about how to cheat time a bit to get the most out of the five minutes (or two, sevenPitch Timer, ten, twelve, fifteen or whatever you’re given). This is the first to two blogs on the topic of how to cheat time — the first has to do do with the first slide and the second has to do with the last slide.

Ask yourself this – “When does the clock start at a pitch event?”

The answer is that it usually starts the moment you begin speaking. So you’re in control of when the clock starts. Now – what happens before you speak? The answer is that usually you are introduced by the MC or moderator and the first slide of your deck is queued up on the screen as you’re approaching the stage.

Here’s where many companies have a lost opportunity. Their first slide has mostly useless information that is already known to the audience. Why have a slide that has your company name, the date, the name of the event, the city, etc? Why not make sure, since your slide will be up on the screen for up to sixty seconds before you start talking, that the slide is doing a lot of work for you.

Your opening slide can:

Tell the audience about what market you’re in.
What is your product/service.
What is your primary value proposition?
And more!

At the very least, you should compose a tag line below your company name that is a tweet or less (140 characters) that describes your company, industry, and key differentiators.

If you do this, you’ll have the audience queued up and ready to hear a pitch for what you do.

I call this process “building a box”. When you do this, you’re developing a conceptual framework into which everything you say can be placed in context. People who don’t build a box early on in their pitch leave us guessing and ultimately uninterested in the pitch.  This is the way the human brain works – we have a hard time processing information that is out of context – yet inexplicably, over half of VC pitches leave out the context until we’re half way through the pitch or more!

Don’t keep the audience guessing until half of the way through your pitch about what you do.

If the audience doesn’t get what you do within the first thirty seconds of your pitch – you’re dead.

Why not use that first slide to make sure that the audience knows what you do BEFORE YOU EVEN START SPEAKING?

Too many startups stress about how to get their whole story into a five minute pitchVC Pitch Last Slide and they don’t think enough about how to cheat time to get more out of their pitch.

You can cheat just a bit to get the most out of the five minutes (or two, seven, ten, twelve, fifteen or whatever you’re given). This is the first to two blogs on the topic of how to cheat time — the first has to do do with the first slide and the second has to do with the last slide.

Ask yourself this – how long is the last slide up on the screen?

The answer is that in a five minute pitch event, the last slide is usually up for five minutes of Q&A. If this slide is up for five minutes, why do so many people waste this opportunity by having the slide say “Thank You” and their email. Most pitch events provide your email to all attendees, and it’s great that you’re polite with the “thank you”, but it would be much better if you could effectively use that time and that slide to reinforce the key points of your pitch.

A good last slide will reiterate the highlights of your pitch.

You can have the team, product, market, traction, the deal, or whatever you like. I have seen slides broken up into as many as six sections with key elements reinforced in each. Since this slide is up for so long, the twenty five word limit for slides in a pitch event is waived! Go ahead and toot your horn.

The kiss of death for a pitch is when nobody has any questions for the presenter. This means that either people didn’t understand your pitch, or that they understood it well and had absolutely no interest. The last slide will help clarify key points, but most importantly, it will provide key points that people can ask questions about. Sometimes people are shy to ask a question and sound dumb if they didn’t understand something. Sometimes in a big pitch event, people may even get confused and ask a question that doesn’t even pertain to your company, but might have been from one or two pitches prior. Having your key points up on the screen gib vets them the confidence to ask questions.

Of course – the other great solution to silence during Q&A is to have Back Pocket Slides that you can draw on to effectively extend your pitch if nobody asks any questions!

Giving a VC pitch to angel investors or VCs can be nerve wracking for many startups, but one technique that can Venture Capital Back Pocket Slideshelp startups regain control and confidence is to have a full suite of Back Pocket Slides.

Back pocket slides are slides after your final slide in your deck that contain details about items you might not have had time to cover in your vc pitch, or that you anticipate might come up during Q&A. Examples of these things might include a competitive matrix, an outline of your IP strategy, or some detail on your go to market strategy and key metrics. These are all optional items in the typical pitch, but could be of interest to investors and are things that often come up during Q&A.

Imagine that you’ve just given your VC pitch, and you’ve got a great final slide that summarizes all your high points, but you still don’t have any questions. The audience is totally dead – what do you do?

A good presenter will wait about 10-12 seconds and if there are no questions, then they’ll say “one thing a lot of people ask me about is … Our competitive matrix. You’ll then shift to your competitive matrix slide and continue presenting with the same cadence and timing you used during your pitch. I.e. If your average slide time is 20-30 seconds, then you should maintain that same cadence with the back pocket slides. After you’re done with the slide, then pause to ask if there are any questions. Wait for up to five or six seconds and then start in with “another thing a lot of people ask about is…..” And start on another slide. I’ve never seen anyone need to use more than two slides in this way before the questions start rolling in.

Of course if there are questions, then you can also use the back pocket slides to reinforce your answers. It will make you appear much more in control if you have anticipated many of the questions and have pre-prepared detailed answers for them.

A good number of back pocket slides is five. Two or three can work, but you’re not as likely to get a hit during Q&A as if you have five. Some people have ten or more slides, but I find that they often have difficulty fumbling through them on stage in order to find them quickly, that this can sometimes backfire.

Finally, one more benefit of the back pocket slides is that if you’re invited to another venue that offers a ten minute pitch format, then you’ve already got your extra slides all put together and they become your primary slides instead of your back pocket slides!

alternatives to venture captialVenture capital is a great solution to many startups’ finance problems, but it’s often not the best solution and, even when it is the best solution, it often works best as a part of a suite of financial solutions rather than a silver bullet that solves everything in one move.

Venture capital, including angel investment, is the most expensive type of capital out there. So why would so many people be intent on going for the most expensive option when others exist?  A typical VC is looking for a return of 60% or greater on their investment – compounded annually.  That means that at three years they want 4X. At five years it’s 10X. At seven years it’s 25X and at 10 years it’s a whopping 100X return on investment.  All of these are 60% compounding returns.

Venture capitalists need big returns to help offset their big risks.  About half of their investments might result in a complete loss of invested capital, so they need to have investments capable of being home runs in order to pay for all the losers.

There are different ways to create a capital strategy for startups who want to both grow fast, but minimize dilution and reduce the cost of capital.  Rather than using just one very expensive type of capital for their startup, they may use a suite of different sources that are appropriate to the phase of development.

Early Stage – Before VC

Early stage companies have many sources of capital available to them, even if they don’t know it.

SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research), Advanced Industries Proof of Concept and many other federal and state grants are available for early research and proof of concept.  Often these are expensive research projects whose risk is much greater than can be justified even for venture capital.  Startups that use these sources of funds can increase their value and decrease their technical risk without any dilution to the founders.

Another source of early stage funding comes from specialty service providers.  Attorneys and CPAs will often defer compensation or work out an equity deal in exchange for early work.  You might be able to get your patent filed for zero out of pocket costs using this kind of deal.

In Revenue

Companies that are in revenue have lots of new non-VC sources of funding available.  Consider accounts receivable finance to cover your rapidly growing need of cash to carry AR through thirty to ninety days before it gets paid.  Some lenders will even lend on purchase orders so you can get the capital you need to buy the components you need to build your product.

If your product is a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, then your cost of goods is going to be people, not product.  Consider using Equity Compensation for all or part of your payment to your developers.  There are both individuals and development companies who will swap a portion of their compensation for equity.  You’ll need to have a good handle on your valuation, but why not give equity directly to your developers rather than give it to VCs who give you cash which you then turn around and give to developers?

So, there are many more types of finance options available to you than can be described here.  The main point to remember is that you are not required to use just one mode of funding.  Look at all of the available sources and design a suite of solutions that provides the best solution to your situation.

To learn more about how to use creative funding along with venture capital, or instead of it, consider attending the RVC’s Colorado Capital Conference November 15-16, 2016.  If you’re not in Denver on those days, you can register to participate in the conference via live-feed.

More information and registration at www.coloradocapitalconference.org

Colorado Capital Conference

 

 

 

Peter Adams

 

Peter is Executive Director of the Rockies Venture Club, Managing Director of the Rockies Venture Fund and teaches in the Colorado StaVenture Capital for Dummieste University MBA Program.  Peter is co-author of Venture Capital for Dummies, (John Wiley & Sons 2013) Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and your local book store.

 

 

 

It is almost deemed common sense to follow where the money is, but one must also consider where the opportunity is as well. This is where the thought leaders get a head start and  potentially receive better returns. The Rocky Mountain region is looking favorable for investing due to recent startup activity and a lack of access to capital.

Startup Activity in the RockiesScreen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.25.26 AM

Recent startup trends are looking favorable for the Rockies. The Rocky Mountain region states are Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Idaho. All of these states rank high on the Kauffman Index Startup Activity Rank for 2015.

Among these states Montana ranks #1 for 2015, and Wyoming follows at #2. Colorado ranks #4, and Nevada jumped 11 spots to place it self at #10.Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.30.43 AM

Fishing for Returns

Angel investors should always consider the water they are fishing in. The Rocky Mountain region is setting itself up to look like a stocked pool. With so much start-up activity, angels can afford to be picky while also diversifying their portfolio. Not to say angels should throw their money in the area assuming one will be a home-run type of investment. Yet, they have a bigger selection to compare and contrast similar investments.

Competitive Deals
Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 11.21.43 AM

The 2015 Annual Halo Report shows that 3 out of 4 Angels invested within their region. However, less than 18% share of all angel dollars are within the Rocky Mountain Region (this yields higher competition among the startups). Therefore, with less money coming from out of the region, and only 18% of total money within, start-ups need to build a well rounded deal to stand-out and gain an Angels attention.

(I.e. More activity doesn’t necessarily equal better returns, but it does yield more opportunity and more investment options. Always do your due diligence/invest smart, but also consider regional activity or trends.)

There are two major classes of investments you can make in cannabis companies, and every investor should know the difference. Read more