How to Invest In Your Talents, Build Your SaaS Team, and Tell Your Startup Story w/ Kristian Andersen

Powderkeg Podcast with Kristian Andersen, Partner at High Alpha

In this episode you’ll learn from Kristian Andersen, serial entrepreneur, investor, and Partner at Venture Studio High Alpha:

  • Kristian Andersen SaaS LeadershipWhy geography is not a factor in the success of your start up. (6:30)
  • Why developing your narrative can mean the difference between success and failure. (22:00)
  • What separates the winners from the losers in terms of mindset.  (27:30)
  • The importance of gratitude. (32:00)
  • How to hire A players into your company. (37:00)


Show notes for this episode are also available on the Powder Keg Podcast Website Here >>

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Key Business Leaders:

Startup Books:

Key Entrepreneurship and Leadership Quotes:

“Really, really good entrepreneurs are fundamentally really, really good story tellers.”

“Investing in people is a really, really quick way to effectively build your own brand.”

“Talent is the atomic unit of success.”

Powderkeg Podcast Transcript:

KRISTIAN ANDERSEN and MATT HUNCKLER

 

Matt: You have been very integral in helping several different start up and technology communities connect, grow and nurture that progress along the way; and much of that has been through your work with Studio Science – formerly KA+A. And I have been lucky enough to work with you on a handful of projects, several projects, over the years, with different tech companies and fast-growing agencies; and I remember… do you remember the first time we met?

Kristian: I’m embarrassed to tell you that I don’t recall the first time we met. We’ve known each other a long time.

Matt: We have known each other a long time.

Kristian: So I can certainly cite some more pivotal interactions, but tell me: what was the first time we met?

Matt: So I mean obviously I remember this better because I was a nobody at the time.

Kristian: Well, we were almost certainly both nobodies at the time.

Matt: Definitely not true. You still had the same swagger that you have today, and it was clear that you knew your stuff; and I definitely remember that, because I had just sold my company down in Bloomington doing what you do on a large scale, on a very small scale for small companies. And so I listened very intently when I first met you.

Kristian: Was it BlueLock?

Matt: It was with Brian Wolff.

Kristian: Brian Wolff, yeah, right.

Matt: So Brian, who’s an investor in Gravity Ventures with you, was my mentor; and we were able to meet up with you at your old Broad Ripple office, in the corner office.

Kristian: Back in the hood, yeah.

Matt: Yeah. Max Yoder welcomed me as the intern.

Kristian: That’s a pretty good person to have meet you for sure.

Matt: Absolutely; who of course we hired in to do Orr Fellowship a year later. So a lot of connections happened in KA+A.

Kristian: Yeah. He was the big one though. That was a coo for the Orr Fellowship…

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: To get Max, and it was a coo for us to get him. He walked in as a wet-behind-the-year, kind of junior. It was interesting; he applied for a design internship position, and was not studying design. We actually couldn’t find any relevant skills that he had that were applicable to our business, but you know, some people just make that big an impact; and he walked out and I said we’ve got to figure out a way to make a place for him.

Matt: Yeah? Absolutely.

Kristian: It was a good decision too.

Matt: I’m glad you did. I don’t think I would have… I wouldn’t have known him prior to the Orr Fellowship hiring process if that wasn’t the case. Same with Cruse

Kristian: Yeah?

Matt: Cruise was an Orr Fellow of that class.

Kristian: Yeah, that was an exceptional vintage.

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: But that was the year that I met you, and you certainly made an impression on me at that meeting and in the following meeting, which of course was over oysters at Bruges; which is kind of your… it will always stick out in my mind. It was the first time I ever had oysters.

Kristian: Were they mussels or oysters?

Matt: Mussels, of course they were mussels.

Kristian: I just want to represent the brand.

Matt: Way to represent the brand. All right, that’s good. That’s good. Well, you know, one of the things that I immediately noticed about you was what a passion for entrepreneurship you have; and not just here in Indianapolis, but all over the country and all over the world – which is where a lot of your clients are now, is pretty much all over the place. So you’ve built up over the last – what, 11, 12 years with Studio Science?

Kristian: I’m kind of like an ageing movie star at this point. The foreigners, right? We’re not, there’s conflicting reports on when the actual launch date was, but yeah, we’ve been at this for really over 13 years.

Matt: So why is it important, or why do you have such a passion for entrepreneurship and people starting companies outside of Silicon Valley, and outside of New York?

Kristian: Yeah, I mean my passion really isn’t limited to folks that are doing it outside of those geographies, right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: I happen to have a deep affection and a lot of respect for folks that are doing it in those geographies as well. I think what I find interesting about entrepreneurship in kind of less visible locales, is that it’s a slightly different game, right? And I’ve always had a penchant for the underdog, I guess. It might stem from a diminutive stature; that’s what my mom says. I’m not sure, but it’s… growing up in Arkansas, which is a really kind of unbalanced, pretty economically repressed and depressed state, right? So it comes in as a solid 49 typically on most meaningful measures of economic vitality. Yet even in a state that, you know, is much maligned for being kind of behind the times, you look at certain pockets of a place like that – and it’s certainly not unique to Arkansas. How you explain the rise of, you know, the largest retailer in the world, right? How do you explain the rise of one of the largest transportation logistics companies?

Matt: Which is Walmart and…?

Kristian: Walmart, JD Hines, Tyson Chicken.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, and Dillard’s Department Stores, Acxiom, which was really kind of the original big data company, right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: Came out of Little Rock. And out of really, kind of the most unlikely places – and actually you obviously see that around the world – that necessity is the mother of invention, right? And that success is not limited to zip code, right? But I think most people, specifically kind of aspiring entrepreneurs and people who are still kind of trying to feel their way through kind of their personal ambition levels, feel that they have to move, they have to go somewhere else, they have to locate to what has historically been thought of as the center of power, in order to build a big, meaningful business; and the truth of the matter is that’s not true, and I would argue that it’s never been true. I would say it’s less true today than ever. You know, technology has been such a great democratizer in terms of locale; but kind of observing this and being kind of an amateur student of economic development – specifically outside of kind of tier one cities – it dawned on me that there are really, really big opportunities. I mean in the finance world they would call maybe arbitrage opportunities, right?

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: And rather it be Indiana, or parts of Ohio, or Kentucky, or Oregon; I mean pick your state, right? Not all of California is Northern California, right?

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: There’s a lot of areas in the rest of that state that this is true for as well. I really wanted to help carry the torch and tell the story about the power of entrepreneurship, and how it can transform communities, and the economic development prospects of kind of historically depressed economies.

Matt: Well, you’re doing a really good job of carrying the torch here in Indianapolis; and one of the recent articles that you’re quoted in quoted you as saying: ‘We used to feel like we had to apologize for being located in Indianapolis, and that’s not the case anymore.’

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: Do you talk a little bit about that?

Kristian: Yeah, we say now we think of it as a competitive advantage, right?

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: And you know, it’s important to kind of separation the kind of ra ra cheerleading from fact, right? Because there is a dynamic where you do have to kind of fake it till you make it a little bit. You have to do that as a person. My dad used to always say, you know, ‘act as if’. Right? You know, dress for the job you want, right? And there is some of that that is true for individuals, cities, states, and you know, countries, right?

Matt: Is there an entrepreneur that has done that well, that you can think of?

Kristian: Uh, probably all of them. You know what I mean?

Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kristian: Because really, really good entrepreneurs – and I’ve strayed away from your initial question – but really, really good entrepreneurs are fundamentally really, really good story tellers.

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: Right? And it doesn’t mean that they’re telling stories that aren’t true, it means that they are telling the most interesting, most compelling, most articulate story possible. So is there an example of an entrepreneur who faked it till they made it?

Matt: That really stands out to you?

Kristian: Well, the question would be give me an example of a really successful entrepreneur that did not do that? And that’s when I’d have to go do some homework.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: Right? You know, as a general rule, they’re phenomenal story tellers, and they’re having to make a silk purse out of sows ears in most cases, right? They don’t have enough money, they didn’t necessarily go to the right school, or have the right degree. They’re trying to sell a vision for a product that doesn’t exist yet to customers they haven’t found yet. Right? So, no, I think that is actually a critical – and I’m making a very clear distinction between lying and being a good story teller, and being able to cast vision, and being able to get people to follow you. Lying I have zero tolerance for; but telling a good story, being able to craft a vision and articulate that well, and get potential customers or employees or investors excited is an absolutely critical skill. And at the state level – if you look at a state like Indiana – you can’t literally start with nothing. Right? You have to have some raw material, whether it be your brain or deep pocketbooks, or as, you know, Peter Thiel talks about, you’ve got to know a secret that very few other people know. You’ve got to have one or more of those things to really spin things up, and in Indiana we were really blessed by having all the normal stuff; highly educated, you know, workforce, the good old-fashioned – not myth – but kind of fact of the Midwestern work ethic.

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: And a number of businesses that had created kind of micro clusters for us to take advantage of from an entrepreneurial perspective, and that’s why when today I say we used to have to kind of explain away why we’re based in Indi, today we lead with that because in so many parts of the country now this particular city is recognized certainly as being a hotbed of marketing technology. Right? And it’s not limited purely to marketing tech, but certainly that’s kind of the sharp end of the spear.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: We’ve had a lot of success. Certainly a lot of that owed to ExactTarget, but it really transcends ExactTarget, as you know. Many companies before put a dent in the universe here, including Interactive Intelligence and Software Artistry.

Matt: Aprimo.

Kristian: Aprimo, and so on and so forth. And through that we’ve built such a dynamic base of talent, managerial expertise, a large hiring base; it’s why just over the course of the past few months a number of companies that are headquartered out of state have begun opening offices – a pretty rapid clip here, right? To take advantage of that arbitrage.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it kind of goes to the point of sort of branding your city, and being able to get everyone behind a single message. And sort of that vision casting aspect of entrepreneurship – you’re going to probably cringe when I say this word – is a little bit of developing a personal brand.

Kristian: Yeah. I do cringe a little bit when you say it, yeah. I know exactly what you mean.

Matt: I knew it would, but you know, I don’t know what other phrase… Until you come up with a better phrase than personal branding, you know, I do think that the personal brand of an entrepreneur is very important, and clearly impacts the way the company is branded. Can you talk a little bit about what you coach entrepreneurs – whether they’re young or not – but first time entrepreneurs, as they’re going about vision casting and building their pitch deck, and going out there raising money or building prototypes; what are some of the things that you frequently encourage entrepreneurs, or course correct with entrepreneurs, around branding their start up?

Kristian: Yeah. Well you know, the irony is one of the things that will kind of damage your career early on – if you’re wanting to position yourself as an entrepreneur company building – is to spend too much time and effort trying to figure out how to brand yourself as an entrepreneur or a company building. Right? It’s always… used to be a turn off. Now, the older I get the more empathy I have; but it always struck me as interesting or odd when a 22-year old walk handed me their business card and it would say kind of ‘serial entrepreneur’ or something like that on it. Right? I’m sure there are 22-year olds who are legitimately serial entrepreneurs – there’s not a lot of them. You know, at the end of the day the best marketing is a great product. Right? So this is true for software companies. This is true for automobiles. This is true for cities that are trying to figure out municipal branding. And it’s also true for people.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? So those who are focused on kind of the traditional approach to personal branding, which is all about building your own mission statement and relentlessly being present and visible on social media, and showing up to every conference, and trying to get on the panel…

Matt: Right.

Kristian: And so on, and so forth. If all of that energy was being funneled toward building a product – and I mean in some cases the product being a person. Right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: How you create value in the world. Right? I think you would see a lot more success. And I’ll give you just a finite example, right? The way to build a great personal brand is to help people. Right? So that may be the people you work with, it may be the person you work for today, it may be the people who you are trying to hire or attract into your company, it could be people in a non-profit space, people at your church. Whatever the case might be, right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Investing in people is a really, really quick way to effectively build your own brand. If you have a reputation for being somebody who gets stuff done, who when people ask for help delivers that help, that is so much more effective in establishing credibility and boosting your visibility, rather than just being noticed. Right? And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t blog and be active on Twitter and… of course you should, right? But all of that should be, I believe, done through the lens of ‘How am I helping? How am I creating value?’ Right? ‘How am I making the world a better place? How am I advancing the agenda of my organization or the city I live in?’ And I think that’s where people most often go wrong; and I can cite a whole lot of examples – and I won’t bore you with the details – but it seems like a simple truth, but it’s one that people have a hard time grasping.

Matt: Well, lets get a little specific there, because I really like that idea of entrepreneur as a product. Right? Before maybe they even have a product built, and an entrepreneur viewing themselves as a product. So if entrepreneurs out there are viewing themselves as a product, what do you see – at this point in time, 2015 – what are people out there hungry for in terms of a product as it pertains to an entrepreneur as a product? What kind of entrepreneurs does the world need right now?

Kristian: You know, unfortunately what the world needs and what people are hungry for are rarely the same thing.

Matt: That’s a good point.

Kristian: People are not particularly rational, as you know, and have a hard time kind of playing the long game, right? So you know, I fear my answer will be kind of unsatisfactory because it’s so banal and obvious; but the simple version is we need more people doing, and less people pontificating. Right? So, I mean we see this, you know, everywhere; in our business and the companies that we work with and the companies that we’re talking to from an investment perspective. Execution trumps everything, right? Ideas are cheap. You and I meet with people every day that have ideas. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have at least one hundred million-dollar idea rattling around in their brain.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? Ideas are cheap. You know, in terms of currency, it’s people that actually kind of advance, move the ball forward; and that means rolling up your sleeves and being prepared to face a whole lot of rejection and casting aside any sense of entitlement one might have about what the world owes them, or what they deserve.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Once again, that’s human nature, right? I mean, we are kind of broken people innately, right? And we constantly have to battle selfishness. Right? I want. I deserve. Why me?

Matt: Sure, sure.

Kristian: So on and so forth, and I think the people who end up being most successful are folks that get to work building something that has value that transcends themselves. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And once again this goes back to how you do personal branding well. I can tell you how to do it wrong. Right? If it’s focused purely on you building your CV, making sure you’re the most visible, brightest light in the room….

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Over time that pays; you may get some pops from it, but it pays diminishing returns over time. Humility is so underrated.

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: It is unbelievable, and people talk about it all the time as if it’s like this core value that everyone shares; and I’ll tell you, true humility is in extraordinarily short supply.

Matt: It’s hard to come by. Hopefully a little less hard to come by here in the Midwest.

Kristian: Yeah. You know what, there’s even this perverse arrogance in the Midwest about their humility; they love to talk about how humble they are.

Matt: It’s true. It’s true.

Kristian: Right?

Matt: Guilty right now.

Kristian: Yeah. Well no, it’s interesting; I was on a road trip with someone the other day and we were kind of comparing the different geographies and what’s true about them, and I was making this case for Midwestern humility, and he was like, ‘You know, even in the Midwest you see humility perverted into vanity, where it becomes this bad…’

Matt: Look how humble I am.

Kristian: Look how humble I am. It’s a little bit like when somebody gets their Oscar and they, you know, any time somebody says, ‘I’m so humbled by…’ they actually mean the exact opposite of that. Right? So it’s another word that is slowly losing its meaning.

Matt: Yeah. That’s true. Well, let’s say that founders out there watching this right now are working on building great product, and they’re building a great team – as best a team they can with whatever money they’re bringing in from their product. There’s still some amount of communication that they need to do in order to continued to attract the right talent, potentially attract investors, and market to clients. What are kind of like – especially in the early stages – what are some of those things, as let’s say a founder’s going out to start the fundraising process; how can they communicate who they are and what they’re about effectively with their brand, or what is to become their brand?

Kristian: I mean once again, I think it goes back to story telling; and I really don’t make a distinction, so I talk about…

Matt: Should there be one story? Should there be many stories?

Kristian: Oh no, there needs to be one story. It certainly can be contextualized for the audience.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: But no, there needs to be, there should only be one story; and that story needs to live in the product.

Matt: Okay.

Kristian: Not exclusively, but I’m not… we tend to fall into this way of thinking where there’s marketing and there’s product; and those are different things. Right? One is, you know, how you fulfil demand, and the other is how you generate demand; and I tend to think that those are not the same thing. Increasingly, as people purchase experiences – not products – you have to think along the lines that the continuum is different. Right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: So the retail experience if there is one, the advertising experience if there is one, the product experience – so actually interacting with what I’m paying money for, the services experience that I’m dealing with; if I have a problem or I need to return it, or something broke. I mean, that’s all the product.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: And really the most successful products are stores, right? And I mean, if I said: ‘Hey, name the three most interesting dynamic products on the planet?’ Right? Whether you said the Nest thermostat, or Tesla, or a MacBook Pro, or whatever – those are really kind of like living narratives. Right?

Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kristian: I mean literally. It’s a story, and it’s a story that’s constantly being tuned, and it’s constantly being tweaked. So my first point would be that you need to view your product and that experience of consuming it – buying it, consuming it – as part of that narrative. More specifically, in the fundraising process I like to think of the pitch deck as it’s a novel, right? It is hopefully not a work of fiction, but it’s a book. It’s a story; and it has a plotline. Right?

Matt: Okay.

Kristian: That should be clearly articulated. It has a protagonist.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? You’re a product coming to save the day. It has an antagonist; what’s the problem that’s being addressed?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: What’s the great wrong that has to be righted? It has a de noir, it has a climax, right? The climax may be when that problem gets solved for a particular customer. If you’re talking to investors it might be when there’s liquidity in there, that puts money back in the investors pockets; but I think if entrepreneurs would force themselves to think in terms of the narrative, constantly the narrative. Who’s our hero?

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Who’s are enemy? Right? What’s the great quest or challenge that’s been put in front of us? Right? Kind of the hero’s journey.

Matt: Yeah. I like that.

Kristian:  That goes a really, really long way. And that way when you get nervous, or you need other people to help carry the water and tell the story, you know… We might all give slightly different versions of what happened in Star Wars, but in general we’d be able to tell the same story. Right? And it’s the same thing when you’re raising money, and you’ve got a COO, or if you’ve got a co-founder and you’re split up, or you’re in different planes and your pitching different groups. You want to be singing out of the same hymn book. The same things true when you’re selling to customers. The same things true when you’re recruiting. And this is why the idea of story, living inside of the product, living inside your organization, being a culture, is so critical; because if you’ve got a story that’s properly articulated and codified then it’s not just up to you to be able to tell that story.

Matt: Yeah. Let’s get a little more brass tacks; how long should that story be?

Kristian: Once again, I think you’ve got to contextualize it, right? So, if you’re at a launch festival you’ve got two minutes. It should be two minutes long. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, if you’re sitting down, recruiting a VP of Sales, you can take a lot longer to tell that story; but you know, if you want to think of it through the kind of rubric of the investor pitch, right? Obviously, less is more. And you know, 10 to 15 slides, following that plot line of who we are, what we do, here’s the problem, here’s how big the problem is – which is a really critical thing that many entrepreneurs get wrong. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: There are a lot of terrific problems out there, that are real and no one’s going to argue with the fact that they’re real; but if you’re successful in addressing it, in a vacuum it may not be sufficient to build a venture scale business around. One thing, because the one thing that – I’m really on a Peter Thiel kick now, so forgive me – but the one…

Matt: I read Zero to One based on your recommendation.

Kristian: One of the things he points out in that book that I think is critical is that most really, really big ideas, A. seem dumb. Right? Initially.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: And, B. appear to be attacking a problem that’s too small. Right? So you really need to understand how big the opportunity could be. The flip side of that is, folks that are only targeting ten billion dollar minimum total addressable markets I think are missing the boat, because many, many great ideas are great because they actually change consumption habits; they change the way people behave. So trying to size that market before you’ve disrupted it can be an impossibility, and I think if people are too fixated on that it means we’re going to miss out on a lot of great ideas.

Matt: That’s a really good point, and I think that if you can kind of shape that in your story, right? And show… who was it? I don’t remember who was talking about how they did this effectively, but it was literally; in this industry this company did this. In this industry, this company did this. In this industry, no ones done it yet; that’s because we’re doing it. Are there other things that you see that kind of escalate that story to the climax, or sort of the apex moment of the story?

Kristian: Yeah. I mean once again a lot of this is conventional wisdom, but I think we hear it so much that it loses its efficacy.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, another big deal in the story telling process is you really have to… people have to care about you, the individual.

Matt: Right.

Kristian: Before they can care about your product, right? Or even care about the problem that you’re trying to solve.

Matt: How do you make someone care about you.

Kristian: Yeah. That’s a good question. A number of the things that we’ve already touched on, right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: So it really comes down to, who do you want to invest in? What are the character traits that exist – and this differs from investor to investor for sure, but there’s some commonality, right? By and large people want to invest in winners, right? Now that seems kind of crass.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: But it’s the absolute fact, and winners have kind of one defining characteristic.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Are you ready for this?

Matt: I’m ready.

Kristian: Okay. Winners believe that they are going to win.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? So losers think they might win if everything goes according to plan and nothing happens, you know? Nobody screws with them from the outside and the market doesn’t get disrupted by a third party. Winners don’t think about that that stuff.

Matt: They don’t have a Plan B, C, D…

Kristian: As soon as the shoes are laced up, they’re out there. They’re not just trying to win; they believe that they are going to win. Right? I mean Ali is like the greatest example, right?

Matt: Sure. There is an example of humility.

Kristian: Yeah. Well you know what’s interesting, there was lots of things that he knew he wasn’t good at.

Matt: It’s very true.

Kristian: Lots of stuff. Right? He happened to be right about the one thing he believed he was good at. Right? And that was whipping people. So don’t confuse humility with fake self-deprecation, or self-flagellation. That’s not what I mean. You can know you’re really good at something…

Matt: Right.

Kristian: And still manage to be humble in the process. And also baked into that is people want to invest in winners, they want to invest in people who they believe are teachable – because nobody knows it all, right? So coming across, somehow striking that balance where you are confident and self-assured is critical, but also that you are flexible, because we know that you are going to need to be, coachable, teachable. And I’ll tell you, you know you can’t read a book on it, in terms of that person. Right? I mean, it’s like everything else; you’ve got to practice those things. You’ve got to practice being confident.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, it’s all about like, at bats. Right? And that’s why constantly pitching, working on a story, interacting with people, refining your method – in many ways talking yourself into what it is you’re trying to talk other people into.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Is so critical. I do believe that there are probably some entrepreneurial genes that are passed along from mother to daughter, or father to son; but as a general rule, most of that is a function of training and learning.

Matt: Well if you’re in America the chances are you have some of those genes in you.

Kristian: Yeah. That’s right, that’s right.

Matt: Well so, those are really good pieces, you know, in terms of the character and bringing out that character in telling that story; your own entrepreneurial character as well as the protagonist and antagonist in your story. You know, as you’re going through and developing a relationship, you know one of the things that I’ve always admired about Studio Science is even though I haven’t always been your biggest client – nor have I probably ever been your biggest client – the care that you take in developing that relationship with just little things, you know; like sending gifts. You know, when I was on the front page of the IBJ, you guys were the first people to send a thank you note. Talk to me a little bit about, 1). Where did you get that trait? Because I know it’s not you writing every card, but it comes from you, the founder of the company.

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: And can you maybe tell me a little bit about why that’s important?

Kristian: Yeah. Well certainly it’s not – as you noted – that’s the culture of Studio Science, and the culture of gratitude is really strong here; some gratefulness, being grateful. And I think we are all, I know we are all really grateful to have the opportunity to do what we do for a living. I mean it’s a really dreamy job.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know? And we’ve been successful at it, and we’ve been rewarded along those lines, which has been terrific; but that – at the risk of sounding trite – that’s definitely not why we do it, because there are easier ways to make money.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: As they say. I think everyone here is really grateful, and so it’s… when you are yourself satisfied and content and grateful, and acknowledge the fact that you have a lot of stuff that you may not deserve, it makes it really easier… it makes it a lot easier to be happy for other people.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? Gratefulness is the exact opposite of resentfulness. Right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: And so what that leads to, is it leads to a culture of celebration, where you not only want to celebrate kind of your own successes, but you naturally just want to celebrate other people’s as well.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? I think it’s one of the reason why we’ve been such an active and prolific cheerleader of this community, is that we’re proud to have played some role in its ascension; but more than anything we’re just happy. We’re happy for the people who live here and work here, we’re happy for the people that have those successes. And you ask where it comes from and, you know, I think that in my case – it certainly doesn’t all come from me here – but in my case I was certainly raised in an environment where I was reminded to be grateful. Right? Where that was part of the culture of my family, to give thanks, and to give thanks religiously – if you’ll pardon the pun. And that spills over into every aspect of your life, right? It does not mean that I am never resentful, it doesn’t mean that I never look at somebody and go, ‘I sure would like a car like that someday.’ But I think it’s sincere, and I think interesting, it’s gratifying to hear you say that about Studio Science. I think that’s something that this team owns, and spends a lot of time trying to be really intentional about.

Matt: Mm hm. What – you know in terms of that being a core value for Studio Science – 1). Do you think that that needs to be a core value for all companies? And then the follow up question is, do all companies need to define what their core values are?

Kristian: I mean the second, the last question is simple. Yes. I mean at some point there needs to be some shared understanding about what’s important.

Matt: At what point is that important? Do you think that’s before you hit the road pitching?

Kristian: Yeah. I think in the beginning, right? I mean – and once again, you know, I’m certainly not saying we’ve always been good at that, and that’s always a process… I believe values can change by the way. Right? And most people would say, ‘No, you set those in stone and those become your guiding lights.’ No. I think things change, people change, and what may be important ten years ago, may not be as important to you. Maybe you achieved that, or maybe you thought that was important to you and you realized over time that it wasn’t; but no, I think you absolutely have to be really proactively engaged in evaluating what’s important.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Documenting that somehow. And this is the role of CEO. Right? Is to establish what is important for that business, and then relentlessly communicate that down to the organization until people are sick and tired of hearing it. In terms of should gratefulness be a core value for all businesses? I mean, I have no idea. Far be it for me to say what should be important to them. So no. It has been important for us; it has served us well. It’s been something that we can galvanize around and rally around, and it’s certainly paid dividends. It’s the kind of quintessential ‘what goes around comes around’ scenario.

Matt: That’s good. We talked a lot about what companies can do to communicate well, and to grow; specifically focusing on product and developing the right messaging around that, at the right times. What are the things that companies… what are those things that growing companies need to avoid? And you know, we obviously touched on some of that too; focusing all of your time and attention on doing the ‘look at me’ side of things. But what are some of the pitfalls you see, especially in fast-growing companies, which you work almost exclusively with fast growing companies?

Kristian: Yeah. I think the biggest thing – I think this is a pretty easy question actually… As we like to say, talent is the atomic unit of success. Right? So that’s kind of the irreducible complexity of success, is who are you working with? You know, you’ve got a crappy product? If you hire the best team they will fix your crappy product. Right? You’ve got bad customer service? You hire the right team; they will fix your bad customer service. Talent can fix anything.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? It can fix a bad product. Literally. Right? It can fix a broken sales model. Literally. And so getting the right people on board is so critical; and everyone pays lip service to that, right? Everyone, ‘talent’s our most valuable resource’, or whatever. The reality is that when you’re a hyper growth company, and you’re hiring 50 people a month, or 50 people a week…

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? It can be really difficult, almost impossible, to hire well across the board. Right? So when you’re the size of Studio Science, it’s not easy, but it’s manageable. Right? If we need to slow our role to make sure we’ve got the right folks on the team, we’ll just slow down. Right? If you’re a hyper growth venture backed company that, you know, the wolves are at the door and the competitors are circling and IBM decides to get into the business, you can’t take your foot off the accelerator. So hiring is so critical, and getting that right is so critical, and so difficult; and so knowing that at scale it’s going to be almost impossible to continue to hire A players, building the right type of culture with the right type of values, that are rigorously and religiously conveyed to those inside of the organization, can help smooth out a lot of those rough patches; because the second best thing you can do next to hiring the right person, is firing the wrong person quickly. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And if you’ve got the right culture in place, and the right values in place, and the right people in place, the host organism will reject. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Folks that are not good fits, folks that are either toxic or not up to the task. It’s not always up to bad people, sometimes they just don’t have the horsepower. Right? And when you’re into the hyper growth curb, especially early on, a couple of bad apples can really muck up the works, you know? I mean this is – once again, this is kind of conventional wisdom – but the interesting thing about A players is A players will hire, and subsequently inspire other A players.

Matt: Right.

Kristian: The problem with letting just one B+ person in the door – and that’s tricky, because B+ people walk like A+ people, and they talk like A+ people; it can be very, very hard to understand the nuance. The minute one of those folks come in the door, the wheels gonna fall off the wagon; because B player hire and inspire C players, and C players hire and inspire D players, and it’s like a virus. Right? A players are so unique in that regard. And I’ll tell you, if you want to know the secret to divining the difference…

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: How do you know an A from a B in the interview process? It’s pretty simple, I think I’ve got it down.

Matt: Let’s hear it.

Kristian: When you ask them the kind of perfunctory question about, ‘Tell me about one of your greatest failures. Like when a project went wrong?’ You know, this is kind of standard interview 101. What you’ll find is that the A player and the B player will both tell you about the failure, and then you’ll say to the A person, ‘Why did that happen?’ Here’s what the A person will say: ‘I failed to do X and then recognize that until two weeks later, and by that point it was too late.’ Or, ‘My manager told me to do X, but I decided to do Y and it failed.’ Or, ‘I slept through my alarm.’ Or whatever the case may be. A B player – the cause will be external. Right? ’Well my boss insisted that we use an offshore development firm, and they didn’t really understand what we were trying to do, and they…’ Or, ‘We had this new sales guy came in, and he sold a bunch of vapor that doesn’t even exist in the product yet. There was no way for me to…’ Right? It’s always going to be some external event, or individual, or set of circumstances, that drove the failure. And I mean to me that has proven itself to be the clearest, cleanest, crispest way to distinguish two parties that on paper look almost identical. How do you know who’s really… who’s got the bandwidth and intellectual horsepower and humility, the leadership to move to the next level? That simple test usually will render that out.

Matt: Do you ask that question too, to entrepreneurs who pitch to you? Or do you have a similar kind of litmus test around character?

Kristian: You know, it’s interesting. The way we deal with someone who’s coming and asking for money, and the way we deal with somebody who is gracious enough to consider coming and joining us – we manage that a little differently. Right? So those are two different… It’s an interesting question, I’ve never thought of it that way; but those are two very different processes. There’s a different set of patterns that I personally am looking for in an entrepreneur. Right? And once again, a lot of this is kind of intuitive, or intuition driven. Some of it is a little more practical and linear. You can ask some questions. And the first thing is to be a great entrepreneur you have to be oriented toward entrepreneurship, right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And one of the simplest ways to find out the answer to that question is to ask them about their entrepreneurial background. I mean it is shocking… I mean it is really, really shocking how similar the backgrounds of most successful entrepreneurs are. I mean there are a series of very similar… You know, I always ask, ‘Tell me about the first time you remember making money on your own.’ Right? And I mean like clockwork, it’s the same answer. I mean, contextualized a little differently, but they were selling cinnamon toothpicks on the playground, or they were having their mom drop them off at 7-11 and buying lemonheads, and then crossing the street to the elementary school and marking them up 50 percent, or they were selling T-shirts to the sorority girls when they were in college, or they were mowing lawns at the beginning of Summer and by the end of the Summer they were running a crew of five of their friends mowing lawns and they were just counting checks. I mean that cadence of being a starter; being able to execute, being able to build teams – whether it was in third grade selling cinnamon toothpicks, or you know, brokering T-shirt printing to college kids – it’s really, really similar, and as you… Just because you did that does not mean you will be successful. That’s not my point. But those who are successful, by and large, a disproportionate number of them have similar experiences. As a matter of fact, a disproportionate number of them never even had real jobs.

Matt: For those with real jobs, who haven’t already started an entrepreneurial venture; should they stay away from starting something?

Kristian: That’s a good question. So if you have not exhibited the gene historically; are you saying is that enough of a reason to not move into entrepreneurship? I don’t know. That’s a good question.

Matt: It probably doesn’t matter what you say, because the person that’s the right person would start no matter what you said.

Kristian: That is an excellent point. So yeah, for anyone who that would dissuade them – they’re ignoring what I’m saying anyway. So that’s good. And I think the answer is no, because I think that you can come to things late in life. And really that’s certainly… yeah, absolutely. And I also think that the – I’ve used this word several times today, it’s an important one – I think the context of entrepreneurship has changed dramatically, and will continue to change as well. Right? So as we largely continue to move into this kind of free agent nation idea…

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? The idea of, ‘Well, I’ve been at the same job for 28-years, I don’t know if I…’ We’re not going to have one of those conversations in the future. Right? So I think that one of the things that’s happening is everybody is having to become, at least at a micro level, entrepreneurial even in their day-to-day jobs. So I don’t know that the cinnamon toothpick test will be as meaningful five years from now as it was five years in the past.

Matt: That’s a good point. Well, Kristian I could probably ask you questions all afternoon if you’d let me.

Kristian: Yeah, we’ll save some.

Matt: But I know you’ve got a lot of stuff to do, and we’ve got another conversation coming up in a couple of days. So, anything else you want to touch on? Or something that you just really wanted to expand on but I cut you off?

Kristian: No. I got it all out of my system.

Matt: Awesome man. Thank you so much.

Kristian: Hey, thank you. A please.

Matt: Likewise.

9 Pros or Cons of Working With More Than One Angel Investor at a Time

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What is one pro or con of working with more than one angel investor at a time?

 

1. Pro: Support and Vision

Jennifer MellonTrustify’s Angel Investors are an incredibly supportive group of individuals. They are motivated for us to succeed, understand our business, and trust our leadership. They provide us with key introductions, help us penetrate various verticals we want to explore and offer unwavering support of our vision. Working with multiple angel investors, who are all a good fit, can be incredibly beneficial. – Jennifer MellonTrustify 

 

2. Con: Not Agreeing With Each Other 

dave-nevogtWhen you have one angel investor, you can devote your time to working closely with that person, bouncing ideas back and forth, and turning your project into a collaboration. While this is possible with two or more angel investors, it’s less likely to happen because you will have two parties taking up a similar role, and collaboration will take more coordination/cooperation. – Dave NevogtHubstaff.com 

 

3. Pro: Access to Their Portfolio Companies

 Firas KittanehAngel investors are generous with their introductions and often invite you to tap the other entrepreneurs in their network. With multiple angels backing your business, you can leverage their collective influence and connections to grow your business. Even if one of your angels is unresponsive or declines to offer an intro, you can simply name drop them when requesting meetings with other founders. – Firas KittanehAmerisleep 

 

4. Con: Keeping Your Story Straight 

Kevin XuOne con is that you want to make sure your story delivers a congruent message to all investors. Most importantly, you want to make sure they all understand that message the same way. If they don’t, that can be a problem. – Kevin XuMebo International 

 

 

5. Pro: Access to Multiple Minds 
Chris BarrettFinding multiple strategic angels makes sense. This way, you can create your own mind trust of experts who believe in you and are financially invested in making sure you have the knowledge to succeed. Diversity is extremely important in all aspects of your startup. Attracting several angel investors from different backgrounds allows you to develop your business, with multiple safeguards in place. – Chris BarrettPRserve 

 

6. Con: Giving Away More of Your Business

Peter DaisymeEvery person you bring in as an investor will want a piece of your business. That means the more people that come on board, the larger chunk of your company you are no longer in control of. While you get more money, it also means you will have a larger amount of equity to give away when it’s time to pay them back. – Peter DaisymeDue Invoicing 

 

7. Pro: Expanding Your Business Network

Dustin CavanaughA pro to taking on multiple angel investors is the opportunity to expand your business network by acquiring new stakeholders who are incentivized by the positive performance of your business. The more investors you have, the larger your business network grows. – Dustin CavanaughRenewAge 

 

 

8. Pro: Increased Odds of Success 

Anthony PezzottiBy utilizing more than one angel investor, you’re bringing double the years of experience, advice and guidance to your venture and vastly increasing your chances to succeed. According to a study done at Harvard Business School, businesses funded by angel investors are much more inclined to remain in business longer, experience substantial growth, and see a larger rate of return. – Anthony PezzottiKnowzo.com 

 

9. Pro: Choosing One to Represent

Hongwei LiuAll  In my experience, angels can be active or passive, in that they want regular updates or are content with others actively managing the company. A pro I’ve found is having one lead angel who can speak for all others in a round, and who is interested and able to actively contribute in governance. They also must be credible and respected enough for other angels to take a back seat to them. – Hongwei Liumappedin 

 

14 Red Flags an Investor Is Not a Good Fit for You

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What is one red flag that tells you an investor is not a good fit for you?

1. A Lack of Preparation

Luigi WewegeA dismissive attitude towards reviewing vital documents, such as an agreement proposal or strategic plans, is a red flag. After the initial due diligence, I like to have a one-on-one meeting scheduled with the investor to discuss the investment in depth, its financials, its motivation, and our company philosophy. Then I can be certain we’re a good fit and clarify any misunderstandings before moving forward.

– Luigi WewegeVivier Group

2. A Weak Network

Cody McLainWhen you partner up with an investor, you’re not just relying on their guidance and expertise. In many cases, you are also counting on having  some level of access to their network that will allow you to bring a superior product to the fore. If your investor is all money and no network, that’s a huge red flag. It means to me that we both won’t have a clue what do with his/her money.

– Cody McLainSupportNinja

3. Wanting to Change Who You Are

Laura LandIt constantly amazes me how many people will take a look an already successful business that is looking to grow and tell them to change the core of who they are or what their brand is. It’s a big red flag if the investor doesn’t understand and appreciate what is it that you already produce versus throwing out a million ways you could be a different company.

– Laura LandEMPIRE Cell Phone Accessories

4. Being Overly Emotional

Ty MorseBusiness can be stressful. When you see someone completely lose it — get emotional, upset, disturbed, or angry — during negotiations, you know that person does not have the maturity and professionalism you want in an investor. We’ve found people we thought were a good fit, but when we got into negotiations, they acted out. That’s when we knew we needed to get them out.

– Ty MorseSongwhale

5. A Lack of Niche-Experience

Adam SteeleIf you’ve never worked in/have no experience with my industry and niche, I can’t be sure of what your motivations are. What I am pretty sure of though, is that you didn’t pick us out of a fundamental understanding of what we do. Assuming that, I will be uncomfortable with almost any level of influence you want to exert over our operations.

– Adam SteeleThe Magistrate

6. Focusing Too Heavily on the Exit

Travis HoltWhen the first question out of their mouth is about the exit, I know it’s time to run for the hills. The exit is the product of many long hours, tough decisions and wrong turns. If the investor isn’t interested in being there for the process, they’re going to grow impatient and be a drain on your most valuable resource — your time!

– Travis HoltBrush Creek Partners

7. Not Understanding the Stage You’re In

Omer TrajmanEvery stage of growth needs a different kind of investor. Early on, look for an investor who thinks like a business partner. As you grow, ideal investors are on the same page as you are in terms of target customers, model for the business, and eventually look to invest based on your financials. At each stage, the red flag is different. Overall the biggest red flag is a mismatch in expectations.

– Omer TrajmanRocana

8. Asking About Becoming a Board Member Too Soon

Afif KhouryAll money is not the same. Investors can make or break your business. One red flag you definitely need to be aware of is the investor asking about being a board member early in your talks. This is a reasonable question, but should come later in the process. If you’re asked this at your first meeting, you are probably dealing with someone who is going to try to micromanage you and your team.

– Afif KhourySOCi, Inc

9. Wanting You to Fill a Quota

Brittany HodakZinePak is self-funded, but I’m constantly shocked by how many would-be investors approach me and say things like, “We’re looking for more women-led companies in our portfolio,” or “I like that you guys aren’t tech-first. I need five non-tech companies this year.” If/when we take on investors, it will be because they believe in our company and mission — not because they want to check a box off for their portfolio.

– Brittany HodakZinePak

10. Having Unrealistic Expectations

Nicolas GremionIt’s okay to take on an investor with limited investment or industry experience.  But be careful when it comes to taking one on with unrealistic expectations. For example, becoming an overnight sensation, or wondering why Warren Buffett hasn’t asked how many zeros your acquisition check should contain. Make sure they either understand the investment landscape or can be realistic about it. .

– Nicolas GremionFree-eBooks.net

11. Not Respecting Your Time

jeff epsteinInvestors are busy. The fastest way to get on their bad side is to waste their time. The same should be true for you. I’ve found that the best investors respect my time as much as their own. If they don’t during the ‘courting’ process, you better believe they won’t when they are on your board (or have rights).

– Jeff EpsteinAmbassador

12. Dwelling on Mistakes

Jayna CookeRed flags depend on what you are looking for. Are you looking for additional resources or just money? We’re looking for investors who approach things as opportunities for improvement rather than dwelling on mistakes. At the end of the day, if you can’t see yourself having a beer with them, then I don’t suggest doing business with them.

– Jayna CookeEVENTup

13. Wanting Too Much Control

Shawn PoratWhen I’m looking for investors, I want someone who believes in my company and who also trusts me to continue to make the major decisions. If I want to relinquish control, I’ll just sell the business. But it’s a red flag if an investor expects his investment to give him the right to start making all the decisions. So I prefer investors who believe in my vision and doesn’t want too much influence.

– Shawn PoratFortune Cookie Advertising

14. Poor References

Jonny SimkinMost companies go through at least one rough period. You need an investor that will support you through the good times, but even more so during the bad times. The best way to find out if an investor is supportive during the bad times is to talk with founders who have raised money from the investor you’re speaking with.

– Jonny SimkinSwyft

What You Need to Know About the New SEC Crowdfunding Rules

“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”  — Dr. Laurence J. Peter

When Congress passed the JOBS Act it mandated that the Securities and Exchange Commission finalize new crowdfunding rules within nine months. Well, the SEC missed the deadline by nearly three years, but on October 30, 2015, it finally approved the new rules. They “go live” April 2016 and there are some details you really ought to know…

What You Need to Know about SEC Crowdfunding Rules

Verge regulars know that last year Indiana passed its own, intra-state crowdfunding law (see my prior Verge article). While the Indiana-specific rules are now likely to gather dust because they limit your pool of potential investors to only Hoosiers, the federal rules may prove to be a robust marketplace for small-scale capital raises. Here’s a quick snapshot of the SEC’s final rules.

But First, Why New Rules?

As most know, selling securities is a highly regulated activity. Securities must be sold on public exchanges, unless there’s an exception.

The exception most familiar to entrepreneurs is the 506(b) safe harbor, which allows companies to sell securities to accredited investors in a private placement. Accredited investors include, among others, banks, high net worth individuals and trusts, and the issuer’s officers and directors; that is, those with sufficient knowledge and resources to “know better” and to absorb any losses from risky investments. Sites like CircleUp and AngelList have used crowdfunding for a few years, but they limit access to accredited investors.

verge startup pitches at the hi-fiOf course, there’s potential upside to investing in startups, and the “99%” who lack the income to qualify as accredited investors are presently shut out from investing in early and mid-stage companies.

Crowdfunding solves that problem by creating a new safe harbor where start-ups can raise money off of the public exchanges.

5 New SEC Crowdfunding Rules for Companies

Here are a few key rules for companies crowdfunding under the new SEC guidelines:

  1. Max Raise. A company may raise up to $1 million in a 12-month period from the crowd. (Note: under Indiana’s law, a company that provides Hoosiers with audited financials may raise up to $2 million).
  2. Portal. The company must conduct the raise through a registered third party “funding portal.”
  3. Target/Deadline. Through the portal, the company must set a target offering amount and a deadline to reach that amount, and it must allow investors to back out of any commitment up to forty-eight hours before the deadline.
  4. Investor Disclosures. The company must disclose certain company information to investors. The amount of disclosure required is similar to what start-ups are accustomed to disclosing to accredited investors: risk factors, business plans, financial statements (balance sheets, income statements, and cash flows), governance, and the like. You’ll want an experienced lawyer’s assistance.
  5. Annual Reporting. The company must file annual reports with the SEC, but with nowhere near the depth required of publicly-traded companies. Failure to comply with this or other SEC rules could strip you of your exemption. Not good.

Ding Dong the Wicked Audit is Dead (Sort Of)

New SEC Crowdfunding Rules For financial disclosures, the SEC’s proposed rules had called for audited financial statements for all raises above $500,000. There was tremendous push-back due to costs; for instance, Slava Rubin, Indiegogo co- founder and CEO, called audits, “a massive deal breaker.” Fortunately, the SEC slackened the requirement for first-time crowdfunders. The new rules require:

  1. For offerings of $100,000 or less, financial statements must be certified by the company’s CEO.
  2. For offerings between $100,000 – $500,000, financial statements must be reviewed by an independent auditor.
  3. For offerings greater than $500,000, financial statements must be reviewed by an independent auditor for first time crowdfunders, but for any follow-on crowdfund campaign the financial statements must be audited.

4 Crowdfunding Rules for Investors

Individuals will be allowed to invest based on annual income or net worth. Under the new rules, an individual may:

  1. If annual income or net worth is less than $100,000, invest the greater of $2,000 or 5% of the lesser of annual income or net worth.
  2. If annual income or net worth is $100,000 or more, invest 10% of the lesser of annual income or net worth.
  3. Invest not more than $100,000 per annum aggregate in crowdfunding offerings.
  4. Sell the securities, but only after holding them for one year.

Importantly, funding portals may rely on the investor’s representations concerning annual income, net worth, and the amount of the investor’s other crowdfunding investments, unless the portal has reasonable basis to question the investor’s representations. That is, there’s no affirmative obligation on the company or the portals to prod into investor’s private financial affairs to verify the investor’s representations.

Outlook for Investors and Entrepreneurs with the New SEC Crowdfunding Rules

Crowdfunding Rules for InvestorsVenture capitalists aren’t sweating. At $1 million a crowdfunded project is small even for a seed round, where average deal size hovers around $4 million and which constituted a mere 1% of 2014 VC dollars ($719 million of $48.3 billion).

On the other hand, one commentator noted that if U.S. families invested 1% of their assets in start-ups via crowdfunding, it would unleash $300 billion annually. The success of state-specific crowdfunding rules and of non-equity platforms such as KickStarter, Go Fund Me, and Kiva indicate there’s a sizable market for small denomination equity investments. And there’s certainly no dearth of start-ups looking for capital.

Ongoing SEC rules and reporting requirements will always be a deterrent to start-ups and will hamper crowdfunding’s potential, but as quality funding portals develop and the public acclimates to the new investing landscape, crowdfunding may become a useful tool for small-scale capital raises.

How will these rules change how you grow your business? Will you invest using the new Crowdfunding rules? Let us know in the comments below.

© 2015 Faegre Baker Daniels. All rights reserved.

What’s the Biggest Mistake Entrepreneurs Make When Pitching for Seed Funding?

seed funding mistakes

Seed funding isn’t easy to come by, especially when most founders handicap themselves from the get-go.

Despite the wealth of knowledge online and platforms like Angel List and Gust, I hear that founders still make the same mistakes over and over. So, I asked several experienced investors from around the United States:

What are the biggest mistakes founders make when pitching for seed funding?

And here’s what I heard from these seed investors: most entrepreneurs make similar mistakes (and all can be avoided). Read the expert-investor responses below, and follow these 3 strategies to mistake-proof your next pitch. Be sure the read the “Seed Funding Action Items” at the end of each section…

1.) Do Your Homework Before Asking for Seed Funding

“It’s remarkable to me how many entrepreneurs approach us without doing any research in advance,” says Brad Feld, managing director at VC firm, Foundry Group.

And Feld isn’t alone. Most investors also find the lack of prep from entrepreneurs a bit frustrating.

Dave Knox, Partner at The Brandery

Dave_Knox1-283x300

Perhaps the biggest mistake is they way that an entrepreneur approaches. I get numerous requests where an entrepreneur reaches out to me cold. I read email so its not that I skip over these emails. But instead in almost all of these cases, I can tell that the entrepreneur has put ZERO effort into reaching out to me. They don’t customize the request. They don’t take time to read about The Brandery. And they don’t look into my connections or background to see what we have in common. Take the time to get to know an entrepreneur and target the people that are a great fit. If you spend the time to learn more about the investor, it will do wonders to your success rate.

Seed Funding Action Items:

  • Research your contact’s investor fund or investment group website
  • Read and review contact’s personal website (if they have one)
  • Researched the investor on LinkedIn and Angel List for connections or background you may have in common

2.) Focus On Building a Relationship Before Asking for Seed Funding

We’ve talked before about how to get seed funding and this first important step: build a real relationship with your potential investor. And this one sounds simple but executes hard.

Ting Gootee, Partner at Elevate Ventures says, “Seeking outside investors is no different from establishing a long-term relationship where both parties hope to realize certain benefits.” 

Ask any investor out there, and I’ll bet that anyone with a heart would agree.

 Dr. Tony Ratliff, Angel Investor

Tony Ratliff The first number one is that the entrepreneurs try to close the deal on the very first contact or pitch. When really they should be trying to point out the problem, share their story and get us to take the next step. It’s kind of like dating -you don’t ask to get married on the first date. Most investors want to invest in the entrepreneurs, not necessarily the idea because start-ups pivot all the time. So don’t try to get married the first time you approach an investor.

Seed Funding Action Items:

  • Be genuinely interested in other people. Ask questions.
  • Seek to understand your potential investor’s motives. What are they looking for in an investment? How do they want to get involved (beyond writing a check)?
  • Be vulnerable. Share a personal story.

3.) Prepare Your Seed Funding Pitch

Every seed investor has his or her own interests and qualities they look for in a seed investment.

“Have some level of proof of concept,” says Scott Orn, Partner at Lighthouse Capital. Others look for their own must-have ingredients to clear the threshold into that land of “OK, I’m interested…”

Ezra Galston, VC at Chicago Ventures

Ezra Galston

One of the biggest mistakes are entrepreneurs who focus the majority of their time/energy on explaining market sizes or revenue models or other ethereal subjects. We will spend our time researching your market and drawing our own conclusions. We care about how an entrepreneur executes and want to hear data points on accomplishments, growth, and traction, whether those take the form of revenue, users, or team. But more than bullets, we care about how those accomplishments happened – because, again, the focus is on executional ability

 Andy White, Partner at the VegasTech Fund

Andy White

There are a ton of great products out there that no one knows or cares about. You have to show that you understand your market and the demand for a solution to a big problem. Then you can show off your really cool tool.

Seed Funding Action Items:

  • Research your industry inside and out.
  • Practice your pitch with a trusted advisor.
  • Do you know what your investor is most interested in learning about your business? If not, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

The most important thing is to keep improving your pitch for seed funding. If you a potential investor decides to pass, follow up and ask why. It’s ok to request feedback on your pitch and presentation, too.

So, when you venture out to raise seed capital, don’t pass up the opportunity to learn something.

Have you made your own mistakes in your quest for seed funding? What lessons have you learned?

Learn more about seed funding and startup fundraising with Verge! Sign up for our email list for weekly tips and tricks from the experts.

6 Tips for Fine Tuning Your Startup Pitch

How to fine tune your startup's investor pitch

Photo Credit: Alex Skopje

Launching a small business isn’t easy. Whether you dream of one local shop or a global corporate empire, you’re going to need help financing your business efforts. Now, this could mean friends and family, and it could mean venture capitalists and angel investors. Regardless, the only way to seal the deal is with a great pitch. Check out these six tips for fine tuning your startup pitch and get your business off the ground.

1. Set Yourself Apart

It’s essential that you set yourself apart from your competition. Investors are going to ask why they should sink money into your operation as opposed to another one that offers a similar product or service. This differentiation has to be an integral part of your pitch. Highlight the characteristics that make your business better than the rest.

2. Include Solutions

In addition to featuring your company’s unique characteristics, you also need to include the solutions it can provide for customers. Identify problems in the marketplace that need to be solved and detail exactly how you are going to solve them.

3. Prudently Include Creativity and Humor

You never want your pitch to be dry, just be sure to use your senses of creativity and humor effectively. Don’t cross the line and say something offensive or off the mark, but by all means, make your pitch seem human. Be yourself – you are your company, after all. Tell a humorous or intriguing anecdote about something that occurred while developing your business idea, for example. And, forget about Power Point presentations – they’re generally recognized as death knells for pitches.

4. Be Specific and Open About How Much You Need

If you need $50,000, ask for it. The people you’re pitching to know that you want money, so there’s no point in being bashful. Plus, this way they’re instantly going to know whether or not they can handle such an investment, which can save everyone a lot of time. The key here is not just knowing how much you need, but knowing why you need it and when you should raise it.

5. Be Prepared and Practice

Never deliver a pitch off the cuff – practice and tweak it as much as necessary. Instead of just rehearsing in front of a mirror, though, assemble a group of friends or fellow entrepreneurs and recreate the actual environment you’re going to find yourself in.

6. Keep it Concise

There’s no standard time limit when it comes to delivering your pitch, just make sure it’s as concise as it can be. If you can get your point across fully in three minutes, do so. If you need 10, take it. Just be sure to edit your pitch down so there’s no fluff. As long as it’s packed full of pertinent information, it can take a bit longer.

No matter what you’re talking about, you need to exude passion in every aspect of your pitch. Investors know that if a company is going to be successful, its owner must live and breathe it 24 hours a day. Small businesses are incredibly difficult to get off the ground, and are ultimately successful only if the people at the helm love what they’re doing. Communicate this in your pitch and your chances of success skyrocket.

What was your best investor pitch? What advice do you have for entrepreneurs pitching for the first time? If you’re interested in perfecting your pitch at Verge, let us know!

How To Re-Invest In Midwest Startups

Indiana and the surrounding Midwest has an exciting history of software entrepreneurship.

Large sales of companies like Software Artistry and Baker Hill in Indianapolis, and Resite in Bloomington, started a movement that has snowballed into a powerful Midwest startup community.

In this interview from the The Innovation Showcase, entrepreneurs and business leaders from around the Midwest share their perspective on how to keep the momentum going and re-invest in Midwest startups:

First you have to have success. And early software successes in Indiana made way for even bigger wins for the state, including an Angie’s List IPO, Compendium acquisition by Oracle, and of course an Exact Target IPO and subsequent acquisition by Salesforce.

Meanwhile, hundreds of software startups have launched. Some have folded, some have stabilized, and others have flourished.

“We’ve generated a bunch of small companies,” says Mike Trotzke, co-founder of SproutBox. “It’s time for us to start picking the winners and doubling down.”

This year’s Innovation Showcase, with more than 70 fundable companies, resulted in one company walking away with $128,000 in resources to continue their growth. We’re recalibrating venture funding in the Midwest. What else can Indiana and the Midwest do to double down on entrepreneurship?

Drop a comment below and let us know. You can also read the full transcript for the video above:

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Matt Hunckler:

We have had a lot of success here. We’ve built on the successes of Software Artistry and going back to Baker Hill. A number of the Indianapolis companies that have exited, obviously Resite in Bloomington and what that spawn was Sproutbox; and that whole movement, all the way up to Angie’s List IPO and the Exact Target’s IPO, and subsequent acquisition.

What do you think that means? What do you think those exits and those pieces mean for Indianapolis and Indiana, in general? And what do we need to do to build on that momentum? It’s kinda like what do you do after you have the Super Bowl here? Do we go for the next 2.5 billion dollar exit? Or we just keep getting small wins?

John Wechsler:

John Wechsler, founder of Launch Fishers.

I have some very strong feelings about this, and I have— for the last couple of years when I was with Mike Kelly and Jason Vasquez, and the others at Developer Town. Couple of years ago, I’ve seen..guys, 2014 is gonna be the bellwether year for entrepreneurship. And in actual, it’s 2013.. turns out it’s probably gonna be 2014— the bellwether year for entrepreneurship and startups in Indiana. For many reasons, one, the ecosystem that’s building. But, several of these major exits and liquidity events that have created dozens, if not hundreds of millionaires with the temperament, the interest and the financial capacity go out and try at themselves. And that is first and foremost, what you need in an ecosystem. You have to have that success and that, you have to have those that were successful go out, try it again and pull others into this wacky world of entrepreneurship, right? And that’s really what makes Silicon Valley so special. It didn’t just happen in the last ten or twenty years. If you think that, you’re misinformed.

The first place I went to when we moved out there was— in fact, JP and I might have actually done it together.. the Palo Alto-Hewlett Packard garage. And literally stood there and just look at it and thought, “man, forty years ago at that time.” Now, forty-two years ago it all started right there. And it took several spin-outs, and exits, and multi-billions of dollars coming and going to build that ecosystem. And it won’t happen overnight. You have a few of these happen. You have a period of entrepreneurial kind of growth. And then it happens again. And we can already see those next special companies that are growing up right now. I won’t embarrass anyone or take my shots at naming the ones that I think are gonna win but man, you can see this.. building. And there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of opportunity.

John Hanak:

John Hanak, Director of Purdue Research Foundation.

And I think, John, related to that is when you look at what’s happened and where there have been exits, almost all the founders, almost all of the key employees are still here. I mean, they’re still in Indiana; they’ve not left. We have cases— John Wechsler, that left and came back which is awesome. I’ll always remember that first time I called you when I found out you were coming back. It was so critical.

We have successful companies in Indiana that have been started by people that came back from Silicon Valley. Dan Haze, up with the Health Call in Merrillville. Jeff Reedy was Scale Computing. We have lots of examples. And what’s happening is.. what I really believe is happening as you talk to everybody that does come back or that doesn’t leave; they’re staying for quality of life. And that is just absolutely huge aspect to this ecosystem in Indiana.

Mike Trotzke:

Mike Trotzke, co-founder of SproutBox.

So, our first fund is now about five years old. And we are definitely focused on what I think is that next phase. This has been a topic of conversation with us a lot. We’ve generated a bunch of small companies. Two, three, four, five, six people companies. And it’s time, from our standpoint, for us to start picking the winners out of those. Start doubling down into the companies that we think are really gonna be the big ones. And, I think a lot of these ecosystems that have popped up— the small, little groups, are in that phase.

Whether it’s now, it’s time to look at the companies, call the herd, get behind some. Take advantage of the fact that there’s a ton of new capital available in the state; to help fuel the growth of some of our winners, and take them to the next level. I think the co-working models are essential, but the next phase is to start having companies at least in Bloomington that are in bigger shops; going out and getting their own office. They’re starting out 10 employees, 20 employees, and 30 employees so that we can get the cycle going. Like what happened with ReSave, we are the only one. We built this company, we sold it and reinvested. We want to take that 20 companies we’ve created, and do that with all 20 of them now. And that’s kind of our next phase. So, I’m very optimistic about that, given the climate of the rest to save Indiana.

Jeb Banner:

Jeb Banner, CEO of SmallBox.

Just to kinda go back to what John (Hanak) was saying about quality of life, I think that can’t be underestimated. I think that a lot of focus is given to funding and talent. And that’s great! We need those things in terms of the ecosystem. But, when you think about the other side of that— it’s the habitat, right? Anyhow, that’s the co-working spaces, but also the cultural trail. It’s the bed and breakfast going into Broad Ripple finally, right? A place people can actually stay.. about going either far north or for south. So, I think that the tech community, and especially the people with a lot of money which now we’ve got a bunch more or soon have a bunch more— need to look at that ecosystem. Think of the quality of life aspects if they really wanna make a long-term bet. Make those investments as much as the investments in the company, and find ways to build-up that infrastructure so that this is the habitat for the talent. And I think that was the approach of the Speak Easy that we took is let’s just build the space. We’re not gonna tell them really what to do. And the animals came. You know, they happen. It took over. They ran the zoo now. And I think, that’s the way it works.

Mike Kelly:

Mike Kelly, Managing Partner at Developer Town.

So, I think from my perspective, one of the things in terms of the people that we talked to who are starting companies today versus the people we talked to three years ago– it’s just night and day difference, right? And it’s not only the people locally who are now just becoming serial entrepreneurs, but it’s also the people who look at Indianapolis– who wouldn’t have looked here before, right? So, the number of deals that we see potentially coming out of Chicago, who would have never looked at Indiniapolis three years ago, but now, legitimately look down here and say, “well hey, we’ve heard about Indianapolis and some of the things you guys have going in there.” It’s really nice news once company sell for really big, large amount of money, right? That gets attention. And so, it’s not only the capital that is created here and stays here, hopefully. It’s also what that attracts to the space. And I think, Verge— and everything that you’ve done over the last couple of years, and there’s a ton other groups at that point. There, just that attention, and the attention of Startup America and the attention of some other things that are going on here, creates a gravity that brings in better opportunities which is ultimately what drives the wheel, right? The better ideas you get, the more people out there pitching. And you know, as those flow to the top, that’s how you drive that engine. And I think, for us, it’s really great to work with these companies. And to move that forward. But, it all starts with those exits coming back here and working here, right?

 

What’s the Biggest Mistake Entrepreneurs Make When Pitching for Seed Funding?

seed funding mistakes

Seed funding isn’t easy to come by, especially when most founders handicap themselves from the get-go.

Despite the wealth of knowledge online and platforms like Angel List and Gust, I hear that founders still make the same mistakes over and over. So, I asked several experienced investors from around the United States:

What are the biggest mistakes founders make when pitching for seed funding?

And here’s what I heard from these seed investors: most entrepreneurs make similar mistakes (and all can be avoided). Read the expert-investor responses below, and follow these 3 strategies to mistake-proof your next pitch. Be sure the read the “Seed Funding Action Items” at the end of each section…

1.) Do Your Homework Before Asking for Seed Funding

“It’s remarkable to me how many entrepreneurs approach us without doing any research in advance,” says Brad Feld, managing director at VC firm, Foundry Group.

And Feld isn’t alone. Most investors also find the lack of prep from entrepreneurs a bit frustrating.

Dave Knox, Partner at The Brandery

Dave_Knox1-283x300

Perhaps the biggest mistake is they way that an entrepreneur approaches. I get numerous requests where an entrepreneur reaches out to me cold. I read email so its not that I skip over these emails. But instead in almost all of these cases, I can tell that the entrepreneur has put ZERO effort into reaching out to me. They don’t customize the request. They don’t take time to read about The Brandery. And they don’t look into my connections or background to see what we have in common. Take the time to get to know an entrepreneur and target the people that are a great fit. If you spend the time to learn more about the investor, it will do wonders to your success rate.

Seed Funding Action Items:

  • Research your contact’s investor fund or investment group website
  • Read and review contact’s personal website (if they have one)
  • Researched the investor on LinkedIn and Angel List for connections or background you may have in common

2.) Focus On Building a Relationship Before Asking for Seed Funding

We’ve talked before about how to get seed funding and this first important step: build a real relationship with your potential investor. And this one sounds simple but executes hard.

Ting Gootee, Partner at Elevate Ventures says, “Seeking outside investors is no different from establishing a long-term relationship where both parties hope to realize certain benefits.” 

Ask any investor out there, and I’ll bet that anyone with a heart would agree.

 Dr. Tony Ratliff, Angel Investor

Tony Ratliff The first number one is that the entrepreneurs try to close the deal on the very first contact or pitch. When really they should be trying to point out the problem, share their story and get us to take the next step. It’s kind of like dating -you don’t ask to get married on the first date. Most investors want to invest in the entrepreneurs, not necessarily the idea because start-ups pivot all the time. So don’t try to get married the first time you approach an investor.

Seed Funding Action Items:

  • Be genuinely interested in other people. Ask questions.
  • Seek to understand your potential investor’s motives. What are they looking for in an investment? How do they want to get involved (beyond writing a check)?
  • Be vulnerable. Share a personal story.

3.) Prepare Your Seed Funding Pitch

Every seed investor has his or her own interests and qualities they look for in a seed investment.

“Have some level of proof of concept,” says Scott Orn, Partner at Lighthouse Capital. Others look for their own must-have ingredients to clear the threshold into that land of “OK, I’m interested…”

Ezra Galston, VC at Chicago Ventures

Ezra GalstonOne of the biggest mistakes are entrepreneurs who focus the majority of their time/energy on explaining market sizes or revenue models or other ethereal subjects. We will spend our time researching your market and drawing our own conclusions. We care about how an entrepreneur executes and want to hear data points on accomplishments, growth, and traction, whether those take the form of revenue, users, or team. But more than bullets, we care about how those accomplishments happened – because, again, the focus is on executional ability

 Andy White, Partner at the VegasTech Fund

Andy White

There are a ton of great products out there that no one knows or cares about. You have to show that you understand your market and the demand for a solution to a big problem. Then you can show off your really cool tool.

Seed Funding Action Items:

  • Research your industry inside and out.
  • Practice your pitch with a trusted advisor.
  • Do you know what your investor is most interested in learning about your business? If not, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

The most important thing is to keep improving your pitch for seed funding. If you a potential investor decides to pass, follow up and ask why. It’s ok to request feedback on your pitch and presentation, too.

So, when you venture out to raise seed capital, don’t pass up the opportunity to learn something.

Have you made your own mistakes in your quest for seed funding? What lessons have you learned?

Learn more about seed funding and startup fundraising at The Innovation Showcase on July 10. Grab your all-access pass here:http://theinnovationshowcase.com

 

How to Get Seed Funding: Do This First

relationship-2Want to get seed funding for your startup? You won’t get very far if you spend all of your time developing your pitch.

“Too many founders put all of the focus on pitching their project and not on building a relationship,” says Gerry Hays, co-founder and managing partner of Slane Capital. And I hate to say it, but I was one of those people.

Most investors don’t have time for your un-calibrated seed funding pitch.

When I first met Gerry, I wasn’t seeking seed funding. I was a senior at Indiana University (IU) in his non-traditional venture capital class who frequently abused his office hours to gain insight for my own business.

I was working on building my outsourcing and web development business. And Gerry was nice enough to help me find my way through a slow build (and eventual sale) of my business.

But Gerry isn’t your average seed investor. As an associate professor at IU, Gerry has a sense of moral obligation to help first-time student founders. Well, that and he’s just a genuine guy who wants to help. The harsh reality for entrepreneurs is that your pitch likely won’t find the patient ears of a Gerry Hays.

Most seed investors won’t give a damn.

And they shouldn’t. Since starting Verge nearly five years ago, I’ve heard literally thousands of pitches to active investors. Most founders forget the most important thing.

A pitch is a conversation.

If your pitch is script or a static series of slides, you’re doing it wrong. Even if the format of your pitch opportunity doesn’t allow for open dialogue, there’s a conversation going on between the ears of your listeners. And that conversation is built on the foundation of your relationship with that audience.

get-seed-fundingSo if you want that conversation to come to life, give it some oxygen.

You won’t accomplish this by suffocating your audience with stats, features, and projected financials.

Find out what gets your prospective investor excited. I’m sure you’ve already done your homework on what kinds of deals your prospect invests in (right?). And you’ve probably already tailored your presentation to appeal to the goals of their seed fund or angel goals.

But who is Johnny Angel when he’s not coaching entrepreneurs or writing checks?

If I hadn’t eventually gotten to know Gerry Hays outside the classroom, I don’t know if I would have ever sold that business. And Gerry has helped me in more ways than as a mentor.

A good seed-funding conversation doesn’t have an end.

How can you help your potential seed investor?

seed-investor-relationshipPeople will always have problems that keep them up at night. Yes, even investors. So as an entrepreneur, it’s your job to care enough to help them sleep a little easier.

Good seed-stage investors also give seed funding to founders they want to genuinely want to help. And if you’re going to bring on active investors, you’d better be a good mentee.

Ask for help and follow up with frequent updates. Make your investor a part of your story and your relationship will grow along with your business.

Gerry and I are still friends. We’ve collaborated on a few projects and have grown the Verge community together over the years. But it’s the relationship that is the most valuable piece of our history (and it was essential for any business to take place).

So, next time you reach into your pocket for the the clicker to start advancing your pitch deck, ask yourself:

How can I build a relationship?

 

How To Win During the Investment Gold Rush of the Wild Wild Midwest [VIDEO]

Back in the days of cowboys and six shooters, people started using the phrase “chomping at the bit” to describe rampant anticipation.  Sometimes a cowboy’s horse would get so excited about something that it would chew at the metallic bit in its mouth, unable to contain himself as he looked toward his next goal.

The_Cow_Boy_1888

Now, we’re not comparing anyone to a horse, but it’s this level of eagerness that we’re seeing from investors and exhibitors for the 2014 Innovation showcase, and today we look to 2013 to see why.

Midwest investors are feeling green.

“The landscape for seed capital in the Midwest has totally changed…there’s no question that it’s a good time to an early stage entrepreneur in the Midwest.”

So began Jake Cohen of Detroit Venture Partners in a 2013 Innovation Showcase panel that included Kristian Andersen of Gravity Ventures, Jonathon Perrelli of Fortify VC and Dave Knox of Cincinnati’s Brandery.  These guys are excited to find growing early-stage companies in which to invest their cold hard cash, and they’re feeling bullish at the prospect.

Knox noted, “…there’s a lot of capital being unlocked that actually wasn’t there for an early stage…we’ve got some real people getting involved as angel [investors].”  Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be an investor in Silicon Prairie.  With the acquisitions of Exact Target and Compendium both happening since this discussion, we’re excited to hear what this year’s panel has to say about the investing landscape in Indiana.

Innovation Showcase 2013We’re breaking records left and right.

Investors aren’t the only ones showing their anticipation.  We’ve had a record number of exhibitors apply to the Innovation Showcase.  Super Early Bird tickets sold out quickly, and perhaps most exciting of all:

We’re giving away a record $120,000+

in services and investment at this year’s Innovation Showcase.

That’s why we’re releasing a batch of Early Bird tickets this Thursday morning!  Be sure to set your calendar for 9:30 am, because tickets will go quickly and the price only goes up the closer we get to Innovation Showcase 2014.

We agree with Jake Cohen: it’s a good time to be an early stage entrepreneur in the Wild, Wild Midwest.

So what’s exciting you about the funding landscape in Indiana?