“Knee Deep” is a documentary that explores the tipping point for taking action. It’s based on what happened here in Boulder last September, with the floods. It would be a great thing for you to go and back right now with a few bucks, so they can make the documentary and inspire others. Deadline to back is July 25.
Jerry Neumann’s “Betting on the Ponies” is easily the single best thing I’ve read online in 2014. In it, Jerry thinks through how angel investing relates to unicorn hunting, plain old luck, high frequency investing, the importance of having a system and sticking to it, and much more. If you’re involved in early stage investing and you haven’t yet read it twice – please go and do that right now. It may be the best 15 minutes you’ve ever spent (in a professional capacity). Read the comments too.
I’ll wait right here. Then we’ll talk about whether my angel round investment in the (so far) super-unicorn Uber was in fact unicorn hunting or whether it was simply dumb luck. Or could it have been something in between?
Sim Simeonov (a long time Techstars mentor) has talked about luck in the past and also has a great follow-up to Jerry’s post. There is another key piece of advice here that I was given early and have certainly followed. Be consistent and don’t do just a few deals. Doing a few deals as an angel investor is a great way to increase the odds of losing. Luckily for me, Brad Feld gave me the same advice years earlier when I first started angel investing.
Guess what? Doing more deals increases your chances of getting lucky.
When I tossed $50k into the first angel round of Uber in 2009, it was only about the 20th investment I had ever made. To date, I’m an investor in more than 500 companies, mostly through Techstars and our related venture funds. I believe that I have invested in at least five companies which have a strong chance to turn out to be billion dollar “unicorns”.
But here’s the most interesting part. While I think I’m in five such companies, I can only identify two of them (three if I squint) sitting here right now as I write this. I can name several others that have a legitimate shot at it. And because of the large number of companies at play, I’m actually quite confident that there is at least one that will emerge “out of nowhere.”
Luck is a part of this game. And a long game it is.
In Jerry’s post, he says:
These are the two main VC strategies: (1) have a reputation of being the go-to investor in a certain type of company so you get first shot at investing in companies that are more likely to be unicorns; and (2) invest in enough companies that you have a decent probability of being an investor in the next unicorn.
later he says..
If you up that [the number of companies you can invest in] to 500 companies, your odds [of finding a unicorn] are 27%-28%. That would cost $17.5 million.
If either of these strategies is available to you, read no further, just keep doing what you’re doing.
Because of Techstars that second strategy is available to me and I will certainly keep doing what I am doing even though I have already invested in over 500 companies.
Back to Uber. I met Ryan Graves when he was relocating by driving across the country to become the first full time employee and original GM of Uber.
People ask me all the time if I knew Uber was special the moment I invested. Was it an obvious unicorn? Heck no. They didn’t have a single car on the road yet. It felt just as exciting as other companies that I invested in around the same time that went on to fail. I invested my usual amount, with my usual offers of help, and used my usual approach.
Ryan and I only met because he had heard of Techstars and thought it was cool, so he stopped in Boulder to check it out. Now let’s think about luck here for a second. If I had still been living in Florida (where I was born) I would not have been in Ryan’s path on that particular drive. If I had been on a business trip that day he found himself in Boulder, I would not have met Ryan. If Ryan had been in a bigger hurry he might not have stopped to check out Techstars. If I was not open to randomness, I might not have set up a quick conversation with Ryan that day. After all, I had no idea who he was back then. Further, Ryan himself would never have even heard of Uber had he not noticed one particular tweet on one particular day.
Luck is not a reason that impossibly good things happen. It’s a pre-requisite!
You can see this in the honest stories of any successful entrepreneur. If you are being regaled by the story of a founder who sold his company for enormous amounts of money, and they tell you only stories of skill while they pretend that luck had nothing to do with their success, then you are talking to a very lucky liar indeed.
In the spirit of Jerry’s original post as well as Sim’s thoughts on this subject, I wanted to submit a few additional considerations for the aspiring angel investor or early stage investor. On some level we should simply factor luck out of our equations for how to be a better angel investor. Just as we tell founders we work with, let’s focus only on what we can control. In my view, you must be open to randomness, work tirelessly to assist every entrepreneur you invest in, focus on consistent high velocity investing (shots on goal), build a quality filter that does not involve your crystal ball, all the while constructing a method of detection of the very best companies so you can continue to invest in them.
Easy, right? Good luck.
Here’s some good news about being both a parent and an entrepreneur: whichever hat you put on first is going to help prepare you for the other. The bad news: it’s because they’re both unpredictable, utterly exhausting, and (usually) thankless jobs, wherein you’re making things up as you go along, constantly dealing with variables out of your control, and cleaning up crap (both figurative and literal). Sounds good, right?
So unsurprisingly, doing both of these jobs at once requires some serious juggling skills. (I like to say there’s no such thing as work-life balance… just work-life juggling.) As the founder of a start-up whose whole mission is to make parents’ lives easier, I’ve spent the last couple years also trying to figure out how to make my life easier — while still feeling like a good parent to my kids and a good CEO to weeSpring.
And the truth is, all of the aforementioned headaches aside, if you get the entrepreneur thing right, you can build in tremendous flexibility for yourself — while building a company that will attract great talent.
Preach what you practice, and practice what you preach: As an entrepreneur, you’re the one setting the culture for your company. Articulate your values early on both inside and outside the company, whether they’re broad (“do your job where you want, when you want, as long as it gets done”) or specific (“no one is expected to answer work email on weekends”). And by the way: these values are important for parents and non-parents alike.
Do stuff that’s just for you: It’s typical to feel guilty about your kids when you’re running your business, and guilty about your business when you’re with your kids — so doing neither can feel pretty awful. But if you burn yourself out, both the family and the company will suffer. Carve out a couple hours every week to do something that’s a little self-indulgent: take a long solo walk, read a novel, go to a movie, or whatever else re-charges you.
Embrace the second shift: Long hours are a given for entrepreneurs, but they don’t have to preclude you from spending time with your kids. We allocate 5pm to 8pm as family time, for dinner, a bath, play, and tucking into bed. And then we’re back online after (and often will do things like schedule conference calls at 9pm).
Think in terms of quality, not quantity: This has become one of our core values at weeSpring, and we apply it to pretty much everything — especially time. Three hours with your kids when you’re checking your iPhone every 10 minutes is worth a fraction of even just 30 minutes wholly focused on them.
Make use of your “found” time: We all have pockets of time that (inadvertently) get frittered away, whether it’s standing in line at the supermarket or riding the subway. Have a running list of small tasks that you chip away at when you have a couple free minutes, like clearing out emails or working on blog posts (like this one).
Leverage your village: I’m a big believer that it takes a village to raise a child, but you have to be pro-active about tapping into it. Childcare is an enormous headache for any working parent, but for entrepreneurs whose work can extend into the weekends and other odd hours, you need an especially solid support system. Find (or start) a baby-sitting co-op and build up a solid stable of friends, family, and sitters who understand and can help you.
There’s nothing easy about either being an entrepreneur or a parent, but nothing that’s easy feels all that rewarding. And now a few years into both running a start-up and starting a family, I can’t fathom anything more rewarding than what I’m doing.
Be sure to check out Weespring and let Allyson know what you think about her post in the comments! Thanks Allyson!
The Demo Day for the inaugural class of the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars is Thursday, June 12 at 5:30pm CST in Kansas City.
Three of the four Techstars founders (me, Brad Feld, and David Brown) will be talking about the origins of Techstars and how the mentorship driven accelerator model is impacting communities at the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator demo day on the afternoon of June 12th in Kansas City. The event is at the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and unlike most Techstars demo days we are completely opening this one to the community because the venue is so spacious.
There’s a great deal of excitement about these ten mobile health companies in the Sprint Accelerator which Techstars is powering. Fast Company has a nice writeup about why this program is really special and how it could impact mobile health in a big way.
You can RSVP and get other details about the event here. If you’re in the area, come hang out. If not, jump on a plane, train, or bus. We hope to see you there!
Technology is changing lives — even saving lives — in Africa, the world’s second most populous continent. For entrepreneurs, this also presents an opportunity of epic proportions.
In Rwanda, for example, where electricity is available to less than a quarter of the population, more than 60 percent of people now have access to mobile phones. And although only 8 percent of Rwandans are internet users, that number is growing rapidly.
In The Shift: The Entrepreneurs and Companies Bringing Africa Online, my good friend Elizabeth Gould who produced the Techstars documentary series on Bloomberg TV now reports on some of these inspiring stories of ingenuity and entrepreneurship in Africa. A production of BloombergTVAfrica, this will be an ongoing series about technology and entrepreneurship across Africa. In the first segment, Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa are featured:
African entrepreneurship has really been moving forward for some time now. A while back I invested in a company called Mobius Motors, which is based in Kenya. Mobius designs, manufactures and sells durable, affordable vehicles designed for typical road terrain, usage and income profiles in the region. The company also makes transport platforms that local entrepreneurs can customize for various transportation businesses.
Here’s a second segment about Kenya’s mobile money revolution. It’s great stuff.
It’s exciting to hear about all the development taking place and the lives being improved across Africa, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the continent. I look forward to upcoming installments of “The Shift” with more compelling stories of the individuals and companies who are creating that future.
I received this question today by email and I thought I would share my answer.
Here is my question. We are building a startup and are having to make a technology stack shift for reasons I can explain later. The startup is currently funded but we have a short time to put this together to receive more funding. Based on the skill set of the developers we have, we have chosen to go with .Net MVC 5 for a service layer, Mongo for a db, and knockout on the client side for an MVVM. One of the investors has advised us that .Net could be problematic for us when it came time for VC investors and a possible buyout later. The concern is that such investors or buyers will shy from a .Net based site. My question is simple? Is that true, has that been your experience and do you have any suggestions?
My answer was:
The answer is that yes, SOME investors and SOME acquirers will not be interested in .NET. Then again, some (for example Microsoft) will think it’s great! Don’t make tech choices based on potential exits or investors, make them on your ability to serve your customers. Create value, and things like investors and acquisitions take care of themselves. This is more likely to be an issue in a downside case, where your’e selling the company because you have to – that’s when things like tech stacks get considered as a major part of the equation. When it’s because you, your products, your customers and your data add tremendous value they’ll acquire you even if the code is written in MS BASIC with a BTRIEVE database.
Let me know in the comments if you disagree.