So You Signed a Term Sheet? You’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

Posted on March 27, 2010. Filed under: startups, Uncategorized, venture capital | Tags: , , , , |

The first time I raised capital, I remember negotiating my term sheet with Rob Stavis at Bessemer Venture Partners (who, btw is as straight shooter and transparent a VC as I know).  The deal they gave me was completely clean and standard, but as a first time entrepreneur I scrutinized over every word of that term sheet, to make sure I understood exactly what I was signing and agreeing to.  Once I got comfortable with every sentence in the term sheet, I signed it, and waited anxiously to receive their signature back.  When it came, I breathed a massive sigh of relief, turned it over to our lawyers, and thought that I had successfully completed the negotiations around our raise.

What I didn’t realize, and what I think most first time founders don’t know, is that a term sheet is simply a guide that lawyers work off of when creating the final documentation around a financing.  When you blow a 2 page term sheet up into 50 pages of documentation, it turns out there are a ton of specifics which are not addressed when a founder and investor first agree on a deal.  These specifics, when addressed in the docs,  can fall in the interests of an investor or a founder, and thus the negotiation you thought you were done with opens up for a “round 2.”  This “round 2” can be awkward, because emotionally, you have already agreed to a deal and “partnered” with your investors. Everyone is happy and excited, and then you are once again put back on opposite sides of the table.

What I learned from Rob, was that negotiating a financing isn’t about winning and perfectly optimizing for your interests.  It is an exercise in reasonability.  Sharp elbows and hard lines on small (albeit important) points are a waste of time and good will between you and your future partner.  Once you agree to partner, your collective goal should be to complete the deal in a way that is even, not self interested.  My advice: don’t sign a term sheet with someone who you don’t think is capable of going through this exercise in reasonability with you.

P.S. JumpPost is looking for a legit UX/UI designer/developer for a small project.  holler

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The Emergence of VC/Angel Syndicates

Posted on February 23, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , , |

So I’ve been spending a bit more time than usual talking to entrepreneurs raising capital and venture capital firms investing in early stage companies, and there is a trend that I am trying to wrap my head around.

The trend: large venture capital firms are issuing term sheets committing to invest between $500K and $1.5M in early stage companies, and then offloading anywhere from $100K-$500K of the round to professional angels and seed funds.

So the question is, why are they doing all the work to find/negotiate/invest/and then shepherd these investments, only to let smaller guys piggy back on their deals?

I’ve got a couple potential answers:

1)      They want to reduce their exposure to the investment by syndicating the deal, but as capital requirements come down for building companies, there isn’t really room for the syndicate of yesteryear.  It used to be that a Series A round would frequently be split between two large venture firms, each invest half the capital with the confidence that future funding requirements would be high enough that they’d both be able to put real money to work behind their bet.  But now that the $2M A round is being replaced by $500K seed rounds, and the $10M B round looks more like a $2-5M A round…VC’s are choosing to syndicate with partners who can afford to invest in the first round, but whose coffers aren’t deep enough to go heads up in the second.  What that means is that the VC leading the deal, should this deal be a winner, doesn’t have to fight with another deep pocketed investor for an outsized portion of the next round (read: they’ll have an early option to increase their ownership).

2)      They see the level of activity occurring in seed stage financing, but haven’t found a great way to participate in it.  A VC with a $600M fund and 5 partners has a very hard time making small bets, getting small bets through their process, and putting proper internal resources (partner bandwidth) against those bets…so now, if they are no longer the first investors to not only see promising new companies, but also see the data on which promising new companies are “breaking out,” it is becoming increasingly important for them to “make friends” with the investors who are seeing those companies and data.  The notion that angels and seed investors are a source of VC deal flow is not new, but the change in funding landscape and emergence of seed/feeder funds and super angels is cutting into VC’s deal flow.  So when they do find a deal they want to put real money behind, they invite some smaller guys in as a sort of barter chip which says “I give you a piece of my deal, and you give me an early heads up on which of your deals are breaking out.”

3)      They perceive some unique value, domain expertise, or relationships unique to the angels/seed guys they let in that will increase the value of the asset they have just invested in.  Example: Big VC commits $2M to a mobile payment company, the former CEO of Paypal is an angel investor, it’s worth giving up a piece of my deal to have his expertise and relationships behind my new investment.

4)      5 networks are better than one.  No matter how good a VC is, no fund’s network is complete.  Expanding the number of networks a founder can tap, assuming the angels or seed investors will be active, can only help.

5)      The founder/entrepreneur sees the value in #’s 3 and 4 and requests/demands the carve out.

My guess is that it’s probably a combination of all of these, but regardless of the reason, I think it’s a positive trend in the fundraising landscape for all parties involved…always nice to see a market evolve the way it should.

Anyone see downsides to this trend or other potential causes?

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35 Gut Checks When Founding Your First Company

Posted on January 31, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

If you are thinking about founding your first company, standing at the edge of the entrepreneurial swimming pool, trying to decide if you should dive in, here is a checklist (sort of a Meyers Brigg for founders) to help you figure out if this life is for you. It is based on my observations of the thousands of entrepreneurs who I have gotten to know over the past 4 years.  I would say, if you’re answer is “No” to more than 10 of these statements, think very carefully about making the jump.  There is no science or data to support this checklist.  Strictly my own observations of what is required to enjoy and excel in this experience.

1)      I tend to thrive in an unstructured environment

2)      I am capable of teaching myself almost anything I want to learn

3)      I do not need positive reinforcement from others in order to be happy/effective

4)      I am primarily competing against myself

5)      I am completely self-motivated

6)      More often then not I get what I want

7)      Money is not the primary metric by which I measure my professional success/progress

8)      I am comfortable living a life that most of my friends and family will not understand or be able to relate to

9)      I am a fantastic listener

10)  I seek out help at the first sign that I need it

11)  Work is by far and away my greatest passion

12)  I handle disappointment well

13)  I have more energy than most people

14)  I love to win and hate to lose.

15)  The concept of “the path” revolts me

16)  I am above no task or role

17)  I have friends and family who will support me even if I do not give them as much attention as I should

18)  I have no fear of running out of money

19)  The word “can’t” is not in my vocabulary.  There are things that are extremely difficult to achieve, but nothing is impossible

20)  Pressure does not derail me

21)  I am not intimidated by anyone

22)  I enjoy solving hard problems

23)  I do not frustrate easily

24)  I exercise regularly

25)  I fundamentally believe in myself

26)  I am highly experimental

27)  I am a doer, not a manager of doers

28)  Laziness and complacency disgusts me

29)  I am an excellent judge of character and talent

30)  I am rarely tricked.  It is very difficult to deceive me.

31)  I have an extremely low tolerance for incompetence

32)  I have an extremely accurate perception of my strengths and weaknesses

33)  I am not too proud to admit what I don’t know

34)  Everyday accomplishments bore me.

35)  I am going to change the world

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Founders Beware: True “Advisors” Don’t Ask for Free Equity

Posted on January 25, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

Fred Wilson wrote a post over the weekend about the importance of role models to early stage founders. The discussion around this post led to the subject of Advisors and Advisory Boards, and I thought I’d take a minute to shed some light on the bright and dark sides of startup advisors.  This post came on the heels of a meeting I had on Friday with a young entrepreneur here in New York with whom I was sharing some fundraising ideas.  At the end of the meeting, we agreed that I’d spend a little more time reviewing his pitch with him and maybe making some introductions to angels, to which he responded “okay, so let me know how you want to structure that and we’ll go from there?”  I asked what he was talking about, and it became clear that he expected to pay me for my advice/help.  I further learned that another now-well-known entrepreneur/investor here in New York (for whom I sort of had respect) had taken a piece of his equity in exchange for “formal advisory services,” and although I didn’t say anything at the time, I was thoroughly disgusted by this “advisor’s” behavior.

Here is my advice to startups trying to secure advice and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and executives: advice and guidance in our community is abundant and free…equity in your company is not. This is not to say that you shouldn’t use early equity as a form of compensation to get your company off the ground, but be watchful of the scenarios in which you do so:

Scenario 1 (Complete Bullshit): You meet with a guy/girl who you think could add a lot of value and/or credibility to your project.  At the end of the meeting, they say “I’d love to get involved.  Typically I’d look for 1-2% of a company at your stage, and that 1-2% gets you an hour of my time every week and some great introductions and relationships.”

Savvy founder’s response: Run for the hills.  This “advisor” is a complete predator.  The value they add will not be worth the equity they are asking for, but more importantly, they are trying to take advantage of your lack of experience in this world.  General rule of thumb: anyone who directly asks you for equity in your company without investment is a scumbag.  Stay away.

Scenario 2 (Better, but still not good): You meet a guy/girl who you think could add a lot of value and/or credibility to your project.  At the end of the meeting, they say, “Good luck, let me know if I can be helpful.”

Savvy founder’s response: Build a relationship with this person, continue to seek whatever amount of guidance they are willing to provide out of interest and belief in your project.  If you find you are asking more of them than they are able to give, perhaps offer them the opportunity to invest on favorable terms in your company.  If they believe in what you’re doing, and they have made enough money to part with $25-50K, they will be honored that you are asking…don’t be afraid to.  But, if they say no, don’t say “okay, can I give you some equity to be formally involved?”  If they aren’t going to pony up as an angel investor, a couple fractions of a point (point=1% of equity) is not going to incentivize them to go beyond what they are already willing to give in terms of time/advice/introductions.  Granted, if you make this offer and they accept, they are not a scum bag (as is the case in scenario 1, but the truly righteous and high quality mentors in our community will not accept your freebee. So there is an adverse selection process that occurs when you try to build an advisory board through free equity allocations.

Scenario 3 (Makes Sense): You are missing a key piece of DNA in your company necessary to execute on your plan (i.e. non-technical founder engages outsourced development shop and does not have the domain expertise to effectively manage the project).

Savvy founder’s response: This is actually a scenario where I would advocate parting with some equity to get a “technical advisor” to help manage the project.  But this is not really an advisor at all.  The person you bring on will be performing a day to day role within your company.  In reality, they look more like an independent contractor who is willing to accept equity (as opposed to cash) as payment.

My argument is not that an early stage founder should be stingy with his/her early equity…in fact quite the opposite.  At the onset of a venture, the financial outcome of your company is pretty much binary: either you build something and successfully exit (make a lot of money), or you fail…a couple of points allocated toward increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome are well spent…just make sure they are being spent on actual work and output, as opposed to advice and guidance.

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FundlessFund Hijacks My Blog Today

Posted on January 18, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , , |

Since my blogpost on Friday introducing The Fundless Fund (FundlessFund@Gmail.com), a lot of folks have stepped up with interest in contributing to the Fund, and a lot of folks have been asking exactly what The Fundless Fund is….the short answer is…The Fundless Fund seeks to add as much value to the growth and development of early stage companies as a Y Combinator or seed stage investor, without any equity or payment in return…it’s an accelerant powered by fellow entrepreneurs, created in the vein of furtherance of our collective effort.

Based on the response I’ve seen so far, it seems like there are a bunch of related parties (investors, lawyers, accountants, established companies) that would like to pitch in.  That will be awesome for our “fund”, we just need to figure out exactly how to incorporate these parties into the mix without diluting one of the main values of The Fundless Fund, which is a complete alignment of incentives between the Fund and our entrepreneurs.  What I don’t want this to become is another “me too” organization sponsored by Sillicon Valley Bank or some law firm who’s primary purpose is simply to get a bunch of decision makers together in the same room (a room that happens to don the banners of those service providers).  I also have no interest in recruiting the 5 sexiest names I can get to sit on a panel, inviting a bunch of people to listen to a dog and pony show, and then prove to the 400 people who attend that my platform is strong enough to get 5 sexy people and 400 others to attend my event.  Rather, The Fundless Fund will take those 5 sexy people who are willing to donate an hour to our platform, identify the 5 most promising entrepreneurs who will benefit from an hour of their time, and we will use our “bullet” with those sexy people to get the 5 entrepreneurs into 1 on 1 meetings where progress can actually be made.  There is a place for networking events, and those groups and events are undoubtedly adding value to the New York Startup Ecosystem, but that is a saturated market that we’re not interested in playing in.

What we’re interested in doing is focusing a ton of high quality resources and attention on a much smaller number of people/companies…our goal is not to generate as much deal flow as possible, or to build the biggest community of NYC startup people…it’s rather to identify the brightest stars (whether first time or experienced) in our community and give them a leg up on fundraising, recruiting, and job search (if they’re not yet with a startup), all the while focused on a general transference of knowledge across the fund.  We want to help the best of the best to not get lost in the shuffle and noise of a not-fully-networked New York Startup community.  Why? Because it is our belief that those people with the most potential will build the biggest, most sustainable companies in the long run (but not without help).  Our city needs to birth a few multibillion public technology companies to cement an enduring infrastructure around this burgeoning startup energy, and it is our responsibility as entrepreneurs to maximize the likelihood of that occurrence.  Our fund is not a flash in the pan, looking for the next deal to bank/lawyer/account/invest in.  We have a long term view of this city’s ecosystem and we’re going to do our part to make it as easy as possible for resources (capital, talent, advice) to find the stars that are going to build New York’s homegrown Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc…

There’s a lot of plumbing that still needs to be worked through, but we’re off to a good start.  What you can do today to participate is as follows:

If you’re a startup/pre-startup that has raised less than $500K in the New York area, there are 2 actions for you to take today:

1)      Email fundlessfund@gmail.com with a short description of you’re company or future company, a link to some online public presence (site if you have one, linkedin profile, blog, etc…), and a brief description of your needs:

  1. People: (description of hires you’re trying to make)
  2. Capital: (no details needed, just are you going to need to raise money in the next 6 months)
  3. Advice: (general guidance and mentorship)

2)      Email fundlessfund@gmail.com and request to be added to our distribution list.  Even if you’re not in a position to join the fund’s portfolio today, stay connected and we’ll keep you up to date on how the fund is evolving and the best ways to get involved.

If you’re a venture/angel-backed entrepreneur or if you used to be and can still speak to the experience, and you’d like to be involved in the operations of the FundlessFund (i.e. sit on the “investment committee,” donate your time to meeting with applicants and accepted people/companies, etc…):

1)      Email fundlessfund@gmail.com with a link to some public presence online and description of what type of value/resources you’d like to contribute:

  1. Introductions to investors
    1. i.      Angels?
    2. ii.      Seed/Feeder Funds?
    3. iii.      Venture Capital Firms?:
  2. Strategic Advice/Guidance & general mentorship of high quality early stage entrepreneurs
  3. Career Placement: do you want to help high quality talent land at your own startup or another startup in your network?

2)      Email fundlessfund@gmail.com and request to be added to our distribution list.  As we figure out the best ways to work with established entrepreneurs and executives, we’ll keep you in the loop and you can decided if/how you’d like to be involved

3)      Email fundlessfund@gmail.com if you’ve build a platform like this in the past and would like to advise on the construction and implementation of the fund

If you’re an Angel Investor, Seed Fund, or Venture Capitalist spending time in NYC:

1)      Would love your input and ideas: fundlessfund@gmail.com

2)      If you want to interact with us going forward, request to add your name to our distribution list

NOTE: Thanks for your patience as we play catch up to demand…we subscribe to the concept of customer development…first step is to figure out what everyone wants, next step is to productize it and begin to scale up

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Introducing the Fundless Fund…get involved

Posted on January 15, 2010. Filed under: startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , , , , |

I remember talking to Chris Dixon a while back about balancing his seed investing activity with running Hunch…at the time I looked at this from an investor’s perspective and thought to myself…”I would want my founder to be spending 100% of their effort and energy on the company that I put dollars behind.”  He explained that his activity as an investor is what keeps his thinking fresh, and that the stimulus of these conversations and data points made him a better CEO.

I didn’t really have a chance to understand this phenomenon in my last company because I was playing in a market with little or no overlap to most venture ideas/startups.  So even though I still thought like a venture capitalist, meeting with entrepreneurs and executives to discuss their companies and ambitions didn’t really present a whole lot of value to Untitled Partners.  Now that I am building a true consumer internet company at JumpPost (where other founders’ thinking enhances and is directly applicable to my own efforts), I find myself engaging in and building a body of “investor like” interactions (despite the fact that I don’t have a fund to invest).  I understand exactly what Dixon was talking about, to the point where I am actively allocating cycles of my week to meeting with entrepreneurs and people thinking about becoming entrepreneurs to discuss their businesses, pitches, products, fundraising strategies, etc…I don’t stand to gain financially from meeting with the next big thing (as I would if I was making angel investments), but I really like helping other entrepreneurs achieve their goals, and I get a ton of non-financial value from these meetings.

Charlie O’donnell wrote a post recently in which he called First Round Capital a “feeder fund for larger VC firms.” Meaning First Round, although a relatively small fund, has established great relationships with larger venture capital firms that are capable of writing the big checks that their companies might need.  So the idea is, you join First Round’s platform and then one of the big guys (Sequoia, Benchmark, Accel) follows.  Feeder funds, or seed funds, are the flavor of the month in the Startup Funding Ecosystem (see Dave McClures breakdown of this evolution in the market).  I’ll say they are largely accompanying/taking market share from professional angels who perform a similar “feeding” function into other Angels, Seed Funds, and Venture Capital firms.  This is all just to say that the startup investment landscape is largely driven by the referrals of trusted relationships.  Investors rely heavily on signals to determine what is and is not worth their time, so the opinion of someone who’s judgment they trust (as signaled by an early investment in a company, or even a “hey, you should take a look at this…met the founder…it’s interesting”) is how investors decide which 10 of every 100 potential investments that come through their inbox, they are going to explore.

You might say that over the past 5 months I have been building a feeder fund…minus the fund…This was not a calculated move on my part, but rather a pretty organic evolution that has increased in scope as I have watched the yield derived from building my own company on top of a “platform”.  A “platform” is any vehicle that creates a center of activity around a specific person or group of people.  In the case of a venture capital firm, the actual fund is the platform that serves this function…So when you have $1 Billion behind you, a gravitational force pulls entrepreneurs, executives, and opportunities toward the people operating on top of that platform (investors, EIR’s, etc.).  With exposure to all these parties gravitating toward the center of the platform, a VC is in unique position not only to identify relevant business opportunities, but also to realize those opportunities swiftly through the injection of capital or resources on hand. This is why being an EIR is such a cool way to build a company…the platform of a fund provides tons of exposure to interesting data/people/ideas provides fertile ground to develop a company.

In the absence of a fund, there are other types of “platforms” that an entrepreneur can leverage to increase exposure to opportunities and people.  Polaris’ DogPatch Labs (great job at Hackers & Founders last night) is an example of a platform, where if you sit in a shared space attached to a brand worth $1 Billion (even if you are not the one deploying it), you catch some fraction of the gravitational force that the Polaris itself commands.  Affiliations with networks of entrepreneurs like First Growth or even Meetup (to a much lesser extent), are ways of tapping into an existing platform’s pull, and hopefully using that pull to propel your startup further than it would go independent of any platform.

I have decided to build a new platform, Fundless Fund, and I invite you to participate in it.  This blog is one of the cornerstones of that platform, insofar as it has reduced the cost and effort required to market the value proposition of a young platform to a wide audience. I’ve combined that marketing channel with some embedded pieces of value that I have managed to acquire through my experiences in venture capital and entrepreneurship, and now I would like to roll them into what I will call my “fundless fund.” At some point in the future, perhaps when I make enough money to fund this “fundless fund,” (or perhaps when I establish enough credibility to have others back it), maybe this platform will be strengthened by the financial resources to accelerate growth within it, but for now, I am happy to announce the first day of The Fundless Fund.  The core values and opportunity that the Fundless Fund presents are as follows:

1) integrity

2) extreme candor

3) information not readily available elsewhere

4) exposure to potentially accretive ideas

5) exposure to a body of entrepreneurs and executives who have been filtered through the perspective and rigor exemplified by my posts (I’ve basically built a map of the smartest people I like in this world…which I think I will publish in a couple of weeks)

6) jobs: if you’re a star, we’ll give you a job or introduce you to some cool people who are looking to hire stars

7) money: if you’re company is fundable, happy to introduce you to as many Angel Investors, Seed Funds, and Venture Capital Firms as we can…If not, we’ll try to tell you what you need to do to get to a point where you are fundable.

This is pretty much an experiment in adding a new layer to Dave McClure’s Startup Funding Ecosystem.  I’d imagine it is a layer in which any entrepreneur or executive who would like to further the entrepreneurial movement as a whole might be able to contribute (independent of whether or not they have yet made the bucks to do so economically).  If there proves to be value in fomalizing this already existent layer in the stack, I will try to bring on some great people and partners to strengthen the effort.

As this fund is fundless, we’ll be very psyched to receive anyone who wants to throw some value into the mix.  If you’re great at organizing events…awesome…if you want to hack together a shitty website for the “fund”…awesome…if you want to meet young entrepreneurs and are in a position to provide the types of value I outlined above…awesome…if you have ideas on how to actually do this well…awesome.  If you want to vote this up on HackerNews, post it on Digg, or do anything else to get the message out to entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs that help is available and 100% free…donated by people who are trying to further out collective effort…awesome…Get involved by emailing FundlessFund@gmail.com (ideally with some link to your public presence online).

Note: I still spend 90% of my cycles on JumpPost, so patience with the speed of development/action is appreciated until we “staff up” a bit.

Second Note: If you think this is a dumb effort, or have any ideas about how to make it less dumb…please comment

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    About

    I’m a NYC based entrepreneur. I think there is one metric that can be used to measure the value of a human life and that’s impact. How did you change things? How many people did you touch? How different is the world because you lived in it and how positive was the change that you affected? (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it) You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com

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