Archive for the ‘Company Formation’ Category

Introducing Pledge 1% – Let’s make a difference together

pledgeThere’s a great scene in Office Space where the movie’s heroes check their ATM balance after one of them has written a program to scrape tenths of pennies off of Paymetech (the movie’s fictional company) transactions. The guys figure this action will both go unnoticed and also generate a relatively modest sum for them. Instead when they check their balance it turns out that the sum of their tiny rounding transactions actually equated to over $400k to them over a weekend!

It’s a funny scene (and a funny movie) but the moral here is actually important: The sum of a large number of small actions can be huge.

Today we’re announcing the launch of Pledge 1%. A joint effort between The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, The Salesforce Foundation and The Atlassian Foundation, Pledge 1% encourages entrepreneurs and companies to give back to their local communities through a gift of equity, profits and/or product. With Pledge 1% we’re aiming to aggregate a large number of smaller transactions to create meaningful impact.

For years we’ve seen the benefit of companies giving back to their communities through the Entrepreneurs’ Foundation network. Since it’s founding 7 years ago, EF Colorado alone has generated over $3M in direct philanthropy back to local non-profits. And we’ve seen participating companies benefit from the incorporation of clear values from their very founding.

But we can and should do so much more. 

Pledge 1% aims to encourage all companies to incorporate a small pledge of philanthropy into their corporate culture through the pledge or gift to a non-profit of their choosing. This gift can be in the form of stock from the company, a pledge of stock from founders or other employees, gifts of time, gifts of profit or gifts of product. We’re encouraging the entrepreneurial community to put a stake in the ground around the importance of giving back. Pledge 1% acts as a clearing house for these gifts and pledges with simple tools to encourage and facilitate giving. In addition to myself, the Pledge 1% founders include Mark Benioff of Salesforce, Ryan Maretns of Rally, Scott Farquhar of Atlassian, Jeremy Stoppleman of Yelp and Dan Siroker of Optimizely.

Check out what we’re doing at www.pledge1percent.org. And join me in making the pledge.

Accelerating Accelerators

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 11.23.04 AMI spent the day on Thursday last week in a small classroom on the Georgetown campus reviewing finalists in the SBA’s Accelerator Competition. Announced a few months ago, the Accelerator Competition is a program of the Small Business Administration through which they are awarding $50k to each of 50 accelerators across the country to promote entrepreneurship (that’s $2.5M in total for those of you w/o a calculator handy). For a government program it has surprisingly few strings attached – it’s really an experiment by the SBA to see if they can facilitate entrepreneurship across the country through providing assistance to the various programs that support entrepreneurs around the country. Of several hundred applicants the group last week reviewed the top 99 to come up with the final 50 who will be awarded the prize.

I’ve written before about what I’ve been calling the Democratization of Entrepreneurship and why I think it’s so important to think broadly about entrepreneurship.  What really struck me about the applicants we reviewed was exactly this. Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the US and it’s thriving in places well outside of what those of us in the tech world think of as the traditional pockets of entrepreneurship. The finalists for this program included accelerators from towns as small as 1,000, many run by (and sometimes focused on serving) women or minorities, from ares of the country looking to reinvent themselves and join the new economy, to accelerators that were leveraging historical manufacturing capabilities into the new economy. It was an impressive collection of people and stories, all with a common passion for helping entrepreneurs.

I left the day feeling as optimistic as ever about the role entrepreneurship plays in our economy and excited about how strong the entrepreneurial ecosystem is across our country. I was also impressed by the passion that the team from the SBA has for supporting small business (not to mention the pretty amazing group of people they put together to review the applications). I get that it’s their charter, but this goes beyond that. This program isn’t universally loved within the government and I applaud the team I worked with at the SBA for making it happen.

Update: Here’s the link to the SBA announcement of the winners of the competition. 

August 26th, 2014     Categories: Company Formation, Democratization of Entreprenurship    

Getting our Angel List On

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 7.05.31 AMIn the news/hype cycle of venture and start-ups it’s rare when a single news item captures the attention of the entire community, even for a few days, let alone 3 or 4. But AngelList‘s announcement of “Syndicates” has done just that. And it was pretty fun to watch the reactions which ranged from: “this is stupid” to “this will kill venture investing as we know it” to “this will change angel investing forever” to everything in between (see for example, AngelList Syndicates Will Also Pit Angel Against Angel, The Great Venture Capital Rotation, Leading vs. Following, Some Thoughts on the Big AngelList Deal, and Is @AngelList Syndicates Really Such a Big Deal?)

Of course none of these writers know exactly how Syndicates (which in short creates the ability for angels on AngelList to build funding groups around a specific company and take a portion of the upside associated with the success of the company/investment) will really work and neither do I.

But I do know that Syndicates is an interesting idea – and perhaps more importantly, yet another example of how Naval and AngelList continue to innovate around funding models for early stage companies. But I think what everyone is forgetting in this debate is that the radical innovation here isn’t AngelList Syndicates. It’s AngelList itself.  The idea to democratize capital formation is the important idea here and a continuation of a key trend around start-ups and venture capital of the past 20 years. And despite it’s name, AngelList is really about the entrepreneurs who start businesses more than it is about the people who back them (although for those outside of the valley loop, AngelList is also democratizes the funding side of equation – both key parts of the overall Democratization of Entrepreneurship trend that we’re witnessing).

In many ways, Syndicates simply codifies (and specifies a value for) what’s already going on around fundings on AngelList where people get excited about an idea, commit to funding it, and then try to get others to jump in as well. In that sense it’s not really innovative so much as it’s encouraging activity that’s already taking place, making the rules around it more clear, and trying to get as many people as possible to join the effort (which is what Angel List itself is about).

Rather than debate the hypothetical, today Foundry Group decided that it would be more interesting to jump into the middle of the topic we’re all talking about. We’ve been thinking for quite some time about how to better leverage some of the angel activity that’s going on in our community (and through our investment in TechStars and through our own personal investments in companies and venture funds the four of us are already involved with over 1,000 early stage companies).  The creation of Syndicates presents a great way to do this. So today Foundry is announcing the creation of FG Angels, through which we’ll invest in approximately 50 AngelList companies through the FG Angels Syndicate. We’ll put up the first $50k into the syndicate and will cap total participation in each of our syndicate groups at $500k (at least for now). There’s more detail on what we’re up to on our post about it from this morning.

More than anything, Foundry Group believes that we exist to serve entrepreneurs and to make them successful (and that doing so is the best way generate a great return on our investors’ money). AngelList Syndicates supports this idea and the formation of FG Angels is our effort both to be supportive to the AngelList community and to take advantage of a trend that – good or bad for VCs or angel investors – is part of a tidal wave of change sweeping over our industry.

 

October 1st, 2013     Categories: Company Creation, Company Formation    

California, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado

California, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado. That’s the order of states with the greatest dollar value of seed and early stage investment according to a PWC MoneyTree study that my partner Jason blogged about today. $290M invested in 41 companies based in Colorado in 2011. Compare that with 2006 when Colorado ranked 12th on the list with just under $90M invested in 32 companies.

That’s an incredible achievement and says a lot about the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colorado and our rising profile on the national stage. I’ve written extensively on why Boulder specifically, and Colorado in general, are great start-up markets (see here, for example). And these data show that the work and effort of many people in our state is paying off. I often tell people when they ask me how to replicate the success we’ve had here in Colorado that the journey is a long one. When building an entrepreneurial community one needs to take a 10+year view of the effort. When I think back to what the Colorado market looked like when I joined the venture industry about 12 years ago (based here, but working for a CA firm), it’s almost hard to fathom the changes. And while the number of venture firms located in Colorado has diminished significantly in that time, the overall entrepreneurial environemnt has really flourished. All giving support to what I believe to be a key truth about our industry – entrepreneurs come first!

So congratulations to all the great Colorado entrepreneurs who have made this state a great place to start and build a business.

Is there age bias in VC investing?

I recently waked into a pitch meeting for a social networking related business and was surprised by what I saw. I had interacted with the entrepreneur over email – taking a look at the initial business plan and setting up the meeting – but we hadn’t met in person before. In front of me were three guys in suits, each in their late 40′s or early 50′s, with an older Dell laptop and a paper print-out of some product ideas. And as I sat there listening to their pitch I couldn’t help but think about how differently I might have reacted if this team was in their 20′s or 30′s, dressed in full tech/nerd hipster outfits (or at least jeans and sneakers), and whether there is a negative age bias in venture capital. Here were three guys with 20-30 years of business experience, but I was having trouble getting past my expectation of what they were going to look and act like, versus what was in front of me.

An LP of ours once asked a question that dealt with a similar subject (ironically, although we were in our Boulder office and the LP in question was in jeans, my partners and I were all in sport coats, as we always are when presenting to our investors). I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it but it was something like: “When do you guys get to be too old to do this? To relate to the younger entrepreneurs who are starting companies in the investment areas in which you guys focus.” To be quite frank, this question had never actually occurred to me before. Likely because I still think of my self as young and hip (although I am neither). And because I figured that as long as we are passionate about what we’re doing, we’ll relate to entrepreneurs who have that similar passion (some variant of that is how we answered our investor at the time).

But actually it’s true. Certainly there is some amount of age bias in venture. Early stage tech is considered somewhat of a young person’s game. And while I’ve worked with many very experienced entrepreneurs who were and are fantastic, I wonder if the initial pangs of question I felt on entering a room with 3 middle aged guys in suits pitching me their business plan is something that is deeper than a momentary hesitation.

I’d love your thoughts on this.

October 12th, 2011     Categories: Company Formation, Venture Capital