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Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

More Entrepreneurs Should Be Eating Magic Mushrooms, This Startup Founder Says

As cofounder of a local-social network startup called Circle, Evan Reas is no stranger to finding novel solutions to unusual problems.

When you find yourself positively stumped by a creative obstacle, there are the conventional methods of attack – dream something up by yourself, or maybe hire a professional to take care of the problem from beginning to end.

And then there are the more unique, off-the-beaten-path approaches.

Like taking magic mushrooms.

“It completely changes how you think,” Reas told us. “About your problems, about yourself, everything. It forced me to ask, ‘Is what I’m doing important?'”

With 4.5 million people using Circle so far, it would certainly seem so. This iOS and Android app aims to be your local network, showing you who and what is nearby. It can sort your friends by their various Facebook networks (high school, college, workplace) and lets you send them messages.

Reas isn’t alone in his endorsement of the psychedelic experience. The list of public figures affected by mushrooms and similar drugs runs long and varied, featuring a set of names that includes literary heavyweight Aldous Huxley, musical icon Jerry Garcia, and even Francis Crick, who discovered the double helix structure of DNA.

We’re not endorsing this approach, of course. Magic mushrooms are illegal in most states.

Circle and its 10 employees have made the app available for free on iOS and on Android.

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Ben Horowitz warns startups: You’re worth less today, and you need to be OK with that

Andreessen Horowitz Partner Ben Horowitz says the fundraising environment for startups is particularly tough today. He says investors are increasingly pushing for more equity for less capital, and founders need to be OK with that.Andreessen Horowitz Partner Ben Horowitz says the fundraising environment for startups is particularly tough today. He says investors are increasingly pushing for more equity for less capital, and founders need to be OK with that.

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Contributing writer- Silicon Valley Business Journal

Legendary venture capitalist Ben Horowitz (who makes up the second half of Andreessen Horowitz) has a particularly bleak message for entrepreneurs raising money in the Valley right now: You’re probably worth less to investors today than you were the last time you raised money.

“If you are burning cash and running out of money, you are going to have to swallow your pride, face reality and raise money even if it hurts,” Horowitz wrote in a blog entry Tuesday. “Hoping that the fundraising climate will change before you die is a bad strategy because a dwindling cash balance will make it even more difficult to raise money than it already is, so even in a steady climate, your prospects will dim. You need to figure out how to stop the bleeding, as it is too late to prevent it from starting. Eating s— is horrible, but is far better than suicide.”

He’s partly talking to founders raising an A or B round—entrepreneurs who’ve been to the table at least once before, and raised earlier rounds at a particularly high valuation. The fundraising climate is tougher now, he says. Investors have more leverage and they’re increasingly pushing founders to accept “down rounds,” defined as funding that values their company for less than they were worth in a previous round.

“After, God willing, you successfully raise your round and it’s a down round or a disappointing round, you will need to explain things to your company,” Horowitz writes. “The best thing to do is to tell the truth. Yes, we did a down round. Yes, that kind of sucks. But no, it’s not the end of the world.”

Horowitz knows the feeling.

Twelve years ago, he and Marc Andreessen were entrepreneurs themselves, running a red-hot startup called Loudcloud. In June 2000, they raised $120 million from investors, at an $820 million valuation. By the end of the year, the dot-com bubble was popping fast, and they couldn’t raise another round. To stay afloat, they were forced to take the company public in 2001, at a $560 million valuation.

Describing that experience, Horowitz writes, “In some sense, you are like the captain of the Titanic. Had he not had the experience of being a ship captain for 25 years and never hit an iceberg, he would have seen the iceberg. Had you not had the experience of raising your last round so easily, you might have seen this round coming. But now is not the time to worry about that. Now is the time to make sure that your lifeboats are in order.”

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DEAR ENTREPRENEURS: Here’s How Bad Your Odds Of Success Are

Baby sea turtles

REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

As a wise investor puts it: “Many turtles hatch. Few make it to the sea.”

Everyone knows that starting companies — and investing in startups — is a risky way to earn a living.But few people appreciate just how risky it is.

Thanks to a recent tweet from Paul Graham, the founder of “startup school” Y Combinator, we now have a better idea.

Graham says that 37 of the 511 companies that have gone through the Y Combinator program over the past 5 years have either sold for, or are now worth, more than $40 million.

Most entrepreneurs would probably view creating a company worth more than $40 million as a success (unless the company raised more capital than that). And, on its face, the “37 companies” number seems relatively impressive.

In fact, however, the number tells a scary and depressing story.

This number suggests that a startling 93% of the companies that get accepted by Y Combinator eventually fail.

(Not all companies that sell for less than $40 million are “failures,” obviously. Assuming a company hasn’t raised much capital, a sale between $5 million and $40 million could be considered a success. But a high percentage of Y Combinator companies likely end up being worth zero. And for companies that are hand-picked by very smart investors, the 93%-below-$40 million rate is still surprisingly low).

A company accepted by Y Combinator, therefore, has less than a 1-in-10 chance of being a big success.

More alarmingly, the companies accepted by Y Combinator are only a tiny fraction of the companies that apply.

Some have estimated that Y Combinator’s acceptance rate is 3-5%.

If we use the 5% rate, we can estimate that Y Combinator has received about 10,000 applications for the ~500 companies it has chosen over the years.

Assuming Y Combinator has even a modest ability to pick winners, therefore, the odds that a company applying to Y Combinator will be a success are significantly lower than the odds of success of the companies accepted into the program.

If only 37 of the companies that have applied to Y Combinator over the years have succeeded, this is a staggeringly low 0.4% success rate.

Put differently, only one in every 200 companies that applies to Y Combinator will succeed.

The reality is that Y Combinator probably misses a few winners, so the actual odds are probably slightly higher.

But in case any entrepreneur or angel investor is deluding themselves into thinking that startups are an easy way to cash in, they might want to think again.

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April 5 2013
by Scott Johnson

5 Habits of Great Startup CEOs

Being CEO of a startup is quite similar to being the parent of a newborn.  The neighbors see a clean cooing newborn with smiling proud parents.  But we all know what goes on inside the house.  Sleepless nights, stress, no time to attend to other relationships.  You are a slave to the new creature.  It is ultimately incredibly rewarding, but parenting is very hard work and not at all glamourous.  And just the way not everyone handles parenting well, not everyone is a good candidate to run a startup.  As a matter of fact, a great startup CEO is as rare as a 70 degree day in March in Boston.

I have compiled the qualities that great startup CEOs share – you know – the CEOs that actually get multiple B-round term sheets in down markets and get that marquis exit at an unusually high multiple.  These are the ones that consistently surprise their board on the upside, investors love to back, and that acquirers pay up to bring in-house.  If you are a founder looking for a CEO to really grow your company, here are the five personal attributes you should look for:

1) Attracts Great Talent.  This is the best indicator of success, as it really encompasses all of the other attributes.  If A+ talent flocks to work for someone, that person has got something special.  Be careful though.  An orangutan could be CEO of super fast growing startup and attract great talent.  So, make sure it is the CEO who can attract talent, not someone riding the wave at a hot company.

2) Networking God.  A good CEO shortens sales cycles with contacts, shortens hiring time with contacts, and shortens fundraising time with contacts.  A CEO who networks well can hence shorten time to exit and massively reduce dilution to founders.  Give 8% to a great CEO, prevent 20-30% or more in downstream dilution.

3) High Intelligence.  The CEO is usually not the highest IQ in the room.  But he needs to be in the conversation.  At high tech startups, a certain acumen is needed to keep the respect of the troops, and gain the respect of customers and investors.

4) Strategic Thinker.  The trick with startups is to channel all of the companies limited resources in the optimal direction.  And to quickly alter course as markets dictate so not a single moment is wasted by indecision.  This requires strategic thinking, not tactical execution.  Many line executives from larger companies struggle as CEOs of startups because they  have not had the opportunity to deviate from a strategy that was handed down to them from above.

5) Stamina, Energy and Productivity.  This gets back to my point at the top about parenting a newborn.  The CEO needs to be all-in, and one of those productive people that doesn’t waste a second of his or her day.  The CEO sets the culture at a company, and that should be one of reward for achievement, productivity, hard work, and accountability.

So, there you go.  Every founder CEO should be very honest in his or her self assessment, and then when they see someone with the above profile, move quickly to hire them.  But do your diligence.  Hiring the wrong CEO can be every bit as costly as hiring the right one can be helpful.

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Your Business CAN Avoid The Series A Crunch – Here’s How

Jim Andelman, my Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, aptly describes the genesis of the Series A crunch, stating that: “Over the next 12-to-18 months, a lot of good companies that have been Seed financed are going to have a tough time raising a Series A from a new outside lead. This is due to a fundamental disconnect between the increased activity of high-volume seed investors (that fill out lots of Seed rounds) and the relatively small number of Series A investors, who only make 1 or 2 investments, per partner, per year.”

Turtle Eggs And Startups

I was in a board meeting recently at Connexity when Dave Gross, the company’s Co-Founder and CEO, made an insightful observation regarding the shortage of Series A funds. He joked that it is akin to turtles hatching on a beach and running in mass toward the ocean. Thousands of turtles are hatched, but only a fraction evades the grasp of predatory birds and reach the safety of the water.

Once in the water, another significant percentage of the baby turtles is quickly devoured by hungry sea creatures. The nasty and brutish  deaths of the unfortunate turtles are disquieting , but the process ensures that  the survivors are (on average) strong, healthy and able to capitalize on the ecosystem’s resources.

There is a similar Darwinian aspect to venture capital investing. Companies that exhibit the greatest prospects are those that attract the necessary capital to survive. Non-performing companies (unless they are artificially propped up by a Washington bureaucrat with tax dollars) are usually unable to garner adequate financing. Their demise, albeit painful in the short term, frees the employees (and in some cases the underlying technology) to pursue more productive opportunities.

There are no villains in the current Series A drama. The rapid growth of seed investments is the natural result of a number of industry trends, which continue to drive down the cost of launching and operating a web-based business. Some seed investors execute over one hundred investments per year, each in the $25k to $200k range. Paul Singh, a partner at the seed stage firm 500-Startups, effectively articulates the market forces driving this investment strategy in his Money Ball presentation.

The other primary factor contributing to the Series A shortfall is the concentration of venture capital funds in the hands of a shrinking number of large firms. This has been driven by venture partners’ desire for larger and larger fees (which are a function of the amount of capital they manage) and institutional investors’ allocation of funds to a handful of VC firms with long (but not necessarily stellar) legacies. This is the “no one ever got fired for buying IBM” approach to investing.

Due to their size, these legacy funds must invest relatively large amounts of capital in each of their deployments, which ill-equips them for participation in most Series A rounds. This flow of funds to large, mediocre VC firms has been widely discussed, usually under the heading, “Is Venture Capital Broken?”

According to Jim Andelman, “These market dynamics combine to leave good companies unfunded, even when they do not need ‘much’ more capital to achieve a good exit. If a venture does not have a reasonably high-perceived chance of a $250 million exit, most Series A investors are passing.  The crunch is especially acute outside of Silicon Valley, as the Bay Area VCs focus on their home market, and the relatively fewer Series A investors in other markets can thus afford to be especially picky.”

Avoiding The Series A Crunch

Many of the unlucky baby turtles are healthy and speedy but still fail to reach the relative safety of the ocean. Similarly, companies with a viable value prop and promising future are finding it challenging to raise  adequate capital. Fortunately, there is a key difference between startups and baby turtles: entrepreneurs can make their own luck.

To this end, some of the tactics entrepreneurs can execute to avoid becoming a victim of the Series A crunch, include:

Take more money at the Seed stage – Although the incremental dilution will be painful, it is prudent to accept 30% – 50% more capital in your Seed round than you would historically, as it will give you a longer runway in which to create value in advance of seeking Series A funds.

Court Seed Investors with a demonstrated history of participating in a post-Seed rounds – As noted in Extracting More Than Cash From Your Angel Investors, there are a variety of parameters you should use to identify and target potential seed investors. Given the current paucity of Series A funds, the depth of an investor’s pockets should be given special prioritization.

Be realistic about your Series A valuation – Although it may seem counterintuitive, the lack of equilibrium between Seed and Series A investors is causing valuation inflation. Per Mr. Andelman, “The Series A investors are now paying more for businesses they think will have outlier exits.” These high-profile deals, which are covered extensively in the tech press and pursued by numerous investors, contribute to unrealistic expectations among rank and file entrepreneurs regarding a reasonable Series A market-rate.

If your company is not perceived to have the potential of a huge exit, do not expect a major uptick from your Seed valuation. If you are forced to accept a lower value, consider reducing the dilutive impact by raising a mix of equity and debt, as described more fully below.

Consider venture debt – If your business has a predictable, reliable cash stream and you have a high degree of confidence that you can reach sustaining profitability, it might be prudent to supplement a smaller Series A raise with debt. With current interest rates in the low-single digits, the cost of such capital has never been cheaper. Expect such debt to include a modest equity kicker component, in the form of warrant coverage. In addition, be on alert for camouflaged fees.

Customer dollars – Sophisticated entrepreneurs understand that the ideal source of capital is from customers’ wallets. Not only does revenue validate a startup’s value proposition, it results in zero dilution. The sooner you generate customer revenue and internalize paying customers’ feedback, the shorter your path to self-sustainability.

If you follow these tips, you are not guaranteed to avoid the Series A crunch, but you will undoubtedly increase your odds of adequately funding your startup, through its Series A round and beyond.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never tweet about double rainbows or that killer burrito I just ate. You can also check out my hands-on startup advice blog HERE.

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