I hate suits.
I hate everything that they represent. I spent my life, since I was nine, living a life that doesnt require suits. I wear sunglasses, a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops always. Sometimes shoes, and maybe jeans, but never a suit.
Never a god damn suit.
So when Jeffrey called me to talk about his upcoming wedding, I knew I was screwed.
“Micah. Listen. I need you to wear a suit.”
“I dont wear suits.”
“It wont be that bad. We are all wearing suits. And soon as the ceremony is over… Poof! turn back into Micah.”
“Seriously, dude, I dont wear suits. I dont even own a collared shirt.”
“And I have a tie for you. You dont even need to buy a tie.”
“None of my shoes have laces. I have no undershirts. I dont wear suits.”
I also dont go to weddings.
Ive been to three in my life. One for my best high school friend. One for my best college friend, and now one for my best adult friend.
But, here I sit at 1:53 am having done both.
I did it not because it was a chance to push myself out of my comfort zone (although suits are really not comfortable); nor did I do it because it was Jeffrey’s day and thats what I was supposed to do.
I did it because I am now a grownup.
We spend so much of our lives avoiding growing up or trying to stay young. We color our hair, we date younger chicks, we listen to Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, or we start companies that sell comic books.
Today, as I put on my suit, I cringed. I knew I was going to sweat (Its Chicago. Its August.) I knew I was going to be self-conscience. I knew I would have to deal with people joking about my suit and wanting to take pictures of this rarest of occasions.
As the day progressed, I continued to sweat my ass off in the suit and my displeasure at the situation worsened.
But then the ceremony started. And I stood next to Jeffrey’s oldest friend Burton, behind Jeffrey under a tent and in front of hundreds of friends and family.
And I finally understood.
No matter how hard I tried. No matter how much energy I put into avoiding it; I couldnt. I just couldnt.
Jeffrey and Kelly worked their way through the speeches of their family members, and recited their vows.
Then, in the moment between the words “you are man and wife” and the cheers when Kelly grabbed Jeffrey, bent him over and made out with him like he was the last man on earth (at least thats what I wished happened – in truth, they lovingly kissed one another) – it was clear.
I was a grown up.
We have a million stories about things we did as kids. Stupid shit — illegal shit — stuff that if we ever have kids we would beat them within inches of their lives for doing. But, we would never do those things again.
We would never be made fun of by our friends while we puked from being so drunk that getting home was a blur. We would never skip a week of school just to get the high score on the Pacman machine at the local supermarket.
You get it. We grew up.
But growing up isnt the horrible thing I thought it would be. It isnt about the lose of identity and the assumption of our souls into the Borg of The Man.
It doesnt even mean PTA meetings and living with plastic covers on the couch.
It means that we can enjoy each other for what we are–good and bad–and on occasion, when asked, we can put on a suit just to make someone else happy.
I love the fact that my life is about being proud of the success of my friends and the people I love. I am energized by watching some of the smartest people I know, who look at the world in unique and highly innovative ways, dance with each other just because they can.
It made me think of the final scene in The Breakfast Club.
“Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong.
But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.
But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal.
Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”
I spent the night with my Breakfast Club. My grown up Breakfast Club. My suit wearing Breakfast Club.
And it was perfect.
Congratulations Jeffrey and Kelly!
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Over the past year and a half, I have spoken to more than 100 entrepreneurs that are in various stages of company building, and are looking to raise money. Over that time, I have gotten better and better (at least I think I have) in outlining the best way to frame the story of the startup.
BTW: If you are looking to really understand raising money and everything that goes with it, stop reading this and go buy Venture Deals by my friends Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. They are smart; I just have a big mouth.
What I can tell you is how I look at the world of raising capital. Also, this is for seed rounds, after your first money, I am no longer really helpful. (And, please this is MY VIEW. You might disagree. Great comment away.)
Excepted Success Rate
|Friends and Family||High||Emotional||0%||~$10,000|
|Professional Angel||Medium||Emotional / Money||5%||~$50,000|
There are four investor types:
- Friends and Family: These tend to invest 100% in the person and less worried about the idea. They are your friends and family after all. Most expect to lose the money, but want to be helpful. Usually are just money not great advisors or rolodexes.
- Personal Angels: These are rich people who invest their own money. Often they have had a successful startup and want to see other entrepreneurs do well. Often they invest because they have a real interest in a market segment (They just love location based gaming!!) but really invest because they become passionate about the team. They do 25 – 40 deals over the course of 18-24 months, and expect one or none of them to really return anything meaningful. Usually these guys are great money, but not great advisors since they tend to not want to get super involved. Can have fantastic rolodexes. You have probably never heard of them, but should.
- Professional Angels: These folks are investing their own money, but are doing it as a job. Sometimes, they invest other people’s money as well. They are better as advisors, but also tend to be bigger “names” and in higher demand, which leads to their inability to sit on boards or get super involved in anyone startup. If you have professional angels in your round, you need to make sure that you effectively communicate with them to get the most value, which can be immense in terms of connections and advice.
- Venture Capitalists: Stop caring about the fund’s name. Worry about the partner. A great partner can add more value than having a big brand name fund investing in your startup. Being able to call a partner 4 times a week because you are freaking out is worth more than you will ever know (until you are freaking out and have no one to call). They are professional investors. That means they do more due diligence, want to see more traction and make bets that mitigate risk for their LPs as much as possible. They tend to work the hardest for you, but you also tend to give up more of the company and expectations explode. The cadence of your company you’ve been running out of your living room changes, and its about knocking it out of the park, not about slow growth and organic success.
In terms of how a company is evaluated, its pretty simple: Team, Problem/Solution and Market are the three levers. (There might be micro-levers, but on a macro, story telling level, these are it).
- Team: A great team is made up of at least a Hacker and a Hustler. The quick of it is: A Hustler sells passion and gets people excited about what you are doing; a Hacker is a problem solver. They dont have to be the best engineer, just the best at seeing the innovation and helping it get built. If you team is great two things happen. Its easier to raise money, and recruitment is easier. Not because A players recruit A players (which is true), but because A players set your culture and make it easy to understand what working for your startup is like; and more importantly they SCREEN FOR GREATNESS.
- Problem/Solution: Is your solution interesting and unique? Is it a real problem? This is important, but not as important as the team or the market.
- Market: One question: Is it a big market? Yes? Thats good. No? Thats bad. How big is a big market? $10B+ is interesting. Start talking $100′s of B’s thats awesome. Its why Square is so valuable. Its an interesting (but not unique) solution in a BIG MARKET.
- Great Team + Weak Solution + Big Market = investment (A great team will make a weak product great)
- Great Team + Strong Solution + Big Market = investment craze / high valuation
- Great Team + Weak Solution + Small Market = investment / low valuation
- Great Team + Strong Solution + Small Market = no investment. In that idea. But, they will pivot and get investment. Or they will get investment and told to pivot.
- Weak Team + Weak Solution + Big Market = no investment (a bad team wont pivot into something big)
- Weak Team + Strong Solution + Big Market = investment / low valuation (potentially, the investor might suggest adding or subtracting from the team)
- Weak Team + Strong Solution + Small Market = no investment. In that idea. But, they will pivot and get investment. Or they will get investment and told to pivot.
- Weak Team + Weak Solution + Small Market = facepalm. Dont pass Go.
Over simplistic? Yup. Accurate. Damn straight.
Your team is probably not as strong as you think it is. Really evaluate the skill set of each member, and make sure that everyone is filling the role they should. If you are flipping a coin for CEO, guaranteed an external CEO will be placed, or one of the founders will be gone. Think it through. You spent a lot of time on technology and infrastructure choices why bullshit on executive roles?
All of this should boil down to a 6 slide deck:
- Cover slide
- What is the problem?
- What is your solution?
- How do you solve it better than anyone else.
- How will everyone make money (especially the investors)
- How much money do you need to change the world?
Fund raising is about the story you tell. Whether its during a couple minute pitch at a Techstars/Y-combinator/500startups demo day or a two hour meeting with the partners at a big firm.
Think about the story you are telling; and as importantly, to whom you are telling the story.
Now go raise millions.
- 14 Key Findings of the Startup Genome Report (mojosimon.wordpress.com)
- Angel Investors Won’t Swoop Down on Your Startup (businessinsider.com)
- Fred Wilson: Startup Financing 101: How To Sell Preferred Stock (huffingtonpost.com)
- Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist (feld.com)
- Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist (avc.com)
Every year, Techstars has a reunion for Techstars companies. About a year ago, it was hosted in New York during Techstars For A Day. The excitement was that it was the first time that many mentors and former Techstar companies would see a fair number of the more than 600 applicants for the yet to launch New York program.
New York is a big city. Sounds silly, but one of the charms of Techstars Boulder is that the size of the city increases the focus of the companies during the program, because there are so many fewer distractions. Seattle and Boston for their size certainly allowed for more distraction, but neither are New York.
Throw on top of that a relatively unknown (to me!) general manager, David Tisch, and my concern for the ability for the New York program to perform like a New York program should were certainly heightened as I entered 92Y for that Techstars reunion / TS4AD.
Boy were my concerns unfounded. Tisch crushed it. The companies crushed it. The mentors crushed it. And more importantly, New York crushed it.
Over the course of the program, which I dropped into, the energy and focus of the companies rivaled anything I had seen at any of the other cities. The program was just as intense, the mentors just as helpful and brutal and the growth in the companies was just as meteoric.
And, most importantly, Tisch became a true leader in New York.
There was still silliness and a lot of bad moves (I hate ‘Series Awesome’ for being childish and taking away from what OnSwipe is doing), but overall it was a successful season. And the new crop of companies, as it should be, is twice as good as the previous bunch.
One of the early knocks on Techstars has always been its secretive nature. When it first moved into the bunker in Boulder, its address was hidden on Brightkite. Then, given the support the community had given Techstars, David Cohen made the right move by including the community versus hiding away from them. The community was invited to Demo Day, the Bunker is used for community events and coworking space in the off-season, and he hired Megan to film the Founders Series (which won an emmy!!)
New York took it to a whole new level bringing in Bloomberg TV to show Techstars as it was, warts and all. Techstars isnt perfect, and the companies are far from perfect. The mentors, well, most of us understand that our imperfections are part of the reason we have done what we have done, and are willing to share our knowledge.
The new show is coming. Here is the a trailer: And Techstars’ closeup will show the world why I love the program so much, and have been as involved as I have been. Its not perfect. Its about learning who you are…and arent. But mostly, its about building companies collaboratively.
- New York City TechStars’ reality TV show to air this fall on Bloomberg (thenextweb.com)
- Techstars NYC Announces New Startups Debuting This Summer (nyconvergence.com)
- JWT Sponsors ‘Startup Accelerator’ TechStars (paidcontent.org)
- Making Million-Dollar Connections: 5 Of ThinkNear’s TechStars Mentors Invested In Its $1.63 Million Round (businessinsider.com)
- Startups On TV: TechStars Teams Up With Bloomberg To Offer An Inside Look At Building A Business (techcrunch.com)