boldstart 2018 recap and what’s hot in enterprise 2019

2018 Recap

Welcome to our annual boldstart recap and enterprise predictions letter. We had another solid year filled with learning, growth, laughter, and new projects and partners. Thanks to all of the amazing founders, advisors, co-investors, corporate partners, and others that helped make 2018 an amazing year. We are truly grateful for your support.

boldstart 2018People often ask us why firstcheck.vc or what is first check and our response is that the seed landscape is so confusing, and what founders need is an investor with courage and conviction to lead their rounds and support them from day 1. This initial round could be $500k or it could be $3mm. We are purpose-built to not only invest pre-product but also to help accelerate your path to product-market fit with our decades of entrepreneurial and investing experience along with our active CXO advisory board.

To that point, we are most excited when our founders are able to go from slide deck to product-market fit and Series A and beyond. This year was a banner year as boldstart portfolio cos raised over $150mm of follow on capital from some of the top Series A and B investors (highlights below).

    1. First check leads in 5 founding teams, all in stealth. Some of these themes include privacy/ML, next gen CMS, intelligent automation, and developer productivity.
    1. First check to Series B — congrats to BigID on its $30mm Series B led by Scale Venture Partners, Kustomer on its $25mm Series B led by Redpoint, and Snyk on its $22mm Series B led by Accel and GV. Truly amazing that all of these companies went from slide deck to B in approximately 3 1/2 years.
    1. First check to Series A — congrats to Fortress IQ on its $12mm Series A led by Lightspeed and a stealth co on their $13.5mm Series A led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Once again, we led each of these rounds at slide deck stage and helped land the first handful of customers to accelerate path to product market fit and their Series A rounds.
    1. First check to seed — congrats to Blockdaemon on their seed round led by Comcast Ventures and Wallaroo Labs on its seed led by RRE Ventures. In each of these cases, we led much smaller rounds before they raised proper seed funding.
    1. SmallstepClayDark, and Windmill emerged out of stealth. All are developer first companies respectively in zero trust security, automation, and developer productivity.
  1. Rebel exit to Salesforce. Dev-first API for interactive emails — will be a great fit with the Salesforce marketing cloud.

7. New CXO advisors join — Tony Saldanha (P&G Next Gen Svces, Transformant), Farhan Shah(Allstate, CTO, Head of Platform Eng), Munu Gandhi (VP Infrastructure, AON), Virginia Lyons (CISO, Williams Sonoma) and GTM advisors — Natalie Diggins (Neustar, ex-VP Cloud Platform/DevOps), Francesca Krihely (MongoDB, Dir. ABM/Demand Gen), Richard Crowley (Slack, Ops Architect), Misha Brukman (JanusGraph, co-founder). This means more collaboration with the Fortune 500 and more go-to-market experience as our portfolio companies navigate their path to first customers. In 2019, we’ll be doubling down on this effort as we are hiring a GM for our CXO Advisory Board & Network (job description here).

AWS Reinvent Survivor Dinner with founders, Fortune 500 execs, and VCs

9. Ongoing press coverage of boldstart themes: every Fortune 500 is a tech company, developer first, and security including FortuneTechcrunchWall Street JournalBusiness InsiderSaaStr podcast, and more…

Fortune December 2019 Investor Roundtable

No matter what economic cycle we go through, Fortune 500 companies need to invest in software.”
Ed Sim, Boldstart Ventures

Enterprise Tech in 2019

Amara’s Law: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

While the cloud wars, AI, automation, and digital transformation dominated the enterprise headlines in 2018, we have to remember that we are still early in the cycle. In our enterprise world, a large Fortune 500 can’t just flip a switch and close data centers and move to the cloud wholesale. There are other considerations like people, process, culture (see Dean Delvechhio’s, CIO Guardian Life,keynote at AWS), dreaded legacy technology and debt embedded in mainframes, COBOL, and other stuff they don’t want to mess with. Consider 2019 another year of blocking and tackling as the Fortune 500 continues their march to the cloud.

    1. Still in second inning for enterprise move to cloud: Regardless of what economic cycle we endure, the Fortune 500 march to a cloud-native architecture will continue. For the more advanced enterprises who have migrated to the cloud, this will be a year of net new technology and building applications. Along these lines, we are starting to hear serverless more and more from the Fortune 500 and see this trend reflected in the sales pipeline at iopipe which has gone from mostly startups to larger companies. While developers can now spin up applications faster than ever before, one of the downsides is the complexity of managing these distributed applications and technologies. Watch for startups solving this problem with a focus on observability, reliability, security and automation.
    1. Privacy engineering rules: We can’t go a week without a new data breach or privacy violation; Marriott, Google, Facebook and more. Large enterprises are also complaining about keeping up with so many different regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Other states are also creating legislation around privacy of a consumer’s data and expect 2019 to be the year that the US creates a national standard. This will be a boon to startups as this encompasses finding PII, securing data, and incorporating privacy by design. This is hitting every market from security to data infrastructure to cloud. Designing software with a privacy-first mentality becomes a core theme in 2019. This will be similar to how AI became embedded in most applications in 2018. BigIDand Dropout Labs address some of these areas, and we are actively looking for new opportunities.
    1. Year of HQ2 and Distributed Teams: It was a banner year for non-Silicon Valley cities as NYC and Northern Virginia were selected as Amazon’s HQ2. Google also unveiled plans to double its NYC employee base to 14k. In startup board rooms all across the United States, founders and investors are asking how do we keep scaling our teams? We will see many more startups created with fully distributed teams from the beginning or layer in an HQ2 as it becomes even more expensive and difficult to scale in the prime geographies. Rather than be seen as a negative to funding and scaling a business, this will be seen as a huge positive!
    1. Balanced growth vs. growth at all costs: No conversation about 2019 will be complete without considering the uncertain economic, financial and geopolitical environment in which we are currently living. The 10 year bull market where every company’s revenue chart is up and to the right is over. Many startups were funded on growth alone and this is the year that efficient growth plays a huge part in determining who the next winners will be. Startups should also make sure they are well funded for 24 months and have contingency plans to put on the brakes in case another nuclear winter occurs. Look at 2001 and 2008’s Lehman collapse and Sequoia RIP Good Times deck for lessons learned.
    1. Seed funds back to basics in 2019: We highlighted the barbelling of VC in the year-end 2017 update and see this continuing in 2019. Either you’re a mega fund or an early stage fund, being caught in the middle is a place you don’t want to be. On the seed side, we are seeing more firms focus on smaller and more concentrated portfolios instead of a spray and pray mentality. Consider this a back to basics approach the way VC used to be in the Arthur Rock days. There is so much money out there at the seed stage and specializing, focusing, and concentrating paves a path to success. This is what boldstart is all about, leading that first check round, rolling up our sleeves, and leveraging our Fortune 500 CXO network to accelerate the path to product-market fit.
    1. Enterprises buy new technology, stop selling them: When speaking with IT Execs in 2018, I repeatedly heard the common refrain of “I wish startups would stop spamming me” and “my voicemail is filled with vendors.” When we asked how they find new technology, their answer was clear; research on the web, word of mouth, and their teams, i.e. what are devs using. The script for selling and catering to the enterprise is flipping to the point that these large organizations will find you instead of being sold to. This has huge implications for how startups build their products and go-to-market teams with a focus on ease of use, dev evangelism, content marketing, a tilt towards inside vs field sales, and much more. This “bottom-up” strategy, especially for developer first and product-led growth companies, will continue in 2019. Winning the hearts and minds of developers matters and building the GTM around conversion and upsells will be key.
    1. Low code, no codeThere are 31 million developers on Github and more added in 2018 than the first six years combined. That stat is simply astonishing, and this theme is all about bringing on the next 31 million devs or what we call “citizen developers.” Much of the technology today has been built around abstraction making it easier and easier for devs to go from code to production. Many of today’s applications are actually a polyglot of APIs, third party packages, and services like Twilio, Auth0, and others allowing developers to rapidly assemble new scalable applications.This trend of allowing less experienced developers or even business analysts to build apps in a day will continue and unlock the next wave of “new devs. While they may not be building mission critical applications, this will certainly remove the bottleneck for many business departments to do it themselves without waiting for engineering. See a recent Business Insider article with more of my thoughts. Manifold and Dark are inline with this theme with a dev services marketplace and an IDE to build an application in a day.
    1. RPA moves to intelligent automation and more software, less services: Companies like UIPath and Automation Anywhere had banner years for growth in 2018 and will do so again in 2019. That being said, RPA while automated is still not intelligent so expect 2019 to see more ML and NLP layered into these processes. One other opportunity is that 1/2 to 2/3 of every automation project at the Fortune 500 is still spent on services and not software. 2019 will be the year we see further segmentation in the multi-billion dollar automation market and opportunities for startups to bring new solutions characterized by shorter deployment times, ease of use, and less maintenance. Enter portfolio companies Catalytic and Clay as examples with a respective focus on people friendly and dev-friendly automation. FortressIQ is also one to watch as it uses machine vision and NLP to mine business processes to help determine how work is being done and what to automate.
  1. Blockchain = supply chain: The crypto markets were white hot in early 2018 until they weren’t. Many of the smartest entrepreneurs were leaving their companies to start a new blockchain or crypto company. Many of those went back to doing other things. For those who have the fortitude, 2019 will be the best year to build an enterprise blockchain company with all of the hype removed. That being said, blockchain will not solve all of the world’s problems but we believe use cases in supply chain and data governance will be two big areas in the future. Mstate and blockdaemonwill be well positioned for this opportunity.

Thanks again for all of your support, and here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2019!!!

Sincerely,

Ed, Eliot, Jeff and Max

also posted on Medium

On SaaStr Episode 190 discussing the 0 to 1 enterprise stage and first customers

\I had the pleasure of speaking with Harry Stebbings for the second time on the SaaStr podcast released today. On this episode we took a different tact, focusing more on the zero — 1 enterprise stage and how to get your first referenceable customers vs. scaling post Series B. Please listen here if interested in how to grow and gain your first Fortune 500 customers — show notes below.

SaaStr 190: Why SaaS Founders Should Not Sell Their Products in The Early Days, How Founders Can Build Relationships with Enterprise CIOs and The Right Way To Think About Discounting and Pilots with Ed Sim, Founding Partner @ Boldstart Ventures


In Today’s Episode You Will Learn:
• How Ed made his way into the world of VC from one very meaningful high school lecture that changed his life and career path?
• What does Ed mean when he says “founders should not sell their product to enterprise in the early days”. Starting from the ground up, what can founders do to begin that relationship building process with enterprise buyers and CIOs? What can a startup do to establish that trust in the mind of large buyers? How much of a role does VC backing provide in comforting enterprise buyers?
• What would Ed advise founders contemplating the debate of going SMB up to enterprise or enterprise to SMB? What role should product play in this decision-making process? What are the leading indicators in testing the product that founders should observe for and guide their direction? Where does Ed most often see founders make mistakes here?
• How does Ed think about discounting? Would he agree with a previous guest that “discounting is now table stakes”? Rather than the financial element, what does Ed believe the founder should really be looking to get from the buyer in terms of commitment? How does Ed approach and asses pilots? To what extent should they be free or paid? What can be done to set the benchmarks for success and ensure closing?

  1. What does Ed know now that he wishes he had known in the beginning?
  2. Quality or quantity of logos?
  3. What would Ed most like to change in the world of SaaS?

Snyk, from first check to leader in dev-friendly open source security

We are thrilled to announce our investment in Snyk, which is a developer-first security solution that helps companies use open source code and stay secure. We couldn’t be more excited to be leading this new round of capital again with Canaan Partners and including Heavybit, FundFire, and Peter Mckay (Co-CEO of Veeam) (see Techcrunch for more coverage).

Our initial journey goes way back as we were investors in Guy Podjarny’s previous company, Blaze.io, which sold to Akamai in 2012. For the next few years we collaborated on several co-investments and what ultimately attracted us to Guy’s new company (along with co-founders Danny Grander and Assaf Hefetz), was their bold vision to create a new platform for securing open source components with a dev-first focus. At the time we seeded Snyk in late 2015, open source library usage was growing significantly and solutions were either security first which slowed down dev or dev first but not with enough security built in. With the movement towards continuous integration and deployment, it was clear a new solution was needed.

In a little over two years, Snyk has gone from “founder market fit” to “product market fit” and this new round will allow the company to build out is product offering and expand its Fortune 500 customer base.

With over 120,000 developers using the platform, 100,000 projects protected, 350,000 downloads per month, and notable partnerships with Heroku, JFrog and Microsoft Sonar, Snyk has proven it can get developers to fully adopt a security solution, and the importance of having the strongest database of known vulnerabilities in open source

Funding rounds are always a great opportunity to look back and see how the company’s initial thesis has held up and what has improved or changed. See below for Snyk’s initial vision from late 2015, much of which remains the same today; developer velocity increasing, security isn’t dev-friendly, how do you bridge the gap, esp. in open source world where much of it is third party code.

There have clearly been some tweaks to the model since then, but what is most exciting for us is watching Snyk go from idea and vision in a non-existent market to one where the question of how developers are securing open source components is becoming mainstream. And given some high profile security breaches like Equifax in Sept. 2017 where it was due to unpatched open source vulnerabilities, you can see why the interest in solutions like Snyk’s are gaining rapid adoption.

While the need for dev-friendly open source security may seem obvious today, especially with the stats above, how did we frame our initial investment? Here‘s what got us excited back then, much of which has come to fruition in the 2 years since:

  1. Solving a huge pain point in an emerging but potentially massive market — we were witnessing the move to continuous integration and deployment spreading to the enterprise combined with the growth of open source and third party components; the thinking was that if you could make it dev-friendly then it could be a massive business
  2. Dev first business model with budget from security — we love bottom up, organic models but always question where the bigger budgets are coming from, and what we saw in Snyk was an opportunity to go bottom up with developers and then access the security budget for bigger dollars.
  3. Founder-market fit — GuyPod previously was Chief Architect at Sanctum/Watchfire Security, developers of one of the first web-app firewalls, ultimately sold to IBM. Danny Grander had significant security engineering experience starting in the IDF where he met Guy and into Skybox Security and as CTO of Gita Technologies. Assaf had a Sr Research role at Skycure which Symantec bought last year. This team had the technical and product skills and understanding to go after this opportunity.
  4. Repeat founders — we are always thrilled when founders we backed previously give us thefirst shot to invest in their new company. In this case, we had backed Guy before when he co-founded Blaze.io which was sold to Akamai. He eventually became CTO of the Web Experience Unit at Akamai.
  5. We like to work with founders well before they leave their current roleand start a new company. In Guy’s case we had regular dialogue over a couple year timeframe to both brainstorm and also vet the idea with our Fortune 500 relationships. We also introduced Guy to fellow founders like Tom Preston-Werner from Github (see blog post on Snyk) to help refine the story.
  6. Time to value — incredibly easy to get up and running, authenticate via github, bitbucket and Snyk starts scanning, monitoring, and suggesting fixes
  7. We love being able to help accelerate time from “founder-market fit” to “product-market fit” to which we accomplished by helping Snyk secure some of their early on-prem Fortune 500 customers.
  8. We are purpose built to double and triple-down in our portfolio as they hit milestones and scale their GTM team.

Once again, we couldn’t be more excited about leading this new round of funding and look forward to continued success for the team.

Also on Medium

 

Thoughts from RSA and the Climate for Security Startups The year ahead in security tech and VC

Just getting back from a few days at RSA. We kicked it off Sunday night with a boldstart founders and execs dinner where we talked about what’s next in cybersecurity with some of our portfolio companies like security scorecard, bigid, snyk, stealth co and many friends from the industry representing strategic partners and IT buyers. After a couple more days of straight security talk with lots of new vendors, VCs, strategics and CISOs, I wanted to share a few observations. Many of these are not earth shattering but important to cover nonetheless.

  1. There are way too many cyber security startups. A record $3b went into these companies in 2016 and $2.5b in 2015. Many startups are features or products and not businesses. Each category and mini category used to only have a few vendors and now you can expect up to 10. Lots will struggle and go out of business and industry consolidation is ahead.
  2. That being said, cyber security budgets keep increasing! Banks like JP Morgan spent $500mm on security and yet they are still not secure. While many large cos will still buy from best of breed startup vendors, the landscape is changing as Palo Alto Networks and Symantec keep incorporating new tech and provide an integrated seamless stack.
  3. Which leads me to my next point. One CISO of a large bank told me that his team met with over 300 vendors last year. Large companies can’t possibly integrate all of these disparate technologies and the more you have, the more false positives you have.
  4. Rise of Nation State attacks – more sophisticated and deadly – many are targeting the largest financial institutions.

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our journey to an oversubscribed fund iii for first check enterprise boldstart closes $47mm fund iii for first check, enterprise founders

 

This is a story about starting an enterprise seed fund called Boldstart in 2010 and our journey in enterprise since 1996. Despite our firm being a little over 6 years old, our individual stories go further back. We each independently fell in love with enterprise software 20+ years ago as seed investors (cos like gotomeeting/Citrix, greenplum/EMC, livperson/IPO LPSN) and founders (workmarket, onforce/Adecco, spinback/buddymedia/salesf0rce) and are now benefiting from the ecosystems, knowledge and network that we’ve collectively developed.

What seemed like a big bet in early 2010 was only us pursuing our passion. Our goal was to be the best first check partner for enterprise founders, bringing the value add of a VC firm while moving with the speed and conviction of an angel investor. We set out to build boldstart at the height of mobile app mania and viral growth and were faced with questions about our focus on enterprise and NYC. At the time there were only a handful of micro-VCs in existence, and despite going against the tide, we felt that the opportunity to build the first and best enterprise seed fund was a dream worth pursuing.

Today, we are super excited to announce our final close of $47mm for fund iii. This was oversubscribed from our initial target of $30mm

Read More

One VC’s take on NYC and Enterprise Tech enterprise tech in NYC on the rise!

When Willie Sutton, the prolific bank robber, was asked why he robbed banks, he answered, “because that’s where the money is.” When asked by investors in early 2010, why we were starting a seed fund focused on enterprise and leveraging NYC, I answered with Willie’s quip but also said, “because that’s where the customer-driven talent is.” One of the key criteria for successful enterprise investing besides team, product, and huge markets is ensuring that you invest in a “must-have” and not a “nice-to-have” solution. When companies are born out of real pain, more often than not this criteria is wholly satisfied!

I bring a unique perspective to this conversation having been a VC based out of NYC for the last 19 years (wow — am I dating myself!). While I have had my fair share of failures, I have also been a first round investor in many enterprise successes both in and outside of NYC, including leading or seeding the first round in LivePerson ( NYC, current market cap of $650mm), Greenplum (sold to EMC, now Pivotal), GoToMeeting (sold to Citrix, now Citrix Online doing over $600mm+ revenue), Divide (NYC, sold to Google), blaze.io (sold to Akamai), GoInstant (sold to Salesforce.com) and a few others.

Necessity is the mother of invention

As I think about common characteristics of great enterprise startups that I have had the pleasure to work with in NYC, I think about entrepreneurs building companies based on great pain, a deep understanding of the customer problem because they are customers themselves, and from that, using their computer science backgrounds to engineer a better and more scalable solution. Many of these great founders are simply hidden in larger companies, developing software for non-tech firms and functioning where tech is more of a support role versus front and center in terms of driving revenue growth. This is much different from entrepreneurs leaving established software vendors wanting to create a bigger, better, and cheaper mousetrap with a “great technology in search of a problem to solve.” While starting with a customer pain is great, the big question for many of these startups is whether or not this pain is a one-off or a market problem that is massive enough to attack.

Success Breeds Success

Divide

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When we first met Andrew Toy and Alex Trewby in mid-2010 they were VPs Wireless at Morgan Stanley and experiencing a huge pain point — employees were bringing in their iphones and android devices for personal use while still using their blackberrys for corporate purposes. Like any great entrepreneur, they asked the question, how do I solve this problem with software and allow companies to have the peace of mind and security policies needed for them while also allowing employees to use their existing devices. The challenge was to create a separate sandbox that could be easily used and understood. Rather than forking off android, Andrew and Alex built an App, something consumers could easily understand and yet make it easy for huge enterprises to deploy. The big bet in 2010 was that we would move to a BYOD world and that Android would become a dominant mobile platform (at that time, it was a big bet!) Hence Divide was born and 4 years later sold to Google and now branded as Android for Work with a stated goal of being on a billion devices. Pretty cool for two ex-technology execs at a financial services firm!

Security Scorecard

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We first met Alex Yampolskiy and Sam Kassoumeh in-mid 2013. They were both formerly Chief Security Officers at Gilt Groupe and were experiencing major pain in their day to day jobs. They were in charge of auditing the security of every vendor that touched the Gilt platform and all of it was done manually through intensive Q&A and when in doubt, via an expensive security audit from a consulting firm. As Alex and Sam spent many cycles on this method, they asked themselves if they could continuously scan the security of their partners in a non-intrusive way. It was already clear that software was moving to the cloud but less certain was the belief that a company is only as secure as its least secure partner and continuous monitoring would be imperative. From this, security scorecard was born. SecurityScorecard provides precise global threat intelligence and risk awareness continuously and non-intrusively so businesses and their partners can collaboratively predict and remediate data security issues. Fast forward 15 months from the initial seed round, and they have landed several large customers and closed a $12.5mm Series A with Sequoia Capital, founding investors in some phenomenal, multi-billion dollar security companies — netscreen, palo alto networks, and fireeye.

I could go on and on about many other great enterprise companies in NYC, but you get the point — find a massive pain that you are experiencing and living with first hand and create a software solution around this. It is this unique understanding of the customer that we will see time and time again as new enterprise-related startups in NYC are launched. It is also this deep domain expertise and understanding of the customer that will allow many enterprise startups in NYC to flourish, especially as we live in a cloud-based world where switching costs are not as high as they once were.

Bottom Line

The idea of NYC enterprise startups succeeding should no longer be a laughing matter. We have great entrepreneurs, companies, talent, and investors ready to capitalize on Willie Sutton’s vision — NYC is where the money is (see Jonathan Lehr’s great overview on NYC Enterprise Tech). We at boldstart ventures feel quite fortunate to be invested in a number of enterprise related startups in NYC like security scorecard, divide, truly wireless, handshake, yhat, and bowery.io and are excited about the future of enterprise tech in NYC. We have seen more success stories in the last 3 to 4 years versus the 10 years before that, and we expect this rapid innovation to continue. While many of these companies are engineers coming from large Fortune 1000 type companies here in NYC, we are also increasingly seeing founders leaving the more established tech companies like Google, OnDeck Capital, and Gilt to pursue their dreams.

As I write this I am wondering who the next entrepreneur will be that is hidden in the bowels of a more established company, feeling massive pain everyday, and ready to launch the next unicorn like MongoDb. Is that you?

(reprinted from my post at Medium)

Startups and Intellectual Property (IP)

Lately questions about Intellectual Property or IP have been cropping up left and right.  Eliot Durbin (my partner at BOLDstart Ventures) and I had a long discussion this morning in preparation for his panel today about IP and patents.  Last week, we met with a company and when we asked about their core IP, they launched into a 5 minute discussion about the various patents they filed.  Do startups really think patents are going to make or break their business?  Yes, having core tech or IP matters but patents are a different question altogether.  Your best protection is continuing to focus on building your business, your product, and getting market share.  So what is my and BOLDstart’s stance on IP and startups.

1. We look at the team and the product and market first

2. We like to think that all of our investments have IP.

3. IP does not mean patent.  IP in our mind is your “secret sauce” for doing what you do better, cheaper, and faster than anyone else. Its great if you filed for a patent but that is a long process taking 18-24 months and by the time you get a patent the market opportunity may have already passed you.  Focus on building your product and market share, not on patents.  That is your best protection and competitive advantage.  Waiting for the patent office to tell you that you have a patent is a nice to have, not a must have.

4. Even if you have a patent, it takes tons of time and shitloads of dollars to defend.  Trust me, I’ve been there, and it seems to me that the only person making money in these cases are lawyers.  In addition when defending patents you will inevitably fight with the big boys with billion dollar balance sheets so that is not a place to spend your time and money.

5. Don’t start a company where there is already a patent battle brewing like email on phones.  We are looking for innovations, the next big thing, not yesterday’s way of doing it.

Hopefully that gives you a good perspective on our view on IP, patents, and startups.

What entrepreneurs can learn from Jeff Spicoli you don't have to have all of the answers

I know I may be dating myself here, but over the past few weeks I couldn’t help but think about the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High and one of the standout characters, Jeff Spicoli.  When asked by Mr. Hand, his teacher, why he keeps coming late and wasting his time, Spicoli answers, “I don’t know.”

 

In several meetings with entrepreneurs during the past few weeks, they would have been better off answering like Spicoli rather than giving me some hollow bull shit answer.  I want to make it very clear that I don't expect entrepreneurs to have all of the answers to my questions.  In fact, many questions I have may not have an answer today so "I don't know" will be your best answer. My one caveat is that the "I don't know" is followed by a how might you figure out the answer or a when might you figure it out.  This line of questioning is really just another way to test how you think and determine how our working relationship might be were I to invest.  I would rather have the honest "I don't know but I'll figure it out" then a made-up answer that will never allow you or your investors to really understand what is driving your business.

Reflecting on passed investments important to look back and discover patterns on your decision making

Every 3 months I dig through my “passed company” folder to look at what investment opportunities we passed on and why.  Inevitably, there are a few companies that are near-misses, but we end up passing on for whatever reason.  Did we pass because we didn’t think the team was great or because we didn’t believe that they could get a product launched?  Did we pass because of lack of traction in the beta release or because of concerns on valuation?  Looking at my “passed company” folder gives me an opportunity to test our reasons on passing and to see 3 months later if the entrepreneurs could actually execute or prove our concerns wrong.

While many times I find doing this reflection further confirms our reasons for passing, I also find myself from time-to-time sending up a follow up note to check in on these near-misses or doing a quick Google search to see how the company has progressed since our last communication.  Inevitably, there will be a few that “got away” and seem to be doing quite well.  No one is perfect and looking back every quarter gives me an opportunity to better hone my investing acumen and further refine my understanding on what separates a potential winner from a loser.  Many times we are so busy that we can only look forward to the next new thing or next hot deal, but I encourage you to occasionally take a step back, look in the rear-view mirror, and learn from your past history.  I promise you that this reflection will only make you a better investor in the long run.