NYC 2.0

I recently spoke with Richard Adams, founder of Referral Networks, which was later sold to Peopleclick. He has started a new venture, RipDigital, which does the dirty work of converting CD collections into MP3 libraries. Basically all you have to do is place an order on the website and the company ships a box to you, you pack your CDs into the box, RipDigital does the conversion, and then ships your new library on either a DVD or portable hard drive along with your CDs. It is truly frictionless commerce. While interesting, this is not the only project that Richard is working on these days.

I have also been staying in touch with Owen Davis who co-founded Sonata (Thinking Media) with Vid Jain. Owen and Vid are back at it again with a new company, Petal Computing. Petal, according to its website, provides software that allows a dedicated group of PCs to operate like an enterprise server or mainframe. Its solutions are further optimized for the high performance needs of the financial world, including modeling, cash management, risk analysis and pricing. In other words, Owen and Vid have created cluster computing software which is highly specific and focused on the financial sector. While the cluster computing space is a competitive market with some established players, I like their approach to building the business. They have actually been working on the software for the last 2 years.

In fact, many NYC 2.0 entrepreneurs (those NYC veterans on their second venture-I hesitate to use the word Silicon Alley since that leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths) are starting companies with a new philosophy to build businesses that uniquely solve a real customer problem. Embedded in the new way of starting companies is strong financial and product discipline. In other words, NYC 2.0 entrepreneurs have learned to keep the burnrate low until they have a great product they can sell repeatedly with feedback from living, breathing beta customers. With this philosophy, these entrepreneurs just may have a better opportunity to create some real businesses that will generate meaningful cash flow.

BTW, I placed my order with RipDigital today for 250 CDs today and will report on the finished product at a later date.

Price isn’t everything

I had breakfast with a friend the other day, and he was in the process of a bankruptcy filing for his startup. We started talking about why his wireless company had failed and one of the main reasons he cited was that the price was too high. Many of you may ask why is that a problem. Isn’t getting a high price a great thing? The term sheet that the company signed was led by a strategic investor and contingent on finding another VC as a co-lead. While he had some strong interest, no other VC or purely financially driven investor was willing to step up at that price. The only other term sheet he had was at a much lower valuation but in his mind a little too onerous. He was willing and ready to take the term sheet, but he had made a promise to his team of 10 that he would make sure they got some backpay as part of the deal. While it was a hard decision, I applaud him for sticking to his deal with his team. Consequently, the company had no other choice but to shut down since it was not at a stage to generate meaningful revenue. So what can other entrepreneurs learn from this?

1. Price isn’t everything-sometimes too high of a price can cripple your company. Other investors may not want to fund the company, and you may set unrealistic expectations for you, your employees, and your investors.

2. VCs like sweat equity. Don’t hire people that expect to get paid back salary. Isn’t the whole point of working at a startup to build real value through equity? If your employees want backpay then you probably have the wrong people for your stage of company. It is a tough proposition for us to fund a $3mm round and have $500k get paid out as salary. This is easy for me to say as a VC, and it may sound self-serving, but it is true.