Tag Archives: Chris Dixon

10 Good Reasons Not to Seek Investors For Your Startup

Sure, maybe you need the money. Maybe that’s what your business plan says. But seriously: Do you really want to have investors involved in your dream startup?

I’ve said it before: bootstrapping is underrated. I get frequent emails from people asking how they can get investment for their new startup, and I’ve admitted to being a member of an angel investor group. But let’s not forget, while we’re thinking about it, these 10 good reasons not to seek investors for your startup.

  1. It’s almost impossible to get investment for your very first startup. If you don’t have startup experience, get somebody on your team who does. Chris Dixon said it best: either you’ve started a company or you haven’t. And if you haven’t, and nobody in your team has either, that makes it very hard.
  2. You are selling ownership. Investors write checks to own a serious portion of your business. I admit that’s patently obvious, but you should see the emails I get in which people think of investors as if they were some sort of public agency. Once you get investment, you don’t own your entire company.
  3. Investors are bosses. You are not your own person when you have investors; you’re part of a team. You can’t decide everything by yourself. Politics matter. Investor relations matter. If you screw up, you do it in front of other people, and it hurts those people.
  4. Valuation is critical to them and you. Simply put, valuation means the price. If you want to give only 10 percent of your company to investors who pay $100,000, you’re saying your company is worth $1 million. And so on. Simple math, but wow, not so simple negotiation.
  5. Investors don’t make money until there’s a liquidity event. That’s why we always talk about exit strategies. You can be the world’s happiest, healthiest, most cash-independent company, but your investors won’t be happy until you get them cash back. The win is getting money back out of the company. Some big company stock buyers like dividends. Startup investors don’t.
  6. If it’s not scalable, forget it. The real growth opportunities are scalable. It used to be products only, but now there are some scalable services, like web services, for example. But if doubling your sales means doubling your headcount (that’s called a body shop), then investors aren’t going to be interested.
  7. If it’s not defensible, it’s tough going at best. Not that I trust patents as a defense, but trade secrets, momentum, a combination of trade secrets and patents, plus a good intellectual property defense budget … if anybody can do it, then investors aren’t interested. (Of course, what would I know, I thought Starbucks was a bad idea because I thought that was too easy to copy … there are always exceptions.)
  8. Investors aren’t generic. Some become collaborative partners and even mentors, some are nagging insensitive critics. Some are trojan horses. Some help, some don’t. (Hint: choose carefully which investors you approach.)
  9. Just getting financed doesn’t mean diddly. For an example of what I mean read this piece from the New York Times. You haven’t won the race when you get that check.
  10. Investors sometimes take your company from you. Well-known strategy consultant Sramana Mitra has a couple of eloquent minutes on that them in this two-minute video. She seems to be talking about India, but she’s well known in the Silicon Valley, and what she says applies perfectly well here.

Do You Have What Investors Want?

What do investors want? I’ve read more than 100 business plans in the last two months. Entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly predictable on this point. Investors want disruptive. Investors want game changing. 

But not just saying it. Being able to believe it. Two of every three plans says it. Only a very few make it actually believable. 

And believable, in this context, is still a matter of huge uncertainty. Nothing in startups is fully believable. The closest you get is an interesting market story about solving a real problem and doing something important differently, and a team that seems to have experience and background that indicates it can execute the idea. 

The best thing I’ve seen in a while on what investors want — at the high end of venture capital — is this one on The Anatomy of a Successful Entrepreneur, that appeared on TechCrunch about a week ago. Post author Rip Empson digs into the recent Kaufmann data on venture capital, adds some analysis by Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon, and others, and comes out with the short list shown here. 

 

 

Is There a Tech Bubble? We’ll Know If It Pops

Earlier today I posted disruption vs. revenue and the tech bubble on the gust.com blog. I’m suggesting in that post that some special-case web-based startups have to choose between disruption or revenue, because they can’t have both.

That may or may not be true, but I’ve been guilty of suggesting it is to a couple of startup software companies recently. I think both were special cases. They had a real chance to go really big and generate spontaneous buzz based on the product itself.  But locking their wares behind pay walls might slow their growth and dampen their success. 

That may or may not be true. After the tech crash in 2000, I never thought I’d see that happen again, much less me recommending not covering expenses with revenue. Still, though, there’s Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and, oh my.

Bubble? Las Sunday the NYTimes’ bits blog published Disruptions: With No Revenue, an Illusion of Value. Author Nick Bilton says yes there’s a bubble and tells why he’s sure.

When this next bubble pops — and it will pop — the idea to make no money can finally pop, too. Then investors can start working with companies to build businesses that have long-term financial goals, instead of just building a short-term mystery.

But on the same day Chris Dixon (smart person) asked Is It a Tech Bubble on his blog and answered with some convincing analysis, “no.” And the second comment on that post is Fred Wilson of AVC (another smart person) saying: 

[Zynga price] certainly doesn’t seem like a bubble valuation either. I do think there is more money sloshing around the tech/internet/mobile sector now than there has ever been. and that is impacting valuations across the board. The question is if this is temporary or the “new normal”. I guess we will find out.

So I’d like to answer this tech bubble question here, but as I was writing this, on Sunday, those other interesting and contradictory posts, from smart people, kept rolling onto the web. I ended up tweeting my conclusion to this post last Sunday, with the following tweet. 

What Is An Entrepreneur? Says Who? Why Do You Care?

I used to start a university class on entrepreneurship by asking the class to define the word entrepreneur.

It’s a reasonable question. News and discussion is full of pat phrases about entrepreneurs, most of which we take for granted. Politicians talk about entrepreneurs along with job creation, small business, motherhood, and apple pie. Challenge: find a politician who isn’t in favor of entrepreneurship.

But is everybody who claims the title really an entrepreneur? Or, for that matter, do we care? If your annoying neighbor becomes an entrepreneur by having sold one piece of furniture on eBay, do you care?

I liked Robert Jones suggestion: Let’s just change the word entrepreneur. His post 5 reasons we need a new word for entrepreneurs, from last July, has at least four good reasons. He and I and others followed up, but we didn’t come up with anything that great.

His post, however, also inspired Startup and small business expert Rieva Lesonsky to follow up with her post asking what does it really mean to be an entrepreneur? She pulls a lot of different definitions together, offers a menu ranging from the heroic, dreamy, crazy-creative definitions to the way-less-glamorous project manager and social definitions, but concludes with tongue in cheek:

My favorite definition of an entrepreneur comes from Doug Mellinger, the co-founder of Foundation Source, who once told me, “An entrepreneur is someone who will do anything to keep from getting a job.

All of that discussion, however, came jsut a bit after Steve King posted Comparison Small Business Owners to High-tech Entrepreneurs on his blog Small Biz Labs. Steve dives into available research to highlight the huge differences between these two groups. We all talk and think like they’re the same thing. It turns out that they aren’t. Compared to overall small business owners, the techies are way more likely to be well educated, motivated by money, and (unfortunately) male. Steve concludes:

we think policy makers need a better understanding of not just high-growth firms and their founders, but also the less glamorous businesses and business owners that make up the vast majority of small businesses in the U.S. economy.

My favorite definition, in the real world, is from Chris Dixon’s simple milestone post, there are two kinds of people in the world. It’s in this first sentence:

You’ve either started a company or you haven’t.  ”Started” doesn’t mean joining as an early employee, or investing or advising or helping out.  It means starting with no money, no help, no one who believes in you (except perhaps your closest friends and family), and building an organization from a borrowed cubicle with credit card debt and nowhere to sleep except the office.

Chris exaggerates. Sleeping in the office isn’t necessary. And the ones who develop a plan and raise money are still entrepreneurs. But I’m shocked, by the way, at the level of anger and angst in some of the 263 comments. It’s a simple two-paragraph post, a simple statement, overwhelmed by comments. It shouldn’t be that controversial: You’ve either started a company or you haven’t.

Amen to that.

(image: istockphoto.com)

10 Good Reasons Not to Seek Investors For Your Startup

Sure, maybe you need the money. Maybe that’s what your business plan says. But seriously: Do you really want to have investors involved in your dream startup?

I’ve said it before: bootstrapping is underrated. I get frequent emails from people asking how they can get investment for their new startup, and I’ve admitted to being a member of an angel investor group. But let’s not forget, while we’re thinking about it, these 10 good reasons not to seek investors for your startup.

  1. It’s almost impossible to get investment for your very first startup. If you don’t have startup experience, get somebody on your team who does. Chris Dixon said it best: either you’ve started a company or you haven’t. And if you haven’t, and nobody in your team has either, that makes it very hard.
  2. You are selling ownership. Investors write checks to own a serious portion of your business. I admit that’s patently obvious, but you should see the emails I get in which people think of investors as if they were some sort of public agency. Once you get investment, you don’t own your entire company.
  3. Investors are bosses. You are not your own person when you have investors; you’re part of a team. You can’t decide everything by yourself. Politics matter. Investor relations matter. If you screw up, you do it in front of other people, and it hurts those people.
  4. Valuation is critical to them and you. Simply put, valuation means the price. If you want to give only 10 percent of your company to investors who pay $100,000, you’re saying your company is worth $1 million. And so on. Simple math, but wow, not so simple negotiation.
  5. Investors don’t make money until there’s a liquidity event. That’s why we always talk about exit strategies. You can be the world’s happiest, healthiest, most cash-independent company, but your investors won’t be happy until you get them cash back. The win is getting money back out of the company. Some big company stock buyers like dividends. Startup investors don’t.
  6. If it’s not scalable, forget it. The real growth opportunities are scalable. It used to be products only, but now there are some scalable services, like web services, for example. But if doubling your sales means doubling your headcount (that’s called a body shop), then investors aren’t going to be interested.
  7. If it’s not defensible, it’s tough going at best. Not that I trust patents as a defense, but trade secrets, momentum, a combination of trade secrets and patents, plus a good intellectual property defense budget … if anybody can do it, then investors aren’t interested. (Of course, what would I know, I thought Starbucks was a bad idea because I thought that was too easy to copy … there are always exceptions.)
  8. Investors aren’t generic. Some become collaborative partners and even mentors, some are nagging insensitive critics. Some are trojan horses. Some help, some don’t. (Hint: choose carefully which investors you approach.)
  9. Just getting financed doesn’t mean diddly. For an example of what I mean read this piece from the New York Times. You haven’t won the race when you get that check.
  10. Investors sometimes take your company from you. Well-known strategy consultant Sramana Mitra has a couple of eloquent minutes on that them in this two-minute video. She seems to be talking about India, but she’s well known in the Silicon Valley, and what she says applies perfectly well here.

Is Search-Driven Entrepreneurship Obsolete?

Remember that dream we all had together, not so long ago, where a well-thought-out startup with a good understanding of the Web could grow on merit alone? Isn’t that sort of what Google did? And many others? I fear that’s not happening anymore.

For a good, short summary of the SEO problem, from a brilliant software entrepreneur, watch the two-minute video here: Joel Spolsky on how SEO makes the Internet worse.

I’m not an SEO expert, but how telling that Vivek Wadwha posted Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google on exactly Jan. 1, 2011.

The problem is that content on the Internet is growing exponentially and the vast majority of this content is spam. This is created by unscrupulous companies that know how to manipulate Google’s page-ranking systems to get their websites listed at the top of your search results … Content creation is big business, and there are big players involved. For example, Associated Content, which produces 10,000 new articles per month, was purchased by Yahoo! for $100 million, in 2010. Demand Media has 8,000 writers who produce 180,000 new articles each month … This content is what ends up as the landfill in the garbage websites that you find all over the Web. And these are the first links that show up in your Google search results

Don’t think for a minute that Google isn’t working on it. In another January post, Google search quality czar Matt Cutts wrote a blog post promising a major effort to revise Google search to deal better with spam. And that’s been happening. Google is in fact shaking things up, which is good news for the long term, but, well, Google is shaking things up. The Los Angeles Times’ reported recently

Google won plaudits for promoting original research and analysis and banishing pages littered with second-rate content or overloaded with advertising. But the revision to its secret mathematical formula that determines the best answers to a searcher’s query also caused an uproar as hundreds of sites complained to Google that they had been unfairly lumped in with “content farms,” which churn out articles with little useful information to drive more traffic to their sites.

Chris Dixon, co-founder of Hunch.com and startup celebrity, recently posted SEO is no longer a viable marketing strategy for startups on his blog. Here’s his conclusion:

Google seems to be doing everything it can to improve its algorithms so that the best content rises to the top (the recent “panda” update seems to be a step forward). But there are many billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people working to game SEO. And for now, at least, high-quality content seems to be losing. Until that changes, startups – who generally have small teams, small budgets, and the scruples to avoid black-hat tactics – should no longer consider SEO a viable marketing strategy.

Tim Cohn posted The SEO is Dead Debate the following day. He doesn’t reference Chris Dixon specifically, but he has an eloquently short post, saying that SEO isn’t dead because ….

… the SEO is Dead author never offers an equal let alone superior alternative.

That one bothers me. Since when does nothing die without offering a superior alternative?

What do you think? Is SEO dead to startups?

Why Market Numbers Are Like Patents: Good, But Not To Be Believed

I was enjoying Chris Dixon’s Size markets using narratives, not numbers when I realized his point is a lot like a point I like to make about patents:

good to have, but not to believe in

On sizing new markets, with startups looking for investors, Chris says:

The only way to understand and predict large new markets is through narratives. Some popular current narratives include: people are spending more and more time online and somehow brand advertisers will find a way to effectively influence them; social link sharing is becoming an increasingly significant source of website traffic and somehow will be monetized; mobile devices are becoming powerful enough to replace laptops for most tasks and will unleash a flood of new applications and business models.

That makes good sense to me. He adds:

For early-stage companies, you should never rely on quantitative analysis to estimate market size. Venture-style startups are bets on broad, secular trends. Good VCs understand this. Bad VCs don’t.

I’m with Chris on this (although I like to call them stories, instead of narratives; just a matter of style). Markets are future developments that haven’t happened yet, and stories picture the developments better than data.

But even as I write that I realize that as a frequent reader of business plans, for judging and investment purpose, I also like the numbers. I want to see how many buyers now, or how many people who meet those criteria, how much money now, a certain amount of numbers to give me a sense of size.

Which takes me back to the patents reference: I realize the best is having them but not believing them. I want entrepreneurs to realize their numbers are more background than data. Show me what it could be, but don’t think it proves anything. And with patents, well, here’s what I wrote about that last March, in  10 requests from your business plan reader:

Show me your patents if you have them but if you do, show me something about how defensible they are (if at all) and make sure your projections include legal expenses to defend them.

Does that make sense? Is there a parallel there? Both are good to have, but not to believe in? I wonder how much of business planning, entrepreneurship, and startups fit into that same basic category.

(image: Sergej Khakimullin/Shutterstock)