Tag Archives: David Rose

7 Small Businesses Lessons From Tech Startups

Small Business Lessons from High Tech

What can every small business learn from tech startups? David Rose, founder of Gust.com and long-time leader of the New York Tech Angels, says normal businesses are different from tech startups, and offers small business lessons he’s taken from decades dealing with what high-end tech startups do as they start. He says:

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve seen proven true over and over again, is that many of the biggest obstacles that businesses face along the way can be avoided IF you take care to start things up correctly from the beginning. When launching a company, investing a little bit of time and money at the very start can pay large dividends later…but only if you have a solid foundation, a thoughtful structure, and a strong focus.

That’s from 7 Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn From Tech Startups, published in Forbes yesterday.

What’s a startup to you?

For the record, David’s view on startups is somewhat different from mine. I think of every business that starts up as a startup. He defines startup more narrowly:

While all businesses “start up” and start out “small”, not all “small businesses” are “startups”. Whereas a small business is founded to be profitable and create a good living for the entrepreneur and his or her family, a “startup” is founded with the intention of rapidly achieving exponential growth through scale, and either being acquired in a few years by a larger company, or becoming a “unicorn” and going public in an IPO…in both cases bringing in massive returns to its founders and investors.

The 7 Small business lessons

We come back together, however, on what David Rose recommends all businesses do. He’s recommending all businesses should take the same care that his version of startups do. That includes:

  1. Get smart. Read up on it. There’s so much wisdom available for a few dollars. Take the time to browse the essentials. David doesn’t mention it in this context, but his book Startup Checklist is a good one.
  2. Resolve your business model. Know how you make money. How will people pay you, and why.
  3. Get initial feedback. Talk to people about it. Find people you know who have experience. And listen.
  4. Analyze the market. “You must understand the landscape you are about to enter, inside and out.”
  5. The business plan. All businesses deserve business planning. I’m quoting him in detail in the next section, below.
  6. More feedback. Now you have market knowledge and an initial business plan. “At this stage you are looking for substantive comments about the business and market, along with specific critiques (don’t take offense; listen to them carefully!) and actionable insights.”
  7. Put it to the test. Launch. Do it. “The biggest test will be to see if customers really want or need what you are providing, and to understand if they are willing to pay for it at a price at which you can afford to supply it.”

The business plan we all need

And my favorite of David’s recommendations is the business plan.

“Many entrepreneurs draw up a complicated business plan as step one, but end up wasting a lot of time rewriting it as they work through their business concept. If you’ve done all the previous legwork and feel confident that your concept is marketable, viable and profitable, the next step is to begin to write it down. You’ll want to use a simple, structured format to note the various things that you are going to need to do to implement your business idea. For now, don’t worry about a long document for investors…just start by writing down bullet points outlining what is supposed to happen, a timeline, assignment of responsibilities, cost analysis, and revenue projections.

I strongly agree with him on this. We may not all need a that “long document for investors,” but we can all use the kind of business plan he suggests, “bullet points outlining what is supposed to happen,” and so forth, in that last sentence.

And then there’s this, my favorite part of David’s article, his recommendation.

There are some great resources available for this, and the best I’ve seen is the web site leanplan.com, by Tim Berry, the legendary author of Business Plan Pro. The site offers an online course you can purchase, as well as commercial online tools such as LivePlan, but it also includes the entire text of Tim’s book ‘Lean Business Planning’ for free. As you’ll learn from Tim, the most important thing about a business plan is not that it be long, but that it be live. An effective business plan is a living document, reviewed and updated every month, that adapts to the market, the field, and your actual results.”

Did I bury the lead?

 

True Challenge On Startup Failure

What causes startup failure? You may have seen my response to this – I say we don’t know because we can’t get good data – but I like what David Rose says here:

Since a startup is a new business that doesn’t yet exist, the default outcome is for it to fail. Everything has to go right for it to succeed!

David knows. He’s a super angel investor, founder and Chairman Emeritus of New York Angels, and founder of gust.com. I’m quoting from his Quora answer to why startups fail.

On the other hand, when startups are conceived around need, giving value, solving problems, offering something people want or need enough to pay for, then the odds of failure go down.  I bet David would agree with that one. He’s been involved in, founded, and invested in dozens of startups that didn’t fail.

And – despite my mistrust of data on failures – I decided to add what David added in this answer on Quora, namely data based on a survey of 101 failed startups, by CB Insights:

Cb insights on startup failures

I will add, though, that a good look at this data reveals mostly what is already common knowledge. Startups fail for lack of market need, running out of cash, team problems, competition, pricing, poor product, and so forth. There’s no surprises there.

By the way, notice that the various causes here add up to a lot more than 100%. That makes sense to me because it’s no hard to really identify causes.

And also, please notice how much of those failures are about failing to do something people need and want. If I add up the totals for no market need, get outcompeted, poor product, ignore customers, and product mistimed, that’s 105%.

Do You Want Your Daughter to be a Successful Entrepreneur?

I stumbled on this question on Quora: How should I raise a 12-year-old girl to be a successful entrepreneur? I have four grown-up daughters. Some of them are “successful entrepreneurs,” all of them have tried, some are still trying. So I care a lot about this subject. 

Quora 12-year-old entrepreneurship

There are good answers already posted. The answer I like best, happily, is the one with the most votes.  It’s also posted by a friend, David Rose, founder of gust.com and head of a New York angel investor group. His highlight is:

By FAR the best thing you can do is be a great role model! Show your sister that girls CAN be entrepreneurs! That being an entrepreneur is cool! That entrepreneurs live larger lives, have a greater impact on society and basically have more fun, than anyone else on the planet!  Tell her stories of Mary Kay Ash and Anita Roddick, of Esther Dyson and Heidi Roizen, of Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey…and of yourself!

Although I completely agree with that, I really want to add more. This seems important to me, from my experience:

  1. Do everything you can, as a parent, to promote and encourage academic education in whatever your daughter likes. For every successful entrepreneur who dropped out of college there are thousands more, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands, who didn’t drop out. Life and entrepreneurship are easier with a college degree. 
  2. Fight the stereotype: Don’t let your daughter swallow the stupid and obsolete idea that boys do math and science and technology and girls don’t. That unfortunately is a self-perpetuating myth. It’s dangerous.  
  3. Don’t, however — please — be that parent pushing the poor kid towards specific educational directions. Drop that agenda fast. The more you push for a specific path (business, entrepreneurship, high tech, for example) the less likely you are to really help your daughter. It’s her life, not yours. For the record, I know many more successful entrepreneurs with degrees in liberal arts than with degrees in business or entrepreneurship or computer science. 
  4. Give her as much technology as she wants. That means — within reason of course — the computer, the laptop, broadband, smart phone, etc. And of course you have to be careful, as a parent, because there are those well-known dangers. My daughters grew up with computers. I gave them domain names as birthday gifts when they were as young as 10 years old. All of them had laptops for school. One of them liked computer games, so I got her all the games she wanted.
  5. Don’t push your definition of success on her. Help her find her success. It’s her life, not yours. 

I have to add something related to point #5 here, and the qualifier “successful” entrepreneur. That’s a dangerous concept. What we want, as parents, is for them to end up happy, which usually means productive, economically self sufficient, and independent. Is it dangerous that we’re in the context of “successful” entrepreneur instead of entrepreneur? And is a successful entrepreneur happier than than an unsuccessful one, or a professional, or middle manager? Especially where your daughter is involved, always pause to question your assumptions. 

I think I’ll go add this to the question on Quora, but I wanted to put it here first. 

Interesting Idea for a Hybrid Crowdfunding Solution

This is interesting: what if some crowdfunding sites limit the investing to so-called “accredited investors” as defined by the SEC. I just read David Rose’s take on this at Quora.

David mentions two sites, his own gust.com and angelist, that already group accredited investors. Up to now they work as platforms for getting investors together to look at deals, submitting deals to investors, and managing communications, research, and so on. But they could also register under the JOBS act, as he suggests: 

… fully registered Broker/Dealers and actively facilitate financings for a percentage of the raise.

Why not? No good reason why not. 

Why? The JOBS act loosened restrictions on who is allowed to invest in startups, and it is now waiting for regulations to make it real. In the meantime, though, there are hundreds of thousands of accredited angel investors. Using the change coming in crowdfunding but starting with accredited investors could get somebody started quickly, without (in theory at least) violating the existing regulations. 

 

Gust Streamlines the Angel Investment Process

Are you hoping to find angel investment for your startup? Are you looking to invest in startups? Go look at gust.com. It’s a better-than-ever first step.

Gust, is the new platform launched last week to replace angelsoft.net. The angelsoft.net platform is used by 600 angel investor groups, 35,000 angel investors, and 125,000 startups. Gust.com is its replacement. Angelsoft.net redirects to gust.com.

TechCrunch covered the new gust.com last week:

On Gust, entrepreneurs will be able to create their own profile, update their company information, build an investment relations site for their startup, collaborate on funding, and most importantly, get connected with angels interested in funding their efforts. Investors will be able to filter and search through the startups listed on Gust. And only those who have been specifically granted access will be able to see the details of a startup’s financials and progress.

That same post included this quote from David Rose, founder of both angelsoft.net and gust.com:

We’ve integrated powerful investor relations tools with direct access to the largest community of established, organized investors, thus supporting the entire ‘pitch-to-exit’ business life cycle. What’s most important is that our platform has gained the trust of the world’s most demanding investor and entrepreneur organizations.

In answer on quora, David added:

The enormous change with Gust is that now the *company* creates a single profile, which is always live and under the entrepreneur’s control. That profile stands alone as a protected web site (with both public and private areas) to which the entrepreneur can provide access to any individual investor he or she wants, whether or not the investor is part of an angel group or venture fund.

I have personal experience with angelsoft.net, so I’m looking forward to switching up to gust.com. We used angelsoft.net to organize the submission and filtering process for investment in the Willamette Angel Conference, in Western Oregon, of which I’m an investor member. Companies submitted their information to us as summaries, videos, and business plans, and we reviewed them. It also managed our communication within the group. And it was free, easy to use, and powerful. I’ve also used angelsoft.net as a judge in several major business plan competitions that use it as a convenient platform for managing submissions and information.

This looks to me like a good structured and organized answer to something people have been asking for since the early 1980s. And that’s from both sides of that table, the investors and the entrepreneurs. People wanting funding for new ventures faced a bewildering maze of possibilities, trying to find interested angel investors, looking for groups, forums, and so on. People wanting to invest had to connect one way or another to deal flow.

And for a good 18-minute view of David Rose, watch his 15-minute TED talk on pitching to investors.

Disclosure: I’m going to be posting on the gust.com blog; and Palo Alto Software products, for business planning, are compatible with the platform.
(Image: screenshot from gust.com)

New World, New Leaders, New Institution

Singularity University, brainchild of Ray Kuzweil and other industry leaders (Nobel physicist George Smoot, for example, and Tom Byers of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Google leaders Vint Cerf and Chris DiBona, SIM City creator Will Wright; quite an impressive list), is up and running now at the NASA-Ames research center in Moffett Field, CA, tucked away between Mountain View and Sunnyvale, just west of the huge obsolete blimp hangars that have been there for at least 50 years. It’s an amazing venture. From it’s website:

“Singularity University derives its name from Dr. Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near.” The term “Singularity” has been used to refer to a future time of rapid and accelerating development of various sciences and technologies including biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics and genetics. One goal of Singularity University is to [expand / teach / show] how these rapid developments occur today, sometimes so common that we do not see them for what they are, as when a graphics card is faster than any supercomputer of just a decade ago.”

A first lucky group of a few dozen students is there now, taking part in a 9-week program. In the near future they’ll be offering some 10-day programs for middle managers, and 3-day programs for executives. Here’s Ray Kurzweil introducing it earlier this year, as a TED talk:

If for any reason you don’t see the video here, you can click this link to go to the source at ted.com.

I heard about this a couple of weeks ago from David Rose, founder of angelsoft.net, who is also, it turns out, leading the finance and entrepreneurship track. I’ve been meaning to post about it since. What an opportunity!

Angel Funding Waiting for the World to Change

Ever since I started in high tech in 1979, angel investment has been an amorphous, thoroughly disorganized, ad-hoc phenomenon that occurred somewhere between friends and family, on one end of a scale, and with venture capital, on the other. It was hard to find and hard to describe. People were selling lists of angel investors to entrepreneurs who were looking for investment.

I can’t say that the system worked; actually, I can’t even call it a system. Angel investment just happened. Securities law severely restricts the process of looking for investors, and, furthermore, also limits who is legally allowed to invest. An accredited investor has to meet minimum wealth requirements.

Last week I had a chance to talk at length with David Rose, founder of angelsoft.net. He  guest posted on this blog last Spring. Meanwhile, I’m getting more involved in my local angel investor group (Willamette Angel Conference), and using angelsoft.net software more. And David told me he’s continuing to bring angel groups together, and organize. So I’m hopeful about that.

The long-term dream is a smoothly working market bringing startups together with investors who understand the risks, have money, and want to invest it.

There are at least these three problems to solve:

  1. Organizing the information into a market-like system. Angelsoft.net is making real progress. Startups get an orderly application process, angel investors and groups of investors get better deal flow, and there’s more information for both sides. Also thefunded.com continues to add to its database of founder reviews of investors. Not to mention how much more information about angel investors is now available easily through simple Web searchs.
  2. Legal restrictions. And here I’m not sure how long it will take, or even if a solution is necessarily a good thing. It’s not simple. Restrictions on soliciting investors and qualification hoops for investors were made law back during the Great Depression because people were getting swindled. The law regarding information is way behind technology. The assumption that wealth is equal to sophistication in startup investment is questionable.
  3. Processing investment opportunities. I’ve been meaning to post for three months now about Revolutionizing Angel Funding on The Emergent Fool. That post, by Kevin Dick, talks about setting up a system to process startup deals automatically, using an online screening process. I’ll be watching that one. I’m not convinced that the way angel investors process deals, one by one, case by case, is really a significant problem. But it’s an interesting idea.

Overall, I’m intrigued by how much organization has happened in the last year or two.

I do believe there’s an opportunity for healthy disruption in this marketplace. It may be something like what kiva.org is doing for microlending, or what prosper.com was doing for peer-to-peer lending before (gulp) it got a cease and desist order from the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC). On one side, a lot of people who know what they’re doing would like to invest in some selected startups. On the other hand, a lot of startups would like to work with investors.

The toughest part of all this is securities law. A lot of what might really make a huge difference in organization of angel investment is on the brink of breaking laws governing fishing for investors. I’m waiting, cautiously optimistic, to see how this develops. And how long it takes.

More About Angelsoft.net and Angel Funding

(I posted Organizing Angel Investors Monday on Up and Running about positive developments in angel funding. David Rose, CEO of angelsoft.net, added the following as a comment to that post. Although I haven’t had guest posts on this blog, David’s comment is worth it. And I’ve been using angelsoft.net for a while now, I know it’s good. So I’m posting David’s comment here as if it were a guest post.)

Tim, you are absolutely correct in your observations about what’s happening in the angel world. Historically, angel investing has tended to be a personal, haphazard thing, with entrepreneurs and angels finding each other almost by chance. During the dot-com boom, however, angels in various cities who repeatedly found themselves in the same deals began to organize into semi-formal groups, in order to share deal flow and expertise, and pool their funds to make larger investments.

After the crash, when venture capital firms effectively stopped funding during the ‘nuclear winter’, the Kauffman Foundation, dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship, figured that the best way to help entrepreneurs was to jump start angel investing (which, as you know, accounts for more startup investing annually than all VCs put together.)

So Kauffman convened a summit meeting of the major angel groups from around the country, and out of that arose the Angel Capital Association, the professional alliance of angel groups, and the Angel Capital Education Foundation, which trains angels and entrepreneurs in best practices. This past week we held the 2009 ACA Summit in Atlanta, at which over 300 leading angels and group managers from around the country got together to meet each other, share best practices, and work on syndicating deals.

At the same time the ACA was being formed, many of the angel groups were in need of a solution to help administer their organizations, encourage collaboration among angels, and enable cooperative investments both among groups, and between angel groups and VCs. Thus arose Angelsoft, which today provides the back-end infrastructure for virtually the entire global, organized angel investment community. Five years after its founding, Angelsoft supports 17,000 accredited investors in 450 angel investment groups in 45 countries.

While Angelsoft is not a ‘matching service’, nor does the company itself make investments, the platform functions much like the CommonApp for college admissions. The difference is that because the vast majority of angel groups use the system to manage their deal flow and collaboration internally, there aren’t parallel systems. So if an entrepreneur applies for funding to a group using Angelsoft, they’ll be working on an Angelsoft-powered application no matter how they got to the group in the first place.

This provides a number of advantages, among which is the need to only fill out an application once. After that, applying to any other Angelsoft-based group is a matter of a single mouse click. And entrepreneurs can find groups that invest in their type of company by using the Kayak-like sliders in Angelsoft’s investor search engine at http://angelsoft.net/startup-tools/investor-search.

Another by-product is that for the first time entrepreneurs have some visibility into the often-murky operations of angel groups. Because Angelsoft powers all the group’s processes, the system can provide entrepreneurs with statistics including how many other companies have applied for funding this month, how long it typically takes the group to review a submission, what percentage of applicants to a group actually get funded, and so forth. For example, check out the profile page for New York Angels, my home angel group here on the east coast, at http://angelsoft.net/angel-group/new-york-angels

Finally, one of the coolest things is that with all the angel groups on a single platform, Angelsoft is now also being used by other parts of the early stage industry, including, as you pointed out, VCs. Over 50 venture funds use Angelsoft to process their deal flow, and many of the leading venture law firms, such as DLA Piper and Cooley Godward, are beginning to use the platform to refer clients to angel groups and venture funds for consideration.

We are living in a fascinating time with fast moving changes in every area, and the expansion and growth of the Internet promises to bring some much needed order to the chaos of early stage funding!

-David S. Rose
CEO, Angelsoft
Chairman, New York Angels