State of Startups 2016

First Round Capital just released its State of Startups 2016.  It is chock full of interesting stuff!  No need for me to recap it here.  Just view it for yourself.  Here is the link.  Thanks!

PS:  2 prominent team members at First Round Capital are Cornellians (Bill Trenchard and Howard Morgan)!

Make a Donation to UVC

Warning:  this is a non-profit fund raising email!

I am on the board of Upstate Venture Connect (UVC).   UVC is a non-profit focused on helping build the upstate NY startup community.  Among other things, UVC (i) connects people via events and newsletters, (ii) helps groups create seed/angel funds, which then invest in NYS companies, and (iii) maintains an ecosystem map and calendar.

As you plan your year end giving, please consider UVC.  It is worth the support.  All donations are fully tax deductible.

I have set up a simple way to give via GiveGab (yes, GiveGab is a CVF portfolio company).  Here is the link.   Thanks in advance!

Upstate Venture CEO Survey

I am on the board of a non-profit called Upstate Venture Connect.  Nasir Ali, a good friend of mine, heads the organization.  Here is a guest post from Nasir sharing summary findings from a recently completely survey of upstate NY CEOs.  Enjoy!

Seeds of Growth are All Around Us

This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week follows an election season where economic anxiety weighed heavily on American voters.  Nearly a decade of research from the Kauffman Foundation and other sources has confirmed that young, high-growth businesses create almost all the net new jobs. While Upstate NY leaders were busy trying to save (or attract) industrial era giants, a new generation of world-beating founders grew up in our midst, then left to launch companies like Android, airbnb, Priceline, Nvidia, etc. in more startup friendly communities.

As the head of Upstate Venture Connect (uvc.org), I am committed to building Upstate NY’s startup ecosystem. I meet incredibly talented and ambitious founders in every part of Upstate, proof that our region continues to produce high growth entrepreneurs. Yet, these emerging companies are still invisible in their home communities and business leaders and policymakers miss their economic impact.

This fall, UVC commissioned Rochester based Center for Governmental Research to conduct the first ever Upstate Venture CEO Survey. We wanted to hear from high growth founders and, in one month, 115 CEOs responded. Half of the companies were less than 6 years old and nearly all (90%) were targeting national/global customers. Below are three key findings from the survey and their implications for UVC and other Upstate NY ecosystem builders.

High growth companies are everywhere and disrupting everything.  The 115 respondents fall into 47 different industry codes. Our future is not going to be a single cluster per city, but a super-regional community that values and encourages out of the box thinking and a fast growth orientation. Emerging founders today often have peers that are a few highway exits away instead of being across the street.

High-paying jobs are available, especially for college graduates. Seventy-five percent of companies paid workers more than $40,000 on average. Forty percent reported an average payroll of more than $75,000/year. Three out of four companies said that 80% of their staff holds college degrees.

The economic impact is significant and growing: Taken together, the firms account for 4,700 direct jobs (70% in NY) and 4,400 additional jobs creating more than $450 million in annual wages for NYS. When asked for five year projections, the CEOs collectively are planning to add 9,600 direct jobs. If these jobs are in NYS, there could be as many as 12,800 new jobs created with $1.4 billion in payroll.

The data clearly shows that the seeds of growth are all around us. That is why UVC is doubling down on its efforts to raise awareness of the intrepid founders creating a path to the future. In the year to come, we will be highlighting the most exciting companies in each Upstate community via our online Ecosystem Map, Events Calendar, UNY Pulse e-newsletter and blog/social media activity. We will also continue to work with leaders in each community to form new angel investment funds, accelerate the growth of existing businesses, and showcase entrepreneurial career opportunities for ambitious and talented college grads.

To see how you can play a role in building Upstate NY’s new economy, please visit http://uvc.org and join our growing network of startup founders and supporters today. The full survey report and summary data can be viewed and downloaded at http://uvc.org/upstate-venture-ceo-report/.

New Podcast – Public Service Announcement

A colleague of mine recently told me about a new podcast called “How I Built This”.  It goes into the stories of famous entrepreneurs and innovators.  Guy Raz (well known radio host at National Public Radio) interviews founders, etc., and turns the interviews into compelling ~30 minutes narratives.  GREAT for car rides.  I just drove home from Maryland and listened to about 5 of them.  I think my 14 year old daughter even enjoyed.  I forced her to listen to one so she would better understand what I do with startups.

GREAT stories.  Enjoy.  Available on iTunes, etc.

Calling BS

Vanity Fair recently published a expose on Theranos.  It is worth reading.  Like a mini “page turner” novel.

It reminded me of one of my personal themes in investing:  “if you don’t understand the technology then don’t invest.”  The understanding can definitely be acquired.  In fact, I rarely understand the technology when we first meet with a company.  But over our months of due diligence the understanding grows.  And sometimes my partners’ understanding is a good proxy.  BTW, understanding does not mean being an expert.

So, how about these words that Vanity Fair wrote about Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO of Theranos:  “She took the money on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked, and that she had final say and control over every aspect of her company.”   All I can say is OMG.   Are you kidding me?  Who would invest into a black hole and control freak?  Not sure what else to say.  Granted that this is all hearsay.  I have no proof that this is what actually happened.  All I will say is that if you get whiffs of this type of attitude you should run the other way.   And now that I think about it more, we actually did get caught in a similar situation once, but by no means as blatant.  It is not working out well!!

The Vanity Fair article also offered up an interesting synopsis of venture capital:

“It generally works like this: the venture capitalists (who are mostly white men) don’t really know what they’re doing with any certainty—it’s impossible, after all, to truly predict the next big thing—so they bet a little bit on every company that they can with the hope that one of them hits it big. The entrepreneurs (also mostly white men) often work on a lot of meaningless stuff, like using code to deliver frozen yogurt more expeditiously or apps that let you say “Yo!” (and only “Yo!”) to your friends. The entrepreneurs generally glorify their efforts by saying that their innovation could change the world, which tends to appease the venture capitalists, because they can also pretend they’re not there only to make money. And this also helps seduce the tech press (also largely comprised of white men), which is often ready to play a game of access in exchange for a few more page views of their story about the company that is trying to change the world by getting frozen yogurt to customers more expeditiously. The financial rewards speak for themselves. Silicon Valley, which is 50 square miles, has created more wealth than any place in human history. In the end, it isn’t in anyone’s interest to call bullshit.”

My reaction that synopsis, which definitely made me chuckle:

  1.  The white men comments are true.  Change is happening at a slow pace.
  2. Good VCs typically do know what they are doing, but some are so full of themselves that they come across as very pompous.  But most VCs I deal with are good people with lots of brain power.
  3. Most companies I see are not working on meaningless stuff.  But we focus on upstate NY!!
  4. There is nothing wrong with a “Change the World” CEO as long as they are realistic and focus on building a big company that will make money.
  5. VC is definitely about making money.
  6. It is in EVERYONE’S interest to call bullshit.  Please do just that all the time!