# Monday, November 23, 2015

 No one talks about how important it is for your CTO to learn the business side of things. That needs to change. If you’re a co-founder or senior executive at a startup or growth stage company, you need to be more than just an expert in your area.I know that’s asking a lot. Becoming an expert is a massive task. But it’s not enough. Each senior leader needs to be familiar with engineering, marketing, sales, and accounting if you want to maximize your chance for success.

 This concept has been popularized for non-technical founders for some time, through efforts like Mayor Bloomberg’s Learn to Code and Business Week’s magnum opus What is Code. But I’ll wager if you’re a CEO, you suck at social media. You probably don’t understand it, even though it’s the future of customer engagement. That needs to change. And this change needs to extend beyond giving non-technical founders technical skills. We need to help CTOs get business savvy.

 Image by Flickr user foam 


Perform a Self Assessment


If you had to take over any of your company’s functional roles (marketing, sales, etc.) for a short period, would you be able to lead effectively? If the answer’s yes, great. Proceed. But if not, you’ve identified a major need.

Things happen, and you need to prepare for contingencies. Not only that, how can you screen and hire the right person if you can’t speak the same language?

Non-technical CEO’s should code so they can:

  • Understand how the sausage gets made

  • Talk to their team with the right vocabulary (i.e. Agile, Scrum, and Kanban)  

If you’re the CTO, don’t you want to be relevant in business meetings? You won’t be as strong in marketing as your CMO, but you can add value and influence decisions.

If you outsource business decisions to your non-technical co-founder, there will be consequences. Best case scenario? You disengage from the business side.

Worst case: your disengagement leaves your CEO to feel lonely and stressed. And then one day, you wake up to a phone call from that person saying, “Hey, we’re out of money.”

Don’t let that happen to you.

Jump into the Business Side

 I love founding teams comprised of engineers because:


  • Less technical risk

  • Solve their own problems

  • Shared background with me

I’ve been a CTO many times in my career, and I’ve exited multiple companies. But heading back to grab my MBA still made me a better CTO.

I don’t think all developers should get an MBA even though, unlike many of my peers, I think there’s value in one. Instead, I’d suggest creating your self-study MBA.

Design Your Personal MBA

Here are my suggestions for a practical education that will make you a better leader in every functional area.


 All techies should read The Essentials of Finance and Accounting for Nonfinancial Managers by Edward Fields (who was my Accounting professor in business school).

It’s not exactly A Song of Ice and Fire, but you shouldn’t want to put this book down. You’ll get familiar with:


  • Balance sheets

  • Income statements

  • Cash flow statements

  • Budgets and forecasts

  • Annual statements

I know. It’s dry. But the book is so necessary.

If you want to supplement it, take an online accounting and finance crash-course like this one at Udemy.


 Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The book was published over two decades ago, but it’s still essential. Learn from real world case-studies.

And remember this lesson: if people don’t read your website or emails, they’ll never buy your stuff.

To improve your copywriting, try the great Gary Halbert’s Boron Letters.


 Sales makes the world go round. Here are two great books:


And finally, for our non-developer friends who’ve stuck through this:


 Read the Bloomberg article What Is Code that I mentioned before. It’s an interactive history lesson that walks through everything developer and even delves a little into philosophy.

At the very least, you should get familiar with HTML & CSS so you don’t need to bother your developers on trivial tasks. Brush up over at Codecademy.

 Take Action

 You’re never going to be an expert in all of these roles. But at a minimum, you need to be conversational.

Have a bias for action and carve some time out for learning. Let me know how it goes.

posted on Monday, November 23, 2015 4:08:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, October 22, 2015

I recently recommended a friend for a PM job at a hot Silicon Valley startup run by another friend. The startup recently raised a big Series A and was looking to scale. I know the risk of linking up two friends in an employment scenario, however, my friend was more than qualified for this job and my founder friend really needed the position filled.  



While my friend was more than qualified, interviewed well, and the team loved him, etc, the founder decided to pass on my friend. The reason:  another candidate with the same skills and experience came along that they hired. The difference between the hired candidate and my friend? The candidate that was hired had the same PM experience but all at big companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google. My friend has spend his entire career at startups.

My question is: was this the right move? If you had the choice between nearly two identical candidates and one had all their experience at big successful companies and one had their experience at successful startups, isn’t it safe to choose the candidate that worked at the bigger companies? 

Put yourself in the founder’s shoes. You just raised a big Series A. You are being pressured by your investors to “go big or go home.” You have aspirations to be a big company. This is Silicon Valley, shouldn’t you hire the absolute best talent we can find? Shouldn’t you hire people who worked at Facebook and Amazon since you want your company to be big like them one day? 

PMs that only worked at companies such as Facebook and Amazon are super qualified PMs. Huge plus. They also know next to nothing about building a startup. Huge negative. People from larger companies bring the bigger company process, procedure, and culture with them. This leads to premature scaling of your business. The problem is that your startup is not a smaller version of a bigger company. As Steve Blank says, a startup is an experiment looking for a business model, not a smaller version of a larger company. Facebook as over 10,000 employees and billions in profits.  My friend’s company has less than 15 employees and no profits. Hire people comfortable working in that environment, who know how to bring a company from 15 people to 150 people. When your startup has 1000 employees and is super profitable you should start to hire PMs from Facebook. In between, you have to hire people who can not only do the job, but also help you grow the business, shape the culture, and constantly evolve the process. 

I made this mistake several times at my past startups. At one startup we realized that we needed an HR manager. Since we had plans to “go big” we wanted to hire an HR manager who came from a big company. Big mistake. We were a team of 12 but all of a sudden we were doing 360 reviews and had to fill out a form in order to take a day off. At another startup we wanted to enter the “enterprise” space, so we hired some “enterprise” software people from a large enterprise software company and gave them fancy titles. The problem is that people who work as executives at big companies usually don’t roll up their sleeves and build a product. Nor do they know how to scale a company, they know how to keep a big company big, but don’t know how to build a big company. In addition they wanted to fly business class and have personal assistants, things that did not jive with our startup culture.

Avoid premature scaling at your company and hire not only the candidates with the best skill set, but also with experience in working at and building a startup. Later on when you are bigger and more mature should you hire the people with bigger company experience. 

posted on Thursday, October 22, 2015 2:37:22 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, August 10, 2015

Here in Silicon Valley, it is commonly said that it is “easy” to raise $1m in seed funding and $100m in Series C/D growth funding, but impossible to raise the $5-7m in Series A funding. This has been called the Series A Gap, or the lack of funds for startups looking to break out of angel and seed funding. 


There is no Series A Gap

Over the past year as a VC in Silicon Valley, I’ve worked with Fresco’s portfolio companies and met countless other startups looking for funding. I’ve seen good companies left for dead when trying to raise a Series A and some raise a Series A in just a few weeks. I’ve rolled up my sleeves and worked with the founders on their deck, valuation, strategy, and ultimately their pitch. Along the way in the trenches of Series A fundraising, I've learned something: there is no Series A Gap.

Pitchbook and other sources have confirmed what my gut has been saying for the past year: there has been a modest rise of Series A capital over the past few years, but there is a glut of seed funding in the market today-as much as 4x higher in the past 5 years. So it is comparatively easy to raise a Seed round creating more and more startups looking for the same amount of Series A funding. 

Startups have little problem raising seed funds these days. They string together $500k-$2m from many different people on an open source convertible note, typically $100k at a time. (AKA the “Party Round.”) Then they go out and try to find the right product-market fit and business model. Some make it and go on to raise a Series A pretty quickly. Most do not.

The Rise of the Second Seed Round 

The companies that don’t find the product market fit or develop their business model try for a Series A and fail. Typically they are competing against companies that have already found their business model and are executing against it. Eventually they run out of money. 

If you run out of money during your seed round and you can’t raise a Series A, in the past you had three choices:

  1. Fold the business
  2. Raise a “down” round
  3. Keep struggling along on nights and weekends

Now what founders are doing is going out and getting a second seed round. Typically more money than the first seed and almost always at a much higher valuation. Some people call these rounds “pre-A” and “super seed.” I’ve seen a ton of them, some that should be a down round but have a crazy high valuation. (I've walked away from two of them in the past month alone.) 

For example consider this funding for startup NewCo;

  • Angel funding $200k @ $2m cap
  • Seed funding $1.3m @ $7m cap
  • Seed funding II $2.2m @ $12m cap

NewCo now has 20 or more note holders and an insane valuation. If you have a $12m cap on your convertible note and you raised $2.2m on it, chances are your valuation at the Series A will be near $30m. The problem is that now your revenue and growth trends have to justify that $30m valuation. Unless the business model is really strong and the company is progressing nicely, raising a Series A will be all but impossible. There is no Series A Gap, but rather a glut of seed funding and a self-inflicted wound of raising too many seed rounds with little or no growth to show for it.

What to Do?

Founders are better off trying to raise one larger seed (with a lead!) and using the round to focus like a laser beam on finding the right product market fit while keeping the burn low. If you need a second seed round, try to keep the valuation under control and have very specific metrics as what you want to accomplish in order to position yourself for an A. 

posted on Monday, August 10, 2015 3:23:32 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, July 6, 2015

Being an early stage investor, I see a lot of MVPs. I mean a lot. The problem is that most people don’t build real MVPs, but descend into building a prototype, then beta, then an actual product and still call it an MVP. Remember an MVP is your most important Customer Development tool. It is an experiment designed to test your value proposition’s assumptions by measuring a behavior and learning from the results. MVPs should be used for a short while in order to validate your learning and then help you develop the plan for the actual product. After you have built a few MVPs and measured the results, what are the top three signs that you are done with your MVP and can start building your real product?




Sign #1 That You’re Done With Your MVP: You are getting diminishing returns on your learning
Typically when you start doing the Customer Development/MVP process, it is pretty brutal. Your ideas are shattered when they come into contact with real people. It can be long, hard, and painful at times. But when you stick with it you usually go through three stages of MVPing:
  • Shattered expectations
  • Hearing the same thing over and over
  • Diminishing returns
Usually after your first round of MVPs, you go back to the drawing board a little and make adjustments to your Business Model Canvas and test your new assumptions. Typically you get into a zone where everyone is saying the same thing: this is good. After a while you adjust the MVP some more based on that feedback and the feedback and behavior you are measuring is only giving you a very small incremental gain. This is when it is time to stop MVPing and build an actual product. 
Sign #2 That You’re Done With Your MVP: You’ve been doing customer development for a really long time
I’ve met countless startups that were working on their MVPs for months or years. Typically a single MVP should last a few hours or a day. After that time, you process the data, apply the learnings, and then make another MVP that should only last a short time as well. In a perfect world, you would only be MVPing for a month or two at most since the results of all of your MVP experiments gave you enough data to build a product. 
If you have been MVPing on the same idea for over six months, you need to reevaluate what are doing. Some startups clearly have a product (see #3) and some clearly do not. If you have not seen traction in a long time and have been grinding away on the same idea for several months, it is time to ask yourself some hard questions.  
Sign #3 That You’re Done With Your MVP: You are actually making money
Sometimes I’ve seen startups that are still MVPing when they are actually making money on their product or service. Typically the startup doesn’t have a clear indication of what the pricing model should be or what the right customer segment is.  Once you have enough “validating revenue” (typically around $250k ARR), stop MVPing and start A/B testing and using other tools (typically sales tricks) to figure out the best pricing and customer segmentation.
As you start your next venture, think about these three tips when you start your Customer Development so you do it effectively, but don’t do it too long. Good luck!
posted on Monday, July 6, 2015 12:13:39 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I remember it like it was yesterday. My co-founder and I just left Yahoo!’s New York City office. It was October 31st, 2002, and we were happy because Yahoo! asked us if we would go exclusive with them on our yet to be released online service. At the time, Yahoo! was one of the largest players online (think Google today) and they were offering to resell our data on their site, potentially a lot of money that could possibly make or break our startup. We were at it for months with no revenue and without a salary and unable to hire some more talent, so this was a much needed shot in the arm. 

When we got outside, I called my mentor and our investor to tell him the good news. He said: “ Cool! What minimums did you negotiate?” Minimums I ask? As quickly as I was excited, I was now deflated. 


Breach of Contract

The Deceptive Value of an Exclusive Contract

The deal we had shook hands on with Yahoo! had the potential to pay well over $1m in six months. Not bad for a startup with no customers, right? Wrong.

My mentor went on to explain that if Yahoo! were to get an exclusive reselling deal, or even a non-exclusive deal for that matter, they needed an incentive to hold up their end of the bargain. If Yahoo! miscalculated the demand from their users, if their sales force did not engage with us and actively sell our product, or if market conditions rapidly changed, we could make nothing. That would force our startup to close its doors. 

In order to create some incentives for the larger party on the other side of any exclusive or non-exclusive contract, you should structure the deal where at the end of the term there is a minimum payment to be made if a threshold is not met. This way you are protected and the larger party has an incentive to uphold their end of the bargain. If the larger party won’t commit to the minimum, they have little faith that they can actually deliver the value that they are promising and that is a bad sign. Typically you should ask for and get a minimum of about 20% of the initial agreement. 

For example, let’s say that you negotiate a contract with a channel partner in India. They promise you $1m in sales per year and want an exclusive arrangement in India. Ask them to “put their money where their mouth is” and offer to pay a minimum at the end of the term if they don’t sell enough. If you stick to a 20% minimum, at the end of the year if they produced no sales, they still pay you $200k. If they produced $100k of sales, they would pay you $100k (the difference between the actual sales they produced and the $200k minimum.)  If they produced $250k of sales, they pay you nothing as they have reached the minimum. 

If the minimum is not enough to cover your costs or offset the opportunity cost of going exclusive, you should not do the deal. If you are a pre-revenue startup and the larger party wants to go exclusive globally for some time, you should also demand that they make an equity investment as well-to show that they are serious and have some "skin in the game". 

Did Yahoo! Agree to the Minimum?

My partner and I went back to Yahoo! and proposed a non-exclusive arrangement and a minimum. They agreed but took a long time to sign the paperwork and get started. In the interim we went to Monster.com, their competitor (we were talking to Yahoo!’s HotJob unit), and signed a similar deal, with a minimum. Within 6 months, we were earning about $1m in revenue from both parties! So glad that we did not go exclusive. 


posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2015 4:36:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, May 31, 2015

Not only is it hard to attract talent to your startup (know any free developers in the Bay Area?), as a founder you also have to set the proper structure. A common saying is that you need a “Hacker, Hustler, and a Hipster” on the founding team. In the earliest days that makes sense, especially when you are MVPing and hustling for your first customers trying to find a product-market fit.

Sometime after you have product-market fit and raise a round of funding, you need to hire outside of the core founding team. A lot of founders struggle with the right roles to hire and what the proper structure should be. Some founders hire too many engineers (typically non-technical founders) and some founders hire too many “business” or “marketing” people (typically technical founders), leading to being lopsided in one area. Founders run the risk of being engineering centric or marketing centric in their product development. In reality they need to be customer centric and embrace the Holy Trinity of Product Development. 

Lean product development

The Holy Trinity of Product Development: Dev Lead, PM, PMM

When it comes to product development, you need three distinct roles. Those roles are what I call the Holy Trinity of Product Development: Developer Lead, Program Manager (PM), and Product Marketing Manager (PMM). These three roles work together to represent the customer and build the business, ensuring that you are not too engineering focused or too marketing focused. The role in the middle of that fine line is the Program Manager.

Program Manager (PM)

The program manager, sometimes called product manager, is the most important role in the trinity. The PM manages the product definition by talking with customers and potential customers. A PM owns the UX and functional specs and is the chief customer advocate. A PM not only owns the product definition, but also its strategy, position in the marketplace, and if it is a new product, its go to market strategy. Internally, the PM has to coordinate the teams to get the product out the door. This means working closely with the PMM and business teams on what makes sense for the business. The PM can’t set pricing (that is the PMM’s job) but surely can influence it. At the same time the PM has to work with the engineering team to get the product built on time and on budget. While a PM is not required to have any technical or coding skills, the more technical a PM is, the better. At Facebook for example, all PMs usually can write a little Javascript code. This allows the PM to talk to the engineering team in their own language. 

What is amazing about the PM is that they have no power or authority over the PMM or dev lead, all they can do is influence the engeneering and marketing teams. It takes a unique skill set to get this done. 

Developer Lead

The dev lead has a difficult role to play insofar as they have to represent the engineering team to the PM and PMM as well as work on all of the “tech stuff.” The tech stuff includes: setting the development architecture, get their DevOps game on by organizing the build (doing things like Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment), coding, and choosing the right technology for the job (Rails or PhP anyone?)  The dev lead also needs to keep the engineering team together and motivated and make sure that the agile process is, well, agile.

The hardest part of the dev lead’s job is interfacing with the PM and PMM. The nature of startups is that they are resource constrained and always in a rush to get something shipped. That means an insane amount of pressure on the engineering team. It is the dev lead’s responsibility to work with the business (PM and PMM) in order to set realistic deadlines and proper expectations, all while not being the guy complaining about lack of resources. Not always an easy task..

Product Marketing Manager

While the dev lead represents the engineers and the PM represents the customer, the PMM represents the business. While the PMM is responsible for what all non-marketing people think of as marketing (ad campaigns, trade show booths, email blasts, product placement, media placement, etc), they are also responsible for the business model of the product and making sure that the product makes money (or reaches its broader goals if it is a loss leader.) This means setting pricing, and if this is a freemium product, that is far more complex than you can ever imagine. The PMM is ultimately accountable for the product making money.

The Right Balance

Some startups and companies are tempted to combine the PM and PMM role. This is bad! What happens when you combine these roles is that the focus usually becomes either too customer centric or too marketing centric; you need two people and two distinct roles to prevent this from happening. The right structure creates the right environment. The right people in the wrong structure is a waste of talent, they will not be able to use all of their talents, they will spend too much time fighting the incorrect structure. No amount of free massages, free lunches, and unlimited cookies will fix an improper structure. (Actually it is Google, Facebook, Linkedin, etc who have pioneered the Holy Trinity in Silicon Valley. They adapted it from the larger tech companies such as Microsoft in the 1990s.) 

The right people in the right structure/environment is where the magic happens. 

This may sound like a lot of overhead, however, you are probably doing this in some form already. Typically at the early stage, founders take on these roles and hire people to pass them off to. It’s a sign that your startup has matured and left the experimental phase. 

Now go and build awesome products!

posted on Sunday, May 31, 2015 8:38:46 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Everyone is talking about replicating and building the “next Silicon Valley” with the rise of Silicon “roundabouts” and Silicon “beaches” in several locations around the world.  While this is going on very few people are talking about how Silicon Valley is evolving: specifically that Sand Hill Road is now the Wall Street of the West Coast. 

140821071502 wall st vs silicon valley 620xa









The rise of the “Uber” Round

More and more tech startups are raising hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in later stage “uber” rounds. (I call these the “uber” rounds as a play on the German for “super” or after the company Uber that has raised well over $4 billion in Venture Capital.) As of this writing, Lyft has just closed a $680 Series E. According to Crunchbase, Lyft is one of 20 startups that have raised $1B or more in venture funding in the past 5 years.

Companies are going public later and later, a trend started by Facebook; instead of rushing to an IPO, companies are staying private longer and are taking more and more uber rounds. (Some people think that these companies should be going public as the investing public can’t participate in the later stage growth, allowing the rich to get richer.) The average amount of money that companies have raised before going public has been going up, more than double since the 2008 downturn.

What is Going On?

Most pundits think that companies are staying private longer to avoid the hassle and expense of going public as well as regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley. While those are all reasons to stay private, the real reason is that Silicon Valley VCs on Sand Hill Road have evolved to grow larger and focus on late stage massive growth. 

Typically an IPO is for massive growth. A company will get to a certain stage of maturity and then raise anywhere from $300m to over a $100b at an IPO. The IPO accomplishes a few things: allows early investors and employees to “cash out” and sell their shares to the public as well as provide much needed capital for massive growth. 

Today companies are delaying the IPO and raising the growth capital with their uber rounds. On the surface this looks crazy. But in reality, it is genius. 

Lean Startup and Uber Rounds

Let’s take a made up startup LeanCo as an example. Assume LeanCo already took a Series A ($8m) and Series B ($30m). Now they are kicking butt and are growing at the same rate as the other high performing startups. Say they have well over $250m in sales, expanding market share, healthy margins, and are expanding internationally. This is the textbook case for an IPO.

What would happen is that LeanCo would go to a big Wall Street bank and raise approximately $5-$10+ billion in an IPO. After all the costs and fees and the Wall Street bank’s cut, the company would have a lump sum of money, let’s just say $5b. Now the company has the war chest it needs in order to grow. Typically LeanCo will acquire smaller rivals, enter new markets, and build out new products and services. 

Instead, the LeanCos are choosing to raise billions for growth before an IPO. Instead of raising $5b in an early IPO, they are raising $2-5b privately before a much later IPO (at a much higher valuation.) They are raising the money $400 or more at a time. Here lies the genius of this approach: LeanCo only raises what it needs, when it needs it in a private (closed) market that will provide a higher valuation than a public one. There are also other benefits to staying private during the growth stage, like not disclosing your financial health and spending to competitors. 

For the investors, this is actually a much more conservative approach. By only giving LeanCo the money when it is needed and doing it incrementally, LeanCo has to operate in iterative cycles similar to the Lean Startup and Agile Development. For example, if investors provided LeanCo with $5b in one lump sum, LeanCo may spend it unwisely feeling that they have a lot of capital on hand. If investors give LeanCo $400m or so at a time, LeanCo will have to take an incremental approach. If LeanCo were to go under after an IPO, investors would lose all of the $5b. If LeanCo were to fail after raising “only” $2b, investors lose far less money. 

The Post-IPO World

The VCs on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park have changed the game. I remember in the .com bubble, the largest Venture Fund was $1b and the largest deal was around $75m. Now the VC funds on Sand Hill Road are all well over a few billon each and think nothing of leading a $500m round. 

Eventually the startup companies are going public, however, that is only because at some point they have to in order for the VC investors to sell their positions and the employees to cash in their stock options. I’m sure that over time, Sand Hill Road will evolve past the IPO, where companies stay private forever and large East Coast financial institutions buy back those positions from the VCs and earn returns via dividends, etc. You are already starting to see the signs of this when large pension and investment banks such as Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, and Goldman Sachs are part of the last round of financing for companies like Lyft, Box, and Uber. In the future, you won’t be able to buy shares in a Facebook individually, but you will buy shares in a Fidelity “Silicon Valley" Mutual Fund. Silicon Valley is disrupting Wall Street. 

What Does this Mean for Startups in Silicon Valley

We all know that New York City and Wall Street is the IPO center of the world. Did a startup have a competitive advantage by being located in New York? As a native New Yorker who built three startups in New York City, I can confidently say no. Mark Zuckerberg proved that when he showed up to his Wall Street pre-IPO meetings in his hoodie. When your company is ready and has the right numbers, the Wall Street Investment Banks will work with you, no matter where you are.

What about tech startups located in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, or Mountain View, close to Sand Hill Road? (Sticking to the geographical description of Silicon Valley.) Same thing, when your company is large enough to take the uber rounds, it does’t matter if you live in Menlo Park or Montana, or Mongolia, the VCs on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park will work with you. You are already seeing this with startups being located in the City of San Francisco and not down south in Silicon Valley. The larger established companies such as Facebook (Menlo Park), Tesla (Palo Alto), Google (Mountain View), etc are down in Silicon Valley, but the young, early stage startups are up in San Francisco. This means San Fransisco is about the startups and Silicon Valley is about the money.

San Francisco is the new Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is the new Wall Street. 

posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 5:11:38 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, May 10, 2015

I’m super lucky to be from New York City and have lived in both Europe and Asia before settling down in Silicon Valley two years ago. I’ve also been lucky to work at a startup in Eastern Europe that grew to be so successful that many of my former co-workers there have become either Angel investors in the region or left to do their own startups. Of course, Fresco Capital is geographically diverse with 2/3 of the partners overseas. Because of this I get to meet a large amount of startups from outside of Silicon Valley, particularly from overseas. 

Typically when they come to Silicon Valley for the first time, I am their first visit. (Honored!) That said, they all ask me the exact same question: “Steve, we are about to raise our Seed round of $1m, can you introduce us to some investors that will put our round together?"

This is when I have to give the founder “The Talk."

 Silicon valley sign lg







The Talk(TM)

I say that raising a $1m Seed round in Silicon Valley is easy, just go to a Starbucks in Palo Alto and trip a few people and when they fall down, $100k will fall out of their hoodie. Aim for someone with a Facebook or Google hoodie and maybe $200k will fall out. While this is a (slight) exaggeration, the point is that most seed rounds that are not lead by an institutional investor are pieced together by wealthy Angel investors usually $200K or so at a time. While a foreign startup has the potential to meet Silicon Valley Angel investors on a two week visit, typically, you raise this money via a personal network. (Your’s or your advisor’s.)  If you are not from the Valley, you won’t have this network and would need to stay and network for months and months, burning cash and wasting time (that should be used to build your startup).

I Know Nobody in the Valley, What Should I Do?

I always suggest to non-local entrepreneurs to go raise their seed round locally in their home market where they have a network of potential investors. It will be easier and faster than trying to raise money in the Valley where you don’t know anyone. You can then come to the Valley for your Series A from a  position of strenght after you have nailed your business model. 

This presents a problem insofar of the level of sophistication of the investors in your home market. While I agree that most markets are not nearly as sophisticated as Silicon Valley, there are “Valley” type investors in all markets these days, you just have to go find them. The easiest way: build an awesome business. I was talking with by buddy Pascal the other day about valuations in Europe compared to the Valley. Startups outside of the Valley tend to have less of the valuation inflation that the Valley startups do. If you build a sustainable, repeatable, scalable business with funding in your local market at a competitive valuation, when you come the Valley later on to raise a Series A, you will find it easy to raise money!

Good luck. :) 

posted on Sunday, May 10, 2015 1:51:36 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback