How do I know that Entrepreneurs Series was worth it?
A) I was there at 7:30 in the morning.
B) I took five pages of notes.
C) I learned something.
When all those extraordinary things happen in the same room at the same time, it’s a safe bet you’ve got yourself an information-packed gathering.
Jason Caplain and David Jones from Southern Capitol Ventures have been doing these for a few years now, and they’re getting bigger and fancier, with loftier guests and broader topics. They had around 200 attendees at Brier Creek Country Club (I wore slacks!), double the normal size.
Yesterday’s session was aces. But I’m not going to waste your time with a play-by-play. I’m basically going to distil what you would have walked out of the room with if you had attended.
Bob Young (Red Hat, Lulu) was the keynote speaker. It’s always great to hear Bob speak.
Takeaway #1: Think of failure like a science experiment. Failure isn’t bad because with each failure you learn something.
Color me wise.
That was followed by three panels.
The Accelerator Panel
Chris Heivly from Triangle Startup Factory in Durham, Adam Klein from Startup Stampede in Durham (which had their pitch party the previous night at Beyu, and it was attended by a lot of the same people, including me), Adam Hill from RevTech Labs in Charlotte’s Packard Place (also the Charlotte cat herder for Startup NC), and Jonathan Perrelli from The Fort.vc (and Fortify.vc) in DC, who I met at SEVC a little over a year ago.
They all basically focused on one thing: The most important part of any accelerator is the not the money, it’s the network.
Takeaway #2: RevTech Labs gets a lot of use out of their “resident startups,” which aren’t a part of the accelerator program, but are located in the same space. This is something I mentioned any early-stage hub should start thinking about taking advantage of.
Takeaway #3: Heivly saying the thing to remember about an accelerator program is that you can’t control it. He spent his whole business life controlling any number of aspects of his businesses, but now he has to rewire his brain daily. If you try to control it, he says, it won’t work.
The Angel Panel
Steve Vanderwoude from Madison River Ventures (three active investments), Craig Stone from (relatively) newly-minted Triangle Angel Partners (49 partners, one investment), Stein Kretsinger (personal, keeps his portfolio close to the vest), and Greg Cangialosi from Baltimore Angels (46 partners, six deals in 2012, 14 total).
They agreed that the main decision factors are still team, market, and model and each one wants to look you in the eye and and listen to your answers.
Takeaway #4: Greg mentioned that every startup should have a hustler — this is the person that can network their way to anyone they want to get in front of.
Takeaway #5: Caplain (the moderator) saying he hasn’t read a business plan in ten years, Cangialosi saying he’s never written one, both seemingly declaring the business plan dead.
The Founder Panel
Admittedly, I’m a little biased here.
Robbie Allen from Automated Insights, James Avery from Azderk, Eric Boggs from Argyle Social, and Luke Fishback from PlotWatt discussed strategies and pitfalls of raising their first round(s). Basically, it’s hard.
Takeaway #6: Robbie saying that everyone tells you that having kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And by the time you’ve heard it 10-15 times, you just think “yeah, yeah, I get it.’ And then you have a kid and it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Raising money is just like that.
Takeaway #7: Avery saying if you’re looking for a technical co-founder, chances are most of them are working on their own product. He recommended that anyone and everyone learn to code enough to at least build a prototype, and that there are plenty of resources around today to get you started.
Takeaway #8: When asked what defines success, in terms of an exit, Robbie answered that it’s not about the exit for him, it’s about the journey. Boggs added that he’s got so much in front of him on a day to day basis that success is making the best company he can today.
I’m sorry. I just can’t do this for you. I would, believe me, I would.
But I can tell you this.
People ask me, including at the Entrepreneurs Series, how to best get started raising money. I tell them a lot of what I heard today (although the panels put it better and actually added direction to the advice). There are a ton of investors out there of all stripes. Don’t start local, don’t start angel, don’t make too many assumptions.
Instead, decide which ones you can get to and of those are they right for you. And the ones that are right for you and you can’t get to, find a way to get to someone who can get to them. There will be more for you to do than there are hours in a day, even that 25-hour day that us entrepreneurs use.
In other words, as stated several times at the Entrepreneurs Series:
Takeaway #9: Show up.