I was recently asked to join a committee ranking applicants coming in to the Startl + DreamIt accelerator on the education side. This was my first time doing something like this so I asked a few friends who have done this before for the best strategies in terms of evaluating startups. Here is how I looked at the companies:
There are three key aspects to evaluate a company, team, traction, and market. Each category gets up to 10 points.
In regards to team, you want one that either has startup experience (i.e. has previously worked for a different startup) or has determination and high potential. You also want a team that is well-rounded: designer, engineer, product, business (or founders having the qualities of multiple pieces).
In regards to traction, you want to know where the startup is in terms of their product. Is it in the ideation stage? Is it in market? Do they have users? Revenue? The farther along to traction the better the number.
In regards to market, you want to understand how big the market is that the team is going after. Is it a niche business or something that is venture back-able?
The goal of this exercise is to help understand where the company is and ultimately the end result is to only admit ranks of 25 or higher.
I’m very excited to let everyone know that my wife, Liz, is starting a new job today.
Liz previously worked at Walgreens, leading a program called REDI (Retail Employee with Disabilities Initiative). The program trains and helps people with disabilities get jobs in the retail environment. She initially ran the program in NYC and then scaled it nationally.
Today is Liz’s first day as Executive Director at Incline. Incline is a program, started by Brittany Laughlin (GM at Union Square Ventures), that teaches veterans how to code and places them at tech startups/companies. The veterans are already technically proficient, but this 6-week course gives them the relevant skills to land jobs. In the next five year, over 1.5 million Veterans will leave the military and veteran unemployment is over 15% - so there is a lot to do here.
Liz is coming in to build out the program and help Incline grow. There is a lot to do and she is very excited to start. With Liz on their team, I know they are destined for success.
If you know anyone who can help the program, feel free to hit me up and I’ll pass it along. You can follow Liz on twitter at @LizTaub.
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/XuqzwS.
Let me know your thoughts!
The most frequent question I get about this blog is how I create so much content every week and how to start a blog. I’ve written about my process and how it works for me. But let’s be honest, most people either don’t have time or are lazy. So I’ve compiled 4 ways you can have a blog and create content and still be lazy.
1) Give Your View
You don’t need to come up with original content. Let others. Take other people’s posts, and give your view/opinion. I did this just last week with a Fred Wilson post.
Write an intro paragraph or two and then display the interview. This turns a few good questions and an introduction into a 500-1000 word long piece. The work here entails coming up with good questions. Not bad!
See Business Insider.
This post is a list. I could have titled the post, “4 Ways To Create More Content For Your Blog.” Lists help get content out. It’s a lazy person trick. It also helps drive traffic. My most trafficked posts are lists.
These are just 4 quick ways to start pumping out content. My recommendation would be to do at least one day (a week) of original content and fill the other days with some of the above. Remember - you don’t need to start from scratch every post.
I recently saw a company in a very crowded space tweet something negative about their competitor. The first thing I thought was, damn, this company must not be very comfortable in their own skin. They are scared.
It’s the same thing I thought when I saw the Keith Rabois, Yelp board member, negative tweet about Foursquare. Yelp must be nervous about Foursquare (and they should be. Foursquare has better data and is more mobile friendly).
Long story short, don’t tweet anything negative about a competitor. There is no upside and it shows fear.
I received an email last week from a friend. She wanted my feedback on the best way to ask someone she knows if they would be open to accepting an introduction. Her friend, Steven, had asked her for an introduction to Rachel. This is what I shared with her.
First Step: Ask Steven for a fresh email with the ask so you can forward it along to Rachel and add a note.
Second Step: Once Steven sends the email to you, forward it along to Rachel with a note in the body saying something like (obviously depends on context):
I hope all is well! My friend Steven from Company X sent me the below note. He would love to connect with someone at Company Y for his brother. See the note and let me know if you are interested in connecting with him.
The context here is my friend was looking to connect Steven’s brother with Rachel and her company for a job. Sometimes the context is introducing someone to investors, press, partnership opportunities. Just tweak the note.
Third Step: Tell Steven you asked Rachel and to stay tuned. Rachel will either respond or not. If she responds and says yes then respond and cc Steven on the email saying:
“Thanks Rachel. Meet Steven!
Keep it short and keep moving.
Fourth Step: If Rachel doesn’t respond within four business days, hit her again asking if she saw the email.
If she says no (in a nice way obviously) to the original email or the follow up- say thanks.
And this is the proper way to ask if you can make an introduction.
Startups are depicted as a glamorous endeavor. But starting or joining an early-stage company has many pitfalls that can lead to the startup deadpool.
Here are 15 things that can go wrong at a startup.
1) Tech team and biz team don’t agree on vision
2) Investors give bad advice
3) Investors give you good advice but you don’t listen
4) You listen to every piece of feedback
5) You ignore all feedback
6) You and your team lack focus
7) You and your team lack synced working schedules
8) You sell the company too early
9) You can’t build a sustainable business but no one wants to buy you
10) You hire the wrong person for a key position
11) You raise too little money
12) You raise too much money
13) You prematurely set up to scale
14) You focus too much on making money (and sacrifice your product/experience)
15) You don’t focus on making money at all
Warning: Startups are not for the faint of heart.
Most people, myself included, have thought or think that being a VC is such a hunky-dory gig and it’s just hopping from tech hub to tech hub investing in cool companies. While there is a big piece around having a good time and investing in cool companies, Fred gives a realistic view of what happens post-investment.
I hope he continues to write more sobering pieces like this one.
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/YItRzS.
Let me know your thoughts!
This is the first guest post on Alex’s Tech Thoughts. It comes from a good friend, Ellen DaSilva. I met Ellen via an introduction by our mutual friend Adam Levin, formerly BD at Meebo, and now VC at Crosslink Capital. Ellen was at Barclays at the time and was looking to make a move to the tech world. She did everything right and now works at Twitter doing awesome things. Her advice here will definitely help anyone looking to move from banking to tech. You can find her blog, The World According To Ellen, here.
My story is not particularly original. Having attended college at the end of the decade, I knew little else than to follow the footsteps of previous graduates toward the world of investment banking. Despite my degree in literature, I was lucky enough to land one of those seemingly coveted spots in a post-recession analyst class at one of the bulge bracket banks. I was under the impression that after a few years, I would have the skills I needed to do anything. But there is very little room for creativity at these companies: stability and re-creation of work are among the most highly prized virtues in that industry. Business acumen come much later in the game.
Eventually I became disillusioned and like many of my colleagues, toiled to find opportunities that I felt would take advantage of my energy and excitement for change. And that’s when I decided that the world of tech, with an eye toward social media, would fulfill me in a way that banking would not. It wasn’t easy. It took me about 6 months of networking, flying around the country and familiarizing myself with the industry landscape, but it paid off.
Over the past year, I have spoken to countless peers, predominantly in the financial services industry, looking for a way to break into tech. Introductions come from friends, people who reach out to me via LinkedIn and everywhere in between, who think that the luster of the tech industry holds promise that makes finance seem antiquated. Here are some pieces of advice that I give to those looking to get jobs at startups or other tech companies with a background in finance.
1) Make sure you know what you want to do and and why
I speak to people from the financial services industry who say that they want to work for a “technology company” or a “startup,” but have no idea what that means. For starters, tech is a massive industry that spans many different categories.
It’s crucial to hone in on the type of company you want to work for: are you interested in education technology? Startups with fewer than 10 people? A large social media company? Know what you want and go get it, but if you’re too general, no one will believe your story.
2) Use the product, and be passionate about it
People in tech who have contributed to building a product are extremely passionate about it and only want to hire people as passionate as they are. This is likely the reason that bankers get passed up for positions in favor of those with product experience. The best way to avoid that trap is to make sure that you are a user and really understand how the product works.
Many bankers use the excuse that because it’s blocked at work, they can’t use it. That’s no excuse! You can find time during breaks or on the weekends, and should at the very least have signed up for some of the basic features. You are extremely likely to be asked your opinion about that product in your interviews.
3) Be humble and work hard
Just because you’re a banker, doesn’t mean you know the first thing about tech. My work was with technology companies when I was in banking and I still didn’t know anything. Go in with an open mind and be prepared to be a sponge all over again.
Use the fact that you worked all of those crazy hours to your advantage. Stick with the same work ethic and you will catapult into success very quickly, plus those hours do not go unnoticed.
4) Don’t get blindsighted by the words “business development”
BD is cool – don’t get me wrong (I am obligated to say that for you, Alex), but it’s certainly not the only job one can take with a background in banking or finance. Quite frankly, a background in sales is likely more important for business development than anything else.
Use your skills to your advantage and don’t be turned off by roles that may seem to have nothing to do with your prior skillset. They come in handy eventually, trust me. Instead of focusing on buzzwords, think critically about roles that will help you fine-tune some of the skills you want to have and allow yourself to mold the job you take rather than vice-versa.
If you have experience in the financial services industry with no background in software (or hardware) engineering, other types of jobs to consider are in corporate finance, corporate development, investor relations, analyst relations, operations, sales, or a variety of other corporate strategy-type jobs.
5) Don’t discount the benefits of working for a larger, more established company
I recently read an article about the glaring lack of HR at tech companies contributing to a “brogramming” culture. It’s easy when working at a large corporation to take for granted some of the benefits and services that a larger company can offer. Just because a 10-person company has the luster of being fresh and new, remember some of the drawbacks that come with having 9 coders and yourself in an office.
Often, the transition from banking to tech can be smoothed over by moving from one established company to another. My advice is to aim for a company with more than 300 employees to ease in.
6) Stay up-to-date on the industry
Know what’s going on in the world from a perspective that isn’t the WSJ: read blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable. One of my favorite interview questions is to ask people who don’t work in tech what companies are attractive to them at the time. Bonus points if they can work in their understanding of finance to tell me why the company might be attractive from an investment standpoint.
7) Tap into your network
I simply would not have a job today if I didn’t take advantage of my network. Tech is not an industry in which you can submit your resume online and hope you get picked. There are probably 1,000 other qualified people who have submitted their resume to the same system. If you aren’t an engineer, you need someone to refer or vouch for you.
The best way to do this is to stay active on LinkedIn and keep your connections current. Don’t be shy about asking friends to introduce you to other people in the industry; definitely don’t be shy about reaching out to people blindly. If someone has a job you like, send him or her a message on LinkedIn or Google (or guess) his or her email address. Most people respond, despite what you might think.
Advice is free and I’m happy to offer it. Reach out to me @ellenjdasilva.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of a hacker-in-residence (HIR) and entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR). I think these are very cool roles at VC funds. Lots of place have them now. But I have a nagging question in the back of my mind: Can you trust an early-stage VC with your idea/biz when they have a HIR and EIR?
First off, stealing ideas is a misnomer. Ideas are valueless, it is all about execution. Anyone who says differently is either misinformed or unable to execute. But, normally when people ask if a VC will steal your idea when you pitch them, I’d say, maybe…but doubtfully. They are not in the business of building companies, they are in the business of funding companies.
BUT… with an EIR and HIR, where the EIR is actively looking to build a business at the VC and spin it off, and they have an in-house hacker that can build a prototype quickly…well now things change.
I still firmly believe VC’s are in the business of funding companies, and you shouldn’t worry too much about an EIR stealing your idea/business. EIR’s are there to give an entrepreneur’s viewpoint and help incoming business.
But listen, it’s not like it hasn’t happened before…
To me, the perfect startup idea has the following three characteristics:
1) There is a big vision about how to do something new or better.
2) There is something you can build today that realizes a piece of that grand vision. The solution has at least one foot in today, but also a half of a foot or a full foot in tomorrow (i.e. magic, think Shazam). This allows you to get some immediate traction.
3) The business is revenue-generating in some way so you don’t have to depend on others (others being investors).
What else would you add to this?
This past week in Austin, I met two crazy kids who run an app called Definer, that was built with/by Fueled. They just launched it a few hours before I met them at the Angry Bird pool party and I was really impressed with what they have going on.
Basically, Definer is a place to share new words and names for friends, places, hashtags, and phrases. I downloaded the app on the spot and must say I was laughing out loud at some of the words that people came up with. I found it a mix of Urban Dictionary, Reddit, 4chan, with the design of Instagram.
I don’t know how big this can get, but I sure as hell know it will be popular when they really unleash it. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with this.
I’ve been teaching Skillshare classes since November 2011. I think it is awesome. For me, it’s part knowledge-share, part networking. I have kept in touch with many of the people who have taken the class, and many of them have gone on to get jobs in BD at startups or start their own company.
One of the biggest things I have been asked regarding my Skillshare class is if I can come to teach in a different city. Well, I can’t, but instead, I am teaching an online hybrid Skillshare class in April. I have put the class up (here) and if you register you can get a new and improved Intro I to business development and partnerships at startups. I really hone in on the best of Intro I and break it down to the necessities.
There are 4 units, each with 4 sub-units:
1. Business Development Introduction
- 1.1 What Is Business Development?
- 1.2 Types Of Business Development (B2C, B2B, B2B2C)
- 1.3 Networking
- 1.4 Digital Identity
2. Partnerships Introduction
- 2.1 Understanding Other Companies
- 2.2 Four Golden Rules Of Partnerships
- 2.3 Prove It
- 2.4 Partner Feedback Feeding into BD
3. Rejection, Tools, And More
- 3.1 Rejection
- 3.2 Finding A Champion In A Company
- 3.3 Following Up, Reaching Out, Corresponding, Favors
- 3.4 Tools I Like
4. Pipeline, Pitching, and Closing
- 4.1 Building A Pipeline
- 4.2 Getting In Front Of Someone You Don’t Know
- 4.3 Pitching
- 4.4 Closing
At the end of the class, you’ll be tasked with building a 30, 60, 90-day plan of how to be successful in the first 90 days of your new BD role. It can be hypothetical or practical. I’ll also make time for any class taker (can’t bring myself to call them students) if they want to connect via email/skype/sit down while in NYC for a visit/etc.
If you are interested in taking the class: sign up here.
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/Xz7fRL
Let me know your thoughts!