Monthly Archives: April 2008

Our Economy Sucks, Raise More Money Now

Our subprime mess is very much underway and the economy is suffering from that and a host of other issues. When consumers feel the pinch, that means they buy less, and companies don’t make as much money, and then they spend less on advertising and also on acquisitions. This is important to both startups and us investors: consumers spend less, so they are less willing to buy products and services from a company. Companies spend less and then they slowdown their advertising spend. Stats show that advertisers will maintain their online ad budgets when compared to offline budgets (woe to offline operations who are heavily dependent on advertising for revenue), but I can’t help but wonder how much online advertising could have grown MORE if our economy wasn’t so bad. Last as companies pull back and preserve cash, they will be less likely to acquire all these nice startups that we’re working on now. Granted, the wiser and the more resourced companies will actually go on a buying spree, but they’ll be after the startups at super cheap prices since they’ll be lower performing towards the end of the year as revenues become tougher. Beware the corporate development folks who seem to slow down a bit; they’re just waiting for you to go through your cash reserves and get to a more desperate place by end of year and snap you up at a discount!
When I meet startups, I am now telling them to raise more than they were thinking. I try to get them to run the numbers and to figure out how to survive until at least the second half of 2009, or further if possible. I want them to survive through the economic downturn and not be dependent on additional money until then. I tell them to expect that any revenue projections will be missed towards the end of this year, and advise them that if they try to raise money on poor metrics AND they have run out of money, they will have an extremely hard time doing it.
A lot of entrepreneurs are still coming to me with raising $100k-$300k in their plans. Then I try to convince them of the economic issues and that unless you can survive for 1.5 years on $300k, you’d better change the plan. Not all of them listen though. It will be interesting to see if I am right. To me, you should be at least $500k, even better upwards of $1-1.5MM, whereas in a decent economy, you could get by with $300k-$1MM.
Some of them only want to survive 6-9 months to get a prototype up and raise money on that. In a better economy, I would say that this is not a bad scenario. However, in today’s world, I tell them that if they are getting traction on an idea in investors’ eyes, that they should leverage that inertia and get more money now. If they build a prototype and are not gaining traction in a down economy, it’s only going to show that you could not gain traction and investors be much less likely to participate as they look for positive metrics. It’s much better to raise money on a beta and/or the idea and get as much money as you can now, and to plan on survival on minimal or no revenues for 1.5 years.
Another issue with the 6-9 month plan: August and the holidays. Running out of money by August really sucks for fund raising. This is because the venture community goes on summer vacation and it’s nearly impossible to find someone to get a meeting. You have to wait until they all get back in September. Then you have about a two month window everyone gets distracted once again because it’s Thanksgiving and then Christmas. From about mid-November to first/second week of January, the venture community goes on vacation, peoples’ minds are on the holidays and families and not on funding you.
If you’re an entrepreneur reading this now: raise more cash than you think, expect that any revenue projections you have will be missed, and try to plan to survive on minimal or no revenues until at least the latter half of 2009, and raise all that money now while you have investor inertia.

Intuition, Gut Feel, and Seduction

A little while back I sat with another experienced angel investor and the topic of gut feel came up, as it relates to angel investing.
It was funny for both of us that for all the analysis we can do on a new startup’s prospects, that if our gut said no, we’d not invest. How interesting to use such a undefined force and feeling to make such a prominent decision!
After I left Yahoo, I resolved to develop and listen to my intuition more. I really searched down deep inside myself and really tried to become sensitive to the most minute feelings that emerged about anything. I trained myself to be acutely aware of the good and the bad, and those nagging feelings of doubt or uncertainty. Then, once I could identify those feelings, then I told myself that I would act on them and never ignore them. This is because in the past, I feel that I have ignored my intuition and this has resulted in me getting into some really bad situations.
When I meet an entrepreneur for the first time, my intuition is on high alert. I search my feelings as I hear them talk to me about their business. I not only attune myself to pitch he is presenting, but also to who he is. Is there elation on the idea or some nagging uncertainty? Do I feel this person is trustworthy or not? These and more.
However, what can stymie intuition in the world of angel investing is seduction. This is when the pitch and/or the person delivers such an incredible perceived opportunity that it’s like seeing the hottest, sexiest woman walk into a bar and you just can’t resist. You’re hooked emotionally and you’re already reaching for your checkbook. Somehow, the seducer has blown past all your defenses and even your intuition seems suckered.
This happened to me in a pitch not too long ago. The pitch was perfect. It was seductive. It claimed solving so many problems and the benefits and monetization were straightforward. The team was experienced and veterans of the Internet, so no problem on solving any kind of technical challenge. But I countered by saying to myself that hottest, sexiest woman is still a person despite what we perceive is her perfection, and thus means she can’t be perfect since she is only human. Thus, for this pitch, however sexy it was, I refused to fall under its spell and viewed it with objective eyes. I brought my intuition back online and ultimately felt too uneasy about it to participate.
Walk away from that hot, sexy woman – hardest thing you can do sometimes.
Avoiding seduction is crucial. We have to train ourselves to not fall under the witch’s spell and view the entrepreneur and the opportunity with objective eyes.
This brings back the clarity of our gut and intuition, which we must cultivate to make sure we are not doing something that we’re not comfortable with.
In Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, he doesn’t like using the word intuition but instead he calls it a form of unbelievably quick thinking. For me, it’s both. It’s both the gut, the emotional aspect of immediate, primal reaction to something, and the incredibly rapid thought that allows us to make an instantaneous decision. One is cultivated within ourselves and our feelings, the other via years of experience in dealing in a certain area of expertise.
What does it mean exactly when we pass on an opportunity via gut feel?
Just because we pass on an idea does not mean that we think an idea will fail. It might actually succeed. However, I do believe that it truly means that we are not the right people to be involved and that our gut is telling us that, given who we are, how we work, etc, that this project is not right for us.
For the entrepreneur that gets passed due to gut feel, don’t feel bad. In the end, it will be better if we didn’t work together. Go and be successful, but just with someone else.