My good friend and the founder of Capital Factory, Josh Baer, wrote a post last year saying that he will invest in your B2C startup. Well, so will we. We wrote the first check for ROIKOI, which went on to raise well over $1 million, and also made investments in Bigwig Games, Blue Avocado, Deep Eddy Vodka, Dropoff, and Threadover the past two years. We were also one of the first checks for Wisecrack, but that is based in Los Angeles, and invested in the Series A for talklocal, based in DC. And we are investors in several venture capital funds, including Lead Edge Capital, which holds early positions in Alibaba Group, BlaBlaCar, and other large-outcome B2C companies but these are not in Austin so I guess I'm diverging from my point of this post. In any case, that is a total of eight B2C company investments (if you include Wisecrack and talklocal) out of a total of 33 startups we are involved with, representing 24% of our portfolio (and 18% if you exclude Wisecrack and talklocal).Real Massive also has a kind of B2C dynamic, even though it is B2B, so maybe I should count them too as they are Austin-based. But our primary focus is SaaS, for which we have holdings in 19 startups (57% of our portfolio). Both Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics were/are SaaS businesses and we have the most experience to bring to that category. SaaS is also far less risky than B2C, and that brings me to the real point of this post.
This is part one of a three-part series on entrepreneurship. The parts:
- 'Is it too late for me to start my own business?', and other sheepish questions
- Who this new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs are and the new Golden Age of tech (Lucky7 post)
- How I define the soul of entrepreneurs: you change the world (Lucky7 post)
It's March of 2013 and I'm at Wharton serving as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence when I get a question that baffles me. I'm speaking at the Penn Founders' Club, where all University of Pennsylvania students are welcome as long as they are fervently working on a real business while they are in school. I've just wrapped up my opening comments and it is time for Q&A. The baffling question: "Have all of the really big ideas already been thought of?". I couldn't believe it when I could see the student was being serious and not just pulling my leg, and I was fired up. I passionately describe how the world always needs entrepreneurs to drive it forward, and there are always ideas - everywhere - if you just look hard to find them. I talk about how I just read the book Abundance, wrote the longest book review of my life on it at Lucky7, and there are thousands of great ideas in the book for entrepreneurs to solve the world's biggest problems. A few months later, Waze gets bought for $966 million by Google. A few months after that, Snapchat gets a rumored $3 billion offer from Facebook, which I wrote about in this Lucky7 post on valuations. And then almost a year after receiving that question at Penn, WhatsApp gets a firm acquisition offer of $19 billion from Facebook, one month after Google buys Nest for $3.2 billion.
I joined the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin as Entrepreneur-in-Residence this past semester. I kicked it off with a speech to the entering MBA class about the top-ten lessons I wished someone had taught me when I was beginning my MBA. I have very much enjoyed my first semester in this capacity and the entrepreneurial energy on campus is really fantastic. There is no doubt a huge trend towards entrepreneurship at most top-ranked universities and U.T. Austin is leading the way in one of the most entrepreneurial cities and states in our nation. Consider that Texas has created 70% of the new jobs in the U.S. since 2005, as reported by BBVA Compass, and you start to tune in a bit more into what is happening here. Compared to when I attended U.T. Austin from 1990-1994, where entrepreneurship was hard to find, every major college at U.T. now has its own entrepreneurial club and initiatives. In my Office Hours, I have met with over a hundred students who have either launched their own business while at the University or they are actively planning on doing that at some early point in their career (I didn't become an entrepreneur myself until I was 24 and beginning my MBA, so I tell them I was a "late bloomer").
For all of us Austin fans, I'm talking about Cotter Cunningham, the founder and CEO of RetailMeNot. Last night, Cotter was one of our keynote speakers, along with Mark Cuban, at the University of Texas for Longhorn Startup Demo Day (the event was just fantastic, by the way, and Josh Baer, Ben Dyer, and Bob Metcalfe deserve a huge round of applause for it).
As of today, RetailMeNot is worth $1.33 billion as a public company (it went public in July and just filed for a follow-on offering). It is just four years old - for a value creation of $333 million per year. Who says Austin can't do B2C now? HomeAway is another one of our five tech IPOs in the last five years. It is worth $3.4 billion today as a public company (it went public in 2011). It is just nine years old. Yes, we haven't produced a Facebook or Twitter size outcome - there needs to be a higher volume of failures (entrepreneurial experiements) to do that, but don't forget we did produce a Dell, a National Instruments, and a Whole Foods.
Today, Compare Metrics announced their Series A funding from Austin Ventures. You can read about it in the Austin American-Statesman article or the Compare Metricspress release. The company is still largely in stealth mode, as you can see from their website. This is something we talked about since I backed the company as an angel investor and Garrett Eastham, co-founder and CEO, read my Lucky7 post on whether to be stealthy or not and took it to heart.
I'm very proud of the team in reaching this major milestone, and I look forward to continuing to serve as the independent Chairman of the Board. If you read aboutGarrett's background, you'll see that he was meant to found this company. Whenever I'm investing, I always value whether or not the founders are destined for their business background wise. Garrett is one of those guys, and I hope you get the chance to meet him soon and experience his passion first-hand. His leadership team is also stellar and I've had the pleasure of working with Chris Richter (VP of Sales), Lisa Roberts (VP of Marketing), and Joel Knight (VP of Client Services) as leaders in the early years at Bazaarvoice. Garrett also worked at Bazaarvoice and was one of our best.
We are at the tail-end of RISE week here in beautiful Austin. If I was an aspiring entrepreneur, I would take a vacation during RISE week and attend as many sessions as I could. I was happy to do my part and present on fundraising both Monday at Austin Ventures as well as Tuesday along with panelists from CTAN (the Central Texas Angel Network). And, overall, it has been another great week for Austin, with TechStars announcing their launch, which I wrote about in this Lucky7 post.
Well here we are the week after with more incredibly exciting news. Yesterday, TechStars launched in Austin. They are the leading brand and one of the most recognized accelerators for the brightest technology entrepreneurs. This is a big shot in the arm for the Austin technology market - nearly every tech-centric U.S. city aspires to have TechStars in their community. Their Austin program, which starts in August, will add approximately 10 talented teams annually to our already vibrant tech scene. At Austin Ventures, we have gotten to know the TechStars organization over the years and we are very fortunate to have Jason Seats, a former successful entrepreneur, move to Austin and run the program. Mike Dodd from Austin Ventures especially deserves a lot of credit here. TechStars Austin will be a great compliment to the other flourishing Austin based accelerators, including Capital Factory, where TechStars Austin will actually be located in an alliance between the two. Great companies like SendGrid and Cloudability were propped up by TechStars.
Lori Hawkins, the business reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, interviewed me last week for an article that ran in the Sunday newspaper. I spent a lot of time with her on this - she is typically very diligent, and that is something that I've appreciated as an entrepreneur and now entrepreneurial catalyst and investor in Austin. She probably spent four hours with me on the article she wrote about my school-of-hard-knocks journey at Coremetrics to get it right.
This interview was full of advice for entrepreneurs and got a lot of attention. However, it had to fit the space constraints of the newspaper and came in around 1,000 words. So here's what you missed - a Director's cut, or a b-side if you choose. I've pasted the article in full below with quotes and filled in the additional content, which is not marked by quotes.
SXSW has long come and gone in this beautiful city - that was, like, weeks ago! Like years past, it reached more epic heights this year and companies and investors were spending more on gaining attention than ever before. And with SXSW, the typical, "how is Austin doing at tech entrepreneurship?" question was asked again and again. But out of all of the articles written, the one that I personally heard the most about was this one by PandoDaily: "Will the Austin startup ecosystem ever live up to its promise?"". It stirred me up to read it, no doubt. And it lead me to write this post to share my own thoughts - as an insider - on the state of tech entrepreneurship in Austin.
As I've gotten more ramped up here at Austin Ventures, I've learned a lot about the "other side" of entrepreneurship. I've known the world of a founder for the first half of my life (I'm 41 now), and I've started five companies, including Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics. But I've never been on the other side of the table as an investor and been a part of the closed discussions that occur after founders make their best case to an investment committee. What I've learned is really eye-opening and is helping me put a lot of patterns together (this is called "pattern recognition" in the investing world).