I had dinner with my good friend and Bazaarvoice co-founder, Brant Barton, on Tuesday at the new Sway in West Lake Hills (yummy) and we talked about lessons learned in angel investing. It was on my mind as I’m doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) webinar with my good friend and often investing colleague, Josh Baer, on Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 4-5pm CT (you can sign up here). During my conversation with Brant, I distilled down to seven lessons learned (in the spirit of Lucky7, of course). Brant is reading Jason Calacanis’s book on angel investing and told me that many of these are in there (maybe all of these, I haven’t read the book), so you may want to turn to that to really dig in as I’m going to do my best to keep this post short. My hope in sharing these with you is that it ignites more angel investing in Austin - it is vital to our startup ecosystem here. We are doing better on that front in Austin than ever before, but I believe we are only scratching the surface here. And I hope these lessons have an impact beyond Austin angels and startups as well.
It has been a long time since I wrote anything on my Lucky7 blog and there is good reason for that. Back in June, I started to brainstorm my next big idea with long-time friends Jon Loyens and Matt Laessig (both of whom were amazing at Bazaarvoice and had moved on to HomeAway). Bryon Jacob (a 10-year veteran at HomeAway) soon got involved as an idea he had been thinking about was better than anything we came up with and one thing led to another until we founded data.world.
It may feel curious to my regular readers that I would jump back into the arena as the CEO of a company built from scratch. After all, our investments in startups and venture capital funds have been performing well, including a recent exit with Deep Eddy Vodka being acquired (and us subsequently investing in Clayton Christopher’s VC fund, CAVU). There are many factors that led to this calling for me:
Today is my 43rd birthday. As I think about the last year, my good friend and CEO coach, Kirk Dando, comes to mind. On page 141 of his excellent book Predictive Leadership, Kirk writes:
Life is like a record album, composed of songs to form the whole. From age 24 to 40, I had been playing the song "entrepreneur". I set a goal when I was 25 to one day found a tech company and take it public - by the time I was 40. Fifteen years later, I achieved that goal (my ultimate BHAG - "Big Hairy Audacious Goal"). Society didn't know about this very personal BHAG (only a few friends, my parents, and my wife did), and they expected me to keep playing the same song over and over again. This was natural, expected even. But as I wrote about in my "time is money or is money time" post, I was determined to step back and think deeply about my next move post being the CEO of Bazaarvoice. I didn't want to just set the same goal all over again (i.e., "now I'll found a sixth company and take it public again"). I knew I wanted to help entrepreneurs - I had always enjoyed doing so while I was at Bazaarvoice or Coremetrics but I had done so very sparingly due to the time constraints that I had (managing high-growth ventures takes a lot of time). I had love in my heart for Austin and thought I should do my part, along with many others like Josh Baer of Capital Factory, to help our scene evolve. So I jumped into that part of the arena - but in a more "grandfatherly" role as opposed to being the actual "man in the arena" (a nod to Theodore Roosevelt's powerful speech in 1910). As far as becoming an entrepreneur again and going back to that song, I had to think very deeply about it.
Today is my 43rd birthday (you can read about what I learned over the past year inmy Lucky7 post about age 42). Looking back on my last year, I've grown to really love angel investing. My wife, Debra, and I run a family office that we call Hurt Family Investments. She takes the lead on philanthropic projects, and I take the lead on startup investing. For the past two years, we've invested the same financial amount in non-profits as we have in startups. We always agree on what to invest in - she has to meet the entrepreneurs before we make a decision - and that leverages the best of both of us. Debra is a contrarian thinker and was also born to entrepreneur parents. We both learned a lot about entrepreneurship growing up, and we actually started Coremetrics, my fourth business, together. She has terrific entrepreneurial instincts and there are a number of companies that I haven't started because I listened to her (thankfully), when I was playing the song "entrepreneur" on my record of life. Now, we are involved in 34 startups (mostly in Austin) and multiple VC funds that give us exposure to at least as many additional startups (you can see our portfolio here).
With this being the season of giving and saying thanks, I wanted to share some thoughts on the right way to do it. Unfortunately, it is common in business to rush through your to-do list and quite often that means not thinking hard enough about what gift to give, especially when it comes to giving chotskies at tradeshows. In business, there is much mediocrity.
After a long and terrific family summer vacation and the resulting hiatis from Lucky7, I'm back. We spent most of the month in France (from Paris to the French Riveria), starting with a quick juant in London, complete with a very nice dinner at Coya(awesome Peruvian food) with two of our longtime Bazaarvoice London team members.
As I mentioned in my first and second Lucky7 post in this series, every startup has their t-shirts. But you can tell a lot about a company by the t-shirts they make. And so I would like to continue to take you through Bazaarvoice's history - and our culture - with the most complete collection of BV t-shirts with the possible exception of my co-founder, Brant Barton.
I'm frequently asked what blogs I follow. The truth is: not many. But if I had a new business I would most certainly be reading Andy Sernovitz's blog, Damn I Wish I'd Thought of That!, every week.
I've been lucky to work with Andy since the beginning of Bazaarvoice and he's been a great Advisory Board member for us over the years. He founded WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association a few months before Brant Barton and I founded Bazaarvoice. The founding of WOMMA and reading The Cluetrain Manifesto led me to think of the name "Bazaarvoice", which I explain in this Lucky7 post on naming your company. We gave away his brilliant book, Word of Mouth Marketing, at our first two Bazaarvoice client Summits. You can see our first two Summit t-shirts in this Lucky7 post. Andy helped us educate our clients on word of mouth marketing and was part of the inspiration around our "School of C2C Marketing".
In December of last year, I wrote a Lucky7 post about our capital efficiency at Bazaarvoice on the way to IPO.
Quoting from my post:
As I pointed out in my "Bootstrap or VC?" post, we raised around $24 million and had around $12 million left in the bank when we went public. You can build a better culture if you are capital efficient, and also have a bigger economic ripple effect. I'll write more on that some other time, but for now I'm proud we were able to scale 75% more efficiently, on average, on our own path to IPO.
This week, PandoDaily had an in-depth memo written by Ben Sesser, a serial entrepreneur, and sent to me by a friend and new startup CEO in Silicon Valley. It was written for this year's Y Combinator class and the topic was how hot SaaS (Software as a Service) is right now (therefore attracting more entrepreneurs and capital to fund them) but also how hard it is to execute on. Ben analyzed recent SaaS IPOs, including Bazaarvoice, to make his point. As our co-founder and CEO from inception through IPO, follow-on offering, and two acquisitions (PowerReviews and Longboard Media) and now as our Vice Chairman of the Board, I was proud to see him include the stats on Bazaarvoice compared to other recent SaaS IPOs. Here are three of the charts he included:
Well, what a week it has been. Speaking of my last Lucky7 post on entrepreneurship being all about the journey, this week has been a one giant leap for Austin mankind (and womenkind, of course).
First, the week started out with an amazing Austin City Limits taping with the band Phoenix playing. Debra and I are annual donors to KLRU and attend these tapings regularly. Debra was out of town for this one, though, and I took Garrett Eastham, co-founder and CEO of Compare Metrics, a company that I proudly serve as their independent Chairman of the Board of Directors. You'll be hearing a lot about this company soon (it is currently in mostly stealth mode, taking a page out of my book - see my Lucky7 post on the weighing whether to be stealthy or not), and I'm having a blast working with them. Here is a photo of Garrett and I at the show. Phoenix was one of the best tapings I've seen - right up there with Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, and The Lumineers.