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.
This past weekend was a very proud one for me and Debra as parents. Our daughter, Rachel Leah Hurt, became a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday. Her Torah portion, Parshat Beshalach (Song of the Sea), was an especially challenging one and she read it just perfectly. This took her hundreds of hours of study in 2017 (and she had an amazing teacher in Nancyellen Seiden). Alongside this study, she also wrote her first book, Guardians of the Forest, which also took hundreds of hours in 2017. It is a truly beautiful book for children ages 6-14 and I know she would appreciate it if you bought a copy at that link. And, during all of this, Rachel made all top grades at her middle school (including in all of the AP classes that she can take). I truly consider my most important job in life to be a good parent. I have had many influences in this regard, including my own parents (Lucky7 is named in tribute to my mom), Debra's parents, and even my friend Michael Dell, who has had a hugely positive influence on his children, including the one I know best, Zachary (watch him become an extraordinary entrepreneur one day). I'll write a blog post on parenting one day, but I certainly don't want you to think I've got it all figured out. In many ways, to be a good parent is more challenging than starting a company and I'm certainly trying my best. It requires constant work (and innovation), but I digress.
I woke up this early this morning, around 4:40am, thinking about this past weekend. There were some good leadership lessons in this Torah portion, especially the one given by Nachshon ben Aminadav. Nachshon is certainly a lesser known figure in the Parting of the Red Sea, especially as compared to Moses. To that end, I would love to share with you a portion of Rachel's speech, given by her after she read from the Torah. And I would love to hear your stories of where either you've been a Nachshon or you've seen someone close to you be a Nachshon. We all know the stories of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, MLK Jr., and many other incredible leaders throughout history. But who are the lesser known figures that took the first actions to show the rest? Please share those much lesser known stories with me (and all of the Lucky7 readers) in your comments below - it would be a lot of fun to get a dialogue going about this.
It was an honor on Saturday to be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2015 MSTC (Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization) graduates at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the graduates, Rainya Mosher was kind enough to summarize her takeaways from my speech in her blog post and the full text of the speech follows:
Sometimes startups we meet with (I've personally seen over 1,000 pitches in the last two years) talk about their network effect in a hopeful way. But most of the time it is just that - hope, and hope is not a strategy. But Bazaarvoice actually has a working network effect that benefits all participants: retailers, brands that sell through those retailers, consumers that shop at those brands and retailers, and Bazaarvoice and some of its partners. In other words, the more participants that are on the Bazaarvoice network, the great the effect of that network for the benefit of all. I wrote about this in detail in my first annual shareholders letter after Bazaarvoice became a public company.
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.
When I was an undergrad student at the University of Texas at Austin I very much wanted to become an entrepreneur. During those years (1990-1994), however, there was almost no support for entrepreneurship at the University. I didn't feel "developed" enough to pursue my dream, so I decided to go into consulting instead and became an entrepreneur a few years later, while I was earning my MBA.
In September 2013, I began my tenure as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Texas at Austin. I was proud to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, who taught at UT Austin his entire career. Instead of imposing what I thought the community would be need during my time as EIR, I took a lesson from building Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics. I created a team of four very influential and entrepreneurial student leaders and asked, “What does the student entrepreneur community need?”. The four were Taylor Barnett, Verick Cornett, Dan Driscoll, and Jonathan Van. We became the “Office of the EIR”. Nick Spiller joined our team later and right after graduation he joined UT to continue the charge as an entrepreneurial catalyst across the school.
I joined the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the beginning of the 2013-2014 academic year. Yesterday marked my last day in this role. 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 loved serving the University and it's students in this capacity. The entrepreneurial energy on campus is really fantastic and very encouraging for the future of both Austin and our nation at large. 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 met with hundreds of 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.
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.