Should I Leave A Voicemail?

By Doyle Slayton

I spent the early part of my sales career believing that leaving voicemail messages was a waste of time. Why? Because return phone calls are rare, and I preferred calling multiple times until I finally got a voice-to-voice connection with the decision maker. I felt like it kept me in control of the follow up process, and it was the most efficient way to crank out more calls throughout the day. I figured I’d save 15+ seconds per call by not leaving messages.

But the game has changed, prospects are hiding behind caller id and aren't answering their phone. No matter how often or what time of day, they just aren’t answering. When I call over and over again and never get an answer, it’s like spinning my wheels. So it got me thinking, “Am I really in control?” and “Am I really being more efficient?” I realized, if I’m going to regain control and gain traction over time, I have to leave messages.

So much of sales is about maintaining perspective. The goal of a voicemail is not to get a call back. The goal, is to be remembered. Here are seven reasons to leave a message...

Build Awareness

Leaving a message lets my prospect know that I exist. Leaving a message plants a seed. It is the first step in opening the door. The prospect knows, I have value added ideas, and I’m going to be searching for an opportunity to connect.

Generate Interest

One thing is certain, my prospect is getting hammered with sales calls all day long. That's why they aren’t answering their phone. Voicemail acts as a filter where sales people move themselves into or out of the picture.Leaving a message puts me in the game!

Introduce an Alternative

When calling on qualified prospects, they're looking for new solutions, upgrades, and alternatives. They might be in a meeting discussing options right now. Your messaging positions you as a viable option. There is nothing worse than finally getting the decision maker on the phone after months of calling and hearing, “Actually, we just signed on with one of your competitors.” That’s when you think, “dang, I should have left a message.”

Create an Opportunity

Most prospects knee jerk response is to say, “I'm not interested… we’re fine where we are.” Click... “Wait a minute!” you think, “I haven’t even said anything.” What good is it to finally get someone on the phone if they are going to hang up as soon as they realize you're a sales person? A series of strategic, targeted messages creates the opportunity for a welcomed conversation when they finally answer the phone.

Establish Credibility

One way to differentiate yourself is to consistently follow-up. While your competition is not following through, not using their CRM to build a pipeline, and turning over sales people left and right, you have to be the consistent consultative voice breaking through all the noise.

Demonstrate Expertise

Every voicemail you leave and every email you send should demonstrate that you are an industry expert. You understand your prospect's business challenges. You know how to solve their problems. You have experience and data to prove your abilities. Share value added, solution building content from your latest blog posts, white papers, case studies, etc.

Gain Influence

You need to have multiple influencers within the company, for example, leave messages for the CFO, Controller, and Director of XYZ. Let them to know you just left a message for their colleague. The goal is to have them sitting in a meeting or conversing over lunch about a problem and all of a sudden your name comes up!

A messaging strategy has to include a very specific set of five to eight targeted voicemail and email messages to leave and send over time. When you're dealing with targets that are difficult to reach, you have to prepare for a long term attack!

Here is What it Actually Takes to Make it as an Entrepreneur

By Vivek Wadhwa

A young male who was born to be an entrepreneur drops out from a computer-science program at a prestigious university. He meets a powerful venture capitalist who is so enamored with his idea that he gives him millions of dollars to build his technology. Then comes the multi-billion-dollar IPO.

That’s the Hollywood version of Silicon Valley. But it is as far from reality as is Disneyland. Entrepreneurship is never that easy and the stereotype of the startup founder is not representative of the technology world. Yes, there are a few, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who made it big. But they are the outliers—and they too don’t fit the stereotype. Here are six myths about what it actually takes to make it:

1. Entrepreneurs are a product of nature.

A common belief is that entrepreneurs are born and cannot be made. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson once said that he was shocked when a professor told him you could teach people to be entrepreneurs. He explained, “I’ve been working with entrepreneurs for almost 25 years now and it is ingrained in my mind that someone is either born an entrepreneur or is not.” Venture capitalist Mark Suster, with whom I once had a fierce debate on this topic, maintained the same.

They’re wrong. My research team found that, of the 549 successful entrepreneurs that we surveyed in 2009, 52 percent were the first in their immediate families to start a business; about 39 percent had an entrepreneurial father and 7 percent had an entrepreneurial mother. (Some had both.) Only a quarter of the sample had caught the entrepreneurial bug when in college. Half didn’t even think about entrepreneurship then, and they had had little interest in it when in school.

This sample doesn’t necessarily prove my point. But look at some of most successful entrepreneurs that we know: Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Jan Koum. They didn’t come from entrepreneurial families. Their parents were dentists, academics, lawyers, factory workers, or priests. I doubt they were writing business plans while in kindergarten or selling lemonade in grade school.

I know many ordinary entrepreneurs who also didn’t sell lemonade. I myself come from a family of government bureaucrats and teachers. I started my career as an I.T. professional and never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. But when I was 33, the opportunity presented itself to me to start a company that could impact the world. I made the leap and helped build a business that generated $120 million in annual revenue.

Silicon Valley luminary Steve Blank, who moderated my debate with Suster, adds another perspective. He says “Change the external culture and environment, and entrepreneurship can bloom regardless of its source—nature or nurture”. He’s right. Entrepreneurship flourishes in places where people can learn from and inspire one another, such as Silicon Valley and New York City.

2. The best entrepreneurs are young. If you’re over 35, you’re over the hill.

Silicon Valley investors openly tout their preference for younger entrepreneurs. One famous investor said, “People under 35 are the ones who make change happen … people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

My research teams documented that the average and median age of successful technology company founders when they started their companies had been 40. We learned that as many had been older than fifty as had been younger than twenty-five; twice as many had been over sixty as under twenty. Seventy percent were married when they launched their first business; an additional 5.2 percent were divorced, separated, or widowed. Sixty percent had had at least one child, and 43.5 percent had had two or more children. The Kauffman Foundation also researched the backgrounds of successful entrepreneurs and found similar results.

On a post on Quora, Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp—the most expensive technology acquisition ever—wrote “i incorporated WhatsApp on the day of my 33rd birthday. i had no idea i only had 2 years left.”

Look closer at the technology industry, and you will realize that VCs who say that older entrepreneurs are over the hill are misguided. For example, Marc Benioff was 35 when he founded Salesforce.com and Reid Hoffman was 36 when he founded LinkedIn. Reed Hastings was 37 when he founded Netflix; Mark Pincus was 41 when he started Zynga. Pradeep Sindhu was 42 when he founded Juniper Networks and Irwin Jacobs was 52 when he founded Qualcomm.

3. Dropping out is the way to go; education is merely a distraction.

PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel made headlines when he announced four years ago that he would pay students $100,000 to drop out of college. He wanted to prove that higher education is overpriced and unnecessary; that budding entrepreneurs are better off in building world-changing companies than in studying irrelevant courses in school.

His effort proved to be a dismal failure. Some Thiel startups received big media attention and adulation—such as one that announced it would be producing caffeine spray. But none were the successes that had been promised.

The Thiel Foundation quietly refocused its efforts on providing an alternative form of education to college dropouts, and several of its sponsored dropouts returned to school. That’s because there is no substitute for education. Yes, there are good alternatives to universities, but entrepreneurs need to learn the basics of business and management in order to succeed.

Indeed, my research team found that, on average, companies founded by college graduates have twice the sales and employment of companies founded by people who hadn’t gone to college. What matters is that the entrepreneur completes a baseline of education; the field of education and ranking of the college don’t play a significant role in entrepreneurial success. Founder education reduces business failure rates and increases profits, sales and employment.

4. Female entrepreneurs don’t have what it takes to cut it in the tech world.

Women-founded firms receive hardly any venture-capital investments; they are almost absent in high-level technology positions; they contribute to fewer than 5 percent of all I.T. patents and 1.2 percent of open-source software programs. This is despite the facts that girls now match boys in mathematical achievement; that 140 women enroll in higher education for every 100 men; and that women earn more than 50 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees and nearly 50 percent of all doctorates in the United States.

Do female founders receive less VC backing because women are different? Not at all. Research by National Center for Women & Information Technology revealed that there are almost no differences in success factors between men and women company founders. Men and women are equally likely to have children at home when they start their businesses, though men are more likely to be married. Both sexes have exactly the same motivations; are of the same age when founding their startups; have similar levels of experience; and equally enjoy the startup culture.

It’s also not that women can’t cut it in the rough and tough business world. Women-led companies are more capital-efficient, and venture-backed companies run by a woman have 12 percent higher revenues, than others.

5. Entrepreneurship requires venture capital.

Many would-be entrepreneurs write business plans in the hope of finding a venture capitalist to invest in them, believing that, without this funding, they can’t start a company. And that view reflected reality a few years ago. Then, capital costs for technology were in the millions of dollars. But that is no longer the case.

A $500 laptop has more computing power today than Cray 2 supercomputers that cost $17.5 million in 1985. For storage, back then, you needed server farms and racks of hard disks, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and required air-conditioned data centers. Today, one can use cloud computing and cloud storage, costing practically nothing.

Sensors such as those in our smartphones cost tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago. Now they too cost a few dollars or cents. Entrepreneurs can build smartphone apps that act as medical assistants to detect disease; body sensors that monitor heart, brain, and body activity; and technologies to detect soil humidity and improve agriculture. And they can participate in the genomics revolution. It cost $100 million to sequence a full human genome a decade ago. It now costs $1,000. Genome data will soon be available on millions of people, and then billions—allowing entrepreneurs to research the causes of disease.

There are similar advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and many other fields. These technologies too require no major capital outlays.

Venture capital follows innovation. If entrepreneurs build new technologies that customers need or love, money will come to them. They don’t need to wait for venture funding to start.

6. The tech world is for techies.

A common belief is that startup CEOs need to be engineers. Bill Gates argues that liberal-arts degrees don’t correlate well with job creation and that the humanities should be defunded in favor of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. In Silicon Valley, there is a general bias against liberal arts and humanities. It is very hard for an artist or an English or psychology major to break in.

But note what Steve Jobs said when he unveiled the iPad 2: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.” He taught the world that, though good engineering is important, what matters the most is good design. It takes artists, musicians, and psychologists working side by side with engineers to build products as elegant as the iPad. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools, but it’s much harder to turn engineers into artists.

My research at Duke and Harvard looked into the educational backgrounds of 652 U.S.-born chief executive officers and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies in 2008. We found that only 37 percent held degrees in engineering or computer technology, and that just two percent held them in mathematics. The rest had degrees in fields as diverse as business, accounting, finance, health care, and arts and the humanities.

Critical thinking, communication, and scientific validation are skills that are in short supply in the tech world. And these are skills that are abundant in the humanities.

22 Qualities of Entrepreneurs Likely to Fail

By Jeff Haden

I'm not an angel investor.

Nor am I likely to be providing venture capital anytime soon. So you would think reading a comprehensive guide to angel investing would be of little interest to me.

In fact, often the best way to approach a situation is from a totally different perspective. Say you want to build a thriving business. You could list everything you think is important in founding, building, and maintaining a startup, and build your company that way.

Or you could focus on what experienced investors look for--not because you want to attract outside capital, but because you want to evaluate the same key qualities an experienced investor looks for when deciding whether a business merits his or her money.

In other words, build a company that has all the qualities a successful angel looks for... and you've probably built a company with real legs.

The same approach can apply to you, the founder.

As David S. Rose, the CEO of Gust and the founder of New York Angels, says in Angel Investing: The Gust Guide to Making Money & Having Fun Investing in Startups:

"The number one thing I look at when making a startup investment is the quality of the entrepreneur. In this, I--and a majority of professional angel investors--follow the old adage: 'Bet the jockey, not the horse.' A great entrepreneur--especially one backed by an outstanding team--can tweak, improve and refocus a business idea as needed, while a mediocre entrepreneur is likely to ruin the promise of a brilliant business concept. If I have to choose between a great business idea and a great entrepreneur, I'll take the entrepreneur every time."

So what about you? Do you have all the qualities a successful angel looks for in an entrepreneur?

There's no need to guess. Although in the book, David describes certain behaviors of great entrepreneurs, he also lists a number of warning signs.

See if any of these apply to you:

  • Perceived lack of integrity
  • Unrealistic assessment of market size
  • Unrealistic assessment of competitive offerings
  • Unrealistic assessment of competitive advantages
  • Unrealistic assessment of execution challenges
  • Unrealistic assessment of execution costs
  • Unrealistic assessment of timing
  • Unrealistic financial projections
  • Unrealistic valuation expectations
  • Unrealistic declarative statements
  • Unrealistic fundamental business idea
  • Lack of execution track record
  • Lack of domain expertise
  • Lack of technical expertise
  • Lack of long-term vision
  • Lack of historical knowledge of the market space
  • Lack of perceived leadership capability
  • Lack of perceived communication skills
  • Lack of necessary operational skills on the management team
  • Lack of perceived ability to grow with the company
  • Lack of perceived willingness to accept advice or mentorship
  • Lack of carefully considered go-to-market strategy

Of course, you might say, "Wait. I don't plan to seek investors. So an inability to communicate effectively with potential investors is a nonissue."  Of course, you'd also be wrong; although communicating with investors may not be important, communicating with everyone else--employees, customers, vendors, etc.--is definitely important. Any entrepreneur who lacks solid communication skills is working at a huge disadvantage.

The same is true for all the other items on David's list of warning signs. If you can't lead, then your employees can't follow. If you can't grow with your business, then your business can't grow. If you can't identify and leverage your real (not imagined) competitive advantages, then you can't compete.

And although you think you may never be an angel investor, you already are, because you've invested in your business.

Viewing entrepreneurship and your business from a different perspective--especially an experienced perspective--is incredibly valuable, because it can help you identify weaknesses you must overcome...and just as important, strengths you can leverage.

The Art of Evangelism

By Guy Kawasaki

A long time ago I was a revolutionary at Apple. My job title was “software evangelist.” My responsibility was to evangelize Macintosh to software developers. Later my title was “chief evangelist,” and my responsibility was to evangelize Macintosh to anyone who wanted to increase productivity and creativity.

The Art of Evangelism

Post Apple, I’ve been many things: author, speaker, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, advisor, and father, but I’ve never used the title “chief evangelist” until today. This is because the title only works if your product can change the world—or at least a significant part of it.

Macintosh changed the world. It democratized computers. Google changed the world. It democratized information. eBay changed the world. It democratized commerce. After  two decades of looking, I found Canva. It can change the world by democratizing design, and that’s why I’m now chief evangelist of Canva.

Company vs Meaning

We’re big believers in “content marketing” at Canva. It means providing information that’s valuable to our readers and customers. We define “valuable” as something that you can make your life better as opposed to increasing our sales or profits. In this spirit, I’d like to explain how to evangelize a product or service.

1. Make it great.

It’s very hard to evangelize crap. It’s much easier to evangelize great stuff. I learned that the starting point of evangelism is a great product or service. Great stuff embodies five qualities:

  • Deep. This means your product or service has lots of features because you’ve anticipated what people need as they come up the power curve.
  • Intelligent. When people use your product or service, they see that someone smart understood their problem or pain.
  • Complete. A complete product is surrounded with everything you need. For example, great software is not just the downloadable file. It’s also the documentation, support, and string of enhancements.
  • Empowering. A product or service empowers people because it makes them better. Great stuff doesn’t fight you—it becomes one with you.
  • Elegant. This means that your product or service is not just functional, it’s also well-designed so that people could use it easily and quickly.

2. Position it as a “cause.”

A product or service, no matter how great, is a collection of parts or snippets of code. A “cause,” by contrast, changes lives. It’s not enough to make a great product or service—you also need to position it and explain it as a way to improve lives. Steve Jobs didn’t position an iPhone as $188 worth of parts. Evangelists need to seize the moral high ground and transcend the exchange of money for goods and services. 

3. Love the cause.

“Evangelist” isn’t a job title. It’s a way of life. It means that evangelists must love what they evangelize. No matter how great the person, if he doesn’t love the cause, he cannot be a good evangelist for it. If you don’t love it, don’t evangelize it. This has hiring implications too: a good education and relevant work experience are not sufficient. It’s just as important that an evangelist loves the product or service.


Evangelist Isn't a Job Title

4. Localize the pitch.

Don’t describe your product using lofty, flowery terms like “revolutionary,” “paradigm shifting,” and “curve jumping.” Macintosh wasn’t “the third paradigm in personal computing.” It simply (and powerfully) increased the productivity and creativity of one person with one computer. People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives, so localize the pitch and keep it simple.

 

5. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists.

It is very hard to convert someone to a new religion when he worships another god. The hardest person to convert to Macintosh was someone who worshipped MS-DOS. The easiest person was someone who never used a personal computer before. If a person doesn’t “get” your product or service after fifteen minutes, cut your losses and move on.

 

6. Let people test drive the cause.

Evangelists believe that their potential customers are smart. Therefore, they don’t bludgeon them with ads and promotions. Instead they provide ways for people to “test drive” their products and then decide for themselves. Evangelists believe that their products are good—so good that they’re not afraid of enabling people to try before they buy.

7. Learn to give a demo.

“Evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron. If you can’t give a great demo of your product or service, you cannot be an evangelist for it. Demoing should be as second nature, even involuntary, as breathing. This is what made Steve Jobs the world’s greatest evangelist for Apple’s products.

Learn to Give a Demo

 

8. Provide a safe, easy first step.

The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope, so remove all the barriers. Examples: 1) revamping an entire IT infrastructure shouldn’t be necessary to try a new computer; chaining yourself to a tree shouldn’t be necessary to join an environmental group; and 3) speaking a foreign language and owning a special keyboard shouldn’t be necessary to register for a website.

9. Ignore titles and pedigrees.

Elitism is the enemy of evangelism. If you want to succeed as an evangelist, ignore people’s titles and pedigrees, accept people as they are, and treat everyone with respect and kindness. My experience is that a secretary, administrative aide, intern, part-timer, or trainee is more likely to embrace new products and services than a CXO or vice-president.

10. Never lie.

Lying is morally and ethically wrong. It also takes more energy because when you lie, it’s necessary to keep track of what you said. If you always tell the truth, then there’s nothing to keep track of. Evangelists evangelize great stuff, so they don’t have to lie about features and benefits, and evangelists know their stuff, so they never have to lie to cover their ignorance.

11. Remember your friends.

Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down. One of the most likely people to buy a Macintosh was an Apple II owner. One of the most likely people to buy an iPod was a Macintosh owner. One of the most likely people to buy whatever Apple puts out next is an iPhone owner. And so it goes, so remember your friends.

Be Nice to People on the Way Up

12. Conclusion

People often ask me what the difference is between evangelist and salesperson. Here’s the answer. A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart: “Try this because it will help you.” Keep this difference in mind, and you’ll be on the right track.

Wisdoms from the HOW Design Live Conference

I had the opportunity to attend the HOW Design Live Conference in Boston last week and must say that it was beyond anything I had expected. The quality of speakers, workshops and the genuine interactions that happened were unbelievable and it was truly a blessing to be able to attend.

The following are some key highlights from various speakers from the conference. Let these words inspire you to create something amazing and be different!

On finding success over failure:

Stanley Hainsworth said, "The most success I had in my career was when I took on things that I was not asked to do." 

Maria Popova said: "No specific routine guarantees success, just show up, day in and day out to achieve success." 

Christine Mau said: "Playing to not lose is not the same as playing to win. As a designer, play to win." 

On what the role of designers is today:

Malcolm Gladwell said: "Designers introduce balance into the way we see things by providing a new perspective." 

Dan Pink said: "Access to information has been replaced by curating information. Data is cheap; Value is in designing for focus and knowledge." 

Of course: Bob Gill said: "Go to the Dry Cleaners!" in other words get out from behind your computers and experience the products and services you are designing for. The answer is not in your head or your computer screen. 

Certainly the theme of making things was a big one. I do not have an example of this but lots of speakers touched on why you need to turn your inspiration into stuff and be creating frequently. 

On learning:

Dana Tanamachi Williams said: "It is what you learn after you already know it all – that really counts." 

And finally, Seth Godin said: "Design thrives when a human being wants to create work that, at its core, touches another."

Why You Should Always Make The First Offer In A Negotiation

Contrary to the commonly held wisdom, people who make the opening offer in a negotiation have the upper hand.

The advantage is owed to something psychologists call the anchoring principle. It's a cognitive bias where people rely too much on the first piece of information they have.

In a salary negotiation, for example, whoever makes the first offer establishes the range of possible variation from that anchor. If you start high, the hiring manager may adjust the figure down slightly. But that's typically a stronger position than starting low and trying to negotiate up.

"Most people come with the very strong belief they should never make an opening offer," says Northwestern University management professor Leigh Thompson. "Our research and lots of corroborating research shows that's completely backwards. The guy or gal who makes a first offer is better off." 

Marketers use the anchoring principle to trick you into thinking something is cheaper than it actually is. A "discount" tag that still shows the original price on a pair of pants is a prime example, since you tend to focus on the deal you're getting rather than the price you're paying.

In a negotiation, you can use that bias to your advantage. "Whoever makes the first offer essentially drops an anchor on the table," Thompson says. "I might say that your opening offer is ridiculous, but nevertheless, unconsciously, I've been anchored." 

What's more, the opening offer helps orient the other person's perception of the value of what's being negotiated for. An aggressive opening offer makes people consider the positive qualities of an object, since it forces them to decide whether it's worth the cost, says Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky. On the other hand, a low opening offer makes people stingily consider what might go wrong, since lower prices are associated with negative qualities. 

"My own research suggests that first offers should be quite aggressive but not absurdly so," Galinsky says. "Many negotiators fear that an aggressive first offer will scare or annoy the other side and perhaps even cause him to walk away in disgust. However, research shows that this fear is typically exaggerated. In fact, most negotiators make first offers that are not aggressive enough." 

To start with a high but not overly aggressive offer, you could just introduce a number--rather than explicitly ask for it. 

Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation details why:  

"The most effective anchors further reduce risk because, rather than placing firm offers on the table, they merely introduce relevant numbers. A job applicant may state his belief that people with his qualifications tend to be paid between $85,000 and $95,000 annually, or he might mention that a former colleague just received an offer of $92,000. This assertion is not an offer; it’s an anchor that affects the other side’s perceptions of the zone of possible agreement."

The next time you enter a negotiation, don't play coy. Put your offer on the table first.


By Drake Baer

VCs Catch Wave To Silicon Beach

Silicon Valley dives into local investment boom.

Rounding Into Shape Co-founders Zach James and Rich Raddon at Zefrs office in Venice in a January 2013 photo
Rounding Into Shape: Co-founders Zach James and Rich Raddon at Zefr’s office in Venice in a January 2013 photo. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

By OMAR SHAMOUT Monday, May 19, 2014

When online consumer rewards site Swagbucks last week took its first outside investment, a $60 million infusion from Palo Alto’s Technology Crossover Ventures, it was the latest indication that L.A.’s booming tech industry is coming of age.

Not only has the amount of money pouring into local tech firms surpassed sums raised at the same point last year, Silicon Beach is getting far more attention from the top tier of Silicon Valley’s venture capital community.

L.A. information tech companies have raised more than $620 million in roughly 50 deals thus far this year, according to data collected by SoCalTech.com. That’s 78 percent more than the amount raised at the same point last year. And it’s more than any other comparable period since Silicon Beach was more or less established in 2009.

Exits are healthier, too.

Sixteen local tech companies have been acquired or gone public this year, reaping more than $1.7 billion. That number could spike much more if Apple Inc.’s rumored $3.2 billion purchase of Santa Monica’s Beats Electronics goes through. The deal flow does not include some private transaction for which terms were not disclosed.

The activity, particularly the influx of cash from Menlo Park, signals a change from a few years ago, when top Silicon Valley venture capitalists pigeonholed L.A.’s tech founders as entrepreneurs who didn’t think big enough, said Dan Chen, managing director at Siemer & Associates in Santa Monica, a boutique merchant bank serving the tech community.

Venture firms in Silicon Valley expect companies they invest in to make billion-dollar exits, Chen said, and their interest in investing in the L.A. market reflects a growing confidence that their goals can be achieved here.

The momentum started last year, when Silicon Beach companies Snapchat, JustFab, Honest Co. and OpenX had funding rounds led by Bay Area VCs. It has continued this year as anonymous messaging app Whisper and enterprise messaging app developer TigerText raised $30 million and $21 million, respectively, mostly from Silicon Valley investors. In addition, Zefr, co-founded by Zach James and Richard Raddon in 2009, netted $30 million in a February Series D round from four Bay Area firms: Institutional Venture Partners, US Venture Partners, First Round Capital and Shasta Ventures. A London firm, Richmond Park Partners, also joined.

Proving ground

The activity is a reflection of the increasing credibility and viability of businesses being built in the region, said Rod Werner, managing director of City National Bank’s tech and venture capital banking group in Palo Alto.

“You’re definitely seeing the top firms come in,” Werner said. “People who were skeptical of that market in the past are saying, ‘Let me look a little closer.’ ”

Those bets are being confirmed, in part, by the size and number of exits that have been seen this year.

By this time last year, just six companies had been sold, with DreamWorks Animation’s $117 million purchase of another multichannel network, L.A.’s AwesomenessTV, the only one in which terms were disclosed.

Nearly three times as many deals have been struck this year, with Walt Disney Co.’s March purchase of Maker Studios leading the pack. The Culver City YouTube multichannel network could bring in $950 million from the deal if all benchmarks are met.

SoCalTech.com editor Benjamin Kuo said the region should be encouraged by recent trends.

“I think the number and size of the exits speaks very positively to Southern California’s ability to continue to produce very valuable startup companies,” Kuo said in an email.

Werner noted that tech companies with revenue models built around content are garnering particular interest, owing to L.A.’s deep-rooted knowledge base in all things entertainment.

These businesses, such as multichannel networks, or MCNs, offer large media companies access to a whole new consumer base.

And buyers are certainly not in it for the YouTube ad dollars.

“If they can drive more unique users to their site,” Werner said of the studios’ desire to move eyeballs away from YouTube, “then they can generate revenue from them.”

After the Maker deal, rumors were swirling that rival multichannel network Fullscreen, which received $30 million in Series A funding last year from Chernin Group and Comcast Ventures, among others, is also on the market and looking for a Maker-size payday. Recent reports have named Time Warner, Yahoo and Relativity Media as suitors for the Culver City company.

Also in March, West Hollywood’s Machinima raised $18 million from a group of investors including Warner Bros. Entertainment and Google. Not to be outdone, Culver City’s Collective Digital Studio raised an eight-figure round from German media conglomerate ProSiebenSat.1, reportedly in exchange for 20 percent of the company.

Chen said this spate of deals has also had a ripple effect on smaller YouTube networks that produce content for a narrower audience base.

“Newer emerging MCNs focused on niche content verticals have all seen an increase in investor interest and activity” over the past few months, he said.

Though it garners a lot of local attention, entertainment tech isn’t the only sector generating buzz and attracting investment.

Swagbucks Chief Executive Chuck Davis said the company’s funding round, the first in its six-year history, signals investor confidence in L.A.’s growing e-commerce sector, as well as the larger tech market.

“We see this as a great year for L.A. tech investment, and the round we’ve just taken from TCV is a great step in that growth,” said Davis, who previously served as chief executive at Fandango and Shopzilla, both located in Los Angeles. “It’s exciting to see how this market is maturing rapidly and attracting more investor interest from all areas.”

Note of caution

If anything’s putting a damper on the enthusiasm, it is concern that the market for tech IPOs might be pulling back.

After peaking above $20 a share in the weeks after its $450 million IPO, Playa Vista’s Rubicon Project has settled in below its offering price of $17.50.

Werner said inflated valuations coupled with the rocky performance of tech stocks over the past few weeks is causing companies to hold off on public offerings.

“We are seeing companies rethink their IPO exits this year,” he said, noting the recent decision of Los Altos cloud storage firm Box to delay its IPO as evidence of a trend that stretches to Southern California.

Among those in the wings is Santa Monica auto shopping website TrueCar Inc., which registered its $125 million initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission in April. It has not indicated any delay in its plan.

Chen explained that many tech companies are opting to stay private much longer than in the past.

“When they go public the frank reality is that a lot of the value creation in the business has already been done” during investment rounds, he said.

Another recent phenomenon is a decision by traditional asset management firms such as Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and BlackRock to invest in tech startups – Pinterest, Box and Dropbox are examples – before they go public, though he noted such investments represent a tiny fraction of the assets they manage.

New York hedge fund Coatue Management, which typically invests in public equity markets, was an investor in Snapchat’s Series C financing round in December, which valued the company at $2 billion, according to New York research firm CB Insights.

“The last time I saw this kind of activity happen was back in 2007,” Chen said. “It indicates to me that IPO investors are having to secure a position in interesting eventual IPOs early by investing in these companies while still private, and they may be doing this to seek a higher overall return from the investment beyond what the IPO alone could generate for them.”

Because late-stage companies are garnering such high valuations, Werner said many venture firms are starting to get in early before they’re priced out of the market. For that reason, seed funding probably won’t dry up anytime soon.

“We’re seeing a lot of investors come in earlier now,” he said. “The health of the community is the startups.”


-- 

Melissa Welch

Director of Client Development

Growthink

melissa.welch@growthink.com

(310) 846-5015


Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MelissaAWelch

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3 Competitors Every Entrepreneur Needs to Beat

By Jay Samit

Too many entrepreneurs view their competition with a Coke versus Pepsi mindset. Competition is rarely as simple as slightly differentiated products. Beating the other guy isn’t what makes a great company or what makes it profitable. Instagram, Swiffer and Nest had to compete with consumer habits and perceptions. 

Breakout products face competition from the formidable inertia powering the status quo. Success therefore comes from taking on the three real competitors every innovator must beat: the way it was done, the way it should be done, and the best way to get it done.

As great as you believe your new product or company is, the world got along just fine without you. The greatest competition every startup faces is convincing consumers that there is a better solution to the problems that vex them. Inefficiency and habit are your first real competitors. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer laughed at the iPhone because he couldn’t envision people using a mobile device differently. People shared large files before Dropbox. Dropbox just made it so much easier that new users were not only willing to change their habits; they encouraged others to share files the same way. To beat the way it was done, your solution needs to be an improvement over the past. 

The hardest competitor to take head on is the way it should be done. Many startups run out of cash striving to create the perfect product. You and your team spend months covering your white board with every conceivable feature and functionality your product should possess. Your vision of perfection will send your companies crashing on shores long before you have a large enough user base to keep the enterprise afloat. 

When it comes to coding: don’t get it right, get it written. The good is no longer the enemy of the great when we live in an ever changing world were new products and technologies are released daily. Get your product into users’ hands as quickly as possible and incorporate the crowd’s feedback to iterate. Your customers will provide the data you need to chart the best course for your company and bury any competitor that goes it alone.

Every product you have ever loved was a compromise from the ideal vision of its creators to the realities of shipping on time, on budget, and on price point. Anyone who has ever manufactured a physical product that had to be on the shelves for Christmas shopping knows how painful these choices can be. Every entrepreneur builds their business with limited resources, but competes with unlimited passion. Sometimes innovators just need to build something that solves one universal problem perfectly. 

Snapchat didn’t have millions in the bank when it started. Snapchat solved the problem of teens finding unwanted photos publically posted on social media. Now the company has the usage patterns and data of 700 million photos and videos per day and I am sure the founder is still working to add more features and functionality from his white board.The hardest competitor to take head on is the way it should be done. Many startups run out of cash striving to create the perfect product. You and your team spend months covering your white board with every conceivable feature and functionality your product should possess. 

Your vision of perfection will send your companies crashing on shores long before you have a large enough user base to keep the enterprise afloat. When it comes to coding: don’t get it right, get it written. The good is no longer the enemy of the great when we live in an ever changing world were new products and technologies are released daily. Get your product into users’ hands as quickly as possible and incorporate the crowd’s feedback to iterate. Your customers will provide the data you need to chart the best course for your company and bury any competitor that goes it alone.

Don’t focus on the other businesses in your market. At the end of the day, your toughest competitor will always be the face you see in the mirror every day.

Congrats to our El Segundo neighbors - Swagbucks locks in $60 million in its 1st external raise!

I had the privilege of seeing Chuck and Josef present at Oasis Summit earlier this spring. They certainly had some exciting news just around the corner... Congrats to this great Los Angeles company and inspiring team!

El Segundo-based coupon site Swagbucks secures $60 million in venture capital

By Jordan England-Nelson, Long Beach Press-Telegram

POSTED: 05/13/14, 5:55 AM PDT |

A South Bay tech company has raised $60 million in its first round of external funding from Technology Crossover Ventures, a late-stage venture capital firm that has backed such heavy hitters as Facebook, Netflix and Spotify.

Swagbucks.com, whose parent company Prodege LLC is headquartered in El Segundo, offers gift cards to Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, Amazon.com and about 300 other e-commerce companies in exchange for interacting on its site. Users earn points — or “swag bucks” — when they shop, search the Web, play games or take quizzes. The company then uses the data collected to run targeted ads and drive traffic to its affiliates.

“Rewards are not just an aside, they become an emotional part of the experience,” Swagbucks President Josef Gorowitz said by phone Monday. “The consumer is constantly collecting points and having fun doing so as well.”

Swagbucks, which bills itself as the “leading rewards discovery community” and top provider of free gift cards, announced its new funding today in a press release.

The company also announced that Prodege Executive Chairman Chuck Davis will become Swagbucks’ new CEO, a role previously held by Gorowitz.

Davis’ resume includes running the discount shopping site Shopzilla and, more recently, the online movie ticket site Fandango. Davis also is a partner at Technology Crossover Ventures.

The announcement of Swagbucks’ venture funding comes amid what seems to be a boon in the online rewards and coupon sector. RetailMeNot Inc. had its initial public offering in 2013. Pre-IPO shares of Coupons.com Inc. jumped 90 percent after it went public in March. And Ebates Shopping.com Inc. is reportedly planning its IPO for later this year.

However, the real value of these rewards sites, which purportedly create value by driving traffic to affiliate partners, may be overblown.

“One of the biggest problems in e-commerce is attribution,” said Brooke Partelow, co-founder of Bounce Exchange, a conversion rate optimization company that tracks website-user engagement. “They may be taking credit and getting paid a commission for a sale that the site was going to have anyway.”

Reward platform sites like Swagbucks say they drive new customers to vendor sites, but those customers may have planned to buy from those vendors regardless. A person might search for a Hugo Boss suit on Google, find the one they want at Nordstrom.com, and then search for a coupon code.

“Vendors have a very hard time determining who gets credit for helping them sell more,” Partelow said.

Swagbucks’ $60 million deal is a coup for the tech scene in Southern California, where large scale venture capital is harder to come by than in Silicon Valley.

There’s been a lot of investment in Silicon Beach companies in West L.A. recently, but the funding tends to hover between $500,000 and $2 million, according to Matt Crowley, president of the Los Angeles Venture Association.

“When you reach out to VCs, you run into a really hard ceiling,” Crowley said. “Anytime someone raises that much money, it’s darn impressive.”

Venture capital firms invested $9.5 billion in the United States during the first quarter of 2014, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Money Tree Survey. About half of that was spent in Silicon Valley. Only 5.5 percent, or $520 million, was spent in the Los Angeles-Orange County area.

According to an interactive map on socaltech.com, a news site that keeps tabs on the industry, there are about 650 technology companies in Silicon Beach, the area stretches along the coast from Santa Monica south to Playa del Rey and east to Playa Vista. There are about 300 tech-related firms in the South Bay, according to the map.


_________

Melissa Welch

Director of Client Development

Growthink

melissa.welch@growthink.com

(310) 846-5015


Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MelissaAWelch

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