Category Archives: VC

Kudos to Andrew Credfeld and HouseLens

As most of you know, I work for NTR Lab; a company that provides remote development teams for entrepreneurs from MVP through launch, scale and ongoing iterations.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate HouseLens and its founder/CEO Andrew Crefeld on their most recent fundraising. They just successfully closed the investment round.Way to go, guys!

HouseLens creates interactive VR 3D for the real estate market. I could describe what they do all day, but, as it is said, one picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look.

We are proud to be involved in making Andrew’s vision a reality.

Interview with Art

 

Learning about those facing challenges similar to your own can be useful, so I decided to interview founders and other leading growth companies and share the results with you.

My first interview is with Art Trevethan, Chief Operating Officer at guideVue, Inc.

art_trevethan

Yana: What do you think of the idea of leadership?

Art: I think it’s a challenging topic that many people don’t understand. They think of leadership in terms of military command and control, but that’s not usually the best way to get things done. Based on the books I’ve read, and my own experience, the best leaders earn their leadership cred based on their actions in a given position. Anybody can be called a leader, but actions speak louder than words.

Yana: Do you consider yourself a leader?

Art: I like to think that I’m a leader and I feel a responsibility to those who place me in a leadership position. I work to do the best job possible; I’m constantly learning , studying successful leaders and investigating how I can be better. I’ve experienced poor leadership myself and know that it makes any job more difficult.

You have to constantly grow, because real leadership means continually evolving to meet new challenges. It means being both proactive and reactive to change, because as a global company we are in a constant state of change. It’s how one responds to the challenges and change that determine your leadership skill.

Yana: What do you think about learning from your employees?

ART: I believe you can learn  from everyone and that if you stop learning you’re finished. Kaput. I also believe that learning doesn’t just mean books, seminars and stories about leadership. I think you can learn from everybody in your organization; from your executive team to the entry level admin. You learn how to better serve your community by understanding their needs. You have to understand the goal, the position and the struggles of each individual on your team.

Yana: What is your background. Tell me about your parents, college years, etc.

Art: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My father was insurance executive and my mother was a nurse and still is. They say, once a nurse, always a nurse and that sure fits my mom.

I was in the Boy Scouts and worked my way up to Eagle Scout. Scouting taught me to respect different people; the value of community service/giving back and opportunities to learn how to lead.

That’s why I believe so strongly that leadership isn’t just a function of business, but also within your community, as well. I’ve been fortunate and have had the opportunity to travel extensively, including the old USSR, and studied cultural differences.

Yana: You mention traveling in Russia. Where exactly?

Art: Moscow Sochi, Baky, Riga and Leningrad

Yana: I’m from Tomsk, in Siberia.

Art: I didn’t make it to Siberia; my travels were mostly the western portion of the former of Soviet Union and many other countries since then.

I’ve found the ideas of leadership to be true everywhere, although the approach, style and actions are different.

My own approach is to use something I learned in Scouting called EDGE. It stands for Explain Demonstrate Guide and Enable and lets me support my people, so they can reach their full potential, while still accomplishing the goals of the company.

As opposed to just handing someone a task along with a few tools with which to do it, EDGE is a method of teaching: first you tell them how to do it, show them how to do it, lead them through the process of doing it and give them the tools to be able to perform the task.

Yana: What did you do when you first graduated from college?

I spent time travelling and then jumped to different jobs; I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I thought I’d become a photographer; when that didn’t happen I moved to import/export; I worked in insurance; I worked in banking.

I even worked as a ghostwriter for several industry blogs covering support, testing and QA. I really respect what you do as a writer. It’s not an easy job.

Yana: Thank you! I appreciate your understanding!

So how did you finally end up in an AI-based company?

I kind of fell into the startup world around 1992-1993 working in AI, mainly because I believe I can do absolutely anything if I put my mind to learning about it. Although I had no background in AI, I started working in operations for a young AI startup. I learned how to manipulate algorithms. We were focused on insurance, but the lessons learned are just now being applied to Big Data.  

I’ve never been afraid of tackling an area I know nothing about. I read up on it and, most importantly, talk to people. And I don’t pretend to know; I use the reading to help me ask better questions, but it is my willingness to admit not knowing that gets me the most help.  

From there I moved on to customized web browsers and then to support test tools. All the positions were with startups and I usually found myself moving quickly into a senior role and then to the executive team.

Yana: How do you hire ?

I use resumes to do the initial sort. I like to experience people, so next is a personal conversation. I want to understand their motivations; I strongly look for people who are continuously moving forward, as opposed to people who are content and not looking to stretch their boundaries. I’m a strong believer that you have to fail in order to succeed, because otherwise you have no way to compare or evaluate what you have done.

That said, I am very intolerant of stuff that creates difficulty for the team, like missing deadlines, not doing the work, shirking responsibility and blaming others. That kind of thing is never acceptable.

I want people who take responsibility for their error, can explain the reasons for it and what they would do differently in the future. That means they have learned something.

I also look for people who are interested in challenging the way things are done, because anything can be improved.

Yana: How do you motivate people?

People like hearing that they doing a good job. I like writing letters to my employees to let them know they are doing good work. I actually write hundreds of letters every year.

Taking time to actually write things forces me, or any manager, to fully think through what they going  to say; it shows the degree of caring and respect we have for the individual. So sitting down and actually writing “you did a good job” and taking time to explain why it was a good job makes an enormous difference. I’ve never found anybody who doesn’t respond to that kind of motivation.  

 

ART TREVETHAN
CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER

Art Trevethan is a driven leader who brings vast experience in technology and business to the table.  Art has over 20 years experience leading young companies and startups.  Starting in technology in the late 90’s, Art has held positions ranging from functional roles to executive leadership across a broad platform of technologies.  Artificial intelligence, browsers, software development tools, social platforms, and others, Art is experienced in consumer, healthcare, governmental, and corporate markets having delivered exceptional experiences to each, because every interaction counts.

Change: interview post

Change. That is what it comes down to. It is change that drives the startup ecosystem in a myriad of different ways. 

I haven’t been around long enough to have experienced many of the changes of the past two decades myself, so I turned to people who have.

I immediately sent four questions to Miki, since she has been around startups since the late 1970s; long before dot com and software took over the spotlight.

Here are the questions I asked and her responses.

change

image source: here

1.How has the startup industry changed in the last 25 years?

The full answer to that requires a book, but three things really stand out to me.

  1. I’ve worked with startups since 1979; as the age and experience of entrepreneurs declined their products became more banal.
  2. Candidates, too, have changed. Where they once joined the startup scene to be on the bleeding edge of technology and what it can do, they now join for the perks, networking opportunities, and potential of getting rich, rather than making a difference.
  3. Investors, both VCs and angels, risk-tolerance has shrunk almost to zero; in fact, they are more incestuous and lemming-like than ever before.
  1. Which of these changes would you like to reverse?

That’s a tough question; the answer is ‘all three’. But if I had to choose just one it would be the third one.

If the investor eco-system was more open, as it was in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, then more diverse and experienced founders would be heard.

The ripple effect would mean that funding would flow to more profound solutions than a convenient way to hook-up (changing number 1) and candidate attitudes would go with the flow.

  1. What were the core components for startups to become successful  before and how has it changed?

Before 1997 it took a solid business plan with strong financials and a well-defined path to profitability. With the advent of the web in 1993 “companies could cause their stock prices to increase by simply adding an “e-” prefix to their name or a “.com” and funds flowed freely to any startup that claimed  connectivity. During the three year crash well-managed companies with real businesses, such as Cisco, eBay and Amazon, kept going.

Something similar is happening now. Over the last few years investors rushed to fund and, with the advent of private equity money, over-fund certain startups. The over-funding created unicorns, with astronomical valuations, that have little chance of exiting.

  1. Is 2016 a good time to launch a business as some experts say, since funding is expected to drop by 30%?

There are great advantages to starting a company when money is tighter. It forces you to

  • be constantly realistic by constantly practicing a Lean approach;
  • establish financial controls sooner, rather than later when you’re in trouble;
  • hire from a broader spectrum, especially people who understand down markets and doing more with less; and
  • focus on profitability as opposed to valuation.
  1. What’s your best advice to founders just starting out?

I would suggest they hold tight to the old adage: profit from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself. That means choosing their role models wisely. Good role models aren’t just measured by their success, Klout score or position, but by what you can learn from them and sometimes that means doing the opposite, instead of following in their footsteps.

Miki Saxon is founder of RampUp Solutions, Inc and the author of MAPping Company Success (You’ve seen a few of her posts here). She’s a long-time friend of our founder and of NTR Lab, does clarity rewriting, especially for ESL startups, and coaches on developing/sustaining company culture. See more about her at LinkedIn; contact her at miki@rampupsolutions.com or call 360.335.8054. (She really does answer her phone!)

Hiring changes

 

Has hiring really changed?

The need to find and hire talent has always been one of the biggest challenges for most managers, no matter their position or how long they have been doing it.

Although the need never goes away, accomplishing it seems to be a moving target.

Startups are no different.

For decades joining a startup meant giving up benefits, perks and salary in return for the opportunity to work on the bleeding edge of tech and doing something that could have global impact.

Then the easy money faucet turned on and many startups found themselves drenched with cash.

So much so, that they started offering Google-style perks, six-figure salaries and sign-on bonuses to, mostly, young, white males who could code and were willing to work “insane hours” as a badge of honor.

picture on hiring

image credit: here

Recently the easy money faucet was turned way down as investors returned to the old fashioned values of profit and sustainable business models. Continue reading Hiring changes

Matt’s point of view: from unicorns to reality

Today’s guest post is from Matt Weeks, a serial entrepreneur and longtime friend of NTR.
unic
image source: here

From Matt:

I saw a great article in BI about Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann’s attitude towards hypergrowth.

For years, venture capitalists have been pushing hypergrowth over profits, at least though the initial phases of investment rounds. Investors told Lehmann to reinvest the company’s money in pushing more growth over building a sustainable business.

That advice didn’t go far with the Postmates CEO. (…) Lehmann argues that it’s the CEO’s fundamental job to have looked at the margins and made decisions early on.

“Companies that run for the last two years in hyper growth are now wondering how to make money.”

I completely agree — hypergrowth without a hope of unit economics that lead to profitability has always been a fool’s errand with precious few exceptions, and even those “superstars” eventually had their “come to Jesus” realization moments when investors got nervous and were anxious for at least a hope of a repeatable, profitable set of unit economics. It’s okay to use early capital to explore and iterate to figure out the product-market fit and pricing/monetization formula. But at some point there must be a path to profitable and repeatable unit economics.

There has been a sense that pushing the bidding of sequential funding rounds at ever-increasing valuations would create a kind of de-facto “momentum” and crowd-out 2nd and 3rd and 4th place contenders, or at least amass a large enough war chest to drive marketplace pricing down as much as needed to push competitors out of the running (usually also by creating such a huge and dominant brand that customer acquisition in a noisy market is too expensive to make progress to catch up with the so-called leader).

Continue reading Matt’s point of view: from unicorns to reality

At the end of startups-on-steroids era

In January 2016 I wrote Time to do more with less, referring to the importance of being a RABBIT (Real Actual Business Building Interesting Tech).

In it, I cited the new funding reality as predicted by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and investor Bill Gurley, among many others, who believed that 2016 would be the year that tightening investment would prevent  many unicorns from raising funds based on their last round valuation and bringing a new term into the tech lexicon — unicorpse.

As the walrus said, the time has come and the bell is tolling.Unicorn_single

Image source: here

The indulgent years of cheap capital and billions invested on the basis of a great story, sans profit or even revenue, are over as investors sink ever deeper into reality and the old ways of valuing companies are once again in vogue.

Storied investor Bill Gurley issued a warning to unicorn investors in a lengthy essay posted on his personal blog. It is a must-read for all those in the startup ecosystem, not just investors, and includes links to other articles that bring the picture into sharp focus. His summation at the end is masterful. Continue reading At the end of startups-on-steroids era

Ambition

Jeremy Boudinet and Ambition

Last week we wrote about what “going viral” typically means and we suggested you ask yourself, “Does my startup really need it?”  We also queried a few entrepreneurs what going viral means to them. We asked two questions:

  1. What is your secret sauce to getting something to go viral?
  1. What did you do to get your product/service noticed when you launched?

We received some terrific responses, but the one we got from from Jeremy Boudinet Director of Marketing at Ambition was off the chart!

It wasn’t just fabulous, but detailed enough that we believe it will really shine a light on the effort it takes to pull it off, not to mention that it is from a peer, whose company is fighting the same fights you are.

We have others to share next week, including advice from NTR’s own head of marketing, so send along your thoughts if you want to be included.

Here is Jeremy’s answer

  1. Virality

The best, most viral content we’ve ever done has combined boldness, risk and a higher level of interactivity for the audience.

I’ll give you two specific examples:

  1.  The most successful blog post we’ve ever done is “10 Epic Videos to Inspire Your Salesforce”. Wrote it over a year ago and still leads all 200+ posts we’ve written in terms of traffic, reader feedback and virality. Quick background on it – I wrote the post in January 2015, followed up with a sequel a few months later – and within a week of the sequel had multiple requests to reprint both posts and an email from Inc. magazine asking to do a feature on the posts themselves. The Inc. article goes a long way in explaining what gave the post its stickiness in the first place.

Number one: We used video.

Number two: We went big – 10 videos, 10 full write-ups.

Number three: We had fun with the post.

You can write stuff that has utility for your target audience AND have fun with it at the same time. Blog posts shouldn’t be book reports, it’s okay to show some personality.

Plus, the post was a ton of fun to write. Here’s a hint – the posts that go viral tend to have two things in common – if you work your ass off during the writing process AND have fun writing it, you’re doing something that has a chance of going viral. A couple of our competitors copied the premise but clearly didn’t put the time or thought into their post that we did. Never skimp and don’t bore yourself, as the writer.

  1. If I’ve done one thing right as a Marketing Director here at Ambition, it was the March SaaSness Tournament we ran last March. Literally came up with it overnight – March Madness was around the corner and I wanted to do something that could use that as a launching pad. (One of our software’s core features is a competition-builder that lets companies run epic sales competitions).

We had just had a ton of success with our first Inside Sales Software Guide, an eBook that featured 50 different SaaS products and got a ton of promotion from the companies we featured. So I thought to myself, why not try setting up our own version of March Madness, put 64 SaaS companies on a bracket and have each match-up be decided by popular vote, so as to incentivize promotion? Going into it, I knew that a ton of the participants, especially the bigger companies, would at best, altogether ignore the competition.

But I was betting on at least, maybe 25% of the companies getting into it and doing some form of promotion. We did some big write-ups previewing all the match-ups, hyping the companies involved and then set up Google Forms where people could vote.

Once the tournament began, I spent 3 weeks on the days we had match-ups relentlessly promoting the tournament on social media, providing hourly voting updates for each match-up, etc., basically turning the Ambition twitter feed into SportsCenter for March SaaSness. The amazing thing was – it worked beyond our wildest dreams.

Over half of the companies involved got into promoting it, some had their employees sending out a 100+ tweets for each match-up and our site visitation, social media following and general industry awareness/appreciation skyrocketed. Plus, as exhausting as it was to run, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had at work. I’m actually doing the final prep this week for this year’s tournament — it’s crazy, a month ago someone tweeted us asking if we’d be doing the tournament again this year, and since then, we’ve had dozens and dozens of people from all different companies — even those who didn’t promote it last year, reach out asking whether we’d be doing it again, if they were included, etc.

Key things here: March SaaSness was by far the biggest, boldest, riskiest thing we’ve ever done. Huge potential for embarrassment and a massive undertaking/commitment, in general. But — we banked on the tournament providing strong entertainment value, other SaaS companies seeing it, rightfully, as an opportunity/excuse to promote themselves (rather than Ambition) and something people could interact with, rather than passively take in.

So for virality: My secret recipe would be boldness, risk, clear and present value, delivered in a way that lets the public interact with the content/initiative on a higher level.

  1. Getting Ambition noticed.

To be fair, we had built-in publicity at Ambition, coming out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2014 class. We had two TechCrunch articles in print and a WSJ article in the works when I came on in May 2014. Even still, I did a ton of press outreach my first 9 months at Ambition. Took some time but finally landed a few features in Business Insider, Inc. and the Sporting News. I also wrote a ton of guest editorials for trade and mid-sized publications. Combined, all of that got us some good exposure/validation we could really build on.

Thinking back, the common threads amongst all the pitches that worked were a) avoiding naked self-hype, b) showing Ambition’s unique value to the journalist/publication (example subject line: How [big-name companies] are using a new software to run “fantasy sales” competitions), c) offering an editorial that took a controversial/unique stance (example: I wrote into Information Age with the following pitch: “I want to write a criticism of gamification as an industry insider.”) and so forth.

A non-press example:  We “gamified” the AA-ISP Leadership Summit in Chicago last April. Premise: Same thing as March SaaSness, we wanted to create an interactive competition that incentivized conference attendees to promote us and get people to stop by our booth. We ponied up for a huge prize, set up a scoring system for referrals and booth visits and actually ran the competition on our own software.

During the conference, we screenshot real-time leaderboards and sent updates over social media with the conference hashtag. People took notice and it was far and away the best event we’ve ever sponsored in terms of ROI. Something we’ll definitely be doing again this year.

Jeremy Boudinet  is a passionate marketing leader, writer and full-time hustler. You can find his advocacy for workplace transparency, data-driven performance management and millennial professional growth in Inc., Time, Entrepreneur and the Daily Muse. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Ambition is a sales management platform that delivers connectivity, transparency and recognition to drive sales activities & grow revenue.

Guest Post: From Vision to Reality

Miki Saxon is the founder of RampUp Solutions, Inc. and has been both coach to and customer of NTR since 2000. Learn more about Miki here.

Whether you head a company, run a department, or lead a team, you are responsible for that ‘vision thing’ as it applies to those subordinate to you.

As founder, it’s your responsibility to identify, define and clarify the goals by which the vision becomes reality.

Then it’s up to you to involve your people, working with them to turn those goals into specific actions for which they are responsible.

 Most people are aware that work isn’t done in a vacuum, but often individuals, teams, or even departments, fail to truly understand the domino effect created by allowing their schedule to slip.

 You can minimize this problem, and improve the quality of your workforce, by making certain that they understand how their own goals, those of the company, and others’, both internal and external (customers and vendors), interact.

 The biggest rewards at all levels (using whatever incentives are available) should go to those who understand the company’s goals and ethically do whatever is necessary to achieve them—especially when they put the company’s goals ahead of their own.

 

Only Apartments acquires Migoa and Holiday Rentals and quadruples size

Our former Spanish customers at Migoa have been successfully acquired by a smaller, but better funded (and public) Only Apartments (also a Spanish company founded in 2006).

The size of the cash+equity deal is not disclosed and is probably small in the land of venture-funded unicorns, but is good for Spain.

We are especially happy that the technology platform we have set the ground for have been specifically appraised as a reason for the acquisition.

For those who read in Spanish, here is the original article. TechCrunch probably doesn’t write about acquisitions like this, but it does not make it less important for those involved.