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WHAT MAKES IT GOOD

Techweek Part 4 –

Two Points T

by storied business consultant, Joe Perogi,

as told to John Jonelis –

Been hearin’ complaints ‘n’ controversy about Techweek this year. People gripe so you figure there’s gotta be a good reason, right? Yeah, I hear you. Yer sayin’, where there’s smoke there’s fire. But all them critics completely miss THE HIDDEN ROOM that you and me stumple upon—the hidden room that makes this thing truly amazing. Now the dust is settled, lemme take you on a tour o’ what I seen.

First, permit me t’ introduce myself. Name’s J. P. Pierogiczikowski, but you can call me Joe Perogi. Everybody else does. They say I have way too much fun. Maybe they’re right. Confidentially, there’s alotta money in it, too.

Da Speakers

We meet at the office in the backroom o’ Ludditis Shots & Beer.

Ludditis Shots and Beer 3

It’s just a good stretch o’ the legs from here to the Chicago Merchandise Mart and we get there in fifteen minutes easy. This event takes up a whole floor and gets a special elevator.

On this tour, you and me start in a room packed with chairs and people eager to hear Sal Khan of Khan Academy—one o’ da featured speakers. I wanna hear this guy. His company solves problems in education. Uses technology to help the kids learn ‘n’ helps the teachers make better use o’ their time. That’s huge. I’m figure this is gonna be good.

Khan Academy’s gonna partner with big business—a move that’ll give ‘em a longer reach. None of us know about that at the time—all we wanna do is hear the guy talk.

Look at that outrageously pretty lady on stage. Now she’s tellin’ us how great the speaker is. Now she points out the big screen. Hey, Sal Khan ain’t even here. You’re here. I’m here. We paid to be here. All these other people are here, too. But no Sal. He’s on Skype. So I’m a little bit offended, but whaddaya gonna do? They call it Techweek, so I figure we’ll give it our best shot.

All the computers crash at Sal’s office out in California or wherever he really is. But Sal’s no quitter. He carries on—with his smartphone. Ever notice how people believe them smartphones can do anything? Maybe it’s ‘cause they call ‘em smart when they’re really just pocket-size computers waitin’ to go wrong.

THE MERCHANDISE MARTWe look at the big screen and see this faded picture of Sal Kahn. You can tell he’s holdin’ the phone too close to his face. That’s why he looks kinda distorted. And he’s got a lousy connection—maybe one bar, tops. Truth be told, none of us can get our phones working here in the Chicago Merchandise Mart. Too much concrete. But apparently the organizers think smart phones is a smart move. So we sit through snips and swipes o’ Sal’s voice, cutting in and out. Nobody knows what the hell he’s saying. It creates a feeling of suspense, doncha think? I mean, the way that distorted face skips and jerks across the faded auditorium screen.

Why don’t anybody get up and walk out? Easy. It’s that gorgeous gal on stage—she’s really somethin’. Class. Intelligent-looking. Businesslike. She apologizes. Now she’s promising they’s gonna fix the problem. Now she’s watching that big screen with such intense interest—like she can understand what he’s sayin’ and she’s hangin’ on every word. She creates in us what they call a sense of suspended belief. (I read that somewhere.) And it keeps everybody in their seats.

Sal keeps cutting in and out till his battery dies and that means, lecture over. It teaches me a lesson: It’s usually more about marketing than technology. But you don’t know that till the technology breaks down.

Did I mention that the Blackhawk’s rally is going on downtown today?Blackhawk logo You don’t wanna go? Hey—they won the Stanley Cup. It’s a big deal. Okay then, let’s crash a few more presentations.

So we take in summore lectures. Seems like every speaker talks in some important-sounding corporate lingo. It’s all meaningful stuff, right? Maybe it’s what they call high-elf—I dunno. I’m wishin’ I can be with the Blackhawk fans. So you and me ditch the lectures and hit the booths.

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Da Booths

There’s rows ‘n’ rows o’ these little islands o’ commerce packed side-by-side, with all sortsa people plugging up the floor and it all seems to go on forever. Pretty soon I get turned around and confused and everything’s a blur. Don’t it hit you that way, too? This place is so big, a guy can get lost in here real fast.

Look around. Everywhere it’s corporations hawking their wares. (There’s that word Hawk again.) Notice how most people just mill past the booths. Except fer that one—the one serving free booze. We stop there for a while. Pretty good, huh?

FREE BOOZE

So I learn a second lesson, but it don’t hit me till later: Big corporations waste lots of money. But they help an event pay the bills.

Then, just when I’m about to give up and say goodbye, we find the hidden room.

startup city logo

Da Hidden Room

See that wall with the huge Startup City logo painted on it? Looks like a dead end, don’t it? We walk up and take a closer look at the artwork. There’s a small door on our right. We go through there and WHAM! It’s a whole ‘nother room packed with booths ‘n’ people ‘n’ lotsa noise. These is all startup companies. Seventy of ‘em. Ambitious entrepreneurs, brilliant inventors and gutsy financiers ready to take a risk on a new idea. This is where the action is. So let’s do the rounds. Hey, I know summa these people! I like this place!

And whaddaya know—they got a competition goin’. The judges go from booth to booth and try to pick out the five best startups. Which o’ these folks is the judges? I can’t tell. It’s kinda like a benched dog show.

Now we find out the winners are gonna get announced at a special event with the mayor. Our tickets ain’t good enough to get in—those tickets musta cost thousands! No problemo. We crash it.

We’re in and now the mayor’s up there giving a speech:

“…I think the city of Chicago will become the mecca of the Midwest in startup cities,” he says. IMG_9067“The city of Chicago is building the digital economy as the fifth pillar…” I gotta ask you: Where’d he get all that mecca and fifth pillar stuff? I mean I like the guy but them terms don’t feel right coming outa him. Maybe if he wore a keffiyeh or a turban er somethin’. Naw, that ain’t never gonna happen.

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Da Shortlist

Then they announce the winners. But I’m an investor and I got my own short list. Lemme tell you about ‘em:

cervia diagnostic logoCervia Diagnostic Innovations is gonna wipe out cervical cancer by replacing the age-old pap smear with a better test. They got all the research and their team’s fulla PhDs and Nobel Prize winners.

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PaletteApp logoPaletteApp is bringing architects and interior designers outa da closets and into the digital world and saving companies a whole lot of money.

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youtopia logoYoutopia is gettin’ high school kids emotionally involved in those service projects they gotta do and documenting the results fer the colleges they wanna get into. You got a high school kid? Then you know that’s something worthwhile.

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faspark logoFaspark is helpin’ us all find street parking for our jalopies. It’s based on data analytics and probability of success and reduces time cruising the streets by 70%. Shows up as a map on your phone. They’re setting up in Chicago and Munich at the same time.

UPDATE – Faspark now gives you parking garage information in addition to the street parking.  Check out this article in Crain’s Chicago Business.  

None o’ them great companies made the finals ‘n’ that makes me scratch my head. And now they announce the winner:

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Da Official Finalists

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wedeliver logoWeDeliverFirst Place. I gotta say, this one’s on my short list now I get to know ‘em, and there’s an article about them in this magazine. But this is my first look at ‘em. You ever see these guys before? Great business model. Terrific CEO. Tech enabled same-day local delivery for brick and mortar businesses. These guys is gonna level the playing field with Amazon and create a buncha jobs right here in Chicago—and that’s just fer starters.

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Crowdfynd LogoCrowdFynd is a lost-n-found service that uses crowdsourcing to find yer stuff.

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Furywing LogoFurywing is is a gambling play. I don’t like online gambling, but it ain’t my place to judge.

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24Fundraiser logo24Fundraiser is a one-stop solution fer online auctions.

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neststepio logoNextStep.io helps you get yer daily workout by usin’ yer daily routine. I like that idea a lot. Gotta find out more about this one.

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trinet logoThe whole Startup City production is sponsored by TriNet. I talked to them folks at length and came away impressed.

Then I get a big surprise on the way home:

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Da Hawks

I ride the water taxi to the train and it turns out I don’t miss the Blackhawks celebration after all. The train’s loaded with drunken smiling people singin’ songs, makin’ a whole lotta noise, and generally havin’ a great time. Now it’s my turn, so I belt out The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

IMG_9086-001

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Back to Part 3 – BNC TUESDAY NIGHT SMACKDOWN

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Photos courtesy Techweek, The Chicago Blackhawks, John Jonelis.  Logos courtesy companies.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, big money, Characters, chicago, Chicago Ventures, city, Donatas Ludditis, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, Innovation, Internet, Internet Marketing, Invention, investor, Mobile, Mobile App, Mobile Marketing, new companies, Nobel Prize, pitch, Software, Techweek, the chicago machine, The City, the machine, vc, venture capital

THE FRENZY

Funding Feeding FrenzyBill Blair – special correspondent –

as told to John Jonelis

Bill Blaire here.  Mr. Jonelis wants I should go to this FUNDING FEEDING FRENZY thing. Says I’m gonna give a completely different slant compared to the resta this crowd here. I cut my teeth in the Local #1 Boilermakers, then as a Cement Contractor till I packed up my tools fer good.

Me? I’m always open to new ideas. I make loans to all kindsa people. John says I’ll see someFFF Logo real sharks at this place and that strikes me as a nasty crack but I let it slide.

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The Sharks

So I get here and whadaya think? Deeze guys is all legit investors. I glad-hand every one o’ them and their little mits all disappear between my hairy fingers. But I gotta give it to ‘em—these guys got balls. They throw money at raw startup companies and win maybe only 3 outa 10—and that’s just if the investors is real smart. They don’t get paid back by the deadbeats neither.

I don’t like them odds at all. Hell—the stuff I put money in gets a guaranteed payout or else, see?

Glenn Gottfried

Glenn Gottfried

Then I meet Glenn Gottfried—real smart guy. He explains it all to me. These is all private equity deals. Not a loan in the house. The ones that come in can make it big—REAL BIG. I’m talkin 10 times return—sometimes 100 times or more. It’s the stuff they make dreams outa. That gets my juices flowin’ and it’s all legal! Hoo boy, I’m gonna have some fun here!

I remembers catchin’ an episode o’ Shark Tank on TV and so I got the general idea.

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The Hideout

Chopin Theater

Chopin Theater

I don’t usually get caught dead at no place with a name like Chopin Theater but I always help my friends. And it turns out real nice. This thing goes on all day so they got coffee, booze, food, good seats—my big butt laps across two o’ those.  Nobody’s breathin’ down my neck ’cause none of ’em can see over my head. Yeah, it’s all good.

So here I is with my buddy Rocco Spumoni of the Pierce O’Shea Mob. Oops—maybe I oughta call it an investment firm, get the picture? Anyhow, Rocco goes after some gal and I ain’t seen him since. I think her name’s Jane Pickling or something, but I dunno fer sure. Lemme get down to business: Ludditis Shots and Beer

I wanna give you the whole picture first, so in a minute I’m gonna show ya a hard-hitting video from Blackline Review.  My buddy David Carmen is part o’ that outfit. They got that catchy name cuzza the L trains here in Chicago. There’s a Blue Line and a Red Line but there ain’t no Black Line. If there was, you can bet they’d build another Ludditis Shots & Beer right under the tracks.  Chicago’s best potato pancakes too. 

Anyhow, this video gives ya the flavor o’ the whole thing and it’s short:

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Check out Blackline Review fer more o’ that kinda stuff.

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The Companies

Phil Murphy of Call Potential  was the winner last time. He gives the keynote along with some guy that makes goofy looking glasses that cost an arm and a leg. But hey—people buy that stuff like crazy so who am I?  Murphy’s real smart. When he’s done speaking he sits down as one o’ the judges. I’ll get back to him later.

The companies is all kinds: There’s the Bomboard jet ski that fits in my trunk and I want one.  John West and Anders Stubkjaer put that one together. Then on d’other sida things there’s Nature’s Little Recyclers, a worm farm that can solve alotta pollution problems.  Blame that one on Ed Hubbard.

Jerry Freeman of PaletteAPP

Jerry Freeman of PaletteAPP

We get an update report from a Jerry Freeman’s company, Palette APP. They’s gettin’ traction now and it’s off to the races.

I’m comin’ back with a lot more on this event so keep yer heads up.  Meanwhile, lemme give you the winners: 

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The Winners

1stSmart GardnerCarl Alquire

Uses high tech to help city people grow their own healthy food.

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2ndPortapureGeorge Page 

We seen this guy before and he’s good. Won alotta awards.  Clean water fer the third world.

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3rdCardoonaColin Robertson, Jeffrey Herrington

Making it super-easy for restaurants to place orders with ALL their vendors.

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The Crowd Favorite – Geek Bar – David Zoltan

And yeah—this one’s a real riot. A bar that celebrates geekdom.

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Photo and Video Credits – Royalty Free Images, Glenn Gottfried, Wikipedia, Blackline Review, Donatas Ludditis, John Jonelis

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Go to – THE BUSINESS PLAN POLICE

Back to – MY KRAKEN ENCOUNTER

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Our logo proclaims “Chicago is the World.” We believe creativity is spawned by adversity. That makes Chicago a growing center for thought leadership in the world.
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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
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Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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4 Comments

Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, big money, Bill Blaire., Characters, chicago, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, chopin theater, Donatas Ludditis, Entrepreneurship, Events, FFF, Funding Feeding Frenzy

7 TIPS FROM A WINNER

Funding Feeding Frenzy – Part 5

VERBATIM by Loop Lonagan – Investor and man about town,

as told to John Jonelis

FFF LogoLoop Lonagan here. I’m gonna go full circle at dis Funding Feeding Frenzy.

No, I ain’t drunk—well maybe I am by now—but what I mean is, I’m goin’ back to the start o’ this event. After all that stuff I already talked about, I’m finally gettin’ ‘round to the first speaker at the FFF—Palette App—the company that won last time.

Like I said, I seen the pitch before. I also seen them at BNC Venture Capital and later at their corporate offices. Research. A guy’s gotta check stuff out fer himself.  Anyhow, here I am at the FFF in the Chopin Theater to hear what he has to say.  And as it turns out, I’m very glad I to be here.

Chopin Theater Lobby

Lobby – courtesy Chopin Theater

The speaker is Jerry Freeman, founder of Palette App, and the guy’s real smart. He’s doin’ his pitch fer us as a demo—to break the ice before all the poor slobs face the judges.

So I’m sittin’ here next to Jay Kinzie, a colleague o’ mine from Mastermind Advisory Board in this cushy seat in the Chopin Theater. Rong Mayhem ain’t gonna wheel up behind me and start yellin’ like he did at that car barn they held this thing at last time. And the noisy crowd is banished to the trough downstairs.

Feeding Trough

Feeding Trough

That means I’m free. Free to concentrate on findin’ the companies I wanna follow up on. But first comes Jerry Freeman. He starts by giving his own pitch. I know it by heart so I’ll paraphrase:

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Da Pitch

Palette App logoPalette App helps architects and designers do their job better, faster, cheaper. (Jerry doesn’t actually say better, faster, cheaper, but that’s what it amounts to.)

They take away them old-fashioned sample binders that designers and architects been blowin’ their money on for 150 years. They hand ‘em this beautiful digital palette. It’s easier to put together, better organized and more efficient to use. You can make changes fer free! That’s a big deal in this industry.

Palette App

Palette App

It saves a designer about 30 business days a year. That’s alotta man hours. And that kinda time’s worth a few bucks. The digital palette’s better for the client too. That’s why I been excited ‘bout this company right from the first.

Palette

Palette

The software usta be just on iPad ‘cause that’s what designers and them kinda people use. But now it’s on Android too. There’s a version for architectural design schools, which turns out to be a big deal. You can read all about it at https://chicagoventuremagazine.com/2012/07/16/150-years-of-waste-meets-technology/

The company is up-and-running and generating revenue. They already got 35,000 products loaded in their system. They got multiple profit centers. They make money whenever a designer orders a sample. And they make money through subscriptions.

Far as capital goes, they already raised $700K and the first round is gonna close pretty quick. 70% of that came from the last FFF. You can read about that at https://chicagoventuremagazine.com/2012/11/23/shark-tank-meets-the-apprentice/

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Da Interview

So after his sample pitch which I kinda butchered—but hey—how ya gonna spoil something as good as that? Anyhow, Jerry sits down with David Culver and does an interview about what it’s like to run a startup. This is good stuff and I learn something.

Jerry Freeman and David Culver

Jerry Freeman interviewed by David Culver

Raising Money

This seems to be the biggest question on ever’body’s minds. Jerry says, keep pitching at every event you can ‘cause it’s the best way to get connections to lotsa investors. Raising money is a full time job. As CEO, raising capital turns out to be his #1 job.

Then there’s cold calling. You start by pitching on the phone to some junior-level gatekeeper. Then to the next one up, then the next. Then maybe you gets a face-to-face with a decision-maker, fly way out somewheres and run up the old expense account.

All that takes months. Then maybe you get a commitment. Whoa—the money ain’t in the bank yet, fella. Gotta go thru due diligence. Paperwork. It takes six months to get the check, if it comes at all. People drop out. Meanwhile, how you gonna pay yer staff? So you gotta watch yer cash flow real close.

So he says to keep entertaining small investors till the big checks come through—just to pay the bills. The little guys come through quicker.

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Crowd Funding

Glenn Gottfried

Glenn Gottfried

Let’s talk about the new self-directed IRA. Lotsa baby boomers got millions stashed in their IRAs. All those add up fast. There’s five trillion in investment dollars hidden away in these accounts. That’s right—I said five TRILLION dollars—almost a third as big as the national debt! It dwarfs private capital. Blows it away! And deals like that close in thirty days—not six months like with VCs and Angels.

This is a form o’ crowd funding. Usta be only charities raised money that way. Now there’s brand-new laws that open it up to investors. So far it’s only for accredited types—people with a million bucks plus. That’s gonna change but the government is draggin’ its toes—nothin’ new about that.

So fer now, friends ‘n’ family ‘n’ Kick Starter is still the best way for small cash, then

Loren Minkus with Jay Kinzie

Loren Minkus with Jay Kinzie

millionairs with self-directed IRAs. Pretty soon we might see the dam burst on crowdfunding and money’ll flow all over the place.

Jerry gives 7 more tips on how to run a startup:

7 Tips

  1. “The shorter your pitch, the better,” says Jerry. If you think yer gonna get through it in eight minutes, cut it back ‘cause it’ll always take longer. “Practice 21 times,” he says, “so you’re not nervous.”
  2. “Simplify. If you’ve got twenty ideas, narrow it down to three,” he says. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he cut down their product line to about five. Now they’re huge.
  3. “Challenge is important.” He asks himself why he ain’t tripling his users every month. You gotta find creative ways to reach that target.
  4. “The dot bomb era is over.” Start raising revenue ASAP. That helps attract investors way better than flashing yer goofy projections on PowerPoint. “When you can say, We already started generating revenue, it puts you in a different pile from the rest.”
  5. “Crank up sales fast because sales sell. Get to risk mitigation ASAP.” That’s important ‘cause investors is more risk-averse than dey ever was before. And the banks ain’t lending. Actual sales sounds a lot less risky.
  6. “Keep your people motivated.” Use every success to get your people rejuvenated. Tell ‘em stories from the road. Celebrate small successes.
  7. An entrepreneur is somebody who goes from failure to failure to failure without getting discouraged.” It’s good to come from a sales background so yer already used to rejection. “If you’re a wallflower, get over it,” he says. Then David Culver follows that with, “The fortune is in the follow-up.”
Chopin Theater

Stage – courtesy Chopin Theater

Gotta Go

I gotta catch a cab to another meeting, so after plenty o’ good food ‘n’ drink, I say g’bye to the FFF kinda early. Two guys tag along to share the ride. One’s an investment banker, the other a VC.

And wouldn’t you know it—I trip on another pothole, right there on the sidewalk. Now my suit’s slashed in both knees. Neither o’ these guys helps me up like the bums did.

And when I drop ‘em off, neither offers to share the cab fare.

Happy New Year to all o’ youse out there.  Cheers from da merry land of Shark Tank Meets the Apprentice.  

NOTE TO JOHN – I seen your articles on a buncha sites.  One o’ dem usta be a real good tech jounal run by the Huffington Post.  It went through a buncha changes.  Now it’s runnin’ third-rate soft porn right along with da articles.  Don’t know what’s with that but thought you’d wanna know.

NOTE TO LOOP – Thanks for the heads-up.  I’ll check it out and maybe put a stop to it.

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Continue to WHAT’S GOOD?

Go back to Part 1

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Da Contacts

Palette App – www.paletteapp.com

Funding Feeding Frenzy – www.facebook.com/FundingFeedingFrenzy

The Chopin Theater – www.chopintheatre.com/event.php?id=2275&pageId=soon

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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5 Comments

Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, big money, BNC Venture Capital, Bums, Characters, chicago, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, chopin theater, Christmas, city, Conflict, CORE Insight Story, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Events, FFF, Funding Feeding Frenzy, Innovation, Internet, Internet Marketing, Invention, investor, loop lonagan, Marketing, Mastermind Advisory Board, Mobile, Mobile App, Mobile Marketing, new companies, pitch, Software, The City

THE BUM IN ME

Funding Feeding Frenzy – Part 2

VERBATIM by Loop Lonagan—investor and man about town,

as told to John Jonelis

FFF LogoLoop Lonagan here. I’m headin’ out to this year’s Funding Feeding Frenzy. It’s the big event if ya wanna see all o’ Chicago’s best startups in one place. This time the FFF is happenin’ at a place called the Chopin Theater northwest o’ downtown and I wanna see how that’s gonna work out. Will there be a string quartet? They yusta hold it at a huge automobile showroom which seems weird but worked out. It had about half the floor space of McCormick Place and plenty o’ room fer hordes o’ people to roam. But this is gonna be a lot different.

One thing I wanna impress on your readers, John, is about Chicago itself. You know I love this place but face it—it’s a city with all the usual warts ‘n’ barnacles. And every neighborhood is different, so yer either at home here or yer not. Nobody never gave me no trouble. Maybe I’m no pushover, so I got an advantage. But if I’m gonna tell this story, I gotta give you the whole picture. And I’m gonna give it my best shot.

Clybourn

The Street

I’m comin’ in by train and can’t resist gettin’ off at the old Clybourn Station. From here, it’s only a mile walk to where I’m goin’. That looks real good on a map. But my advice to you is don’t do it. Get off all the way downtown and take a nice comfy cab to the event. This ain’t a bad part o’ town. Nothin’ like that. Just take my advice.

Once I’m on the Clybourn platform I draw in a lungful o’ cold air. It’s feelin’ like the Christmas season just gettin’ started up here and I got a wad o’ money in my pocket. I get my choice o’ passages down to street level. That always feels like descending into the bowels of hell. Mincing little concrete steps winding through grimy concrete tunnels. Once-yellow paint peeling off the walls. And the best part is you get yer choice o’ tunnels! They’s all the same!

It’s still early and the usual crowd is layin’ about the sidewalk. I step over Old Man Percy, ‘cause I don’t wanna disturb his sleep, but the others is startin’ to rise’n’ shine. I give a hearty good morning to Fred and Big Bubba and ignore Merry ‘n’ Pippin huddled in a corner—those two give me the creeps. Summa these people are new to me but you can’t never know ‘em all. Familiar faces go missing but still, there’s never no shortage. I got it on good authority that the poor will always be among us.

People tell me these guys makes Fifty Gs just panhandling. I say it’s a buncha hooey. The idea got invented in that Sherlock Holmes story, The Man With the Twisted Lip, ‘n people been repeatin’ it ever since. If it was true these guys’d find a warm place to sleep. Ever try an icy Bridgesidewalk ‘round about Christmastime? And there’s more ‘o these people hangin’ ‘round than ever. That means more competition. That means harder times fer all o’ them. Sure, any profession’s got it’s elite that strike it rich, but that leaves the multitudes, scrablin’ fer crumbs.

The Professionals

I always say there’s a lot to bein’ a good bum. You feel so warm inside when you drop a buck in his hat. ‘Specially near Christmas. Makes your whole day. Some ‘o these derelicts play musical instruments and summa them is pretty good at it too. Come to think of it, these guys fill an important role in society. They’re public servants. Maybe the city should fit ‘em into their patronage system. It’d mean more votes for The Chicago Machine. After all, The Machine is politicians.  And politicians is people paid to be bums.

Hell, when you get down to it, there ain’t much difference between these guys ‘n’ me. Maybe I invest alota money, drink good liquor, sleep in a warm bed. But whadda I really do for the world? I been givin’ that some thought lately and all I comes up with is this—I provide liquidity. Sounds pretty shallow, don’t it? Let’s just imagine some day I make a big mistake and lose it all. They throw me on the street. In no time, I’m part o’ this crowd. Makes a guy think. Maybe I got a talent for it, though—who knows? But it’s a profession without nobility.

Of course there’s gangs and outright criminals in the mix. Then there’s a lotta homeless people with no hope. Alcoholics, drug addicts, and whack jobs. Minds gone over the edge. They say Old Man Percy’s got millions stuffed in the bank but he’s sleepin’ here on the pavement whenever they shove him outa the loony bin. You think you can change him? Think again.

The Scholar

Everybody’s awake now. I always ask if one of ‘em can recite a famous quotation. Gotta keep up the level o’ education here. So I calls for somethin’ Christmassy. I give ‘em a choice—Isaiah 7:14 or Matthew 1:23, whatever their preference—theys exactly the same text. And Fred rattles it right off while Big Bubba stares him in the face, mouth hangin’ open. Fred’s a real intelligent guy. He’d be a good addition to my team.

Note to John – Why not make him a reporter?

Note to Loop – Bring him around for an interview.

Anyway, Fred’s recitation earns a C-Note for every one of ‘em that’s present—even Old Man Percy and the two Hobbits. Except I peel off ten fer Fred. Hell, it really is almost Christmas. I know most of ‘em is gonna waste it but I ain’t tellin’ these guys what to do with their own money.

Then Big Bubba rumbles to himself in a deep bass, “Emanuel—I thought dat was da name o’ da mayor.” Whadaya gonna do with guys like that?

Note to John— I ain’t had no coffee yet this mornin’ after a real rough night. Too much booze and no sleep, so maybe you oughta clean up my copy. I think I’m runnin’ on like the old days—I mean before I got some college. Understand what I’m sayin’?

Note to Loop— I find your account lucid and concise. I’ll publish it as is. And a graduate degree in finance at the University of Chicago is more than “some” college.

Overpass

Stumbling over the Truth 

Fred and Big Bubba take me up on my offer of breakfast. There’s a good old diner along the way. That’s the real reason I picked this station. But before you get to the gentry part o’ town, you gotta walk under the overpasses. The Kennedy Expressway bridges make natural roofs fer the homeless and the piles o’ rubble at the sides reek somethin’ horrible. Yeah it’s raw but so is any city.

Another thing about cities is potholes. In good times there was always holes in the street. Now, with this economic depression it’s worse than ever. So we’re walkin’ down Ashland Avenue at a brisk clip, enjoyin’ each other’s company and I’m scannin’ around like any careful city dweller when the next thing I knows I’m on my face. Lousy pothole—right in the sidewalk of all places.

Fred and Big Bubba haul me back to my feet and brush me off and I check for damage. Maybe a guy can get away with slashed knees and filth on his rumpled blue jeans but it don’t look right on a $2,000 suit. In an instant I go from Mr. Bigshot to a reject from the Salvation Army. But now I fit in with my companions, so I shrug it off. And I got a mile ahead o’ me to walk off the sprained ankle. But in a couple blocks we reach the nice section and the diner I told you about.

The Private Room

The cashier at the restaurant tries to push us out the door like we’re the Blues Brothers or somethin’. Probably thinks we’ll drive off the clientele. Phooey. Maybe this is a classier joint than Julio’s House of Jalapeños but hey—it’s still a diner, not the Chez Paul. So I ask for Lonny, the owner, and he leads us to a back room stacked with boxes. They lay a nice table for us and the room is perfect for planning out crimes and runnin’ poker games.

Big Bubba orders three stacks o’ pancakes. He butters every one of ‘em and drowns ‘em all in maple syrup. Fred sticks with a piece o’ pecan pie. But I dig into steak ‘n eggs with toast and A-1 Sauce ‘n’ bacon. And more important—a big pot o’ coffee for each of us. Round about the fifth cup I’m feelin’ a whole lot better. Fred smokes a cigarette. We talk. Lotsa stimulating conversation. It cheers me up. Now I’m ready—ready to meet with big money at the FFF.

Back on the street, Big Bubba and Fred part ways with a wave and a Merry Christmas. When I suck in the brisk air, I feel more coherent and alert—ready to pick winners, negotiate terms. Less than a mile left to walk off this sprained ankle. I think about them that puts their heads down on a frozen sidewalk and the ankle don’t seem so bad no more.

Note to John—Do I sound more coherent and alert now that I had my coffee?

Note to Loop—You’re always alert.

The Gentrification

Here’s another thing I find interesting about the city. Here in these gentrified sections you can never tell what’s inside a building. Alotta these are new construction or complete makeovers with big-time brands on their signs. Those buildings are nice inside—most o’ the time. But the others can surprise you. The outside of the Chopin Theater looks like a dump that’s been a dump for the last hundred years. Turns out completely different once you walk in the door. This place is gorgeous. A great spot for the FFF.

Chopin Theater

Chopin Theater

A beautiful lady greets me like royalty. I check the layout. Nice lobby. Nice coffee bar. Nice theater space for the companies to present. Steep stadium seating so everybody can see. Doors and windows floating around the stage give it a class look. I figure them’s props for some production but it’s a bonus for us.

Chopin Theater Lobby

Chopin Theater Lobby – photo courtesy of theater

I take in the morning’s presentations. Then I go bummin’ downstairs. Wow! A huge room with a great spread of food and drink. This is way better than the old place. People can talk and strike deals while they feed at the trough and make all the racket they want. Meanwhile, the presentations go on in the kinda setting they deserve—quiet and focused. Kudos to David Culver and company for finding this spot and nailing it down.

Chopin Theater Stage

Chopin Theater Stage – photo courtesy theater

So what’s the FFF all about? One o’ the most important things in the world—starting brand new companies! That means keepin’ as many people off the streets as we can! So here I am wolfing down food, crackin’ jokes, and talkin’ to intelligent company. Lotsa stimulating conversation. It cheers me up. Just like breakfast with the bums. Now I’m ready—ready fer the rest o’ the day.

Chopin Theater

Chopin Theater – photo courtesy theater

Listen John, I went off on a tangent and didn’t even cover the event yet. Now my batteries is gettin’ kinda low. I’ll buy some fresh ones and get back to ya later. Fer now, have a joyous Christmas.

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Continue to Part 3

Go back to Part 1

Links

Chopin Theater

http://www.chopintheatre.com/event.php?id=2275&pageId=soon

Funding Feeding Frenzy

https://www.facebook.com/FundingFeedingFrenzy

Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. I do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not my fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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9 Comments

Filed under Characters, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, FFF, Funding Feeding Frenzy, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, jobs, The City

SIX REASONS WHY TECH BELONGS TO THE YOUNG

entrepreneur@nuWhy are young entrepreneurs taking over the tech world? Who gets these kids charged with the kind of passion that induces investors to open their tightly held wallets?  They lick their chops like old men lusting after eager young virgins. We’re going to take a closer look at this phenonemon.

I’m at Northwestern’s all-day conference put on by “entrepreneur@nu,” their in-house accelerator for student startups.  This session is called “Tech for Non-Techies.” I asked Bill Blaire to cover the keynote address. I want to be here, at this session. I want to hear Mert Iseri who’s on the panel. I’ve seen him present at the Levi mastermind group with his parner Yuri Malina and I already visited their skunkworks on the Northwestern campus for a closer look. These guys are recent grads, young and untested. But I’d be pleased to work with them no matter what the venture. (Well, almost.) Right now, they have something exciting by the tail. But if it morphs in an entirely new direction, it’s a good bet they’ll succeed just as well at whatever that is.  Consultants are gathering like wolves but Mert and Yuri don’t need them–not yet, as you will see.

So here I am to hear Mert but I’m in for a surprise. I see what looks like an entire panel of Merts. Yes, every one of them is as electric as my favorite young entrepreneur. They each come from a different background, a different expertise, a different culture. But the reckless abandon is there in all five of them—and it’s addictive. I love it. Truly I do. So do the investors.

THE JOCKEY OR THE HORSE?

My belief in two young entrepreneurs begs a familiar question. Which is more important—the jockey or the horse? I’m backing the jockey this time. Am I right?

I mention this to David Culver of Extraordinary Success – www.extraordinary-success.com. He responds with an interesting comment: “Last time I checked,” he says, “nobody won the Triple Crown, finishing without a horse.” He goes on to say he’s seen plenty of enthusiastic entrepreneurs flame out. But I’m rooting for these two jockeys anyway.

Mert

I believe the entrepreneur is more important than the product or service at the very early stages. I believe this to be true especially if the leader is young.  There’s no doubt these young entrepreneurs are smart–scary smart.  But more than that, they’re having a whale of a good time.  They think business is a blast–a rush.  They’ve found a new drug.  Instead of greed, they’re driven by joy.  Look into their eyes and tell me you want to compete with them.  I believe that the young have earned a number of advantages over those who call themselves “seasoned.” I can cite a few good reasons for these beliefs:

1—An early stage product and an early-stage business model will go through multiple iterations during the maturation process.  I’m talking huge changes happening fast. Seasoning doesn’t prepare you to handle that kind of rapid change—quite the reverse. But the young seem wired for it—especially students who have no responsibility outside of their class work, their venture.

2—These kids bootstrap on the shoulders of a university-provided ecosystem. Free labs. Free PhD-level advisors. Free prototypes. Plenty of collaboration. We’re talking about a new kind of accelerator. As lean startups and with modern technology they can get up and going quickly. It no longer takes 20 years and millions of dollars to get a company on track. Old folks are financially responsible. These kids have little to lose.

3—They live in a Bohemian community of highly intelligent and creative people, wild new ideas, and a spirit of shared innovation. They feed on each other’s ideas and enthusiasm. They multiply each other’s output. Avaricious old men don’t do that. We chain ourselves to our desks. If we ever come up with a new idea, we immediately build fences. And how many of us want to go back to our college-day living standards? University students don’t live under such burdens. Hey, they finally got out of Mom and Dad’s clutches—that’s enough for the time being, right?

4—The university now teaches them an important lesson: Permit yourself to fail. Failure merely affords the opportunity to change direction. It’s called “pivot.” Under circumstances like those, the process isn’t that scary. Philosophically, it’s a paradigm shift. I was never told to fail anywhere between kindergarten and grad school. Were you ever told such a thing?

5—These kids are untamed and impulsive. They learn a lot and learn it fast. But it’s what they don’t know that makes them fearless.   Old farts know better. Knowledge breeds risk-aversion.  That’s why we don’t start companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft.

6—Do any of you recall the malaise of the ‘70s? No gas–no jobs? Cottage industries sprang up all over. It was a practical way to earn the money to buy peanut butter. That phenomenon is happening again. Unlike computer games and other labor-intensive projects, mobile apps and web-based services are a kind of cottage industry. So this isn’t really new—it’s just different. And it’s a whole lot more exciting than selling macramé at an art fair.

A NEW CLASS OF ENTREPRENEURS

These kids are wildly enthused—their creativity is launched by the fuel of an adrenaline rush. Sparks fly around them. Fireworks. One commented that he’ll probably live only another 15 years because he never sleeps. Is this sounding like a recipe for a new class of successful entrepreneurs? I think so. I’ll ask again:  Do you expect to compete with them? Think again.

NorthwesternHas Northwestern found a way to teach the joy of creative drive? Sure looks that way. And why shouldn’t these kids be enthusiastic? They don’t know any better. They’re fresh. Untried. No tire tracks across their backs. For the most part, they have yet to get knocked around by the world. And here they are—at one of the most prestigious schools on the planet, and they’re learning the entrepreneur game from professionals with every possible resource at their fingertips.

When I attended this school they taught venture capitalism. I remember the day they brought in a couple VCs. Those guys had a peculiar message. It was their job to steer us away from venture capital and point us in safer directions. The LBO was the big thing back then. Debt was cheap and easy. Times change. It’s not so simple to borrow any more. I’m convinced that the lousy economy is stirring up the recent explosion of new ventures. And it’s plenty lousy right here in Chicago. Adversity breeds creativity. Northwestern is nurturing it.

If youth is winning out over age and experience in this one arena, I cheer them on. What they’re doing was unthinkable when I was their age. And you have to admire them—they’re doing it so well. This is a highly creative response to tragic circumstances. Jobs are scarce. For many, entrepreneurship is the only career path open after graduation.

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES

I’ll give you the takeaways from what was a wildly dynamic session:

1 – BUILD A GOOD TEAM—You don’t have to be a tech wizard to work for a tech startup. The purpose of being technical is to build a scalable product that works. A good initial team is made up of three elements: a developer, a designer, and a “Husla” (the business end). These are complimentary skill sets. Each personality type is actively seeking the others. A world of opportunity opens up when you view the future this way. For example, a pure developer focuses on building a solid product but may not be sensitive to other issues. A startup also needs a designer to translate that code into a good customer experience. It also needs a businessman that can sell product and run the operation. Fill out your team with all three elements. One panelist admitted that he hadn’t taken math since HS. He stayed up all weekend and got help from students and a prof for a math test. He failed utterly. Then he visited a huge conglomerate and found his talent in the marketing process. Where do you fit? You need to discover what value you bring—your CORE competency. Work on that element. Translate it into language that customers and decision makers understand. Find somebody smarter than you are in the other areas you need—people that are passionate about your idea. Friends if possible because co-founding a new company is a close relationship. If you don’t know who to bring onboard, get a team of advisors to help you vet people. The university is a great resource for that.

2 – LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN—One panelist developed a mobile app. But when he started out, he didn’t know anything about coding. So he learned all he could. Lots of listening. Lots of reading. Lots of playing with other apps. Another had to learn about payment processing to be able to empathize with customers. Another needed to learn about the medical industry and spent a lot of time searching on Google. If you know a little about disciplines outside your expertise, you make a good team leader. Don’t despair. Just knowing Java is awesome. Yes, top developers know lots of languages, but new languages come along all the time. Keep learning so you’re ready for the next opportunity. How technical do you really want to be? Learn the foundation. That understanding helps you find the tech people you need.

3 – GET A TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER—You don’t need to be the company tech guru. Find a technical co-founder. Outsourcing all the development just doesn’t work. You need a CORE capability to do itty-bitty things and reduce the need to hire outsiders. Outsourcing everything uses up seed money too fast and isn’t the most efficient way to make small changes. It’s especially not a practical way to create a winning unified design. In-house technical competency allows you to put out fires on the spot. You can orchestrate your outsource money more intelligently. You stand a fighting chance of building an end product that isn’t a hodgepodge of aimless code.  Also, a co-founder can hear ALL of your ideas–every one of them.

4 – DON’T KEEP SECRETS—Inventors are typically afraid to tell anybody their idea. These kids believe that’s the wrong way to think. They say, there are ten people already working on your idea and they’re smarter than you. If your idea is so simple that it’s easily stolen, then it’s already been invented. These kids believe you should tell everybody your idea and get as much help and feedback as you can. In their world, entrepreneurs love helping each other. Any one of them may have 63 ideas here and 64 ideas there. Impossible to work on them all. They actually need to filter their ideas. What kind of company do YOU want? Are you passionate about solving THAT problem? Get yourself involved in the crazy growth of the Chicago tech community. If you have an idea, go for it. Here’s how far they’ve carried this philosophy: They say, “It’s better to grow the pie as a whole than to fight over individual slices. Instead of taking a fighting stance, gather a community and be the hub. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Make your competitors your friends.”

5 – HAVE A LARGER PURPOSE—Out of all the insights, this one startles me the most. It goes like this: It’s easier to get people excited about saving 100,000 lives than to get them to believe in a device. Be committed to the PURPOSE not the SOLUTION. Otherwise, when you fail you’ll give up. I’m talking about a cause—something you believe in passionately—a larger purpose that keeps you trying when others fail. It’s crucial to hold strong beliefs, loosely held. Go to the customer. Show what you have. If the response is, “I won’t pay for that.” go back and find another solution that serves the PURPOSE. Before working on an idea, ask: “Am I solving an important problem?” The problems that you have in your own life are probably the same ones other people experience. Learn from your personal pain and passion. If you’re working on a larger PURPOSE, other people have the right to work on it too. You will actually welcome it.

6 – TELL A GOOD STORY—Somebody at Northwestern is teaching these kids to tell to do that. They’re poised. They’re concise. They’re on message. I will add to that, “WRITE a good story.” In consulting, I use a complex mindmap that asks one embarrassing question after another. If a client can answer all the questions, I know it’s a real business. One question in particularly seems extraordinarily difficult for entrepreneurs and nobody had ever answered it to my satisfaction. Then Mert did, and got it right—an immediate and strong response—just as if he’d rehearsed it. Amazing.

CLOSING QUOTES

“My entire life, I wanted to solve problems.” – “A lot of people don’t want to be consultants—do what you love.” – “When you’re a student you can take big risks and try new things without knowing what you’re doing.” – “Are you scared? JUST BUILD IT. You’ll be depressed for a little while because you’ll fail, but when you finally succeed, there’s no feeling like it.”

My thanks to Northwestern’s entrepreneur@nu entrepreneur.northwestern.edu for a brilliantly organized event, all the way from advance parking to orange-vested staff that pointed me in the right direction to a conference sparkling with excellent planning and execution.

And special thanks to the young panelists of this session—a group of people who can teach us all:

Elizabeth McCarthy, Moderator

Jeremiah Serapine of GrooveBuggroovebug.com

Stella Fayman of Entrepreneurs Unpluggd and Fee Fightersentrepreneursunpluggd.com and feefighters.com

Zach Johnson of Syndio Socialwww.syndiosocial.com

Mike McGee of Codeacadamywww.codecademy.com

Mert Iseri of SwipeSenseswipesense.com

Check out their sites carefully. They’re just as polished as big money but kids on a shoestring built these.

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GO TO – THE GROUPON EFFECT – “Throw yourself into the fire.”

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

27 Comments

Filed under Chicago Ventures, Events, Kellogg, Northwestern

THE GROUPON EFFECT – “Throw yourself into the fire”

Throw Yourself into the FireVERBATIM – Transcribed recording from Bill Blaire – as told to John Jonelis

This is Bill Blaire reporting on the keynote event at the Second Annual “entrepreneur @ nu” Conference.  Why they call it that, I dunno.  No capital letters.  So how come everybody complains about the way I talk?  You figure it out.

I’m here with John but he told me I should cover the big interview myself.  Pretty good, huh?   Well we’re gonna give it a shot.  Hope this gizmo’s recording my voice, ‘cause I ain’t gonna memorize this stuff.  That’s fer sure.

They open a wall and make the room bigger but the place is still packed.  I’m sitting with a crowd from the Levy entrepreneur group, so I gotta keep my voice down.  If I get any of this wrong, just write a comment and let me know about it.

The setup seems kinda strange.  It’s Andrew Mason from Groupon interviewed by his own VC, Peter Barris of NEA, who’s also on his board.  Kinda chummy to my way o’ thinking.  Barris is a smooth talker.  Makes me wonder which one of ‘ems really the boss.  He sez there’s gonna be two sets of questions.  Puffball and deeply embarrassing.  We’ll see.

Groupon

Turns out Andrew Mason starts college in engineering then transfers to music. Barris points out, “The best and most creative programmers were music majors.  I haven’t yet figured that out.”  Me neither but I heard it in other places too.  In college, Mason holds fake auditions for a fake play.  Then he stages a fake annual university event called ‘Mattress Day,’ where everybody brings their own mattress and they create the tallest stack.  He quotes Ben Franklin as saying he sees mattresses all the way from Chicago—as if there were a Chicago back then.  (Hey—check out that subjunctive verb.  Yeah, I can do that.)  The school shut Mattress Day down good ‘n hard, but he had a great time.  I guess the point is you gotta be playful and ready to take risks to succeed at this startup game.

Mason goes through a long trail of failed startups but keeps trying.  He loves music and he’s a computer geek—started building websites in high school.  It’s not till he graduates from Northwestern and he’s recording music and working as a freelance developer at the same time when he discovers that the Internet is a more wide-open creative space than music.  Not so congested with talent.

According to Mason, “I always assumed that people who developed companies were vastly smarter than me but I found out that’s just not true.”  So does he mean he’s smart or the other guys are dumb?  I give him the benefit of the doubt and call him an egalitarian.  (Hey—I can spout three-dollar words with the rest of ‘em.)

He gets, an idea for a website called Policy Tree and gets a scholarship to the University of Chicago to learn public policy.  Then in after few months o’ school he gets this idea for a different website and drops out to start a company called THE POINT.  Turns out a cell phone company wants to charge him 150 bucks to cancel their service.  That after being a loyal customer for five years. He figures a lot of people must be having the same problem.  “I wanted to make it possible for people to come together to accomplish something that no one of them could accomplish alone.  Because people’s ideas aren’t coordinated, they can’t cross the finish line.  I needed a way to coordinate a lot of people with the same problem.”  So that one idea grows from an irritation to an actual company, kinda like a tumor, I guess.

Barris’ boss hates THE POINT.  Sez it’s the worst idea he heard in 35 years in the VC business.  But he likes Mason’s enthusiasm so he invests in it anyway.  Sounds like another example of a jockey who’s more important than the horse.  That make any sense to you?   We can argue it out later.

The problem with THE POINT is it’s too abstract—too hard to explain to people.  As he put it, “How do you convince people that the idea matters to them personally?  It turns out that the best ideas are just a baby step away from something that already exists.”  Another problem—if the idea isn’t tangible, it’s hard to find other backers.  He wasn’t gonna be able to fund every good idea he planned.  Does he quit?  No, he picks the best element—the one that’s easiest to explain—and starts Groupon.  Barris made a good call after all.

Mason: “Groupon snuck up on us.  So many companies wanted it that I knew I must be solving a problem.”  He finds out that local businesses don’t have a good way to reach their local customers and that’s the pain point he works on.  Merchants have TV, radio, newspaper—traditional stuff—all expensive, all paid up-front whether it works or not.  So this solves a consumer problem and a merchant problem, too.

GROWING PAINS
Groupon takes off big time like everybody and his mother knows.  Forbes calls it “The fastest growing company in history.”  Meanwhile, Mason faces his biggest challenge.  He never managed people before.  Now he’s got 12,000 employees.  He used to write code, design stuff, and personally answer customer calls.  That just don’t scale.  Now he’s gotta delegate, build teams, set goals to keep those teams aligned—it’s a big role change.  Think about it.  Amazon is in 9 or 10 countries in 15 years.  Groupon is in 43 or so in just a few months.  According to Mason:  “Going public has been a stress test.  It forced us to get stronger.”

Mason calls Groupon an operating system for commerce.  Their biggest problem?  “When it works too well it’s like concentrated detergent—when you put too much in…  Merchants get too many customers—a completely new problem that they’ve never had to deal with and we’ve had to adjust our operations to solve it.”  Hey, that’s the kinda suffering I can get comfortable with.

New ideas?  Lots of ‘em.  Now 30% of their sales are mobile.  They’re test marketing a pull strategy where you say, hey, I’m hungry.  Where can I get a good rack o’ ribs?  And you go on the mobile Internet and find a deal.  That’s different from their email push strategy.

This year, I been hearing a lotta startups say they’re gonna be better than Groupon because of this or that dingus they offer.  Turns out it’s harder than people figure and Groupon’s not done inventing itself either.  These people are very smart.  And as Mason tells it, it’s a very intense business that needs a lotta operational excellence.  As he puts it, “We built our moat inside the castle walls.  People get up to the walls and say, ‘Sweet.’  But once they get inside they find out there’s a big scary moat and all the gold’s on the other side.”  That’s brings up a great picture in my mind and tells me all I need to know about the barriers to entry.

Groupon
COMPANY CULTURE

People read stories like them hiring a guy dressed in ballerina outfit to walk around the grounds for a week without talking to anybody.  Then when Mayor Bloomberg comes, they got a pony in the office.  Mason doesn’t think about culture that way.  “Culture as the element that helps get work done.  And that has to get stronger as we grow.”  So they hire entrepreneurs.  They give ‘em goals but also the freedom to pursue those goals the way they want.  That approach has launched a bunch of new business segments.  Hard to compete with a big and fast-growing company that acts like that.  Reminds me of Google.  Anybody agree with me?

Has Groupon contributed to the growth of entrepreneurship in Chicago?  Mason doesn’t feel comfortable with the question but when Barris asks the audience, everybody shouts out “Yes.”  Myself, I think Groupon is the biggest morale-booster this city ever saw.  Entrepreneurship is exploding here because of one spectacular success.  Finally Mason answers the question. “We couldn’t have built Groupon in Silicon Valley.  Hundreds of our customer service people have come out of the Second City improv tradition.   We solve problems using people—not always technology and self-service which is the bias in Silicon Valley.  In Palo Alto you get a lot of mission driven people who are good at the one thing they do.  And the cost of an engineer has tripled.  Chicago has just as much talent.”  Amen to that, brother.

The universities in Chicago are teaching entrepreneurship big time these days.  Three important messages:

1.) It’s okay to fail. 
2.) Be persistent.
3.) Surround yourself with other talented people. 

Mason wishes there was more entrepreneurship training when he went to school.  “I learned more in an internship on music technology—actually doing things—than I ever learned in class.  Throw yourself into the fire.  Go to a company and offer yourself cheap or for free so you get a lot of latitude to fail.”

Q&A

How will they stay ahead?  He wants to be the operating system of ecommerce and talks about how all their new ideas support each other.

Is there a social media bubble?  Not compared to the 90’s.

Does Groupon do social good like THE POINT meant to do?  They’re making things possible for millions of people.  Companies have grown because of it.  That’s business enabling business—a nice slant on the do-gooders.

How do you isolate Groupon employees from media criticism?   “The employees know what’s really going on in the company so they have thick skin and stay focused on long term while this new industry is being built.”

AFTERWARDS
John takes me for a walk around campus.  Beautiful place. No wonder he went to school here.  But they’re tearing down parking lots to make more buildings.  Digging up others to make green space.  Those numbers don’t add up.  I dunno if I believe this but John claims he avoids campus events any more.  After a long drive he gets a rhino boot on his car. This time they sell a parking pass online, so he shows up.

We stop at the Allen Center and run into the Wildcat Angels just starting a meeting.  I like that group.  After grabbing some refreshments, we go down the halls.  Funny thing:  The gift shop is open and John buys one o’ them silver cases holds business cards.  Real class, too—sez ‘Kellogg’ on it.  Never had one before.  But he can’t wrangle a Kellogg nametag lanyard.  Go figure.

Find Northwestern’s entrepreneur program at http://entrepreneur.northwestern.edu/
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GO TO – SIX REASONS WHY TECH BELONGS TO THE YOUNG

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at
www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com
Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved.

46 Comments

Filed under Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Kellogg, Northwestern

A CONTRARIAN VC MODEL

Midwest Renaissance FundMidwest Renaissance Fund Launches in Chicago

As told to me by Loop Lonagan –

“Hey, I’m a Futures trader but that ain’t workin’ these days.  I seen these computers swallow up 75% of the market.  Used to be 7,500 floor traders here in Chicago.  Now I count just a few.  Most of those oh-so-carefully-tested trading strategies don’t work no more and the old rules get broken all the time.  Bonds don’t look so good either.  Our own government got downgraded for heaven’s sake.  Real estate is in the tank and still sinking.  Even gold took a plunge this month.  Maybe 20% of the country is out of a job.  Nobody hiring.  Nobody lending.  I think the VCs are asleep in bed.  Cash just sits. Lots of it.  This economy is all clogged-up and nothing moves—it just shakes real hard.  The bank pays exactly the same interest as my Serta Perfect Sleeper and inflation looms.  So tell me some good news.  Where do I put my money?  I wonder.  Is this that rare time in an investor’s life when the smart money—the real smart money sees blood on the streets and buys for the long run?  Warren Buffett seems to think so. Gotta go with Warren.

“So the food is great. I like the people. I sit in this plush chair in a room of 60 others.  Not the retail crowd. These are the pioneers of today.   Yeah, lots of ’em got MBAs from Kellogg and Booth and I know some guys here got their Ph.D. I also know some of those grew up on the tough streets and fought their way to the top. Now they’re all movers in the financial world. Any one of ‘em can plunk down a quarter mil without even mentioning it to the wife.  Like tipping a waiter.  I stick to coffee and listen real close while most of my friends hit the hard stuff.  The room gets hot and I take off my Hart Shaffner and Marx suit jacket and loosen my hundred-dollar tie.  This is what I hear:

“Len Bland, Ray Markman and a real big team of experts are ready to launch the Midwest Renaissance Fund.  Len built this organization brick by brick. I watched him do it. That gives me confidence.  Now he’s ready to pounce.  Does he smell blood on the streets like Buffett does?

“I like to see discipline in a fund.  I also like a strategy told in a few words. In my experience, the best ideas are clear and simple.  Here’s their plan:  Invest in and mentor early stage Midwest companies at a discount in under-invested sectors. Hey, that sounds pretty good.  What do they look for in a company?   A good product.  Good management.  Okay, that makes sense.  What makes a good team?  Education.  Straight thinking.  A track record of success.  Those are good old-fashioned business values.  I can relate to that big-time.

“I ask a few questions and like the answers.  This bunch has their own skin in the game—even more, they committed their own sweat. If a company in their portfolio needs a manager, one of the founders of the fund does the job or sees his stake get knocked down.  They even help manage some of these companies before they put in any money.  They plan to monitor progress day-by-day.  How’s that for oversight?  This is way beyond the usual seat at the board or quarterly checkup.  So I sit straight, grab my gold Cross pen and scribble notes all over their full-color brochure.

“What do they invest in?  Mobile apps?  Biotech?  Silicon Valley?  Nope.  They’re into consumer packaged goods, software, financials, healthcare, clean tech—wherever their team can make a difference.  All under-invested sectors.  That means Midwest businesses.  The Big Ten states.  The breadbasket of the world where you almost never see a VC.  And their target is a sweet spot called “The Valley of Death.”  Don’t let that throw you.  It’s is a stage in a company’s life when they’re too big for Angels and too small for VCs so they can’t get funded no matter how good they are.  And what kinda return do they expect?  They’re talking 25-35% IRR.  That’s huge.  I scooch up straighter in my chair but I notice that the numbers don’t faze anybody in the room.  That’s normal stuff in the VC world.

“What’s safe these days?  Sounds like venture capital might be.  Strange world, isn’t it?  Renaissance is gonna stay small and nimble and they’re already 85% of the way to their funding target.  That means I gotta get my research done and make up my mind.  Am I in or out?”

That’s what I heard.  What did you hear?  Comments welcome.  View the Midwest Renaissance Fund website at www.midwestrenaissance.com

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Go to – EVERYBODY GETS FUNDED

Go to – BNC SUMMER #4

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at
www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com
Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2011 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved.

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