Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Keith Laepple (Angel Investor)


The blog-series “Startup People of Seattle” introduces some of the key personas in the ecosystem to learn more about what they are doing, to share their thoughts and ideas, and to promote networking. 


In our second interview, meet Keith Laepple:
“I was surprised by the amount of effort it takes to do due diligence and to make an informed investment decision. On the flip side of that I was also surprised by how interesting and rewarding it is to meet entrepreneurs of all kinds.”
Keith Laepple is an angel investor with Microsoft background. He participated in several rounds of SAC and now ‘graduated’ into the SeaChange Fund. 



Q: Keith, thank you for taking the time! I was wondering, you have spent your whole career with Microsoft and have never been involved in startups, how did you get into angel investing?
A: That is an excellent question. I was invited to the Seattle Angel Conference by a former coworker. I decided to follow his invitation because I was fascinated by the founding stories of companies like Facebook for example. I think its impressive that companies like that started in the mind of an entrepreneur. Personally, I am motivated because I feel like I have expertise that can contribute to the creation of new businesses and products. 
Q: Do you work closely with the companies that you invest in then?
A: Actually, not really. I think most of my contribution happens during due diligence. After that I can help with my network etc., but I am trying not to get too involved with the startups I invest in. Entrepreneurs get lots of ideas and input from many places. An angel investor’s idea is just one of them, and an angel investor does not always know what is best for the company – even if the angel had a successful career or has founded startups before. I believe that every startup takes a unique path, and it must figure that path out by itself. Aside from all that, startups move so fast, it would be impossible to always know what is going on in all the startups that I invest in. 
Q: You brought up due diligence. Obviously that term is super important in angel investing, so how would you define it and how does a due diligence process look like?
A: Yes, so due diligence is the process in which an investor decides whether he wants to invest in a startup or not. The second part of your questions is more difficult to answer, because everybody does due diligence differently. Some people go through the process more extensively then others, and people also prioritize different things, like team or industry for example. Personally, when I started investing in startups, I would pay a lot of attention to the technical aspects of a business. After a while I started looking at the team more. Today, what I ask for first, are financials. Startups are very risky investments, so if a startup doesn’t promise 10x returns, I can sort that startup out right away because it is not investable.
Q: You say finances are such an important factor in your decision making. I am wondering, how reliable are financial numbers predicted by entrepreneurs?
A: Investors know that the numbers we get from founders aren’t exact. We really look at the thought process and the assumptions to conclude whether an estimation seems to make sense. Entrepreneurs should use both the top-down and the bottom-up approach to come up with their financials, and they should also discuss those numbers with their co-founders, advisors etc. This whole process helps narrowing down realistic predictions. Of course, predictions remain only predictions, and in the startup environment a lot can happen. Because of that I like to see an entrepreneur think through different scenarios and have those different scenarios be reflected in the financial analysis; in the form of worst case, good case and best case for example. 
Q: Going back to how angel investing started for you, the Seattle Angel Conference, how was that experience like for you and what surprised you/ what did you learn?
A: First of all, it was a lot of fun. I also learned a ton. SAC really is a great place to go to for first-time investors and first-time entrepreneurs. It is a great teaching format. I was surprised by the amount of effort it takes to do due diligence and to make an informed investment decision. I think because of that active angel investing is best for retired or self-employed people who have a lot of flexibility. On the flip side of that I was also surprised by how interesting and rewarding it is to meet entrepreneurs of all kinds. I love having that variety, which is also one reason I wouldn’t constraint myself to just investing in one kind of company. 
Q: By saying that, are you then willing to invest in companies that are in industries you are not familiar with?
A: Absolutely, I don’t think domain knowledge contributes to making me a better investor. It would make me a better advisor or board member, but like I said earlier, I think that angels shouldn’t be in such roles anyway. I think I can do due diligence effectively by reaching out to experts in the field and getting their thoughts on the idea. I also want diversification in my portfolio, so naturally I should invest in a variety of companies. Not limiting myself to a specific kind of company allows me to invest in the best companies, not just the best companies in one area. Such constraints would leave me with limited options, and I don’t think that helps my ROI. But I know that there are different opinions on this subject. Many investment groups focus on solving one specific problem for example, and I have no actual data to prove that my approach is better than theirs. 
Q: Talking about investment-preferences – what does your investment thesis look like and where all have you invested?
A: I think my thesis would be: Be open minded, do it in a group and follow the money. I have invested in SAC, the SeaChange Fund, Alliance of Angels and I have done three individual investments.
Q: Last question, what recommendation would you give someone new to the ecosystem?
A: I actually met people at a graduation party recently that asked me the same question. I would say to go to meetup.com, to find events to go to and then to network. I think the same advice is relevant for startups as well by the way. Entrepreneurs need to make sure to not work on their startup in a bubble. I would also recommend going to the SAC events, the open coffee on Tuesday mornings and some of the events at WeWork, Galvanize or Impact Hub. Also meeting John helps. John is great when it comes to connecting people. Another event I have gone to in the past and that I really enjoyed was New Tech Seattle.


Here are some things I learned from this interview:
  • Due diligence is the process in which an investor decides whether he wants to invest in a startup or not. Unlike often taught in school due diligence doesn’t follow a specific process, but everybody does it differently.
  • While financial predictions can’t be exact, they at least give an angel an idea weather a company has the potential to deliver high returns and is thus investible in the first place.
  • Talking to industry experts during due diligence can be very helpful if an investor isn’tfamiliar with the industry himself.
  • Angel Investing is a lot of work, but also very rewarding in the sense that angels become part of the exciting startup ecosystem.


In the interview Keith mentioned some resources and organizations that he finds helpful, find out more about them here:
Seattle Angel Conference: https://www.meetup.com/de-DE/
SeaChange Fund: https://seachange.fund/


About Seattle Angel:
A strong ecosystem creates an environment that allows startups to thrive. Seattle Angel’s goal is to strengthen Seattle’s startup ecosystem by increasing the access to funding for entrepreneurs to push their ideas further.


Seattle Angel Conference:
SAC round XVI is about to start. Are you an entrepreneur looking to get about $200k in angel funding? Are you curious to learn more about pitching, to polish all the documents needed for investments and to receive great feedback? Or are you an accredited business angel who wants to learn more about angel investing and due diligence? In any of these cases you should consider reaching out to us. You can find more information here: https://www.seattleangelconference.com/
For any questions please reach out to: sechrest@gmail.com


About the author: Sven Goepfrich
Sven Goepfrich is currently finishing his MBA in Syracuse. His studies focus on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. At his school, he is working for the department of finance. Sven was actively interning with the Seattle Angel Conference in summer 2019. He is currently looking for full-time career opportunities in this field.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Mike Grabham (Startup Coach)

The blog-series “Startup People of Seattle” introduces some of the key personas in the ecosystem to learn more about what they are doing, to share their thoughts and ideas, and to promote networking. 


In our first interview, meet Mike Grabham:
“It is so much easier today to start a company then it was 15 years ago. I believe that if you have an idea you should go for it and try it.”
Mike Grabham is a 6x founder. He has experienced success and failure and now uses what he has learned to coach startups. Mike helps founders validate and refine their business models until eventually finding customer fit (PMF) for new products and services. He also offers an online course called "New Idea to Customer Course".


To start, could you please introduce yourself shortly Mike?
Sure, I have been living in Seattle for 20 years now and have been doing startup-things basically my whole career, so I am very involved in the community around here. Currently I am helping entrepreneurs for a living as a consultant or coach (https://www.michaelgrabham.com/).
What do you love about your job as a startup coach?
I have started so many companies over the years and I made many good but also many bad decisions. I enjoy sharing what I have learned with people who are going through the same stuff. It is so much easier today to start a company then it was 15 years ago. I believe that if you have an idea you should go for it and try it.
On LinkedIn you describe yourself as a 6-times founder. Could you highlight some of what you have learned throughout these entrepreneurial experiences?
One thing is that you must be passionate not just about building a business but also about what the business does when being part of a founding team. When things get rough that passion is crucial. Another thing is to always surround yourself with very smart people. This becomes especially important when hiring employees or when looking for partners. Try to find people with complementary skills and consider you will be in a long-term relationship with them. Therefore, make sure to interview and get to know them before making such a commitment. Even with angel investors you got to make sure you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. 
As a coach I learned that most startups are not talking to enough customers to deeply understand the problem they are trying to solve. This is very important though, so I try to push founders to do extensive customer discovery. I say “Talk to more customers” a lot. Over the years I have seen that if you are doing a good job with hiring the right people as well as with understanding customers you have a good chance for success. 
What makes a startup seem promising to you?
Again, its about the people. They must be good people and I must want to be working with them. A second aspect is the problem they are solving. I am not interested in stuff that already exists in similar ways. I want to work on new solutions, therefore uniqueness is very important to me.
What recommendation would you give someone new to the startup ecosystem here in Seattle?
It happens to me constantly that someone new to Seattle comes up to me asking for places to go, etc. There are many meetups for example that allow someone to network and enter the ecosystem, like the Open Coffees on Tuesdays that John Sechrest organizes. There really is no shortage of opportunities to meet people here in Seattle. Because of that, I recommend thinking about what your interests are and what you want to learn more about first. Once you know that, go on Geekwire, WTIA, meetup.com where there are lots of events etc. posted. I also always recommend New Tech Seattle.
Great! Thank you so much for taking the time.

Here are some things I learned from this interview:
  • Startups are about people. First, it is super important to get together a great team of people who enjoy working with each other, who are smart and who have complimentary skills. Second, a startup builds products for people, so it is crucial to understand their problem. 
  • A founder must be passionate about the problem he is solving. Being passionate about building a company is not enough.


In the interview Mike mentioned a bunch of resources and organizations he finds helpful, find out more about them here:


About Seattle Angel:
A strong ecosystem creates an environment that allows startups to thrive. Seattle Angel’s goal is to strengthen Seattle’s startup ecosystem by increasing the access to funding for entrepreneurs to push their ideas further.


Seattle Angel Conference:
SAC round XVI is about to start. Are you an entrepreneur looking to get about $200k in angel funding? Are you curious to learn more about pitching, to polish all the documents needed for investments and to receive great feedback? Or are you an accredited business angel who wants to learn more about angel investing and due diligence? In any of these cases you should consider reaching out to us. You can find more information here: https://www.seattleangelconference.com/
For any questions please reach out to: sechrest@gmail.com


About the author: Sven Goepfrich 
Sven Goepfrich is currently finishing his MBA in Syracuse. His studies focus on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. At his school, he is working for the department of finance. Sven was actively interning with the Seattle Angel Conference in summer 2019. He is currently looking for full-time career opportunities in this field.



Saturday, June 22, 2019

Starting the Sweet 16 Seattle Angel Conference with Workshops

We are starting on the 16th Seattle Angel Conference. The beginning of the cycle starts with an panel presentation about Seattle Angel Experiences.  Yoko Okano will moderate a panel with Isaac Nicholes, Minda Brusse and Allen Nieman.

This panel will be on June 25th, 2019. For registration details, look at the meetup group : https://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Angel/events/261930323/

All of the upcoming workshops are available on the meetup site: 
http://meetup.com/Seattle-Angel
 

The workshops include: 

June 25 - Seattle Angel Investing Experiences
July 9    - Angel 101 - Starting the Angel Investing Journey
July 16 - Due Diligence Basics
July 23 - Reading Startup Financials for Investors
July 25 - Angel Investing for the Tech Community 
July 30 - Deal Terms 
August 1 - Pitch Deconstruction Workshop (Seattle)
August 6 - Addressing Climate Change by Angel Investing
August 13 - Pitch Deconstruction Workshop (Redmond) 


This is preparation for companies that are thinking of participating in the next round of the Angel Conference.  The company application date is August 29th



Thursday, May 23, 2019


BioInteractive Technologies with TENZR and Lucent Biosciences with SOILEOS were granted $110,000 each by angel investors in SAC XV to keep growing their businesses in Healthtech and Agritech.
     

The Seattle Angel Conference has just concluded it’s 15th event, granting $220,000 to two startups. The event was well organized by @John Sechrest, founder of the Seattle Angel Conference whose mission is to accelerate the startup ecosystem in the Seattle Area. 





In attendance were investors, entrepreneurs and supporters of all backgrounds and expertise considering the presenting companies were diverse in their products, markets, and industries. The mix created a wonderful networking environment for building great new connections where one would not normally develop them.
  
The conference began with a kickoff by John Sechrest. Elaine Werffeli provided an overview of the state of startup investing in the Pacific Northwest. It was delightful to know that the angel investing community has grown annually in the region and that the Northwest leads the way for funding Women only and Women & Men startups. This was followed by a panel discussion with Sharad Agrawal, Fran Dannaway, and Geoff Harris moderated by Yoko Okano. 




The Seattle Angel Conference XV Finalists pitching their companies were:
  • Lisi Global: Environmentally safe, patented electronic technology that eradicates soil pests and pathogens that cause $350 billion in global crop losses annually. 
  • Lucent BioSciences: Soileos, is a new class of “bio released” micronutrient fertilizers that don’t pollute, grows crops with higher yield & nutrient levels at a lower price. 
  • Vooks is the world’s first subscription-based streaming platform exclusively dedicated to animated books.
  • BioInteractive Technologies: Tenzr, its revolutionizing hand therapy, empowers individuals with hand, wrist and forearm injuries, by removing the uncertainty in their recovery process.
  • Via Airlift: The most convenient, personalized solution to get locally sourced fresh food, snacks & beverages at work.
  • Energsoft: Enables enterprise and clean-tech R&D with data unification, visualization and AI for energy storage with $2B beachhead market for OEM and electronics.




After the presentations, the angels gathered to vote on their collective grand prize winner while the presenters networked with attendees. This was an exciting time as the attendees asked follow-up questions to the presenters and the attendees discussed the strengths of the presentations and speculated as to the winner.

  
Poker chips were given to the public to vote for their favorite pitch. The public winner was Vooks! Then, the angels returned from their discussion, and they announced that the presentations and startups were so strong that the angels decided to pool additional funds and invest into two companies instead of one: Lucent BioSciences and BioInteractive Technologies! 
  
The social media team interviewed three finalists’ startups about the biggest takeaways of SAC XV, and some of their comments were: "This was a great experience, Angel investors ask great questions that helped us evolve and improve" "Seeing other team's pitches and learning from them was awesome.” There is so much to learn just going through the process of putting a pitch together, networking with other startups and being challenged by good questions, that all startups in the pacific northwest and nearby, should participate in The Seattle Angel Conference!


The next conference will be in November 2019 with August 29th as the deadline for the next set of companies to apply.


Written and edited by,


Joaquin Gallardo and Natalia Arango.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Keynote Panel for SAC XV explores the impact of SAC Alumni

Over the last 8 years, the Seattle Angel Conference has engaged close to 350 new Angel Investors. Some of those new Angel Investors have leaned-in, and now are impacting our startup ecosystem in new ways. The creation of Flying Fish Ventures, Grubstakes and the expansion of Angels groups in the area have their genesis in the Seattle Angel Conference. Additionally, the Angel Conference has provided lift for dozens of new startups.  We will explore this at the Seattle Angel Conference XV on Wednesday, May 15th. 


Moderator
Yoko Okano
Yoko has a non-traditional path to tech and startups, studying music history at Stanford and playing Taiko (Japanese drums) professionally before joining Google. In her 8 years at Google, she worked in operations and strategic partnerships for Google AdWords, Google Books, Google News and Google Play, launching Google eBooks in 13 countries and managing partnerships with comic book publishers and the distribution businesses for the largest US publishers. She has been as a product leader for 2 startups, and invests both independently as well as through groups including Seattle Angel Conference and Grubstakes. Yoko served as the fund manager for SAC XIV and assistant fund manager for SAC XIII. She is passionate about mentoring and sharing what she’s learned to help others with non-traditional or underestimated backgrounds have a smoother path into the startup ecosystem.


Panelists
Fran Dunaway
Fran Dunaway is a media executive-turned-fashion entrepreneur and co-founder of TomboyX, an innovative online underwear company that is disrupting a $16B industry by focusing on fit, quality and function. The TomboyX brand is about inclusivity, body positivity and empowerment. Fran and her wife, Naomi Gonzalez, co-founded the company and in 2014, TomboyX introduced the first boxer brief designed for women. Last year, TomboyX made it into Inc 500 list at #231. They continue to see 2x growth and closed their Series B last week. 

Geoff Harris
Geoff Harris spent 15 years at Microsoft in Engineering Leadership and Executive Leadership positions. His career at Microsoft began in digital media where he ran the Windows Media Player team. He then moved on the mobile space where he founded the first mobile services team within Microsoft, growing the team from zero to 250 in just over a year, which included a medium sized international acquisition. Geoff was then General Manager for the Speech and Natural Language team where he led advancements in Speech Recognition and Natural Language Processing which are shipped in Xbox, Windows Phone and Cortana.

Geoff was an active angel investor with a portfolio of more than 40 investments. He has become heavily involved in promoting angel investing within Seattle in an effort to grow the funding ecosystem for local startups. Geoff serves on the Seattle Angel Board of Directors, a non-profit with a mission of educating both entrepreneurs and potential angel investors. Geoff is an avid musician.


Sharad Agarwal 
Sharad is a computer science researcher, engineer, and angel investor in the Seattle tech industry. He has been at Microsoft Research for over 14 years, working on advanced research in mobile computing, networking, and cloud services. He has co-authored over 35 academic publications with over 5,600 citations, and co-invented 47 issued patents. He has served on over 50 technical committees for international conferences, workshops, journals and the NSF. He has impacted Microsoft products, including Windows 10 and Windows Phone 8. He recently became an ACM Distinguished Engineer. Sharad has been an active angel investor for several years and has 15 companies in his portfolio. He learned how to invest through Seattle Angel Conference, where he also served as an assistant fund manager, and now he invests actively with Grubstakes. You can connect with him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharadagarwal2/

Monday, January 14, 2019

Seattle Angel Conference XV Workshops

The Seattle Angel Conference XV is kicking off with a set of workshops around Startups and Angel Investing.

Each cycle of the Angel Conference, we explore many of the issues related to startups that are looking at taking outside funding and the investors who would invest in them.  This cycle we are Seattle side, doing many of our workshops at UW CoMotion on Roosevelt. Our program matches new Angel Investors with early stage companies to help everyone make a giant step forward on their efforts.

Given that 15% of the people between 45 and 65 are accredited and thereby allowed to invest in startups by Federal Law, we expect that each of you knows someone who is accredited , but is unaware of what that might mean to them. Our goal is to double the number of people making investments into our startup ecosystem. If you know a startup seeking early stage funding (pre-seed of $150K ) , please invite them to come to the workshops. If you know an accredited person, who might consider learning  more about Angel Investing, please invite them to the workshops.

Below, I have highlighted the workshops for this round. You can find all of these at http://meetup.com/Seattle-Angel . Let me highlight the workshop on February 12th about the Indie.vc termsheet. It promises to open up the conversation about how more companies can find outside funding using a different model of investment.  Please help us spread the word about these workshops. 

The deadline for companies to apply to the workshop is on February 28th. Applications should go here: http://sac-xv-apply.eventbrite.com

Workshops:

Startup Financials with Kathleen Baxley
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

Learn how viewing your business through a "number lens" can improve decision making, and which tools should be considered at different stages of growth. As a business, part of your task is to build a model of the business. Having that financial model provides you with the foundation to raise funds, predict troubles, and otherwise survive as a company.

Pitch deconstruction with Javier Soto , Elaine Werffeli, and Yoko Okano
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

During this Pitch Deconstruction workshop, any of the companies that come will have the chance to give their 1-minute pitch. The audience will then vote for who they would like to hear more from, and those winners (typically 5-6) will then give 3-minute pitches. Note: The 1-minute pitches should not include slides. The 3-minute pitches can include a slide deck.

We'll have active investors at the event to provide general feedback to all of these 1-minute pitches and more direct feedback for the 3-minute pitches.

Startup Legal Agreements with Daniel Neuman
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

How does your startup set a good foundation, so that as you move into fundraising, you have the key pieces in place. We will discuss how to properly set up your startup to be ready to take on VC and angel investments. This would include discussing the various documents regarding incorporation (vs. forming an LLC), board and stockholder consents, founder stock issuances, employees/contractors, IP, customer contracts, terms of services and privacy policy, etc.

We will also look at a due diligence request list for a typical early stage financing. This will help to frame the foundations that need to be built for your startup.

Angel 101 with Elaine Werffeli
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

Angel Investing is its own kind of process. It has different characteristics than most investing. To learn more about Angel Investing, we recommend the book by David S Rose called " Angel Investing".

There are key things to know about Angel Investing, which when done well can make this an interesting asset class for investment.

Evaluation of Indie VC Terms with Luni Libes + Geoff Harris
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

One of the four critical factors of a venture investment is the structure of the deal. The traditional Preferred Equity agreement or the newer Convertible notes or SAFE Agreements all focus on a specific kind of company. There are a small number of companies that these structures support. The folks at Indie.vc have come up with a set of deal terms that provide an new set of deal terms, which open up a significantly different set of opportunities. These terms have a lot in common with the Equity Redemption deal terms that Luni Libes has been using at Fledge.co, a local impact company accelerator. We will have a discussion by Luni Libes of Fledge and Geoff Harris of Flying Fish Capital about the pros and cons of the Indie.vc terms.

Calculating Dilution with Carter Mackley
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

In the beginning, the founders of a company own all of the stock. As they take outside funds and sell stock, each round dilutes the current stock owners. Overly zealous Angel Investors and misplaced donations of stock to vendors can lead to unexpected results later in the process.

Carter Mackley will walk through the process of understanding stock dilution, cap table calculations and the ways that Startup Founders need to track the process of framing their rounds of outside funding.

See more at : http://meetup.com/Seattle-Angel

The Angel Conference has a 12 week program from February 26th to May 15th, where the companies and the investors engage and on May 15th the investors will select a company to invest in.

By using this model over the last 7 years, we have invested in 29 companies with over 350 new investors learning the process.  Please help us spread the word about these workshops and about the Angel Conference process.

For more details about the process, take a look at http://seattleangelconference.com





Friday, November 30, 2018

The Winner of the Seattle Angel Conference XIV is Conquer Experience!


The winner for the 14th Seattle Angel Conference was Conquer Experience (http://conquerexperience.com/), a VR and iPad simulation training solution for operating room nurses. Led by CEO Angela Robert, Conquer Experience’s software drastically reduces the amount of operating room training time a nurse needs prior to live surgery, resulting in significantly lower costs to hospitals.

Since kicking off the 10-week conference process in early September, the participating investors have delved into the applicant companies, whittling the list down to 6 finalists by reviewing pitch decks, pitches and engaging in Q&A and coffee meetings with the applicant companies. The last 4 weeks of the process involved even deeper engagement between the finalist companies and investors as they dug into the due diligence process to identify strengths and vulnerabilities for each opportunity.

The November 14th event brought the SAC XIV process to a close, starting with a snapshot of data about gender diversity for angel groups in the Pacific Northwest followed by a panel of investors including Javier Soto, Sarah Imbach, Serena Glover, Martina Welkhoff and Eric Berman. The finalists, Medsforall, Boom Learning, Demand Star, ID Genomics, Plover and Conquer Experience, pitched to a full room of investors, other founders and community partners, before investors in the SAC XIV group voted to select Conquer Experience as the winner.

Medsforall, a company creating the world’s first ampule based autoinjector, received the Audience Favorite award. Read more about all of the finalists here.

A special thanks to Microsoft Research for sponsoring the Seattle Angel Conference XIV process!

We'll be kicking off workshops in preparation for the next round of SAC in January. Workshop schedule will be posted on Meetup (here) soon. Application deadline for the next round is February 28th! Details about the application process at https://sac-xv-apply.eventbrite.com/.