Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Minda Brusse (Entrepreneur & Business Angel)

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 eighth interview, meet Minda Brusse:
“My immediate concern with identifying as an “angel investor” was that I’d be expected to start writing large checks right away, and smart people in my life warned me how easy it is to lose money quickly. Instead, I found that Seattle’s community of angel investors and groups welcomed me to learn, explore and take smaller steps as I developed my investing strategies.”
Minda Brusse has been involved in several startups. Lately, she has taken her startup operating experience into roles on the investor side, including leadership roles with Grubstakes and the Seattle Angel Conference. In 2020, she will launch “First Row”, a venture fund. 


Q: To start, could you please introduce yourself?
A: Right now, I am wearing three hats. I am fund manager for SAC XVI, I am one of the core organizers for Grubstakes (an angel group), and I am working with Yoko Okano on building our own venture fund called First Row. Our goal is to raise capital beginning in January. Before all of this, I was more involved in the execution of startups rather than being on the investment side.
Q: What are some key things you have learned about startups?
A: I learned that founders are outside of their comfort zone most of the time. I also found that entrepreneurs must have a particular problem which they feel they are uniquely equipped to solve. The fundamental match between founder and problem is crucial. That is where all the passion comes from. Passion is necessary to push through the difficult times every startup faces.
Q: As you mentioned, you went from being on the startup side to being on the investor side. How did that happen?
A: There was a point at which I was looking for something new after finishing a role as chief of staff. I was talking to some friends of mine in the startup ecosystem and they pointed out angel investing as a possible next step for me. Before that I had never seen myself as an angel investor, but then I started learning more about angel investing and became more interested.
My immediate concern with identifying as an “angel investor” was that I’d be expected to start writing large checks right away, and smart people in my life warned me how easy it is to lose money quickly. Instead, I found that Seattle’s community of angel investors and groups welcomed me to learn, explore and take smaller steps as I developed my investing strategies.
Q: What would you recommend to someone considering becoming an angel investor?
There are three things I found helpful before making any significant startup investing commitments:
  • Participate in Seattle Angel Conference. I can’t recommend this “learn-by-doing” experience highly enough to new angel investors looking for a guided first investment experience and developing an angel investor professional network. Investors also get to collaborate with early stage founders and teams in meaningful ways.
  • Attend local “Angel 101” workshops that outline the financial commitment you’ll be making in your overall personal investments to target a financial return. Being haphazard is costly. Even done smartly, the road to returns is long. However, you can invest responsibly.
  • Meet other angel investors through events and your network. Like I mentioned, the groups here in Seattle are accessible, and individuals are open with resources and education.
Q: Could you list some angel groups and early stage funds in Seattle?
A: Angel Groups in Seattle are: Seattle Angel Conference, Grubstakes, SeaChange, Keiretsu Forum, SWAN Venture Fund, Alliance of Angels, Puget Sound Venture Club and Element8. Early Stage Funds are: Flying Fish Partners, Ascend Venture Capital, Founder’s Coop, Curious Capital and Unlock Venture Partners.
Q: Currently you are in the role of being the fund manager at the Seattle Angel Conference. Could you talk some about this experience?
A: At SAC, being the fund manager, is a volunteer learning opportunity. While others like to start new endeavors with books and study, I am more of a ‘learn by doing’-type of person.
As fund manager, I am responsible for several things. I create the investor vehicle, including the LLC, the operating agreements, etc. I also recruit and onboard all the investors. During due diligence, I try to be helpful making sure we make good investment decisions and find investable companies. But not only the companies must be investable, I am also responsible for making sure the terms of an investment make for a good deal. By the time the investor group makes an investment decision, I must have a good idea on terms. After our vote, I finalize the deal documents, wire the money and administer the transfer of funds. Additionally, I must make sure all the legal documents are implemented correctly. I get help with that from an attorney firm that sponsors SAC and does the legal work for free. For the life of the investment, I will manage the SAC 16 LLC fund.
One of my personal goals for this edition of SAC is to get more female investors involved in the process. Aside from all the tasks I mentioned before, I therefore initiate projects for awareness-building regarding angel investing among accredited female investors.
Going through the process of being fund manager, while stressful, I gain negotiating experience, investor recruiting experience and understanding of different ways an investment entity can be set up and managed. I also learn from interacting with the investor group to help them make a good investment decision.
Q: You mentioned before that something else you are working on is creating your own venture fund. Could you talk some more about your approach towards this?
A: First, Yoko and I have spent a lot of time uncovering how we can best work together. We also discussed our motivations behind wanting to create a fund. This is important because creating a fund together is a long-term commitment. On top of that, like a startup, creating a fund is very risky, meaning the failure rate is high. Thus, you need to make sure you have the right motives for wanting to create a fund.  
Aside from that, a lot of what Yoko and I have been doing was meeting people who have created funds before to learn from their experience and to build our network. This helped us understand what some of the strategic decisions are going to be that we will face; Examples are:
  • How big is the fund going to be?
  • What kind of check sizes are we going to write?
  • How many investments are we going to make?
  • Are we going to do follow-on investments?
  • What are our back-end services going to be? Which are we going to do ourselves and which will we outsource?
  • Where can we build relationships with other investors so we can get good deal flow?
Q: What were some of the resources that you found most helpful in creating this venture fund so far?
A: There aren’t too many resources out there regarding creating a fund. There are a few books, like the “Venture Deals” book by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. We took the Venture Deals class that we found very helpful and that was offered for free through the Kauffman Foundation and Techstars.  John Sechrest has a fund management group that is great. Other than that, like I mentioned, we have talked to Dave Parker, Bob Crimmins, Geoff Harris, and many more who have experience in setting up a fund. These people have been helpful resources for us. 
Q: What are some of the startups you currently find interesting?
A: Companies that come in my mind are “TogethAR” and “Atra IO”. Both the companies have in common that the team is very interesting. I also like that they are looking for validation from customers rather than from other investors.
Q: What do you find to be interesting resources for founders?
There are endless resources available. You can fill up your calendar with startup events very easily here in Seattle. So eventually you must figure out what your objective is when considering which resources to take advantage of, but I will list some of the things that I find helpful:
I recommend Dave Parker’s “6-month-startup” to anyone having an early stage idea and wanting to learn more about startups. Other resources are events at WeWork Labs and Create33. Those are good places for networking plus they offer educational programs. I also like to go to Founder’s Live. Another resource is Bob Crimmin’s Startup Haven. Techstars Startup Week happens only once a year but is always very interesting.
An advice I would give to anyone is to follow key people in the ecosystem on Twitter. This is one easy way to find out about what events are happening etc.

Here are some things I learned from this interview:
  • The fundamental match between founder and problem is crucial.
  • A startup is only investable if the company can deliver the desired returns and if the terms of the deal are fair.
  • Women are underrepresented in the angel investing world.
  • When it comes to risk and commitment, creating a fund is like founding a startup.
  • Founders should be obsessed with getting validation from customers and be indifferent to validation from investors.
  • Following key people on twitter is a great way to get introduced to the startup ecosystem in Seattle.

In the interview Minda mentioned some resources and organizations she finds helpful, find out more about them here:
Seattle Angel Conference: https://www.seattleangelconference.com/
Puget Sound Venture Club: https://www.pugetsoundvc.com/
Flying Fish Partners: https://www.flyingfish.vc/home/
Ascend Venture Capital: http://www.ascendstl.com/
Curious Capital: https://curious.vc/
Unlock Venture Partners: https://unlockvp.com/philosophy/

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.

About the author: Sven Goepfrich
https://www.linkedin.com/in/svengoepfrich/

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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Bob Crimmins (Ecosystem builder)

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 seventh interview, meet Bob Crimmins:
“Startup Haven really is about supporting founders by building personal relationships.”
Bob Crimmins is an engineer and serial entrepreneur. He is active in the startup community as advisor, mentor and organizer. He founded Startup Haven in 2006 as a means of connecting venture-scale founders and investors.
https://www.linkedin.com/in/bobcrimmins/




Q: Could you please introduce yourself and talk some about your background in entrepreneurship?
A: I am currently the founder of Startup Haven, a 12 and half-year-old ago passion project that began in Seattle as a way to help founders and investors meet and build relationships. It has grown very organically now into a membership organization for venture-scale founders and investors with more than 2,300 members in six cities. 
I co-founded my first tech startup in 2000 and have founded or co-founded six startups over the past 20 years. But I have been in and around entrepreneurship since I was a young kid. My mom and dad co-founded a series of manufacturing and retail businesses and so I was effectively employee number one since I was 9. Each subsequent company was an extension or evolution of the previous company. Today we would call those pivots. I had a front-row seat for the entire show. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but those early experiences set my path in entrepreneurship. 
For the past decade or so, I have been advising and mentoring quite a bit around town. My operational roles in startups have ranged from CTO to CEO and so I find myself helping founders think through a pretty broad range of issues. My professional background is in software engineering and I learned to program in high school. Back then, programming still meant feeding a stack of punch cards into a bin. And it definitely wasn’t considered cool or lucrative back then to be a teenage programmer. But I loved it. 
I started out as a computer science major in college in California, but found that I’d already learned enough to test out of programming classes and get a job in tech. So I changed my major to my avocation, philosophy. Ironically, pursuing a masters degree in philosophy at the University of Washington is what brought me to Seattle in the first place. 
Q: Let’s talk some about Startup Haven. What kind of startups could I find at Startup Haven?
A: Our focus is entirely on venture-scale startups. In order to join Startup Haven, founders must be working on their startup full time and must have achieved at least some elements of traction. So, if you are still working at Google or Amazon or Microsoft and you’re working on your startup part time, then you’re not quite ready. 
Q: Is the reason for the full-time requirement that you believe part-time founders typically are not as successful?
A: It’s not about the founder, per se. It’s about what it means to build a venture-scale company. You can build a successful lifestyle business or a small business part-time, but building a venture-scale company is different. You can only get so far working part-time on a venture-scale opportunity and much of the help you’ll need just won’t be available to you if you’re not full time. 
Of course, lots and lots of venture-scale startups get started part time and as side hustles. But so very many of those part-time startups never get out of the chute and it’s just impossible to tell which ones will and which ones won’t. So, we set a bar requiring that founders be working full time on their startups. This is especially important for us, since the essence of Startup Haven is to help founders help other founders. But if you’re not working full time on your startup then you won’t even be able to act on much of the help and advice you’d receive. 
I want to emphasize though that folks should not quit their jobs too soon to pursue a startup full time. 95% of startups fail and jumping off the cliff too soon is a leading indicator that you’re headed for a crash landing at the bottom. You should be very thoughtful about the decision to jump and have some sort of cogent story about how you might possibly be in the 5% that make it.
Q: What are the investors looking for at Startup Haven?
A: Let me approach this question from a somewhat different angle, i.e., what is Startup Haven looking for from investors. We are not a social club. We want investors who are serious about looking for their next deal. We want them to come to Startup Haven to build relationships with founders and to look for ways to be helpful to founders. It is a cold, hard fact that no one can predict which startups or which founders are going to be successful. Investors are not necessarily expected to make investments, but all Startup Haven members (including investors) are expected to be respectful and helpful to every founder. 
One of the reasons I think investors appreciate Startup Haven events is our code of conduct that prohibits aggressively pitching investors, showing demos, or begging for coffee meetings. Everyone comes to Startup Haven events to meet and get to know each other. If an investor sees a company or meets a founder they like, then the relationship will develop naturally, and a coffee meeting may result.
Q: What does a typical conversation look like at Startup Haven if founders aren’t allowed to pitch their ideas?
A: We structure our events so that everybody in the room gets the chance to introduce themselves and to make an ask and make an offer. This sets the stage for them to know what founders and companies are in the room. If investors are interested in a company or founder, they will likely initiate a conversation. 
Most investors also take the opportunity to introduce themselves as investors and say a few words about the kinds of companies they invest in. This usually also includes an invitation to founders to approach them at the event if they think the investor might be a fit for them. 
Other than that, most of the conversations tend to be a mix of personal subjects and shop talk about startups generally and sometimes specific operational challenges they’re having. This is where relationships get built. It’s a powerful thing.
Q: From your experience with Startup Haven, what are the most difficult problems founders typically face?
A: I think that lots of founders believe that raising capital is the hardest thing. And it is hard. But once the capital is raised, I think they often discover that building and scaling a great team is much harder. But underlying all of that is the herculean task of getting traction and proving that you have found a problem and a solution that people care about. 
I do think that many founders get too focused on their vision of a solution when they haven’t yet shown that enough customers care enough about the problem and whether there is a cogent story to be told about how a founder can build a venture-scale business around solving that problem. Telling cogent stories is undervalued by founders, for sure.
Q: What are your thoughts on the startup ecosystem in Seattle?
A: I am very bullish about Seattle’s startup ecosystem. I’ve been in it and around it for 20 years. My observation is that it has been up and to the right for pretty much that entire span of time. Our tech talent has been our strongest suit and the ever-increasing number of satellite engineering offices opened by virtually every major tech company you can name is evidence of that. 
But I don’t think we are very good at telling our story, both inside and outside of Seattle. I travel to other startup cities from time to time and it’s remarkable to me how little folks know about what’s going on up here in this dark, wet, cold corner of the Northwest. Despite usually landing in the top three to five on most lists that measure startup metrics, Seattle is very often left entirely out of conversations I hear about startup ecosystems. I’m not sure how to fix that, but I do hope that, as Startup Haven scales into more and more cities, we will draw some attention to our humble corner of the country. 
In terms of challenges, I do think that Seattle is underfunded. You can pretty much count the number of active, large-scale institutional venture firms on about 7 fingers. Compare that with every other startup ecosystem of our girth. The bright side is the development of a deeper pool of mid-tier venture options and a dramatic expansion of angel investment. Pioneer Square Labs, Founders Co-Op, Unlock, Flying Fish, Curious Capital, SeaChange and Grubstakes are all examples of the growth of funding in Seattle over the past few years. And there are more. 
A big shout out to John Sechrest and the Seattle Angel Conference. No other single person or organization has had a greater impact on the Seattle investment ecosystem. In a few short years, Seattle Angel Conference has led to hundreds of new angel investors, more than $3M in seed investments in more than two dozen startups and was the launch point for Flying Fish, SeaChange and Grubstakes. Thanks, John.


Here are some things I learned from this interview:
  • Building a venture scale business, while not working on it full-time, is almost impossible. However, as many startups fail, one should think very carefully before quitting a job. This step should not be taken too early when there is still no proof that an idea is also a business.
  • Many founders don’t seem familiar with the concepts of “Lean Startup,” meaning that customer development proceeds product development.
  • Seattle’s startup ecosystem could improve in funding startups.


In the interview Bob mentioned some resources and organizations, 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.


About the author: Sven Goepfrich

https://www.linkedin.com/in/svengoepfrich/

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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Brian McIlwain (CTO)

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 sixth interview, meet Brian McIlwain:
“Everything is available for free online, i.e. on YouTube. I usually start there when trying to learn about anything.”
Brian McIlwain angel invests in early-stage companies by providing CTO and software consulting services for an affordable dollar rate and accepting the rest in equity.




Q: Could you please shortly introduce yourself?
A: I have a tech background, but I am also into finance and business. I have been a software consultant for half a decade working with small companies and Fortune 500 companies. I love the fast environment startups operate in. Right now, I am actively working as CTO for two startups. Additionally, I am in an advising role for some more startups. The asset that I can provide as an advisor is that I can maintain the roadmap for the technical execution. This is much less time intensive then actually executing on the roadmap, but it is very important for startups to get this right. 
Q: What makes a startup interesting to you?
A: Both the companies that I am involved with as CTO have a very similar founding story. In both cases the founder someday realized that their jobs could be eliminated by an app. I like those kinds of entrepreneurs, because they are familiar with the problem that they are trying to solve and the market that they operate in.
Q: On LinkedIn you say you “angel invest”. Could you tell me more about that?
A: I do angel investing even though I am not accredited. Instead of investing my money, I invest my time, meaning that I will work for startups for a discounted rate plus equity.
Q: How would you go about learning more about startups?
A: Everything is available for free online, i.e. on YouTube. I usually start there when trying to learn about anything. There are book summary videos for example that I like to watch, or even authors talking about the key ideas described in their books. Learning about a topic through YouTube usually provides me with a good overview. If there are certain aspects that I want to learn more about, books can be a good resource.
Some of the YouTube-channels I follow are: 
  • “Productivity Game”
  • “startupschool”
  • “The Minority Mindset”
Some of the books I’d recommend reading are:
  • “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel
  • “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert T. Kiyosaki
  • “How to win friends & influence people” by Dale Carnegie
  • “To Sell is Human” by Daniel H. Pink
  • “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill
  • “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker
The resources I mentioned are not all specific to startups, but I think they are worth looking at. What these resources have in common is that their core message is contradictory to what common wisdoms dictates is right. One core concept that I have learned is that in areas of finance and business the majority's way will almost never be ideal. This is because otherwise, supply and demand would rebalance the profit margins to make the average person's performance, well, average. Therefore, if you wish to perform better than average you must do at least some things that the majority thinks will never work or at least would be unwilling to try. Then, you have to prove that your contrarian belief is indeed correct or more profitable than the common wisdom, usually by winning in the market.
Aside from the resources I mentioned, I think mentors can add a lot to one’s personal growth. I have been lucky to have had great mentors, for example Bryan Starbuck, a serial CTO. 
I also enjoy going to meetups, like the Open Coffee that John Sechrest hosts every Tuesday morning at Galvanize. This is a great opportunity to share some thoughts and discuss topics. Aside from that, meetups are a great for networking.
Q: What are some examples for interesting organizations in Seattle’s startup ecosystem in your opinion?
A: There is a new angel investing group called Gaudium Capital. They focus on fintech, blockchain and AI. What makes them stand out I think, is that they are very well connected and that they provide highly capital-intensive resources for very cheap. The founder of Guardian Capital is Alvaro Jimenez.


My key take-away from this interview:
  • Today, education does not have to be expensive anymore. There is an unlimited amount of resources available online. YouTube can be a good starting point that allows to get a good overview. Once I know what aspect I want to learn more about, it makes sense to invest time in reading a book.


In the interview Brian mentioned some 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

https://www.linkedin.com/in/svengoepfrich/

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.