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

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.

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