Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Experience in Raising Money In Nebraska via Venture Capital and Angel Funding

where_is_nebraska_located.png (1476×1002)If you haven’t yet read my pre-raising money post you might want to do so.

As I would come to learn we were in a very strange position to raise money for the PAR Program… kind of in no mans land. We didn’t have a “good idea” that was going to require a bunch of money to try to make it work. We had a startup where through beta had generated over 600k in revenue through “beta” with no dedicated sales force or marketing efforts.

After seeing a local Lincoln Nebraska based company raise 500k for a company that had done 6 sales to date of a $10 product that personally I thought was kind of silly, I figured we should have no problem. I mean plus look at my track record. I was confident I would have companies begging to invest.

And a lot of my friends that have raised money agreed. They were all excited for me because I had never done it before and they had all done it. They were telling me how easy it was going to be for me, but how you’ve really got to dedicate a lot of time to it. They told me that once I got it all prepared and put together (a business plan, powerpoint, financials, one-sheeter, term documents and all that stuff) they’d do introductions for me.

As I would come to find out I already had a lot of connections to some General Partners at huge firms in San Fran and Seattle. They were very interested but all of them asked the same question. Was I open to moving out to the Valley?. I wasn’t. They seemed really down on the fact I was going to remain in Lincoln Nebraska.

Some of my friends sent me a huge “hit list” on the west coast that they were willing to do introductions to but I didn’t want to, nor had the time to, pound the pavement on the west coast.

That was kind of the big drawback of having an existing up and running company generating revenue. Sure it sounds easy to just put everything on hold and raise money but we had over 30 some clients and still were getting new leads organically every day. To me it just was not an option to abandon the company and purely focus on raising money. That just made no sense to me. In hindsight I would have been much better off to raise money before I started it. Much better off…. In doing research some of our perceived competitors, lets take Marketo for an example, got 5 million dollars in funding and took 2 years before they even had their beta platform completed and then raised more money.

Besides there were several firms right here in Lincoln Nebraska. They should see what we are doing and its a perfect time to hit us in stride without taking away from company growth… Right?

My friends who had raised money before were VERY against me raising money in Nebraska and told me it was a complete waste of time. The general sentiment was, “Don’t try to raise money from dumb farmers in Nebraska who don’t understand technology.”

Now I get shit all the time from being in Nebraska… But these friends of mine actually had insight into Nebraska Venture Capital and Angel Fund Investing. Most of them had spoken at Big Omaha. One of them had even given a keynote talk there. They had met the general partners at these firms and told me that unless I had a “stupid simple” product that they could understand I was wasting my time. My friends understood what I was doing and one of them said, and I quote, “Dude you’re talking geometry to kindergartners”.

I don’t want to say I was offended by all this. As I said above I am used to getting crap about Nebraska and used to defending it. Don’t get me wrong there are drawbacks but there are also a LOT of benefits.

Whatever. I am going to prove them wrong. I mean look at these local Lincoln Nebraska firms and how tech savvy they are from their websites:

  • Dundee Capital : ”DVC invests $50,000 – 500,000 in growth companies with an ecommerce and web services focus. We understand it. We’ve built these types of businesses. Instead of investing in a restaurant or bar, we stick to what we know best. With all of the challenges and untapped horizons, ecommerce businesses excite us. Why Midwest? It’s underserved, historically ignored, but now very vibrant, hard working, and innovative. ” - HELL YA

  • Nebraska Global : ”Founded on the idea that when nerds and money meet, amazing things can happen. We have the money. Now, we need more nerds. We know software. It’s our passion, our love. In fact, the only thing we love as much as software is this great state of Nebraska. And we’re looking for more people like us—software-loving Nebraska nerds who want to build a life around this unique passion. Nebraska Global isn’t your typical venture capital fund. Unlike most VC firms, we want to focus on building a sustainable tech environment by helping establish healthy, hearty software businesses within the state and not focus solely on a 30x return and pre-determined exit strategy. Our mission is to build profitable companies, but it isn’t to squeeze every last dollar out of entrepreneurs or “spray and pray” (We promise. Read our mission). We’re just nerds with money who want to see more of both stay in Nebraska and prosper.” -um could there be a better fit?

Now this was just the 2 firms that positioned themselves as extremely “tech savvy”. They are going to get it and this is going to be a no brainer for them… or so I thought.

In all we met with 5 firms. I wrote about my experience with each one. For those that want to read the details just click on them. I thought it was best to make separate posts for each one to keep this from being a epic F.R.A.T (fu*k reading all that).

Going in I felt I had the deck stacked:

  • I have never lost money in 13 years of being in business.

  • I have already sold 3 companies. One for a pretty large exit.

  • Im going to blow these Nebraska guys minds. They have never seen anyone with my track record and reach. Shit I have more daily readers on my blog then our Silicon Prairie News (midwest TechCrunch) and all their websites combined.

  • I’m fricking ShoeMoney wtf?

  • Technically speaking we are about as good as they come. I have great programmers and access to some of the best programmers on the planet.

  • Marketing wise I don’t feel there is anyone better.

So how did it go?

If I could summarize the process in one word it would be “frustrating”. But the most successful companies or projects I have ever done were, at times, the most frustrating. And its always the things you don’t see coming.

But not frustrating for reasons you would probably think.

  • During one of the pitches at one of the VC’s office they asked me if I could walk them through a live demo. Only they did not have WIFI. Seriously…

  • After one of the presentations to the partners of one of the groups I was asked to explain what a convertible note was.

These 2 things I could hear my friends screaming, “TOLD YOU SO”. But honestly I could see those happening anywhere. (maybe?).

The biggest thing I did not see coming but in hindsight I should have was character issues.

For instance after my first meeting with Nebraska Global (the company that connects nerds with money) I thought it went really well. Then one of the partners there told me their biggest concern was that I had a striper pole in our office. I thought he was kidding… but he was very serious. I asked him what they thought about the pitch, company and what not and he kind of skated around it like that was a show stopper…

It wasn’t said to my face but I was told after some of my other pitches to some of the companies they had similar concerns after reading my blog, my book, or read articles/interview online.

One of them said to me in a private conversation that I was way to open and honest about myself.

While I don’t understand why those were primary concerns, I certainly don’t want to have partners in my company that I can’t be open and honest with or feel like I have to put on some persona that is not me around them.

I am sure you can guess the reaction of my friends at high profile west coast firms and people that have raised money when I told them that… But whatever I know I am in a very conservative area. I should have seen that coming and been more prepared for it. Probably even more upfront about it knowing now what a primary concern it would be to them.

If you remember back to my other post in my reasons for even starting down this journey it was because I was looking for more than money… but primarily someone that brought experience in running a company day to day and figuring out the internal infrastructure (and money that came with that to build that out).

Some of the companies, like Treetop Ventures, right out of the gate told me this was not something they would invest in. But they were willing to hear my pitch.

The questions were like ok you’re here what is your key indicator of growth, how many client managers do you need per client, how many copywriters do you need per client, accounts receivable people, how many programmers, system admins, servers, this, this, this, this, and that and so much more. What’s your cost per acquisition if you take the cost of sales labor, marketing and sales expenses. “Your pricing structure is based on the client’s user base so what is your profit per each of their users?” WHAAAAAT.

And when I thought I had the right answer they shredded that and I had to go back and figure out more about my own company to answer those. And it seemed like every answer only led to 5 more questions. It reminded me of back in the days when you would try to crack software how you would have to stack trace back and reverse engineer everything where every line sometimes led to 5 lines which led to 5 lines for each of those and continued until you found the code you were looking for.

Now I am sure to most people out there this seems silly or obvious that I should know all of that. But I didn’t.

Figuring out the answers to all these questions was one of the most humbling and frustrating experiences of my life. I knew I was fairly ignorant about how to run and scale a business… but I had no idea how.

The ironic thing was the firm that had zero interest in investing in the PAR Program gave me the greatest value. In drilling me on all these items they gave me an incredible education for exactly what I need to do. And they even volunteered to be available as I grow.

I started to execute that plan immediately. Even though I didn’t get a check in the bank for a couple months.

In the next post I will talk about how it shakes out in the end.

Source: ShoeMOney

My Experience in Raising Money In Nebraska via Venture Capital and Angel Funding

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