Lessons from 6 Weeks of Angel Investing

Lessons from 6 weeks of Angel Investing.  Interesting question from Mr. Cummings.  I was up the other night straight hating on my own blog and this question popped through.  It is a good question, but I’m still trying to rethink my blog and would appreciate any thoughts on that.  It’s not just the writing – I enjoy that, it is getting bored with it, which interesting enough relates directly to today’s question.  What have I learned in the last six weeks of angel investing?

Angel Investing

Six weeks ago covers all of September, so I reviewed my calendar, Evernote, and checkbook:

Lesson One: Being more Technical Makes me Better

I just finished the Ruby classes on Code Academy and I can tell you without question it has made me a better investor.  My thought processes are now more product centric – balancing my natural sales and marketing instincts.  I had a tendency to think I can sell anything which is actually useless for investing.  At least three times in the last six weeks I’ve thrown bullshit flags at entrepreneurs related to their solutions (meaning it straight up didn’t work) but I’ve also helped (I think) several make their products better.

Lesson Two:  Opportunity Lies in Dark Scary Corners

On a regular basis Paul Judge and Adam Ghetti scare the living Sh*t out of me.  There are days I truly think “ignorance is bliss”.  Being around Ionic Security and Pindrop Security has been a tremendous learning experience.  Atlanta is clearly an InfoSec hub, and now I know (just) enough to understand the opportunity.  The Internet is not safe, far from it – and there are tons of opportunities in making scary places safer.  (side note: I have openly admitted passing on Social Fortress, well another opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it – I’ve always believed in Adam, I just didn’t understand it, now I actually do understand it and Adam would have been proud watching me explain it last night).

Lesson Three:  Unicorns need Trillions

TechSquare Labs has it’s first home grown deal ready (I can hear Urvaksh calling Paul).  The process of watching that idea come together has shown me that if you have any chance of creating a Unicorn (baseball speak for Big Ass Company) you need to being looking at problems that currently have billions if not trillions spent on them.  I will blog about this new business once it is fully ready to present, but the lesson is that the idea surrounds a space that already has nearly a trillion dollars worth of transactions in its current state.

Lesson Four: Technical Founders Rule the World

This was one of the hypothesizes I had over a year ago, that technology wasn’t getting commoditized like everyone thinks.  Meaning just because I can code a little now and spin up something on AWS (Amazon Web Services) or say MVP 10 times that doesn’t mean things are less technical or easier.  I truly believe that the world is getting more technical and the big problems need engineering minds to solve them.

Quick summary, the last six weeks has taught me a lot, and included three stock certificates: one in mobile applications, one in information security, and one in banking.  The group includes a Ph.D student, a current undergraduate student, and one no college.  All lead by technical founders.

TechSquare Labs review of HackGT

TechSquare Labs review of HackGT.  So, this weekend I had a chance to take my newly honed Code Academy skills down to Georgia Tech and watch in amazement as a group of students at Georgia Tech played host to 800+ hackers from 40 different universities.  As I have shared over the last year all of this is Adam Ghetti’s fault.  Not really but I am clearly in deep technical waters (I wonder if he thought I would do it).  A new partner, new coding skills, and a new focus on technical founders all lead me to HackGT.

Opening

The event started on Friday at 5PM with an opening ceremony on campus in the Ferst Center.  I can’t bullshit you, after running around town and raising money from sponsors I was nervous “will anyone show up”.  I kept having this vision of a party, DJ bumping, and I’m the only person there, why, because Paul Judge scared the hell out of me.  Then I turn the corner on campus and a line was already forming for registration (sigh of relief) – not only did people come – a ton of people came.

The student team at HackGT did an amazing job with the opening ceremony.  They were confident, in control, even when all the buses got stuck in Music Midtown.  To fill the time one of the directors started beatboxing and a Rap contest broke out (I threw in a $100 prize).  At that moment I said to myself, I don’t care if anyone can code they are rapping, did you hear me they are rapping.

Next up everyone moved over to the Klaus Building and got settled in for two full nights of building, hacking, and dream chasing.  As I walked around the building I couldn’t stop thinking – this is exactly what TechSquare Labs is all about.  Technical founders creating something from nothing.

Expo

I didn’t go over Saturday during the day, that is my kids soccerthon.  I did head back over on Sunday morning for the Expo and the Closing Ceremonies, Paul Judge and TechSquare Labs was giving away a $50,000 first place prize and I didn’t want to miss it.  Over 100 teams presented during the Expo and I was blown away by what they built in a single weekend.  One take away I had was, with all the tools available now, a good coder can make any product look amazing even if the idea is terrible.

Following the expo a group of sponsor judges selected the Top 10 that would present on stage at the closing ceremonies.  The top 10 included a hologram machine that brought Tupac back to life, a CPR machine to save 68% of us, a framework as a service to make coding easier, a file syncing service built on ONEDrive (who knew Microsoft had a storage offering), an app that lets you pretend you are popular when you don’t have friends, a decision engine to help you make life choices, an app that detects your mood and takes you to a bar, technology to bring sign language to your phone, a web app that gamifies recommendations, and lastly analytics for android users.

PickMeUp

My personal favorite was of course the hologram machine, come on, they brought Tupac to life right on stage, it was fire.  In fairness what do you do with that?  No idea.  But it was amazing they built that in a weekend.  The winning team was from PickMeUp.  They had a demo, but really what they had was the best “big idea”.  Can we add emotional intelligence to our technology?  Will our phones and apps know our “mood” in the future – once I saw it, I have to admit I said “yes”.  On top of that the team had all kinds of swag.  Congrats to the HackGT team, congrats to Georgia Tech, congrats to the hackers, congrats to the Atlanta community, and lastly congrats to the dude in American flag pants that is holding that big check.  I learned a ton, and I truly appreciate being a small part of this amazing event.

 

Bobby Hornsby Gatorade “Win From Within”

Bobby Hornsby and Gatorade campaign “Win From Within”.  This is my first blog post since breaking my hand surfing, it is a pecking effort, lets just say that.  Blogging with 7 fingers, 10 is better, but I felt inspired to share.  I have blogged about my love of boxing and I have also shared the story of Bobby Hornsby “The Kid Bam”.

Bobby Hornsby

Gatorade has partnered with Bobby to help take his career to the next level and share his story.  In the last 48 hours nearly 100,000 people have seen the launch video and the response has been overwhelming.

Bobby Hornsby – Gatorade – Win From Within

I am proud to call Bobby my friend.  He motivates me every day.  We all get so focused on our own lives that sometimes its just easier to help someone else.  For me, “Win From Within” means “it will be hard, it always is, just keep going”.

If this story inspires you, give Bobby a shoutout on Twitter @TheKidBam , share the video on Facebook, and donate to get involved in this amazing journey.  I am going to Vegas this weekend for the Floyd Mayweather fight to be with Bobby and Gatorade as they share his story.  Today’s motivation is donated by Bobby Hornsby.

8 Lessons from Ben Horowitz Hard Things

8 Lessons from Ben Horowitz Hard Things!  I have now read the book two times, why, honestly it is that damn good.  (Insert Rap Verse).  I know, I know, who isn’t a fan of Ben Horowitz?  The guy has mad swag, loves rap music as much as I do, writes all the stuff no one else will say, and oh, he happens to be a named partner at one of the hottest Venture Capital firms in the world.

Ben H Boxing

I was recently in San Francisco and had the opportunity to meet Ben and hear him speak at GLIDE.  I left GLIDE not only inspired by Ben’s comments, but more importantly the work that is being done at GLIDE.  The entire experience was motivating on a deep level, to not just be an entrepreneur, but to strive to be a great leader.

So I went back to the book and read it again, and share the following 8 Lessons (why 8, no idea, I took 8 things from it, so you get 8, if you want 10, go read it):

1.  Being a CEO is no joke, in fact, it is hard as shit.

2.  Building a company serves up two emotions: euphoria and terror!

3.  There is always an OPTION and money buys time for an OPTION to show up.

4.  Don’t be “too positive” – tell it like it is.

5.  When a company starts to struggle – it begins to lie to itself.

6.  Silver bullets are BS, they don’t exist, lead bullets do.

7.  No one cares.

8.  You can always be a good company.

Of course as a huge boxing fan and practitioner myself, I had to use a pic of Ben with his hands wrapped and ready to go.  After reading his book and hearing him speak you really do get the feeling that he is part lover and part fighter.  He seems to deeply care about people and his community – enough to knock your ass out if you try to stop him.

So why these 8 Lessons?  I can relate to each of them.  I can attest that being a CEO is difficult, harder when you are truly committed to being a great leader.  I started laughing when I saw “euphoria and terror” those are food groups to me.  I have come to learn that there is always an option, what I appreciated most about Ben’s advice was the reminder that the longer the runway the more opportunity there is for an answer to show up.  Too positive, yes, I do that all the time – and every time I stop, and just tell it like it is, the team responds.  As a leader never forget, people’s BS meter is razor sharp so don’t waste time trying to fool the team you are leading.  I call it excuses, but yes, without question, teams will naturally begin to lie to themselves when things get hard, it is an auto response that you must manage away from.  Now, as far as silver bullets goes, I actually got pissed when I read that none existed, I’ve been looking for years (come on laugh a little).

So what’s the summary take aways.  For me, simple.  The final two lessons.  No one cares that you are struggling, that it is hard to build a business, that the plan isn’t working, and you haven’t slept, why should they?  No matter what happens, a company can always choose to be “good”.  Being a good company, the kind people are proud to work at (success or failure) is an end goal itself, and as a leader I can directly impact whether a company I am leading is a “good company”.

Our Family Business is Entrepreneurship

Our family business is entrepreneurship?  I couldn’t get this statement out of my head while on my health walk tonight.  The walk took place just outside of Nemo, South Dakota.  The Nances have our own little Griswold Family Vacation happening.  First trip to South Dakota and I have to say, it is really beautiful.  Today’s blog post was a bit of a twisted road in my mind, it started at Mount Rushmore and ended on a perfect country road during a one hour walk.

Soccer with Kids

So we visited Mount Rushmore, standard stuff, it is cool, they used explosives to blow stuff up, and carved four dudes into a mountain, mix in a little government funding, put up a gate, sell tickets, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a tourist attraction.  Blog post popped into my mind, “who would be on the Mount Rushmore of technology?”  Well, with that in mind, the next stop on the Tour de Nance was the Crazy Horse Memorial.  This was completely different, besides the big mountain with a carving on it.  You can’t really walk out to it, it is huge, even less finished than Mount Rushmore, and guess what, basically a family business.

We started our Crazy Horse Memorial visit with the standard tourist informational movie, but this seemed a bit different.  You learn about Korczak Ziolkowski and his family.  They have dedicated their entire lives to building this memorial to the Native American culture.  It is actually a really entertaining 17 minute overview.  I started thinking, what is our family business?

Most of my walk was spent thinking about what would be a good family business, one that could last a long-time and could have my kids involved.  I am walking, thinking, listening to gangsta rap music on this South Dakota country road (stop laughing).  Then it hits me.

My family has always been part of my entrepreneurial journey.  Always.  My two daughters have grown up coming to the WhatCounts office, they have watched me speak, and it is completely normal for them to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs.  Whether Joe Reger of Springbot gets caught in an ice-storm and walks to our house and makes breakfast with them, or they are swimming in Paul Judge‘s pool, stopping Merrick Furst of Flashpoint in Technology Square to sell him girl scout cookies, hanging out with Adam Ghetti of Ionic Security watching a boxing match, or yes even playing a game of soccer with InsightPool CEO Devon Wijesinghe – they are surrounded by entrepreneurship.

Our family business is entrepreneurship.  I was on my walk thinking about all the people who have invested in me, my family and my two little girls – thank you.  Thank you for making them feel welcome in the office, thank you for letting them attend my speeches, thank you for making them feel at home, thank you for playing soccer with them, but most importantly – thank you for making entrepreneurship a normal part of their life – lets hope its their family business!