Tuesday, February 26, 2008

4 Lessons of Entrepreneurship

For golfer's, Ben Hogan's Five Lessons is a classic. While the golf courses and equipment have certainly changed over the five decades since this was published, this tutorial is still relied upon by professionals and amateurs worldwide.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Jeff Fluhr (founder of StubHub) recently stopped by my Entrepreneurial Finance class to share his 4 Lessons of Entrepreneurship with the students. I was glad to see he didn't try and upstage Mr. Hogan by adding another one.

  1. Do you have the right make-up to be an entrepreneur? You need to be true to yourself and many people aren't cut out to take the personal and professional risk associated with being an entrepreneur. There are going to be a lot of tough times and perseverance is essential.
  2. Challenge the Status Quo - StubHub entered an industry dominated by a couple of large players who had a vested interest to block the legality of their business of providing a marketplace for the sale of tickets in the secondary market. In the early days, Jeff spent a lot of time with state legislators to get beyond the stigma of "ticket scalping" and change regulations. He definitely had a lot of people tell him that it couldn't be done.
  3. Go with Your Gut - This certainly goes hand in hand with challenging the status quo. Jeff founded StubHub during the dotcom bust and funding for consumer Internet companies was disappearing rapidly. His gut told him the opportunity might not be there in a year and he dropped out of business school to launch the venture. He raised less financing than originally planned but was able to launch the site and was running a business by the time his classmates graduated 9 months later.
  4. It's Ok to Exit a Little Early -StubHub was experiencing great growth and hitting it's metrics when Ebay acquired the company in early 2007 It is quite possible that Jeff could have gotten a higher price for the company by waiting, but felt there were a number of benefits to exiting when they did. Besides the natural fit with eBay, he wanted the buyer to feel good following the acquisition and certainly the investors in StubHub were happy. All of this only helps for the next venture.
Here's another bonus lesson. Be passionate about whatever it is you are doing. Any start-up is going to be all consuming and will require a lot of personal sacrifices, so make sure you believe in what you are doing. Dan Gordon, founder of Gordon Biersch, came by my class this week. Prior to founding the brewery, Dan spent five years studying beer in Germany and not the way most college students partake in this particular study. He was the first American in 30 years to graduate from the 5-year brewing program at the Technical University of Munich, the highest technical degree in brewing engineering. Upon graduation, he knew he wanted to open a German brewery restaurant in California and the passion and determination drove a lot of the early success. Brewing a great beer certainly doesn't hurt, which the students got to taste at the brewery after the class.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Buyer's Remorse

Wikipedia (where else would you look....) defines Buyer's Remorse as "an emotional condition whereby a person feels remorse or regret after a purchase" and "a natural human reaction, rising out of a sense of caution". I certainly remember the feeling after buying my first house. The feeling is fleeting and then you go about making the house into your home.

I have noticed this same feeling when making a venture capital or angel investment. While spending time with the entrepreneurs and championing the deal through the group, you tend to become emotionally attached. Of course, rigorous diligence is performed, the team is challenged, and assumptions are tested. Once the point is reached where you want to move ahead, we put the sales hat on and convince our partners about the incredible opportunity that we are lucky enough to be able to invest on the ground floor. However, once the deal is completed and the wire hits the start-ups bank account, all the warts seem to jump out. In most cases, the entrepreneur hasn't hidden anything, it is just buyer's remorse kicking in and the realization that the hard work is beginning. As early stage investors, our goal is to eliminate as much risk as possible with the least amount of cash spent.

Of course, the opposite of buyer's remorse is exercising too much caution and not making an investment where your gut was saying yes. I've found that the opportunities we let pass often stick around longer than many that we do. I started thinking about this yesterday when Jeff Fluhr, founder of Stub Hub spoke at my San Jose State class. I first met Jeff about 8 years ago when he was finishing his first year at the Stanford GSB and was beginning to raise money for a business plan he developed for a secondary market ticket exchange. This was the beginning of the dot com bust and getting a consumer deal through the partners at my venture firm was next to impossible. I liked the founders and considered making a personal investment, but ended up passing.

However, I was glad to see they were able to raise financing and launch the service. I used it as a buyer and seller on a number of occasions and rooted from the sidelines for their success against the Ticketmaster, state regulators and others trying to knock them down. Jeff was able to build a profitable company and a successful exit when Ebay acquired Stub Hub for $300 million early last year. Jeff shared some entrepreneurial lessons with the class and I may include in a subsequent blog post.

Of course, I'm not the only one to feel this way. I was listening to a podcast recently on Venture Voice with legendary VC Tom Perkins. When asked the question about the worst investment he ever made, he turned it around to mention the one that got away, Apple. Kleiner Perkins had looked at a few other computer start-ups and weren't interested, so didn't even take a meeting with the Steves. Bessemer Venture Partners lists an anti-portfolio of investments they passed on that includes Apple, Ebay, Intel, and Google.

Now, back to that house in Mountain View, California. Hard to believe you could buy a nice house like that in the Bay Area for only $300,000....