Friday, September 26, 2008

CFO's - More Guardian, Less Angel?

Just received this month's issue of CFO Magazine (yes, I know, it should be a very exciting weekend) and found an article I was interviewed for a couple of months ago. The article, "More Guardian, Less Angel" discusses how CFO's add value to angel groups by helping to kill deals. I spent most of the time with the reporter talking about Sand Hill Angels and how we add value to the start-ups and entrepreneurs that we partner with, which is why I just have a small mention in the article.

It is certainly true that we can pick apart the financial projections or pour through contracts, legal and financial diligence, but none of those areas tend to be the most important areas in deciding whether to make an early stage investment. No company's future ever matches their projections and it is the assumptions and how the entrepreneur understands the market and sees the opportunity evolving that we care about.

As I am quoted in the article, it is easy to pick holes in a business plan. It is certainly good to take an analytical approach to any investment opportunity and many venture capital firms and angel groups do an excellent job of diligence. However, at the end of the day, your gut can tell you a lot more about whether to make an investment or not. How passionate are the entrepreneurs about their business? Can they recruit and get others excited? Do I believe they can succeed? Does the business model pass the smell test?

While no real data exists on returns in angel groups vs. individual angels, I often wonder which is the better way to invest. I enjoy my colleagues at Sand Hill Angels and like investing as a group as it enables us to lead investments, take board seats and have more influence. The downside is the groupthink mentality, which can work in both directions, killing deals and also creating a bandwagon effect. In a lot of our deals, there is often a tipping point where the deal will either move forward or die.

Even though I am an active member of an angel group, I often advise entrepreneurs that they may be better off raising money from individual angels rather than groups. A lot is based on how much money they are raising, terms being sought, entrepreneur's experience, stage and total funding required for the business. I'm going to do some more thinking on this topic and write another post sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Brickbreaker - Mindless Amusement or Viscious Addiction

I am not sure how this relates to venture finance or entrepreneurship, but I'm sure I'll find some connection along the way. Perhaps, it's that old joke:

Q: What two industries call their customers "users"?
A: Technology companies and Drug dealers

While the fall semester is in full swing, summer doesn't officially end for another few days. Still a good time to revisit what I did over my summer vacation. One thing I spent too much time doing was playing Brickbreaker, the only game that is part of the standard blackberry deck. Brickbreaker is an incredibly mindless game that can be played in spare moments on line, at airports, during boring conference calls, etc. For those of you fond of 1970's nostalgia, the game is similar to the Atari game, Breakout, that was a sequel to Pong. I recall playing this on one of the early Atari systems when I was a teenager.

The object is to knock down rows of bricks by hitting a ball with a paddle that can be moved by the wheel on the device. You start the game with three "lives" but can accumulate many more as you play and advance through the levels. After 34 levels, you start again at level 1 and continue. The game can be stopped and started at any time. In those spare moments, I manged to keep the same game going for several months over the summer and reached a score of 509,090 when I decided it was time to quit and let my remaining lives (somewhere north of 100) die.

The other interesting feature of the game is that you can submit your high score through the device and see where you rank on the list. My score was #471. It did not show how many scores were on the list, but given the number of blackberrys in the market, it has to be a big number. But that begs the question, Who are these other 470 people? Do they have jobs? How much abuse can the wheel on a blackberry take?

I didn't find the answer to any of these questions, but did run across a blog, Brickbreaker Conquest, that shed some light on the question. Here are a couple of those folks:

I’ve been playing my current game for about a month now. My current score is 1,376,500 with 378 lives remaining. My goal is to get in the top ten and then kill myself off. I’m spending way too much time on this thing and frankly has been an addiction worse than crack! Somebody help me! Seriously, I am having a blast knowing that I am going to be in the top ten in the world pretty soon!

For all you that can’t believe the scores out there, it is possible. I recently broke through the 2×34 level barrier. It took a few months of practice. Once you get past the second round, there are no more bragging rights. Actually the more points you boast, the more you should be scorned for frittering away your life. The game isn’t challenging and becomes boring, a way to pass time only. So if you’ve made it past the second round, pat yourself on the back and forget the game. You’ll be better for it. ps my score is currently 303,070 with 59 lives (no cheats used). Sigh….. This %$#^%$ addiciton!

Back to my point at the beginning of the post. I'm still not actually sure what this says about new venture opportunities, but there are a few points that came to mind:

  • Stabilitly of mobile platform - Can you imagine using your PC and not having it crash once in several months? Maybe if you have a MAC, but I've never gotten that kind of stability out of my PC.
  • Perhaps there is an opportunity in games for the non-serious gamer. I do have one investment in a company that has developed a platform for in game mobile advertising - Greystripe. They also run a site, Game Jump, that offers free games for mobile devices, many of which are similar style games, such as Tetris, Lego Bricks and Solitaire.
  • Finally, in Brickbreaker, the game becomes increasingly more difficult as you work through the first two series of levels, but once you pass in to the third series, it becomes very easy. Maybe this is trying to say that once you reach a certain level in an organization, work becomes easy and boring and it's time to leave and scratch that entrepreneurial itch...
Ok, I admit it. After a couple of weeks off, I have now started another game. See you at the twelve step program.