Conferences Posts

Last week, Naval and a slew of angels shared their investing advice with an audience of angels-in-training at AngelConf 2010.

Wade Roush at Xconomy took detailed notes on all the talks and published them here and here.

7 angel investing tips

Here are Wade’s detailed notes from Naval’s talk:

“1. Don’t move in a herd, but do be a pack animal. Not everybody has all the information. One angle might know the market, one might know the founder, one might know the customer base. Every time an angel comes into a round, they bring a piece of information. Ride on their coattails.

2. Say no early and often. You should be doing one deal for every 20 to 30 that you see. If you do more than that, you’re overinvesting.

3. You need to have a brand. The really great deals are obvious, and everybody wants in, and if you want to get in you need a brand. That could be that you have been successful with great companies in the past. And building a brand does not mean taking coffee meetings. Shallow connections do not mean much. If you have a fancy office on Sand Hill Road or Market Street, the best deals are not going to come to you. If you’re not out there running around getting to know people, then you are really just practicing the VC model.

4. Humility. When you’re sitting there all day and people are asking for money and more often than not you are saying no, it eventually goes to your head. The problem is that when a Mark Zuckerberg walks in, those guys have more offers than they have room for. If you come across as arrogant, they will drop you.

5. Your job is to be a little dispassionate. Don’t try to run the company. Don’t even take the power—if you don’t have it, you won’t be tempted to use it.

6. Filters. Every winner is unique by definition, because what they’re doing is new. But the losers tend to cluster around common mistakes, such as investing in a company with one founder. You will find you can establish filters, even one as simple as “Do what you love.”

7. There are many paths to success. You have to be very careful about taking your limited experience and trying to shoehorn your companies into it.”

“Startup Lessons Learned Conference #sllconf is going to be the Woodstock for entrepreneurs. If you weren’t there you will say you were.”

Steve Blank

Startup Lessons Learned, the best startup conference of the year, is this Friday:

I think this is going to be the most actionable startup conference ever and the lead organizer, Eric Ries, has given us a whopping 25% discount for Venture Hacks readers who use the discount code VENTUREHACKS. (If you’re not in the Bay Area, check out the simulcasts.)

The list of speakers and mentors at the conference is off the hook. And we’ve interviewed Eric Ries many many times:

What is the minimum viable product?
How IMVU learned its way to $10M a year
Opening board meetings to the entire company

My lean journey

I first learned about lean software development when my brother Farb closed a Series A for Grockit with Benchmark. He was looking for developers and I told him to check out my bookmarks for developers and designers. He went through my bookmarks and hired Pivotal Labs, a team of contract developers that follows a rigorous Extreme Programming process (Farb has hired his own team since then.)

Fast forward a couple years and Farb turned me on to Pivotal for a project I was working on. I hired them and got hooked on Extreme Programming. I started learning more about lean and eventually wrote a half-wrong post called Lean startups find their moment. Fortunately, Eric Ries was already blogging about lean startups, saw my post, and corrected my errors in Lean startups vs. lean companies.

Now, Eric has roped Farb in to speak at the conference:

(The video also seems to imply that Farb is auditioning for the cast of CSI.)

Learn more about the Startup Lessons Learned Conference and don’t forget to use discount code VENTUREHACKS.

Last week, Naval threw a Venture Hacks meetup at SXSW and sat on the Seed Combinators Panel with Paul Graham, David Cohen, Marc Nathan, and Joshua Baer. Much thanks to everyone who joined us. Here are some pics and highlights.


Photo by Joshua Baer

Photo by Elegant Machines

My favorite paraphrased quotes from the panel — I grabbed them from Dave McClure’s tweets:

“Can you start a startup alone? Yes, of course. it’s entirely possible to raise kids alone, but it’s easier to do it in a marriage.” – Naval

“The Y-Combinator application form is like an intellectual CAPTCHA.” – Paul Graham

“Incubators are graduate school for entrepreneurs… instead of getting a job, create jobs.” – Naval

“We often fund companies on 2nd/3rd try… Drew Houston at DropBox was an initial reject.” – Paul Graham

“Press is negative ROI in most startups.” – Naval

ReadWriteWeb also has a good round-up of the panel.


The last minute meetup was a monster, check out the pics and video. Thanks to everyone who came. You can find each other on Plancast and Facebook.

Photos and video by John Price

Naval here.

For those of you going to SXSW, I’ll be on the Seed Combinators Panel on Monday March 15 3:30pm. I’m joining Paul Graham, David Cohen, Marc Nathan, and Joshua Baer to talk about YStars, TechCombinators, SeedBoxes, and the like. Here’s the Plancast if you want me to “count you in.”

I’m also throwing a SXSW Venture Hacks Meetup on Sunday March 14 5-7pm in the Four Seasons Lobby Lounge at 98 San Jacinto Blvd. If you’re coming to the meetup, please RSVP on Facebook xor Plancast so we can get a headcount.

If you’re a Venture Hacker, please come talk to me about your startup and venture hacking at these two events. I’m looking forward to pressing the flesh and kissing some babies.

Every day (literally), I get an email from someone asking me to introduce them to investors, advisors, and co-founders. We’re building StartupList and AngelList to handle the intros to investors.

For intros to advisors and co-founders, I always tell people to sign up for [Startup Digest] — a weekly curated list of the best events in 27 cities — and start going to lots of events.

Good things happen to you at events

I don’t go to a lot of events anymore because I “wouldn’t be here working.” But I went to a lot of events when I moved to Silicon Valley 5 years ago. And great things happened to me at these events. I met Mike Arrington and ended up crashing at his place for a few months when I had no place to stay and very little money. I was re-introduced to David Cowan and ended up working with him as an EIR at Bessemer.

Going to an event can create its own luck. From the archive of the blogger formerly known as pmarca (a.k.a. Marc Andreessen):

“In Chance II, something else has been added — motion.

“Years ago, when I was rushing around in the laboratory [conducting medical research], someone admonished me by asking, “Why all the busyness? One must distinguish between motion and progress”.

“Yes, at some point this distinction must be made. But it cannot always be made first. And it is not always made consciously. True, waste motion should be avoided. But, if the researcher did not move until he was certain of progress he would accomplish very little…

“A certain [basic] level of action “stirs up the pot”, brings in random ideas that will collide and stick together in fresh combinations, lets chance operate.

Events are the place to meet people who won’t meet with you

People who aren’t available over email or one-on-one go to events to make themselves available. Mark Suster writes,

“One area where I have made in-roads is in the “I’d like to buy you a coffee for 15 minutes and get some career advice” emails from people I don’t know. I really do like to help people so in the early days I took some of these. I simply can’t fit in the time any more. So I often advise these people to find me at a conference and I promise to spend time with them there. I’ve already allocated that time as “general networking time.” I’ve developed a system for the polite “no” in this context.”

Sure, we would all like to get a 30-minute phone call with Mark, but I think you form a deeper psychological bond if you can talk to him for 10 minutes in person.

So if you’re looking for intros to advisors and co-founders, sign up for [Startup Digest], start going to events, and create some luck.

Naval here. I’ll be on a panel about “The Growth of Small Firms” at The Future of Funding on Feb 17. Matt Marshall, Mike Maples, Rob Hayes, Reid Hoffman are all on the panel with me.

The conference is full of accessible early-stage investors like Chris Dixon, Mike Maples, George Zachary, Jeff Clavier, Tim Draper, Dave McClure… I’m leaving out a ton of great names — it’ll be a who’s who of early stage investors.

The tickets aren’t cheap but the organizers have kindly given us a 25% discount to share with you. If you’re a Venture Hacks reader, please come introduce yourself to me at the conference.

Mark Bao has posted his notes from this year’s Startup School. Here are my favorite parts (everything below is cut-and-pasted directly from his notes — read the full collection):

Mark Pincus, CEO, Zynga: My Startup Experience

  • what really matters is that YOU CONTROL YOUR BOARD. Mark Zuckerberg claps.

How? (1) Create a board that reflects the ownership of the company. (2) Make a new board seat for a new CEO, (3) Do a term sheet tune-up.

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook: Q&A with Jessica Livingston

  • he says he never pitched Facebook a lot. Just got introduced to people because already had x00,000 users

Traction solves every problem. Profit erases every sin.

  • cognizant of the fact that engineers tend to move around companies. Facebook is a place to learn; he’s cool with moves.

That’s a neat solution: retention is a problem — so we “don’t care” about retention. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton from Stanford offer other solutions for retaining employees.

Twitter Founders Biz Stone and Ev Williams: Q&A with Jessica Livingston

  • motivation behind Twitter: two week hackweek at Obvious. they built, used it over the weekend, and they were passionately engaged

Hackdays are a great way to boost morale, clear out the ideas you can’t stop thinking about, and build small, low-priority, high ROI features and products.

Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: Delivering Happiness

  • Zappos’ Committable Core Values are grounds for hiring and firing, very serious about it

Greg McAdoo, Sequoia Capital

  • good recession-era startups “buy the cash register early,” — they execute their pay business model earlier to generate revenues earlier and bank earlier
  • enterprise sales tip: promote and talk about the HARD DOLLAR ROI. it’s the most important thing to talk about. make them scared to reject your product. make them think “if my boss ever found out we could have saved 50% on software X, he would be pissed.” make them fear that the competition get the product in their hands and beat you out.
  • startups that gain revenue early are disciplined earlier, and get used to being an actual business earlier, and generally are better and more recession-proof

Also see Fred Wilson’s post on Portfolio Screens.

Jason Fried, CEO, 37signals: Funding and Charging for Your Product

  • the difference between a boostrapped and funded company is easy to understand.
  • the bootstrapped company starts off thinking: we need to make money.
  • the funded company starts of thinking: we need to spend money. these investors have given us x million dollars—we should spend it!
  • funding is like crack. it’s an addiction with names like Series C. Don’t keep going back for more and more funding; it’ll make your addiction worse.
  • sorry, failure is not a rite of passage. you don’t have to fail. failing once doesn’t prevent another. Fried thinks the idea of “you have to fail once” and having to “learn about failure” is ridiculous.
  • learning a lesson from failure is learning what not to do. learning what to do is a lot better than learning what not to do.

Read all of Mark Bao’s notes.

bryce.jpg O’Reilly‘s venture capital fund, OATV, is holding a Startup Camp this summer. Bryce Roberts, a partner at OATV, asked us to spread the word and we’re happy to do it.

You need to apply to get in and 6-8 startups will be selected. They’re looking for companies that “have the potential to change the world for the better.” (Their application asks for a deck but we think they should ask for a high concept pitch and elevator pitch first.)

If I know O’Reilly, Startup Camp won’t involve long, boring lectures. Instead, participants will teach each other in sessions led by startup veterans like Evan Williams.

The selected startups will also be invited to Foo Camp, which is, in my opinion, one of the best technology conferences in the world.

I think Startup Camp will also generate good dealflow for OATV—and there’s nothing wrong with that. O’Reilly has been planting seeds in Silicon Valley with conferences like Foo Camp for years and years. They know that you have to give value before you get value.