Sympoz Launches Programs on Starting Companies

One of our portfolio companies, Sympoz has announced the launch of their programs targeting startup entrepreneurs.  Even better, the series stars some of my favorite people in startup land:  my partner Brad Feld, along with Brad Bernthal of the University of Colorado Law School and Mike Platt , partner at Cooley LLP.  We teach you everything that we know in this comprehensive video series.

Thinking about doing your first startup? Perhaps you’re a startup veteran, who has the bumps and bruises to prove it, looking to jump back in?

Let us help you maximize the opportunity and do it right.

Brad’s class, How To Light a Spark & Set Your Startup on Fire, is FREE for a limited time.  Brad has lived the startup story over and over. He offers straight-shooting advice: Does your idea have market potential? Is it the right idea for you? Brad’s raw and pragmatic advice will lead you to consider the competition, examine your motivation and be honest about your level of passion and commitment.

Brad Bernthal and I, who have for several years taught an oversubscribed course at the CU Boulder Law School, are joined by Mike in teaching, The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Company. In this class, which includes over 4 hours of instruction for just $29.99, we join forces to teach you things your lawyer and venture capitalist may not want you to know. How to turn an idea into a company. Who to partner with. How to seek out money and what to do with it when you get it. You’ll learn what to put in your pitch deck, what not to say to a VC, and 15 common mistakes that will kill your startup before it gets off the ground.  And a lot, lot more…

For those of you who have read Venture Deals, consider this a great summary of some topics in the book, but more heavy on the business side of equation, with the benefits of interactivity between you and the instructors.

Sympoz classes are perfect for busy people; you can watch the professionally produced, HD videos anytime, anywhere on the planet, from any Internet-connected device, as often as you want. The Sympoz learning platform seamlessly blends discussions into the class experience, enabling you to ask questions of, and participate in conversations with your class community, including your instructors.

So, what are you waiting for? Join us in class!

Flinja Helps University of Colorado – Boulder Students Find Jobs, Pay off Student Debt

As a venture capitalist and a professor of law at University of Colorado – Boulder, it is tough to see how many smart students are having trouble finding jobs after graduating.

The Atlantic reports that 53% of recent college grads are either un- or under-employed, especially in a market flooded with degree-holders. In Boulder, CO alone, there are now 11,041 unemployed people, and although that number is better than the 2009 peak of 12,835 unemployed, it’s still 820 more since January 2012.

There are tons of job sites out there all promising the help, but few actually do.  However I recently saw a model that I haven’t seen before.  Last week I was a sage panelist at DEMO and Flinja was one of the over 20 startups presenting in the Social Products category. They were one of my favorite teams.

What do they do?  Simple.  They capitalize on school spirit to get students hired.  Yep, if you are a fan of CU, you will soon be able CU students.  If you are a Michigan alum, soon too, you’ll be able to focus your hiring ecosystem on folks that share your background.  While simple, this could be very powerful.

Launched last month at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles to much fanfare, Flinja allows an exclusive network of students, staff and alumni to hire and be hired within the site. I constantly come across companies who are eager to hire local CU Boulder students but have no one at the companies who are alums. You can connect with CU alumni and find companies hiring within our community. And trust me, it is exclusively for students and college networks—you can’t even register without your “.edu” email. In an extremely competitive job market, it looks like a welcome relief for CU Boulder students, letting them get directly in touch with alumni and potential employers. And in light of the recent jobs numbers, the Flinja platform seems like a great way to take advantage of whatever momentum there might be. Just my two cents.

They are launching at CU and will take some time to get a lot of people on the system, but I’d encourage students look for jobs to give it a shot.

 

 

How LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbel are Running a Lawyer Ratings Scam

I am deeply disgusted to report that the good name of LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbel is officially worthless.  This institution which has built its reputation on providing accurate information to lawyers and the general public about lawyers is now nothing more than a marketing organization.  Their ratings can not be trusted.  How do I know?  Simple, they recently rated me as an outstanding lawyer as rated by my clients.

I haven’t had clients since July 2000.  And unless my three partners are secretly spending time rating my services (they aren’t) then this is complete and utter bullshit.  So beware consumers and fellow attorneys:  these ratings are nothing more than a scam to sell expensive plaques and foist the “ratings” on a public who might be looking for competent legal counsel.

Here was the text from the email:


Client Distinction Award
Congratulations Jason A. Mendelson,You have earned the Client Distinction Award. This honor has been made possible by your clients who have taken the time to compliment you in the following areas:

Communications Ability
Responsiveness
Quality of Service
Value for Money

The results have been compiled and you have earned a Client Review Rating Score of 4.5 or higher on a scale of 1-5. Less than 4% of the 900,000+ attorneys listed onmartindale.com and lawyers.com have been accorded this Martindale-Hubbell honor of distinction.

A commemorative wall plaque has been designed for you in honor of this new selection by your clients. Display your Client Distinction Award Plaque for them to see (especially new and potential clients). It serves as a point of reference which tells them others have confidence in your work.Ordering is easy. To preview and customize your award click here. (I embedded the image)

Or, take advantage of our easy open invoice billing. Simply reply to this email to tell us how many plaques you would like and we will ship and invoice you later for $159 + $12.90 shipping per plaque (net 20 terms).

Please do not hesitate to call or email me with any questions. I am available from 9am to 6pm EST, Monday through Friday and would be happy to walk you through the simple steps of customizing your wall plaque.

Congratulations,

Pat Barnes
Account Manager
American Registry, LLC

*Did you know? Nearly 6 in 10 consumers seeking an attorney in the past year checked ratings and online reviews; of those, 65% say ratings and reviews were influential in their decision process.

 

And there you have it. Even the last tagline is talking about how the ratings are important to consumers. Vomit.

New Colorado Meetup for “Infopreneurs”

As the knowledge economy grows, there is a new breed of information entrepreneurs or “infopreneurs” that is emerging.   The Internet is really just one big platform for creating these new information-based businesses.  And there is very little upfront investment or infrastructure needed.  Unlike any time prior in history, entrepreneurs can create multi-million dollar businesses just by packaging and selling their information online.

Although the barriers to entry are low, there are so many skills you need to learn and so much technology that it can be overwhelming.  It is hard to do alone.  My friend, Roger Glovsky, fellow lawyer and entrepreneur, just started a new meetup called “InfoCrowd” to support entrepreneurs who want to start, grow, and manage an information product business.  “Infopreneurs” include authors, speakers, publishers, coaches, consultants, and content marketers.

The InfoCrowd group will host monthly meetings, masterminds, and of course, online information. For information or to attend the inaugural meeting, go to http://www.meetup.com/InfoCrowd/.

Wanted: Entrepreneur to Pitch to Me During Class

I co-teach a class at the University of Colorado Law School called “VC 360.”  We have both MBA and JD candidates and the course deals with all things in the entrepreneurial / venture ecosystem.

Each year, we have a pitch day where one entrepreneur comes in and pitches me.  The students get to watch.  The entrepreneur and I get an hour together and then the students get to ask questions for 20 minutes.

This is a real pitch.  It’s not any different than if someone comes to our offices, but there is a “studio audience.”

So if you are interested in pitching Foundry Group and want to do something great for the Boulder education community, let me know.  I can only take one.  Priority will be given to ideas that fit within the Foundry Group investment themes and are understandable by students.  Also there is a bias toward local entrepreneurs to Colorado, as I hate making folks travel to see me.

The pitch date is 10/1 at 8am in Boulder.  Either email me or leave a comment and I’ll let you know.  Thanks for the consideration.

How to Cold Contact a Venture Capitalist

Every day I get many unsolicited emails asking for either my time or my checkbook.  Most of them make me feel like I’m on a mailing list, as they clearly are from folks whom have done little to no research on me or Foundry Group.  It’s not like I’m looking for entrepreneurs to do a lot of research on us and try to kiss my butt, rather it’s attractive when someone does their homework and understands why further conversation may be relevant.

So what should one do if cold contacting a VC?  I’ve always counseled entrepreneurs to try to personally connect to the VC.  Find a similarity in backgrounds, a common hobby, tell a good joke, etc.  Today, one such entrepreneur hit a home run in this respect and I’d like to share what he did correctly.

1. He acknowledged that he’s read Venture Deals and after reading an interview I did with the Berklee Music Business Journal, thought that I might make a good fit for his company that is loosely in the music ecosystem.

2. He didn’t just throw out the book and article, but referenced them.  Quote:

I read an interview you gave to the Berklee “Music Business Journal” in May in which you said,  “I answer every email that says, “Dear Jason, I’m a former drummer and I’ve started this company.” Well, sad to say I’m only a piano player, however for one semester when I was at Michigan I had the key to the back door of Hill Auditorium, and used to sneak in in the middle of the night to play the concert grand on stage. (The security guard who caught me one night let me stay, so I must not have been completely terrible…?)

3. Then he went the extra mile and made a parody of our I’m a VC video.

It’s a must watch, especially the end, where he cons a family member to renact our shower scene.  (If you haven’t seen our video, it’s here).

4. After the attention-grabbing intro, he listed 5 bullet points of what he is working on including traction numbers.

5. Then he dove a bit more deeply into the market and then closed with letting me know that I’m the first guy he is contacting.

How on earth could I not take a meeting?  He’s got a good sense of humor, he’s clearly done his homework and he’s put some effort into the email.  I haven’t even had the call yet, but I’m looking forward to meeting him.

Yes, it’s a sample size of one, but he did a great job.

Why is Everyone Hatin’ on Form D?

More and more I’ve been hearing about companies not filing Form D’s in conjunction with their financings.  The reason:  We don’t want the press picking up on our fundraising / we want to control the message / we are stealth, etc.

This post isn’t about the value of being stealth.  I’ve always thought stealth mode is a little silly.  After all, a startup’s best indication of success is the people that it puts together, but like I said – to each his own.

What this post is about is why I think people should still file Form D’s despite many law firms saying “eh, don’t worry about it.”  I’ll go all lawyer on y’all for a moment.

Regulation D requires a filing, but per Rule 507, if you don’t file it, doesn’t eliminate your ability to rely on RegD for the financing.   Therefore a company that wants to be stealth and elects against the advice not to file the Form D is violating an SEC rule, but it doesn’t jeopardize the offering exemption.    4(2) always exists, but that is factual, and in these very early rounds you may have small angels or others who are tricky.

My sense is that some law firms are loose and cite 4(2), so that VCs have come to believe that it doesn’t really matter whether you file the Form D.

The SEC has not gone after anyone yet (but could), but as some of you may recall the S-1 (IPO filing document) requires disclosure of what exemption you relied upon (and I have heard of current situations in which the SEC was really reading this section closely which isn’t surprising in this era of SecondMarket), so a company that doesn’t file the Form D has to decide how they disclose what they did, and risk more SEC questions.

Note, you no longer need to list the names of the investors in the Form D, so it is less of an issue to file it.  Even if a company doesn’t promptly file, once they have announced the round publicly I would recommend that they then file theForm D.

Note also that if a public acquirer is picking up your company, they are, too, going to go through each financing with a fine tooth comb.

Bottom line:  seems like little value for a potential problem later that you don’t need.  Suck it up and file the D’s and keep all of our reporter friends happy at the same time.

Outside Counsel Attendance At Board Meetings

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about lawyer attendance at board meetings.  Normally, most venture-focused law firms attend board meetings free of charge.  And like most things in life, people value things by how much they pay for them.  (If you don’t believe me, check out the healthcare and education industries, to name a few).

This isn’t to mean that I don’t value counsel’s opinions on the company, rather, many times I feel badly for the attorney who is sitting in an hours long board meeting while I know (from my past life) that they have many other clients needing their help, all along the while they are bored and sneaking in peeks of their Blackberry*

It’s time to be more considerate to our lawyers who are already volunteering their time.  Effective immediately, I’m going to recommend to all the companies that I’m involved with to take the following approach to board meeting agendas.

1. Start with a 5-15 minute overview of the company.  This is a quick status update, quick financial update, the “good, bad and ugly” and what agenda topics the CEO wants to talk about with the board.  This will give the lawyer (and the board) a backdrop to which have all other conversations;

2. Then immediately jump into the administrative stuff like option grants, approvals, etc.  If there are any legal issues out there, discuss them upfront;

3. Then let the lawyer go if he / she wants.  If they want to stick around, by all means they are invited to, but if they have better things to do, then so be it.  We get it.  It’s not a secret that we aren’t their  only client.  If we were, we wouldn’t want them as our lawyer; and

4. Business / strategy part of the board section.  If any legal issues come up, we can loop back in the lawyer later.

Note that with the quick hit summary upfront, a properly skilled and attentive lawyer may determine that they should stick around for other parts of the discussion.  That is absolutely cool.  Also, on some of my boards, the lawyers have become valuable business advisors, so this idea might not actually change the way they do business, but for the majority of folks I think this will have a positive impact.

I’ve done this recently at a couple of board meetings and each time, the lawyer has sent me a thank you note.  And my belief is that most of the good lawyer folks out there will remember who treats their time with respect and when push comes to shove will try extra hard for the clients they like the most.  In short, everyone wins.

(*  Yes, Blackberry.  Still not sure how y’all deal with that crummy piece of hardware, but good luck with that).

Rideorama – Winners of the 4th Annual CU New Venture Challenge

The 4th annual CU New Venture Challenge has come and gone and the student entrepreneurs have only gotten more impressive.  Now in its fourth year, over 40 companies entered the competition with six of these teams moving to the finals. One of the finalists received a grant from the Department of Energy and many of the finalists were operating companies.  I’m proud of how the CU NVC has evolved from a business plan competition into business creation competition.

The winner this year was Rideorama.   Rideorama is a marketplace for carpooling to and from Denver International Airport.  If you need a ride, you can post a ride request to Rideorama so drivers can find you or search Rideorama to find drivers.  If you are driving, you can search Rideorama to find passengers or post a ride offer so passengers can find you.  Drivers offset their costs and passengers get cheap, direct travel.  This team of entrepreneurs includes two students from CU and their friends that moved to Boulder to start this business.  Their simple, innovative solution has the potential to solve the annoying problem of finding someone to take you to the airport.

The Rideorama team also demoed their product at Boulder Beta during Boulder Startup Week.  Their passion for this business showed in their presentation again as they won the people’s choice award at this event as well.

Try out Rideorama the next time you need to get to or from Denver International Airport and give these guys feedback to help them improve their website.  I know they would greatly appreciate it.

If you want to know more about the team and their service, check out the short profile the Colorado Daily did on Rideorama earlier this month.

Colorado Is Now #4 Ranked Destination for Early-Stage Venture Capital Investment

One of the cool perks of being on the National Venture Capital Association board of directors is that I get to see lots of interesting data on the venture capital industry.  The research staff, along with PriceWaterhouseCoopers  are constantly looking at trends and data that provide unique and useful insights into the ecosystem and publish under the MoneyTree brand.

Today, however, I got wind of some new MoneyTree data that pulled at my heart strings unlike any data that I had seen before.  In fact, I was all of astonished, proud, humbled and inspired.  The news?  In 2011, Colorado ranked 4th in the country behind California, Massachusetts and New York for seed/early stage dollars invested into startup companies in the state.  The state has grown in leaps and bounds with 63 firms investing $290 million into 41 companies in 2011 compared to 2006 when 41 firms invested $89 million into 32 startups.

Wow.  I knew that Colorado was kicking tail, but this was really amazing news.  It backs up what I’ve been telling people for a long time:  Colorado is a top five destination for VC investment and I think it’s only getting stronger.

So why is our nearly average populated state so decidedly above average when it comes to starting companies?  It’s combination of many things (great universities, Techstars, lots of engineers, well educated people, great mentors and active community leaders), but one thing really stands out:  our entrepreneurs.

I think Colorado is breeding and attracting a type of entrepreneur that is unique to venture investing.  While driven, smart and motivated as all entrepreneurs are, the Colorado population seem to always be acutely aware of their local communities and always make sure to give back and pay forward to future generations of company starters.  Its you folks, who are creating the amazing companies that investors are interested in.  So much so that we are now the fourth most popular destination for early-stage investing.

So congratulations Colorado.  Congratulations to all of the entrepreneurs who are creating great companies and great jobs while never forgetting about their communities.  I’m proud to be a small part in your collective worlds.