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11,428 Startups

By Everything

Everyone talks about the dollars of investment that goes to the Big Three markets (Bay Area, NYC, Boston). According to the PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree™ Report of 2017, 67% of all investment dollars went to those three locations. Every week I read about another fund that is focused almost exclusively on the Big Three. Even in Jason Calacanis’ book Angel, the title of Chapter 5 is “Do You Really Need To Be In Silicon Valley To Be A Great Angel Investor?” The entire chapter consists of one word: “YES!!”

Everyone talks about that percent of dollars. But I find another number more fascinating: 11,428. That is the number of startups that received funding in 2017 not located in the Big Three. That’s 45% of the funded startups last year.

11,428 startups funded outside of the big three.

The corollary to that number is 15,124 — the number of startups funded in the Big Three. Corporations and VCs alike look at that and think, “I can reach 55% of the market by having offices in three cities.” And so they focus their efforts, and either ignore the Rest, or wait for the Rest to come to them. Frankly, many startups do, and I don’t begrudge either strategy. This concentration of efforts creates opportunity.

In what business can you ignore 45% of the market and hope to have a competitive edge?

All of the other markets — “the rest” — go largely ignored because reaching the other 45% is hard. Reaching a concentrated 55% is easier than a widely distributed 45%. Great businesses are built on solving hard problems. And so was Engage Here.

Imagine having scouts give you access to the best startups — the dark dealflow — from two dozen markets around the US. Imagine having access to that amazing robotics startup in Pittsburgh, the manufacturing systems startup in Charlotte, and the hottest blockchain startup in Austin. Yet, it goes beyond access. Sifting through 1,000 startups is hard, sifting through 11,000 is ridiculous.

Engage Here is a distributed scout network based on local relationships. Our secret sauce is the local community leader in each market. We partner with the boots-on-the-ground community builder who is out every day meeting startups. They see everything in their community because they’re the organizer and the consummate connector. If you were to move to their town, they would be the person that four other people would say, “have you met ______?” They are on our team, scouting startups, and sending the best our way.

Let’s be clear: Engage Here isn’t a technology platform; it isn’t a social network, it doesn’t require you to authenticate through your Google account and spam your contacts. Engage Here is built on the fundamental belief that relationships are the foundation of business. Relationships are at the core of everything we do.

To be competitive in this increasingly noisy and crowded space, you need an edge. You need to be able to reach down into the corners of the country, into the pockets of entrepreneurship rising up, and find the absolute best among from the crowd. We are a force-multiplier for your start efforts. We offer curated, dark dealflow from all pockets of the country.

The best part is that everyone stands to gain from your involvement:

  • Startups get access to the people and companies across geographies
  • Corporations get strategically-fitting introductions
  • VC’s get scouts in two dozen markets

Join us and tap the 45% of the market you’re missing.

Here’s a freebie: the Daily Dealflow newsletter, featuring one startup each workday sourced from our network, from every corner of the country. Sign up here: https://engagehere.co/daily-dealflow/

Are you a corporation or VC that wants access to dealflow? Drop us a note.

Are you a startup that wants to be featured: share your information here.

Six Bold Predictions for Game of Thrones Season Six

By Everything

If you aren’t caught up on HBO’s Game of Thrones yet, then I really don’t have much to say to you. Other than 1) go watch it, and 2) come back after to read this post. If you are caught up, then read on, because with just over two months to go, the time is right for some bold predictions.

1. Jon Is Resurrected by Melisandre

Carice van Houten as Melisandre – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

Carice van Houten as Melisandre – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

The red witch’s arrival at Castle Black was no mere coincidence. She shows up at the gate a defeated and broken woman, questioning her faith in the Lord of Light. Very shortly after her arrival, Jon Snow is stabbed and left for dead. Jon is a man with royal blood (more on that below below), and she is drawn to that like a moth to a flame.

With or without royal blood, one thing we know about priests and priestess of the Lord of Light is that they can resurrect people—even if their own faith is broken. Recall Season 3 when Thoros of Myr tells Arya  how he has resurrected Beric Dondarrion multiple times. Melisandre looked down on Thoros, thinking him less of a worthwhile servant of the light, and wondered how he came to behold such power from their religion. Now it’s her turn. A broken woman with shaken faith comes in to save Jon Snow.

2. Jon Snow is Royalty

This is more of a long-term prediction, as we might not get around to this reveal until later in the series. But, with Jon now resurrected and free of this bond to the Night’s Watch (“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.”), his plotline opens up to the whole of Westeros. At some point his mother will be reveled, and my belief is that he’s the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Eddard’s sister Lyanna Stark. I’m not the only one to think this one may be possible.

3. Daenerys Wins Over the Dothraki

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Let’s not speak about the unspeakable things that will probably happen to Dany as the Dothraki khalasar takes her captive. One thing that GoT is exceptionally good at is unspeakable crimes against humanity—especially against women. Yet here we are, in Season 6, hoping beyond hope that our favorite queen does not get harmed.

Regardless of what happens to her, the arc of her storyline seems to be about her conquering Essos piece by piece, in her quest to get back to Westeros.  After her capture, she’ll eventually win over this particular horde, uniting them and the cities of Slaver’s Bay under one rule: hers. A united Essos, plus a queen with dragons and designs on the iron throne means big battles in the next season.

4. Cersei Goes Berserk

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

And the start of Season 5 she was just an evil, power-hungry, scheming drunkard, by the end of it she was a broken woman with a glint in her eye that can only mean one thing: revenge. After her imprisonment and humiliation (shame… ding ding) Cersei’s world gets a lot smaller. Her uncle shows only contempt for her, her former sycophantic follower, Pycelle, returns the cold hatred she always showed him, and her son the king did nothing to save her. She still has to endure a trial at the hands of the High Sparrow, and to top it all off, Jamie returns with a dead Myrcella from what was supposed to be a rescue mission.

Her world, which previously revolved around power games and her children, has been stripped bare. There’s nothing left of her. She’ll go beyond simple cold-blooded revenge and sink deep into madness. A madness that will be executed by her new champion, the reincarnated Gregor Clegane and his creator, Qyburn. Look for Cersei to take it to a new level of insanity this season.

5. A Main Character Dies

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Conleth Hill as Varys – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Conleth Hill as Varys – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Bold! I’m only half-joking. Of course lots of main characters get offed throughout the seasons, and usually in the most shocking ways possible. It’s not really a matter of someone dying, it’s a matter of whom and how many. My lovely wife—who makes a great Daenerys—has made the bold prediction that none other than, Daenerys herself gets killed this season. That’s bold.

I’m of the belief that Varis meets his maker. Someone has to die in the Essos storyline, and I like Tyrion too much and can’t bring myself to predict his demise—which actually makes him far more likely a candidate. That leaves Missandei, Grey Worm, and Varis. We’re starting to like Varis, which means he’s as good as dead this season. Maybe Tyrion and Varis both get killed. Maybe they kill each other!

6. Littlefinger Gets Hunted

We’ve watched the full series through twice, and it’s amazing to see the intrigue and subterfuge that Petyr Baelish weaves throughout the whole story. He is the architect of nearly all the conflict. Without his doing, Jon Arryn would not have died, Eddard Stark would have stayed in Winterfell, and the War of the Five Kings would have never taken place. And that’s just the start of his scheming. We might already hate him for marrying Sansa Stark off to Ramsay Bolton, but my prediction is that he gets found out in the show as the schemer that he is, and hunted down.

Bonus Prediction: Legolas Tracks Down Daenerys

“Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.”

When Dany dropped her ring at the end of Season 6, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Sure, it worked for Pippin and Merry, but it took an elf to spot the leaf. I don’t see any elves around, so the only logical conclusion is that Legolas, Prince of the Woodland Realm, arrives on the scene to find the dropped ring, and join the search. And if Legolas is there, that must mean that Essos is the actually the Undying Lands! Look for Elrond on the Small Council in Season 7. You heard it here first.

Why your startup team should always be pitching

By Everything

Originally posted on the IBM Global Entrepreneur Blog on February 5, 2016.

Product. Team. Customers. Funding. The essential elements of a startup. But one more essential piece is missing: Pitch.

The Pitch is arguably the most important non-business piece of your startup. From your elevator pitch, to your public pitch, to your investor pitch, the more successful you are, the more integral these will become to your business and your life. Because of its importance, you should take absolutely every opportunity to pitch, especially in the early stages.

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The first and biggest benefit from the always pitching mindset is practice. Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong, is the modus operandi of true professionals in every walk of life. This needs to be your motto. Living room pitch practice only takes you so far; get out in front of the public and practice your pitch.

Now that you’re out in the public, you’ll benefit from the next most important thing: feedback. The Lean startup methodology is build, measure, learn. When you have built something, whether mockups, a fully functioning product, or anything in between, pitching becomes a part of the measure stage, and the feedback you receive is part of learning. This accelerates the Lean process for your startup, and gets you closer to product-market-fit, faster. Listen closely to the questions, and aggregate the feedback across many pitches to find the common threads. Use this to iterate for your next pitch and your next build.

Another benefit of always pitching is that you get to show lines not dots. The winner of IBM Smartcamp Boulder, Lawbooth, went on to win the regional and semi-final rounds of Smartcamp because they could show lines–progress and traction across a longer timeframe. The judges in Boulder had seen them pitch many times, and because of this, specifically commented on their growth over the past year. Being out in the community, pitching your startup over and over, while showing growth shows grit and dedication–two things investors love to see.

You can perfect your pitch through IBM SmartCamp and there are plenty of opportunities to pitch in your community too. You can look for some of the more common ones such as 1 Million Cups, events at startup weeks, or pitch competitions at local co-working spaces. Galvanize Pitches & Pitchers is one such example.

IBM’s Smartcamp is one part pitch competition, networking opportunity and a chance at competing for a spot in an incubator with investment in thirty cities globally. The top ten companies from this year’s competition got invited to LAUNCH Scale in October, and are soon to attend LAUNCH Festival in March. Along the way they got personal pitch coaching from one of the top angel investors in the world, Jason Calacanis, and had the opportunity to present in front of thousands of people at both LAUNCH Scale and soon, LAUNCH Festival.

If you’re interested in perfecting your pitch through IBM SmartCamp, you can click here to learn more about the program and enter your email address to receive details about the 2016 IBM SmartCamp.

Sales Primer for Non-Sales Startup Founders

By Everything

Originally posted on the SoftLayer blog on January 27, 2016.

The founder of one of the startups in our Global Entrepreneur Program reached out to me this week. He is ready to start selling his company’s product, but he’s never done sales before.

Often, startups consist of a hacker and a hustler—where the tech person is the hacker and the non-tech person is the hustler. In the aforementioned company, there are three hackers. Despite the founder being deeply technical, he is the closest thing they have to a hustler. I’m sure he’ll do fine getting in front of customers, but the fact remains that he’s never done sales.

So where do you begin as a startup founder if you’ve never sold before?

Free vs. Paid
His business is B2B, focusing on car dealers. He’s worried about facing a few problems, including working with business owners who don’t normally work with startups. He wants to give the product away for free to a few customers to get some momentum, but is worried that after giving it away, he won’t be able to convert them to paying customers.

Getting that first customer is incredibly important, but there needs to be a value exchange. Giving products away for free presents two challenges:

  1. By giving something away, you devalue your product in the eyes of the customer.
  2. The customer has no skin in the game—no incentive to use it or try to make it work.

Occasionally, founders have a very close relationship with a potential customer (e.g., a former manager or a trusted ex-colleague) where they can be assured the product will get used. In those cases, it might be appropriate to give it away, but only for a defined time.

The goal is sales. Paying customers reduce burn and show traction.

Price your product, go to market, and start conversations. Be willing to negotiate to get that first sale. If you do feel strongly about giving it away for free, put milestones and limitations in place for how and when that customer will convert to paid. For example, agree to a three-month free trial that becomes a paid fee in the fourth month. Or tie specific milestones to the payment, such as delivering new product features or achieving objectives for the client.

Build Credibility
When putting a new product in the market, especially one in an industry not enamored with startups and where phrases like “beta access” will net you funny looks, it helps to build credibility. This can be done incrementally. If you don’t have customers, start with the conversations you’re having: “We’re currently in conversations with over a dozen companies.”

If you get asked about customers, don’t lie. Don’t even fudge it. I recommend being honest, and framing it by saying, “We’re deciding who we want to work with first. We want to find the right customer who is willing to work closely with us at the early stage. It’s the opportunity to have a deep impact on the future of the product. We’re building this for you, after all.”

When you have interest and are in negotiations, you can then mention to other prospective customers that you’re in negotiations with several companies. Be respectful of the companies you’re in negotiations with; I wouldn’t recommend mentioning names unless you have explicit permission to do so.

As you gain customers, get their permission to put them on your website. Get quotes from them about the product, and put those on your site and marketing materials. You can even put these in your sales contracts.

Following this method, you can build credibility in the market, show outside interest in your product, and maintain an ethical standing.

Get to No
A common phrase when I was first learning to sell was, “get to the ‘no’.” It has a double meaning: expect that someone is going to say “no” so be ready for it, and keep asking until you get a “no.” For example, if “Are you interested in my product?” gets you a “yes,” then ask, “Would you like to sign up today?”

When you get to no, the next step is to uncover why they said no. At this point, you’re not selling; you’re just trying to understand why the person you’re talking to is saying no. It could be they don’t have the decision-making authority, they don’t have the budget, they need to see more, or the product is missing something important. The point is, you don’t know, and your goal here is to get to the next step in their process. And you don’t know what that is unless you ask.

Interested in learning more? Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO of Hubspot and creator of the community OnStartups, authored a post with 10 Ideas For Those Critical Early Startup Sales that is well worth reading.

As a founder, you’re the most passionate person about your business and therefore the most qualified to get out and sell. You don’t have to be “salesy” to sell; you just need to get out and start conversations.

A Brief Critique of The Force Awakens

By Everything

Taking a break from the Startup Series reposts to put down my thoughts on Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. And yes, major #SpoilerAlert ahead, but if you haven’t seen TFA yet, I have no sympathy for you. Heck, if you haven’t seen it twice by now, I’m questioning your place in my life.

First, the good. I absolutely loved it. It was part fan tribute, part sci-fi action flick, part story continuation, and part stage-setting for new stories in our favorite galaxy. One of the best moments of the whole film is when you see the Millennium Falcon for the first time. Absolutely awesome. And though the entire final sequence of the movie is basically a rehash of RotJ, I didn’t care.

star-wars-episode-vii-lightsaber.png

One of the best surprises was that Rey was the awakening. The trailers led me (and many others) to believe that Finn was the new Jedi. They show him holding a lightsaber, and who holds lightsabers? Jedi, that’s who. Ergo: Finn = Jedi. When it turned out that Rey was the force-sensitive, and rapidly learned how to tap into her powers, I was stoked. I absolutely loved that. Good job on the trailer red herring.

However, there were moments that took me out of movie-adoration mode. It’s no fun to be pulled out of suspension of disbelief, especially because I’ve been anxiously anticipating it, and secretly praying every night for a great movie since it was announced on October 30, 2012. Thankfully, the instances of being pulled from excitement and awe in Episode VII were far less than any 20 minute segment of any of the prequels, but there were still a few moments that left me shaking my head.

Starkiller Base on The Force Awakens movie poster

Another Death Star

Really? Another Death Star? Come on. When they revealed Starkiller Base, my first reaction was the mental equivalent of an eyeroll.  Seven movies and three Death Stars? That’s a bit much. And I must admit that I saw it coming because it is in the movie poster. Even with that, I didn’t think they’d ever possibly revisit the idea of a Death Star a third time. But they did. This plot device (pun intended) needs to be put to rest, once and for all.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-captain-phasma-gwendoline-christie

Captain Phasma Caves

While the whole scene with Phasma, Finn, Han, and Chewie was funny—from capture to the trash compactor—the fact that she caved and turned off the deflector shields was just too much bullshit for me. This is the Chrometropper who is so unquestioningly loyal that when a Stormtrooper does not participate in mass-murder of unarmed civilians, she censures them and sends them to reconditioning. And you mean to tell me she begrudgingly gives in just because she has a blaster pointed to her head? I’m not buying it. Not to mention the minor details that she a) knows how to turn off the deflector shield of an entire planet, b) has the authority to do so, and c) happens to be in the right place for it. <sigh>

"all out" assault on Starkiller base

 

The All-Out Assault

Picture this: the Resistance is backed up against a wall. Their senate—and the moon system surrounding it—was destroyed by a “hyper-lightspeed” weapon of unbelievable firepower. And that weapon is turning its attention to their primary command base. Their only chance to survive: a zany scheme that took about five seconds to concoct (though, admittedly, they’ve already pulled off this plan twice before, which must certainly add a degree of confidence). But it is their own chance to survive; the one and only way to save the entire Resistance armed forces! What do you do? Meh, send about a dozen X-Wings, into enemy territory, to attack a planet-sized based. That should be plenty.  You mean to tell me that with absolutely everything on the line, you can’t muster more than a couple of single-seaters? Even the Rebellion did better in RotJ.

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Even with those missteps, I still loved it. My wife and I are heading for our third viewing this Saturday.

Oh, and, Kylo Ren as Han & Leia’s son? I totally called it. #humblebrag But to keep myself honest, I also speculated that Rey was their daughter, and though that is as-of-yet unproven, I’m saying “no” on that one.