I have failed as a founder multiple times. The most informative, and my only true fully committed startup founder experience was Investment Ready Partners. It was professional services startup, focused on helping companies define, develop, and execute their funding strategy. We worked intimately with a broad variety of ventures, software, green energy, traditional SMB, etc. and learned a ton about the never ending challenges of growing a business. I also learned an amazing amount how business financing in Canada works, the banks, the government, PE, VC, Angels, all of it. Failure is an important element of entrepreneurship, you should not be judged by failure but by what you learned from it and your response going forward.
Five most important lessons I learned and inform most advice I give:
1. Revenue is KING, the magic bullet, a businesses reason for being, all things spring forth from revenue.
2. Entrepreneurs are Crazy, it’s a roller coaster that few have the ability to handle. Related it ain’t about the money but its all about the money; have your house in order.
3. Co-founders are the third most important relationship you will ever have after parents and spouse. Know thyself and ruthlessly evaluate your co-founder(s) and they you; be accountable.
4. Network is hugely valuable but does not directly monetize. Relationships get you opportunity, business value gets you money. Also it’s a small world, markets are tiny, even big ones are controlled by less than 50 people.
5. Timing & Positioning are critical success factors that you have limited control over. When successful entrepreneurs point to luck, typically the ‘luck’ was a function of timing and positioning. Only way to influence luck is through hard work and foresight.
So I am a failed entrepreneur, what makes me qualified to advise Startups and influence the community? Another question that likely didn’t get to your lips;).
My point of view is informed by having funded more than 70 companies with more than $2m of the Ontario government’s money in less than 3 years. We have funded projects across the software startup spectrum: academic, two kids in the basement, pre & post accelerator, growing seven figure companies, pre & post VC funded, b2c, b2b, b2b2c, in a wide variety of verticals, etc. The outcomes on those projects have formed a ‘portfolio’ of companies that have many more wins than losses; including two exits (admittedly acquihires), more than a half dozen $1m+ venture rounds, over two dozen companies that are going concerns, and a less than typical percentage of dead pool.
Between Investment Ready Partners and Coral CEA I have easily looked at over 1000 Startups. Understanding what makes a startup investment grade has been my profession for five years. That is nothing compared to guys in the Valley, but not too many folks in Toronto can say the same. For Toronto, I don’t likely rate a top 10 startup advisor, but I’d give myself top 20. Most of the folks in front of me run (real) funds or have had successful exits.
I also have some experience, 5 years in Startups is enough time to develop some scar tissue. Before that I worked in F500 IT services companies selling to F2000 companies. I learned a few things about complex solution selling, RFPs, and business cases. I also got an education on a few of Canada’s most important sectors: health care, energy utilities, and manufacturing/distribution; while learning enough to be dangerous about banking, life sciences, telcos, and insurance.
“Great, what can you do for me?” You ask.
Typically, most people come to me looking for money, which I encouraged for a couple years. That ship has sailed, the budget is spent, so that is no longer a good use of your time. I am no longer special, I am like everyone else in the community and extremely unlikely to fund you.
If you haven’t bounced, I will go on;). Where I add value is enterprise grade complex solution selling; that is the focus of the majority of my career and that is where I add the most value. If you want me to actually help you execute that is the area. I can very helpful to Startups around their strategy for business development and funding based on my last five years solving those problems. My network in the Toronto Startup Community is broad and deep, nobody is more than one degree away; I will get you to the next best person for the learning you need. Most important, I will do my very best to not Bullshit you. If your idea sucks, I will politely say so, back it up with the knowledge I have at hand, and then work with you to get to a better place.
“So what do you want”, compensation drives behaviour.
Mostly, I work for Karma (see earlier post). The remaining <10% likely have some fit to my mission with Coral CEA (my current startup), and <1% might be inclined to compensate me for making magic happen. Making money on entrepreneurs ain’t my business and its not on my agenda, but I like money so I am happy to take it ethically. Free no bullshit tip, trying to make money on entrepreneurs is sure fire way to fail.
As Coral CEA ramps and evolves as a startup my ability to be as open a member of the startup community will change; but know this, I will respond. I am hear to help. Good Luck!