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Ventures In Tech - The Demise of the MVP (Episode 7)

The Demise of the MVP (Episode 7)

January 19, 2018 | Duration: 00:12:58

In this episode, Henry Reohr and Adam McGowan discuss the concept of the minimum viable product, how its meaning has evolved over time, and the risks of confusing assumption testing with product development.

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ADAM MCGOWAN:: Welcome to episode seven of Ventures in Tech, brought to you by Firefield. This is Adam McGowan and on today’s show we’re going to discuss the concept of the minimum viable product or MVP and the risks of mistaking assumption testing for product development. I’m again being joined by my colleague from Firefield, Henry Reohr, who will be guiding today’s chat. And with that, I’ll let Henry take it away.

HENRY REOHR: [00:34]: Adam, in the startup environment, the term minimum viable product gets thrown around a lot. It also seems to have a number of definitions. Can multiple meanings of MVP all be correct?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [00:47]: Well, if you like to be a bit of a purist, which I think of myself as when it comes to this, I would argue that you go back to the source. And in his book, The Lean Startup, Eric Ries created what’s probably known as popularized version or at least what was initially the most popularized version of the definition of this MVP. And he said that a minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort. Now, that left a ton of room for interpretation and I would argue that the industry has really taken a bunch of liberties with it and I think I do as well.

HENRY REOHR: [01:30]: Like what? What kind of liberties?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [01:33]: Well, my first one is the question whether or not the MVP is really a product. So if you dig into it, it seems more like a learning loop; this idea that you build, you measure, you learn something and then you iterate on that. I actually do some mentorship and do some teaching on The Lean Startup approach and on the idea of MVP creation, and this is what I talk about when I do that; this idea of this iterative loop. And, you know, I think it’s something that’s sometimes gets a little bit confused given that product is actually right in the name of the MVP.

HENRY REOHR: [02:10]: I also hear a handful of other names thrown around when people talk about early stage products. There’s clickable prototypes, proofs of concept, alphas, betas and several others. Some even see an abuse interchangeably with MVP. How do they all relate to each other?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [02:29]: This is a place where I’d say I get a little bit frustrated and I do that or I feel that way because I feel that there’s really a necessity to separate out the concept of creating a product from actually testing your assumptions and I think the descriptions and the names you just share tend to commingle those two concepts, some cases, in pretty material ways. So if I think about the stages of product development, I’d argue that the proof of concept happens at the earliest of stages and this tries to help you determine if something can even be done. You then kind of move into what would be more of a prototyping phase which describes and helps to illustrate how it would actually be done. And then, what you end up with is various versions of completeness and then you can all evolve those over time. And I think that you ask ten different people about the definition of one particular term that you shared, they might give you ten different answers.

When I think about this idea of product testing, one example of that is what I would consider the alpha test or the alpha version of a product. This typically means the product is not fully functional, there’s likely bugs in the product, but really what’s happening is that the owners of that product are looking for some feedback. That evolves into another phase which is much more commonly used that’s called the beta, the beta test or the beta release. This is typically a highly functional version of a product but it is not yet fully tested and it requires more feedback. But something to think about here is that all these, both alpha and beta, are still beyond proof of concept and they’re beyond prototyping. You are actually just dealing with what’s the level of completeness of your actual product and you’re not testing your assumptions here. You’re testing whether the product works. You’re testing whether or not there’s bugs. It’s a different thing but sometimes they get lumped together. With the MVP, I think they’re very different things.

Separate and apart from that is this notion of assumption testing. So again, as I said, those above stages, they’re about building, and about testing the actual product once it’s past this proof type stage, and at that point you’re not really having any requirements left to need to test the product’s underlying assumptions. Some things that we can attempt to do, two things, which is to both go about building products and then also go about testing assumptions. And I think that’s what the MVP tries to accomplish. But most early versions of product, you know, at best can serve one of these two things, either assumption testing or product development. There’s even a few cases where I think it attempts to conserve neither of those purposes.

HENRY REOHR: [05:09]: Neither? How can something that a founder’s going to share with a user be neither a product nor an assumption test?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [05:21]: I think it usually happens when something attempts to be a test. It’s attempting to go by testing an assumption. So this means it was never intended yet to be a product, it’s not fully functional, it’s not too ready for market, but the problem is that the actual mechanism they used to test isn’t very good. Not very scientific, they don’t control for a bunch of variables or even worse, it does attempt to make a pretty scientific test, it just goes about testing assumptions that are the wrong things to test.

HENRY REOHR: [05:53]: What do you mean by that? How do you know whether or not you are testing the right thing? How could there a wrong test?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [06:01]: Well for a startup, money often time seems or in reality is their most scarce resource. But the reality is, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not money that’s the most scarce resource, it’s time. And so if you go back to Eric Ries, you’re trying to “maximize learning over the shortest period of time.” And so let’s say you had a hypothesis you’re trying to test and it was, “Can I get ten customers to commit to purchase over the next two week period?” And let’s say that you actually go about achieving that, you do get those customers over that period time. What if in reality finding small numbers of paying customers is extremely easy but then those customers represent a market that’s way too small to actually sustain your venture? So what you’ve done is you’ve created test, you’ve controlled for it, you’ve got a result, you’ve proved it to be true, the problem is it’s not meaningful at all. It was too easy to achieve. It doesn’t address the bigger issues you’re trying to accomplish. And so what could have been the right test would have been trying to determine how well this product could attract customers outside of this initial market, outside of this sort of easy picking, if you will, when it comes to customers. Those subsequent markets might be necessary to make the product a success but yet you’ve just fulfilled a positive result to a test that could lead you down an inconclusive or in some cases problematic path.

HENRY REOHR: [07:29]: So how do you first identify and then conduct the right test?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [07:36]: Well, I have thought about this quite a bit and I think that it’s a pretty complicated lengthy answer. But then, I actually found a piece of content somewhere recently that I think articulates the concept really really well. I saw it earlier last year, it was in a post on Hacker Noon written by someone named Rik Higham, and he proposed something he calls a RAT.

HENRY REOHR: [07:59]: RAT? R-A-T like the rodent?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [08:03]: Yes, R-A-T, but it stands for Riskiest Assumption Test,, and these are assumptions that if they’re not proven true have the most sizeable negative impact on a venture. So let’s take that past example we had, getting customers to commit. Assuming the entrepreneur asked herself a question, “Is the idea that I can find ten customers the riskiest of all my assumptions?” So that’s a modification of the prior question which was, “Can I get ten customers in two weeks?” Now it’s, can the act of getting those customers be easy or hard, right? How risky is that assumption? I think that assessing whether or not getting ten customers is the riskiest possible assumption you could have, it’s pretty clear the answer is no. That is not the riskiest assumption that you should be testing. And so what it does is it forces the founder to then iterate and then break these problems and questions and concerns down into smaller and more explicit components, often addressing issues that they haven’t looked at in depth yet.

HENRY REOHR: [09:12]: So now that we’ve added another acronym to the mix, what’s the biggest takeaway you want to share with founders who have products that are at a very early stage.
ADAM MCGOWAN: [09:24]: Well, I think the first thing I want to do is to suggest that people try to forget about buzzwords. One, they are by their very nature very much a fad, they can come and go. Two, they’re open for interpretation, you ask ten people you get ten different answers, and I just don’t think they get to the core of what you’re trying to deal with.

So I think that what’s most important is for founders to really focus on moving their ventures forward as efficiently as possible. Almost in sort of a fanatical way, be consistently asking yourself, “Is this the most efficient use of my unbelievably limited time and potentially extremely limited money and capital?” And if the answer is no, iterate. Figure out what it is that you’re supposed to be doing that’s more efficient.

I think another point that’s very very key is to really think hard about the distinguishing this idea of assumption testing from product launching. Again, the MVP kind of tries to do both but they’re pretty distinct things with pretty distinct objectives. For no two companies will they be the same but they are pretty distinct for almost every company that I’ve seen.

I’d argue that the priority here should be mostly on the assumptions first and then product second. And so if the most important tests that you need to address first, if they don’t translate into an MVP, then don’t build the MVP yet. This is another major misstep I see all the time which is, ideas that are not fully baked, they are not fully validated, they don’t necessarily… they aren’t necessarily even a product yet, they’re just still a concept, people will come to us and say, “I need you to build my MVP.” First of all, you don’t build an MVP, right? You iterate an MVP, you use it as an assumption test. But I think the term is thrown around in the wrong way and then the product gets put in front of the assumptions and I think that that’s backwards.

So, with all I’ve said, I think there’s really a lot to this idea of the RAT even if the acronym isn’t particularly all that attractive. So what does it do? It helps you to uncover these riskiest assumptions, it helps you to validate them in the smallest and most iterative test that you possibly can and if the performance of such tests requires the creation of an early stage product then think about creating one. But if it does not, don’t. So I think this idea and this assumption that some form of product creation is always the early answer is a very sort of commonality in the startup environment and I roll back to this concept of test first, validate assumptions, come up with the notion that there’s a product that should be built and then go about doing it. And so I think that oftentimes the notion of the MVP, while in its purest form, when Ries talked about it, made great sense, it’s played a game of telephone over the course of the years and now I think it seems like an M, a V, and a capital P in that the product seems to get brought to the front and I think that that’s something that if the founders are more thoughtful about it, they’ll find themselves being able to validate earlier and probably find a little bit more success in their products.

HENRY REOHR: [12:41]: Thanks Adam. That’s all we’ve got for today. I’m Henry Reohr from Firefield and you’ve been listening to another episode of Ventures in Tech.

Ventures In Tech - Funding Options for a Startup (Episode 6)

Funding Options for a Startup (Episode 6)

January 8, 2018 | Duration: 19:09

The Q&A continues between Henry Reohr and Adam McGowan in this sixth installment of Ventures in Tech. In this episode, Adam answers Henry’s questions regarding the options (some obvious and some less so) available to founders looking to get their startup funded.

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ADAM MCGOWAN: : Welcome to episode six of Ventures in Tech, brought to you by Firefield. This is Adam McGowan and on today’s show we’re going to discuss the variety of options available to startups in their early stages when it comes to getting funded. I’m again being joined by my colleague from Firefield, Henry Reohr, who’ll be guiding today’s chat. And with that, I’ll let Henry take it away.

HENRY REOHR: [00:31]: Adam, for many entrepreneurs, the world of venture funding can seem daunting for a whole host of reasons. Even the terminology can be hard to follow. Before we dig into the actual options for raising capital, could you decode some of the jargon related to the different rounds of fundraising?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [00:51]: Sure. You know, I think that over time this has become a little bit more complicated because it used to be pretty simple; a new startup with self-finance or they would get funded from friends and family and then as soon as things started to move and they got some traction they’d go for a Series A round. That was pretty much it. If it worked, they were off to the races, otherwise, they went home.

But I think there’s been this concept that I could talk more to later but I call it Round Inflation and it seems like the target or the goal posts are consistently moving. So if you look today at a typical Series A round of funding, they tend to start around two million dollars in funding and, you know, that capital is today generally used for companies to be able to scale once they’ve really proven out their model.

Now we’ve got what’s called the Seed Round which is going to happen typically before a Series A. These usually start around five hundred thousand and this is capital typically earmarked for what we call product market fit. So you put a product into the market, you’re trying to assess how well you’re actually going to translate that introduction of the product into true sales, into true traction. You know, how well does, technically, that product fit your market? And if doesn’t it could be because of poorly conceived product, poorly conceived market or possibly both.

Now, prior to a Seed Round, given that they’re starting at half a million, we’ve got what’s being called Pre-Seed Rounds. And these are typically starting somewhere around one hundred thousand dollars range and this is often used as capital for early stage product development. So it could go towards minimum viable product creation or maybe beta launches to do some testing with users of your very early stage product.

And of course Friends and Family Rounds, if people use or rely on them, tend to precede all of these. But we’ve certainly seen this collection of rounds of capital and at least the targets for each of these dollar amounts have been ticking up and up and up over time.

HENRY REOHR: [2:54]: You mentioned this concept called round inflation. Can you dig a little bit deeper into that?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [3:00]: Yes. So this idea comes from the fact that I would describe money as; by money I mean investment, money being “relatively” easy to come by today, relatively is in quotes and that’s very important. So it’s not absolutely easy, it’s still hard to get funded, it’s just relative to the ease with which or lack of ease with which you could have get funded. Historically, it seems as though it’s been a little bit easier to do so recently.

What that means is that more investors are piling on into deals, wanting to participate in investments and it’s just pretty straightforward economics that the increase in demand from investors is going to result in driving up price and in this case the price is the valuation of these companies who are getting the funding. And so if you’re an investor, you’re now getting into a deal with the valuations going up and up and up, all else equal, if you invested the same amount of money, you’re going to own less of the company.

And that’s not what investors want. Because these investors don’t want to have to make more and more and more investments to put their investors money to work as many of these investors are coming from venture capital funds for example. They don’t want to double the number of investments they have to make to put their money to work. And so what they want to do is they want to try to drive up the amount of money that they’re putting into deal so they can still own a meaningful chunk of companies. So prices are going up, valuations are going up, more money is coming into deals and investors want bigger chunks of the deals. So naturally, the size of the rounds inflate. That’s where that language comes from.

HENRY REOHR: [4:37]: So, what does that mean for entrepreneurs who are out in the market trying to raise capital?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [04:42]: I think it means that all else equal more money means investors are going to expect… more money in means investors are going to expect more money out. So, you know, what that means is that for what I’ll call a market, “market based investor”, the dollars return for a Series A deal of the past just aren’t going to cut it anymore. So we’ve got bigger valuations, we’ve got generally bigger deals and this means start-ups are going to need to start attacking bigger markets and trying to get bigger market shares of those markets and trying to do so with a higher likelihood of success. So even though investment money or dollars might be getting relatively easier to raise, because it’s actually getting concentrated into these larger deals, an individual or emerging venture might actually find it harder to raise money. So I know it’s somewhat paradoxical but money might be easier to be spent by investors but it might be harder for you to actually get it.

HENRY REOHR: [05:41]: What did you mean by the term market based investor? Are there other types of investors as well?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [05:49]: Well, to me, market based refers to the fact that an investor is operating using… they’re using rational expectations for economic returns. So these investors would assess the risk and return profile of a particular investment and they would assess that relative the alternative and one alternative could be to not invest at all. So, what’s in the market? What can I invest in? What’s the risk? What’s my return? And what does that mean relative to me doing nothing at all? That’s what I mean when I say market based.

But I talk about them as their own category because I believe there’s also some investors where that’s not their primary motivation and when they’re not relying solely on the market. I describe those as what I would call affinity investors. And there can be many reasons why somebody would have a non market based or an affinity based approach. It could be they want to get some learning or experience out of making the investment, they might want some brand or some name recognition, if it was a company making the investment maybe they want access to some customers or opportunities or maybe some other non-financial assets and some cases it could just be pure emotion, it could be a feel good nature, it could be more of a social component, do you want to make the investment? But, yeah, I think it’s in stark contrast, the affinity, to the market based investor.

HENRY REOHR: [07:13]: So you’ve got market based investors and affinity investors, what types of investment options fall into each of those two categories?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [07:24]: So there are quite a few options. I’m going to run through them somewhat rapidfire. So, you know, listeners can feel free to kind of pause and go back because I will read through these relatively rapidly. But I’ll start with the affinity group and I think that there are three categories or three investor types in that bucket. The first one will be pure friends and family, that’s pretty straightforward.

The second would be what I’d call truly an affinity investor. So this would typically be high net worth individual, someone who’s accredited, and you know that’s a definition that we could maybe talk about in a future episode, but they’re accredited, have the means to be able to make early stage investments in companies, but they have a particular reason why this investment is interesting to them personally. So maybe it’s in the same industry that they were in where they sort of made a lot of their success or maybe they’re trying to make a difference in a particular industry. So they know something keenly and deeply about an industry and they want to be able to put that knowledge base to work and they often would act like an angel investor who I’ll mention in a second but they do so without necessarily the market based approach.

The third category of investments I see in the affinity group would be true crowdfunding, so the traditional type Kickstarter or Indiegogo type campaigns. For the market bucket, there are number of different investor types. One would be the pure angel investor, individuals, typically high net worth, they are accredited, they want to make investments with a good risk return profile. When those angels band together, they can form angel groups and they make investments in packs, if you will. You then have the traditional venture capital fund and the VC fund typically has a collection of its own investors and they are investing money on their behalf. You then got the incubators and accelerators, so they’re acting in a market based way because they’re looking at hundreds maybe thousands of different applications to pick those that are going to have the best return for their investors. And then lastly you got the equity type of crowdfunding. So it’s different from traditional crowdfunding in that you have investors who are expecting a return. So that’s a very important distinction.

And then lastly I’d say that there is a bucket of hybrids which are combos of market based and affinity investing. The first one would be what I’d call strategics or strategic investor. These would be companies that are making investments that might not necessarily only be market based because they want to get something else out of it. Maybe they want to get some new customers, maybe they want to get some brand recognition, maybe there’s some intellectual property they want to capture, so there’s reasons beyond simply the risk return.

And we’ve got the corporate version of venture capital. Corporate VC doesn’t have the same constraints as traditional venture capital because it doesn’t typically have a collection of investors in its own funds, it’s usually the company itself, and as a result even though they’re looking for a return they might act more like a strategic in that they can have some affinity based concerns or interest when they make investments.

And then lastly would be an initial coin offering. So, very buzzy at this point, crypto currencies we can definitely go into this in another collection of episodes of the podcast but the reason I label it as a hybrid because certainly people look at it from a market based approach, trying to figure out the economics of the risk return profile, but also there’s something very hip, very trendy, very interesting, about this cryptocurrency space for a lot of people and I think all else equal, some people might choose an ICO or a cryptocurrency based investment over an alternative investment simply because it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s exciting and so it starts to lean a little bit more affinity than to be exclusively markets based.

HENRY REOHR: [11:06]: It’s quite a lot to unpack in that list and I’m sure that we can fill multiple future episodes but for today, as listeners try to make sense of all those options, are there a few key things that they should be thinking about?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [11:19]: Well, I think you’re right that we are definitely just skimming the surface here and I also think that each funding option we talked about could warrant one or more episodes on its own. But I think there’s a couple of key things or frankly more misconceptions, I think, that would be important to point out. So the first one would be the idea that I oftentimes see people confusing the appropriateness of traditional versus equity crowdfunding for their venture. So a lot of people default to this idea that a Kickstarter type campaign or a traditional campaign makes a ton of sense for them. What we need to keep in mind is traditional campaigns are generally to find customers whereas equity campaigns, I would argue, are more geared to find investors. And so that distinction might seem not to be a big deal but it is because usually when you’re looking for customers, it means you have a product, it’s pretty clearly defined, you know what it is, you have something to give someone, they give you currency, you give them something back, and it’s typically not a service, That’s typically a product.

So if you’re a software as a service venture, the product is pretty nebulous and much harder to deliver in a traditional crowdfunding manner than many… for example if you built a game with or you built a piece of hardware or a watch or a wearable or something else like that, so that’s one thing to be keep in mind. And, you know, on the equity front, the idea of trying to bring in more investors, frankly, it should be treated like more market based driven investing. So you’re going to have to put out an offering, you know, offering documents, and may you provide all your financials. So it’s a very different animal. So when you’re looking for working capital to grow your business, that’s where equity crowdfunding comes in. If you need customers and you want them to help fund the building of product for them, that’s where a more traditional crowdfunding approach comes in.

I think the second misconception would be the idea that oftentimes an angel group is viewed merely as just a collection of angel investors. And I think that that’s a bit of a miscalculation because as a group angels tend to start acting more like a fund or more like a venture capital fund than they do like individuals. And so when that happens, you’re going to see any opportunity for an individual angel to start taking an affinity type approach, will start to disappear. Very unlikely would you see a group of angels band together and do anything other than taking a very market based approach to the way they make investments.

And then last thing I mention as a misconception is this notion that ICOs or initial coin offerings make sense in lots of different cases. They do not. They make sense in typically very specific sets of circumstances. This can get very muddy and the perspective can skewed because the headlines and success stories have a huge impact on public opinion, you hear about people raising tens of million dollars overnight or faster and it sort of seems to be a get funded quick scheme, that’s not how things play out typically in real life. One thing to keep in mind is that, this is a really good measuring stick, if the coin using the offering didn’t exist, if the venture loses its actual DNA, so the essence of what the venture is, if it can’t do what it’s supposed to do to the level it should do it without the coin being part of them, again this could be fodder for many future episodes, then ICOs doesn’t really make a lot of sense. We’ve seen examples of people wanting to do ICOs for companies were just has nothing to do with cryptocurrency. There’s no benefit to actually creating a currency or a coin for the purpose of their venture, the coin doesn’t… you can’t leverage its inherent characteristics like acting like a smart contract. When you can’t do that, that seems to be people are trying to ride the wave rather than actually using the ICO for what it’s intended to be used for.

And then lastly, even if you do have an idea where the ICO makes really really good sense, it’s typically the case that when ICOs have a huge amount of success, it’s because the people behind it have an unbelievable amount of credibility in the space already; because you’re not typically investing in a track record of the existing coin because it’s the initial coin offering. You have to go on some gut feeling or some sort of track record that the people behind it are going to make good on their promises. And so the idea that you’re a first time founder without a ton of background in the industry that may not be perfectly aligned with the coin offering, it’s probably not a good fit for you. So I think that’s another really important thing to keep in mind.

HENRY REOHR: [15:55]: For an entrepreneur at a very early stage, what’s one piece of advice that you would share when it comes to raising capital?

ADAM MCGOWAN: [16:03]: This is a difficult question to answer because I would argue that my answer would vary a lot based upon the individual entrepreneur circumstances. But what I’ll do is I can make a bunch of assumptions that are consistent with probably the most common cases that we see and then based on that example I’ll share some advice.

So the conditions; first, the venture hasn’t yet proven its product market fit, the second would be that the venture doesn’t have any really material traction or revenue yet and the third will be that the product has some element of it that’s technical but yet the founders aren’t particularly technical. So this is a very common scenario and in that case the most important advice I would give would be to truly be honest with yourself about your ability to raise the “market based investment”. And If I should break that down a little bit, the first thing I’d say is, try to do as much as you can with the skills and capital you already have readily available. So the need to go out to raise should be an absolute necessity once you’ve exhausted all the other options. So focus on your own strengths, be very self-aware about, maybe, what holes you have in your team, be willing to expand your team and share maybe a piece of the pie or some equity with other people to figure out how you build that appropriate team that can help build the right product, build the early traction, build the early excitement, before you need to go out and raise some of that market based money.

And also, put a real emphasis on the, kind of, lean startup approach to validating your market; so, measuring the market’s interest, affirming that the problem you think is out there is really shared by lots and lots of people and that they really care and they really need it solved, and then also do a lot of interviews, a lot of testing of hypotheses. And I’ll also argue that in that stage, if you do need capital, try to go affinity based first. It typically doesn’t sort of pop up into people’s consciousness as been that obvious, these investors don’t put out a sign in neon lights that suggests, “hey, affinity money here,” it’s a little hard to uncover, but I think with the right amount of research and thoughtfulness, you can find people in your space who might be really really great angel type investors, who might not expect as market based, the return, as some other people might at a very early stage. And then the last thing I’d say and just sort of a reiteration here of what I just mentioned, but really focus on looking inward, thinking about what kind of skills and frankly what kind of holes you’ve got your team and augment that team to the best of your ability with those key skills that you’re missing and I think you’ll probably get a lot further on a very limited amount of capital than maybe you thought you could otherwise.

HENRY REOHR: [18:52]: Well, thanks Adam. That’s all we’ve got for today. I’m Henry Reohr at Firefield and you’ve been listening to another episode of Ventures in Tech.

Ventures In Tech - The Economics of Venture Funding (Episode 5)

The Economics of Venture Funding (Episode 5)

December 22, 2017 | Duration: 12:31

Ventures in Tech is back with another dose of Q&A between Henry Reohr and Adam McGowan. In this episode, Adam answers Henry’s questions regarding cases when founders and their investors (either actual investors or potential ones) might not be on the same page.

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ADAM MCGOWAN: Welcome to episode five of Ventures in Tech, brought to you by Firefield. This is Adam McGowan and on today’s show we’re going to discuss the economics of venture funding and the forces that can hurt the alignment of interests between entrepreneurs and their investors. I’m again being joined by my colleague from Firefield, Henry Reohr, who’ll be guiding today’s chat. And with that, I’ll let Henry take it away.

HENRY REOHR [00:36]: Adam, I’ve heard numerous investors talk about the alignment between their interests and those of the founding teams in their portfolios. It’d seem that both investors and entrepreneurs want to see the company succeed but I’ve heard you describe cases where investors and founders don’t see eye to eye. Can you explain?

ADAM MCGOWAN [00:56]: Sure. I think the key element here is the fact that investors can come in many different shapes and sizes. And I’m talking about institutional investment from the likes of venture capitalists. The common trait with those investors is that they are investing other people’s money.

HENRY REOHR [01:16]: Why is that distinction of other people’s money important?

ADAM MCGOWAN [01:20]: Well, let’s assume you’re a VC who wants to make early stage investments in a bunch of startups. To do that, you are going to need to raise a fund and you are going to need to sell that fund and find your own investors that are called limited partners or LPs. Funds need to make commitments to those LPs to get them interested in participating. And most importantly, these investors want to know, when are they going to get their money back and how much are they ultimately going to get back?

HENRY REOHR [01:51]: Can we talk a little more about that? What are the typical expectations of investors in an early stage venture capital fund?

ADAM MCGOWAN [01:58]: Well, this is going to be hypothetical and certainly won’t apply to everybody, but let’s assume an investor in a fund assesses the level of risk and says, “I’m interested in a 15% annualized return.” So, better than the stock market and it’s something that they think compensates them for the risk. And let’s also assume that one of these venture capital funds has roughly a 10 year maturity. Also, to make the math simple, let’s assume that the whole payout of the fund, back to the investor, happens at the end. So you put up your money on day one, you wait 10 years and at the end of the tenure is when you get your money back. That’s not true for every fund but it makes the math a little bit simpler. In that scenario, in order to generate an annualized rate of return of 15% over 10 years, an investor who put up $100 on day one needs to get $400 back at the end, in year 10. So that’s ultimately the original investment plus $300 worth of return on top of that.

HENRY REOHR [03:06]: Okay. So a fund needs to generate four times the money invested to be considered successful?

ADAM MCGOWAN [03:14]: Well, not exactly and not an in every case because we can’t forget the fact that funds actually have fees. So these funds typically take a management fee of 2% as well as performance fees. You may often hear that referred to as what’s called “carry” which is short for carried interest and that is a 20% typical fee on the returns above and beyond the original investment made by the LP into the fund.

Let me start with the math around this carry. So using the example we just went through, we talked about needing a $300 return on top of the original investment. So to get $300 back to the investor, the fund actually has to create $375 worth of returns. Because when you take 20% off of that, you’re left with the $300 and the $75 is ultimately the carry the fund gets. So adding that back to the $100 investment, that’s $475 that has to come back. And just to round it off, let’s use the 2% annualized management fee over 10 years and now we’re talking about something much closer to five times the original investment.

HENRY REOHR [04:33]: How attainable is that five times return for a successful startup?

ADAM MCGOWAN [04:39]: I think, for a successful startup, it’s extremely attainable and that’s actually quite a low estimate. If you think about someone who really wins, when they start from a very-very early stage, the number could be quite larger than that. But the problem is that even a really good fund, the large majority of the investments that they make, may return little or no capital whatsoever.

So even if a deal isn’t a total loss, those outcomes would all be considered failures by the fund. They don’t help or really contribute or move the needle when it comes to trying to reach that ultimate five times return. So in order to account for this and to make good on their commitments to the investors, VCs really need to take what I’d consider a portfolio based approach or mentality when making investments.

HENRY REOHR [05:32]: What do you mean by a portfolio based mentality?

ADAM MCGOWAN [05:36]: By that I mean that there are really two components to consider. The first one would be the composition of the actual investments in the fund. Literally, what are the investments, what are their sizes, what are the attributes of them? And the second is the time horizon over which those investments might pay off. It’s also really important to keep in mind, and this may sound obvious and silly, but investors need to get paid back in cash. They do not want to get stock in the portfolio companies within the fund. And really, the only way to generate a meaningful amount of cash is one of two things. The first would be an IPO, initial public offering, going public, and the second would be an acquisition of a portfolio company by some other company. So then across the entire portfolio, VCs really need to make typically dozens of investments and then drive as many of those to these “exits” typically the IPO or the acquisition. And so, even a company that might appear successful by most measures, profitable, throwing off some cash, it might not be attractive or deemed a success to investors in one of these funds if it can’t generate an exit like the one I described. And also, don’t forget that a very large percentage of investments really have no chance for an exit at all.

HENRY REOHR [06:56]: So what does all this mean for a founder?

ADAM MCGOWAN [06:59]: I think it means that to account for the high risk and this volatility, they need to be prepared for the fact that investors are not looking for investments that will meet this average return profile; we’re using this 5 times number.

To make it much simpler, let’s use examples that have some pretty binary circumstance. So let’s assume all investments in a fund are either winners or losers. This means they exit with and generate a multiple of their investment that’s meaningful that would be a winner or then a total loss, that’s a loser. Let’s assume for the sake of making it simple a portfolio’s half winners half losers. In that case, the winners need to generate not five times, they need to generate 10 times return to build an average of five over the course of the whole portfolio. But by the way, a portfolio that’s half winners is extremely successful in the terms of venture capital funds. So what if the returns weren’t as good? What if two-thirds of the portfolio were losers? Well then that means only a third are winners and now they need a 15 times return to average out to 5 over the course of the whole fund.

So the reason I mention that is because founders should really be keeping those sort of multiples in their mind when they start thinking about what their investors’ expectations are and what they expect from their investment in their company and they should not forget that this all is contingent upon those exits or those multiples being generated through effectively or circumstances ripe for a timely exit.

HENRY REOHR [08:35]: What makes an investment good for this kind of timely exit that you just mentioned?

ADAM MCGOWAN [08:41]: There could be many attributes but they all really boil down to the same thing. You’ve got to show early and pretty exponential growth. That doesn’t necessarily need to be in revenue. It could be in, for some industries, it could be users or traction, but you need to show early exponential growth.

Startups that have more moderate growth, they could mature into really large and valuable enterprises over time and they might meet those target return multiples that we talked about, but if that growth doesn’t warrant a relatively early exit, then that startup likely wouldn’t be a suitable investment for an early stage venture capital fund.

HENRY REOHR [09:22]: I can understand the theory behind why investors and founders interests may get misaligned. But how does this all play out in real life?

ADAM MCGOWAN[09:30]: I think a classic example would be the case when an investor wants to pump a lot of cash into a startup and wants to get those founders to spend it quickly. This could be a case where an investor asked for a certain amount or I should say the founders asked for a certain amount and the investors are willing to give them actually even more than they asked for. In that case, the amount of cash and the rate of spend might both be higher than the founders actually intended and it’s also really important to remember that these founders have a portfolio of one company. They’re putting all their eggs in that basket. That’s it.

So you’ve got investors caring about this overall portfolio mentality. The blended performance across many-many companies. For that to play out effectively, they really need all their investments to go big or go home. Some moderate growth, steady earner that might not get to an exit and might not generate a quick big multiple is just not interesting from a portfolio perspective but might be really attractive to an individual founder given that they have their portfolio of one. So I think that’s something that’s really important to keep in mind particularly because for investors, if this “success” isn’t large enough, it’s just not interesting and they’d rather spend more money and take bigger risks in order to make a bigger return a possibility in a timeframe that makes sense for their fund.

HENRY REOHR [11:01]: So in a case like this, what can the founders do?

ADAM MCGOWAN [11:06]: The reality is once you take an investment or moving down this path, it’s pretty tough for founders to truly change course. My advice then is simply to ensure that founders go into these deals with their eyes wide open. For many of them, this high risk high return, go big go home approach, could be exactly what they’re looking for but not every founder I’ve met agrees with that mentality.

And for the rest, I would argue that they really take a deep breath before entering or engaging or agreeing to a term sheet. And as we’ll talk about in future episodes, there could be a variety of alternative funding options available that don’t involve this same “other people’s money problem.” There’s a lot to cover there, too much for today’s episode, we’ll definitely dive into it in the future, but the moral of the story is that when and if those sorts of alternatives are available, it could make that crazy idea of turning down the money suddenly seem pretty compelling.

HENRY REOHR [12:16]: And that’s all we’ve got for today. I’m Henry Reohr from Firefield and you’ve been listening to another episode of Ventures in Tech.

Ventures In Tech - An Introduction to the Spark Series (Episode 4)

An Introduction to the Spark Series (Episode 4)

December 8, 2017 | Duration: 00:12:57

This episode is a bit of a departure from the norm. Henry Reohr asks Adam McGowan about an initiative Adam started back in February of 2017 called the Spark Series. Spark’s objective is to rely on a “pay-it-forward” model to build even stronger community within the innovation ecosystem.

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ADAM MCGOWAN [00:08]: Welcome to episode four of Ventures in Tech, brought to you by Firefield. This is Adam McGowan and on today’s show we’re going to discuss an initiative I started earlier this year called the Spark Series. I’m again being joined by my colleague from Firefield, Henry Reohr, who’ll be guiding today’s chat. And with that, I’ll let Henry take it away.

HENRY REOHR: [00:30]: Adam, back in February of this year, you brought together ten people for lunch at Cambridge. Why did you assemble that crew?

ADAM [00:38]: Well, it goes back to the fact that in my normal course of my day job, I have to do a lot of networking, go to a lot of events, meet a lot of people. And I think what I’d found was that events seemed to be falling short in two generally broad categories for me. One was really extremely transactional stuff. Hawking business cards at each other; referral type networks; it was very “what have you done for me lately?”. And at the other end of the spectrum, it was the overly social events – maybe not all “booze cruises” but effectively many of them were, just without the boat. There was not really a lot of engaging stuff happening.

And what I found was that I started to feel like neither was really suiting my needs and I thought that I should stop complaining and start doing something about it. So what I did was I created a lunch series. The criteria for attendees was pretty straightforward; people who had a peripheral connection to the Greater Boston innovation economy; people who had deep experience in their field; and most importantly, people who really believe strongly in the pay-it-forward approach. And my thought was, “Put them around a table. Good things will happen.” And I started that back in February with, like you said, it was a group with ten people.

HENRY [01:52]: So it sounds like ultimately what you’ve created is another networking group. What makes this one different than the others?

ADAM [02:01]: Well, I think the thing that’s the most unique about it is the way that we describe ourselves when we go to lunch. Everyone will go around the table and what you won’t hear is the traditional, “Hi, I’m so and so. I just founded such and such company. We‘ve raised this much money. We have this many employees…” Maybe not intentionally, but it’s oftentimes mildly boastful about who you are and what you’re doing. You are trying to sell yourself; you’re trying to pitch somebody.

This is different. The intro is very explicit and it’s about you describing the element of your personality that you’re very, very passionate about. In particular, something you’re passionate about that you leverage when you’re out trying to help other people. So it’s a very “otherish” type approach. You do talk about yourself but in the context of being helpful to others. I find it leads to really an extremely different feel. People get a deeper connection with people and they realize they want to further connect with them because of who they are and not because of what they do. And I think that’s been a big difference here.

HENRY [03:09]: Every first time attendee for one of these events gets a small gift. Can you tell me a little more about that?

ADAM [03:17]: Yeah. So, first time lunchers actually see two items at their seat when they join me for lunch. The first one is a handwritten personal welcome note from me. It might seem like a really small thing, but to me it’s actually pretty important and I think it’s important because everybody’s time is really precious. I think a lot of times, even when people are hosting events like this one, they might seem like they’re very self-serving for the host and I wanted to show, frankly, the fact that I just appreciate people taking the time to come, to sit and to share. I realize, regardless of who pays for lunch, that’s still a pretty big ask. And so, the idea of showing some appreciation – having the notes all be custom – it takes time. It takes effort and I think it matters, and I think people have reacted well to it.

But what you might have been talking about, with respect to the gift, is that the other item at the table for everyone is a book. It’s a book written by Adam Grant. He’s a professor at Wharton, the book’s called “Give and Take”, and the book really… it focuses on going about helping others and how that actually can drive your own success.

HENRY [04:28]: There’s quite a few books out there that describe this pay-it-forward mentality that you mentioned. What’s different or special about Adam Grant’s book?

ADAM [04:40]:. Well, I think “Give and Take” is a little bit different because it provides this underlying empirical evidence to support the argument that we can actually help ourselves when we’re focusing on other people first. It’s not just the feel good karma element of being other-centric. So that’s one big thing.

And I think something else that’s unique is the idea that Grant talks about describing the way we interact with both ourselves or we think about our own self-interest and the self-interest of others actually happens in two spectrums. And what I mean by that is… I know that before reading the book I felt like it was a zero sum game. The more you help others, the less you help yourself. And you have to figure out where you want to end up on that spectrum – where one end is totally focused on others, and the other end is totally focused on yourself.

Well, he argues that there are two spectrums; that one of them is how “otherish” you want to be and the other is how selfish you want to be. And I think what was really interesting was how he defined this existence of people who really excelled on both spectrums. They were very much focused on others while still being very much focused on themselves. He describes these as “otherish givers”. And frankly, my goal is to keep filling the Spark Series tables with exactly that type of a person.

HENRY [06:05]: That first lunch was more than nine months ago now. What’s happened since then?

ADAM [06:12]: Well, I actually just came back from the 19th one of these lunches since the first of February. I think today we had our one hundred and forty first unique attendee who’s come. I think that more than 50% of those attendees are people who have come to a lunch based on the recommendation of somebody who had come to a previous lunch. So that’s really great and speaks to this being a self-sustaining type event. And at the moment we continue to have these first timer attendee lunches scheduled every two weeks for the foreseeable future. So three to five more this year, and we hope to keep that train rolling.

HENRY [06:56]: These lunches, they’re invite only I believe. And since you’re trying to build a community, don’t you think that might be a bit off-putting to certain people?

ADAM [07:08]: Sure, I can understand that, and yes they are, technically, invitation only because they’re not open to the public. But I think there’s a pretty important reason for that and as I just mentioned, the new attendees are people who have either gotten recommended to come to lunch by someone who had attended in the past, or they get invited by me personally because of the relationship we’ve built and because of my belief that they personify a lot of those pay-it-forward values that I think are really important.

But the objective here is to really avoid the concept of something you would see in Grant’s book called the “Taker”. It’s frankly not that common in my circle. I don’t think it’s all that common necessarily in the Boston or Greater Boston innovation ecosystem. But I think we all know what these people are like, and they are not going to really contribute a lot of value. They’re probably going to extract a lot of value from the table, and I don’t think that benefits anybody there. Well, even the taker, in the long run, I think it doesn’t benefit them either. But I really don’t think that we will be able to maintain the essence of the event if we didn’t have at least a little bit of a measuring stick by which we decided how we were going to populate tables.

HENRY [08:23]: So looking back on almost a year’s worth of the events now, have you seen any patterns emerge?

ADAM [08:31]: We’ve seen a number of them and a lot of them have been pretty exciting stuff. I think one of the biggest ones is the idea that people seem to get really excited about opportunities to give. And I don’t mean the ability to write a check to a charity. I mean the ability to engage with someone where you can actually provide some value based on your own personal experience and willingness to give.

We get a surprising number of testimonials in that regard and frankly a multiple more than the testimonials of people saying, “Hey, I met a great person at lunch and now they’re my customer. Thanks so much.” I guess there was a little bit of that, but it was more of people coming and saying, “I had this great opportunity to meet so and so and helped her with X, Y and Z. Thanks so much for giving us that opportunity to do so,” And I think it’s a really great outcome.

And I also think the willingness and frequency with which attendees have made unbelievable recommendations of other givers has been totally awesome. And another one of the big trends – I think the alumni of the lunch series are really looking for more ways to continue to engage. We’re trying to figure out what those are but it’s a great trend to have.

HENRY [09:45]: 2018 is just around the corner. What are your plans for the future of the series?

ADAM [09:52]: Well, one of the important things I wanted to make sure I did once we had a critical mass of attendees was to not make too many assumptions about what I thought we should do. I wanted to get some more evidence around it. So we recently surveyed prior attendees and had an unbelievable response rate. I thought it was fantastic how many people are willing to engage to share their thoughts, and they came up with some really great suggestions.

One of the biggest ones is really around this idea of alumni events. We haven’t hammered it all out yet, but I think this idea of having possibly more intimate subject-matter lunches, maybe around a topic posed by one of the Spark Series lunchers. Maybe it’s a broader based topic. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out just yet, but there was a lot of interest in continuing to engage in those smaller groups around a particular topic, likely over lunch.

And another idea is this notion of maybe a semi-intimate gathering without real structure. Maybe later in a day or an evening drinks kind of a thing, where the group is small enough, 20 to 25 people, where people can really engage with almost the entire room in a really unstructured setting. So I think you might be seeing more of that stuff happening next year as well.

We also learned that there’s been some interest to potentially have us leverage some more tech to help coordinate events and facilitate member engagement. So we’ll see. There may be some of that coming out as well in the coming months. And then also this notion of the interest from some members to help us broaden the geographic footprint – to maybe spread this out beyond Boston and Cambridge. We haven’t quite figured out how we want to do that, but the interest has been there for a number of different locations, and we’re really excited to see if we could possibly facilitate the start of that broadening of the footprint next year.

HENRY [11:38]: If someone is interested in becoming a member of the Spark Series, what do they need to do to get involved?

ADAM [11:44:]: Well it’s pretty simple. You pretty much need to get in touch with me. It could certainly be the case that if you happen to know someone who has attended a lunch that through a connection to them, you can be recommended. But that seems like a bit of an either lower likelihood or slower path.

The direct path is to come straight to me and talk about the reasons why the lunch series sounds compelling, the way you think you’d be able to contribute to a table. And I think if you, frankly, were motivated enough to do that, it seems pretty likely you should be coming to lunch. So you can reach out to me via email (adam@firefield.com) or you can connect with me via LinkedIn, I’m the first Adam McGowan, I think, that shows up when you search, so it should be pretty easy to find me. But I’m really open to that sort of connection and frankly, if you wanted to reach out for that purpose, I would love to have that conversation and hopefully have you join us in the future.

HENRY [12:36]: And that’s all we’ve got for today. I’m Henry Reohr from Firefield and you’ve been listening to another episode of Ventures in Tech.

Ventures In Tech - Investors Don’t Care About Your Projections (Episode 3)

Investors Don’t Care About Your Projections (Episode 3)

November 15, 2017 | Duration: 00:15:23

In this episode, Henry Reohr asks Adam McGowan about what investors care about when reviewing a founder’s financial projections in their pitch. Adam dives into the cases where an investors’ reliance on these projections may be much smaller than a founder might expect.

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ADAM MCGOWAN [00:08]: Welcome to episode three of Ventures in Tech, brought to you by Firefield. This is Adam McGowan and on today’s show we are going to discuss financial projections made by entrepreneurs for the purposes of raising capital. I’ll again be joined by my colleague from Firefield, Henry Reohr, who will be guiding today’s chat. And with that I’ll let Henry take it away.

HENRY REOHR: [00:31]: Adam I have heard you tell a number of entrepreneurs that investors don’t care about their financial projections. Since projections are standard in most pitch decks, that can’t actually be true. Were you just being sarcastic?

ADAM [00:44]: Sarcastic? Not really. Mildly hyperbolic?… Okay, maybe that. But I would say that in some very specific cases my statement is totally true and I would stand behind it. I think the way I can stand behind it is to start by defining the scenarios I’m really talking about.

These would be early stage ventures that have not already raised a round of capital, particularly a professional round of capital from institutional investors or venture capitalists, that kind of a group. The second characteristic would be that the venture has very little, if any, early track record; so no data from which they can extrapolate future performance. And then the third is that their industry is not driven by really, really particular metrics.

For example – software as a service – there’s a collection of metrics that are very standard in that space. And yes, projecting out those sorts of things will be pretty important. So anyway, I’m painting with a super broad brush, but yes, there are plenty of characteristics and opportunities where it is true that investors don’t really have that much… they don’t put that much emphasis on your projections.

HENRY [02:04]: So why do those different potential circumstances matter? Do investors look at projections differently in different cases?

ADAM [02:14]: I absolutely think that they do. I think that certainly when there’s a track record it’s got to be addressed. So if you’re an existing company, you’re looking to raise a follow up round of capital and maybe you didn’t have outstanding numbers or you had numbers today that really didn’t meet your prior expectations – they will want to know about that. You are going to need to give explanations for it. You need to project from that. So I think that definitely matters.

Also, when there are standardized metrics, like for example the cost to acquire a customer or the lifetime value of one of your customer, some pretty standard SAS based metrics, if you’ve got some track record around those, you’re going to need to talk about those numbers. You are going to need to talk about how those numbers are going to grow, and even if it’s your earliest round of funding, you’re going to need to give some expectations of what those kind of numbers should look like.

I think those are two cases and I think really, if you wanted to generalize it, it’s the case that whenever the possibility of there being more certainty exists (and this is from the point of view of the investor) then the reliance on projections goes up for them [the investors] as well.

HENRY [03:24]: Is the opposite of that true as well? As venture’s uncertainty goes up, the value of the financial projections goes down?

ADAM [03:32]: Yeah, I think it’s absolutely true in the other direction. Think about it this way: Let’s assume you’ve got what I would say is a high uncertainty scenario. You’ve got an entrepreneur who’s trying to break into a brand new market, maybe a brand new segment of an existing market. The point is that there’s very little historic or comparable data.

And then an investor looks at their projections in a pitch deck and says, “Okay, they’ll do 50 million dollars in revenue in year five.” How reliable could that number possibly be? And so the argument I’m making is that in cases like that one, the ultimate projections really don’t matter that much.

And I think… one thing to keep in mind is what I mean when I say “projections”. I’m typically talking about the headline numbers: top line revenue or bottom line earnings numbers or… when you compare those things against expenses, how many months to break-even based on a certain amount of money raised. There are a handful of really-really big ticket items, if you will, big numbers that you could use as I said like a marquee or like a headline.

My concern, and the reason why I make the comment you suggested to lots of entrepreneurs, is that way too much emphasis gets put on that by them. And instead, what they really do is miss out on what I think matters the most which is the underlying assumptions that power those projections. That’s what I think is really important and too frequently missed.

HENRY [04:57]: But aren’t those underlying assumptions just as much of a crapshoot in a new or uncertain market? Aren’t entrepreneurs just making wild guesses as well?

ADAM [05:10]: Absolutely they are. I mean, startups themselves are defined by the fact that they are unbelievably uncertain. If they weren’t they’d be established businesses. If they weren’t they would have already been created by existing businesses. So this nature of uncertainty is just a part of the game.

But I do think that these assumptions are really infinitely more valuable than those ultimate projections that effectively… they create, if you will. And I think that that’s true for many, many reasons, but I think there are three clear ones to me that stand out:

The first one is the idea that projections are compounded. What I mean by that is that if you really think about a number like revenue or a number like earnings, think about how many assumptions have to go into the calculation of that ultimate value. And the reason why that matters is that if you’re making value judgments or estimates on each of those assumptions, imagine if many of those in the chain are off or reality don’t match up with what you had anticipated. All of a sudden it has a multiplicative or an exponential effect on the ultimate projection. So imagine a projection is almost like the end of the tail of a whip and the slightest movements at the beginning of that could be massively multiplied and expanded by the time it gets to the other end of the whip. So I think that’s one thing, projections being compounded.

The second one is that the assumptions themselves can, in many cases and hopefully in most cases, actually be testable. Whereas I think projections can’t. What I mean by that is that it’s not always the case that entrepreneurs need to have answers now. I don’t think investors look at your financials and say, “Okay, show me all the certainty with which you can answer all of these questions.” Obviously you really won’t be a startup if it was true that you had answers to everything.

But the issue really is the fact that what matters is how those entrepreneurs are going to go about getting answers to those question marks. That really comes down to: what are the assumptions?; what are the ones for which they think they have good answers?; what are the assumptions for which they don’t really have really great answers and frankly, how are they going to go about finding those answers?

And it’s much harder to say, “Oh, well we’re targeting 50 million in revenue in five years.” The next question isn’t, “Well great; how do you test whether or not you can make 50 million in five years?” That’s a very hard thing. You can’t test something that big. You have to test things at a more molecular or incremental level and that’s where assumptions come in.

And the third thing is that I really think that the process of creating and proposing your assumptions provides a window for the recipient of those assumptions, so in this case the investor, a window into the thought process of the founding team. You can look at the assumptions or a list of them and say, “Well, this is really interesting because these are the things that this founding team thought of. These are the things they thought were important.”

Oftentimes it is more valuable to think about what they left out. If you’re an investor who knows an industry very well and you realize that there are three or four or five key assumptions that really drive performance in this industry, and this founding team didn’t mention them, or didn’t talk about them, or didn’t reference them, or didn’t think about them – that could be a huge problem.

The third item here is “what do the founding team’s testing and contingency plans say about their ability to lead and grow a company?”. We know there’s a lot of uncertainty in the space and we know that you frankly need to go out and turn those uncertainties hopefully into truths that are in the best interest of the business. So that’s going to be a huge driver of, frankly, day to day activity as well as the performance and outcome of the founding team. So the means by which you turn unknowns into knowns is huge, and this gives a little bit of insight into what that process looks like.

And then lastly, it’s a pretty simple question, but how honest are these founders being with themselves? So if they were to make assumptions and put wholly unvalidated and unrealistic assumptions around them, you could really ask the question, “well, when other tough circumstances arise in the future, is there going to be some sense of unfounded optimism that might result in you making bad choices?”. I think this really just comes down to the fact that it really does provide, like I said, this opportunity for an investor to see more and learn more about the founding team than they might otherwise be able to gather from any other part of the pitch.

HENRY [10:02]: The economics of many of these funds is such that the investors can only really look at deals that have a potential for a really, really big exit. So if that’s what’s most important, how can they not put a lot of weight on these projections?

ADAM [10:19]: Let me clarify, And this goes back to me arguing that I was mildly hyperbolic in my claim that investors care about the projections. They do, They definitely do. It’s just that they care about their projections, not yours as the entrepreneur. And what I mean by that is they ultimately need to make a judgment call as to whether or not this prospective investment they’re going to make is going to turn into an exit that meets the requirements of their fund, of their investors, of their investment thesis..

And so the idea that there’s no projection at all; that there is no assessment of how much this company could be worth or what the revenue might be; or whether they’re profitable and by what time… they absolutely need to have projections on that. It’s just that they in their diligence process are going to do that. They’re not going to look at your financial statement and say, “Oh, look, the entrepreneur has told me the numbers and now I have a number. I can check the box.” They aren’t going to do that no matter what.

The real issue here is that they have to build their own expectations and they’re going to be doing it pretty much I think in two key ways, through two key areas: The first one is “what is the potential exit value of the venture?”. And then, “does that exit value meet our threshold?”. Typically, no amount of engineering of your financial projections is going to change their view on that. They’re going to dig until they get enough information to build that conclusion, and they can probably build it from their own knowledge of the market as well as what they hope to learn from you as a presenter.

But the second piece is a really huge one which I think sometimes founders lose sight of, which is, these investors are looking at the likelihood that this founding team is actually going to be able to achieve that outcome. If they think they’ve got a hundred million dollar venture on their hands, but they have a team who can’t execute on it, then the deal is not going to get done.

So I think what’s important is they need to understand both of those things and I think the means by which founders come up with their assumptions, the means by which they validate those assumptions, and the means by which they react when they get those conclusions to their assumptions, is really what’s going to help investors determine the quality of the team and the likelihood that that team can execute to a level that maximizes the exit value of the venture. And I think in both cases, both those questions around what’s the potential exit value and what’s the likelihood of achieving it – they both come down assumptions.

HENRY [12:45]: To wrap things up for today, could you summarize the top three pieces of advice that you would give an entrepreneur who’s preparing the financial component of their investor presentation or pitch?

ADAM [12:56]: Well I think the first piece of advice I would give would be to not reverse engineer when it comes to financials. And what I mean by that is if you’ve got some number in mind, for example a revenue number that you think you’ve got to hit to be able to get investment from a particular investor, I’ve often times seen people rework all the numbers leading up to it to ultimately reach that number and a lot of times it’s not based in reality. So I think what’s important there is to say to yourself either A: “maybe that investor isn’t the right fit for us” or B: “maybe we have to go back to the drawing board”, Make the numbers authentic from the ground up, and don’t work your way backwards.

The second piece of advice I would give would be to do everything you can to identify what I call your highest leverage assumptions. So there’s going to be tons of assumptions that go into this process, but think about the ones and really understand the ones whose result, or changes in the magnitude of the result, has the largest impact on the overall likelihood of success of the business. This ultimately gives you an ability to rank order the assumptions on their importance, and frankly, bring the most important ones to the top, know your answers cold, understand how you’re going to get the answers if you don’t have them… And those should be the ones you really spend your time on as far as prep because those are going to be the ones the investors will focus on.

And then the third will be this notion of embracing what you don’t know. As founders I think all of us tend to have a hard time suggesting that there’s a gap in our knowledge. You feel like it’s a sign of weakness. You think it’s going to blow up the deal or not going to get you funded. But the reality is it’s the people who embrace what they don’t know which lends the greatest opportunity to be very clear about your assumptions, understanding which ones need the most validation, and frankly I think, have the greatest likelihood of resulting in more successful businesses. So that level of self-awareness and humility is huge, particularly when it comes to assumptions, validating them, and translating them into success in your business.

HENRY [15:02]: That’s all we’ve got for today. I’m Henry Reohr from Firefield and you’ve been listening to another episode of Ventures in Tech.

Ventures In Tech - Not All Expert Advice is Created Equal (Episode 2)

Not All Expert Advice is Created Equal (Episode 2)

November 15, 2017 | Duration: 00:21:11

In this episode, Henry Reohr talks with Adam McGowan about the ecosystem of advisors and experts available to founders of new ventures. They cover the various types of advising available, as well as tips founders can use to get the most out of the expert advice they receive.

View Show Transcript

ADAM MCGOWAN [00:08]: Welcome to episode two of Ventures in Tech, brought to you by Firefield. This is Adam McGowan and on today’s show we’re going to be talking about the topic of advising and mentoring in the startup ecosystem. I’ll again be joined by my colleague Henry Reohr from Firefield who’ll be leading today’s conversation. And with that, I’ll let Henry take it away.

HENRY REOHR: [00:32]: Well, before we dive into a lot of detail, I want to start at a pretty high level. It would seem that when an expert is willing to share insights with an entrepreneur, that’s a pretty good thing. As with most good things, more is usually better. Do you think it would be fair to say that an entrepreneur should take all the mentorship advising they can get?

ADAM [00:56]: I wish it was universally fair, but I don’t really think that it is. I think one of the challenges is the fact that too much advice can actually be, at best, a bit confusing, and at worst, I think it could actually be misleading or even potentially paralyzing for an entrepreneur.

I do think there are a number of factors that play into the utility of a particular piece of advice. Namely, I think there are three. The first one I would describe as the circumstance of the start up, The second would be the background of the expert, and the third would be, what I would call, the context of the interaction between the entrepreneur and the actual expert.

HENRY [01:43]: Well, let’s take any of these one at a time. Can you talk about how the circumstances of startup plays into advising and mentorship?

ADAM [01:54]: Sure. Let me start it by breaking up what I call advice into two distinct categories. The first category I would call “personal based advice”. What I mean by this is the kind of advice you would expect that’s either somewhat inspirational or the kind of things that help define the character or the skill set of an individual – of the entrepreneur.

Having an entrepreneurial mindset; being able to sort of work through a collection of challenges all these sorts of things. The skills an individual needs to be able to be successful at bringing a new venture to life or growing one is really what I’m talking about, and there’s a lot of opportunity for mentorship here. This is a wide range… it ranges from, you know, kind of personal wherewithal, all the way through public speaking and being better at pitching.

But that’s really not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the second category and the second category is what I would consider “venture based advising”. This is advice that directly impacts the company and not necessarily the individual. And this advice is contingent on what’s actually going on within the business itself. This has a lot to do with the industry; has to do with the stage of the company’s life cycle; has to do with their financial circumstances. It has to do with the nature of their customers and the list goes on from there.

So these venture based factors matter because the value of any advice, in my view, is going to be directly related to how it’s going to address a company’s very, very specific situation. So that’s why it’s important to be able to assess that upfront, particularly when you’re talking about this venture based advice.

HENRY [03:44]: So how about the person’s background? Are you suggesting that entrepreneurs try to make judgment calls on whether the expert offering them advice can actually provide them any value?

ADAM [03:58]: Yeah. It might sound a little bit strange, particularly if you consider a lot of entrepreneurs (particularly first time entrepreneurs) might not have a ton of experience; might be somewhat young or semi new to their space or to the field of entrepreneurship; and it might seem a bit of a mismatch. Whereas an expert may have decades of experience.

So the idea that an early entrant into the space who’s super ambitious is second guessing someone far their senior in terms of experience might seem a little bit odd, but I think that not doing it and not challenging those assumptions is probably one of the biggest mistakes that I see for entrepreneurs who are on the hunt for advice.

And I think the challenge there is that they don’t trust their own instincts. The reason I think that matters is because the term “expert” is unbelievably subjective. And one of the big problems is that it’s very easy to claim expertise but it’s also nearly impossible to discredit that someone is in fact an expert.

There are many different ways to assess someone’s credibility in their field but I think the point I’m trying to make is: because someone labels himself an expert, because they’ve had a lot of years in a particular field, it doesn’t necessarily mean the advice they’re going to provide is going to be ideal for you. I think that’s really what I was getting at it.

HENRY [05:26]: It seems like it might be a tough conversation for somebody to have with someone who’s supposed to be an expert in their field. Do you have any tips for how to go about asking an expert to justify themselves in that way?

ADAM [05:45]: That would be a very hard conversation. It would be extremely awkward, it would actually be something that might be so off-putting that it could really have an impact on the ability to even get any advice. So while I’m advocating for justifying the expertise of the “expert”, I’m actually not advocating to do it face-to-face.

What I’m really talking about here is a lot of work that’s happening behind the scenes. We’re talking about homework that’s being done before you go about having one of these sessions with an expert – before this mentoring or advising ever even takes place. An entrepreneur should use tools at their disposal, starting with things like LinkedIn, and Googling and taking off from there – to really understand as much as they can about the advice giver before they actually start collecting advice from them.

Search not only or what they’ve done as far as companies, but what those companies’ histories have been; what they’ve done outside of those companies; if they’ve done other advising or mentoring; how much depth they’ve had in that field, how much diversity they have in their background. These are all really important things to know.

And I think what an entrepreneur should try to do is to really use that knowledge and foundation that they’ve discovered about this person for the friendly, get to know you, initial phase when they are actually getting introduced and having to meet and having that first session. There’s a lot of this colloquial and congenial Q-and-A that happens at the beginning.

My argument is to make the most of it and have it actually be more than idle chit-chat. Start with your homework and hopefully try to fill in those blanks when you actually talk to one of these individuals, and I think that when you’re coming from a place of interest – when you’ve shown you’ve actually dug into their background – this won’t come off as off-putting at all.

This will actually be, probably, very complimentary to the individual. A lot of experts like to talk about their experience and why they have expertise. I just think that if you come at it from the right place, with enough foundation and information, it will actually work out really well and probably to your benefit.

HENRY [08:01]: So beyond doing your homework and trying to qualify the experts that you’re talking to, are there any red flags or tips for sniffing out particularly bad advice that you might get from someone?

ADAM [08:18]: I think there are. There’s a lot of different types of bad advice but I tend to lump them into three pretty broad categories. The first one I would describe as the “anecdotal” advice. What I mean by this is the idea that you hear a story from an expert – it’s one instance of something happening and then having that instance suggest that there is some sort of a trend..

One piece of data does not make a trend – particularly in the case of someone who has a lot of experience – and you would know this from doing your homework. The hope would be that they piece together a pattern of behavior and then use a pattern that they’ve experienced over an extensive career to be able to give you insights into how that pattern can apply to your situation. So I would be wary of the one off, the “anecdotal”.

The second one is, and this isn’t really a great term, but I would consider this the “narcissistic” advice. This is the idea that the expert believes that their opinion about something can be projected to the rest of the world. If you show someone your app and say, “What do you think?”, and the experts says, “I love it, I would definitely use it and therefore it will be a huge success,” – that suggests that everyone else in the world agrees with his or her opinion, and that’s just not true.

I think being able to distinguish between the enthusiasm and, maybe in some cases, self centeredness of the expert’s opinion, from the idea of being able to have that expert project that onto the rest of the world, that’s a really important thing. If it’s very self focused, I’d be very cautious of that opinion and that advice from an expert.

And then the third would be what I would consider “overreaching”. Overreaching is a pretty natural tendency, I think, for experts. What I mean by overreaching is when they focus on questions in their own sphere of influence and experience – where they have a great deal of depth and a ton of insight – and then as you start to move into categories, maybe on the periphery or maybe completely unrelated to what they really know, they continue to project the same level of knowledge and unfortunately, probably, conjecture at this point and not real evidence.

So somebody might have a great deal of experience in going to market, but they might not actually be a sales person at heart. You start to ask questions about sales, and next thing you know, they have lots of opinions on that. So this also comes from your homework. Be very cautious about where someone’s expertise lies and catch them, if you will. Make a note mentally when they overreach and you should use that to really evaluate the quality of each piece of advice. An expert can be an amazing expert and hugely valuable, but maybe not in every discipline. So you really should be picking and choosing.

HENRY [11:11]: Getting back to the list of factors that may impact the quality of advice, you said that the context of the interaction matters. What do you mean by context and why does it matter?

ADAM [11:24]: What I mean by context is the nature of the interaction between the expert and the entrepreneur. There’s a number of different ways that this can happen, but I generally lump them into three categories. So the first one I call the “quick hit”, if you will. So this is going to be the short office hour session. This is going to be that 10 minutes favor phone call from a friend of a friend. This is something that happens in pretty rapid fire.

The second one (or the second category) is what I would kind of, in a friendly way, describe as “mentor madness”. This is when you’ve got a mentor who is assigned or paired up with an entrepreneur typically via a program like an accelerator or incubator or some other means where there’s a bit of a structure to it. Typically there could be a number of mentors assigned to individual entrepreneurial team, and maybe over the course of the program we’re talking about 5 or 10 dedicated hours of one-on-one time happens between that mentor or each of those mentors and the entrepreneurial team.

And then the third group that I would lump as its own category would be what I would consider “official advising”. This is when someone becomes a potential member of your actual board of advisors. It’s possible they could be compensated, maybe a little sliver of equity for their contribution, and you have really regular sessions and some ad-hoc availability when things arise with someone like that. So they’re really a member of your team at that point.

Now, let me go back to those one by one and talk a little bit more about why they matter. If I think about the quick hit, it’s the least valuable, and it’s the least valuable for a number of reasons: First, if you get beyond the personal based advice (which by the way, the personal based advice can be great in an office hour type session) you could get 30 minutes from someone about a way to be better at pitching or a way to be better at exuding leadership qualities. Those are great, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

If you’re in an office hour session and you’re trying to get venture based advice, it’s going to be a little tough. And it’s going to be tough because there’s not enough time for that expert to truly understand the circumstances of your venture. It’s just simply impossible and if they try to conjecture about what’s really specific to you, it’s going to be really hard.

And I also think that one tip in an office hour type setting, this quick hit type setting, is as hard as it may be as an entrepreneur try to refrain from asking questions super specific to your venture. It might be in the tip of your tongue, It might be something that’s really, really irking you that you can’t figure out. But the more specific the question is, and the more unique it is to your venture, the less likely the expert can actually help you.

If you’re meeting with a marketer, extract marketing general knowledge from them. If you’re meeting with a sales-person, extract general sales knowledge. Solving one very specific problem in the course of a very very small amount of time, you might think you’re getting really good value but you might actually get information that’s not as helpful as you think.

The second category, the accelerator or incubator style mentorship. This can be very very valuable but it can certainly have its pitfalls. This is one of the most likely places where I’ve seen these examples of the “bad advice” – that idea of the anecdote, or the narcissism, or the overreach. And I think it’s really important to pay close attention and really size up these mentors on that measure. I would also argue that you should only really start taking on venture level advice after that mentor has done a pretty deep dive with you.

If they’re spending 5 to 10 hours over the course of a program and in the course of your first session they’re giving you all this very pointed advice about what you should do with your company, that’s a problem. Because there’s just not a way that they really should be able to dig down that deep, assess exactly what you need, and make a very coherent, cohesive and complete opinion of what you need. It seems very unlikely that they should be able to do it that quickly.

And then the third group is official advising and undoubtedly it’s the most valuable. But the caution here is to make sure you treat it like what it is. It is a long term relationship and so you should take it with that level of seriousness. So, lots of homework on this.

This is someone you’re going to have a partnership with, they can become a member of your team so be very thoughtful and also be very cautious during that courtship phase and trust your instincts and make sure you’re very thoughtful about ensuring they’re the right ones. You don’t want to have a board of of 100 advisors. You want to find a few key members that are most critical to you and focus on them. So a lot of homework, but because of that effort you’re going to get, undoubtedly, the best reward.

HENRY [16:31]: We covered a lot of material so far. Could you summarize the main pieces of advice that an entrepreneur should take away?

ADAM [16:40]: Sure. So this first one is going to sound, I think, quite obvious, but really understanding your own business is absolutely critical. You might argue, well, how could someone not? Well, it’s possible. The idea here is to make sure you really, really can articulate your key and riskiest assumptions: What are the things that your company is most levered to? What are the events that could occur that could completely to derail you from your business plan?

And be very honest about it. Don’t assume that because you raised a particular round of funding that you have hit some milestone or you’ve reached the finish line. In many cases it might be the starting point. Be very thoughtful about where you are, where you are against your plan, and also try to have the self awareness to look at your company with a very objective eye. Look at it the way somebody from the outside would. It’s easy to say, sometimes it’s very difficult to do. So that’s something I’d keep in mind.

The second would be to categorize your needs. As is the case with the experts, your time is unbelievably precious. So the time of doing homework; and courting; and connecting with; and then collecting insights from experts is not trivial. It’s not trivial for them. It’s definitely not trivial for you. And so, given that time is one of your most scarce and valuable resources, you really want to make sure you’re believing that the quality of advice trumps the quantity of the advice.

You’re going to be relying on your awareness of yourself. You’re going to be relying on your awareness of your venture to know where you’ve got gaps. Where are you missing certain elements? And then focus on engaging experts who best fill in those gaps. Having three great mentors (they’re unbelievably personal, you’d love to go out with them for beers, but they’re all marketers) is not a good place to be spending that precious time you’ve got to be able to bring this collection of advisors together.

So the third thing would be do your homework. I said it a number of times but I’ve said it because it’s very important. You’re going to be wasting an interaction with an advisor if you don’t come into that session, every session, extensively prepared. That’s most important for the earliest of sessions with one of these experts.

The fourth thing would be to qualify the advice. You really need to make sure you’re trusting your own instincts here. You’re going to be relying on that homework and really use a sixth sense to separate the really quality and actionable advice from all the rest. So harking back to those three telltale signs of not good advice, look back and try to use the sniff test from your research to see if the expert is really as much of an expert as you think or that she or he proclaimed to be.. And see if you’re getting advice from a lot of overlapping advisors. Start to size up who you think is going to give you the best advice given the venture based circumstances you’re personally dealing with. So I think that’s really important.

And then lastly, you really need to go about constructing your own best conclusions. It’s really a mosaic puzzle. You’ve got to pull all these pieces together, and in order to plot the best path forward for your venture, you really need to be collecting a variety of different perspectives. That means you’re likely going to hear a lot of different opinions and it’s really going to be on you to be able to stitch those together into what’s going to be the most advantageous plan of attack for you and your venture.

This is one of those places that separate the really great from the not-so-great leaders. There’s nobody that’s going to be able to do that for you. That’s going to be one of those executive and leadership-type qualities that you’ve got to figure out. So when you have enough self-awareness to know that you’re missing things, you also need to have enough awareness to know when you’ve actually filled them in and when it’s coming from the right sources.

HENRY [20:39]: All right Adam. Thanks for answering my questions. That’s all I have for today.. I’m Henry Reohr from Firefield. You’ve been listening to Ventures in Tech. We look forward to catching you next time when we dive into your venture’s financial projections and why, for the most part, investors couldn’t care less about them.

Ventures In Tech - The Maiden Voyage (Episode 1)

The Maiden Voyage (Episode 1)

November 15, 2017 | Duration: 00:12:26

Welcome to Ventures in Tech, a new podcast brought to you by the team at Firefield. In this episode, Henry Reohr chats with Adam McGowan about the motivations behind this new series as well as what listeners should expect.

View Show Transcript

ADAM MCGOWAN:  [00:08]   Welcome to episode one of Ventures in Tech, a podcast brought to you by Firefield that tries to find the intersection of innovators, ideas, tech products and the upstart ventures they inspire. I’m Adam McGowan,  Firefield CEO. On today’s show, we take this podcast on its maiden voyage. I’ll be joined by my colleague, Henry Reohr, who will press me on what this new endeavor is all about. And with that, I’ll let Henry take it away.

HENRY REOHR [00:28]: All right. So here we are, it’s the inaugural episode of Ventures in Tech, the first podcasting endeavor from the team of Firefield. Are we ready? Are we feeling good?

ADAM [00:48]: Yeah, I am. I’m good to go Henry.

HENRY [00:53] Okay. So for those who don’t already know, who exactly are you?

ADAM [01:00]: Well, I am Adam McGowan. I am the founder and CEO at Firefield. A little bit of background on who we are and what we do: Firefield is a company that helps tech enabled companies grow and succeed. We really do that by helping in three ways: one is strategic consulting, helping them answer big picture questions about launching and growing their ventures. The second is around design thinking, from ideation through testing and early stage product execution, and the third is software and app development work.

I’m also the host of a collection of events called The Spark Series. They are networking events in the Greater Boston area. They’re focused on the innovation community. Everybody who comes, they really embrace a pay it forward model and I think our listeners should expect there to be an episode in the future where we actually dig in little bit deeper to Spark.

I am also a recovering investment banker and hedge fund analyst. I mention that because it was a decade of my life that provided a pretty unique perspective, a  – lot of deal-centric thinking that I like to try to bring to the work that I do now. And I also do a lot of mentoring and advising for numerous startups. That’s given me the opportunity to really experience lots of ideas at a variety of different stages.

HENRY [02:33]: Thanks. Well, let’s start with the name: “Ventures in Tech”. How did that come about?

ADAM [02:40]: There’s not a lot to it. It is not particularly creative and that comes from the fact that I don’t think naming stuff is really our forte. So we wanted to do something pretty descriptive here. On an average day we are actually doing the creation of ventures and doing the building of technology, really in one way or another, and so I think that’s generally what we find ourselves talking about most of the time.

So I think the name from that perspective made a lot of sense and at this point I can’t really foresee too many directions that the podcast could go in where that name wouldn’t still hold up. So I think for now I’m going with the hope that it stands up to the test of time.

HENRY [3:28]: What kind of listeners is this podcast for? Who should tune in?

ADAM [3:34]: Well, I would argue that it’s really anybody who has even a loose connection or interest in the innovation space. A lot of the content and a lot of titles or episodes and some of the episode notes are probably going to sound very “startup-y”, and so entrepreneurs and founders are definitely going to be a key demographic.

But I think that we could really have a broader appeal. I’m suspecting a lot of the themes are actually going to also apply to members of larger organization who just care about innovation, whether it’s a mandate in their job or it’s just something that they’re interested in personally or on an extra curricular basis.

I also think that there could be some appeal from groups who help facilitate entrepreneurship for new ventures and intra-preneurship at larger or existing ventures. I’m talking really here about mentors, service providers, funding sources – a lot of the additional resource that makes entrepreneurship and innovation happen.

And, you know, I think that frankly a lot of the discussion that’s going to follow any given episode will probably come from that last group, from those experts, those mentors, funding sources, service providers, because I suspect there’s going to be some disagreement, maybe quite a bit of disagreement, with some of the opinions that get shared on the show. And so I think that collecting these various perspectives is going to be really important. And so I hope that we get a good deal of listenership and participation from that group as well.

HENRY [5:09]: Could you dig a little bit deeper into the types of topics that we’re going to cover in future episodes?

ADAM [5:16]: Sure. So it is definitely going to be a mix and it may evolve over time, but I think at this point you should likely expect us to tackle things like raising capital; issues like team building, both from a technical perspective and otherwise; thinking about product market fit; validation of early stage ideas, lean and agile approaches to business building.

I certainly can envision us having conversations around pitching and positioning our venture, whether it’s to fundraise or to apply to things like accelerators or incubators. I think we could definitely include a collection of early stage product success stories or maybe even cautionary tales on the other side of that, and also topics surrounding ideation, design thinking and early stage product and venture creation.

HENRY [06:012]: There’s lots of ways to share content out there. Why podcast?

ADAM [06:16]: Well, I think this one really just comes from some self-awareness and from playing to our strengths. Anyone that knows me even a little bit would definitely concur that I have a lot to say. The thing is… I suck at writing. I mean, I could theoretically put out some palatable blog post but it’s really the pace of doing that that just kills me. I’m slow at doing it and I think that is definitely evidenced by the not particularly prolific efforts that people have seen from me in my own blogging today.

And so, the thought here was, as somebody who loves to talk, this is a medium that actually plays right into my hands on that front. I think that it’s an opportunity to hopefully share content some people will find interesting, and then be able to do it with a much higher degree of frequency. So ,that’s the theory. Hopefully it plays itself out. I also mention this, it’s very Adam McGowan-centric, but I do expect that the podcast is going to broaden out well beyond that and I hope that we will have enough momentum by that point where it continues to make a lot of sense.

HENRY [07:34]: Great. Well I can definitely vouch for you having plenty to say.

ADAM [07:38]: Yeah. Well, most people that know me can.

HENRY [07:41]: So what should your listeners expect when they tune in?

ADAM [07:45]: Well, if a listener is a regular podcast listener, they should appreciate that this is not Serial and it’s not Startup. And I don’t mean that with respect to the quality of the production because undoubtedly this is not going to have the production value of something like that. But what I mean is that there’s not going to be a serial nature to the content. So over the course of a collection of episodes, we may have logical things follow other logical things, and there may be some order to it, but one episode won’t string together along with another. There’s not going to be kind of a tale that’s told from one end to the other.

So I think what that really means is don’t worry about missing an episode. You’re probably going to be more inclined to take a look at titles, take a look at the notes, see if something’s applicable. And you should be able to jump right into an episode without any context. You don’t have to have listened to something earlier, you don’t need to feel like you’ve got to engage for a whole collection of episodes. You should be able to kind of jump in and jump out whenever you want.

I think we are going to make an attempt to kind of kick off the first collection of episodes where I am sharing some of my own perspectives in this format, this interview style approach, but I think that that model is going to evolve over time for starters. It will certainly broaden out beyond just my opinions. That’s going to include other members of the Firefield team for sure. And then I think it’s also going to allow us to really start bringing in outsiders that could be other founders, could be innovators, could be investors, mentors, advisors, and I think that ultimately we’ll love to be able to open it up to the listening audience to help this be a little bit crowd sourced.

So if we’re able to create an opportunity to have our audience propose questions or topics, we’d love to be able to respond to those and hopefully have the audience drive a little bit of the content. So I think that’s really what people should expect at this point. And again, we’re going to try to stay true to the theme but this is very early and it’s going to certainly evolve over time.

HENRY [10:03]: I know it’s early but how often should listeners expect a new podcast and how long is each podcast going to be?

ADAM [10:15]: Sure. So I think, at least to start, we should have a pretty good handle on the volume of content that listeners should expect. So as much as I’m an avid podcast listener, I know that carving out 30 or 45 minutes at a clip, to be able to listen is really tough. We’re going to try to make this more consumable.

The hope is to have episodes run 10 to 15 minutes, and maybe some special cases, we can go a bit longer. Hopefully, that’s for a really good reason and hopefully it’s captivating enough that people don’t mind. But I think in general, we’re going to try to keep it in that 10 to 15 minutes range.

I think that it’s going to be hard at this point to really guarantee a particular frequency but I think the whole point now is that we’re able to put out some new content every two weeks or so, and I think that we will certainly be able to confirm that soon. So stay tuned for a little bit more info on that front.

I also think we’re going to batch together a number of episodes into seasons, if you will. So duration of the seasons… number of episodes per… Not sure yet, but I do think that those details are going to be ironed out and we’ll be able to share them as soon as we have them.

And I’d say that lastly we’ve got ideas probably for the first 10 to a dozen episodes, so hopefully we’ll be able to kind of pump prime this first season with a good bit of content over the coming weeks and we’ll see how it goes. We’ll see what kind of roster we can put together for potential guest content. We can also see what kind of feedback we’re getting from listeners and we could very easily be tacking on a lot of additional content.

HENRY [11:57]: Well that’s all I’ve got for now. Adam, thanks for sharing some details about this new project and to our listeners, we’d like to thank you as well. We promise to do our best to keep it interesting. I’m Henry Reohr from Firefield. You’ve been listening to Ventures in Tech. We look forward to catching up next time when we dive into Entrepreneurial Advice: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.