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Yet Another (ex-)VC Blog

Cloud computing, startups, and venture capital

Archive for February 2009

Tell me a story

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The most dynamic entrepreneurs don’t have a pitch – they tell you a story.

Everyone loves a good story, and I think that story can really help connect you with potential investors.

For example, I recently spoke to an entrepreneur who started a company based on his experiences from being hospitalized for a severe illness.  You could sense that he was intrinsically motivated by his experience and was leveraging that motivation to bring that day in, day out intensity that leading a startup requires.

Not all pitches are going to have elements of life-threatening illnesses or transformative experiences.

However, it can be just as compelling to share detailed anecdotes from your previous work or less intense parts of your life and use that to paint a picture about why you’re the right person to have started your company.  And why you are intrinsically motivated to succeed, no matter the odds.

So, the next time you meet an investor, think about telling them a story.

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Written by John Gannon

February 27, 2009 at 9:16 pm

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Three great bloggers

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This is a quickie post but there a few blogs that I’ve been reading for a while that I absolutely love and wanted to share them.

  • Rick Segal’s Blog (The Post Money Value): Rick is a Canadian VC with a great sense of humor and you can tell that the way he blogs is the way he acts in person – very authentic.  I can’t prove that because I haven’t met Rick, but judging by how  he writes I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a good guy to grab a beer with.
  • Dave McClure‘s Blog (Master of 500 Hats): This blog is hilarious, irreverent, and incredibly informative if you’re building any kind of web startup.  There are not many things on the Internet that make me laugh out loud and this blog is one of them.  Where else can you read about tactics for acquiring users and the world’s oldest profession in a single blog post?  I thought so!
  • Seth Godin’s Blog:  I know, I’m Captain Obvious to point out Seth’s blog, considering he is one of the most well-known bloggers out there.  Still, I feel like I need to spread the word.
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Written by John Gannon

February 26, 2009 at 2:41 pm

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Tips on approaching a VC about an internship or job

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Recently I have been approached by people looking for an internship or job with our firm. We’re not hiring or looking for interns right now but a few things jumped out at me about the methods that were used to reach me.images1

Most people who contacted me sent a blind email having found my email address on our firm website. Also, almost everyone sent a generic cover letter that was not customized.

Now, I did read and reply to each of these inquiries, but my guess is that many VCs (and I’m speaking from experience when I was looking for a job in VC over the last year) would not answer this ‘cold call’ email.

So if I were looking for a VC job, what could I do to improve my chances of getting a meeting with the VC about potential internships or jobs? Some thoughts…

  • Use LinkedIn to find someone in your network who may know the VC you’d like to reach.
  • If you have no other way to reach the VC except through a blind email, take time to customize your cover letter pitch to the firm (or the person at the firm) you’re targeting.
  • Talk to me about some interesting companies in spaces our firm might be interested in and offer to connect me with them.
  • Don’t ask for a job or an internship – ask for advice. If you ask me if I am hiring and I’m not, I will probably say “we’re not hiring” versus if you ask me “can you talk to me about careers in VC, I want to learn” I’m more apt to engage in a dialog (and I don’t think I’m unique in that respect amongst VCs).

If you’ve had some success reaching VCs to discuss jobs or internships, what has worked for you?

to be alerted

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Written by John Gannon

February 25, 2009 at 7:46 pm

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Cloud applications need (business continuity) love too

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More and more businesses and consumers are trusting their data to SaaS providers who store customer data in the cloud.  Of course you have the well known SaaS players like Salesforce.com and 37signals but there are also plenty of smaller guys out there.  Because its fairly cost-effective to build a SaaS app thanks to Amazon and other utility computing players, you have a proliferation of companies and solutions from which potential customers can choose.  Choice is certainly good for the customer, but because the SaaS space is so fragmented with many small players (many of whom are probably not financially viable in the long run) you could see a situation where your SaaS provider goes under, and takes your data with it!

There are a few ways to mitigate this risk, although frankly none of them are that great in my opinion:

  1. Work with only larger SaaS companies and ignore smaller SaaS players (lose out on innovations made by smaller companies)
  2. Request raw data dumps from your SaaS provider (good luck making heads or tails of that data)
  3. Work with providers who agree to some standard APIs or data models that allow for easy retrieval of data and prevent lock-in (we’re a long way from that sort of nirvana…)

I know many SaaS companies would happily do #2 (especially if the topic came up as an objection in the sales cycle) but frankly, without #3, there is not much a customer will realistically be able to do with the data.  Taking a vendor’s proprietary data format and making heads or tails of it is generally quite painful.  Small-medium IT shops may certainly get a warm fuzzy feeling that their SaaS provider will give them all the data they want, but if the customer is actually forced to do something with the data because their provider goes out of business, chances are they are going to spend alot of time and money ‘restoring’ the data into a comparable application environment.

Painful stuff…I wonder when we will start to see SaaS vendors moving in the direction of #3 (portability and interoperability between SaaS apps)?

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Written by John Gannon

February 21, 2009 at 11:58 am

Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference 2009 recap

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I spent Friday in Philadelphia at the Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference. It was a worthwhile trip although my networking circuits were fried afterwards.  I had the chance to put some faces to folks who I’ve spoken to at various times over the last couple of years and take in some very good keynote speeches (given by Donny Deutsch and Julian Brodsky of Comcast) and panels.  And I also met some new companies and investors whom I’d never spoken with before.

I think the organizers did a pretty good job with the format and agenda of the conference.  I was a little concerned when I saw both keynote speeches were 45 minutes long but thankfully both Julian Brodsky and Donny Deutsch were very engaging and I didn’t look at my watch once.  The panels were also kept to 45 minutes which gave enough time to flesh out whatever topic was being discussed as well as leave plenty of time for audience questions.

Good job, Wharton, I look forward to seeing you next year! :)

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Written by John Gannon

February 15, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Layer 1: An important piece of the cloud computing puzzle?

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(Disclosure: My employer is an investor in OnPath Technologies, a Layer 1 switching company)

Due to the broad adoption of virtualization technology in the server, network, and storage sectors, it is easier than ever for IT admins to apply business policy to the infrastructure and automate any number of menial tasks that used to suck up manhours.  Servers, storage, and even networking are treated as logical data objects and can be manipulated with ease.

However, to realize the industry vision of the hands off, “lights out” cloud computing datacenter, all parts of the IT infrastructure will need to have automation capabilities, including the physical network.  Just as network engineers don’t have to physically be in the datacenter to modify routing tables or switch configurations and server guys don’t need to sit at a server’s keyboard to manage it, datacenter ops teams shouldn’t have to send someone into the datacenter, in the wiring closet, or under the raised floor to make physical cabling adds, moves, and changes.

Seems logical to me, but I’m not an IT buyer so my vote doesn’t really count :)  Wondering what folks out there are thinking (or not thinking) about this topic of layer 1 automation…

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Written by John Gannon

February 11, 2009 at 4:46 pm

20 Powerpoint and Pitch Tips from Jeff Bonforte

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Truer words could not have been spoken about pitching:

  1. Don’t use PowerPoint, use Apple’s Keynote 09 ($79) even if it means you have to go out and buy a Macbook ($1000) only for making presentations. Even when I worked at a big company who dictated I use a PC, I brought my own Mac for presos. Like a carpenter, I am happy to bring my own tools if needed. Others agree with me.
  2. Deliver your presentation standing up. Don’t stand behind a podium. Don’t sit down. Even if there are just one or two people in the room.
  3. Demo your product/service first. Before you do almost anything else…demo.
  4. Buy a professional font family ($100-$900). My two favorites are Helvetica Neue and Gotham (Obama and Yahoo! both use Gotham).
  5. Don’t use defaults (particularly for PPT). No default templates. No default clipart. No default formatting for charts or tables. No default fonts. No defaults.
  6. Learn how to do bulleted lists correctly (note: the default formatting for bulleted text, even in Keynote, is completely incorrect).
  7. Don’t use slide titles. If you do, they should say something
  8. Use lots of screenshots or images of your product or service (or team)
  9. Reisist slide animations. Use the “dissolve” transition between slides.
  10. Shorter presos are better. 5-8 slides is ideal. 10-20 for longer or more detailed presos.
  11. Limit or eliminate text. You are there to speak. They are there to interact and listen, not read.
  12. Send PDFs of your presentation, not PPTs as followup.
  13. Tell a story. Every presentation needs a plot (1-3 underlying points). For Al Gore, it was “The planet is in trouble, and it’s worse than you thought” and “We are to blame, but if we now we can also be the solution.” The rest of his amazing presentation were just supporting elements to that plot line of his story.
  14. Reduce the size of everything. As a default PowerPoint (and Keynote even) make everything too big. White space is your friend.
  15. Don’t pass out your slides (unless they are for a board meeting). Don’t send your presentation in advance (there are exceptions to this rule).
  16. Make your own color palette and stick with it for the entire presentation. Generally, you should only use 1-2 colors (plus black and grays).
  17. White backgrounds are best. Don’t use backgrounds other than solid colors of very subtle gradients.
  18. Charts: Reduce categories. Don’t use legends. Reduce font sizes. Reduce guide lines. Use one color with multiple shades. Eliminate or reduce line weights.
  19. Images: Clean up your images and graphics with alpha channel. Mask or crop your images.
  20. Use reasonable examples or comparisons. Don’t compare yourself to Yahoo!, ebay, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook or MySpace unless they are your competitor.
  21. Kalani, Jeff “the Blog” Bonforte, Feb 2009

Take a look at the whole article if you have a moment.  Thanks for sharing, Jeff!

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Written by John Gannon

February 10, 2009 at 6:29 pm

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