Rubbing Shoulders in $ilicon Valley

nickmckeown.jpgWeek5end 23-24 Feb: Over the weekend Stuart and I spent some time with Peter Davies, one of the most seasoned entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. We got on very well with Peter and as a result we ended up at his house having dinner with his family on Saturday evening. Nick McKeown who was also there gave Stuart and I some great advice on new ventures and startups. Nick is highly regarded within Silicon Valley for spinning many companies from Stanford, where he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (bio).

davidperry.jpgOn Sunday morning we also met Peter for breakfast in Palo Alto’s University Ave Café. On this occasion Peter brought David Perry along to chat with us. David is first and foremost a friendly and fun guy to chat with. Business-wise he is a titan, as is evident from his first startup – Chemdex.com (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemdex). Chemdex still holds the record for reaching a $10B valuation in the shortest time, which was at the end of 1999. Following the realisation that here was no air left in the Internet Bubble, in early 2000 the company fell to a valuation of just over $100M, and from 500 to 100 employees! It was interesting to listen to David describe how he took the company to this amazing valuation and how he coped following the crash in 2000. Read the full Chemdex story here. Not content with this he has started two companies since then and is currently in the process of making an IPO. David has impressively raised over $½Billion in VC funding since the early 90s!!!

David had a few insights into how to be a successful entrepreneur:
1.) The first is to not worry so much about what it is you are doing as long as you fulfill 2 criteria. They are that you are always learning and you are enjoying what you are doing. This mantra is true whether or not you are perusing entrepreneurial activities, or working for a company.

2.) Secondly he outlined a perspective for pitching and raising capital. The idea is to basically spell out the opportunities of the project first. No opportunity comes without risk, and if you pretend it does, any VC will laugh you out of the room. Then you focus on describing how you are going to eliminate these risks, one by one. Present risks based on their severity and potential to prevent progress. This approach tells the investor that you’re not naïve about the presence of risk, and that you’re aware that they’re investing in your ability to mitigate these risks, one by one.

The ingenious part is once you have outlined the fantastic opportunity, prep’ed them with the risks, then instead of asking for money to pursue the opportunity, you ask for the money to eliminate the risks. So if you identify the risks in order of priority and necessity, and ask for X amount to overcome the top Y risks, you can show how strong the company will be at that stage. Inherent with this approach is transparency of preempted risks & your control of them, as well as knowledge of how much investment will be required at stages to continue to eliminate further risks. If done properly, you will organise the risks into stages (e.g. milestones within an Implementation Plan as outlined in Zoller’s last seminar), and at each stage it will become easier to raise the capital required to overcome associated risks.

Finally David also warned about a situation that currently seems a long way off, and that is raising too much money! Apparently he has encountered the situation, and Peter also, where VC’s wish to invest a much larger amount of capital than is required. This usually occurs when investor groups work together and all want a piece of the pie. In this situation, to support the higher valuation this causes, it is too easy to spread the company too thinly and work on products that aren’t core to your business, and therefore you can lose focus on the key areas. Not something that is immediately relevant perhaps, but something to think about nonetheless.

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1 comment so far

  1. Baltic Boston « Musings of a Kauffman Fellow on

    […] business proposition – which coincidentally was quite similar to that described to me previously by David Perry. Basically this consisted of analysing 5+ aspects of the business based on the opportunities and […]


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