3 Key Tools for Early Stage Tech Investors

Peter Thiel reminded the TechCrunch audience this week how unique and impactful Silicon Valley is. He predicted it will continue to lead the world in innovation and disruption for at least the next two decades. He said he’d be “long on Silicon Valley” and “short on New York.” New York is developing a fantastic startup culture; but data shows that no one is close to Silicon Valley in attracting the best talent, churning out the best startups and attracting the most funding year after year.

Besides being the home of Y Combinator, the world’s most successful startup accelerator, there are many other websites and tools that originated in Silicon Valley/San Francisco which continue to make this the epicenter of entrepreneurship and venture capital in the world. Here are three really important ones, two of which got significant airtime at TechCrunch this year:

Crunchbase – What has been funded

Angelist – What is being funded

Product Hunt – What will get funded next

Crunchbase now has 2 million monthly users. They announced that 1,000 “Crunchbase Venture Partners” which include VC funds, accelerators, and incubators have agreed to keep their portfolio companies up-to-date on Crunchbase. It has the potential to be the broadest database of deal flow tracking as well as the most accurate. Spot checking it today I found several errors. But it is still the first source I check when looking up a tech company I haven’t heard of. Crunchbase then Wikipedia.

Angelist is now providing about $10 million per month in trackable funding. It has introduced a syndication model allowing groups of angels to pool capital into a “popup venture fund” that can provide significant funding comparable to a Series A round. The two largest deals so far have been close to $1 million, but it appears that Angelist has significant momentum and deal sizes will grow.

Product Hunt is a new San Francisco-based company which just raised close to $1 million in August. It provides an early warning radar system to identify on a daily basis new products that are being spotted which have potential.

Take this quick poll and let me know which site (if any) you currently use the most:

3 Amazing Sites for Tech Investors
Which of these sites do you use most?

Announced: $23 million venture fund in Provo, Utah

This may not seem like a big deal to some of you. Silicon Valley has many billion dollar venture funds, after all. But for startups in Utah, this is huge news.

A $23 million fund focused on seed investments of $100k to $1 million can provided a needed boost to dozens of companies. If even a single startup funded by Peak Ventures follows the path of billion-dollar Utah companies such as Omniture, Vivint, Ancestry, InsideSales, or Qualtrics, the ripple effects will boost the economy and entrepreneurship for years to come.

Most large venture funds focus on later stage investments–not in the seed round. In fact, only 1.5% of the $13 billion in US venture funding last quarter was reported to be seed stage funding.

From the Q2 2014 MoneyTree Report:

“Seed stage investments rose 46 percent in dollars and 20 percent in deals with $189 million invested into 55 deals in the second quarter.”

In that context, a new $23 million fund in one of the hottest startup areas of the country is a really big deal.

One of the best venture funds in the country is First Round Capital with offices in Pennsylvania and San Francisco. They too focus on being the first money into new companies. They are now on their 5th fund and have invested in hundreds of companies, including some well-known companies like Mint, Warby Parker, and Uber, as well as one of my new favorites, Lob.

Huge congrats to Jeff Burningham, Sid Krommenhoek, and the other Peak Capital partners for getting this fund organized and announced yesterday!

Startup Grind 2014

I attended the 2014 Startup Grind event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California earlier this month.

Derek Andersen has started quite a movement here. It was the highest energy startup event I’ve attended in years–and the cast of speakers was spectacular. I particularly enjoyed listening to George Zachary, Reid Hoffman (founder LinkedIn, venture investor with Greylock), Ben Horowitz (Andreesen Horowitz), MC Hammer, Scott Cook (Intuit), Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures), Danae Ringelmann (co-founder IndieGoGo), Elizabeth Gore (Resident Entrepreneur at the United Nations Foundation–reports to Ted Turner!).

I missed a bunch of talks that I wanted to hear, partly because Derek made me say a word about StrengthsFinder 2.0 (the product I champion for Gallup) on the first evening, and I was literally swarmed for the next 3 days. I could hardly move from one conference session to another without an entrepreneur or ten eagerly asking me about StrengthsFinder. But that’s also what made the conference incredibly fun and energizing for me–engaging with dozens of entrepreneurs, from many countries, who are all looking for tools, tactics, and advice that will help them emerge from their startup grind with a successful business.

Thankfully I can catch the interviews I missed on the Startup Grind YouTube channel.

What I love most about Startup Grind is its values and the kind of people it attracts as a result. Derek credited George Zachary for helping him grasp the importance early on of establishing and communicating the values of the Startup Grind community.

The name itself connotes that startups are hard work and success often takes time. There are more comfortable things to do than “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death” which is how Elon Musk has apparently described entrepreneurship.

Startup Grind is not for get-rich-quick schemers, but for those who want to make their mark on the world through building a new company, “however long and hard the road.”

These Startup Grind values were plastered everywhere:

1. It feels better to give than to receive
2. Give more than you take
3. Make friends not contacts
4. Never give up

Another awesome part of the Startup Grind culture–and I experienced this first hand when I spoke at a Washington DC event last year–is that when introducing a speaker, the audience gives a huge standing ovation right up front. Everyone feels good, fired up. And the speakers get that sincere thanks right up front, for volunteering their time.

And then often, at the end of a Startup Grind interview, the guest is given a fun gift–such as an artifact connected to their favorite superhero. When I was interviewed, I explained why my favorite superhero was “Bill and Ted” (I know that’s a stretch), because their music “put an end to war and poverty.  It align[ed] the planets and br[ought] them into universal harmony allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life from extraterrestrial beings to common household pets, and . . . it’s excellent for dancing.” What superheroes have ever had a better outcome than that!

So they presented me with an awesome Bill and Ted movie poster.

The Startup Grind culture is just fantastic.

Back in the 90s when I was building my first company with my best friend and business partner, it was a pretty solitary endeavor–mostly just us trying to figure things out. Not until I attended the Inc 500 awards conference in Philadelphia in 1996 did I realize that there were people (authors, advisors, mentors) out there helping entrepreneurs to succeed. But today, there are far more.

It’s like the difference between writing software code in the 80s and 90s, when you wrote every line yourself or with your team–compared to now, when there are bazillions of lines of code written by millions of coders, on github and elsewhere, some of it packaged into amazingly useful libraries. If you are a coder, you are not alone in the universe–and you don’t need to write applications from scratch. Much of what you are doing is finding and learning and stitching–building on the shoulders of others.

Same with entrepreneurship. Today, instead of figuring everything out on your own long and lonely path, there are dozens of amazing accelerators, incubators, and seed stage funds, there are Startup Weekends, business plan and business model competitions, meetups everywhere, and crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo which are increasingly being used by companies to validate and refine their product–not just to raise capital.

The startup failure rate is widely reported as being 80-90% or higher over a 5-year period–who knows what the actual number is?–but I remember hearing from an expert in franchising that 94% of all franchisees are still in business after 5 years. Why? I assume it is because the brand, product, processes, business model, advertising strategies, and all that have been worked out and proven to work in advance, usually in scores of markets.

Imagine a world–with all the support of Startup Grind and the other resources mentioned above–where the success rate of startups doubles or triples? The success rate of Y Combinator companies is already so high that each company accepted into the 3-month accelerator program has an automated $150,000 in startup capital waiting for it at the end of the program–not to mention all the built-in support from other Y Combinator mentors and alumni. As Steve Blank and Eric Ries spread the Lean Startup gospel worldwide, and as more accelerators and incubators build support infrastructure to help, I wonder if it will be possible to significantly increase the success rate of startups.

The most interesting facet of startup success for me right now is trying to understand how the talents of the team–and the team dynamics–can lead to failure or success.

Marc Andreesen (2007) wrote that of the major factors in a startup–market, product, and team–he thought market was the most important of the three. But Jessica Livingston of Y Combinator made it clear that her major roles as a non-technical operator at Y Combinator was to make a decision, on the basis of a 10 minute interview with applicants, whether they have what it takes. She must be very gifted at this, given the success rate, but at the same time she humbly admitted that she never knows who really will succeed and who won’t. She especially loves co-founders who went to school together, or were roommates, and who already have a strong relationship. (There’s even a father-son founding team in Y Combinator now, and I think she said a set of twins.) Because when you don’t have that kind of trust between founders, when things get tough–and they always do–things can go bad really fast.

In my role at Gallup as evangelist for StrengthsFinder 2.0, I’m planning to attend a lot of entrepreneurial and investor events this year. For years, StrengthsFinder has been a powerful tool used by thousands of large and small companies to boost productivity, revenue, and profits by making individuals and teams more engaged and more efficient. I’m very excited to see it can be, along with the newest Gallup product Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder, in helping boost the percentage of startups that survive and thrive. The economy needs a huge dose of the type of job-creating entrepreneurship that The Economist wrote about this week to create the millions of jobs that are so desperately needed today all over the world.

I personally want to thank Derek, Startup Grind, and all of its dedicated chapter leaders and volunteers for doing their part to make this happen. And to  tell everyone — I can’t wait till Startup Grind 2015!

 

The view from Washington DC

This morning I flew out of Reagan National Airport. I always marvel as I look out over the nation’s capital from a plane window, thinking about the history of this place. On the 4th of July my family and I enjoyed watching the fireworks display from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which face the Washington Monument. Today, I had a great view of the National Mall, all the way to the Capitol Building.

Since taking a job with Gallup last September, my first job in 22 years with a company where I wasn’t a founder, I’ve been taking the metro to DC almost every day. Getting the family settled took a few months, and just now am I beginning to feel really comfortable in and around DC. Lately I’ve been attending a lot of high-tech networking events, including a BigDataDC event last night in Vienna. I’ve been to two Data Scientist gatherings at George Washington University. And I’m looking forward to attending a lot more coding, venture capital, entrepreneurship, and political events in the coming months. Between Meetup and EventBrite I can find good events every week.

There were 7 speakers last night at the BigDataDC event, hosted by AddThis. (AddThis is a social sharing and analytics tool used by 14 million web sites. They process 3.5 billion transactions per day. They talked about their Hyrda tool, which they plan to open source soon.) One speaker discussed a sales and marketing tool he is building with about 10 open source and API components–and it’s exactly the same problem I’m working on for Gallup.

DC is not Silicon Valley, but it probably ranks in the top 5 communities in the U.S. for high tech innovation, and definitely in the number one or number two spot for a bunch of categories related to the military and national security, including Cybersecurity. Last night one of the speakers who has been in IT for 44 years discussed the Einstein 3 system from the Department of Homeland Security which reportedly will do deep-packet inspection of all internet communications in the United States. I’m not a fan of the surveillance state. It’s very troubling to me.

(Here’s an article about it from April: http://www.networkworld.com/news/2013/042413-dhs-deep-packet-inspection-269078.html)

When I lived in Silicon Valley in 1999-2000 I attended technology and marketing conferences and events constantly, at Stanford, in San Francisco and San Jose. I am just now starting to do the same here in DC. When building Ancestry.com and other startups, I always felt that the greatest value I added was from what I learned by networking and reading, and from new ideas and tools that I could bring in and experiment with. I loved finding more efficient ways to do things, discover best practices, and implement systems that could scale.

Because of Gallup, where I’m the evangelist for StrengthsFinder, I realize now that I’m wired to constantly learn, innovate, and strategize. That’s what gives me energy and it’s what I’m best at. My Top 6 strengths are: Learner, Input, Ideation, Intellection, Strategic and Analytical.

Gallup is a great place for me to be. It’s a mission-driven company filled with really smart people who want to have a positive impact on clients and on the world. Gallup conducts research all over the world. We talk with millions of people in 160+ countries every year. From our call centers in Nebraska and through our researchers on the ground all over the world, we have a view from Washington DC about how people are thinking and feeling about key issues everywhere that isn’t skewed because we’re inside the Beltway. Our view is informed by what people are telling us worldwide about what they’re biggest problems and opportunities are.

The advice Gallup can provide to business clients and to leaders in government, education, and faith worldwide does not come from theories or pet ideas–it comes from data and testing and research and measurement. Our scientists are brilliant, our data set is massive and unique, and our company has great leadership. I feel really honored to be a part of Gallup at this very interesting time in world history and in Gallup’s history. I hope I can make positive contributions with my entrepreneurial approach, my technology and marketing skills, and the new things I’m learning about big data and data science.

This view I now have from Washington DC is unlike any other view I’ve ever had, and I’m quite enjoying it.

(Posted from my Chromebook Pixel using GoGoInFlight, thanks to Google I/O)

Most Effective Email Marketing Tactics–I’m printing this chart right now and putting it on my wall

Most Effective Email Marketing Tactics

I’m printing this chart right now and putting it on my wall.

If your company does email marketing you should do the same. This chart can provide a constant reminder of what works best in email marketing….and that often the most important factors are overlooked.

I’ve been a huge fan of MarketingSherpa for more than 10 years. All online marketers and entrepreneurs should become familiar with their benchmark surveys, their case studies, and events. I’ve learned a ton of great things from MarketingSherpa, which was acquired a few years back by another great company that runs MarketingExperiments.com.

Here’s a link to the full article: http://goo.gl/Ewzsr

#paulallenblog

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Turbo Charge the Learning Registry

Have you ever heard of the Learning Registry? I hadn’t until recently. Here’s an O’Reilly article about it from last November.

If the Learning Registry is more fully developed and populated with content, students and teachers all over the U.S. will have easy access to all the best online resources that map to any of the Common Core State Standards for education. Actually, the Learning Registry is not limited to common core and I suppose it isn’t limited to K-12 either. Any educational content (free or premium) can be added to the Learning Registry. Think of it as a universal card catalog to all online education content, with community ratings on the quality of the resource.

One way to see how this could work is to imagine an effort to organize all the thousands of individual teacher Pinterest boards that already list education resources: http://goo.gl/WRESh

These resources can all be connected to grade level learning objectives for Kindergarten through 12th grade, and then easily browsed by teachers and students.

(Who knew that Pinterest could play such a massive role in online education?!?!)

At a recent event in Washington, DC I had the privilege of meeting with dozens of people from education tech companies, private foundations, and others who care about improving education.

I ended up on a small task force whose project is to “Turbo Charge The Learning Registry.”Our team consists of about 15 people, including individuals from multi-billion dollar companies, philanthropic foundations, and startup Ed Tech companies. I am helping to coordinate the work on this project.

Our goal is to make the Learning Registry more well known, easier to use, easier to add resources to, and more easily integrated with other learning management systems. We want to make sure all the best online resources are added to the Learning Registry. This is going to take a lot of crowdsourcing!

We need coders to help us with various aspects of this project and community organizers to help us organize the crowdsourcing aspects of the project, and of course teachers who can help us find the best online resources (videos, slideshows, animations, and other teaching materials) and add them to the Learning Registry.

We hope the end result is a wonderful learning resource that can be used by millions of students and teachers.

If you are a 1) coder 2) community organizer, or 3) teacher who wants to help contribute to this project, please comment below and fill out our Volunteer Survey form.

Google has an incredible iOS design and development team. I just downloaded the new search app fo…

Google has an incredible iOS design and development team. I just downloaded the new search app for iPhone and it's about as perfect as any app I've ever used. After a few minutes I'm totally loving it. And I use the Google+ iPhone app for like 30-60 minutes a day. It is an absolutely amazing way to consume content from my carefully built circles on Google+. The large photos with text overlays are brilliant.

When I'm simply consuming information, the iPhone experience with both of these Google apps are as good or better than than the desktop versions.

But when I'm creating content, or organizing it, or linking to it, or interacting with people, I still have to use my desktop, with its full-size keyboard and two large monitors. I get much more done at my desktop than I can on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, because I have maximum screen size, maximum keyboard input speed, 20+ open tabs in Chrome, and most of my Windows applications open as well.

I've never been able to replicate that kind of maximum productivity environment on a laptop, let alone a tablet or smart phone. I wonder if I ever will.

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Did a social media hit squad derail the Buddy Roemer presidential campaign?This week I was disapp…

Did a social media hit squad derail the Buddy Roemer presidential campaign?

This week I was disappointed that +Buddy Roemer wasn't able to get the support he needed on Americans Elect to become an official candidate for President of the United States in all 50 states. I think his message that our political system has been corrupted by money is spot on, but even with TV coverage by Morning Joe and Dylan Ratigan, and with an Atlantic Monthly article by +Lawrence Lessig, he couldn't get the necessary support. I've been puzzling for months why he can't garner more support — he's a former governor, a 4-term Congressman, a successful traditional banker, and he was trained in economics at Harvard. He's got great qualifications.

But tonight I think I uncovered a bit of evidence that perhaps his online campaign was derailed by a social media hit squad operating somewhere, backed by someone. I have no idea where or who.

But I really don't think a single disgruntled supporter could post the same anti-Roemer message on 22,000 web pages by himself or herself.

It appears to me that someone has financed an effort to shut Roemer down.

I first saw this anti-Roemer rant as a comment on my own personal blog. I read it, followed all the links, and came away as strong a Roemer supporter as before. I didn't trust the credibility of the anti-Roemer content that his person pointed me to. I found a lot of pro-Roemer support elsewhere, from people who knew him while he was Governor and while he served in Congress.

So I emailed the commenter, and what do you know, the email bounced. The person was using a fake email address. This was months ago.

Tonight, randomly, I saw the same anti-Roemer content on another site from a person whose nickname was SayAmen. Out of curiousity, I googled a phrase from the quote followed by another word in it.

11,500 hits showed up. When I told Google to show me duplicates too, it showed 22,000 web pages that contained this exact same lengthy anti-Roemer rant.

Here is the link to the Google query: http://bit.ly/Lgf41u

That leads me to believe there has been a well-financed and coordinated effort from someone to destroy Roemer's reputation online.

And then I read this article about social media mercenaries who run fake campaigns to sell merchandise. Perhaps the same technique is used to undermine political opponents.

What do you think?

I welcome your thoughts about how this may have happened and how much damage 22,000 horrible comments about him may have done to his already underfunded and underexposed campaign.

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Epic blog post on eve of Facebook’s historic IPO — coming soon

Epic blog post on eve of Facebook’s historic IPO — coming soon

I’ve been planning to devote much of today to writing an epic blog post on the eve of the historic Facebook IPO. But I’m not sure I have it in me — and I’ve got a lot of other things to do as well.

However, if I do write the post, here’s how it will unfold.

First, I’ll establish my (cough) psychic powers in the opening paragraph with a true story. Next, I will guess how Facebook’s stock price will fare in the short and medium term.

But the really exciting part will be in trying to predict how the Google vs. Facebook battle will play out in the longer term — over the next few years.

I will explore Google’s search-based revenue model and how getting a billion users registered on Google+ (even with minimal engagement on plus.google.com) will generate billions more in annual revenue for Google — even if it never places ads on its social network. This is genius.

I will also explore Facebook’s revenue challenges and opportunities. Selling ads around user generated content has always been tough. Especially if your users are “heads down” (not easily distracted) because they are engrossed in meaningful content generated by family and friends. Facebook’s ad click through rates are about as low as you will see anywhere, on any web site.

But Facebook accounts for a significant percentage of all page views on the web. That is an astonishing achievement. They are profitable, growing, and will have a war chest of billions of dollars for acquisitions and to experiment with new possible revenue models. I’ll discuss several ideas that I think Facebook will pursue in the coming years to try to grow into their current market capitalization before the market punishes them too severely.

My conclusion is that I would much rather be Google than Facebook. But I also celebrate the fact that it is a great time to be entrepreneur/developer. Imagine two of the world’s smartest and most valuable companies trying to entice you to build products and services on top of their billion-user social graph. Both companies will be providing awesome APIs, viral distribution opportunities, and monetization options that will help startup companies grow incredibly fast and get to profitability fast as well.

Tomorrow a lot of fortunes will be made when Facebook’s stock trades on a public exchange for the first time. And in the coming months, more fortunes will be made (and lost) as millions of shares trade hands with this stock — which is surely going to be very actively traded and very volatile.

But the bigger story is that in order to win the future, Facebook and Google are building open platforms that will attract huge numbers of developers and entrepreneurs to create apps, attract customers, and build value on top of their social graphs. These entrepreneurs will build fortunes by creating value in the marketplace, not by getting lucky in a volatile stock market lottery.

In the next decade, I expect to see scores of billion dollar companies built (and built quickly) on top of Facebook and Google+. That is where my attention will be in the long run, though I admit that tomorrow I’ll be watching the Facebook stock ticker all day long.

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Hangouts for Entrepreneurs: please take our quick survey and vote for the topic you want to discu…

Hangouts for Entrepreneurs: please take our quick survey and vote for the topic you want to discuss

(And please share this with other entrepreneurs that you know. We need hundreds of responses to make the results meaningful.)

Next week we'll be experimenting with Hangouts for Entrepreneurs. Based on the principles in the books "Love is the Killer App" and "Never Eat Alone," we are going to bring networking and idea sharing among entrepreneurs to a whole new level.

If you don't live in Silicon Valley but want to participate in daily or weekly discussions with dozens of other high-tech entrepreneurs, to share ideas, best-practices, to find technical help, and to find potential business partners for your company, watch this space. Hangouts for Entrepreneurs are on their way.

We'll be recruiting some amazing mentors and guests to help discuss our topics. Years ago I taught entrepreneurship and internet marketing at 2 different universities over 4 years. The secret to my (tongue-in-cheek) popularity was that I invited dozens of amazing guest lecturers–usually the founders of multi-million dollar companies–who freely shared secrets they learned with my students. It was amazing. I was constantly learning from my guest lecturers.

We'll do something similar here, bring mentors right to you via Google Hangouts. But entrepreneurs have to make hundreds of major decisions when starting and running a new business. Sometimes entrepreneurs face questions that more experienced entrepreneurs haven't faced before, because times have changed and the landscape evolves every year. When that happens, entrepreneurs need up-to-date peer advice.

We'll be setting up a format that allows all entrepreneurs to give and receive helpful and timely peer advice — learning on demand — so that entrepreneurs can make better decisions than ever before, about each of the hundreds of choices they have to make in the course of their business.

Please follow this link, fill out our survey, and provide us your email address if you want to be added to our mailing list: http://bit.ly/J3O7xp

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