Infopia raises $8 million

Congratulations to Infopia for closing on an $8 million funding round from Hummer Winblad and Trident Capital. Infopia is an ecommerce platform that helps customers get their products onto sites such as eBay, Amazon, Google, Overstock, Shopzilla and others. Bjorn Espenes and his partners have made some very powerful breakthroughs in e-commerce automation. This funding round is great to see.

Your Content Everywhere

Sling Media raised another $46 million to make your home entertainment content accessible wherever you travel.

I wonder what this means to Orb Networks, which I first saw at Always On in 2005, which also offers a way to access your home PC content (including TV) on your internet-connected PDA or mobile phone.

Here’s an Alexa chart that shows how much web site traffic these companies are generating:

Angel Investors Acting Like VCs

A Business Week article (thanks John and Steve!) discusses that angel investors are banding together more often and investing larger amounts in less risky deals. The author mentions that more than 200 organized angel groups exist in the U.S. served by the Angel Capital Association.

I like seeing the growth from the organized angel groups.

FundingUniverse.com (one of our portfolio companies) helps by providing free online software (the DealFlow Suite) to help angel groups find quality business plans and growing companies that they want to learn more about.

But I still think that the vast majority of angel investments are made by individuals who are not part of organized angel investor groups. I think the largest investments are made by superangels who don’t join groups and I think the majority of deals come from angels who aren’t trying to be like VCs–they are helping entrepreneurs that they know and like to try to get something off the ground. They invest anywhere from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of times that amount.

I know quite a few superangels. I wish more of them would join angel investor groups because sometimes angel groups can’t raise enough money to get good deals funded. Superangels could easily solve that problem.

Meanwhile, FundingUniverse.com now has more than 700 angel investors (20 state sites have at least 10) registered on its network of states sites. They collectively have more than $500 million in "available capital." As more and more state sites attract angels, the company will be able to hold speed pitching events and larger regional events in more locations.

Wikipedia’s New Competition

Wikipedia is providing “semi-protection” to articles that get vandalized often. New users won’t be able to edit these pages.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia co-founder Larry and serial entrepreneur Joe Firmage (who has Utah roots) have raised $10 million to create an expert-driven open source encyclopedia called Digital Universe.

It will be interesting to see if anything can stop the momentum of Wikipedia. I wouldn’t bet that Digital Universe will ever come close to catching up. That said, a commercially funded #2 player in the online encyclopedia space could very well be a financial success. And I think that it will be.

Pitching VCs to Get Valuable Feedback

Even if you don’t need to raise money, or if you know you probably aren’t fundable, you should probably get in the habit of hanging out with and pitching VCs regularly. Why?

Because VCs have more meta-data about who is doing what than any one else in the business world. They are on the front line of all the emerging technologies, the best new ideas, and they know hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs and funded companies.

I blogged last month about the phenomenal meeting that David Bradford and I had with Tim Draper of Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson, where he gave us a HUGE idea for FundingUniverse.com. That has started the ball rolling and our team is mobilizing around his idea.

Yesterday one of our teams had a meeting with a very successful VC who shared some excellent wisdom with us. Here are some tidbits:

  • He asked, “Who are you going to sell the company to?” We didn’t have a good answer. He said, “I never start a company without knowing who is going to buy it. And then I run the company with the intention of not selling to them, otherwise we stop focusing on our customer.”
  • “Laser focus on your customer and serve their needs. If you don’t know who is going to buy you, then you don’t understand your customer.”
  • “Who is your customer? How many have you talked to? What are the top 3 features they want?”
  • “Focus groups are a complete waste of time. They have made more companies go out of business … if you get the wrong panel, you won’t solve the right problems.”
  • Build a panel of customers from the kind of people that always say they knew what was coming. Nail the panel. Have them tell you what is coming and then work back from there.”
  • Must read book: “Getting It Right The First Time” by Internet Research Group
  • Our venture friend also told us about a great new technology that might fit into what we are doing.

    So bottom line was we got feedback on our business, our team, potential partners, and some pointed questions that will force us to better define our customers, systematically talk with more of them, and think about our exit and who will want to buy us as we meet our customers needs.

    So when is the last time you pitched a VC? What is stopping you from trying that right now? Make some phone calls. Use LinkedIn. Get introduced. Try your pitch and see what you can learn.

    The Vision of Grow Utah Ventures

    I’m sitting inside the old greyhound bus station on Ogden’s infamous 25th street.

    But it isn’t a bus station anymore. Utah visionary Alan Hall and his team at Grow Utah Ventures have purchased the old bus depot. They are renovating it and today are christening it the “E Station.”

    E, of course, stands for entrepreneur.

    Alan Hall’s vision is for Grow Utah Ventures to be the most influential private sector force for economic development in the state of Utah, with a focus on Northern Utah.

    In the next five years Grow Utah Ventures plans to launch 100 new companies, invest $15 million in entrepreneurs, and create over 2,000 good paying jobs.

    The E Station will be a launch center for new companies, providing low cost office space, mentoring from GUV Advisors, and sales and marketing assistance.

    GUV companies will also have access to expansion capital because GUV is closely allied with many angel investor groups in Utah, including groups in Salt Lake, Weber, Davis, Cache and Washington Counties.

    The E Station ribbon cutting starts in 10 minutes.

    It is conveniently located a block away from MarketStar, a global sales and marketing outsourcing company which helped its clients sell more than $8 billion in products last year.

    I love Alan’s vision. I believe the economic impact from funding 100 companies and mentoring hundreds of entrepreneurs will be vast. It will be part of his lasting legacy.

    At a time when people worldwide are complaining about slow government response to every external event and disaster, I love watching private entrepreneurship and philanthropy having such a major impact on the world.

    From Larry and Sergey’s incalculable effect on the worldwide diffusion of knowledge, to Clara Barton’s Red Cross, which provides relief to millions, to Habitat for Humanity’s vision of providing homes to the needy, and on and on. These things come from individual initiative, not government fiat.

    Remember JFK’s powerful words: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

    Think of the kind of world we would create together if all of us tried to answer that question.

    Thanks, Alan, for answering it with this wonderful Grow Utah Ventures initiative!

    Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

    Josh Coates: Disruptive Entrepreneur Speaks

    If you are in Utah Thursday, you have to pay $10 to hear Silicon Valley transplant Josh Coates speak about how to start a company
    and raise money. He is an incredible technologist with a disruptive
    business model and he knows how to raise capital. He likes to challenge
    the way the Utah angel and VC community fund startups. Josh likes the
    Silicon Valley way. The event will be at Los Hermanos in Lindon at 3:30
    pm. Don’t miss this.

    FundingUniverse.com

    We are making serious progress with our FundingUniverse.com
    business. Soon we’ll announce some new capital, new leadership, and
    some significant partnerships that will help this company move forward.
    I love how the internet can create so much visibility for a new
    business idea. What used to take years in business formation now takes
    months.

    If you know any angel investors or VCs, please encourage them to signup for FundingUniverse.com (it’s free) and look at some of the 543 business plans that have been posted there in the last few months.

    I’ll be on a panel at the National Association of Seed and Venture
    Capital conference in Philadelphia next week, primarily to demonstrate
    the new DealFlow Suite (TM) which we make available to organized angel
    investor groups around the country.

    It’s nice to start getting both traction and trajectory with this business.

    Finding Angels and VCs

    I think LinkedIn.com is one of
    the best ways to find angel investors in your area. With 3.5 million
    members, including many investors, this is a great service and a great
    way to get introduced through a mutual trusted acquaintance.

    But in addition to LinkedIn.com, I have found value in owning a copy of
    the 1998 Pratt’s Guide to Venture Capital Sources, a 600+ page hard
    bound book that probably cost about $50. Of course, this edition is
    almost useless since it is so out of date. There are probably more
    current editions. Vfinance.com sells a current database of venture
    firms on CD ROM for $299.

    It’s much harder to find a directory of angel investors, and since they
    are many times more likely than VCs to fund your startup company, it
    can be frustrating if you are an entrepreneur looking for potential
    angel funding.

    Our solution? Let’s all work together to create a free open-access
    directory of angel investors (both organized groups and individuals)
    and venture capital firms around the world.

    We are launching a directory of venture capital firms called VCWiki.com and a directory of angel investors called AngelWiki.com.

    FundingUniverse.com will
    appoint a part-time editor to manage the volunteers who want to
    participate in building these community resources. We will use Wiki
    technology so that anyone can easily add their own information to these
    directories.

    Sites like this have limited value at first. But over time, as people
    contribute what they know, they can become invaluable sources of
    information for entrepreneurs. We hope they will become useful to you.

    FundingChina.com

    So we decided to launch our first FundingUniverse.com
    international web site, and thought we would start with China, since
    there seems to be a little economic activity going on over there these
    days. :)

    FundingChina.com is in
    English for now, and it will be a matching service for entrepreneurs
    with ideas and angel or VC investors who want to get involved in the
    Chinese market. Later, hopefully, we’ll offer Chinese language versions
    (although I hear there are over one hundred dialects.)