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That’s a Wrap!

July 2, 2016 - Author: admin

It’s been a month now since the Neal’s Running Start gang left San Francisco.  I’ve started to get back to my normal routines, but I miss their energy and the fun times.  I’m currently enjoying a trip to London to watch the Wimbledon matches and it happens to be Canada Day. So, I am reminiscing about my time with the European and one Canadian entrepreneur.

I am compelled Mentors to share a bit of what happened during the inaugural Neal’s Running Start program.  But don’t worry because there’s much more to come!  We videotaped many of our sessions together so look for a full video series on the Neal’s Running Start experience soon.  I think anyone who is trying to make it through a goal or a challenge can take something away from what these entrepreneurs experienced and learned. So, I hope the video will be a way for everyone to do their own Running Start program and kick-start an important goal in your life.

As a runner, I will relate their journey to training for a run or a race.  Everyone starts with the end goal in mind – you’re going to get fit and cross the finish line and be the best runner since Usain Bolt.  For entrepreneurs, they start a company with success in mind – they can see it already!  They are the next Zuckerberg.  Movies will be made about their ascent and how they changed the world!

Day one:  Day one o f a run starts out fun and energetic, but your dreams of running a marathon on the first day rarely come true.  Instead, day one only serves to show you just how far you have to go and just how out of shape you really are.

For our entrepreneurs, day one was similarly “come-to-Jesus-y”.  They each had to present their company to a group of investors on day one.  But the first day was just like the first day of a run – a metric for how far they really had to go, and for some of them, how out of shape their companies really were.

There were inaccuracies and sometimes flat out fiction in their presentations, which were too easy to spot and call out.  The presentation designs needed work.  Their whole flow needed work.  And truly, a presentation is often a reflection of the state of the business itself.  So, flaws in the presentation reflect real flaws in the underlying business. I tried to not be too hard on them and ease them in with gentle critiques.  But by day 2, the gloves were off.  We only had 30 days and no time to waste, so it was time to throw niceties aside and get to work.Road Trip

The next few weeks would prove to be exhausting, exhilarating and sometimes brutal.  Each day had an uphill run on the schedule, and like us runners, I’m sure they sometimes wanted to dry heave at the top of each hill or sit down and rest for a while.  We kept pushing, even literally having them dunk themselves in ice cold water for one investor pitch.

But the one-on-one meetings I had with each entrepreneur were where all the exercises and learnings came together.  One entrepreneur skirted closer to the death of their company than any entrepreneur wants to come.  But through close direction, that company turned around and was on track by the end of the 30 days.

More than one realized they have to move their company.  Some to Silicon Valley, and some just to where their customers are.  But most realized they were going to have to physically move their companies, which is not an easy task.

They all found ways to use their greatest strengths to overcome their greatest challenges.  One had a “take no prisoners” approach to getting big things accomplished every day, and that helped the entrepreneur almost completely overhaul their business approach during the time in San Francisco.  Another was excellent at networking and took advantage of every conference, meeting and connection they could make while in town.  Yet another was eternally optimistic, which I think is a key ingredient for any entrepreneur to persevere through the many obstacles that get in the way of growing a company.  And one transformed their stubbornness into an advantage to not give up and dig until they found a solution to the problem, rather than allowing fixation to get them stuck on one problem.

Because none of these entrepreneurs had ever spent time in Silicon Valley, they were the most naïve early stage founders I’ve worked with.  The lack of mentorship and guidance available in their respective cities really impacted their mindset and how they operated their businesses.  Therefore, each entrepreneur found at least one other mentor, besides me, who really inspired them or understood their unique market challenges.  That is one of the clear advantages of being in Silicon Valley.  Not only is there a plethora of wisdom and experience here, there’s an unspoken code that yoGolden Gateu help others.  One of the entrepreneurs remarked how willing everyone he asked was to meet and share experience and ideas.  Whereas in his home country, he rarely found mentors with a willingness to be so open and helpful, unless you paid them for their time.  In Silicon Valley, wisdom flows through friendly meetings at coffee shops, offices and the Rosewood happy hour.  Tapping into a brain-trust of experience and listening well to what those advisers have to say is a critical ingredient to success.

All the entrepreneurs walked away with their eyes wide open, but now comes the critical part – what they do as they return to their companies away from the Silicon Valley bubble, if you will.  I know they are all struggling right now to fight the old inertia and apply the lessons learned, so we’ll follow-up with them soon and check on their progress.

They all need financing so I’ll be tracking that progress over the next few months.

But first, I want you to get to know each of them and hear for yourselves their unique, individual stories and journey through their 30 days in the Neal’s Running Start program.  Look for our video series in the coming weeks.  If you’re looking to start a new goal or tackle a challenge, join us for the video series and see if you can take some of the lessons learned and apply them to your own path to success.

Cold PitchesUntil then, here are some photos to give you a taste of the entrepreneurs and their time here.

Last Day

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Nourishing Silicon Valley

June 10, 2016 - Author: admin

Raul and NealRaul Lozano has spent his life feeding and nourishing people.  From his time as a young person harvesting food in California’s Central Valley, he has been aware of the divide between the fed and the hungry.

That gap has gotten wider as vegetables, especially organic vegetables, have gone up in price, making healthy food out of reach for many, even in Silicon Valley’s tech-fueled-wealth environment.

Raul founded Valley Verde to help San Jose’s most vulnerable residents have access to healthy, organic vegetables. His non-profit organization teaches low-income families in Santa Clara County to grow and maintain their own organic vegetable gardens at no cost.  The organization is particularly focused on serving immigrant communities.  Valley Verde is the only place where many of these families can find seeds to grow vegetables that are indigenous to their native countries, including okra and bok choy.

Valley Verde funds this effort by selling gardening kits to individuals and organizations.  The organization is also starting to sell some of these organic seedings to other nurseries to raise additional funds.  However, the need for low-income families is far out-pacing the sales side of the business.

If you have read any of my posts in the past, you know that giving back is a core life value for me.  That’s why I’ve been happy and honored to contribute financially to Valley Verde since its beginnings.  I feel strongly about Raul’s vision for feeding Silicon Valley’s people and his savvy in driving a non-profit organization, which isn’t easy in any climate, but can be especially challenging in the Silicon Valley world where most funding goes to for-profit start-ups.  That’s why when our four entrepreneurs from Europe were here last month for Neal’s Running Start, I made sure to build a day focused on giving back where we invited Raul to share some of the things he has learned as a non-profit founder and leader.

Giving back to the community in whatever way you can is part of being a responsible and contributing human being.  Some people, like Raul, give their time, talents, ideas and hard work.  Some of us, like me, volunteer time and money to assist the Rauls of the world in realizing their vision.  What’s most important is that everyone do something to help others and give back.  I challenged our four entrepreneurs – Katherine, Antti, Mario and Odie (our nickname for Neal Oddens) – to take this lesson back with them and treat it with equal importance to all the business lessons they learned during their stay in Silicon Valley.

Recently, I also challenged Raul to raise some additional funds so he can meet the increased number of families his organization helps teach families to learn to become self-sufficient organic gardeners.  He raised $10,000.00 in total from other donors like the Kellogg and Packard Foundations. I decided to match that $10,000 because I am proud of what he’s done and what he is doing to nourish our families in need in Silicon Valley.  But I’d like to see the Silicon Valley tech industry do more.  I’m chRaul and Bayallenging my colleagues in the VC world, entrepreneurs and tech leaders to raise another $10,000 for this important cause.

If you’d like to donate or buy one of his gardening kits to help support Valley Verde and ensure our vulnerable populations are getting the nourishment they need and deserve, please visit his website at www.valleyverde.org.

A big thank you to Raul from all of us at Bay Partners for the important work he does for our community.  We are extremely proud to play our part!

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Meet Antti Rikkinen

April 6, 2016 - Author: admin

Many of you know that I started my career in sales.  Therefore, I have a special connection with the sales people of the world.  Antti Rikkinen, our third entrepreneur in the Neal’s Running Start program, is the founder of Zero Keyboard, and his company is setting out to make life easier for the hard-working, never-sleeping people in sales.

Zero Keyboard is a mobile app that allows people to enter data to Salesforce without typing. The user simply answers a ready-made set of questions with gestures, pictures and voice recording.  Then Zero Keyboard turns everything into readable explicit information in Salesforce.  If in my days as a sales rep, I could have simply spoke information into my phone and had all my CRM information completed, I would have probably closed more deals because of the saved time dealing with paperwork and data entry.  Moreover, everyone on my team would have had more comprehensive information about my customer interactions.  Filling out forms on the road is a real pain for sales people, so I saw the appeal of Zero Keyboard right away.

While this is Antti’s first time as a co-founder of a company, he is no stranger to putting himself out there, so to speak.  If you live in Finland, you might recognize him from the TV mini-series Toisen kanssa.  In addition to running a software company, Antti is also an actor in Finland, which probably makes him a fantastic sales person as well.  We will be filming most of the Neal’s Running Start program, and we’re lucky enough to already have a star who is camera-ready.  This should be fun!

Antti is from Helsinki where there has been an emerging tech start-up scene recently.  In fact, we have two entrepreneurs from Helsinki in this program.  I will be looking for Antti to expand his knowledge and experience beyond sales while he’s here.  I understand a little bit about that, so I’m looking forward to guiding him along that growth path.

For Antti, this is an opportunity to make important connections in Silicon Valley, including a partnership or alliance with Salesforce.

“Our product is obviously built to serve the Salesforce community,” said Antti.  “This opportunity to be so close to the heart of the tech industry, including the Salesforce headquarters, is important to our company.  I plan to make the most of the experience and pursue connections at Salesforce and beyond while I’m in San Francisco, and Neal’s expertise in my market brings a tremendous learning opportunity.”

Welcome, Antti! Twitter: @rikkinen

Antti

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Meet Mario Aguilera

March 31, 2016 - Author: admin

Mario Aguilera may currently reside in Helsinki, but he’s originally from Bolivia.  He first got the idea for a line of solar-powered back-packs from his days in the Bolivian army. While training with special forces, Mario and his unit would spend many days deployed in remote areas.  The only reason they had to return to base was to charge their equipment.  That’s when he began thinking about wearable technologies that could expand battery life.

Tespack provides a line of designer, wearable technology accessories, such as backpacks, that use solar energy to power devices like laptops and mobile phones.  Harnessing the natural energy of the sun, the Tespack wearables provide a continuous power source for devices and is built to withstand rugged outdoors and extreme weather conditions.  The company blends fashion with technology and military-grade endurance.

Designer wearable tech is something new for me, but I found Mario’s idea fascinating and certainly practical. My personal interest in this product is my ability to get lost on long trail runs or overnight hikes and have a wearable technology product keep my gear charged and ready to go. This product clearly presents an opportunity for large consumer markets. As a limited partner of True Ventures, who are the largest investors in Fitbit, this is an area I’m watching closely.

Mario has plenty of background in the clothing industry to support the sleek design of his products.  We may both be learning a few new things together, but I think the challenge for Mario will be focusing his growth potential when there are so many directions he could take this company.  That is a challenge I understand well, and I look forward to helping him make some smart growth decisions to push forward his smart wearables.

Mario already has a seed round of funding.  This trip will help him expand his contacts for the next round as well as make some important contacts in the manufacturing sector and in consumer products and retail sales here in Silicon Valley.

“Tespack has experienced rapid growth internationally, and with that growth comes big challenges such as manufacturing, design and distribution channels,” said Mario. “This opportunity comes at just the right time for my company, and I’m looking forward to high-impact learning with Neal on how to manage a high-growth consumer company.”

Welcome, Mario! Twitter: @aguileramario

Mario

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Meet the other Neal – Neal Oddens

March 22, 2016 - Author: admin

Well, this is going to be confusing.  One of our entrepreneurs is also named Neal.  Neal Oddens. He even spells his name the same way as I do.  Therefore, I have to choose a new name for him. Let’s call him Oddens for now to save confusion.

Oddens is CEO of IncreaseOnline, a company that uses analytics to help companies price and sell their digital media online. AdTech is something that is near and dear to my VC heart these days. I have several investments in AdTech companies, and it’s a space I think has tremendous potential.  That’s why I decided to bring Oddens to Neal’s Running Start.

I also like that this isn’t Oddens’ first rodeo.  He founded BandenConcurrent.nl, a Dutch e-commerce platform for tires. With growth of 1700% over 5 years, BandenConcurrent.nl has become a market leader and is now a popular household “go to website” for tires in the Netherlands.  I’m interested to see not only if he can do it again, but if he can take IncreaseOnline even further this time.

Oddens hails from Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities.  Lately, that city has been ripe with new internet talent, with the rise of incubators and communities like Appsterdam. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for IncreaseOnline and for entrepreneurship in Amsterdam. However, as progressive as the Dutch start-up scene is, there is still a largely conservative approach to company growth and investing in the Netherlands.  I’ve had a couple of angel investments there before, and I know the pros and the cons.  I hope we can give Oddens some real pointers for jumpstarting his company’s growth and taking back some of that wisdom to Amsterdam in May so he can pave an aggressive path to even greater success than he’s experienced in the past.

Oddens, like his namesake (me), agrees:

“While I’ve built a successful company before, I feel it’s time for the next level, ” said Oddens.  “I’m excited to spend time with Neal learning about how to build a company that reaches farther and grows bigger than I’ve ever managed before.  For that, I’m going to need a good mentor, and I’m so grateful Neal has chosen me to be part of this program.”

Welcome, Neal, or um, Oddens! Twitter: @nealoddens

Neal Oddens photo

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Meet Katherine Regnier

March 3, 2016 - Author: admin

KatherineI know you’re all curious about who made the cut for the Neal’s Running Start program and why.  So I wanted to profile our 4 winners before they join me in Silicon Valley on April 23.  I’ll introduce one entrepreneur each week on the blog, in alphabetical order by their company name.

Our first winner is Katherine Regnier.  Katherine comes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Harry Marshall first met her at Web Summit in Dublin last year and was so impressed, he made an introduction and asked me to consider her for the Running Start Program.

She founded a company called Coconut Calendar that allows customers to book appointments with businesses online. Now, you might be yawning at this, thinking this has been done. However, in 2015 Katherine saw an opportunity in the retail industry to introduce a white label calendaring product, which has garnered interest from some top name brands.

I like Katherine because of her drive.  I like her willingness to learn and pivot the company with her new knowledge. I’m impressed that she’s built a thriving company despite living so far away from any tech center, and that she has landed an impressive list of customers with no investment.  She has many of the characteristics I look for in phenomenal entrepreneurs.

Saskatoon is a long way literally and figuratively from Silicon Valley. I hope this time in Silicon Valley will be a fantastic opportunity for Katherine to network and experience first-hand how to drive a high-growth company with Silicon Valley aggressiveness while keeping her small city corporate values.  Besides me, I’m sure she’ll meet some mentors who can guide her when she needs it after returns to Canada.  I’m excited about the unique talents she’ll bring to the program.

And Katherine has her own goals for the trip:

“First and foremost, I’m grateful for Neal’s generosity in offering this truly unique opportunity. During this fast paced ride, I hope to learn as much as I can from the best in the business. Taking an idea and turning it into something grand is my passion, and with this opportunity I will be able to launch my business into new heights.”

Welcome, Katherine!

Twitter: @katregnier

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And the Winner Is…

January 27, 2016 - Author: admin

Well, the day is finally here. I’m ready to announce the winners of the Neal’s Running Start program. The decision process was much harder than I ever anticipated, as I had so many good candidates apply.

In fact, I had so many good candidates that I decided to change the rules a bit.  I originally planned to bring three entrepreneurs to San Francisco, but in the end, the applications were so strong, I decided to go with four winners instead.

Congratulations to the following entrepreneurs, in alphabetical order of their company names:

  • Neal Oddens is the CEO of IncreaseOnline, which is based in Amsterdam (Two Neals, so we’re going to have to have a nickname for you, Neal O. http://www.increaseonline.com
  • Antti Rikkien is the Co-Founder of Zero Keyboard, which is also coincidentally based in Helsinki – http://zerokeyboard.com/

All of these winners come from very different companies and backgrounds, which I think will make the whole experience more productive and interesting for everyone.  I chose all of them for specific reasons. In the next few weeks, I will do a blog post on each of them individually so you can all get to know them before they arrive in San Francisco this Spring.

I’d like to send out a big thank you to the White Bull conference in Barcelona who introduced me to some fine European entrepreneurs.  Two of the winners came through their introductions and assistance.  I hope to spend more time with White Bull this summer and Fall talking about the results of this adventure.

Congratulations to the winners, and I look forward to their adventures in San Francisco.  I’ll keep you posted as we get closer to their arrival.

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Onward to 2016

January 2, 2016 - Author: admin

Another year has passed, so like many of you, I’m reflecting on what went well, what didn’t and how I’d like to focus my time for 2016. As I review 2015, the events that brought me greatest joy stand out. Whether it was the IPO video blog series, or the Angel investment video series, or working with entrepreneurs and students at the University of Washington, I find that one theme has become clear to me – I am happiest when mentoring entrepreneurs.

With that in mind, a portion of 2016 will be include mentoring entrepreneurs in a more structured way.  In early January, I will announce 3 entrepreneurs who will join me in San Francisco for a month of intense mentorship.  I call it Neal’s Running Start. I’m bringing entrepreneurs from various corners of the world to Silicon Valley so they can learn more about Silicon Valley funding, strategies and ways of doing business. I won’t take equity in these companies or ask for a piece of the pie.  I’m merely committing time and energy to give them a running start with their businesses, because working with entrepreneurs feeds my soul.

I hope Harry Marshall will also be back in 2016 to help with the Running Start program.  Harry was the original mentee.  Though Harry is British, he is living in Spain and came to Bay Partners for three months to learn about the VC process.  He took his lessons back to Spain with him and totally changed how he operated his company.  Today, his company is thriving and growing faster than he anticipated.

His time with Bay Partners in 2013 was what really inspired me to start this program.  Harry is still a fellow with Bay Partners and has been an integral part of selecting new companies for angel investment consideration as well as selecting the final candidates for Neal’s Running Start.  Harry even came to our winery in Italy this autumn for the stomping of the grapes.  That mentorship experience has grown into an important collaboration for me, and I look forward to fostering more long-term relationships with entrepreneurs in the coming year.  Watching them grow and learn is a bit like watching your child grown up.  It’s exhilarating to feel part of their process.Vendemmia 2015 HarryVendemmia 2015 Neal

Certainly there were other successes to celebrate for Bay Partners.  We had two IPOs this year and we have two funds that are continuing to flourish and offer great returns.  Bay’s X and XI were once again ranked in the top quartile of the funds in their vintage by Cambridge Associates, and of course we are very proud of the results.  But even those results are the culmination of a lot of time spent with the founders of these companies and helping them find success through the highs and lows of running a company.

As we bring another year to a close, I’m excited for the year ahead and for the mentorship opportunities that await. I wish you all much joy, happiness and continued learning experiences in the year to come. I will continue to keep you updated here on the blog and hope you will share your thoughts and ideas as we go.

Happy new year, everyone!

 

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Angel Investment Series – Therapydia

November 18, 2015 - Author: admin

In my final installment for my angel investment series, I’m highlighting Therapydia. I invested in Therapydia a while back, but I didn’t truly appreciate what a great service it is until I was injured earlier this year while running the Boston Marathon.  Since then, I’ve been in physical therapy trying to get back to my regular running routine. Therapydia is upending physical therapy to focus on overall wellness.

This angel series is wrapping up as I also finalize my search for three entrepreneurs to join me in San Francisco for Neal’s Running Start program.  I’ll spend a month with three entrepreneurs helping them overcome challenges and push towards goals.  I’ll be making my final selections by November 27, so if you haven’t submitted and you’re interested, get in touch fast. You can get more information by emailing me at nealrunningstart@gmail.com.

Here is a look at my work with Therapydia.  And I’m not just an investor, I’m a client as you’ll see in the video.

And here’s a look at the entire series in case you missed it:

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Angel Investment Series – AdStage

October 27, 2015 - Author: admin

Continuing our series highlighting some of the companies I work with as an Angel Investor, today I’m introducing AdStage.  AdStage is a San Francisco start-up that provides a platform for deploying and managing ads across multiple online networks.  They’re a young company doing great stuff and an example of the kind of entrepreneurs I like to mentor.

If you haven’t heard already, I’m offering the opportunity for 3 entrepreneurs to come to San Francisco and spend a month with me.  My goal is to help these companies get a running start.  I call it Neal’s Running Start.  I’ll work with you like I work with the companies in this series and help you overcome challenges preventing you from moving to the next level.

Companies who are interested can submit a pitch deck at www.pitchdecks.org, or email me at nealrunningstart@gmail.com.  If you’re going to be at Web Summit in Dublin next week, give me a shout and we can meet there.

In the meantime, enjoy this short video on AdStage.

And you can view the entire series here.

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