Entrepreneurship a Long Slog?

Entrepreneurship a Long Slog?

I recently ran one of those races that peppers obstacles and fear-inducing challenges throughout the course. One of those was the Muddy Mile, a long slog through waist-deep mud. The pit was wide enough for several people abreast, which gave cause for some funny moments. While most of us runners kept to the highest ground possible—which meant that we formed into a slowly moving line that snaked its way through the muck, a few brave and impatient souls tried to skip the line by running along side us through the untested mud. Without fail every one of these hit a deep pocket and promptly vanished from view as the sludge completely engulfed them. But those of us who stayed with the impromptu team could see from the people ahead how deep the mud was at those spots, and thus chart a good course. Reflecting on this muddy run experience caused me to think about the doom and gloom that has been in recent media outlets. It seems that the press increasingly views entrepreneurship and business creation as a long slog through icky mud with unexpected pits. Spectacular drops in stock prices like LinkedIn and Tableau caused reverberations across high tech, and SaaS valuations in general have now dropped 57%. The word “unicorn” now has a mixed reputation. And the fund raising environment seems to be tougher. So shouldn’t an entrepreneur expect a long slog right now, a seemingly hopeless journey of bootstrapping and organic growth? A Muddy Mile with hidden pits that will swallow them whole? No. This is the best time to start a business and get into... read more
The Beautiful Madness of March & Majerus

The Beautiful Madness of March & Majerus

March Madness is on!  Such a great time to enjoy college hoops, the powerhouse schools and the Cinderella underdogs.  I was reminded recently that few experiences prepared me more for startup life than my time 18 years ago as a college basketball walk-on and before the 1998 NCAA tournament. Last month I was in Phoenix, Arizona, for a board meeting.  The night before, at an evening EdTech meet-up hosted by CampusLogic, from the corner of my eye I caught what appeared to be an old teammate from my days playing basketball at the University of Utah.  “Tony? Nah,” I thought, but naturally I had to find out.  Sure enough, it was, in fact, an old acquaintance and talented teammate from more than a decade and a half earlier. We chatted for a few hours that evening and I was drawn back to stories and memories from my time around a legendary coach and remarkable team.  With March Madness descending upon thousands of us basketball junkies, here’s a reflection back to one of the many lessons learned on the court. Being a walk-on athlete coached by Rick Majerus left no room for a half-hearted effort.  And the result was special…   Basketball walk-ons, by design, have to fight for their place.  During tryouts it was an all-out battle to scrap for the ball, defend relentlessly, and hopefully sink a few buckets.  For me they also turned out to be a good excuse to remove the studs in my newly pierced ears (yes, my hallmarks of the 90s and college freshmanhood).  It’s a long-shot, maybe a crapshoot, to make the team... read more
Aim High and Ride a Giant

Aim High and Ride a Giant

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton Recently visualcapitalist.com published a chart showing the 12 apps that have more than a billion monthly active users. The authors point out that these apps are clustered into three companies, that timelines are shrinking, and that mobile is driving rapid adoption. Cool! But what does this mean for all the rest of us? I think it means to aim high and ride a giant. Aim high means lift your sights. We entrepreneurs (and investors in such) of the world believe that wildly optimistic and seemingly impossible things can be achieved. Sometimes the only evidence we need to launch a dream is the knowledge that someone else has done it, too. So if you are developing an app, my question to you is ‘What is your goal?’ Specifically, how many concurrent users will you have? How about a billion. Is this unreasonable? 12 other companies have achieved it, so why can’t you? Sure, reality is hard, and we are more likely to be disappointed then successful—but if you aim for the moon, you’re likely to hit the mountain top; aim for the mountain top and you’re likely to hit the trees; aim for the trees and you’ll probably fall on your face. You’ll probably never hit the mountain top unless you aim at the moon, so aim high. Ride a giant means to make a gargantuan and growing business a winner because of what you do—and then let them carry you forward into the market. Look at the chart and notice that... read more

The Flavors of Utah Venture Capital

This past week I spoke with a friend in New York City who was fascinated with the impressive growth of Utah’s tech companies, but (like many) was unfamiliar with how the venture scene has helped shape them. Those of us with roots in Utah tech are proud of what’s happening and can point to a time when things were different. You know: “Why, when I was raising money back in the early 2000s…” My friend is not unfamiliar with Utah or its people, so he understands some of the generally accepted reasons Utah is gaining momentum. The questions he posited to me were, “Who is funding these companies? What’s the venture scene in the state?” Similar questions hit me nearly four years ago, a few years before I ultimately made a career shift from full-time operator to VC. I remember a phone call I made from a Sheraton hotel room in the Winter of 2011. My startup had exited just months prior and this was a visit to our new HQ to get to know members of the new [larger] team. I called a long-time friend, and now my partner at Peak Ventures, to shoot the breeze. His business was growing well and he had started angel investing in the state. I was jealous- for many tech founders, the notion of backing the next generation of builders is 2nd only to the excitement that comes from building yourself. And, Jeff and I had a commonly-held belief that investing in the state was still in its infancy. Neither of us had found a perfect investor fit in-state. He had bootstrapped... read more
Backing a Great Entrepreneur / Person … and Helping His Shark Tank Dreams Happen

Backing a Great Entrepreneur / Person … and Helping His Shark Tank Dreams Happen

I’m not a hater. I always try to look on the bright side. Hands down, I’m an optimist. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur if you are not. Cynicism may be a way of life for some, even a sport for others in this always highly connected but too often low touch world. But, in my opinion there is nothing noble about being cynical. Anyone can do it, it doesn’t take much effort and in my experience it rarely leads to victory. Therefore I am an entrepreneur and venture capitalist that likes ABC’s hit reality show Shark Tank. Because I try to look for the good in it, not the bad. Shark tank can help to promote positive aspirations in people while educating a little, around the edges. However, is Shark Tank indicative of life as an entrepreneur? Not really. Is it reality? NO! No five minute snippet on TV can even begin to tell a tiny part of the multiple year saga that starting most companies entails. Is it reality TV? Yes! Is it story-telling with slivers of truth in order to make money and sell a product? Yes and Yes! Indulge me a little… It is a bit ironic and then in another way, totally not, that the sharks are being entrepreneurs themselves and filling a market with robust demand by promoting an even less than half-baked view of what entrepreneurship really is through the show. I trust that they know this themselves, through their own experiences as successful entrepreneurs. And speaking firsthand… I enjoyed my 10 minute plus conversation with Marc Cuban, that got whittled down... read more

Advantages of Being an Underdog: The Top 3 Qualities I Look for in an Entrepreneur

One thing that really gets me fired up is feeling like I’m an underdog.  I’ve felt this way most of my life, actually, regardless of the successes that may have come.  I need challenge.  I enjoy the fight.  Without a battle the wind goes out of my sails, and so sometimes I even create tension just to experience that positive conflict that helps my passions rise.  Reflecting on why being the underdog is so important to me, I’ve found that there are three fundamental qualities that an underdog develops in the quest for victory:  the will to win, the ability to lead and rally a team, and big vision.  These qualities have been essential to me on my own journey of entrepreneurship.  And therefore are the qualities I look for when investing.  Let me share with you what each of them means to me.  First, though, a bit of context. This is me as a high school basketball player.  At 5’8″ and 165 lbs. I felt like an underdog in every game.  This is Scott Pollard, 6’11” and 278 lbs., who you see here blocking Shaq (Scott is that big).  I played against Scott in high school, and remember one particularly painful moment when he dunked all over me.  As he landed, pounded his chest, and screamed in victory to the crowd, I remember feeling small and insignificant.  Nothing that I could have done would have blocked that dunk.  Sometimes you aren’t built to win, or at least it appears that way.  But if you are an underdog you have to find a way.  You’ve got to hustle and... read more

The Single Truth in Startups

A decade ago I embarked on the daily grind of the startup.  My company, Zinch (since acquired by Chegg— NYSE: CHGG), was hell-bent to change the way universities connected with high school students.  We aimed to bring ease and simplicity to a market filled with ignorance and complexity.  With visions of the impact we could have on millions of people who could discover the best university for their interests and potential, my co-founders and I sought advice and capital from the supporting system that prevailed in that day.  How different the startup world was back then!  Do you remember business plans (oh, the pain!)?  And how many hoops you had to jump through to raise capital?   Accelerators weren’t yet widespread  (Y Combinator debuted in ’05, Techstars in ’06, and in our state local accelerator BoomStartup didn’t start until 2010), venture capital under management was half of what it is today ($28B invested in 2006 vs. $65B in 2014), and the advice given to us seemed so formulaic (“Write a business plan, go win a competition, give away the majority of your company to us, follow only known pathways, and let us govern your operations from our perch on high!”).  Said another way, the journey of a startup was more arduous, less informed, and had both fewer mentors and capital support.  But at the time, it was hard to have this perspective, because being an entrepreneur, leaning forward, being face-down in the grind…I believed that the people in the know knew truth–that the formula for success would work–and who was I (young & inexperienced) to believe otherwise? Now fast forward... read more

A Powerful Lesson for Fathers-to-Be in a Startup

Last Friday at 3 am, baby Evie was born strong and healthy to the delight of her parents. Her father is a founder of one of Peak Ventures’ portfolio companies. Her mother is now a Mom of both baby and startup. The parallels between birthing a baby and a startup are rich and have been explored by many writers before. They are momentous times filled with excitement and dreams and trepidation! But I’m going to skip the usual metaphors in order to share with you a more personal and meaningful story. You see, the most critical role for me is also the one that ironically receives the least attention. It’s the mother! As a father of eight (four children and four startups), I had hoped that the lessons learned from one child to the next would be retained and improved upon, and ultimately lead me to a state of Leave It to Beaver-like parenting perfection. In reality, however, each child is unique, as are the challenges they bring. Responsibilities compound and distract, and frequently lead me to feeling unsettled and overwhelmed. You fellow entrepreneurs out there who have felt the low moments when your business and/or your marriages are reaching the breaking point know what I mean. These are hard times filled with tears and anxiety and confusion! Fortunately for me, I had mentors along the way who brought needed perspective through timely and spot-on advice when I needed it the most, and helped me to take care of the most important person for both my startup and growing company. Here’s a reflection on a few of those mentors,... read more

An Introspective Look Back: Peak Ventures Year 1

How do you celebrate your birthday?  It used to be cake, music and parties for me.  Now I prefer quieter and slower moments of reflection to look back and think about people I care about and the things we have accomplished together. During these moments I also account for the hard lessons learned in order to make sure I don’t lose the valuable impact people and experiences with them, have had on me.  A month or so ago, we celebrated the first birthday of Peak Ventures, the official closing of Fund 1.  I wish I could somehow give you cake and presents!  But in the spirit of reflection, here is something that’s hopefully useful:  some lessons further internalized & memories from our first year together. First, some background. Peak Ventures began on a solid foundation, namely 21 investments in what we now call ‘Fund 0’ that were made beginning in 2009–all in preparation for the raise of our official Fund 1. These deals have yielded great returns and are a testament to the strength of Utah entrepreneurship. A byproduct of this success is the lessons learned backing tech founders, including insights into governance, the types of entrepreneurs we love to back, raising rounds & exiting. The returns–coupled with the solid year-over-year performance of Peak Capital Partners–pushed us to formalize our venture activity in Peak Ventures. These combined forces made the road-show for Peak Ventures fun and effective, helping us to raise $23M in commitments within a matter of weeks. Utah seems to be a magnet for remarkable people finding their way back to the state and leaning in, and... read more

Never Make These 4 Startup Mistakes

In September of 2011, alone in Copenhagen after a full day at an industry conference, I sat in my hotel room on the phone with my good friend Anne Dwane. She was the CEO of our company, Zinch. For weeks we had debated whether to sign a term sheet for a series C venture financing or to sell the company, and this call was the news that our decision to sell was complete. Anne delivered it in her own style: factual, brief, and with a simple congratulations. It was all the call needed. I hung up the phone, paused for a minute, and then burst into tears. I didn’t know why I cried, but it was probably something between joy and cathartic relief. In those moments I experienced an overarching reflection on the 5 years of struggle to launch and build Zinch, the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the abject failures. As I looked in the mirror, so to speak, on my life, and who I had become, I realized that somewhere amid all of the good decisions, my bad decisions and mistakes had profound impact on me and my team. I want to share four of these mistakes with you, and I’m going to try to avoid the tactic of thinly veiling one’s strengths as weakness (you know what I’m talking about: the interview in which you’re asked about your weakness and out comes “I’m impatient for great results” or “I’m hard on my team and sometimes push too much towards success”).   No self-complimenting here. This will be raw Sid, mistakes exposed in all their ugly... read more
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Welcome to the Peak Ventures blog.

Through our blog, we aim to give you an idea of what we're thinking about, what our companies are up to, and the issues we face in the industry. We hope you'll join the conversation!