Improve Our Tech “Ecosystem” By Eliminating It From Our Rhetoric

I live in Utah, a state where 90% of what you find in the growing tech scene is fabulous: a strong pool of talent, willingness to delay gratification, and founding teams that think big. And my friends who’ve come from other states/countries and who’ve decided to lay roots here agree—we’ve got a lot going. Period. But not end of story. For us, there’s room to improve if measurable startup outcomes (or at least progress) are a priority. The principle of focusing on outcomes vs. activities was shared with me early in my startup by an investor and now friend & mentor, Chris Michel. Applying this within your startup is critical and, I’ve found, applying the same principles with external parties to your startup is just as critical. This world consisting of startups and the numerous (and growing) interested-in-startups parties is often referred to as the “ecosystem.” Looking back, I don’t think I ever used this term during my time as an entrepreneur. I only started noticing it when I moved to the investor side of the table. Now, ask any Utah investor or local talking head on our startup scene and they’ll inevitably use the word ecosystem. At first I played along, as it sounded nice, evoked images of squirrels and muskrats and plankton, and seemed to denote that we were all for one and one for all.   But then I noticed that many who spoke of the ecosystem seemed to be focused on that, sometimes, instead of building a successful service/product. For someone providing a service to entrepreneurs, that’s just fine. And it makes sense—build your network, work the... read more

Five Things to Expect From Your Seed Investor

It’s been nearly 8 years since I raised my last seed round and 1 year since I led my first seed investment. In both cases, the entrepreneurs were in their twenties, the businesses had interesting traction… and the companies faced some intense challenges. As an entrepreneur I can look back and draw a bit from those experiences, and now as I wear the investor’s hat I appreciate anew those challenges because I see the critical role seed investors play in backstopping founders solving big problems. What should an entrepreneur expect from their seed investor? Here’s what hits home for me, in no particular order: Safe conversations and tough love. I’ve never understood the posturing that occurs by founders to their investors–especially in board meetings. Summarizing events since the last board meeting or investor update would be ok if founders needed their backers to only serve as an audience…but in reality, they need to help move big rocks! So let’s talk less and spend more time finding the right leverage to lift those rocks. This means we have to talk and identify the obstacles, which requires trust and working through our discomfort in talking about sensitive problems. You get the idea. Maybe with partners, customers and all other external stakeholders, some level of puffing is to be expected, but with your investor partner, get to a “safe” zone early and often.  At the same time, your investor should not be a pushover—and you shouldn’t be looking for one. Presumably, when you raised, you did so knowing that you had blind spots and that new minds with and occasional muscle to... read more

Backing Degreed’s mission to jailbreak the degree

It’s a good night when you can enjoy college basketball at its best alongside friends. It’s a great night when you’re enjoying the game alongside friends like Chris McCarthy and others with whom I’ve worked alongside building businesses at Zinch, Chegg, & now Degreed. Yesterday, Degreed announced a series A raise led by Signal Peak Ventures in which we at Peak Ventures also participated; we are delighted to be one of the investors backing this amazing team. Here’s why: Vision: Degreed is redefining how we measure and think of learning. I met David Blake, founder and CEO of Degreed, in 2008 when he joined our founding team at Zinch. We set out to change how colleges viewed students-this was only a starting point for Dave. As he perfectly explained today to an audience at the ASU+GSV Summit, he has long held an interest in how we measure learning and education. That interest grew into a passion that has blossomed into an obsession. Simply put, whereas most of us default to where we went to college or what we majored in, one’s education is more completely captured over time by not only what we learn in a formal setting, but informally and through our experiences. Enter Degreed and their vision: “Jailbreaking the Degree.” + Execution: Dave’s vision for education is playing out after a gritty persistence that endears anyone familiar with Degreed’s history. Sometimes getting to execution is just a patient journey dotted with sacrifice. It’s hanging on long enough to find the right complementary pieces and partners. It’s finding the leverage in the business, and business model, that takes... read more

Our Investment in ObservePoint

Today, John Pestana and Rob Seolas announced a series A raise for their latest venture, ObservePoint.  Peak Ventures is proud to back these innovators in tech alongside Pelion Venture Partners.  Johnny P is a close friend, and in addition to enjoying the camaraderie as entrepreneurs across the board table, I equally enjoy spending time with him outside of building our businesses.  For Peak Ventures, backing entrepreneurs like John and Rob is a clear decision due to the caliber of people they have attracted, the size of opportunity they are tackling, and the meaningful traction they have achieved at Observe Point. Some have asked me to clarify Peak Ventures’ investment thesis, questioning whether we consider ourselves seed investors. To that end, and in the context of our investment in ObservePoint, here are some thoughts…. People first, so we double down on the individual(s).  When you meet with the Peak Ventures team, we’ll be as interested in learning about you as we are the nuts and bolts of your company. In fact, our most important data points are about you personally— how you came to your idea, what you did before, and your commitment to seeing it succeed. This provides the foundation of our investment thesis. By comparison, when it comes to the founder of ObservePoint, we’ve seen him lay the foundation, erect the walls, build-out the home, and sell it at an amazing return! Of course, I’m referring to Omniture. Part of the investment thesis in ObservePoint is simply doubling down on a proven tech leader in Utah. Lessons learned over the last decade of personal investing.  At a recent event, I was surprised when someone commented that... read more

Our investment in Molio

Earlier this month, Molio announced a $3M raise, in which we participated alongside Greycroft Partners, True Ventures, Subtraction Capital, and Advancit Capital.   For those of us in Utah, or for those anywhere who have enjoyed the commercial success of Orabrush on Youtube, it’s exciting to now see the team, led by Jeff Davis, building tools that capture some of the genius of Orabrush and scale it to other products and services. There are a few themes to Molio that are part of why we backed the team and are believers in their business: Top talent converging in Utah: Jeff and his partners, Scott and Brent, represent what is happening along the Wasatch front– talented individuals who have decided on joining a startup in Utah.  10 years ago one or any of the three of these guys would likely not have been here.  Joining a startup?  Yes.  Tackling a big opportunity?  Yes.  But plotting themselves at the point of the mountain between Draper and Lehi?  Not likely. Online to offline:  pardon the buzzword(s)… but this is where the business gets really interesting.  Molio’s technology and ability to hyper-customize video marketing campaigns will, with time, drive measurable sales to retail brick & mortar locations.  When you consider what this means for some of the large chains alone, the ROI potential in video marketing is dramatically changed from how most measure it today. Finally, if you get the chance to stop by Molio hq, check out what Brent did with the room signage throughout their space... read more

StartSLC– a showcase for startups and the startup covering them

Make no mistake, Beehive Startups is one of Utah’s most active and interesting startups. Over the last few days in particular, amid the energy surrounding StartSLC, I couldn’t help but marvel that it was a startup making this all happen. How appropriate—the very company backing hustlers was doing it by pulling off a monumental effort of hustle. So I started walking through how I would view Beehive as I would one of the startups that we meet. There’s lots of ways to assess early-stage companies and they all end up as permutations or variations of one another. We like to look at companies by what we call internally “the five t’s.” Here they are and here’s how Beehive stacks up on theirs: Team. Clint Betts is scrappy, thoughtful, and a man on a mission. He’s also got the quality that is hard to put your finger on—one who doesn’t need to get in the last word and yet always makes a statement. Silent assassin was a description used by someone (Skonnard?) last week that may describe Clint best. Simply put, he’s a budding entrepreneur who is unequivocally adding value to the constituents he serves. What’s more, he rallied great people and if you paid attention, they not only put in the hours that you expect from a startup, but they did it with the level of execution and excellence that had to happen for it to work like it did. 10X. This is a function of the problem and size of market. Beehive isn’t slowing down and has meaningfully grown from a consistent and well-written blog to something much more.  ... read more

Our investment in Marketware

Bryce Bartel is leading a great team at Marketware and we’re proud to be backing the team and mission alongside Epic Ventures. Healthcare providers will have to continue to improve how they operate as a business or they, like individual universities or financial institutions, will suffer or simply go away.  The increasing expectation from consumers, whether they are patients, students or someone banking with you, is creating real winners and losers in each of these industries.   Marketware gives medical centers greater control over the health of their business through insight into customer comings and goings and the associated relevant data. Consider this scenario… when was the last time you were referred from your doctor or dentist to a specialist?  5 years ago I was personally caught up in a flurry of discussions happening with doctors in Salt Lake City, Boston, and London.  Our youngest daughter was born with some unique medical conditions and the question of who was best to assess and care for her needs went largely unanswered.  Long story short we put in the time needed to determine the best care for her/us and came away realizing we couldn’t just expect things to move along in this process without a conscious effort from the people affected most. What most of us, including me before our daughter, probably don’t think of, and what most health organizations don’t commonly track, is that process– thinking through a physician referral and the rhyme and reason to it (or if it exists at all).  What hospitals and consumers are realizing is that gone are the days when these things can be left to... read more

Our Investment in Tute Genomics

I’ve always been super passionate about early-stage startup companies that can change the world, and I believe one of those companies is Tute Genomics.  I remember the first time I was exposed to Reid and what he envisioned to do with Tute.  He had created the world’s biggest genomics database and coupled it with the software to use it that was six times faster than anything else.  This would bring personalized insight into medicine, and customized products made right for the individual.  This could change the world!  It was at a pitch meeting with several investor groups and I immediately raised my hand and exclaimed, “I’m in!” That was the first time we invested and now Peak Ventures Fund I is doubling down. Reid has proven himself to be just the type of entrepreneur that we love to back:  He’s scrappy and determined to change life for the better for millions of people–and audacious enough to believe he can do it.  Our thesis is that Tute Genomics’ technology + many vertical segment opportunities + market momentum + inspiring leadership + the Peak Ventures team = 10x... read more

Our investment in Creditera

I’ve cited the ripple effect that can come from a single startup.  One of my earliest mentors is Levi King and I’m delighted that we’re investing in Levi and Caton’s company, Creditera, along with KPCB in this series A round.  Creditera is hitting a real painpoint for small businesses by making business credit more transparent for business owners. Levi had an early impact on me personally and my path in entrepreneurship.  I recall early in my career in sales watching VHS tape recordings of Levi.   He has a sales style that immediately draws out the respect of his audience.   He would later provide funding and mentorship to the team at my last startup, Zinch.   We’ve invested in each other’s efforts with time and capital and the investment in Creditera is an extension of this relationship, not to mention our team being geeked about his business. Just as understanding one’s personal credit has come to the forefront of household finance, so too business credit will increasingly matter.  In the world of tech startups, this may be less apparent, as many of us had little personal or business credit to speak of and never really entertained debt as a financing option.  However, talk to a broader base of business owners and you’ll quickly find out that their growth can be influenced by business credit, or lack thereof.  Opening a new restaurant location and making capital improvements are a few examples of when this matters. Creditera has created an intuitive interface that bubbles up the most important data and makes it actionable.   Opportunities in the marketplace for your business can come... read more

Choosing a Good Partner

Context The Fall of 2007 at our startup had a rough patch and was summarized by sitting down with a portion of our team and announcing that we couldn’t make payroll.  We gave options and, credit to some real camaraderie that had been established, only one person decided to leave.  These times stink and is typically when you need more experienced and wiser folks to lend support.  Unfortunately, we lacked investor support at this time, which made things even trickier.  But this was a major lesson in choosing a good partner, especially in the early-goings of your startup.  Here’s why… Backstory Just months earlier, we were the startup darling and had the attention of many early stage and angel investors.  We had won multiple competitions, built a formidable team, and our management team had at least $25K personally in the deal.  After many pitches and meetings, we took investment from several (more than eight I believe) angel investors loosely organized through a local angel group.  Everyone was high on our business and it seemed there was no course but “up and to the right.” In spite of our excellent start, just months later I found myself cutting checks to each of our angel investors (plus 10% on their money), buying out their stake in our business, and moving on. What went wrong? In hindsight, we could have spent less,  attracted more users, and been more decisive.  There is a reason that investors tell you it will take twice as long and cost twice as much after all– they’ve seen that story many times before. At Zinch, we were no exception to this rule.  It wasn’t so much that... 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!