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

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
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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!