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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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.  ...
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