Jump into Bin 38: Founder Books

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Anyone remember the Bin 38 debacle? Well this is not anywhere near as interesting. Daniel Debow and a group of startup CEOs had dinner last week. They each shared their must read books for founders. Daniel shared the list on Facebook.

  1. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days
  2. The Art Of The Start
  3. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk
  4. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers

  5. Guanxi (The Art of Relationships): Microsoft, China, and Bill Gates’s Plan to Win the Road Ahead
  6. ZAG: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands
  7. The Difference Between God And Larry Ellison: *God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison
  8. Who: The A Method for Hiring
  9. Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions
  10. The Sciences of the Artificial
  11. I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59
  12. SPIN Selling
  13. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  14. The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business
  15. The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
  16. Predictably Irrational Revised And Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
  17. Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy
  18. Crossing The Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers
  19. Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs
  20. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
  21. The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Startups that Win
  22. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
  23. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

What books do you think are essential for startup founders to read?

Comments on Hacker News

The gale of Creative Destruction at University of Toronto

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University’s play a role in startup communities. Brad Feld’s Boulder Thesis (and I bring it up because he is coming to Toronto on October 30th) says that the people that attend and work at the university are the most important contribution to the startup community a university can make. The institutional components (labs, programs, and technology transfer offices) are less important according to Feld and when they are done wrong they are more damaging than helpful to startups.

In Toronto you have a number of schools to feed the community; Ryerson, George Brown, York, OCAD, Sheridan, and of course the University of Toronto.

The University of Toronto is the top ranked school in Canada and around the top 20 mark globally according to various rankings. As one of the oldest institutes of higher learning in Canada where some of the proudest scientific discoveries in the country’s history have been made (Insulin, stem cells, etc) there is a lot to talk about in terms of research. It is 21st globally in engineering and computer science yet it feels like it is hardly part of the conversation with regards to the startup community in Canada. That should be ok, they are a feeder to the community as Brad Feld defines it. I disagree with it being ok. I believe if there is a lack on entrepreneurial activity on campus that campus likely does not feed the community anywhere close to its potential.

Beyond those that would feed the community there are many potential leaders on the campus from faculty (many have founded companies and had exits) to students that are confined by the silos that naturally occur in large institutions. Outsiders might point to MaRS as the main effort related to the university, it’s not, although it certainly has helped. There are a load of new programs that are working on building entrepreneurial culture on campus. The following is a non-comprehensive list:

  • Hatchery – The Entrepreneurship Hatchery is a hothouse for the best ideas of entrepreneurial undergraduate engineers.
  • UofT Hackers – a community of University of Toronto students who build great products.
  • Techno – “the flagship event of the IOS’s entrepreneurship education program, which also includes year-round programming for physical sciences and engineering students, faculty, and alumni at the University of Toronto.” This program has some amazing science focused companies.
  • Techna – “to shorten the time interval from technology discovery and development to application of such technologies for the benefit of patients and the health care system, and to facilitate the convergence of basic investigation, technology development and translational research”
  • UTEST – recently announcing it’s first cohort, UTEST “provides nascent software companies with start-up funding, work space, mentoring and business strategy support.”
  • Creative Destruction Lab at Rotman – Is focused on helping people build massively scalable companies. Folks like Nigel Stokes, Dan Debow, Dan Shimmerman, Tomi Poutanen, Dennis Bennie, Nick Koudas.

All of these programs represent a positive focus on entrepreneurship and commercialization that is gaining momentum. The last one, Creative Destruction Lab, is particularly interesting (disclaimer, I am involved there) because it is located in the Rotman School of Management and is being designed to build a bridge across the silos as well as into the Toronto startup community. It also hosted a DemoCamp event at Rotman for the University community that attracted over 300 people (two thirds engineers) and 44 people applied to present in September. More are being planned and applications to be part of the lab program itself are open to all UofT students and Alumni until October 14th.

As the entrepreneurial momentum builds on the University of Toronto campus I believe it will fill one of the gaps that currently exists in Toronto’s startup community by both educating students that feed the community and attracting faculty (and their spouses) from abroad that could be globally connected leaders in the community.


Brokers, Smokers and Midnight Tokers

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In the past couple of days, I have seen a few emails from what could be best called funding brokers. They “facilitate” deals between early stage companies and potential investors. All for a consulting fee, usually for a percentage of the amount of funding raised. They have connections to high net worth angel investors and relationships with venture capitalists. Typically the fees and the engagement are model on investment banking particularly as related to later stage M&A deals.

It’s not a surprise. It’s a well established model. The Lehman model (we all know how well Lehman Brothers worked out for the rest of us) is 5% on the first $1MM raised, 4% on the second $1MM, 3% on the third $1MM, and 1% for capital above $4MM. It changes with equity versus debt financing, reducing to a 0.5-2% fee on debt rounds.

And particularly in later stage deals and M&A it is probably more accepted (acceptable?). In the transaction there are 3 potential parties:

  • Startup
  • Funder
  • Broker/Finder

Typically the person contracting the broker pays the fees. This means that it’s either the VC paying the fee, but if you are the startup it means that you’re paying the fee. And that fee is either increasing your dilution or decreasing the amount of the round. You can look at it as just paying fees like you pay your accountant or lawyer.But why, oh, why are you willing to give up chunks of your company this early to do things you are capable of doing yourself.

What does a VC think about brokers/finders?

Jason Mendelson published his take on “finders” back in 2007:

“Most venture firms don’t like the idea of brokers being involved and most venture financing documents have a clause that the company warrants that there are no brokers involved. Remember, the company’s money that is paying the broker is, in fact, the VC’s money that they invest in you.”

Jason continues “good VCs have plenty of proprietary deal flow, so they aren’t relying on brokers to show them deals”. If you can’t get in front the right investors, you are probably doing it wrong. There are a very limited set of high tech, emerging business model, high potential growth investors in Canada. Need a ‘show me the money’ list? There are other ways to raise your profile as a startup and get in front of investors. Andy Yang wrote a great piece about getting the most out of AngelList as a startup. If these channels aren’t working for you, you might want to go back and ask yourself is it the funders or is it me? What do I need to do to make my company more attractive to potential investors? Customer development? Product development? Etc.

How do you spell MBA?

We love to heckle MBAs, mostly because we’re all jealous that we don’t have one. But is it a requirement to raise funding.

“On the other hand, skills i bet won’t be important as much in the future:

  • having (only) a big rolodex or (offline) network
  • having a traditional MBA or investment banking background

Both of these are still important, but will become commoditized and marginalized by the availability of such information from online systems for social networks & reputation, and by the relentless advance of access to capital from a variety of channels.” – Dave McClure

No one is arguing that brokers shouldn’t get paid. The model is relevant. People work hard to build trust, reputation, networks and knowledge. With later stage deals the relationship, private placements, increased valuations, connections with CEOs and funders, it makes sense. But as Dave McClure rightly points out the value of the specific skills are changing. Particularly at the very earliest stage.

There is a great discussion on OnStartups about the finder’s fees. You can see the tension between entrepreneurs and investment bankers.

Social Anti-Proof

I don’t like finder’s fees for early investment rounds. Whether you call that seed and series A, I don’t know. I just don’t like seeing that capital taken out of the hands of the entrepreneur from operations. So just don’t do it.

As the company matures, the existing investment banking model doesn’t feel wrong. Many of the relationships, matchmaking, guidance feels like something you pay for, only after the deal closes. I feel like really early stage companies that have hired a broker must be broken, i.e., there must be something fundamentally wrong with the  team, the market, the advisors, etc. if they are unable that might explain why they are having difficulty raising an early round.

So it’s very wrong early. Ok later.