Women in Tech

A list of the Best Cities for Women in Tech just came out, and the showing for Florida cities was embarrassing.   Out of 54 total cities making the list, only one Florida city, Jacksonville, made the list at #53.  According to this survey based upon 2010-2013 US Census data for Jacksonville, women filled just 26% of tech jobs, women in tech earned a median after housing cost of $39,463, 3-year employment growth in tech jobs was -12% (yes, negative), and women earned just 74.3% of their male counterparts.  Congratulations Jacksonville, but boo for Florida as a whole.  I’ve included the full list at the bottom of this post.

We can do better.  We need to do better or risk falling behind as other states and countries figure out how to harness the impact of their female innovators.  It starts early.

I’ll admit, I’m biased.  I have venture-backed multiple amazing female tech entrepreneurs and I have two young daughters who love tech.  In fact, my 11th-grader Delaney was recently selected for a Fellowship by Stanford-based she++, an organization focused on this specific problem/opportunity.  As part of that Fellowship, Delaney kicked off a regional Women in Tech Speaker Series to inspire middle/high school girls and launched The Women in Tech android app to share role model videos to other girls interested in tech worldwide — and ultimately create a peer community to help & push each other in tech.  She’s trying to win a trip to the she++ #include conference in Silicon Valley, to meet female leaders at Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others.  I love it; she++ and similar organizations are having a valuable impact on girls like Delaney across the country.  But, we need more.

So, checkout the she++ Documentary, Good Girls Gone Geek below, download the Women in Tech app (warning: alpha/beta MVP version) and let me know other great efforts you’ve seen on this topic across Florida and the Southeast.  I’d like to highlight them here.

Best Cities for Women in Tech

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Pitch 6: SharkTank Near the Shark Attacks Capital of the World

Just an hour from New Smyrna Beach, home to the most shark attacks in the world, entrepreneurs are honing their pitch in Orlando for Pitch6, Florida’s version of the nationally popular spectacle that is Shark Tank.  FloridaNext and Brighthouse have partnered on a series of Pitch6 events across Central Florida and tomorrow night it’s Orlando’s turn.  The event requires registration and is scheduled to start at 5pm, March 5th, in the Church Street Station Ballroom.

If you’re a fan of Shark Tank, a Florida entrepreneur, or just enjoy watching entrepreneurs spar with investors in a TV audience setting; you should consider attending.  I’ll be one of the judges, along with Kevin Harrington from the original Shark Tank, and we’ll have a couple other investors that I look forward to meeting.  You can see Kevin’s call for a live audience above.  I’ve also included some video with cheesy voiceovers from a prior Pitch6 in the Tampa Bay area, and some fun Shark Tank videos below.  If you join us, make sure to grab me after the show to say hi and tell me all the tough questions I should have asked 😉

Pasteuria Bioscience Acquired by Syngenta for $113M

Pasteuria BioscienceCongratulations to the management and investors of Pasteuria Bioscience on announcing their acquisition by Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta (SYG) for $86 million, plus another $27M earnout. The acquisition of Pasteuria represents another big win for Gainesville’s strong research base, entrepreneurs and startup cluster on the heels of a large $18M funding round for Trendy Entertainment and $135M acquisition of NovaMin from the same Alachua research park in the last couple years.

Pasteuria’s proprietary research and technology to control plant-killing nematodes provides Syngenta a valuable platform in the $100B+ crop damage market. My fund, Inflexion, came close to backing Pasteuria many years ago with Richard Molloy at Florida Gulfshore Capital, and I couldn’t be happier for Kelly Smith, Al Kern, Richard and the whole investment syndicate on this deal. It’s an opportunity that took patience and hopefully has delivered a solid win to all.

On top of the equity win, early Syngenta statements indicate Pasteuria’s team of 21 will remain in the Gainesville area, providing a local research base for the 26,000 employee and $12B revenue Swiss acquirer.

Way to go…now don’t forget to give back and keep the Gainesville-area startup cycle growing!

FVB’s Disclosure Policy

Hey, it’s me, Dan Rua.

Florida Venture Blog by Dan Rua is my personal blog focused on a variety of topics. In addition to sharing perspective, experience and opinions, I use this blog as a testbed for multiple online technologies. In fact, much of this Disclosure Policy was built with the DP Generator over at DisclosurePolicy.org. If you ever wonder whether a piece of FVB content adheres to this policy, just email me your questions/concerns and I’ll address as best I can.

I appreciate your support of FVB, hope you’ll subscribe and encourage you to join the FVB community. As always, enjoy yourself while here and comment often!

This policy is valid from 1 July 2011

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact dan at inflexionvc dot com.

This blog may accept forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation.

This blog abides by the WOMMA Word of Mouth Marketing Ethics Code. I believe in honesty of relationship, opinion and identity. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog, but not the opinions I share. That content, advertising space or post will be clearly identified as paid or sponsored content.

I am not retained and compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. The views and opinions expressed in the posts, but not the comments, of this blog are purely mine. I will only endorse products or services that I believe are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

I would like to disclose the following existing relationships. These are companies, organizations or individuals that may have a significant impact on the content of this blog. I am a Managing Partner with Inflexion Partners, an early-stage venture capital fund. I have a financial interest in the following that may be relevant to my blogging: Persystent, CallMiner, GroovesharkVisible Assets, IZEA, and RedPath.  I serve on the following corporate, advisory or non profit boards: CallMinerGTECGAIN, and the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research.

Thanks for reading this far down and I encourage you to take the DP challenge. The future of consumer generated media could depend on it!

Tags: DisclosurePolicy

Startup Employee Stock Options

John NesheimI’ve wanted to share a post about entrepreneur stock option planning for some time; one of the standard discussions I have with every founder I back shortly after we close funding together. Surprisingly there aren’t many thorough posts on the topic, but I did find a quality series posted by John Nesheim back in 2007. John is a Cornell lecturer and has authored a couple books on company building, including High Tech Start Up and The Power of Unfair Advantage.  His post not only covers stock option planning, but also puts it in context of overall equity & hiring plans from startup to exit. I will admit his process assumes more time, people and exit predictability than most startups can expect, but it’s better to have a base plan that can be tweaked when the world changes than to not plan at all.

Stock options are a powerful forward-looking piece of employee compensation to create an equity-minded organization.  Proper option planning can be key to hiring, growing, securing investment and minimizing long-term entrepreneur dilution. I hope you enjoy John’s guest post below and let me know if/where you think his process could be improved for real world application.  If nothing else, going through the thought process is so much better than dishing out options based upon “what sounds right”, “whatever it takes” or what current employees expect for their past effort.


STOCK OPTION PLANNING: Step 1 laying the foundation

You asked for it, so here it comes: A series of blogs on how to prepare a good plan for granting stock options to employees. If you get confused, try purchasing the QuickUp Model and follow the instructions.

  • Step 1: Lay the foundation
  • Step 2: Classify employees
  • Step 3: Price the stock option per employee
  • Step 4: Test the market


Step 1: Lay the Foundation

(A) Forecast all the rounds of venture capital you will need up to the day you go IPO.

You will need several rounds of financing, typically three in three years. It can be several more. Life science requires at least twice that number of rounds. The first two financing events are the Seed Round and Round A. The third is Round B. The naming is confusing, I agree. Just be clear and understand what each round is intended to accomplish. Each round needs the following information:

  • Pre-company valuation in millions of dollars
  • Cash to be raised this round
  • Pre-company number of shares. This includes stock options.

Ignore for now the difference between common and preferred shares.  With this information you can calculate the number of shares to sell the investors.  Now you have the total number of shares of the company: founders, employees and investors.

(B) Forecast all the employees you need up to the day you go IPO. Use as much detail as you can. Work from CEO to VP to Director to Manager to Employee.

(C) Do your first estimate of how many shares you will need for your stock option grants. This becomes your stock option pool. For now, ignore the cost of the stock per option per share.

(D) Add the stock option pool shares to your total shares of the company. This includes founders, stock options and investors and together equals the total shares.

BOTTOM LINE: This is the first step to building a quality stock option plan. It is worth doing well. Attracting outstanding people in a very competitive market for top talent calls for the best stock option plan you can create. It will be central to your unfair advantage. Tomorrow I’ll show you what to do for Step 2. Don’t give up yet, you CAN do this!


STOCK OPTION PLANNING: Step 2, classify the employees

Today we take Step 2: Classifying the employees. I hope you have at least guessed at the numbers for Step 1 (see yesterday’s blog). Guessing is what serial entrepreneurs do. Then they modify their initial estimates. That is how they build their plans. It is like shaping a lump of clay into a beautiful statute.

Step 2: Classify Your Employees

Pick layers of employees. For instance: CEO, Vice President, Director and Employee. Each layer is often named a classification.
Add the layers to your forecast model. Use Excel or equivalent spreadsheet.

Forecast the number of employees for each layer. Do it for each of the first 24 months and each year thereafter, up to the day you plan to go IPO.
Now you have your company’s employee forecast. Congratulations, you are already ahead of 95 percent of the rest of the startup CEOs who are competing against you for venture capital. You will look very professional when compared to them. The investors might even think you know what you are doing!

Note that with this classification it is easy to begin to add wages to your financial forecast. That will account for 60 to 80 percent of your costs. More detail gives you a higher quality forecast. And you look even sharper to investors. You will find this easy to do with a financial model such as QuickUp.

BOTTOM LINE: These few words and a bit of extra work with get you farther than most of your competitors in planning a good stock option plan. With the wages and options pre-calculated, you will have the best insight for negotiating the cash and shares you need to build your unfair advantage. Tomorrow, Step 3, Price the stock option per employee.


STOCK OPTION PLANNING: Step 3, price the stock option per employee

Today, Step 3 will get you close to completion of your stock option plan. To understand this you need to grasp how to structure the capital of a world-class venture backed startup.


Common stock goes to employees and preferred stock to investors. The price per share of the common stock starts on day one equal to one tenth the price of the preferred stock. That gap will close year by year as the day for IPO approaches. For more details on what is going on here, see Chapter 9 of High Tech Start Up.

Form a simple legal corporation not a partnership. LLCs and S corporations and others get you into blind alleys and will eventually trigger intellectual property, tax and stock option messes that are terribly hard to repair.

Get an experienced lawyer to set up your capital structure. Mistakes are costly.


Start pricing each round of preferred stock. As noted in Step 1, you need a plan for each round of stock sold to investors, year by year. Calculate the price per share of preferred. This is what is used to determine the value of your company.

Price the common shares. Gradually close the gap between preferred shares up to the day of IPO. This will be the strike price, the cost per share to the employee when they exercise the stock option (buy shares).

BOTTOM LINE: That was not too difficult for you, I am sure. Examine what you have created in your spreadsheet or QuickUp model. A good model will save you days of frustrating work. Your work so far should make good sense to you (and your lawyer). By now your efforts will have create everything you need for your stock option pool, except the total number of shares. That we will work on in tomorrow’s blog (meanwhile, give it a go, a guess) and get ready for Step 4, Test the market.


STOCK OPTION PLANNING: Step 4, test the market

The final step is to determine how rich each employee should expect to be on the day of the IPO. With an IPO value per share (Steps 1 and 3) you can then calculate the number of shares to grant to each employee. To do that you need to know your local labor market, especially how much wealth it takes to attract the people you plan to recruit. Here are things you need to do:


Dig to discover the wealth people expect to earn on IPO day. That requires knowing both wages and stock wealth requirements for each class of employee. You learn that by spending time talking to recruiters, lawyers, accountants, human resource managers, and doing your job as a manager in a real corporation. That on-the-job experience will reveal what IPO wealth targets are expected by the talent your startup needs. “A vice president of engineering will expect something like $10 million in today’s market for startup talent for a company in this early phase of its growth” is what you will end up concluding.

Add the wealth target to each classification of employee. Add the dollars of wealth at IPO per employee to each class of employee, the classes you set in Step 2. Yes, there will be a range of wealth expected. For now, use a single number. That makes your task easier. You can add highs and lows around the number later.

Calculate the number of shares for each employee and add them up. With the dollars of wealth per employee times the number of employees in each classification, take the price per share at IPO time (see Steps 1 and 3), and divide it into the dollars of wealth per person to get the number of shares for the stock options. Add all the shares up and you have the total you need for your stock option pool.
When you have completed this task, you can calculate a table per year of the percent of the company each employee will get each year. That is the shortcut, the end point, used to negotiate during recruiting. “The vice president of biz dev will get 1.2% of the company” is what is meant by this.


Use risk reduction to modify the number of shares granted each year for each classification. A director of product marketing joining in year three will get fewer shares than if he joins in year one. A growing startup will reduce risk each month as it makes progress to IPO date. Less risk means less stock per option grant. Reduce the number of shares following the price per share curve you got when you sold stock to investors. This will alter the total number of shares in your option pool, most likely greatly reducing the number required. Alter your plan accordingly.

Set the strike price for each option each year. The price per share will be projected to grow each year so the strike price will also grow each year. It will rise faster for common stock than preferred stock and gradually close the gap, rising to the same price as preferred stock by IPO day. In the early days of your startup it is common to increase the strike price per month during the first twenty four months.

BOTTOM LINE: Now you have the total number of shares for your option pool. They are allocated to classifications of employees. You have the total number of planned people to hire. Each year the number of shares granted will decline per job because the risk is lower. Each year the total number of shares will probably increase because you hire so many people. The cost of each option will rise each year as your company becomes more valuable. The focus of everyone’s attention is on the value of your company on the day of IPO. People think in terms of percentages in the beginning and convert to number of share thinking by IPO day. “My 123,000 shares times $20 per share make me very rich!” The absolute wealth per person on that day is what individuals dream about. When you get those numbers right you will be able to attract top talent in competition with other startups. Your plan will be a key to construction of your unfair competitive advantage.

If all this is overwhelming to you, examine Chapter 9 of High Tech Start Up and Chapter 22 of The Power of Unfair Advantage, try using QuickUp and find people who can explain it to you until you can do it alone. It is one of the most important skills you can learn as a startup CEO.


Amazon EC2 Cloud Outage: Hiccup or Wakeup Call?

amazon web services outageLast week Amazon Web Service’s (AWS) Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) was down…not just minutes, or hours, but for days. In the process it took down a significant chunk of new web services like Foursquare, Quora, Reddit, and multiple IZEA properties such as WeReward, SponsoredTweets & SocialSpark. Those were long hours and days…

It was frustrating at a business level, but also as an investor in web services, I hated watching the impact cloud was showing for an entire sector. Cloud computing has been flying lately, including innovations like Amazon’s Free Usage Tier to help entrepreneurs launch quick and pay when they actually have something growing. An outage like this was inevitable, but how much damage will it do?

I know the experience has caused pursuit of backup solutions, but I’m curious how much this outage impacts entrepreneur dependence upon cloud long-term. Given the cost and scale benefits of cloud, was this outage a hiccup for entrepreneurs or a wakeup call to rethink cloud dependence?

FlexiSpy, ShopKick, Roving Bugs and a New Breed of Spyware?

(credit:Spyware Blockers Pro)

Given all the coverage of iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile apps lately,  I’m surprised I’ve seen relatively little discussion of the new privacy issues some apps present — particularly when they leverage phone resources such as the microphone.  Microphone spying may have been a small issue when many desktops didn’t have microphones or microphones were stuck wherever the computer sat, but the ubiquity and proximity of smartphone microphones opens a new “roving bug” risk that extends beyond the phone owner to anyone nearby.

Let’s start with the definition of a “covert listening device” in Wikipedia:

covert listening device, more commonly known as a bug or a wire, is usually a combination of a miniature radio transmitter with a microphone. The use of bugs, called bugging, is a common technique in surveillanceespionage and in police investigations.

A bug does not have to be a device specifically designed for the purpose of eavesdropping. For instance, with the right equipment, it is possible to remotely activate the microphone of cellular phones, even when a call is not being made, to listen to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.

As you can see, cellular phone bugging is a natural extension of “bugs” or “wires”, but the references for that article were all before the mobile app explosion.  In 2006, Declan McCollagh covered the FBI’s use of cell phone “roving bugs” for legal wiretapping, as did computer security expert Bruce Schneier.  The Judge in that case suggested that failed alternatives made a difference in the legality of roving bugs:

The FBI’s “applications made a sufficient case for electronic surveillance,” Kaplan wrote. “They indicated that alternative methods of investigation either had failed or were unlikely to produce results, in part because the subjects deliberately avoided government surveillance.”

Most references I saw to this topic harkened back to similar police usage.  However, there are also implications unrelated to police usage — specifically wiretapping and eavesdropping laws for citizens.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides a nice guide on recording conversations.  Some highlights from that guide include:

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia permit individuals to record conversations to which they are a party without informing the other parties that they are doing so. These laws are referred to as “one-party consent” statutes, and as long as you are a party to the conversation, it is legal for you to record it….

Twelve states require, under most circumstances, the consent of all parties to a conversation. Those jurisdictions are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. Be aware that you will sometimes hear these referred to inaccurately as “two-party consent” laws. If there are more than two people involved in the conversation, all must consent to the taping….

Regardless of the state, it is almost always illegal to record a conversation to which you are not a party, do not have consent to tape, and could not naturally overhear….


Let’s now apply these standards to some of the apps starting to appear like FlexiSpy and ShopKick — if you know other apps listening via smartphone microphones, please share in the comments.  FlexiSpy is pretty transparent about the spying of their app, admitting that it “secretly records events that happen on the phone and delivers this information to a web account, where you can view these reports 24×7 from any Internet enabled computer or mobile phone. FlexiSPY PRO-X also allows you to listen to the surroundings of the target mobile , listen to the phone conversation and to know the location of the device.”  In fact, they provide this helpful video:

ShopKick, on the other hand, is pretty quiet about the microphone activation they do, when they do it, how long they eavesdrop and exactly what they promise to do with anything their software hears.  Do they listen during calls, in confidential meetings, in the bedroom?  The most concrete reference I found was under Android Settings -> Applications -> Manage Applications -> shopkick -> Permissions -> Hardware controls: record audio, take pictures.  I couldn’t find any reference to their handling of recordings in their Terms of Service or Privacy Policy.

Note, I don’t see anything suggesting these apps work like song-naming app Shazam, that only listens when a user specifically asks it to identify songs it hears.  Roving spyware like FlexiSpy, ShopKick and others appear to record via microphone without that phone’s owner tapping a button to record.  If we assume that these applications record sounds nearby, then they inevitably hear the phone’s owner, nearby friends and anyone close enough for the smartphone’s microphone to receive.  It seems like such wholesale listening would at least conflict with laws that make it “illegal to record a conversation to which you are not a party”, and likely one-party consent statutes as well.


Beyond legality, what do these apps mean for the ongoing balance of privacy and functionality?  Do we need to trade off always-on microphone privacy to get what we want from mobile apps.  With multiple signal processors in these smartphones, such as wifi, cellular and bluetooth, are there other ways to accomplish the same functional goals without roving microphones?  If not, I’ve got plenty of ideas on how to leverage those recordings…

[Disclosure: I have investments in multiple companies with mobile apps, including Grooveshark and IZEA, but I don’t believe any of them leverage microphone eavesdropping.]

InnovationSquare Launches

I attended yesterday’s launch of InnovationSquare and applaud the cooperation between the university and the city to get this launched.  UF President Bernie Machen and Brian Beach definitely “get it”, but buildings are only a piece of the puzzle for our best entrepreneurs.  InnovationSquare’s success will depend upon everyone in Gainesville’s innovation community including GAIN, the Chamber of Commerce, local entrepreneurs and local investors, but this visionary piece of a 21st century town square is a good one for our companies and our kids.  As Gainesville’s only resident VC, I’m pumped — but I’m biased.  What do you think?  Any thoughts or questions I can answer from attending the announcement?

Here’s some coverage from UF, the GainesvilleSun and Alligator.  Full press release below some eye candy to get your mind spinning:

Press Release

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida officials today unveiled plans for Innovation Square, a large-scale development capitalizing on university research to be built on Southwest Second Avenue between the UF campus and downtown Gainesville.
The 10-plus-year project is described as “a game-changer” for the entire community.
During a luncheon at Emerson Alumni Hall for more than 150 community leaders, including city and county elected officials, businesspeople and representatives from UF and Santa Fe College, UF President Bernie Machen and Brian Beach, senior vice president for administration and business ventures, laid out a plan for what they described as “a 24/7 live/work/play urban research park environment.”
When it’s finished, Innovation Square will consist of more than 1 million square feet of space on 40 acres. The project is expected to provide 3,000 creative-class jobs.
“I think Innovation Square will redefine Gainesville and its future,” Machen said.
UF’s Office of Technology Licensing will relocate to Innovation Square, joining Florida Innovation Hub, a business “super-incubator” designed to promote the development of new high-tech companies based on UF research. Construction began in June, and the hub is slated to open next fall.
Companies will be recruited from around the country to locate at Innovation Square, venture capitalists will want to be part of the project and startup companies will blossom, Beach said. Innovation Square also will include retail space, restaurants and local businesses, as well as residential space for people to live.
The heart of the project, Beach said, will be Southwest Second Avenue, which will serve as a vital link between campus and downtown. The Ayers Building, he said, will be reconfigured to provide accelerator space – that is, space for emerging companies that have grown beyond incubator space but aren’t quite ready for the bigger spaces that will occupy Innovation Square.
Machen and Beach stressed that Innovation Square is, above all, a project that will require the efforts of the entire community, not just the university.
“This is not a UF development; it is not the UF campus; and it is not UF buildings,” Beach said. “It will be predominately on the tax rolls. Innovation Square will represent the very best in public-private partnerships.”
Beach compared Innovation Square to similar projects at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Purdue University in West Lafayette, North Carolina State University in Raleigh and Georgia Tech, as well as UF’s Progress Park in Alachua, launched 20 years ago and now home to 1,200 employees and 30 companies.
“However, I think that it is fair to say that none of those locations compares to the unique, special location of Innovation Square,” Beach said.

MSNBC BreakingNews Paid Link on Drudge?

drudge breakingnews on twitterIs it just me or is there something odd about this “TWITTER BREAKING NEWS FEED…” link in the typical content area of Drudge Report (bottom link in the pic on right)?  It links to the twitter account @breakingnews — an account that appears to have been purchased by MSNBC within the last couple years.  Do you think it’s:

1) Purely an organic FYI?

2) A paid link/ad for MSNBC with no disclosure and passing link juice?

3) Drudge bought that account from MSNBC and he’s promoting a sister property?

That account has over 1.8 million followers, but it’s unusual to see Drudge promoting an MSNBC property.  What do you think?

SVB: Venture Investing is Less Risky Than You Think

I received this August 2010 Venture Capital Update from Silicon Valley Bank and thought the fund-of-funds perspective could be of interest to entrepreneurs. It’s a bit of inside baseball, but it never hurts to understand how your investor’s, investors think. Aaron Gershenberg, Sven Weber, and Jason Liou did a nice job pulling this together and sharing real-world data. Their approach was to take a few of the worst vintage years, in their estimation, for the venture capital industry (2000-2002) and share their fund-of-fund results. Those results suggest that a well-diversified portfolio of venture capital funds, across stage, geography and industry can deliver returns — even in bad periods. You can read the full report below:

Those findings match what I read a few years back from Tom Weidig and Pierre-Yves Mathonet, in their 2004 research “The Risk Profiles of Private Equity: Private equity is a risky asset, but private equity investments are not necessarily so.” In both studies you can see the power of fund-of-funds diversification.

At a time when much of the industry is consolidating, the smartest asset managers who maintain diversification across stage, geography and industry should beat the market — as they always have.

For my entrepreneur readers, is this kind of institutional asset management, LP perspective of interest? What questions does it prompt? Any surprises?

Random Hacks of Kindness

For those of you coding superheroes trying to figure out how to apply your powers for good, rather than evil, I stumbled across a few initiatives focused on coding for causes (via FloridaCreatives).  If you’ve taken part in any of these, please share your experiences here:

  • Random Hacks of Kindness: a community of developers, geeks and tech-savvy do-gooders around the world, working to develop software solutions that respond to the challenges facing humanity today.
  • Apps 4 Good is an alliance of talented software developers who are passionate about improving our community. The group formed following the iPhone Hackaton 4 Charity event which aimed to build as many iPhone applications as possible over the course of a weekend. However unlike other hackathons, iPhone Hackaton 4 Charity was unique because the proceeds from the applications developed are donated to local charities.
  • Geek for Good: The vision for GeekForGood.net is to be an open talent database for people with any technical skill who want to make themselves available to work on projects for various causes or clients they might be interested in, on either a paid or volunteer basis.
  • Coding for a Cause: Florida Drupal Camp selects causes for their coding camps, most recently Junior Achievement.

Although a bit tangential, the broader topic of Hacktivism is discussed in this research by Brian Still and this PDF at TheHacktivist.

Twitter Clarifies: Tweeters Own Their Tweets, Sponsored or Not

Twitter has clarified their announcement from yesterday that:

“aside from Promoted Tweets, we will not allow any third party to inject paid tweets into a timeline on any service that leverages the Twitter API.”

This broad statement triggered a rash of “sky is falling” … posts … about … Twitter’s desire to kill … the … advertising segment … of their … ecosystem — even if it meant controlling what users could tweet about. That didn’t make sense to me because in that very same announcement, Twitter reiterated their Rule #1:

“1. We don’t seek to control what users tweet. And users own their own tweets”

Within hours these two conflicting ideas were resolved; however, after the initial buzz died down and Ryan Sarver from Twitter’s API team clarified that:

“I want to make sure this part is clear — this policy change isn’t meant to say that we are going to start policing if the content of something a user tweets is an ad or not. The policy change affects 3rd party services that were putting ads in the middle of a timeline.

So if Liz is paid by Reebok to tweet about how much she loves their new shoes, we are not going to be policing that any more than we were on Friday. This policy also *does not prohibit* services like [SponsoredTweets, Ad.ly, MyLikes or others] that help facilitate those relationships or even help her post the ads to her timeline on her behalf.

It *does prohibit* an application from calling out to a service to find an ad to serve to Liz that will get inserted into the timeline she is viewing.  The language is somewhat nuanced but it sounds like we might need to make the policy more explicit as a number of people are misinterpreting it. Let me know if you have more questions. Ryan”

This approach makes more sense to me, targeted at applications that inject automated ads into timelines without users being involved. Such an automated approach is inconsistent with Twitter’s #1 Rule: user control. Likewise, prohibiting users from endorsing products they choose to endorse would also fly in the face of user control.

Therefore, the sky isn’t falling on Twitter’s advertising ecosystem and this is a smart move by Twitter to continue reinforcing that users control and own their own tweets, sponsored or not.

The Sales Power of Silence


(image credit: WickedNox)

Just a quick post today about silence…

I’m no sales guru, but I’ve been on enough sales calls to experience the power of silence. Salespeople that always feel the need to fill empty conversation space rarely build the rapport or learn as much about their customers as salespeople that are OK with quiet. That rapport and learning translates into relationships and sales.

And lest you entrepreneurs think this post is focused solely on your sales team, silence can also be golden in pitching for venture capital. The entrepreneur that doesn’t let VCs formulate their question that’s really brewing are destined to have superficial conversations that don’t lead to funding. When you present, inject silence on purpose. Unless investors are all smiles and excitement, you need to hear what they’re thinking so you can respond. A bad investor presentation is one spent pitching, instead of conversing.

And I haven’t even touched on the negotiating benefits of silence…

Related articles:

Help Haiti

haiti earthquakeLike many of you, I’ve been wondering how best to help the Haiti earthquake victims. The following list (thanks Bro!) makes it easy…

Disaster relief organizations are mobilizing to aid Haiti – and are asking for help. Funds are needed to provide enough safe water, temporary shelter and vital medical supplies.

UNICEF and Save the Children already have emergency teams in Haiti, and the Red Cross has released $200,000 in disaster funds.

You can donate to these groups:

– Text Yele. Wyclef Jean is urging donors to text ‘Yele’ to 501501 and make a $5 contribution to the relief effort over cell phone. Click here to get more information via Wyclef’s foundation page.

– Text HAITI. For those interesting in helping immediately, simply text “HAITI” to “90999” and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill.

– Save the Children. Donate at savethechildren.org or make checks out to “Save the Children” and mail to: Save the Children Income Processing Department, 54 Wilton Road, Westport, Conn. 06880

– UNICEF. Go online to unicefusa.org/haitiquake or call (800) 4UNICEF.

– Red Cross. Go online to redcross.org and click Donate, or call (800) REDCROSS.

– Direct Relief International. Donate online at directrelief.org.

– Mercy Corp. Go online to mercycorps.org or mail checks to Haiti Earthquake Fund, Dept. NR, PO Box 2669, Portland, Ore. 97208 or call (888) 256-1900

To find information about friends and family in Haiti: The U.S. State Department set up a toll-free number to call for information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747.

The department said some callers may receive a recording because of heavy volume of calls.

The State Department has also set up links on its Web site to facilitate donations to disaster relief agencies.

**For a list of other charities active in Haiti or for additional information, please visit http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34835478/ns/world_news-haiti_earthquake/

How to Approach VCs

I got a great set of questions from an entrepreneur (Delena) on an earlier post, concerning how to approach, qualify and follow-up with VCs. I’ve heard these tactical communication questions a bit more often in the past year so I thought I’d expand upon at least one of Delena’s questions here.

Delena asked “How long should one pursue a [VC] firm?” My first answer is to pursue appropriate investors until you no longer need funding, but the devil’s in the details.

Chum the Water, Before Baiting a Hook

chumYou’ve seen those deep sea fishing shows, right, where they throw meat out well before casting a line? This is especially true for shark fishing. Well, given how the popular media likes to equate VCs and sharks (think SharkTank), follow that same approach for engaging VCs. Reach out to appropriate VCs well before you need funding and start a relationship that invites curiosity or informal advice. Share what you’re doing, maybe an exciting announcement, and solicit advice, not money. Believe it or not, VCs are much more likely to engage if they’re being approached for their “infinite business wisdom” instead of their checkbook. This requires more legwork than just emailing executive summaries, but getting to know VCs before you need money is critical to getting their attention later. This also provides an opportunity to understand a VC’s hot-buttons so you can demonstrate progress on those prior to pitching for investment.

Be Persistent, but Polite

persistenceNow, once you have baited your hook and cast it out, what if you don’t get any nibbles? That period just after submitting an executive summary or business plan to VCs is one of the most uncertain for young entrepreneurs. What does silence mean? How soon is too soon to follow-up? My advice is to be persistent, but polite. Give VCs about two weeks to work through dealflow and review your plan, but after that follow-up weekly in a multi-modal, but polite way. This is a simple concept, but less than 1% of entrepreneurs execute on it. Follow-up emails, phone calls, and even twitter DMs should always stay professional, but push for the next step of call, meeting or feedback. VCs review thousands of plans a year and you want yours on the top of their inbox as much as possible — each ping gets it another look until they decide a formal next step. In addition to getting attention, this process also demonstrates to a VC how you conduct business — persistent entrepreneurs win customers, partners and top talent. The worst case of being persistent, but polite, is you get a “no” sooner than you might otherwise — but even that’s better than staying in limbo.

Gather Believers, Even if they Don’t Give to the Cause

believeWhat if you chum the water, bait the hook, follow-up in a persistent, but polite manner; and it still results in a “no”? Well, I’d suggest you are after two things when talking to a VC: 1) believe and 2) invest. A “no” on investment doesn’t foreclose the potential of gaining a believer in you, your product, or your market. Try to find out what area of your opportunity a VC does believe in, and what areas are a problem. Then, add that VC to an ongoing distribution list for future updates. This is another tactic that less than 1% of entrepreneurs utilize. If you get me on a distribution list of updates, you have the opportunity to grow my belief over time and address problem areas so I’ll re-engage. For example, if a key missing piece was customer adoption, an email that mentions landing a big customer might cause a VC to reply for an update. Even if it doesn’t pull a VC back to you, you never know when VCs are networking and your company is mentioned. If multiple VCs are aware of your latest company wins, there’s a higher likelihood they will compare notes on your opportunity. Likewise, a VC familiar with your progress might point customers, partners or talent your way.

I’ve seen plenty of other tips for approaching and attracting VCs, particularly as it relates to qualifying the right VCs. These tips are not a replacement for those; just communication tactics once you’ve decided who to approach. I hope they help…

UPDATE: In the comments, Sam highlighted another great resource on pitching VCs, put together by Mark over at GRP. I think it’s so useful, I wanted to highlight here — and throw some linklove to yet another VC who understands the power of in-stream advertising.

IZEAFest at SeaWorld Recap

After attending IZEAFest @ SeaWorld last weekend, I was planning to share a summary of the event here. However, I see that Convention News TV has already created a very nice video detailing the event, including clips from speakers such as Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), Aaron Brazell (@technosailor), Rae Hoffman (@sugarrae), and others.

IZEA and other attendees did such a good job documenting the event, I’ll just share this media feast:

If you remember nothing else from this cornucopia of media, remember that yet another IZEA innovation was unveiled: Sponsored Guest Posts via Sponzai

Florida Growth Fund

Earlier this week I attended a Florida Venture Forum welcome event for the Florida Growth Fund, a $250 million hybrid fund-of-funds managed by Hamilton Lane for the Florida State Board of Administration. A say “hybrid” because the fund has two missions: 1) invest into Florida-focused venture capital funds and 2) invest directly into Florida companies. It’s not clear how much of the fund will go into each of those buckets, but their investment amounts per deal/fund are roughly $5-15 million.

A couple of the principals from Hamilton Lane spoke at the event, Greg Baty and David Helgerson, and it was very well attended. Both Greg and David are drinking from a firehose at the moment, Florida is a big, diverse geography for venture capital. They are doing a good job of meeting the right folks around southern, central and northern Florida. In parallel, they are also dealing with the logistics of fund creation, including new offices in Ft Lauderdale and Orlando.

Attendance included local entrepreneurs and venture funds from inside and outside Florida. As predicted for years, a pension fund commitment to local venture capital has focused venture fund attention on Florida — pulling venture funds to the event from just about every state in the Southeast, and some beyond. Now that we’ve got the attention, it falls to Greg, David and their team to pick the funds and companies that will drive the best investor returns for FSBA.

Their mandate sounds pretty broad, covering early & later-stage venture capital funds and multiple industries for direct deals. Although they’re after Florida direct deals and looking for funds with a Florida connection, they are not bound to Florida-only funds. For direct deals, they will not lead and price rounds, but would consider following-on up to half of a round. At the event, they announced their first two investments: 1) Voxeo and 2) an unnamed later-stage venture fund.

In my opinion, the hardest part of their mandate will be to balance priority on near-term small wins and long-term results. I was in Tallahassee when the Florida Growth Fund was announced and I remember a media question about “when can we expect results from this FSBA program?” Part of the answer mentioned seeing near-term (3-4 years) “points on the board” — something that historically conflicts with achieving the highest returns from early-stage investing (see chart). Although balancing near-term and long-term expectations is tough, it’s not insurmountable. With stage-diversification and patience, “invest in ourselves” programs like this can deliver great results. Hamilton Lane manages similar programs for multiple states across the country and they seem to understand the value of mixed early-stage and later-stage investments to achieve blended success.

Although their website hasn’t fully launched yet, you can see their splash page at http://www.floridagrowthfund.com/. It includes email and phone contacts. If you learn more from your interactions, share with other Florida entrepreneurs by commenting here…

Venture Capital Syndicates

I’ve written before about how tough markets like this really separate the wheat from the chaff within a company. As if your company were a foxhole, you get to see who stays to fight by your side and who runs to another foxhole with more protection; or worse, who runs away from the fight altogether looking for a safe desk job far from the battlefield.

My past posts were more about people within a company, but a similar test of commitment happens within investor syndicates. Most entrepreneurs I’ve met focus on picking their lead investor, but spend little attention on the long-term strength/weakness of the syndicate that forms around that lead. As an investor that typically leads deals, Inflexion spends considerable time and diligence architecting the syndicates in our deals. Most of the time, we select investors we’ve built companies with before, but every now and then we partner with a fund for the first time. That requires a bit more diligence and we look for, at least, the following four things:

1) Value-add: Relevant investing or operating experience for the opportunity. Beyond the dollars, syndicates are about bringing value-add to a portfolio company thru experience and relationships.
2) Congruence: A POV on the opportunity that’s consistent with the entrepreneur and lead investor. Although a quality syndicate requires diversity of experiences and networks, divergent views on the “big opportunity” can be a huge time/resource sink.
3) Dry Powder: A fund size, age and reserve philosophy that suggests they won’t get “over their skis” prematurely. We’d rather a co-investor put in less money up front and reserve appropriately (2X-5X), than go heavy early, leaving little dry powder for critical later rounds.
4) Consistency: A track record of consistent operating and financial decision-making. A co-investor that provides inconsistent guidance can wreak havoc at a board level, and a hair-trigger between greed and fear will whipsaw entrepreneurs and co-investors alike. In the unpredictable world of early-stage venture capital, co-investor consistency is an absolute must.

There are plenty of other factors, like investing style (west coast vs. east coast, home-runs vs. doubles), but those four are at the top of my list. I only want investors in my foxhole who will add significant value beyond their dollars, see the same “big opportunity”, reserve dollars to play when entrepreneurs really need them, and behave in a consistent manner we can rely upon — particularly in tough times. I don’t always get that mix right, but it’s my job as lead investor and commitment to my entrepreneurs to try.

Dystonia Cure Within Reach for Tyler’s Hope

I’ve blogged here before about Tyler’s Hope and wanted to share a big day for Tyler and his family. This morning CNN.com posted the video below and TylersHope.org is getting bombarded with people wanting to help find a Dystonia cure. How can you help?

1) Learn more at TylersHope.org;
3) Help Tyler find a cure by giving and inviting friends to help!
Tyler Staab is a classmate of my daughter’s and I’d personally appreciate anything you can do to help…

When Marketers Collude, Bloggers Lose

As an active investor in social media, I’ve followed the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) since it’s founding by a handful of marketers back in 2004. The growth of marketers in the organization is a testament to the power unlocked by consumer generated content. The core of that power rests with the content creators such as bloggers, podcasters, vloggers and even to the granularity of social network participants. I think WOMMA understands that, but I fear they’ve been led astray by a minority of marketers who want to dictate payment terms when engaging bloggers. Sure, they want the exposure bloggers can deliver, but they only want to pay bloggers in free markers, coffee mugs, products, trips and passes.

Normally the market would sort that out, rewarding marketers who recognize the value of bloggers and weeding out those looking for free product reviews. Unless, of course, the largest marketers band together to declare that barter (non-cash) is the only allowed means of transaction. That’s what recent WOMMA Code changes are attempting to do: declare that cash is not allowed, whereas non-cash is fine — even with the exact same level of authenticity and disclosure for each transaction.

As you’ll see in the comments below, I disagree with that stance from many perspectives. I feel that cash and non-cash transactions carry equal levels of conflict, but with authenticity and disclosure they can both deliver win-win-win for bloggers, marketers and readers. WOMMA is currently accepting comments on the topic and I’ve provided my comments below. Agree, disagree? Do you think it’s appropriate for marketers to dictate terms to bloggers in this way? Speak now or don’t complain when future sponsors say “I’d love to compensate you for your published feedback, time and effort, but my industry association won’t let me…how about a branded coozie?”

  1. June 3rd, 2009 at 12:48 | #3

    As a marketer, blogger, and WOMMA stakeholder (via IZEA investment) I’ve lived this topic firsthand from many perspectives. To share those experiences as clearly as possible (and to enabled threaded dialogue), I’m providing separate comments from each view. From all perspectives, I believe the WOMM market and its participants are best served by allowing and requiring the same standards for cash and non-cash compensation in WOMM campaigns.

    To start, as a marketer, I believe even your topic “Paid Blogging: Ethical or Not” misses the point. WOMMA’s code already allows “paid blogging”, so long as payment is done indirectly via products, gifts, passes, trips etc. Therefore the real question is whether advertisers who do it directly via cash should be held to a different standard than those who shroud their compensation in non-cash forms. So long as both advertisers follow WOMMA’s Honesty ROI, I see no reason for such a distinction other than to protect the “old guard” who have built their agency businesses on shrouded influence and compensation. Let’s embrace and encourage transparency of all forms of compensation.

    Likewise, I believe a cash vs. non-cash distinction creates an inappropriate “caste system” between advertisers with large-ticket items and those with small-ticket items. For example, the recent “Bloggers at Sea” boondoggle arranged for a group of large and small bloggers such as Kawasaki, Scoble, and Sernovitz to visit the USS Nimitz is a free trip worth thousands of dollars and probably an experience of a lifetime. There is no way one can argue posts about the trip are not paid blogging — typically without disclosure of free airfare etc.. However, the owner of a free content website has nothing of that value to exchange for similar blogger coverage. Why should the former be allowed “paid blogging” when the latter is not? Those agencies wielding free gifts to provide such as cars, electronics, consumer goods etc. may not like it, but cash gives everyone a shot at social media coverage — something WOMMA should support.

    Finally, cash and systems based upon cash rather than manpower can be more efficient, delivering ROI in a social media world that still struggles with unlocking marketing ROI. I’m sure there are some who might claim non-cash compensation delivers better ROI, but who’s right in a specific case study doesn’t really matter. The question is whether WOMMA should foreclose an approach, assuming Honesty ROI is followed, while the industry is still so young and in need of creative solutions. Like cash-based sponsored content today, cash-based sponsored search ruffled the status quo when Overture/Yahoo and Google leveraged it to deliver better ROI. Sponsored search is arguably the most successful online business model ever, powering all of the innovation at Google, Yahoo and much of the online ecosystem. Imagine if the largest trade association of the time had disallowed it before the world realized its potential? As a beneficiary of those innovations, I believe such a move would have been short-sighted and, frankly, tragic to the future of the medium.

    Dan (Marketer)

  2. June 3rd, 2009 at 12:49 | #4

    As a blogger, I also believe the distinction between cash and non-cash paid blogging is inappropriate. So long as I blog with disclosure and authenticity (including follow all FTC guidelines), I don’t believe it’s appropriate for marketers to collude on the terms I’m allowed to charge for my time, effort and publication. If I’ve built an online media business that is worth $1,000 in goods/freebies/trips, it’s equally worth $1,000 in cash. Coordinating marketers to disallow the latter payment terms is tantamount to price-fixing.

    Given discussions I’ve had with other bloggers, it’s obvious to me that cash/non-cash distinctions in WOMMA weren’t driven by bloggers. Depending on the product or service in question, bloggers will decide what’s appropriate for their blog/audience, but they almost universally agree that cash (with transparency) should be one of many valid options.

    I believe the closest analogy for the majority of bloggers is talk-radio hosts – even more obvious as bloggers do podcasts & videos. Like most bloggers, talk-radio hosts are more discussion-starters and entertainers than journalists. They grow their audience by topic, geography and/or talent. Some are small-town voices that wouldn’t be recognized elsewhere and some are national celebrities. However, they almost universally accept cash and non-cash payment from sponsors — mostly cash — to speak in their own voice about the sponsor. The FTC allows this radio model, even without disclosure, so why in the world would we handicap radio’s online counterparts with an arbitrary distinction between cash and non-cash sponsorship even when Honesty ROI is followed?

    Dan (Blogger)

  3. June 3rd, 2009 at 12:56 | #5

    As a WOMMA and industry stakeholder, I believe dictating non-cash terms is inappropriate, unnecessarily risking the industry, the association and it’s members in one fell swoop.

    I’ll start with the most dangerous risk: trade association antitrust. In the interest of brevity, this DOJ speech (and multiple related guides) provides a decent summary of Trade Association Antitrust risks: http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/public/speeches/0106.htm One example in that speech is US vs. Association of Retail Travel Agents, whereby the association attempted to dictate pricing terms and transaction structure. Similar to current WOMMA “stand against” language, members of the association boycotted doing business with any providers who didn’t meet their pricing structure/terms. The DOJ’s view was as follows: “This is the kind of trade association activity that is of serious competitive concern. ARTA developed a position for its travel agent members on the prices and terms upon which they should be compensated, and then invited and encouraged members not to deal with travel providers that did not follow its prescription. This amounted, in effect, to an invitation to engage in price-fixing.”

    The penalties for such trade association activities can be severe (up to treble damages) and can extend to collaborating members. As such, setting all other arguments aside, I believe disallowing US legal tender in a social media marketing transaction puts the association and members in unnecessary legal jeopardy. I believe WOMMA probably understood this at it’s founding because it’s own 2004 antitrust guidelines specifically state: “Since both the Sherman and Federal Trade Commission Acts prohibit combinations in restraint of trade and since an association by its very nature is a combination of competitors, one element of a possible violation is already present. Only the action to restrain trade must occur for there to be a violation.” It may be understandable that WOMMA accidentally wandered into antitrust territory by competitive members, but now that multiple members have raised the question, the association won’t be able to claim ignorance. Therefore, I believe WOMMA should immediately remove any pricing structure/terms distinctions in the code.

    Although I’ve already covered the industry risk for disallowing a young, promising marketing model; as a WOMMA stakeholder, I believe there is another industry risk at play: wasted association energy/resources. The WOMM industry will be better served helping everyone understand compensation and conflict exists whether payment is cash or shrouded in non-cash forms. The FTC makes no distinction between the two and, in fact, recent FTC Guide updates added specific examples for social media non-cash transactions to make their concerns clear — all compensation and conflicts must be disclosed. There are multi-billion dollar industries, such as social media affiliate marketing, that will not abandon cash payments, but could be encouraged by WOMMA involvement/cooperation to increase transparency. Focusing WOMMA’s resources on driving Honesty ROI across all social media marketing will serve the industry far greater than drawing arbitrary lines on an unsettled topic that, by your own words, “is driving strong points of view on all sides.” Find common ground within your membership and focus WOMMA’s scarce time and dollars where we can agree…

    Dan (WOMMA Stakeholder)

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