Wednesday, January 28, 2015

At Jobs2Careers Everyone Gets a Window

Bruce Ge was working at Siebel Systems when it was acquired at Oracle.  A year after the acquisition he enjoyed the culture and benefits of Oracle but was bored by the work.  He looked at his path ahead and decided to create his own fork in the road.  So he quit Oracle and started his own company, one that would eventually become Jobs2Careers.

That willingness to change had already served Bruce well in his life so far. Growing up in China he attended the top engineering school in the nation, and then came to the United States to attend University of Illinois at Urbana, one of the top computer science graduate schools in the country.

At first Jobs2Careers was a social job referral program, a social network like LinkedIn. That iteration didn’t get the traction that was needed, but by building it Bruce gained a better understanding of the market. By 2010 Jobs2Careers changed and took shape as a one-stop job search engine.

Jobs2Careers now offers pay-per-application job search advertising. This, coupled with good integration with their customer’s job sites, bring peace of mind to employers when allocating dollars for talent acquisition.

Although outside financing would have helped Jobs2Careers accelerate their growth more rapidly, there were benefits to bootstrapping. Being a smaller organization enabled Bruce to move Jobs2Careers multiple times, finally making the transition from California to Austin.

It also enabled Bruce to focus on the culture of the company. “My job is to keep my employees happy. They want to change the world and I want to focus on supporting that drive.”

One way he is accomplishing that is by moving the company to a brand new office. With bright, sunny offices everyone gets a window. The conference rooms are named after cities where Jobs2Careers was once based, reinforcing their history of movement and growth.

The open office also enables employees to learn and coach from each other. This team collaboration is one of the core values of the company.

Jobs2Careers currently has 35 employees and is looking to double this by the end of 2015. In an ironic twist, even a fast growing job search company has to fight for top talent.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sandra Jensen talks about Kell Partners

Sandra Jensen talks about Kell Partners

Tell me how you got started/involved in this business?

I started KELL 5 years ago.  Having worked with nonprofits for almost 10 years at software companies that provided software as a service solutions, I saw some areas of need and thought I could help address those needs.

Where did you grow up?  

I grew up in Denton, TX, which I always loved.  It is nice to see it going through such resurgence now. 

Where did you go to school and how did you choose where you attended?

I went to the University of Texas at Arlington.  It was close to home, but just far enough away that you would want to live there and not commute.

What does your company do that no other company can do?  

We cater to emerging nonprofit organizations.  Most consulting firms are interested in consulting for large, enterprise clients, but we like to work with the small to mid-size, but growing, clients.  We can have a huge impact at these organizations and there is a lot of personal satisfaction in getting to see the big differences we have made with these organizations.

What need does it fulfill? 

Until KELL Partners came along, I think it was somewhat hard to find a consulting group that really wanted to work with the emerging organizations. 

How exactly does it do that?  

We don’t turn clients away because they don’t have huge budgets.  Instead, we try to find ways to work within their budget and we also offer free SmartPacks, which are targeted solutions that most nonprofits need.

Who do you see your company [product, service] benefiting the most?  

Definitely the small to mid-size nonprofit organizations, as that is where we have placed our passion, drive, services and solutions.

What are the top three values in your company? 

Integrity, compassion, kindness.

Tell me more about the culture here.  

It is important that everyone on our team is passionate about working with nonprofit organizations, as this is what drives us. You will find that most of our team has come directly from working at a nonprofit or they have a rich volunteer history.  This gives meaning to our work and our clients.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up?  

Funding is always a challenge.  We are a completely bootstrapped organization and we have never had any debt, but growing to meet demand is difficult in any economy, especially with the growth trajectory we have been on since our start.

What was the most challenging aspect of growing the business? 

Finding the right people.  The people that you work with on a daily basis are so important.  I can truly say that at KELL Partners I feel we have all found our work family.  And you would do anything to help family.  Because of this, we have a culture rich in teamwork and care.

What is the next step for you and your business?  

Now that we have the right foundation, people and strategy in place, we are just going to do our best to always anticipate our clients’ needs, so we always have the right people and technology in place to help drive our clients’ missions.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs? 

Find your passion and make that passion your business.  From there, find people that are just as passionate as you to grow your business.

What resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?  

The Foundation has been really critical to our growth.  They have been a great partner since the start of our business and are an integral part of our foundation.

If you were to do it all over again, where would you be right now? 

Exactly where we are.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

I want to thank the investors, the entrepreneurs, and all those who support the startup community in Texas.  Together we made 2014 a great year and look to 2015 as even better because:

Texas continues to be THE place to do business.

Austin continues to grow and will be the next premier innovation center in the US

Dallas will become the third largest metroplex in the US

The state of Texas passed its own intrastate crowdfunding law empowering a new generation of investors and startups

Crowdfunding as an industry has been doubling each year over the last 3 years and will do so again in 2015

TEN's entrepreneurs fundraise surpassed $141M

I wish everyone a happy new year for 2015.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lance McNeill of BCL Provides a Comprehensive Guide to Rewards Crowdfunding

Click here for the Guide

Interview with Lance McNeill of BCL 

Where are you from originally?

Austin, born and raised.

What university did you go to?

I started out at ACC and transferred into Texas State University where I graduated with a BBA and specialized in entrepreneurship. I graduated in May of 2008, right when the Recession was ramping up so it was difficult to find a job. I decided to continue straight through with graduate school and went back to Texas State for my MBA.

I graduated in 2010 and was still having difficulty finding the right job for me, so I joined the Peace Corps and did small business advising in Namibia. I found a passion for economic development and I’m currently at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin where I’m focusing on economic development.

I’ll graduate in May and that’s it for me as far as degrees. I think my education has provided a good foundation for bridging the business and public policy fields.

What brought you to Austin?

My family has lived in Austin since 1964. I was born here.

What is your group’s mission?

The mission of Business and Community Lenders (BCL) of Texas is to further the economic development of Texas by promoting and assisting in the growth and development of small business concerns.

What need does it fulfill?

Many businesses struggle to access capital through traditional means. As a nonprofit organization, we’re a nontraditional lender dedicated to helping traditionally underserved businesses obtain the access to capital they need to succeed.

What exactly does it bring to startups?

We offer technical assistance to start-ups from the idea stage to the financing stage. We work with businesses early on so that they know what is needed to apply for a loan. We’ve embraced crowdfunding as an alternative form of capital that we can help start-ups access. We’ve created a coaching methodology specific to crowdfunding and we’ve partnered with Indiegogo to curate local projects.

What type of startup would benefit from your group?

Local Austin metro area businesses that are seeking a loan and/or crowdfunding.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?

When we ventured into crowdfunding, we weren’t quite sure how it would fit within our service offerings. We didn’t know if it was a totally separate function or if it would compete with lending. What we’ve learned is that it is absolutely a complement to our lending services. With crowdfunding, we can help entrepreneurs get all or some of the funding they need for their business. If their funding gap isn’t totally fulfilled by crowdfunding, we can look at our lending products and when and entrepreneur has successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign, they’re often a better loan candidate.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Leverage the resources in Austin as early and as often as possible – there are many resources available to help with all aspects of the business. Often entrepreneurs try to do everything on their own and I see many get into a situation where they get burned out and frustrated or get into an unadvised situation. For example, when entrepreneurs sign a lease and then come talk to a lender about lending only to find out that they cannot qualify for some reason.

Many entrepreneurs are sprinters, trying to get from point A to point D as quickly as possible, but starting up isn’t a sprint – it’s more of a marathon and you have to get from point A to point B first.

What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

The City of Austin Small Business Development Program is amazing. They offer a ton of classes, coaching and connect with many resources throughout the community. They’re a great first point of contact.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Brady Anderton on Fueldfilms

Brady Anderton on Fueldfilms

Summer Finley and Brady Anderton each took different paths to get to their partnership at Fueld Films.

Brady grew up in San Antonio, TX and Salt Lake City, UT. Growing up in Utah his family were all skiers and filmed everything they did. After receiving his BS in Civil Engineering from Brigham Young University he developed a lip balm tether for the ski and sports market. To promote it he began making original content and commercials with a small production crew. After selling the company Brady turned his focus towards commercial production, co-founding Fueld films with Ben Hurst in 2007.

Summer grew up on a cattle ranch in west Texas and spent her teen years in Austin. When auditioning for colleges, the dean of theater and film school at the University of Manchester, Rose Bruford in the UK, considered the Julliard of the UK, recruited her to college in England.  Her career launched just after college with her first job as a casting assistant. After finding 30 competition-ready body builders in Austin in 5 days time, she earned a reputation as a miracle worker in film production. She joined Fueld Films as a partner in 2009.

Brands are facing 10x the amount of content they needed just a few years ago. There is a need to address this hunger for more content, and faster.

Fueld’s solution aggregates the most creative regional markets into a single, comprehensive network.. By aggregating the talent in regional markets they have been able to attract an extensive, diverse list of acclaimed Directors, they offer a new way to search for directors that agencies wont find on any list With this they are able to deliver exciting new talent for productions with budget limitations.
Fueld serves advertising agency producers, creatives, and brands across the country who have high-quality creative concepts but are facing challenged budgets. They also provide a steady flow of business  for crew members, vendors, and actors  in an uncertain industry.   

They faced a difficult path in getting Fueld off the ground. As Brady describes, “If Summer and I had approached 50 industry experts about what we wanted to accomplish as a production company based in Austin, TX we would have been told 50 times that we would fail. That taught us how to trust our gut as we tried new things.” Summer adds “The uncertainty is hard. As a startup you have no choice but to wear all the hats in the beginning.”
Along the way, Summer and Brady drew inspiration from FAST COMPANY magazine.  Says Brady, “I have always been inspired by pioneers in their field. We are voracious readers and stay curious about everything and everyone around us.”

As they build Fueld, they try to keep it authentic. Brady says, “People come to us because it feels like coming home. We don’t consider doing the right thing a weakness, as it’s more of a way of life for us.  I think some are afraid people might take advantage of them if they admit to being kind.  We want to change this paradigm. We set out to prove that you can be nice and produce great work.”

Summer recognizes that film production can be a high-stress environment but says “we see ourselves as very blessed to be in such a creative industry. Fueld is known for assembling great teams that are not only talented and reliable, but enjoyable to work with. Working with Fueld its like working with family – dedication to the end and honesty all the way along to get us there, and hugs at the end.”

Now that Fueld has shown that new models of uncovering and exposing local and regional talent to a national market are viable, the next steps are to simply pour gas on the fire, without blowing everything up. Brady says that “we have found that growth is best accomplished with equal parts expansion and shoring up the base.” 

The best advice they have for entrepreneurs? Be great. It's ok to dream. We're all in this together.

Says Summer, “When you are young and untested but have a clear vision about something you should just realize that in the beginning its far better for you to simply go and do then to talk about what you could be. A seemingly small accomplishment can easily be amplified once its been proven.”

Brady adds, “Treat everyone with kindness and respect.  You never know who you’ll be dealing with in 10 years, and people never forget the way they were treated, good or bad. “

When you’re faced with a daunting task be the person who won’t  take no for an answer.  There’s always a way!   

When Brady thinks of starting again, “I think I would do everything the same, just fewer Redbulls.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Texas Intrastate Crowdfunding -- Town Hall Meeting

The Texas Intrastate Crowdfunding Law has been approved and is coming open for use later this month.  I sat on a Town Hall panel yesterday organized by Cynthia Nevels.  With me were Patricia Loutherback of the State Securities board of Texas and John Johnson of Goldstar Trust whose bank handles funds escrow.

The audience consisted of portals preparing to use the Intrastate law.  By my count, there are eleven portals lining up for it.  Two are focused on oil and gas, two focus on real estate, and the rest cover startups. The audience asked questions of the panel about the specifics of the law and use cases that may come up.   One audience member asked about how to handle situations where non-Texas residents use deception to gain access to the offerings.  This appears to be problematic as it violates the securities laws and puts the entire deal at risk.  Once funds are invested in a startup there's little chance of recovering the funds.

The board recently setup a web page on information for the investor which you can see at this link.
The page describes how to read the disclosure documents and assess the risk of investing in a startup. Even if fraud is detected the chance of recovering the funds is quite low. Equity acquired through the ruling can be sold but only after a nine month waiting period and only to a Texas resident.

Since the legislature does not drive the Intrastate Law but rather the State Securities board does, there's an opportunity to meet and dialog with them on a regular basis about the rules and procedures.  We are contemplating a quarterly meeting for those who want to engage the board on the topic.  If you're interested in joining these sessions, please let me know your interest and I'll include you on the invite list.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Paul Murhpy Talks about His Startup -- Clarify

Paul Murhpy Talks about His Startup -- Clarify

Where are you from originally?

I’m not from anywhere really.  I was born in Argentina of a French mother and American father.  Actually, my mother is only half French.  She’s also half Luxembourger.  She was born in Ecuador.  My father is part Irish, part French-Canadian, and part Iroquois.  He was born near Boston.  My brother was born in Italy.  I went to school in France, Italy, and the US.

So I don’t have anywhere to go back to.  I only pay attention to where I’m going, which is handy in my line of work.

My wife is Australian.

What university did you go to?

I went to Columbia in NY.  I dropped out, twice. It felt like life in slow motion.

What is the idea behind your startup?

Media files are completely unexploited digital resources. They are full of data, but it’s impossible for a developer without a background in signal processing to access it. Our startup, Clarify, extracts that data and makes it available to developers. 
Today our API allows developers to index and search audio and video libraries with a few lines of code.  The web site Mobento, for example, uses our technology to make the content of educational videos accessible to students and professors.

What need does it fulfill?

To do anything truly interesting with audio and video files – anything besides playing them back – developers need to be able to manipulate their content. Today developers can search text files, extract their keywords, even summarize and translate them. Clarify is allowing these developers to do the same with rich media.

What exactly does it do?

Our platform first figures out what sort of content a developer sent it. Is it speech? Music? Noise? English? German? It then uses the best possible speech recognition technology to extract words from the media, and indexes those words along with any other data the developer wants to associate with the media.

Going back to the Mobento example. They send us video descriptions, speaker names, etc., and all of that – along with the words spoken in the video – is searchable via our API.

Who is it for?

The API is for developers.  The products they build are for many different industries.To date we’ve come across a lot of use-cases.  Over 400 developers have signed up for access to Clarify since we launched into beta.  A lot of their use-cases have surprised us, and we know there are a lot more out there.  The more data we expose, the more use-cases developers will turn up. 

Ultimately, any industry that is generating or collecting media files needs our technology.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up?

We are bridging two words: the speech community and the application development community. Science and engineering. These communities speak very different languages and work very differently. Figuring out how to bring that science from the lab to the real world has been our biggest challenge. We think we’ve done a pretty good job so far, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

What is the next step for you and your business?

We’ve just raised a substantial round of funding that is going to allow us to continue extending our platform and introduce it to developers throughout the US. Both of those are pretty exciting, and they both require a lot of work. We couldn’t be more ready to face both challenges.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Don’t give up. 
It’s really difficult to introduce new thinking and new technology into the world. I can’t count the number of times people have asked me: “By why does anybody need this?”

Some day we’ll look back and smile, the same way we smile when we think of all the people who asked:  “Why do I need a computer?”, “Why do I need broadband?”, “Why do I need a cell phone?”, or my favorite: “Why would I need a phone that does more than make phone calls?”

It’s easy to feel smug in retrospect, but a new idea has to survive to be able to consider it once it’s been accepted, i.e., once it’s “normal”. Keeping it alive long enough for that to happen is hard.

It’s hard to fund a business. It’s hard to build the right team. It’s hard to write software that works and scales. It’s hard to avoid running out of money. And while we’re doing all those hard things, we have to ignore all the people who tell us we’re wasting your time, and our inner voices that tell us how much easier your life would be if we just quit and got a real job.

 What resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

That’s easy: my circles of support.  Family, friends, advisors, mentors, and investors.  I don’t know if obsession counts as helpful, but it’s certainly necessary.  That’s the fuel that keeps me going, but without the people around me I’m pretty sure that fuel would have powered me straight into a brick wall by now.  


Thursday, October 30, 2014

"So What's the Risk?"-- In Consumer Product Good Deals

"So What's the Risk?"--  In Consumer Product Good Deals

The entrepreneur looks at the opportunity.  The investor looks at the risk.

So what's the risk in a deal?

While some risks are universal to all deals such as ability to execute and having the right team.  There are sector specific risks the investor should know.

In the consumer product goods space, one can make and sell just about anything but for those seeking to raise equity investment what's the risk to the investor?

The short-term risk is you won't have enough margin to make a profit.  Without a healthy  profit you can't grow the company from sales alone.  The category growth rate of the product makes a big difference in the company's ability to grow organically.

The long-term risk is you won't be able to raise more funding.  Most consumer product good companies need to raise funding every 24 months to continue a healthy growth rate as you have to fund the inventory increases that come with opening new distribution channels. To raise private equity funding you need sales north of $10M.  To sell the business for a decent return you need sales north of $20M.

The risk in the deal is failing to reach those levels on organic sales growth or earlier stage funding and not be able to raise more funding to grow the business to the $20M+ exit point.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Texas Passes its Intrastate Crowdfunding Law with a Unanimous Vote

The Texas Securities Board voted unanimously yesterday to pass the proposed Texas Intrastate Crowdfunding Ruling.  State law requires a 30 day registration period after which the ruling can become effective.  This means that we could have the use of this law by the end of November, 2014.

In short, the ruling gives any resident of the state of Texas the ability to invest in a startup up to $5000 per person per year.  Previously, startups could only raise equity funding from accredited investors -- those with a net worth of $1M not counting the house they live in.  Accredited investors account for a very small fraction of the population.  The new ruling opens up the investor list dramatically for startups.  Most startups have a substantial number of contacts in their network and now they can tap their entire network for funding.

The ruling requires the funding be transferred through an approved Texas Crowdfunding Portal into funds escrow in a Texas bank.  Goldstar Trust in Amarillo has signed up as the first bank to provide such services.
Other criteria include the company raising funding must have 80% of their assets and revenues in Texas.  Investors must verify their Texas residency status by submitting their drivers license number or voter ID number.  Texas-based accredited investors are not limited to the $5K limit.

Unlike most states, the state Securities Board makes this decision rather than the legislature.  The board indicates they will continue to monitor the program and plan to modify and update the ruling to protect investors and startups.

You can see the rules at this link.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What is Your Definition of a Startup?

I work with funds, entrepreneurs, and startups of all kinds across the state of Texas.  I was recently talking with an international fund manager looking to invest in Texas deals.  He said his investment group wanted to invest in startups.  I asked him, "What is your definition of a startup?"  He looked a little surprised at the question as he like most people assume that everyone shares the same definition.

I've learned over the years that where you are in the world molds your definition of what counts as a startup.  In Austin, if you have a great idea, and two people working on it, then you're a startup.  In Dallas, if you have $1M of revenue, then you're a startup. If you have less than $1M then you don't exist.  In Shanghai, if you have $10M of revenue then you are a startup.  I once heard a fund manager refer to a $20M company as a startup.

What makes entrepreneur communities vibrant is their inclusion of all players in the ecosystem, not just those with substantial traction.  Startups without significant revenue can bring innovation, ideas, support, and other important drivers for the community.  I welcome the broader definition of startup as it creates a larger community within which to share ideas and foster innovation.

What is your definition of a startup?

Best regards,
Hall T.