Friday, February 27, 2009

Bountystorms Helps Austin Entrepreneur Network Brainstorm on Ways to Help the Entrepreneur Community

Bountystorms is a new website
that provides a mechanism for people to brainstorm across the internet. For people with questions, it provides an instant team of creative thinkers who will provide great answers in just 24 hours. For the creative types, it's an opportunity to flex their creative muscles and earn some money for their great ideas.

How does it work? It starts when a brainstorm is created with a bounty (currently $5 to $25), which is the financial incentive for the BountyStorms community to come suggest great ideas. Brainstorming last for 12 hours, then voting on those ideas lasts for another 12.

After just 24 hours, the votes are tallied using a proprietary algorithm, and the top 3 ideas win a share of the bounty (40%, 20%, and 10% respectively). The top two Word Atoms (used in Molecular Thinking, the site's technology that makes brainstorming easy) each earn 5%. The remaining 20% is used for "get out the vote bounty": while it lasts during the voting phase, BountyStormers can earn $.25 for each brainstorm they vote on, providing they vote on at least half the ideas for the brainstorm.

After winning bounty, users can file a claim for it immediately, and payment is made within 7 days using PayPal, the sites exclusive payment partner.

I tried it out this week by posing the following question:

“The Business District has created the Austin Entrepreneur Network to provide networking and mentorship to entrepreneurs. While there are many services and supports we could offer, what would be the most valuable?”

The results came back as follows

Mastermind groups -- The best way for entrepreneur to grow is to have support of other people who are going through the same challenges or have already done it. Learning from others can skip some of the growing pains for starting a business.

Minimize Risk, Maximize Opportunities -- In the current economic climate entrepreneurs should be helped in minimizing risks and maximizing their opportunities. All service and support should focus around these two themes.

Create a Community of Entrepreneurs -- In traditional practice, entrepreneur networks provide "resources" (i.e.: model business plans, financial documents, etc.). However in this day and age those resources are readily available on the Internet. What the Internet is incapable of doing, but that a local network such as you is perfectly positioned for, is building the local community of entrepreneurs. My "idea" is that you hold weekly (or bi-weekly) events for entrepreneurs to get together, meet potential co-founders, share ideas with peers. Additionally, if you're capable of providing mentors (both successful entrepreneurs and those involved in funding startups) you can make the community events even more valuable. Good luck with your future endeavors. I'll look forward to coming to an event the next time I'm in Austin!

Templates, Coaching, Cash -- Provide templates for developing business plans, marketing plans, pro forma statements. Availability of volunteer "Board of Director" coaches (retired execs) to help them thru concept & template development. Access to a network of Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists - once minimum requirements have been met (something beyond just a good concept -- solid numbers).

Speed Networking -- like speed dating - these are mixers where entrepreneurs/business professional get together and talk but there is a 5 min. time limit to ensure maximum networking.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gayathri Radhakrishnan Talks about Her Experience with International Venture Capital

What university did you go to?

My undergraduate studies were in Electronics & Communication Engineering at Bharathiar University in India. I then moved to the US for my graduate studies and obtained a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the Ohio State University. Later, due to my strong interest in business and in particular the entrepreneurial ecosystem I decided to pursue an MBA from INSEAD in France.

How did you get to Austin?

Well, this is my second return to Austin – the first one in 2001 right after the telecom and dot com bust. Looks like I have an affinity to move to Austin when the economy is in tatters! Both times the move was for family reasons. The first time around I got to work for a start up and this time I hope I can contribute and help building fundamentally strong and innovative companies for the future.

What did you do at Earlybird Venture Capital?

At Earlybird, I was responsible for sourcing new deals and deal screening in the technology sector across Western Europe. I conducted due diligence on prospective companies and led the process through to our initial investment. Post investment I was a board observer for one of our portfolio companies and assisted other portfolio companies on an as needed basis.

What kind of deals did the group fund?

As the name suggests, Earlybird is focused on funding early stage technology both ICT and medical companies, typically pre-revenue – series A investments and occasionally seed investments as well. Earlybird typically takes a lead position with initial investments ranging from € 1 - € 5 million and subsequent rounds up to a total investment of € 10 - €15 million.

How is the European VC market different from the US VC market?

Considering that the history of Venture capital investments in Europe is relatively younger than that of the US, the investment philosophy can tend to be a bit more conservative in Europe compared to that of the US. Considering that there are not as VC firms across Europe as in the US, there is a stiffer competition among start ups for VC dollars and the shock from the dot com bubble is still fresh - making valuations tend to be more grounded.

Should early stage companies consider going international?

While it is not critical or reasonable for a start up to think international expansion from day one, I do believe that it is something that they should at least spend some time thinking about early on especially if it is in the web based services category. In the current global market, consumers of several web based services span geographies all over the world providing startups with significant growth potential. Let’s take the example of Facebook, for a company that was founded here in the US, a significant number of their user base currently resides outside the US and in fact that is where there biggest user acquisition growth rates have been coming from recently.

When should they go international?

A company that wants to have a global presence needs to start thinking about its international strategy as soon as they see strong traction in their regional market. Another indicator is also tracking the website’s visitors. If there seem to be more visitors from a particular country that was not initially targeted, it might make sense to look deeper in to that market early on and see if the business model fits that market and if it is economically attractive to pursue that market.

What are the product development issues they will face?

Product development issues can be as simple as having the website translated to a regional language and having the site’s appeal be customized for the region to dealing with regulatory hurdles. This largely depends on what kind of services the company is trying to sell to the local market.

What are the financial issues they will face?

On a fundamental level, if a company is offering any service that has web based financial transactions then they need to have the proper tools in place to accept different currency denominations. This is not necessarily a difficult task they would just have to partner with the right financial service provider to add this feature. Other issues for example range from dealing with exchange rates to tax and regulatory implications.

What is your next step here in Austin?

My hope is to continue working with entrepreneurs and share my knowledge, passion and my network to help build something bigger than ourselves.

Best regards,
Hall T.