Saturday, October 24, 2015

What I learned at the Texas Venture Growth Forum by Sean Choi

AUSTIN, TX- Some of the greatest minds in Venture Capital and Texas’s startup scene came together at the AT&T Conference Center last week to get down to business.  With a focus on closing the series B funding gap in Texas, over 42 investors including Shell Corporate Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, and Live Oak Venture Partners, met with over 27 $5M+ revenue companies, as well as Texas state representatives, to address the funding gap, share ideas, and close some deals.

My work with TEN gave me a glimpse of the current state of investors and founders in Texas, and the symbiotic relationship they share. But naturally, theory can only teach you so much and my entrepreneurial sweet-tooth was hungry to learn more; to experience that world firsthand, preached straight from the mouths of those who are building it.

I found exactly what I was looking for, and much more, at the Texas Venture Growth forum.

The day began with a welcome from TXVGF host Paul Watson, and moved into a keynote with Texas State Representative for House, Jason Villalba. Mr. Villalba expressed a genuine desire for the state to work alongside the venture growth industry to accelerate innovation and job creation in Texas. In light of a discussion on the shortcomings of the Texas Enterprise Fund, Mr. Villalba envisioned a relationship where the Texas government would co-invest alongside select venture capital partners. This would eliminate the need for the government to choose winners and losers in companies, as well as the potential for alleged “cronyism”, while maximizing the impact of taxpayer dollars on job creation. This was a particularly refreshing message from the Texas State that was, essentially- “we want to help you do what you do best to create jobs, and largely keep the institution out of it”.

I spent the rest of the day getting inside the heads of founders of growth-stage companies and venture growth pundits. My main reaction- holy cow these people are smart. Five of my favorite takeaways from the event are:

-The next generation of software will be centered around big data. By integrating an additional layer of data-mining, companies create a unique competitive advantage that is difficult for new entrants to replicate.

Talent “poaching” is a real and present danger for founders of tech startups, especially in Austin with larger corporations opening offices and seeking the best talent.

What makes Silicon Valley such an attractive ecosystem is the velocity of information sharing. Austin’s startup ecosystem growth shouldn’t be focused on becoming the next Silicon Valley, but could do well to better connect founders, investors, and talent. Josh Baer’s co-working space and accelerator, Capital Factory, as well as the TXVGF itself are making great strides in this respect.

Keep it simple, be succinct, and know what you are talking about to sound like a total genius.

And lastly, venture capitalists are people too. When somebody has the ability to slap down a check for $10 million, it’s easy to put them on a pedestal and view them as some sort of a financial demi-god. When it came down to it, the investors I interacted with were down-to-earth, passionate, and exciting people who are entrepreneurs and innovators at heart. They focus on holistically adding value to the world, as much as they do on making money.

It was a tremendous honor to share an experience and grow alongside all of the individuals present, and I am deeply humbled by the perspective that I gained.  This is an exciting time for Texas startups and investors, and I am exhilarated by the thought of participating alongside some of my new friends in the industry. Now, to summarize my understanding of startups and investment post-TXVGF, I leave you with the words of Anthony Volodkin, Founder of Hype Machine: “Be undeniably good. No marketing effort or social media buzzword can be a substitute for that”.

Thanks again for the insight, and I hope to see you all at TXVGF 2016.