Oct 302011
 October 30, 2011  Posted by at 4:21 am 2 Responses »

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.  In this stumbling economy and time of high unemployment, there is a lot of noise out there about how to stimulate the economy and create jobs.  Political parties have turned it into a ‘raise taxes’ vs. ‘cut spending’ debate.  However, it is clear that to get the economy back on track we have to create more jobs – and startups create jobs.

A report by the Kauffman Foundation in 2010 says it best:

 “Startups aren’t everything when it comes to job growth.  They’re the only thing.”


We often hear small business is the job growth engine in the US.  But it’s not small businesses – it’s NEW startups.  The report uses government data and shows that since 1977, in all but 7 years, existing businesses large and small have had net job losses.  Virtually all of the job growth has come from startups – to the tune of an amazingly steady average of 3 million jobs a year.

Sure, but don’t many of those new businesses go under in subsequent years?  Yes.  Half will go under in 5 years.  70% will go under in 10 years.  However, the same data shows companies 5 years old have about 2.24 million employees.  Simply put, netting job loss from the firms that go under and job creation from those that grow, about 75% of those 3 million new startup jobs will exist in 5 years.

Any strategy for job growth needs to start with a focus on new business creation.  The sooner our national and local politicians start focusing on what we can do to support startups, the sooner we will see the unemployment numbers go down.

Oct 142011
 October 14, 2011  Posted by at 3:20 am No Responses »

Walking For Grandma

This weekend I participated in my 6th Alzheimer’s Walk to Remember (formerly Memory Walk).  The Walk to Remember is the Alzheimer’s Association signature fundraising event and takes place all across the country.

“Alzheimer’s is my greatest fear.” 

-Ambassador Andrew Young made that powerful statement in 2010 at another Alzheimer’s fundraising event – Atlanta’s Dancing Stars.

After watching my Mom’s 7-year heartbreaking journey with this devastating disease – Alzheimer’s is also my greatest fear.  I fear not only for myself, but even more importantly I don’t want my children to go through what we went through with their Grandma.  We lost our Mom to this disease in December of 2010 – one week before her second grandchild was born.

That’s why I’m working hard to see a world without Alzheimer’s – participating in the Walk to Remember, serving as Chairman for 3 of them, and now as a member of the Regional Board for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s is my greatest fear.  Here’s why it should be your greatest fear too:

  • Every 69 seconds someone in America is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  By 2050, every 33 seconds someone will develop the disease.
  • 5.4 Americans have Alzheimer’s.
  • It is the 6th leading cause of death in the US and the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed.
  • Lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s is 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 10 for men.
  • Alzheimer’s is also devastating to the family.  14.9 million caregivers in the US provided 17 billion hours of unpaid care at a value of over $200 billion and incurred $7.9 billion in additional health care costs.
  • The projected cost of care in the US by 2050 will be $1.1 trillion.
Oct 052011
 October 5, 2011  Posted by at 6:05 pm Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »

Ever have one of those flashbacks when talking to your kids and think, “oh no… have I become my parents”?

Over the past 6 weeks I volunteered as a coach for the ATDC/TAG CapVenture program. I had similar flashback moments while watching as many as 20 pitches in a row and coaching some of the companies.  The advice of past mentors, critics, and investors came flooding back to me – and I saw that feedback in a whole different light.

The program culminated in each company giving a 6 minute pitch – along the lines you’d see at a technology conference like Disrupt.  The field was then narrowed to 6 companies for the finale.  The company with the best pitch would win a slot to present at Venture Atlanta.  Here are the 7 characteristics that differentiated the final 6:

1.  They started strong.  The winners captured our attention early.  They started with a compelling and easy to repeat analogy, story, or some other powerful hook.

2.  They had great elevator pitches.  Early in the pitch they gave a clear elevator pitch.  This kept the audience from being distracted trying to figure out what they did instead of focusing on the presentation.  Note:  A good summary on elevator pitch best practices can be found on ATDC’s website.

3.  They Answered the Key Questions.  The biggest challenge in the 6 minute pitch format is covering enough of the Key Questions investors will have in evaluating your company:

  • What problem are you solving?  What is the ‘pain’ and how is currently being addressed?
  • What solution are you offering?  What are the key benefits?
  • How big is the opportunity and addressable target market?
  • Who is your target customer?
  • Who is your competition and what is your unique differentiator?
  • What is your go to market strategy?
  • How will you make money (what is your business model)?
  • Why you?  Why is this the right team to make it happen?
  • What are you asking for?  How much are you trying to raise and how far will that get you?

The 6 finalists all did a good job answering most of these questions – and when they couldn’t, they focused on their areas of strength.

4.  They had better decks.  There is lots of advice out there on how to build a good deck (see Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint).  The point is keep the audience focused on you – not reading slides.  On the flip side – most of us aren’t Steve Jobs.  Unless you are a uniquely gifted presenter; you need enough information on the slides to help reinforce your story.  The best presentations used the least amount of words and employed compelling images to tell their story.

In feedback sessions I watched companies get lots of criticism on seemingly trivial issues with their slides like word choice, graphics, or even spelling errors.  What it made me realize is just how distracting those things are to investors who see countless presentations.

5.  They were passionate.  The finalists last week sold their story rather than explained it.  This is hard to do – but you don’t have to be Tony Robbins to accomplish it.  What they did well is convey, in their own style, their passion and belief in the opportunity.

6.  They had validation.  This program was geared towards early stage companies – seed and A round.  Even at this early stage, most of the finalists demonstrated some validation of their product or idea.  The most compelling validation was customer traction – case studies, adoption rates, or early deals.

7.  They practiced.  It was clear which companies had given their presentation dozens of times, and which ones edited slides until the night before and were giving the pitch for the first time.  Many of the companies took advantage of Start Up Gauntlet.  That feedback combined with their coaching got the bugs out and resulted in winning pitches.

These were the 7 characteristics that stood out in the winning presentations.  All of the companies made tremendous progress in the 6 week course.  I am glad I volunteered to coach. For me, this was truly a case of the coach also being the student – and I will be a better presenter as a result.

In the end, the judges voted David Moeller of Code Guard the winner.  His presentation embodied all of these 7 characteristics.  He is definitely ready for Venture Atlanta and I look forward to his pitch.  I’m certain he’ll keep practicing and it will be even better by October 25th.