Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 in the numbers – fun stats from the #P9Family

It's that time of the year again, the blogosphere is full of reviews of the year that is coming to a close and predictions for the coming year. When it comes to predictions, I agree with Niels Bohr (or Mark Twain or various other people who the quote got attributed to): Prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Seriously, as Paul Graham just wrote in his latest essay, change is notoriously (and tautologically) hard to predict.

So let me take the safer path, take a look back at 2014 and show you some stats from the Point Nine family of startups. Some are true KPIs, others are from the fun/vanity metrics department – but I believe all of them are impressive and inspiring. Enormous gratitude goes to all the extremely hard-working and talented people in the #P9Family. You rocked this year (and not only this year)!

(If you're reading this post in an email client or RSS reader, the infographic below might not display correctly. In that case please go to the Web version.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Introducing: The One-Slide Update Deck

When we start to work with a new portfolio company, one of the things we always suggest is that in addition to (sometimes lots of) ad hoc communication via eMail, Skype, Basecamp, etc. we set up a standing meeting or call, at least during the first 9-12 months following our investment. Typically it's a one-hour monthly call, and the purpose of these calls is to get us updated and to talk through current issues. Our experience is that these calls are a very effective and efficient way to discuss things and to find out how we can help. The last thing we want to do is be a burden on the founders, and so we try to be very respectful of the their time (even if we're not as efficient as Oliver Samwer with his famous "supercalls" - 12 hours, 180 companies, or something like that).

Just like a regular Board Meeting, these monthly calls work best if the investors get an update before the call, so that the call can be spent discussing key challenges rather than spending too much time going through numbers and updates. And that brings me to the topic of this post: The One-Slide Update Deck.

Founders often ask me if I have a preferred format for updates and KPIs. And while I can point them to my SaaS metrics dashboard for KPIs, we've never had something like a template for other updates. So here's my attempt to create a super-simple deck which you can use to update your investors (or me!):

The idea is that in the beginning you create a rough roadmap for the next 12 months, broken down into key areas like Product & Tech, Sales & Marketing and Team/Hiring (see slide 1), plus a financial plan. Better yet, you already have a plan :-) and you discuss that with your investors to get everyone on the same page.

Then, every month you create one slide which shows progress and problems, as well as the original plan, in each of the three key areas, plus key metrics. I've borrowed the "Progress, plans, problems" technique from Seedcamp; the metrics are taken from my own SaaS dashboard template. So just one slide, once a month, with information you should already have anyway, and you should have a great basis for highly productive calls or meetings with your investors.

It obviously doesn't matter if you use Keynote, Google Docs or something else, and depending on the needs of your company you may want to emphasize different key areas or include other KPIs. So this isn't meant to be prescriptive but rather a suggestion or a starting point for founders who are thinking about reporting for the first time – if you are already providing more comprehensive monthly reports, don't change it!

If you want to take a closer look, here is a PDF and here is the original Keynote version.

Thanks to Nicolas, Rodrigo and Michael for providing valuable feedback on the draft of the slides!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A toast to all the great ones that we've missed

Picture taken by "nlmAdestiny"

One of the things that inevitably happens when you're in the angel or VC investing business for a couple of years is that besides a hopefully healthy portfolio, you're also building a growing anti-portfolio. As far as I know, the term "anti-portfolio" has been coined by Bessemer. Its meaning is described very well on Bessemer's website, and because it's so hilarious I want to quote it in its entirety:

"Bessemer Venture Partners is perhaps the nation's oldest venture capital firm, carrying on an unbroken practice of venture capital investing that stretches back to 1911. This long and storied history has afforded our firm an unparalleled number of opportunities to completely screw up.
Over the course of our history, we did invest in a wig company, a french-fry company, and the Lahaina, Ka'anapali & Pacific Railroad. However, we chose to decline these investments, each of which we had the opportunity to invest in, and each of which later blossomed into a tremendously successful company.
Our reasons for passing on these investments varied. In some cases, we were making a conscious act of generosity to another, younger venture firm, down on their luck, who we felt could really use a billion dollars in gains. In other cases, our partners had already run out of spaces on the year's Schedule D and feared that another entry would require them to attach a separate sheet.
Whatever the reason, we would like to honor these companies -- our "anti-portfolio" -- whose phenomenal success inspires us in our ongoing endeavors to build growing businesses. Or, to put it another way: if we had invested in any of these companies, we might not still be working."

What follows is a list of spectacularly successful companies which Bessemer saw and passed on, including Apple, eBay, FedEx, Google, Intel and others. (No need to send CARE packages to the guys at Bessemer though, they have more than 100 (!) IPOs under their belts).

I'm a big fan of dealing with failures openly, and I applaud Bessemer for being so open about their anti-portfolio. In the next version of our (meanwhile pretty outdated) website we should add a section about Point Nine's biggest misses, but let me already give you a sneak preview into my personal anti-portfolio:

The two "passes" which I regret the most are SoundCloud and TransferWise. The reason why these two ones stand out is that I had the opportunity to invest in them (at an early stage and at reasonable terms), spent some time looking at them and decided to pass. Since then, both SoundCloud and TransferWise have become "unicorns" or are on their way getting there. Congrats to the founders and early investors of these fantastic companies – Alexander, Eric, Christophe and Jan (SoundCloud) and Taveet, SeedCamp and Index (TransferWise)!

Another unicorn that we rejected is FanDuel. Congrats team FanDuel, Fabrice, Andrin!

As far as I know, these three are the only $1B-valuation companies that we've missed so far, but there are several other companies that we passed on and which are doing great. Most of these are probably worth well over $100M by now and they include:

The reasons for passing an all of these great companies varied and included concerns about market size, competition, defensibility, valuation ... all bullshit with the benefit of hindsight. :-) While I am of course trying to learn from all of these mistakes, I also know that it's inevitable that my anti-portfolio will continue to grow over time. And although that can hurt, I know that that is okay – at least as long as we're happy with our non-anti-portfolio.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Reflections on the early days at Zendesk (part 2)

This is part two of my post about the early days at Zendesk. The first part is here.

Small, fragmented and no potential for differentiation

As mentioned in the first part of this post, the seed round was only $500,000 and it was clear that we’d need much more money soon. That’s why Mikkel and I started to work on a pitch deck and a financial plan almost immediately after the closing of the seed round and started to pitch to VCs shortly thereafter.
In my personal experience as a founder, raising money has never been easy, and so I didn’t expect that it would be easy. I was quite optimistic though, since I thought we had a pretty good pitch: a well-rounded team of three complementary and experienced founders, a beautiful product, a proven business model, paying customers and nice (yet early) traction.

So why did all European VCs pass? I’m getting asked this question a lot and I don’t have a perfect answer, but here are a few important factors:

  • There just weren’t (and still aren’t) that many VCs in Europe who can write a Series A check. If a couple of them pass for whatever reason, you’ve quickly exhausted your available options.
  • Our timing was horrible – it was almost at the height of the global financial crisis which had started in 2007. While we were trying to raise the Series A, Lehman Brothers imploded and a collapse of the entire global financial markets seemed possible.
  • We had failed to convince investors that we were going after a large market and that we could build a defensible position. One feedback that we got was that the market for help desk software is “small and fragmented” and that there are concerns about the “potential for differentiation” and several other VCs were concerned about the size of the opportunity and our ability to differentiate, too.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the “European VCs are risk-averse/dumb/whatever” theme to explain why we haven’t been able to raise money in Europe. While I do think that there are differences between how VCs work in Europe vs. the US, I think it wouldn’t be fair to blame European investors for missing Zendesk: With hindsight Zendesk looks like a clear winner, but back in 2008 it wasn’t that clear. It was still very early.

At a critical juncture

A few months later, after having talked to a number of US investors and and after an almost-deal with a West Coast VC which was pulled back at the last minute, we eventually got an offer from CRV in Boston. We were relieved, but the valuation was much lower than what we had hoped for.

Because of the dilution which the investment round would mean and because the whole fundraising process has been so hard, Morten and Alexander got more and more doubts if going the VC route was the right thing to do at all. They were wondering if we couldn’t go the 37signals way instead – stay a smaller team, grow organically and maybe raise money at a later point in time when we’d be in a stronger position and when the market conditions would be more favorable. That was definitely a viable alternative and worth considering, but Mikkel and I strongly believed that we had to raise money and that we shouldn’t wait. This led to a lot of long emails and Skype discussions between the four of us. It also led to some very heated discussions between Mikkel, Morten and Alexander, which is no surprise, given how much was at stake. We were at a critical juncture.

One relic from those days is this email snippet (Alex in red, me in green):

I still need to buy Alex a T-Shirt with “I’m not confident that Zendesk can grow into a $100 million company” on it.

In the end we decided to take the investment from CRV, but we took a smaller amount than what Devdutt had offered us to reduce the dilution. It was still a significant hit in terms of dilution, but given how many doors the CRV investment has opened for us and how much Devdutt has done for the company it proved to be the right decision.

The rest is history – get Mikkel’s book to read about it!