01 Jul Recap: Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum 2016
On Thursday, June 30th, SpeakerBox was thrilled to have attended a very special CONNECTpreneur held in Falls Church, VA. The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum is a quarterly event with a community of over 5000 CEOs, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, CXOs and other business leaders in the mid-Atlantic region. The event was an extraordinary opportunity to get inspired, network, and learn from experienced business leaders.
Without further ado, here is re-cap of the event, its participants, and the valuable insights they provided:
Insights Shared During Fireside Chat
Rick Rudman, chairman and CEO of Tracx and founder and CEO of Vocus joined Tien in a fireside chat to discuss Rick’s entrepreneurial experience with Vocus (now Cision, PRsoftware that is near and dear to our hearts).
Rick is a seasoned software executive and an early pioneer in cloud-based subscription software. He has a proven track record of success leading both public and private growth software companies, with experience as an entrepreneur, public company CEO, and board member.
His current company, Tracx, developed the eponymously named platform, which is the leading social business cloud for building brands, driving new business and improving customer experience in the new social economy.
From 1992 through 2014 Rick was chairman and CEO of Vocus (NASDAQ: VOCS), a leading provider of marketing and PR software. Under Rick’s leadership, Vocus achieved more than twenty years of 37% average annual growth, growing revenue from under $1M to over $180M, with more than 1,500 employees in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Rick led the company through multiple rounds of venture financing, an IPO and 32 quarters as a public company before achieving a 50% premium for investors when Vocus was acquired in 2014 in an all cash transaction valued at half a billion dollars.
Rick began his career in the United States Air Force (USAF), enlisting after high school and attending the USAF Technical Training School for certifications in electronics, satellite communications and computers. He served in the U.S. and Germany in the 601st ASOC, a mobile close air combat support unit. During his four-year tour he received multiple medals and four promotions through the rank of sergeant.
Rick and Tien discussed the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship. Rick spoke about how his interests in software developed after the Air Force, and how Vocus came to be PR software. The two discussed the drastic changes that PR and social media have gone through – and how they will continue to do so.
Poking fun at PR’s past, Rick and Tien exchanged comical memories of what the industry was like before automation. They mentioned how clip books are no longer a standard and how many fresh PR pros wouldn’t know what a Rolodex is. The two also discussed the transformation of the press release and how the advent of online news sites and search engines truly changed the industry.
An important lesson Rick noted: In the beginning, investors initially thought PR was kind of “niche-y,” but were quickly proven wrong when Vocus grew to a $100 million company, then a 120 million company, and so on.
A Host of Executives at the Company Showcase
After the fireside chat, the forum transitioned into the company showcase – but not before singing happy birthday to Tien, who was celebrating his big day with the rest of the attendees. Many founders and executives presented their stories and future visions during the company showcase. For the 2016 summer forum, the following were under the spotlight:
ANEXIO, Tony Pompliano, president & CEO: ANEXIO was founded in 2013 and is focused on executing a consolidation strategy within the cloud/managed IT services industry.
AppTek, Adam Sutherland, CEO: AppTek licenses its comprehensive suite of Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) and Hybrid Machine Translation (HMT) products and solutions to enable major commercial and government customers to process audio, video and text content in more than 30 languages and dialects.
iThrivePH, Marc Isaacson, CEO: iThrivePH is getting ready to launch IQYOU, an online personalized wellness solution. IQYOU is cloud-based platform that will redefine the way physicians practice medicine and how consumers manage their health.
Legal Decoder, Joe Tiano, CEO: Legal Decoder’s proprietary technology analyzes complex legal spend data and surfaces key trends and insights for legal industry leaders in an obvious and actionable way. The company’s technology enables legal industry decision makers to make more informed, data driven decisions when it comes to pricing and economically evaluating legal services.
PayKii, Nelson Irizarry, CEO: PayKii enables individuals living abroad to pay expenses for their family back home by connecting money transfer operators and financial institutions with billers around the world.
Zoobean, Felix Brandon Lloyd, president & Chief Dad: Zoobean provides a platform for facilitating reading programs and book clubs for any organization. Its delightful, mobile-optimized solutions specifically help schools and libraries more effectively engage young readers and their families.
5AM Solutions, Earl Furfine, CEO: 5AM Solutions provides cloud-based products for life sciences and healthcare. For 13 years, 5AM has been a software product developer and system integrator for life science and healthcare customers who were early adopters and providers of genomic technologies. 5AM created %AM Sunrise, a unique platform that allows organization to clean, analyze, and visualize genomic, clinical trial and observational data.
Venture Capitalists Took the Stage
Following the company showcase, we heard from a panel of diverse and experienced venture capitalists, who provided an inside perspective on the investors who are writing the checks right now. The panel consisted of:
- Moderator: Hank Torbert, principal and co-founder, RLMcCall Capital Partners
- Jack Biddle, general partner, Novak Biddle Venture Partners
- Andy Jones, managing director, Maryland Venture Fund
- April Young, managing director, Hercules Technology Growth Capital
A few key insights from the panelists:
On themes and opportunities:
Education, physical security, and big data were a few themes that were mentioned but, in general, the panel seemed to agree that they tend to avoid themes. Themes tend to be overfunded. Instead, they look for big ideas and great entrepreneurs who are solving real problems in new, big, and growing markets.
Evaluation tends to be “silly” and not important at the end of the day. Numerators are what really make people rich – if they are big, everyone is happy. For entrepreneurs, it’s more important to look for partners – finding people they can work with is the key to a good business relationship. In the end, what really matters is that business is growing and executives are moving the ball forward. Predate value and everyone wins.
It’s also important for entrepreneurs to know exactly how much funding they may need. They must take the right amount of capital for their business goals and accept that there will be mistakes. The end equation: good partners + a nice chunk of equity = you’re set.
On investment time horizons:
Things often go wrong and prolong the process. To many people, money is the most important thing, but they have lost sight about what being an entrepreneur is all about – servicing the customers. By focusing on the customers, entrepreneurs and their businesses will inevitably by prosperous.
While money should not be the overall focus, entrepreneurs must also realize that whatever they do, it’s going to be expensive – it costs money to try new things. Sometimes the things they will try will work and sometimes they won’t – it’s all a part of the process.
Another point that was shared is that in venture capital, things used to stay the same. The three factors that traditionally mattered were: how big is the market, how good is the product, and who is going to buy it. For the most part, those things are still true. But things like big data are changing the market. For instance, Garmin pretty much went extinct as soon as Google Maps made an appearance. These things are coming out of nowhere and changing the game.
For entrepreneurs, the key to success with VC partners is doing what the entrepreneurs said they were going to do, and admitting when they make mistakes. A smart move is to report back to investors who initially turned entrepreneurs down — give them the lay of the land as to what was working and what wasn’t, and what the entrepreneur plans to do about it. Remember that opinions can change easily.
Finally, the panelists also noted that investors are under enormous pressure. They’re expected to make money in 4 or 5 years, which pushes people towards later stage deals. Regardless, investors shouldn’t be constrained by partnerships, and should seek out patient capital.
The SpeakerBox team had an awesome time yesterday at the CONNECTpreneur Forum! Thank you, as always, to Tien Wong for putting on the event. We hope it was a great start to your birthday, and can’t wait until the Fall forum on Wednesday, September 28!
To find out how you can get in on the action, visit http://connectpreneur.org/.