Entrepreneurship

Conversation with Donald Thompson

Recently, Donald Thompson of Walk West invited me on his podcast.

We chatted about my pre-Bronto adventures and post-Bronto life with GrepBeat, Jurassic, and NCSSM. Donald is a great interviewer and we got into how startups really get started and why Silicon Valley is not all that.

This podcast is less than 40 minutes long and has great music. I have to improve my voice quality for podcasts but that’s on me.

You can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and on Earfluence — the folks who produced it. Also, I embedded it here:

Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

Featured on the “In The Meeting” podcast

Recently, I had the pleasure of being a guest on Ritwik Pavan’s new podcast, “In The Meeting.”

Ritwik is a senior Comp Sci and Business student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a couple-times entrepreneur through Linker Logic Technologies and VADE. Because of this, he brings a unique perspective on the entrepreneurial experience and asks great questions.

The podcast is also notable for a few other reasons:

  1. The better-looking caricature graphic of me.
  2. The coolest and dramatic post-production effects.
  3. Short listen. Only 30 minutes!

Curious? You can listen to it on Spotify.

Enjoy!

Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

Featured on the Hatchit podcast

The other week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Elizabeth at Hatchit about me, Bronto and Colopy Ventures.

Hatchit is an online marketplace for buying and selling online ventures and digital assets like small businesses, websites, apps, domain names, etc. It was co-founded by Dennis Schaecher in North Carolina. Read more about them.

Listen to the podcast from their website, through Apple Podcasts or on 8-track tape (ok … not really on tape but how cool would that be!)

Enjoy!

Wearing my comfy Hatchit t-shirt
Bronto, Entrepreneurship

My Story on Drew Adam’s “The Price” Podcast

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Drew Adams on his podcast, “The Price”, to tell the Bronto Story, including the emotional ups and downs in starting, building and selling a business. He is a great interviewer so it makes for a nice long leisurely listen.

I have known Drew for years since many moons ago he founded and ran another email marketing company in Durham called Contactology. He knows the challenge in starting something from a scratch, the ups and downs of scaling and finally the bittersweet emotions of selling and figure out what’s next. This all made for a great conversation. Plus, he bought me a fruit smoothie for the interview so I am a fan!

Ready to listen? You can find it on his website or with Apple, Spotify or Google. Also, I embedded it here:

Entrepreneurship

“You can be definitive without being abrupt.”

A few years ago, I spoke with the founders, Max and Connor, of Lessonly to give them advice on scaling their business and moving from a broad customer focus to a narrower one. Protip: Less is more.

Max recently wrote about this conversation in his weekly advice message. You can read the post on their blog or inline below.

Enjoy!


Years back, Conner and I spoke with Joe Colopy, the co-founder and former CEO of Bronto. We needed Joe’s help, because we were planning to shift Lessonly’s focus from training software for any need to training for sales teams and customer service teams. We knew this would be a big change for our business and we worried how disruptive it would be to our teammates.

Joe offered us this bit of wisdom:

“You can be definitive without being abrupt.

For whatever reason, before this, Conner and I would make changes and implement them immediately. Why wait, right? The problem was, when we were too abrupt, the rest of the team experienced a lot of whiplash and upheaval.

Joe’s advice reminded us we can put some distance between our decisions and the corresponding changes.

For example, we knew the marketing team would need to shift its efforts to stop supporting deals that didn’t fit our new focus. Joe’s advice helped us ease any anxiety during this transition. We didn’t announce our decision by saying, “Effective immediately, marketing will no longer support X, Y, and Z opportunities.” Instead, we were able to say, “Sixty days from now, marketing will stop supporting X, Y, and Z opportunities. So if you need help with anything in those areas, now is the time.”

How did we know sixty days wouldn’t be too abrupt? It was the average amount of time it took for us to meet a new company and bring them aboard as a customer. This timing accommodated the salespeople’s current opportunities, without extending the timeline any longer than necessary.

There will be moments when you need to be both definitive and abrupt, like when you have an urgent problem. Joe taught us there will also be times when you can and should give time for people to wrap up their current priorities and prepare. I write this hoping you will catch yourself making a potentially disruptive decision and ask, “Can I be definitive here without being abrupt?”

We’ve applied Joe’s advice many times since, and people appreciate it. I hope it helps you too.

—Max

Entrepreneurship

MBA@UNC Commencement

Last month, I had the honor of being the keynote speaker for the MBA@UNC commencement. MBA@UNC is the online MBA program for the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC Chapel Hill.

I speak fairly often. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is random. This is one of the good ones and worth a watch. I start at the 12-minute mark but it is helpful to hear the introduction by Dean Doug Shackelford that tees it up. Enjoy!

I researched the program to prepare and came to this conclusion: the program is awesome.  It’s also ranked as the #1 Online MBA program by US News & World Report. Check it out if you are thinking of getting an MBA.

And remember …. always run the wheel!

 

Entrepreneurship

Propensity for Action

Last month, I was interviewed by Durham Magazine for my views on startups and entrepreneurs. One of my views is that great entrepreneurs have a strong propensity for action. The interview also details quirky stories from my past — like how I majored in Computer Science to avoid writing papers. Pro tip: bad idea!

You can read it online or download it for later.

 

 

Entrepreneurship

Five Things On Software IP

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking to a Duke class on Intellectual Property and Innovation: Law, Policy & Entrepreneurship. Thanks Ed for including me!

In addition to sharing my story and hawking GrepBeat, I reviewed five things that mattered when thinking about Intellectual Property (IP) for software startups. But, let me save you $60k/year in Duke tuition and give you the gist of it here:

1. Terms of Service

In the early days of Bronto and its predecessor DatabaseApp, we included a terms of service (TOS) page on our websites and on our order forms. This is important! Not only does it build creditability with customers but, many moons later, when hopefully you raise capital or are acquired, you will go through an extensive due diligence process. This process is about minimizing risk for the investor / acquirer. Having a TOS early on shows that you have your ducks in row and lessens the chance of strange claims on your IP from early customers. Your lawyer can simply draft a TOS for you. Or, if you are particularly cheap and scrappy, you can just copy the TOS from one of your larger competitors and change a few words. That’s what we did.

2. Proprietary Inventions Agreement

Future acquirers and investors want to avoid claims on the IP (and thus their ownership) that crawl out of the woodwork once the big money is announced. Early employees, particularly engineers, are the most likely sources of these claims — someone who could say, “oh yes, that code is partially mine because I borrowed it from the outside.” Be on top of it from the get-go. Have all employees and contractors sign a an agreement BEFORE they start working with you.

3. Due Diligence

Investors and acquirers will complete due diligence on your startup prior to completing the deal. For acquisitions, it’s about risk mitigation. The process is extensive. You will have to produce every customer contract and employee agreement from the beginning of time. If you have been around a while like Bronto, this can be difficult. So, be good at record keeping! At Colopy Ventures, like all investors who don’t share your same last name, we require due diligence for our investments. The larger the deal, the more extensive the due diligence.

4. Escrow

Escrow, as it relates to acquisitions, means the acquirer withholds money from the acquisition for many months or years to settle any odd claims that might pop up. In Bronto’s case, this wasn’t trivial. Twenty-percent of the acquisition price was held for 18 months. Nothing did pop up (whew!) Every acquirer looks at escrows differently. Keep your ducks in a row early on so that you can negotiate escrow terms for as little and as short as possible.

5. Trolls

Even when you do everything right, large acquisitions still bring out the trolls. We stumbled upon this, too. At the time of acquisition, Sinclair Oil sent us a Cease and Desist letter around use of a Brontosaurus in our logo. They claimed our logo was too similar to theirs. Judge for yourself. Of course, this was ridiculous because there are only so many ways to draw a Brontosaurus and we are in completely different industries. But, anyone can send letter. In the end, their claim went no where. Oracle did hold back escrow of a couple hundred thousands dollars for three years after the acquisition … just in case. And for Sinclair, they lost a gas-pumping customer for whenever I am RVing out West. Ha! I’m sure that they are still kicking themselves on that one.

Results May Vary

These are five things to think about as a software entrepreneur. IP applies differently to other industries. Fortunately, IP tends to be less relevant and simpler in the software space. In the end, the success of a software startup is all about execution.

My words aren’t enough? Take a look at the slides and see the presentation in pictures:

Entrepreneurship

YAWA! Yet Another Web Application

YAWA! Yet Another Web Application. Software has clearly moved to the cloud and web applications are the way for software to be delivered. In the late 1990s, SalesForce.com and others were innovators in this new business model: software as a service. Times were good and Bronto jumped on it in the early 2000s.

Twenty years later, the business model is fairly well understood and the tools for crafting a web application are mature. It’s never easy to make a great application but it’s easier than before. Thanks Amazon Web Services, React, …

This raises the bar for the entrepreneur. It’s not enough to have a web application with a clear customer. You need to build a sales and marketing machine. And, in the earliest stages of the startup, this means founder hustle.

Hustle leads to traction and traction is the best indicator that you can scale sales and marketing later. Well-designed UIs make for nice products but a hustle-first entrepreneur makes for a real business.

* YAWA also means another things according to Urban Dictionary. Nothing too inappropriate.

Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

Welcome, Alon Greyber!

We are pleased to welcome back another member into the Colopy Ventures team this summer!  Alon Greyber worked here last summer, and will join us again this summer as an engineering intern.  


Hey, Alon! It’s great to have you here as another intern to work with.  I heard that you worked here last summer too. What did you work on then?

Last summer I worked with the startup Peoplelove on their web development.  

Do you know what you’ll be working on this summer?

As of now, my main focus will be on the web design of Joe’s project-in-progress, Grepbeat.   I may also do more work with Peoplelove, now known as Pugbee.

When and how did you learn web design?

I starting teaching myself programming in the sixth grade and I’ve stuck with it ever since.  I’m now a computer science major at NC State, and I’ve continued to learn more programming languages.  

So after coming back to work here again, I presume you’re also interested in startups.  Have you ever thought of starting your own company?

Actually, I have tried to start a few before!  In high school, I ran a photobooth business for parties called DreamIt Photos,  and I used to sell photography professionally. I also started a programming startup called “SpeakUp” which would help people train for speeches through an automated system.  I started it my freshman year of college, but decided to stop working on it once I found out there was already a similar program on the market.

Wow, those all sound great!  Do you have any other interests beyond your work in programming?

Yes!  As I’ve mentioned, I’m interested in photography which was the foundation that led me to starting those photography businesses.  I’m also passionate about Robotics. Since leaving my high school in Durham, I still go back to help mentor the team there.

This all sounds great and I can’t wait to work with you here!


Emma Markson is studying business at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a marketing intern at Colopy Ventures.  Outside of working with startups, you might see her running around her hometown of Cary or embarking on her next road trip.