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How young entrepreneurs can pave the road for future investment

(Business Finance) Young and new entrepreneurs can do quite a bit to prepare for a potential investment, and we’re not talking about preparing a pitch.

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“How did you get them to invest?”

Last week I was back in my hometown of Medford, OR. It’s one of the best kept secrets anywhere. After catching up with a friend, he asked, “How did you find your investors, and how did you get them to invest?” It’s a question that I get a lot.

Here’s my answer: be someone worth knowing. I don’t know all the secrets to this, but I can share a few things that I’ve done to make myself someone that other people want to know.

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Do amazing things

If you want to be someone worth knowing, you have to do things above and beyond. I stay in touch with some people because we’re friends and I’m interested in their lives. I keep in touch with other people because they’re going places and I want to make sure we’re friends when they get there. If you’re doing Netflix marathons and partying it up regularly, it will be difficult to be someone worth knowing. Use your younger years to work your tail off.

No matter your job, be the best

My first job during college was as a quality assurance intern. I knew that I wanted to get into tech and this seemed to be my only option at the time. Most interns at this company were watching YouTube videos and Facebook while our boss wasn’t looking (which was most of the time).

At one point, the company was close to running out of money. Our company fired almost everyone in the quality assurance department because we had to downsize. At the last hour, the company received more funding, but they decided to keep only one person from the quality assurance department. I was fortunate to be that person.

As a freshman college student they made me the manager and asked me if I could handle it with my school schedule. I told them I could.

If you don’t know how to do something, do it. In today’s world, I believe you can learn just about anything if you work hard enough. The resources are everywhere. When asked if I could swing managing with school, I had no clue what to do, but I said I could and I worked like a crazy man during work and outside of work to get it done. Failure just wasn’t an option.

Ask for more

While working full time and going to school full time, I made it clear to my boss that I knew my future wasn’t in quality assurance. I needed to start developing other skill sets for my future career.

He agreed and put me on track to get into product management with the understanding that I’d initially have to do that work in addition to my role managing our quality assurance department. I jumped all over the opportunity and went into product management full-time within a few months.

Doing these things will help you be someone worth knowing. Successful people like knowing successful people.

When you approach investors, and your previous boss at a phenomenal tech company wants to invest in your company then you’ve done something right. It’s going to be difficult to have a serious conversation with a 50 year old investor when you, as a 25 year old just out of college, are talking about how you’ve got this great idea and are currently a barista at Starbucks with no track record of significant successes – Starbucks baristas, please prove me wrong!

Network, network, network

Once you are someone worth knowing, your network will pay off big time. Case and point: Last October, I was connected with an investor. We had a 30 minute conversation about my company.

He then said, “Jordan, to be honest, I was going to invest unless you turned out to be a complete idiot. Mike and I have made a lot of money together. If he sends me a deal and speaks highly of the entrepreneur, I do it.”

That same investor brought in another investor that put in money without me ever having to speak with him. That’s the power of great investors and a great network.

Great networks start with little ones

When I first moved to Austin in January of this year, I literally knew three people here, two were family and one was a friend from high school. Before I left Utah, I asked around in my network for connections in Austin. Only one had any connections. That person sent eight intro emails.

From those eight emails I met with over 25 people and secured funding from two of the best firms in Austin. You grow a network like you grow a business, one day at a time, but it has to be a priority.

An archaic but useful move

My last point on networking: Consider a handwritten note. This may sound archaic, but when it comes to these rich people that have everything, you’ll find that you have little to offer that they don’t already have. A handwritten note shows class. A handwritten thank you note expresses gratitude that a text message just can’t convey.

Put in the effort first

From what I’ve seen, investors want to see entrepreneurs that have already put a ton of effort into their business before approaching them for money – no, 20 hours on a slide presentation doesn’t count.

Investors will ask you hard questions. It’s okay to say “You know what, I’ve never considered that before. I’ll research it and get back to you.” Of course, you can’t say that to every question they ask.

You need to know your industry, competitors, revenue models, businesses that have failed in this space, differentiation, market size, marketing channels, sales channels, and more.

You better have your MVP

In addition, for most tech companies, you need to have at least a MVP (minimum viable product) with some traction when approaching investors. Investors today want to see traction. To be honest, if you can’t hack together a product that you claim to be passionate about, then I don’t think you should be starting a business, and I think you’ll struggle to raise the capital you’re looking for.

The takeaway

That’s my advice to young entrepreneurs on what you can start doing now that will win you the investment when the time is right. If you get started with these principles early, I believe you will find the fundraising process to be much easier.

Most recently Jordan was the Co-founder and CEO at Unbill - a FinTech startup that was acquired by Q2ebanking (QTWO) in January of 2017. Before that, Jordan was an early employee and product manager at NextPage which sold to Proofpoint (PFPT) in December of 2011. Jordan is happily married and has 3 children.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. chrisshouse

    October 31, 2014 at 10:22 am

    It is wonderful to see the excitement and passion and some very good advice from the younger generation.

  2. Jordan Wright

    October 31, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks chrisshouse. Appreciate your comment and compliment!

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms. 
 
Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.
 
The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.
 
And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.
 
We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.
 
That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

I just got furloughed. Now what?

(EDITORIAL) Some companies are furloughing employees, betting on their company’s long-term recovery. Here’s what you can expect and should plan for in your furlough.

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Are you furloughed? You are not alone! What now? What does “furlough” even mean? How will I get money? Will I still keep my insurance?

A furlough differs from a layoff in a few ways. Whereas a layoff means you are definitely unemployed, a furlough is at its core unpaid time off. Not all furloughs are created equal, though the basic concept is the same: to keep valued employees on ice without being on the hook for their pay until a financial turnaround occurs.

The good-ish news is that a furlough means the company wants to keep you available. When a company is unable to pay their employees for an extended (often indefinite, as is the case with COVID-19 closures) period, they may opt to furlough them instead of laying them off. This virus has decimated whole industries, at least temporarily.

Furloughed employees are forbidden by law to do so much as answer a work email or text while furloughed–or else the company must pay them. The first large waves of COVID-19 furloughs are in obvious sectors such as hospitality (Marriott International), airlines industries (Virgin Atlantic), though other industries are following suit with furloughs or layoffs.

Some furloughs may mean cutting employees’ hours/days to a minimum. Maybe you’re being asked to take off a couple days/week unpaid if you’re hourly, or one week/month off if you’re on salary. With the COVID-19 situation, though, many companies are furloughing bunches of employees by asking them not to work at all. This particular furlough will last ostensibly for a few months, or until business begins to bounce back, along with normal life.

So, what are your rights? Why would you wait for the company? Can you claim unemployment benefits? What about your other work benefits? I’d be lying if I said I knew all the answers, as the furlough packages differ from company to company, and the laws differ from state to state.

However, here are some broad truths about furloughs that should apply. I hope this information helps you sort through your options. I feel your pain, truly. It’s a tough time all around. I’m on your side.

The first answer people want to know is yes, if you’re furloughed and have lost all or most of your income, you may apply for unemployment benefits. You can’t be expected to live off of thin air. Apply IMMEDIATELY, as there is normally a one or two week wait period until the first check comes in. Don’t delay. Some states provide more livable unemployment benefits (I’m looking at you, Massachusetts) than others, but some income is better than none.

Also, most furloughed employees will likely continue to receive benefits. Typically, life and health insurance remain intact throughout the length of the furlough. This is one of the ways companies let their employees know they are serious about wanting them back as soon as it’s financially realistic. Yet some other benefits, like a matching 401k contribution, will go away, as without a paycheck, there are no contributions to match.

Should you look for a job in the interim? Can you really afford not to? What if the company goes belly up while you’re waiting? Nobody wants that to happen, but the reality is that it might.

If you absolutely love your job and the company you work for and feel fairly confident the furlough is truly short-lived, then look for a short-term job. Thousands upon thousands of positions have opened up to meet the needs of the COVID-19 economy, at grocery stores or Amazon, for example. You could also look for contract work. That way, when your company reopens the doors, you can return to your position while finishing off the contract work on the side.

If the company was on shaky ground to begin with, keep that in mind when applying to new jobs. A full-time, long-term position may serve you better. At the end of this global health and economic crisis, some industries will be slower to return to their former glory–if they ever do. If you’re furloughed from such an industry, you may want to shift to something else completely. Pivot, as they say. Now would be a good time.

The only exceptions are “Excepted” government workers in essential positions, including public health and safety. They would have to work while furloughed in case of a government shutdown (and did previously).

Furloughs are scary, but they offer a greater measure of security than a layoff. They mean the company plans on returning to a good financial situation, which is encouraging. Furloughs also generally offer the comfort–and necessity–of insurance, which means you can breathe a bit easier while deciding your next move.

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Opinion Editorials

The cringe inducing and lesson learning tale of Poor Jennifer

(EDITORIAL) Video conferencing is becoming the norm, so make sure you don’t end up like poor Jennifer. Take some extra time and precautions against exposure.

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Ever had that bad dream where you were giving a speech, but realized you were totally naked? If so, you’ll join us in cringing at the true life tale of “Poor Jennifer.”

We are all Poor Jennifer. We love Poor Jennifer. We stand with Poor Jennifer. Take a deep breath and prepare to relate far too well to a story this mortifying. You’ll want to tell her you feel for her and perhaps even offer up your own embarrassing anecdotes to let her know she’s not alone. Jennifer’s story serves as the ultimate cautionary tale for Zoom calls.

Working from home is a luxury/burden that was still surprisingly rare until the COVID-19 crisis sent office workers home in droves. IT departments across the country–and across the world–scrambled to ensure they had solid firewalls and valid VPNs locked and loaded on everyone’s computer. Everyone signed up for video conferencing tools. Zoom became a household name overnight, though other options are available, too.

Nearly everyone’s reality has drastically changed over the past several weeks due to the novel coronavirus–and in some cases overnight. With this global pandemic comes uncertainty, anxiety, and dread, meaning few of us are working at our own full mental capacity. Many professionals find themselves working at home, using new tools, and with new, often rambunctious, noisy, or needy coworkers, AKA children, pets, or life partners. It can be jarring, disconcerting.

If you’re used to participating in conference calls in an office environment, whether video or audio, you take them at your desk. Working from home can tempt one to mute the audio call and do some multi-tasking. Nobody can see you or hear you once you mute the phone, after all, and not every part of every call is important for your particular piece of the puzzle.

I’m not proud of it, but I’ve walked the dog or loaded the dishwasher while I muted a conference call during another department’s report. It’s not ideal, but I have to tell you…it happens. I am thanking my lucky stars today that we kept video conferences to a bare minimum at work.

What does this have to do with Poor Jennifer? Well, Poor Jennifer was on a team video conference call when she answered another call: nature’s. Yikes. Zoom caught it all, and her colleagues’ faces told the story. We see confusion, discomfort, then disbelief. By the time one of her colleagues tries to tell her, she obviously already caught a glimpse of herself on the porcelain throne and took care of the problem.

The whole scenario was over practically before it began, yet it’s a moment that will live on forever, because one of Poor Jennifer’s inconsiderate coworkers went ahead and posted the Zoom feed online. NOT COOL, BRO. As for Poor Jennifer, please know we get it. The world is coming to a standstill, and this weighs heavy on our heads. Your accident serves as a warning to all of us coping with a strange new world. And yes, we laughed a little, awkwardly, because we were taken by surprise and felt uncomfortable for you.

Please know, Poor Jennifer, that it could happen to anyone. Know that we’re on your side. Know that we think your coworker is in the wrong 100% for posting it. Most importantly, know that any minute now, some other unsuspecting soul will unseat you from your internet throne of ignominy. This is the beauty of the internet and our ridiculously short attention spans.

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