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ABC Widgets

Who we're talking to

Betsy Atkins

Betsy Atkins
Chief Executive Officer, Baja Ventures
Baja Ventures is an independent venture capital firm focused on the technology and life sciences industry since 1994.


What should entrepreneurs seek in a board member?
Entrepreneurs should seek an independent board member who brings three main things. First, from a corporate governance point of view, the board member must be independent and represent the common share holders' interests. For example, if there is a funding round where there is significant dilution to management or venture fund preferences when selling the company, the board member's job is to understand and discuss the impact of the terms on the common shareholder. Second, the board member should have specific knowledge or functional expertise such as go-to-market experience, distribution channel relationships, deep technology experience, or whatever is most critical to the successful growth of the particular company. Finally, the board member should be able to mentor the CEO. The most critical areas are typically helping the CEO face tough issues early and head-on, identify who should stay or go on the senior management team, and scale the business.

What are investors looking for in a board member?
Investors want board members who understand their objectives whether it be to quickly scale a company for an acquisition or a longer term invest and build strategy with the goal of an IPO. Investors look for board members who know the universe of potential buyers for the company when the time comes and have been through an IPO or have public company committee experience in governance, compensation or audit. Investors also want board members who are willing to tackle tough issues and can be collegial, yet decisive.

What is the ideal number of independent board members?
If your company is under $75 million in revenue, then one independent board member is sufficient. If above $75 million, then include approximately two to three independent board members.

[Ms. Atkins has served as a director and is currently the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Clear Standards, Inc. Ms. Atkins serves on the boards of Directors of Chico's FAS, Inc., Polycom, Inc., Reynolds American Inc., SunPower Corporation, and a number of private companies (including the board of directors of the NASDAQ Stock Market LLC) and is an advisor to British Telecom. Previously, Ms. Atkins was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NCI, Inc., a functional food/nutraceutical company as well as co-founder of Ascend Communications, Inc. and a member of their Board of Directors, and served as its Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing, Professional Services and International Operations prior to its acquisition by Lucent Technologies.]

 

What we're advising

Planning

Plan

We all need to recharge our personal batteries from time to time. If you're not passionately engaged how can your company and customers be? What about taking the day off from your regular routine to go on vacation within your company? Spend the day with your tech geeks. Greet your customers. Have coffee with the intern. If you're not convinced that this is a worthwhile use of your time, an episode of Undercover Boss will change your mind.

Planning

Operate

Group think for investors used to be that topline sales figures were the only numbers that mattered. However, topline-centric thinking is no longer the driving force behind investment decisions. Investors have shifted to asking - Can you make it profitable? Gross margins now rule. Therefore, focusing exclusively on sales can be dangerous for early stage companies because sales do not necessarily result in cash flow. Rather, examine your gross margin (the percentage of profit made after covering the direct cost of whatever you are selling). You have to pay all of your expenses out of gross profit such as rent, salary, web hosting, etc. If your gross margin is 10%, you need $10 in sales for every $1 of overhead just to break even. If your gross margin is 40%, you need only $2.50 in sales for every $1.00 of overhead. Ensuring that your gross margins are as high as possible, particularly when launching a business, can be the difference between glory and failure. If you happen to be in a business with a low gross margin, it's not the end of the world. Just be sure to pick a product that has a high average ticket price or a product where the sales process is somewhat automated so you can generate a higher volume of low margin sales, with little overhead.

Planning

Communicate

We just participated in Startup Weekend Miami, so thought we would share two of their success stories that can help you communicate better. Skribit is a self-proclaimed cure for writer's block. Essentially, it produces original content for your devoted readers when you're all out of ideas by getting suggestions for blog posts from your readers and the Skribit community. To use the service, all you do is install a customizable widget or suggestion tab, which enables readers to make suggestions. Readers can then follow these suggestions and get notified when they are completed and blogged about. Skribit was created at Startup Weekend Atlanta 2007.

Gist, a cool outcome from Startup Weekend Istanbul, recently added Learn That Name, a 2009 Startup Weekend Redmond, WA idea, to its iPhone application. Learn That Name helps you identify your professional network by matching a picture with a name. Who doesn't need this!? Tap the wrong person and you'll lose a few points. At the end of the game, Learn That Name tallies your points, tells you how you did, and gives you an option to reach out to the contacts you identified in the game. Learn That Name connects to your LinkedIn account and spans your email and social networking contacts through Twitter, Facebook, and CRM-type applications. You can download the Gist iPhone application here and put an end to those awkward moments!

And just for fun, find and post dishes - not just restaurants at Foodspotting from Startup Weekend San Francisco 2009.

 

What we're reading

The Big Short

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine just hit the book stores last week. We read the excerpt in the April issue of Vanity Fair and can't wait to dig into the book. The Big Short chronicles the subprime-mortgage market and the ongoing financial crisis. Anything by Michael Lewis is a must read. He has a tremendous gift for taking complicated subjects that could be extremely boring and making them fascinating (think Liar's Poker or Moneyball). Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, his storytelling skills are superb and his books are always a good ride. Plus, he has a quasi-cool factor through his marriage to Tabitha Soren, of MTV fame from back in the days when MTV actually played music videos.

 

What our clients have to offer

How Sweet It Is

Better than mom's! How Sweet It Is makes pastries that have it all - beauty, substance and deliciousness. Click and scroll over the numbers to see some of their amazing cake and pastry creations. Owned by Ellen Sternau, former executive pastry chef of The River Cafe and Aquavit, and Beth Pilar, a former food editor for Martha Stewart Living, How Sweet It Is prepares elegant, must-taste desserts for everyday or special occasions.

Friends of Venture Architects will receive a 10% discount on a dozen cupcakes or a 6-inch cake when you mention "Venture Architects" when placing your order. This offer is valid through April 30, 2010. Yum!

 

What our clients are accomplishing

FreeStreets is now in beta. Essentially, FreeStreets helps drivers find the fastest way to their destination. Instead of relying on computer algorithms to calculate the fastest route, FreeStreets enables drivers to find and share the routes that they know are the fastest. FreeStreets is looking for drivers to populate its database. Sign-up for a shorter commute, a quicker route to get to dinner on time or just share your favorite FreeStreets with the world.

Congratulations to Landry & Kling Inc. for hiring a rock star Chief Operating Officer with deep industry experience to accelerate the usage and enhance the capabilities of their recent venture called Seasite.com. Launched in September 2009, Seasite.com is the first online cruise portal for meeting and event planners. Seasite.com is the brainchild of Landry & Kling Inc., pioneers of the meetings-at-sea concept. Providing turnkey solutions for ship buy-outs, incentive cruises, all kinds of meetings-at-sea and dockside ship charters for global events, Landry & Kling was recognized by Florida International University and The Commonwealth Institute as one of the "Top 50 Woman-Led Businesses in Florida," and in 2009 they were inducted into the Cruise Lines International Association Hall of Fame.

Earlier this month, RioRey, Inc. participated in Webhosting Day 2010 in Cologne, Germany. RioRey showed off its internet security solutions that protect against Denial of Service (DOS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. RioRey's products scale to work with Fortune 1000, small and medium businesses, government agencies, universities and hosting companies worldwide to detect and stop DDoS attacks before they compromise customers' public web sites. The key to RioRey's approach is the examination of network behavior as a whole. Monitoring for suspicious protocols instead of analyzing individual packets allows RioRey to rapidly identify and drop attack traffic without affecting legitimate traffic.

 

What we care about

FAstForwardFund

. . . youth investing in youth for global change. The Fast Forward Fund transforms young people in their twenties into social investor activists. This one-year-old nonprofit provides training and education that includes leadership development, social investor retreats, philanthropic travel and site visit journeys, and online seminars. It also focuses on youth-to-youth investments by offering social investor circles, portfolio investments, and investor mentorships. Incubated by leading pipelines of social entrepreneurship and youth talent - such as the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), Acumen, Ashoka, Echoing Green, Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition, and select academic programs - the Fast Forward Fund is redefining how young people access and allocate capital.