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What's Happening at Venture Architects

Who we're talking to

Betsy Atkins

Jeff Stewart
Managing Director, Urgent Ventures, LLC
Investment activities are focused on B2B internet-based services, e-learning, financial technology, internet advertising, and clean-tech opportunities.


What is the biggest mistake you see when fast-growth, early stage companies hire a sales team? The biggest mistake is that these companies focus on the sale itself, not the process behind the sale. Contrary to popular belief, for any start-up, the first priority of its senior sales team should not be about making an actual sale. It should be about developing and refining a repeatable process that makes the sale – again and again. The goal should be to increase the pace of the sales learning process; what works, what doesn’t and how to constantly improve and consistently close.

When should sales be outsourced vs. in house? I recommend hiring at least one full-time, dedicated sales executive who thinks about sales from morning until night. If one of the founding team members has real sales experience, then it is fine to hire a more junior sales person, but if no one on the founding team has hardcore sales experience, then it is a good idea to hire a more senior sales executive first. It will be worth the investment. Besides, revenue solves almost all problems in a start-up and you can only increase revenue through sales. I also recommend giving a lot of thought to your first sales hire, as turnover for sales executives can be higher than 50% for a myriad of reasons. This is exactly why we founded Urgent Career. We are applying scientific rigor to improve this ratio.

As a part-time angel investor, what do you use as investment criteria? I focus my investments in disruptive B2B technologies within the areas of advertising, finance and energy. First, I look for companies that will deliver at least 10 times what I invest within 3 - 5 years. Second, it is all about management team. I look for drive, intelligence, ethics, and the ability to attract others (really good others). I also look at who referred the company to me. I don’t respond to anything that comes without a referral by someone I know. Also, the two disruptive technology bibles are Jeffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado. I want the entrepreneurs I invest in to be familiar with the thinking outlined in these books.

Because angel investing is not my full-time job, I may pass on awesome deals just because I am busy that week. So, for entrepreneurs seeking investments from angel investors, I encourage you to cast a wide net. Talk to a lot of folks because you may have a great plan but just get in caught-up in bad timing.


Jeff Stewart is an entrepreneur and investor. His most recent company, Urgent Career, pioneers the use of linguistic technology to find, screen, and assess sales professionals. Jeff has founded over a half-dozen companies, which combined employ over 600 people. Immediately prior to founding Urgent Career, Jeff started a technology-based financial intelligence firm that provided real-time analysis of semi-structured text information to hedge funds and other institutional investors. Jeff is also the founder and managing director of Geometric Group LLC and Urgent Ventures LLC, two companies that focus on seed-stage investments.

He is the founder, former CEO, and current chairman of Mimeo.com, a state-of-the-art, Internet-based document production service included in the 2004 and 2005 Inc. 500 lists of the fastest growing companies, the Red Herring 100 list of private companies that drive technology, and Deloitte’s Technology “Fast 500” list. Mr. Stewart’s entrepreneurial career began with his launch of Square Earth, an Internet technology company whose customers included Citibank, Compaq, UPS, Merrill Lynch, Oppenheimer and AIG. Consistently profitable, Square Earth grew at a rate of over 100% per year, merged with Proxicom in January 1998, and successfully completed an IPO as the combined company. Jeff’s blog can be found at www.urgentspeed.com.

 

What we're advising

Planning

Plan

One of the many newsletters that we read recently highlighted a book called Persuasive Business Proposals and shared five rules for making proposals more readable: short sentences (approximately 17 words or less); short words (average 5 characters or less); 10th grade reading level or lower; less than 10% passive voice; and, no fluff, geek or weasel words. In addition to these good tips, we always encourage our clients to talk about the pain first. Persuasive proposals outline the customers' pain/situation and the results customers will achieve if they purchase your solution. Avoid the urge to immediately jump into your own selling points.

Planning

Operate

No need for us to write an entire piece on growing your business when it is summarized so nicely in this Fortune article Six Ways to Grow Your Business. We bet you'll see a measurable difference in your business if you embrace at least one of the six points.

Planning

Communicate

We thought this cartoon was hilarious and unfortunately, all too often oh so true. So ... we just couldn’t resist sharing How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell. After reading, should you wish to actually cede control of the development of your website to professional designers and strategists so it can "soar like an eagle in outerspace," call us. Summer is a great time to get it done.

 

What we're reading

Delivering Happiness

The PR machine for Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose was in ultra high gear prior to the June 7th release date (we even ordered an advance copy). In his first book, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh shares the lessons he has learned in business and life, from starting a worm farm to running a pizza business; through LinkExchange (acquired by Microsoft for $265 million), Zappos, and more. Despite the photo, it’s not heavy lifting. Rather, it's an entertaining inside view of how to build a brand and a distinct, customer-focused corporate culture. You can also pick-up some ideas about how to have fun in the workplace (although you might want to take a pass on the head shaving contest).

 

What our clients have to offer

Map Envelope

Okay, Map Envelope isn't actually a client, but we didn’t feel like changing the header of the section – and it’s a free service anyway. Basically, you can create an envelope with an inner lining of a custom Google map featuring a satellite photo of whatever locale you choose. Enter your location and an optional custom message and hit "preview." If you’re happy with your creation, hit print. You decide ... super cool or super geeky?

 

What our clients are accomplishing

Congratulations to Acceller, Inc., the nation's leading customer acquisition and marketing platform for Internet, television, and phone services, which was recently selected for the second year in a row as the best mid-sized company to work at by the South Florida Business Journal. Acceller is the nation's leading aggregator of Internet, television, phone, and other digital services to consumers – and has extensive technical, marketing, and operational relationships with over 30 of the leading service providers in the country. Acceller is also the publisher of DigitalLanding.com, a consumer information web site about digital home technology, which also integrates Acceller's comparison shopping platform.

And congratulations to Ntiedo Etuk, Chairman & CEO of Tabula Digita Inc., for being named one of six Crain's 2010 Top Entrepreneurs for the perseverance and ingenuity that he brings to New York's business community. Founded in 2003, Tabula Digita is a video game company focused on delivering educational games to students and institutions in the United States. Its educational tools engage elementary, middle, and high school students in learning. The company's video games include DimensionM, which engage middle and high curricula students in the instruction and learning of mathematics; EVOLVER PRE-ALGEBRA games; and Dimenxian algebra.

Torn from Home's new website is officially launched. We know because we designed it. Essentially, the website is an extension of their travelling museum exhibit that encourages young visitors to consider how it feels to flee home, leave everything behind, and face the future with uncertainty and hope. This creative and educational exhibit was developed by Lied Discovery Children's Museum through the generous support of Pam and Pierre Omidyar. It travels throughout North America thanks to a grant from Unbound Philanthropy. Click on "venues and dates" to find out when the exhibit is coming to your city.

 

What we care about

Panera Bread

"Imagine walking into a Panera Bread and picking out anything you wanted to eat or drink – then, at the end of the line, instead of handing your money to a cashier, you faced a donation box. What would you do if you knew that some of the money you placed in the box would be used to train at-risk youths or to feed folks lacking funds to feed themselves?" ... and so starts the USA Today article about Panera Bread's prototype nonprofit outlet. A sign at the entrance says: "Take what you need, leave your fair share." The first location is based in St. Louis where Ron Shaich, the company's former CEO transformed the company from a small St. Louis bread-maker into a $2.8-billion-a-year national chain. They are putting their bread where their heart is.

 

What Makes Us Smile

Jim's Pancakes

Who wouldn’t want to wake-up to these pancake masterpieces!? This pancake-flipping dad is talented. From rapper necklaces to sushi to Homer Simpson. Be sure to look through the gallery. Such fun ... www.jimspancakes.com