The Empowered Entrepreneur

Good-b’s Special Fall Issue: The Entrepreneurial Economy

In today’s tough economic climate, entrepreneurs are hardier and more innovative than ever. They have to be in order to get the attention of investors. This fall’s line-up of entrepreneur gatherings is power-packed.  Full of exciting new ventures, entrepreneurs and the VC world are exploding with opportunity and innovation.

One of the highlights of the season was Bloomberg Link’s “The Empowered Entrepreneur,” #BBempower, featuring some of the hottest companies on the web. The event began with the A,B,C’s of catching the eye of Angel Investors.  Jeff  Clavier of SoftTech VC, Eric Hippeau of Lerer Ventures (former CEO of Huff Post) and Mike Maples of FLOODGATE detailed the advantage of Angels for start-ups and pre-revenue companies. Angels can add street cred to a start-up before it is ready for bigger venture capital.  The advantage to securing an angel investor is a more hands-on role in the early development stages to help jump-start a new company. Clearly articulate your market, customer and value proposition, mix in an innovative platform and go out and find an angel to put a halo over your enterprise. The consensus is that investor cash is tight these days, but new ideas and solid business models are always attractive to the entrepreneurial investor market.

The afternoon proceeded with top VC’s including Andy Weissman from Union Square Ventures, Jeremy Smith from Second Market and Esther Dyson at EDventure Holdings. Dyson said, “There’s too much money going to too few companies.” She detailed the overlap of so many new e-company product lines and stated that many would be merged, bought, sold or closed as the market heated up. Weissman at USV mentioned that American business “karma” is shifting. He noted, “”The U.S. is moving from an industrial economy to an information economy, so the opportunities are vastly higher now.” That is good news for anyone in the online information industry (like us at Good-b!). Yet Eric Hippeau reminded the crowd that, “The volatile market has an impact on all sectors of the economy.”

The talk centered on whether there is a “tech bubble” or not.  Most of the experts felt hot new tech companies were overvalued in the market not unlike the late 90s and the dot com era citing Groupon’s changing valuation as an example. Groupon, the wholesale web discounter, is valued at $12.7bn and opened at $26.75 a share in early November. The stock is already trading at 20% less than its initial share price. But market volatility due to European Union debt and Supercommittee challenges has affected the entire market. Groupon, however, has many copycats and wannabees biting at its heels and more seem to be popping up daily. Its profitability in the competitive marketplace remains to be seen. But where Groupon profits go, the rest of the tech IPO market follows.

The three well-seasoned venture capitalists, Dyson, Smith and Weissman, also discussed the importance of exit strategies. Investors want a concrete plan and not all companies will go public. Yet a key factor to an entrepreneur’s proposal is how long will it take to pay investor’s money back and how do you plan to do that. Buying the VC’s out with revenues, or new rounds of investor capital, or planning for an IPO are the common options. Yet entrepreneurs should remember many VC’s don’t want to invest in companies where the founders will not consider selling the firm if an IPO is not in the cards. For many founders, the idea of selling their company to an unknown entity is unfathomable. Yet for other entrepreneurs this is the way of the VC world. Selling your company doesn’t mean a CEO is replaced. Sometimes it just means you have more working capital and a bigger platform and that is an entrepreneur’s dream-come-true.

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