Startup financing – sweat

During the Internet bubble, it was easy to forget how most companies are created. I remember endless presentations where the punch line from two guys and a powerpoint presentation was “all we need is a seed round of $10m and we’ll be able to get going.”

I occassionally get a chance to tell the story of how my first real company – Feld Technologies – was funded by me and my co-founder Dave Jilk with $10 (yes – 10 one dollar bills) of equity (we had 10 shares of stock – $1 / share – that’s all the money we ever raised). There was an interesting constraint – at the time – it was basically all the money we had and it never occurred to us to go try to raise money from venture capitalists (we did eventually get a $10,000 bank line that my dad personally guaranteed with us).

Since many of the companies I fund are raw startups, I often think about the best way to get from an idea to a business. I keep coming back to the value of sweat – which has been perverted in the sweat equity cliche – which is fundametally different than sweat (you know, the stuff that rolls down your back on a hot summer day – or the stuff coming out of your pits when you are about to pick up the phone for that critical call.)

Mark Cuban has a great rant going on his blog (Success and Motivation Part 1, S&M almost p2, S&M p2, S&M p3) about starting up his first company – MicroSolutions. Some of you may know Mark as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks or the founder of Broadcast.com which had a huge IPO and then was bought for over $5 billion by Yahoo!. I remember Mark’s articles in CRN in the early 90’s when I was running Feld Technologies thinking “man – this guy has his shit together.” Perspective is everything – he had it together because he was obsessed with succeeding. Now – I’m sure Mark doesn’t remember me – but the one time we met, I sat in a big red chair in the middle of his Audionet (Broadcast.com’s early name) office – which was just an old warehouse on the edge of downtown Dallas with a bunch of tables, computers, and whiteboards everywhere and listened to him tell me about how amazing Audionet was going to be. I was just starting to work with Softbank at the time (I think I was described as a “Softbank Affiliate” or something silly like that) and since I grew up in Dallas, I stopped by when I was visiting my parents for Thanksgiving. Mark was raising a round and wanted the outrageous valuation of $80m pre for his business (ok – that would have only been a 50x on an investment at the Yahoo price). Charley Lax was at Softbank and was the guy I was working with most closely at that time and when we talked about it on the phone, he completely gacked on the valuation so it was a short exploration. I remember leaving thinking “This Cuban guy has balls”. Duh.

One of my new companies – Newmerix – is sweating it out the right way. I’m incredibly proud of the founders of this company – Niel Robertson and Ed Roberto – for starting this business up the right way. There was a nice article about them in the Boulder Daily Camera yesterday. Niel and Ed embody everything I love in entrepreneurs – they sweat every day, all day, never relent, and are determined to succeed no matter what.