May 19, 2004

UpAgainst.com

Idea for new Internet business: UpAgainst.com (hey, the domain's available, incredibly, at least as of this writing).

You'd register for the service, fill out a detailed form specifying any new proposed project, initiative, or business venture, and it comes back with a detailed listing of all the things you're going to come up against.

For instance, trying to raise angel money for an Internet venture in San Diego? With UpAgainst.com, you'd find out beforehand that the angels you intend to speak with don't know or recognize any of the technical terms, names of competitors, or names of potential strategic partners (all of these things household terms to anyone in Silicon Valley) that you keep mentioning in your pitches, which means that you're prolly simply wasting your time talking to them.

Want to embark on a new project that's kinda risky? Punch in all the data into UpAgainst.com, and it spits back a detailed report of all the things you need to take into account before you get started on the project.

Thinking of running in the next local election? Tell UpAgainst.com the story, and it'll come back with a list of who you'll be up against, where their money's coming from, and what the key issues are that they're going to bring up to damage your candidacy.

Yep, I think UpAgainst.com would serve a very useful function. I'd pay to use it. :-)


I attended a "Meet the Angels" session at UCSD Connect yesterday. Interesting experience.

The first thing the LCD projector showed on the screen, when the speaker fired up his notebook computer:

Warning: battery is critically low
Hit F1 to continue

An appropriate warning for money-hungry entrepreneurs . . .

First came an intro from the president of the San Diego Tech Coast Angels group. His first statement: he joked that his organization had just changed their name, and they were now known as "Masochists Anonymous". "Raising money is a bitch," he added. He talked about how angels fund a lot more startups than VCs do. As for VCs, he had this to say: "They've grown up, they've gotten snotty, they've gotten rich." He claimed that a new startup has a one- to two-tenths of a percent chance of getting funded by a VC. That sounds about right.

There was then a half-hour schmooze period to meet and greet those in the audience. The audience was mostly entrepreneurs, each wearing a name tag (black text on a white background) with a red, green, or yellow sticker attached. Red signalled you were associated with "high tech". Green meant "life sciences". Yellow meant "general". Problem was, TCA Members had the same name-tag scheme. Black text on white background, with a red, green, or yellow dot. The only thing that distinguished them from the entrepreneurs was the text that said "TCA Member" instead of company name. (In past schmooze sessions with VCs, I've seen a better and simpler design: Red means you're an entrepreneur seeking money; Green means you're a VC with money to invest. Makes it a heck of a lot easier to track down the money people.)

I met a couple of folks during the meet and greet, but they were all entrepreneurs. One guy, Oliver Robins, is the CEO of an interesting startup in Carlsbad called eFilm Market Online, which is attempting to become an eBay-style marketplace for filmmakers trying to find distributors and buyers worldwide for their films. Ha! I thought, having just finished Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film. It's an interesting gambit, but that industry is absolutely brutual. I asked Robins, "Ever read Down and Dirty?" He'd not. I asked him if Miramax had gotten on his radar yet. He told me that eFilm's attorney used to be Senior Counsel at Miramax. "Scott Greenstein!?" I asked. "No," he said, and mentioned someone else's name I didn't recognize.

Another entrepreneur was going around demonstrating his medical product, some samples of which he'd brought with him. Suffice to say, the medical product demonstration was rather sensational. Imagine a condom three feet long. The guy opens one end of this polywhatever rubber thing, sticks his hand in, and keeps running his whole arm down it until the rubber thing is up to his armpit. Anyone who saw it, entrepreneur or angel alike, had to laugh. Seriously, it's for some sort of emergency trauma care thing for limbs that need to be kept airtight and waterproof, and can be applied to the affected limb instantly. But the demo reminds one of that scene from The Naked Gun.

Another entrepreneur was there from something called the "Children's Education Network". He told me about some other local organization that I ought to explore because there might be better odds of getting funding. He asked for a business card and told me he'd email me the info. Well, he did, late last night. He sent me a spam (why people use Comic Sans as a font and expect to be taken seriously, I don't know) about some organization called "IBI Global". Never heard of them before. Prolly a reason for that. Turns out he's affiliated with them. Why, you can even watch a 15-minute video featuring the same guy, talking about how wonderful the organization is yadda yadda yadda. Think: Anthony Robbins for entrepreneurs and CEOs. *Bleah* . . . I sent him back an email declining the invitation, citing a strict rule I have: Always run for the hills when presented with an offer formatted with lots of centered text.

Finally, another entrepreneur, Michel Dedina, told me about his new dot-com venture. He handed me a business card and the company name was eXXXXXXXXXXX.com. I'm not gonna mention the actual name here, because I went and checked and he hasn't even gotten the domain yet. It's still available. Um, Michel, it's only $8.95 to register it at Godaddy... might wanna spring for it before someone grabs it.

Tim Rueth, another Tech Coast Angels member, then gave a talk for newbie entrepreneurs. If you've been there, and done that, sitting through a newbie talk is like sitting through the flight attendants' lecture on the safety features of the aircraft. I suppose it's necessary, but if you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times.

As soon as he started talking, I immediately recognized the voice. But . . . whose voice was it . . . hmm . . . so familiar . . . but . . . I simply couldn't place it. And then, after about 5 minutes, it occurred to me: his voice sounded like what I imagine a young Don Norman's voice would sound like. It was eerie.

Some data regarding Tech Coast Angels dealflow:

Number of ventures pre-screened in the past year: 377

Number invited back to give the powerpoint presentation: 143

Number that actually got funded: 26 (6.8%)

Number funded so far in 2004: 12

Typical value of the investment: 250k - 750k

Expected ROI after 3-5 years: 10x to 30x

One thing he did that turned out to be a big boo-boo: he wrote all over this long whiteboard using a permanent magic marker. Rule #264 for Presenters: always check the marker before writing. If there's a tear-sheet easel situated anywhere near the whiteboard, ASSUME that the marker you've picked up is actually a permanent-ink marker intended for paper surfaces, not whiteboards....

In the end, I prolly would have had better luck pitching UpAgainst.com to these angels than my actual business. Or, worst case, pitching a new design for a dual-ink magic marker that senses what surface you're about to write on, and delivers the appropriate ink . . . hey! That's an idea!

Posted by brian at May 19, 2004 11:35 AM | TrackBack

Comments

"One thing he did that turned out to be a big boo-boo: he wrote all over this long whiteboard using a permanent magic marker."

I just slapped my forehead reading this. Geez, geez.

--Kynn

Posted by: Kynn Bartlett at June 7, 2004 04:47 PM

After going a few rounds with the Tech Coast Anglers ;) it was good to see your take on the group. Great news about the SD Reader.

Posted by: David at June 8, 2004 10:29 AM

Looking at the Reader today and saw that you were at the TCA meeting. I was there - my 1st with the Angels. A worthwhile event save the dearth of Angels present. Always wanted to use that word 'dearth' in a sentence.

Posted by: Sam at June 14, 2004 02:47 PM

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