The Moaning 20s

By Matias Barbero

“No more …. masks. Everything open too. School opens this week — Thursday! Did you ever? As if they couldn’t have waited till Monday!”

With multiple vaccines around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be coming to an end. The US for example is currently applying +3mm doses per day, and at this pace, it will take less than 3 months to cover 75% of the population.

The quote above belongs to a 15-year old, Violet Harris, who’s excited about the taming of the virus. Thing is… that quote was taken from a 1919 dairy announcing the end of the Spanish Flu which, in 1920, marked the beginning of one of the most exuberant, remarkable, and catastrophic eras in recent history.

The 1920s was an age of unprecedented change in almost all aspects of life. Ford made the most modern cars accessible for the masses for the first time; technological innovations like the radio and telephone changed the way people thought about entertainment and community; retail investors rushed to the stock market like never before; there was an explosion of consumerism. The list could go on.

Not only the pent-up energy after a draconian lockdown resembles what we are currently living, but swap some keywords from the paragraph above for Tesla, Zoom, social media, and Reddit and we could very well use it to describe what seems to be the beginning of our own version of the roaring 20s.

But we all know how things ended almost 100 years ago. The roar suddenly morphed into a painful moan and in 1929 burst the bubble and marked the start of the Great Depression. So far, this century’s 20s are by all means roaring (Figure 1), but are they also going to end up moaning like their predecessor?

Figure 1

Killing a mosquito with a bazooka

At the same time, and partly causing the above, government spending is off the charts. On March 27th of 2020 Trump passed an unprecedented act to combat Covid-19’s economic disaster: a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill which included loans for corporations, unemployment benefits, and the well-known $1,200 checks given to individual people. This was more than what Bush and Obama had each passed as a consequence of the great recession, COMBINED… and what they did was already unmatched by any other stimulus package in recent history. The Marshall Plan, for example, was a US$130bn program providing aid to Western Europe following the devastation of World War II (Figure 2).

In comes Biden and signs an additional $1.9 trillion stimulus into law, making the total budget assigned for Covid-19 relief a whopping $4.1 trillion. Now, only ~1 month after, Biden is looking to pass a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to “re-shape the economy”. The bill is already headed to Senate and is expected to be passed in August of this year.

It’s not my intention to judge on the utility or need of these individual plans but to point to the staggering amount of money that the government is spending. Do we need to push the printing machine to this extent? Take a look again at Figure 1; are we re-building the economy just like previous administrations did after catastrophic world wars or recessions? Or are we fueling the bubble, or worse, creating new bubbles everywhere?

Figure 2

If you think our roaring twenties may moan…

I will not waste your time by making pointless predictions about what will happen next or when. Instead, I would like to present a couple of options in case you were wondering what to do or how to be prepared for a scenario like this.

1. Cash is king (?)

Yes, fiat money depreciates over time and suffers the effects of inflation. The discussion above on the government going brrrr with the money printing machine will only worsen this condition. In the long run, if you just hold cash, you’re going to see your purchasing power deteriorate through dilution of the currency. But fiat money, particularly the US dollar, is still used for virtually all transactions you will encounter in your daily life today and is, arguably, one of the best assets to hold during periods of a market downturn. So, if a crisis does hit, you may want to have some cash reserves that will a) not be subject to the swings of the market, and b) will enable you to opportunistically buy your favorite stock at a steep discount and quickly reduce your cash position thereafter.

This may vary based on personal situations, but aiming to have 20% cash or more of your assets could be a smart move. Our own Fabrice Grinda suggests this approach and has a great piece on the everything bubble that I highly recommend.

An alternative along the same vein would be to pick a different currency other than the US dollar. The Swiss Franc has historically been used as safe heaven given the stability of the Swiss government and its financial system. So you may want to diversify your cash holdings and own some Swiss Francs too.

2. Let’s get physical

Real estate. After the great recession of ’08/’09, we came to associate economic crisis with real estate crisis but that’s not necessarily always true. Investing in real estate has always been a synonym of inflation hedge. That’s one positive point. How real estate will perform as an asset class during a crisis will depend on the nature of the crisis itself. But considering investing in land, farms, and high-quality apartment buildings could hold up better than most alternatives, are less volatile, and may result in a winning strategy.

Legendary media mogul, John Malone, has mentioned in several recent interviews that he worries about the current frothy markets and that the way he’s personally insulating himself is by buying forest land, farms, and high-quality apartment buildings. And he’s not the only one… ever heard of Bill The Farmer? Me neither, but Bill Gates is now officially the largest farm owner of the United States.

3. Cryptocurrencies

I will make this a short sub-section given I basically laid out the case for crypto in point number 1. Owning bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are a hedge against inflation but also against current governmental and financial institutions. This is a deep rabbit hole and could write many dedicated posts on it. If you don’t have exposure to crypto yet, I’d assign a certain % of your overall portfolio and follow Balaji’s advice to put 50% on Bitcoin and 50% on Ethereum. If you already do, then you’re probably a convert and can get more sophisticated with the choice of assets : ) Crypto would fit the ‘risky asset’ bucket mentioned later in the post and could also be hedged using put options (see below).

4. The antifragile option

I love the ‘antifragile’ term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s such a powerful concept and extremely relevant to the topics we’re discussing today. In a nutshell, being antifragile is gaining from disorder. A crystal is fragile (hates shocks), a rock is robust (indifferent to shocks), Hydra, the Greek mythological creature, is antifragile: when you cut one head off, two grow back in its place. So what if we can actually benefit from the burst of a bubble?

A. CDS

In early 2020, billionaire investor Bill Ackman pulled what some called the ‘single best trade of all time’ turning $27mm into $2.6bn in a matter of weeks. He basically used financial options to bet against the American economy thinking the then incipient Covid virus would have a greater economic impact than it was priced in by the markets at that time.

But how? You may ask. Ackman used a combination of CDS (Credit Default Swaps). Here’s a refresher by Margot Robbie for those who need it. You could buy CDS for a company, a country, or other entity. In this case, Ackman bought CDS on US Investment Grade Bonds, European Investment Grade Bonds, and US High Yield Bonds. Think about CDS as buying fire insurance for your house. You pay a regular fee and get reimbursed if your house burns down. He initiated the trades when these indexes were trading near all-time tight levels (cheap premiums) and sold them once he saw the government was rushing with firehoses to contain the Covid fire.

Small caveat: banks typically require long bureaucratic processes before you can place trades on instruments such as CDS and will most likely not pay attention to you unless you have $50mm with them. I know. Don’t kill the messenger.

B. Put options

If you’re just a mere mortal like myself, armed with a Robinhood account and not much else, the strategy below is one I really like to keep investing in the markets while hedging ‘fat tail’ risks using put options. There’s a detailed explanation of this strategy used by Universa hedge fund in this article, and I will list a step-by-step in the simplest way I can:

  1. Each month, set aside 0.5% of your total exposure. If you have, say, $100k invested in the S&P then you will need to spend $500 per month on this strategy
  2. Buy put options of the market you are trying to hedge from. In this case, it would be S&P put options but the same could also apply to hedge against whatever exposure you have (e.g., Apple stock, bitcoin, etc.).
  3. Should I buy any put option? No. Buy ~2-month put options that are about 30% out-of-the-money. That is, if the S&P is currently trading at a symbolic price of $10 you will want to buy put options expiring 2 months from today at a strike price of $7. We are going after “cheap” options that will be highly valuable if the market plummets
  4. Repeat. Every month you should roll your options and purchase new puts with 2-3 months expiration dates and ~30% discount with fresh $500 and whatever proceeds you have from selling your existing options

The reason this strategy is so hard to implement consistently is because 99% of the time it doesn’t work (if the stock market doesn’t crash your options will be sold each month for almost nothing)… but when it works, it works big time. You take small hits every month (just $500 in our example) but you’re likely more than compensating with one large win if the crisis does come (enter Bill Ackman’s example from before).

It’s the opposite of eating like a bird and pooping like an elephant.

The [insert adjective here] 20s

It’s April of 2021. We’re living through and building our own version of the “roaring 20s”. Time will tell which adjective is the one we’re supposed to be using here. So far, some of the similarities with its predecessor are striking. I will not pretend to know when or if the ‘bubble’ will burst. The best way to avoid a bad hangover is not even going to the party in the first place, but this party has proven to be a particularly fun one to attend (figure 1). The options from the section above are some alternatives that we have at our disposal to alleviate the headache if the party suddenly comes to an end. If you’re inclined to pick ‘terrible’ as your adjective for our 20s and are really worried about the current state of the markets, then you could use one or a combination of the options above to protect your portfolio. If instead, you are thinking of a synonym of ‘roaring’ and believe this party is yet to be over, then you can combine your choice of ‘risky’ assets (e.g., stocks) with one or more of the choices from above (barbell strategy: high-risk assets on one end and one or more protective alternatives on the other). As for my choice of adjective, I’m going to play it safe and allow for both an exciting and a painful outcome. I shall call it the moaning 20s.

Matias is an investor at FJ Labs. Previously, he was an M&A investment banking associate at JPMorgan. Before that, he held different strategy, marketing, and finance roles. Originally from Argentina, Matias holds an MBA from Duke University, where he graduated with honors as a Fuqua Scholar. You can follow him on Twitter at @matiasbarbero13

Further Reading:


Nothing in this post is financial advice. The goal of this post is to have a conceptual discussion around the topics covered here and generating awareness of the options available to people looking to diversify and/or prepare themselves for a potential shock in the near future. The financial instruments covered in this post are highly volatile and could lead to large losses if not used responsibly.

Episode 21: How to Build the Perfect Pitch Deck?

This is one of the most requested questions I’ve received since starting Playing With Unicorns. People want to know “How do I build the perfect pitch deck to raise funds?”

Kelly Anne Tully, Head of Platform and Investor at FJ Labs, joins to share her tips. Kelly has helped many of our portfolio companies raise funds. Today, Kelly and I discuss how to create the perfect pitch deck.

 

 

Storytelling

The saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” doesn’t apply to pitch decks. Visually pitch decks can differ. But content-wise all good pitch deck contain the same things. So it’s important to know what to include in a deck.

Essentially a good pitch deck tells the origin story, the journey, and vision of the startup. Most founders hate storytelling, yet the art of storytelling is an important skill. You don’t have to be Dostoevsky. But you should be able to tell a cohesive and captivating story.

Investors want “a founder who is a visionary who is fantastic at execution.”

 

When to raise?

Always raise when you don’t need the money. Investors can sniff desperate founders. As a founder, you never want to be in a position where your desperation leads to terrible deals.

You want to have leverage. To do that you need traction. Traction is what separates concepts from execution.

Once you have traction, find investors that invest in your category. Investors will not fund companies that are in direct competition with one of their portfolio companies. Hence don’t spray and pray. Be methodical. Create a pipeline that helps you track what stage you’re at with all the investors.

When raising always aim for 12+ months. I recommend raising for 18 months with a buffer.

A perfect pitch deck will convince investors that you can go from zero to one.

“Winners are not the first entrants, they are last entrants who got it right. Think of Google or Facebook”

 

No(s) are normal

One important thing to remember is that getting nos are normal. Every successful startup has received more nos than yes.

You must not take rejections personally. The sooner you realize this the easier it will be to move on.

 

Must have slides

The very first slide should say who you are and what you do. Then start with a team slide to introduce your awesome crew. This immediately familiarizes the investors with the product and the people behind it.

Intro:  What do you do.

Team: Who you are and tell your story.

Problem: Contexualize the problem you’re solving.

Market opportunity: TAM should be greater than $5 bn.

Solution: Therefore, we are building X to fix Y.

Traction: Include churn, GVM, MRR, ARR.

How does it work: Have product images showing how it works

Competition: Who are they? And what’s your differentiator? Is this a blue or red market?

Business model: How do you plan to make money today v. tomorrow.

Unit economics: How much value does each unit generate for the company. LTC:CAC should always be LTV:CAC.

Growth & marketing: How do you plan to grow?

Ask: Don’t put valuation. Instead have how much you’ve raised and from who. And how are you planning onspending the money.

 

For your reference I am including the slides Kelly used during the episode.

How-to-build-the-perfect-pitch-deck

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

The LG Gram 17 is the perfect laptop!

I love to travel light and love big screens and long battery life. Those things were largely incompatible until the LG Gram. It has a 17” screen with a 16:10 ratio, to see more vertical content, yet weighs only 2.98 pounds.

I had the 2020 model, but it was underpowered. It was not powerful enough to run OBS to stream Playing With Unicorns or to play Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on my external 4K monitor. As a result, I often ended traveling with my bulkier MSI GS75 notebook, which is blazingly fast, but cooked my legs and only had a 90-minute battery life when doing anything intense. Worse I often traveled with both notebooks.

The 2021 Gram 17 now has an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 which is 25% faster than last year’s edition and the Iris Xe graphics card is almost twice as fast as last year’s integrated graphics card. I am happy to report it is now (barely) powerful enough to do everything I need and is the only notebook I travel with. My MSI notebooks have been transformed into desktops and run my home office setup.

The notebook is rated for an extraordinary 19.5 hours of battery life and I routinely get over 12 hours on it. I find the 1Tb SSD rather small but solve the issue by not synching all the files from my Dropbox. The only disappointing part is the subpar speakers. Other than that, it is the perfect notebook. On top of that it is reasonably priced at $1,796.

All that to say if you are looking for an amazingly light, yet large and powerful notebook with a seemingly infinite battery life get the 2021 LG Gram 17!

Episode 20: So you want to launch a SPAC ?

Last week Alpha Capital, a SPAC company that FJ Labs co-sponsored, went public. We rang the bell and it was beautiful.

Alpha Capital is a formed blank check company that intends to seek a business combination with a Latin American-focused technology business that will benefit from the founders’ experience growing and operating businesses in this industry throughout Latin America.

Today’s episode is special because Jeff Weinstein interviews Rahim Lakhani, the CFO of Alpha Capital. Most of you will remember Jeff from Episode 13: What’s the deal with SPACs. He is the resident SPAC boy at FJ Labs.

Rahim has an illustrious record of leading finance, strategy, and sales from Anheuser-Busch InBev to Offerpad, and now Alpha Capital.

 

Why Alpha Capital is going after LATAM?

  1. Fast adoption of technology in the region.
  2. There is a lack of capital injection.
  3. Lots of expertise in the market on the Alpha team.

“There’s high internet penetration but low economic penetration.”

Must-haves for launching a great SPAC

  1. You must find good partners. Partners include co-sponsors, law firms, bankers, and any service provider. There is uncertainty involved in SPACs and for that reason trust is important. So you must get to know your partners ahead of time.
  2. Make sure your vision and incentives align with your partners. A great SPAC is not a get-rich-quick scheme, it is a long-term game played by long-term people.
  3. Solve a real problem. It sounds like a simple task but it’s often forgotten.

Future of SPACs

There has been an increase in SPAC adoption because people like Chamat Palihapitiya have articulated the upsides well to other investors. Keep in mind that the market is rapidly evolving. Three key takeaways about the future of SPACs:

  1. There will be a market correction after two years. All the SPACs that succeed in consummating will become leaders in the market. These two years will help differentiate elite investors from mediocre ones.
  2. There will be a tiering of SPACs: tier 1, tier 2, tier 3 similar to banks.
  3. Tier 1 companies will want to pair up with tier 1 sponsors.

The obvious winners of successful SPACs are venture funds, service providers, and private companies. But the non-obvious winner is society because we will directly benefit from the increased speed of innovation, especially if companies with long-term cash flow, low probability of success, but high impact succeed with their products.

 

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Kiting in Half Moon Bay is spectacular!

I have been in awe of the color of the water in Turks ever since I set eyes on it. And no place in Turks is more beautiful than the jaw dropping ridiculous beauty of Half Moon Bay. I had the pleasure of kiting there last Sunday morning, and it was majestic!

I am not sure why I love kiting so much, but there something about needing to focus to deal with two fundamental elements: air and water, that creates a meditative Zen-like state. Beyond kiting’s innate ability to create flow states, I love the sensation of gliding on the water and soaring through the air. I find it reminiscent of the sensations of skiing in powder, another of my favorite sports.

I felt compelled and inspired to make a video tribute to Sunday morning’s epic session.

Episode 19: Reinvesting in the Latam Tech Ecosystem with Brian Requarth

Brian Requarth is the Co-Founder of Latitud and former CEO of Viva Real. Through Latitud, he now dedicates his time to providing mentorship and advice for entrepreneurs in Latin America (LATAM).

Brian’s new book, Viva the Entrepreneur: Founding, Scaling, and Raising Venture Capital in Latin America shares the hard lessons he learned while building and scaling his company. It covers best practices for communicating with your co-founder, finding great investors, and building a good board. Brian joins me this week to share how he’s investing his resources back to LATAM, and lessons for marketplace businesses.

 

Social Capital

Brian’s work is part of a greater initiative to connect founders in LATAM with high level founders, advisors, and investors. His goal is to elevate the Latin American startup community by providing access to global mentors.

Investors are beginning to realize the massive potential for fast growing companies. Companies from emerging markets have the advantage of having large markets with fewer competition.

Latitud helps founders in Latin America leverage the collective knowledge and wisdom from global mentors. The rigorous program is a month packed with insightful talks and one-on-one sessions. This social capital model provides value and inspires founders to execute their vision.

Focus on owning one market

When building a marketplace, you should focus on being a big fish in a medium-sized pond. Founders often make the mistake of scaling globally too early and wasting resources.

“Matching supply and demand is critical.”

Chasing the international market is a distraction. Marketplaces should focus on dominating localities first, then branching outward. Start in one specific area then expand to neighbouring ones, which allows companies to focus on rapidly improving their service/product as feedback is implemented quicker.

Build a strong inner circle

Being a founder can often feel lonely. This is especially true for first-time founders who have not yet seen success. Brian highlights the importance of creating a trusted network and emphasizes two key takeaways to keep you on the right track:

  1. Find other founders who are ahead of you in their journey. Fellow founders are better able to empathize with the struggles of raising capital, leading a team, and hiring/firing.
  1. Have a good executive team. They will rise above challenges during crisis moments, carry your vision, and come up with unique solutions to problems. 

“Find a trusted network.”

Persistence

Brian reminds us that during challenging times, a founder must focus on the things they can control and resist distractions beyond their control. When driven by a mission rather than money, they are more persistent in the face of adversity.

“It’s about persistence and focus.”

Viva Entrepreneur is full of insights and lessons from someone who has walked the talk. Brian is honest and transparent. I recommend this book to anyone looking to learn what it takes to build a great company.

You can also invest in Brian’s rolling fund at: http://fund.latitud.com/


If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

FJ Labs Valuation Matrix

A while back I posted the matrix FJ Labs uses to evaluate marketplace startups. It has been our default internal framework for years but is limited to marketplaces with a 10-20% take rate, which used to be our bread and butter. However, now we mostly invest in B2B marketplaces, which typically have 3-5% take rates. The framework is also not applicable for SAAS businesses and ecommerce businesses.

In addition, it was not clear enough whom you should raise from and what the expectation was for the proceeds of the raise. Investors and VCs typically specialize by stage and you need to be speaking to the right VC for the right stage. As result, I redid the matrix to be clearer and cover most cases.

To address expected traction at each stage, I switched from using Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV), as the metric of reference, to net revenues. This allows us to make traction comparable across different business models, even though some differences persist as most SAAS businesses have 90%+ margins, while most marketplaces have 60-70% margins and ecommerce margins vary.

Note that there is also an implied growth expectation that you will move from stage to stage in around 18 months.

Note that the ranges above cover the median. There are many exceptions, especially on the higher end. In other words, the standard deviation is rather high. A second time successful founder can raise at a much higher valuation. A company growing much quicker than the average can often “skip a stage” and have its Series A look like a Series B or its Series B look like a Series C. However, these are general guidelines that should be helpful for most entrepreneurs.

For reference, I am also attaching the original FJ Labs Marketplace Matrix.

Episode 18: Thirty-Six Lessons from Company Founders & CEOs with Tim Jackson

Tim Jackson is a fellow entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author. He has lived an interesting life from a career in journalism for the Financial Times, to VC seed funding for technology startups. It was no accident that he would eventually find himself in this world – he recalls speaking on the phone and writing a column about some guy called Jeff, who had just started a company called Amazon in 1995.

Tim fell in love with VC as a managing director running a $700m fund for The Carlyle Group in Europe:

“I realized that actually my heart is with the struggling entrepreneur, who’s got a fantastic business that isn’t yet quite right.”

His new book, Startup: Thirty-Six Lessons from Company Founders & CEOs, will teach you how to make better decisions and become a more competent CEO. Tim knows firsthand how frustrating it is to navigate the seas of heading a company with no guidance. He joined me this week to share some of his knowledge and insights with us.

Walk

There are two driving philosophies behind Tim’s emphasis on ‘walking’ when it comes to startups.

  1. Taking walks around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park with potential entrepreneurs led to having conversations that were much more agreeable, personal, and revealing. Knowing the type of person a founder is goes a long way.

“I had underweighted founder skills and temperament as a factor in our investment decision making. I thought it would be a good idea to move the process of due diligence to the top of the funnel stage and actually meet entrepreneurs and learn about their life stories (instead) of hearing their pitches.”

  1. Building a startup is not a sprint. In fact, it is not even a marathon – it’s more like walking. Think about the totality of the slow yet consistent steps taken over the course of one’s life. Tim warns against the common trap VCs fall into: being overly hasty and setting unrealistic timescales.

“It’s a bit like that line of Peter Thiel: people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade. If you just walk for a couple of hours every morning, you can cover an awful lot of ground.”


Leading and Managing

From years of observing and working with CEOs, Tim has developed five basic things you should keep in mind when approaching a discussion with somebody who is reporting to you. These ideas are encompassed in the acronym: SCRIM.

  • Suitability

There is definitely a limit to the resources (time and capital) you can spend on trying to improve or train someone that just will not fit. The sooner you can recognize that you probably hired the wrong person, or you gave them a role they are not suited for, the better.

  • Coaching your reports

Founders and CEOs often fall into the trap of hiring people who have accomplished everything before the job they need to do. Not only can this be expensive, but it may be unfulfilling for them. It’s great to hire people for potential and skills, but then it’s your responsibility to coach them so they acquire the specific knowledge needed in your business. I often see founders get the hiring for potential right, but then ignore the fact that the person needs some help and support to perform best.

  • Regularity

It is all well and good for someone to know what to do but having the required frequency of contact is important to execute and function reliably.

  • Involvement/Incentivization

It is crucial to ensure that everyone reporting to you feels excited about what they’re doing and what you’re all trying to achieve together. Aim to give others a shared sense of destiny with the success of the company.

  • Metrics

There is no getting around the hard quantitative data that shows you whether a person is doing a good job and how well things are going week to week.

“My sense is that the CEO who touches all those bases is unlikely to go too far wrong in managing a team”

Getting along with your co-founder

“In terms of failings…a second big slice will be falling out with co-founders. Very often things tend to get ignored until the point where there’s actually a problem that can’t be fixed.”

Having honest conversations with your co-founder can be difficult, but it is one of the most crucial things you can do. Sugar coating things often leads to misunderstandings that can fester like an untreated wound. Be transparent with feedback, expectations of each other and roles.

Tim also talks about the importance of responsibility and involvement. A failing CEO is often either neglecting others or micromanaging them. He advocates for striving to find the delicate balance between the two:

“If I am the outside person, and my job is to reach out to 30 VC funds, then you as my co-founder and co-CEO are allowed to say, so how’s it going? How many have you reached out to, and where are they?”

Delegate responsibility but maintain some degree of involvement and presence for others.

The 3 things a founder can do to run a successful business:

  1. Find the right market

There is an awful lot of founders who are building products which either aren’t going to serve enough people, or they’re serving people that don’t have enough money at their disposal to build a real business.

  1. Get the product right

This is a very early-stage consideration, but it is surprising how many companies go much further than they ought to in scaling before they have the product right. Build the foundation first.

  1. Scalability

Recognizing that ultimately your ability to scale a business is all about the people. Specifically, hiring people who can run the business at 100x the size it is today.

To run a company at scale effectively, you are going to need skills which you may not have today. The reality is that you may have to acquire the skills “while the airplane is still in mid-flight.”  Having the courage to admit and recognize your limitations is often the most effective way to lead – trust and learn from others.

Startup: Thirty-Six Lessons from Company Founders & CEOs, Tim’s new book, is available from Amazon. It is an invaluable tool at all stages of leadership: whether you are a budding entrepreneur or a seasoned CEO. Strive to learn and growth will follow.

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Welcome to the Everything Bubble!

The warning signs of market mania are everywhere. P/E ratios are high and climbing. Bitcoin rose 300% in a year. There is a deluge of SPAC IPOs. Real estate prices are rapidly rising outside of dense major cities.

S&P 500 PE Ratio

BTC Prices Last 12 Months

These, along with retail-driven short squeezes, mini-bubbles and increased volatility are symptoms of a bubble.

At first glance, the fact that we are in a bubble might seem surprising with millions unemployed or underemployed. However, during the pandemic, personal income rose by over a trillion dollars due to historic levels of government fiscal stimulus.

Wages only dropped $43 billion March to November. While many low-end service workers lost their jobs, higher paying professional jobs were unaffected, and some low skilled jobs boomed such as warehousing and grocery stores, leading to lower losses than might have been anticipated.

The scale of the government support programs was unprecedented. Unemployment insurance programs pumped $499 billion into Americans pockets. The $1,200 stimulus checks to most American households added another $276 billion. All in all, Americans had over $1 trillion more after-tax income March-November 2020, than in 2019. As a result, US bankruptcy filings hit a 35 year low in 2020!

On top of that, discretionary spending fell dramatically. Services spending fell by $575 billion as people did not go on vacation, to restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues, concerts etc. While Americans spent a bit more on durable goods, overall spending still fell by $535 billion.

When combined with the increase in personal income, Americans saved an extra $1.5 trillion!

While part of that extra cash went into deposits, a lot of it also went into investing, inflating asset prices. This comes on top of the flood of liquidity unleashed by the Federal Reserve and its commitment to keep rates near zero- in fact real rates are now below zero.

The value of asset prices should be the net present value of their discounted future cash flows.

Interest rates near 0 can justify much higher valuations. If you believe that rates are now going to stay near 0 forever, the current valuations are in fact reasonable. I, for one, do not believe that to be the case considering most global governments are suffering from deteriorating fiscal positions from unsustainable growth in deficits and debt.

A day of reckoning is coming, but it may not be as soon as I fretted in my year end update. I suspect that I cried wolf too soon. The world will remain more preoccupied with fighting COVID than the consequences of the increase in government debt for the foreseeable future. On top that expected increases in both private and public spending should further boost the economy.

The US savings rate has been around 7% for most of the past decade. While it declined from its 33% peak in April, it is still around 13%. I suspect that once COVID is behind us, there will be the party to end all parties. People are going to travel, party and spend like there is no tomorrow. If the savings rate returns to its ex-ante level of 7% that will mean an extra $1.2 trillion in spending. On top that there is another $1.9 trillion stimulus package which likely includes $1,400 in direct payments further pouring fuel on the fire.

In other words, I think we have a way to go before this bubble pops. During the tech bubble, I was writing it was obvious we were in a bubble years before it popped. Likewise, during the real estate bubble I warned all my friends away from buying real estate starting in 2004. Given the circumstances, we are more likely in 1998 or 1999 than February 2000.

How will this all end?

Asset price bubbles can pop absent a financial crisis as happened during the tech bubble. We cannot tell when investor sentiment will no longer be as optimistic as it is now and it will probably come after the orgy of spending I expect once we put COVID behind us.

However, trouble is brewing considering all the government and corporate debt overhand from COVID. There are several ways out of this.

1. We grow out of it

This is not unprecedented. During WW1 and WW2 government debt ballooned. However, after both wars, there was strong economic growth coming from strong consumer demand and strong investment. It may happen again. After a few decades of productivity growth stagnation, we may be on the verge of a productivity boom. COVID has led to a massive increase in adoption in digital payments, telemedicine, industrial automation, online education, ecommerce, and remote work. On top of that the speed of the development of mRNA vaccines gives hope that a lot more innovation is in the cards in healthcare.

2. We inflate

The US is also clearly trying to increase nominal inflation to keep real rates negative which helps the government deleverage, as it did after World War 2. Real rates are now negative again.

US 5 Year Treasure Yield Curve Rate

Given the size of the stimulus and the expected increase in demand, I suspect they will succeed in pushing nominal inflation above 2% as the Fed is targeting.

Note that such an outcome is not always guaranteed. Japan failed to create inflation for most of the past 30 years despite massive government spending and quantitative easing. You can also overshoot and create high inflation as Zimbabwe highlighted in the last two decades.

Controlled inflation in the 2-3% range would be the ideal outcome.

3. We run surpluses

After both world wars, there was a strong social and political consensus in favor of budgetary restraint and debt reduction.

Germany decreased its debt to GDP ratio from 82.4% in 2010 to 59.8% in 2019 by running surpluses.

Likewise, Greece was forced to run surpluses and mend its profligate ways as part of the bailout conditions.

My perspective on what will happen

The US no longer has the discipline to run surpluses, but can keep sustaining deficits as long as the dollar remains the global reserve currency. The day of reckoning will come but does not seem to be in the cards in the near term, so the US debt will keep ballooning.

For a while I fretted that the next financial crisis would take the form of a sovereign debt crisis in a major economy as investors feared it could no longer afford its debt level, as happened in Greece a decade ago. Italy, with its debt to GDP ratio set to exceed 150% in 2021, came to mind.

I am no longer sure that is the highest probability scenario. The euro crisis showed Europe was willing to do anything to anything to preserve the euro and I expect this time to be no different. While there might be a sovereign debt crisis, we would probably find a way to muddle our way out of it.

As a result, I wonder if instead the next crisis will not come as a crisis of faith, but in fiat currencies writ large. I do not see this happening in the next year or so. However, there will be a day of reckoning given the ever-expanding money supply combined with unsustainable growth in debt and deficits in almost every major country in the world. 

What to do as individuals living through this bubble?

It is unclear why and when the bubble will burst, but there are a few ways to be ready for when it bursts.

First, in this environment you should own no bonds whatsoever. Yields are insanely low, and you are not being compensated for default risk. At the same time, you are at risk of inflation.

Second, I would increase dramatically your cash holdings to 20% or more of your assets.  You are not earning anything on that cash, and you lose the inflation value. On top of that it would be debased in a fiat currency crisis. However, having liquidity is useful in other types of crisis where people take a flight to safety when bubbles burst. It provides safety, flexibility, and allows you to buy assets cheaply. At the same time, you can move out of cash, if necessary, should inflation spike.

Third, avoid margin like the plague. While inflation decreases the value of your debt (and mortgages are ok), you do not want to be exposed to margin calls when the bubble bursts and assets decrease in value. Many wealthy people went bankrupt that way during the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Fourth, own high-quality stocks. They increase in value in an inflationary environment and retain more value when asset prices fall. In other words, do not suffer from FOMO and pursue the latest investment craze (Bitcoin, Gamestop etc.). This is not to say you should necessarily sell your Bitcoin if you own some. It is a form of digital gold that could be a good inflation hedge, but I would not be looking to add to my position at the current price levels.

You should not try to short the bubble because as Keynes said: “the markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”. A better way to play the bubble is to create assets like a tech startup or a SPAC.

Note that in my case I do not even own stocks. I have a barbell strategy with only cash and early illiquid privately held tech startups. If you have enough diversification (meaning over 100 investments) to account for the startups that fail, private early-stage tech startups are the best asset class. They create value for the economy and can grow rapidly. As such they are amazing to own in both inflationary and deflationary environments.

Note that I strongly vary the balance of my assets between cash and startups. Sometimes I am all in startups. Sometimes I keep large cash reserves. Right now, I am building my cash reserves while still investing. I particularly like the arbitrage of selling overvalued public tech stocks (or pre-IPO companies) and investing in somewhat less overvalued early-stage tech startups. However, I suspect having large cash reserves will come in handy at some point in the next few years.

Good luck!

Episode 17: The State of Solar

This week Kerim Baran shares where we stand in the world of solar. He covers:

  • The history of solar
  • The impressive decline of the cost of panel over the last 40 years
  • The decline in the cost of batteries
  • Why ultimately batteries plus panels will cost less than maintaining the grid leading most electricity to be made locally in a distributed fashion even if fusion comes to pass and creates energy at 0 marginal cost
  • Why we will have a hybrid setup of grid plus local production for the foreseeable future
  • What to do if you are interested in solar

For your reference I am including the slides Kerim used during the episode.

State-of-Solar-Playing-with-Unicorns-5

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 16: Startup Talent & Trends

I often pondered the makeup of successful founders and founding teams. At FJ Labs we spend a disproportionate amount of time screening for EIRs. We only build 1 or 2 companies per year, so we cannot afford to get it wrong.

I was fascinated to talk Magnus Grimeland and Vegard Medbø of Antler because they filter through 50,000 candidates per year in 30 locations around the world including the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Out of the 50,000 candidates, Antler selects 1,500 and ultimately funds around 250 projects.

Potential founders join Antler pre-idea to find potential co-founders and get to an idea. Think of them of the pre-YC YC. Companies coming out of Antler would then be at the stage to go to YC.

Some interesting takeaways from our conversation:

  • They look for 3 characteristics in founders: spikiness (someone good in something rather than someone well rounded), passion and grit.
  • It is ok if founders have weaknesses, it is often the flip coin of being spiky and can be compensated with the rest of the team.
  • You can identify grit in candidates’ backgrounds by making sure they are not jumping around too often and asking the applicants to talk about times when they had staying power in the face of adversity either in a personal or professional context.
  • The most common mistake they made was overvaluing applicants’ “impressive” backgrounds and resumes.
  • Their most successful founding teams have 2 or 3 cofounders, but solo founder teams can also succeed.
  • More than 3 cofounders are not advisable.
  • Recent trends:
    • Making work from home less painful
    • Healthcare
    • Deep tech
    • Low code / no code
    • Continued geographic arbitrage of bringing successful models from one country to another.

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 15: Mistakes to Avoid as an Entrepreneur

It is extremely hard to succeed as an entrepreneur. Even the most successful entrepreneurs have countless ups and downs. I would argue that I failed my way to success. My brother Olivier, a successful tech entrepreneur and investor in his own right, joins me this week to discuss all the mistakes entrepreneurs make. As we have seemingly made all the mistakes there are to make, we hope you can learn from our mistakes as you go down your entrepreneurial path.

To structure the conversation Olivier prepared a presentation that shows the mistakes entrepreneurs make by funding stage. We share concrete examples from our past with full transparency on metrics and outcomes.

I had a few technical snafus during the first 10 minutes so I apologize for the breaks in the conversation then.

For your reference I am including the slides Olivier used during the episode.

Common-Mistakes

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

VC Opportunity Fund Best Practices

By Jeff Weinstein and Luke Skertich

Background

Early-stage venture capital has undergone a seismic transformation over the past decade as companies stay private longer, raise more capital and exit for larger magnitudes. (NB: the SPAC mania of 2020 may alter this trend, but for now these phenomena still hold)According to SVB, the average VC-backed company at time of IPO in 2018 raised $184M across six rounds, up from $60M across four rounds in 2010. And the average length of time from founding to IPO doubled to 12 years. Meanwhile, valuations have increased accordingly, with 22 $1B+ valuation tech IPOs in 2020 to-date, up from 3 in 2010.

With startups staying private longer and growing larger, Seed and Series A venture investors have come across an interesting dilemma: with limited reserves to follow on across multiple financing rounds, what should they do with their pro ratas in their breakout portfolio companies?

Enter the opportunity fund: a new fund structure soaring in popularity among early-stage GPs that offers an elegant solution to this problem. Done properly, an opportunity fund — sometimes known as a “select fund”, “follow-on fund” or “growth fund” — offers fund limited partners (LPs) the prospect of doubling down on emerging winners in a fund’s portfolio. Per Pitchbook, there have been over 300 “opportunity funds” or “select funds” raised since 2010. However, some LPs have pushed back on this structure, feeling that it serves as an easy way for general partners (GPs) to gather AUM and a distraction from their job of managing a Seed-stage portfolio.

At FJ Labs, we currently angel invest from one fund across different stages, and we have been studying whether it makes sense to silo our investments into an early stage (Pre-Seed-A fund) fund and a Growth/opportunity fund. My research partner Luke and I were shocked by the dearth of available literature on the subject; virtually no one has published any articles or papers on opportunity funds, perhaps because of how new they are. So we embarked on a journey to interview some of the premier early-stage fund managers who have pioneered these vehicles and the LPs who evaluate and invest in them. We surveyed over 30 venture capital managers ranging from Seed stage to pre-IPO, and LPs ranging from family offices to fund of funds to state retirement plans. We left with a thorough understanding of best practices in structuring growth/opportunity funds and reached a high-conviction conclusion for how we should structure our next fund(s).

Methodology

We approached this like a research project. We began by reading ~50 blogs, academic papers & research articles. We made it a point to understand divergent schools of thought regarding portfolio construction — spray and pray, algorithmic, concentrated — because it helps underscore why VCs and LPs alike have focused their energy on opportunity funds. Our reading ranged from early-stage investment best practices to Abe Othman’s amazing posts using AngelList data to growth equity best practices. This research culminated in an understanding of who we wanted to interview and what questions we would need to have answered.

We laid a foundation by benchmarking fees and returns and layered on an understanding of follow-on investments, conflicts of interest, and capital allocation. Next, we dove into why firms created their opportunity funds, how LPs viewed them, and how they’ve performed.

Finally, we created a functional fund model, utilizing FJ’s current portfolio to inform it. We’ll share a more simplified and generalized model, below.

General Context

So, what are GPs and LPs saying about opportunity funds more broadly? We’ve gathered a select handful of quotes to set the stage…

“LPs don’t love opportunity funds. They want true seed risk.” — GP

“We are more time-constrained than cash-constrained. We can’t invest in 2x the number of companies, so this is a way to cram more dollars in companies we’re excited about.” — GP

“Generally speaking, we try not to do opportunity funds.” — LP

“Some opportunity funds have outperformed their core funds!” — LP

Findings

Portfolio Construction

“Most opportunity funds are more concentrated because you’ve had a filter or two against the investment set.” — LP

While there are differing opinions on optimal portfolio construction at the early and growth stage, there is consensus that opportunity funds should consist of six to ten unique positions. The number of investments is informed by the number of prior investments across funds for each GP. In other words, an opportunity fund is a mechanism for GPs to double down on the top 5% of their investments. Likewise, LPs obtain access to the best investment opportunities and benefit from their GPs’ insider information on their portfolios.

Why not raise a bigger fund?

Separate funds enable GPs to write larger checks in their emerging, later-stage winners without diluting their early stage portfolio. However, writing large checks from one fund may lead to LP concerns regarding style drift (“We invested in you as a Seed fund manager”). Providing LPs with two tightly-defined products with specific risk/reward profiles can more effectively cater to their needs.

Additionally, some LPs can’t evaluate individual co-investment opportunities and would prefer to participate in a “best of” style opportunity fund. In effect, LPs get access to all follow-ons, rather than select investments via SPVs, and from a GP perspective, this is far more convenient to administer than ad hoc SPVs.

While there is precedent for Seed-to-IPO funds like Insight Partners and NEA, trying to expand beyond the early stage requires a change in firm strategy. This is not the case with opportunity funds, which are typically more passive, follow-on vehicles (as we’ll discuss below, opportunity funds should not lead, running counter to multi-stage fund strategy). If you plan to remain an early-stage investor, the opportunity fund is the right vehicle for you to double down on winners. If you want to create a franchise that invests across all stages, then it makes sense to explore a multi-stage fund.

Fund Economics

“We invest for 20% IRR regardless of the asset class. A good opportunity fund is 2X net, 20% IRR. — LP

“If you can return 2X net to your LPs w/ 20% gross IRRs, you can raise capital forever” — GP

Our survey confirmed that venture investors and LPs target a 3X net fund return across early-stage, growth stage, and opportunity funds. However, we also learned that if VCs can achieve at least 2X MOIC returns or 20%+ IRRs, they will be able to keep raising funds for years to come. Opportunity funds are measured against the same benchmarks. However, given how new these vehicles are, we don’t have comprehensive data on their performance.

While return expectations are the same, fee structure differs by fund type. We did not come to a consensus on fees and carry for opportunity funds. That said, there is agreement that whatever your fees and carry on your early-stage fund, you should take less on the opportunity fund. Otherwise, LPs will feel that you are taking advantage of a new vehicle to increase AUM. Perhaps this is why it is seen as best practice for GPs to only take fees on invested capital from the opportunity fund (vs. on committed capital for traditional funds).

Follow-ons and Leading

“Only invest in companies that are outside-led growth rounds that are growing 2X a year.” — Opportunity fund GP

“If I could go back to the beginning of my career, I’d say the one thing to know is the magnitude of exit will get bigger by another standard deviation.” — LP

Follow on strategy begins with doubling down on winners. Best practice indicates that GPs should not use opportunity funds to protect existing investments, should not lead investment rounds with their opportunity funds, and should create systematic rules for which fund (early-stage vs. opportunity) gets pro rata rights.

Most commonly, use of pro rata rights is separated by investment stage. For example, an early-stage fund may invest until Series B, at which point an opportunity fund invests in Series C+. This cutoff can be delineated by round size, valuation, or some combination. It is wise to have clearly defined rules around selling secondaries, down rounds/pay to play mechanisms, bridge rounds, incubator/accelerator companies (if your firm has one), etc. Often, managers will consult with their Limited Partner Advisory Committees (LPAC) for edge cases or complex scenarios.

LP Preferences

“Managers often ‘staple’ funds together: if you want access to a Seed fund, you have to invest a ratable amount in that manager’s opportunity fund. However, it is important for VCs to only do this practice with new LPs.” — GP

“Ultimately, a lot of these get raised on how sexy the GP is.” — LP

We found that LPs don’t like being stapled but often don’t mind insomuch as they are granted early-stage fund exposure. Some firms use formulas to give larger / more loyal LPs higher allocations in early-stage funds. Interestingly, while LPs are thought to hate opportunity funds, we did not observe overwhelming distaste for them among our interviewees. Rather, we found that the jury is still out until we can see widespread data from the past ten years.

Nor did we come to a firm conclusion if LPs preferred individual co-investment opportunities versus an opportunity fund that aggregates them. Some more nimble LPs such as family offices like to participate in direct co-invests, while other, slower-moving institutions prefer for the manager to do by follow-on investing via an opportunity fund.

Additionally, LPs had differing opinions on participation in opportunity funds, depending on the risk/reward profile they were looking for. Institutional LPs will typically view opportunity funds more favorably, as will any LPs looking for a shorter time to liquidity.

Fund Model

We mentioned earlier that the opportunity fund model is informed by prior fund construction. We simplified and generalized our model to demonstrate this:

In this case, we wanted to end up with an opportunity fund that supports two 30-company early-stage funds. Assuming that the top 10% of companies across these funds will be breakouts, that implies a portfolio of ~6 companies. You can adjust the inputs to tailor the fund construction given your portfolio makeup and investment pace. You can also back into the correct check sizes (for each stage) by examining your pro-rata rights and ownership across the portfolio. You should raise this fund with certain portfolio company high-flyers in mind, but do not advertise your fund as if you will have guaranteed allocation.

Conclusions

Opportunity Funds allow LPs to titrate their risk exposure and for GPs to provide more tightly-defined products to effectively cater to their investors’ needs. They are easier to administer and capture more value than ad hoc SPVs, which run a higher risk of losing LP capital and have to be spun up one-by-one. If investors separate funds, they can write large checks at later stages without diluting their early-stage investments.

Opportunity fund LPs are typically satisfied with returns of 2X Net MOIC and 20% IRR. Opportunity funds typically focus on existing portfolio companies and are run by existing investors, whereas growth funds are typically run by separate teams and focus on new investments. There is an expectation that opportunity funds carry lower fees and run a more concentrated portfolio than early-stage funds.

Unfortunately, there is not enough public data to evaluate their returns to-date, but judging from their proliferation and the expansion of venture capital as an asset class, we suspect opportunity funds are here to stay.

Jeff Weinstein is a Principal at FJ Labs, an early-stage venture fund and startup studio that invests in and builds online marketplaces. Jeff co-heads the fund’s 500+ investments which have included Alibaba, Flexport, Rappi, Betterment, Fanduel and Delivery Hero, and also manages FJ’s external fundraising efforts. Jeff was previously a Senior Associate at Lux Capital, and prior to that worked at a fund of hedge funds. Jeff is in Class 24 of the Kauffman Fellows.

Luke is an MBA candidate at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with concentrations in Finance, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management. In addition to his work with Jeff at FJ Labs, Luke is an Associate at M25 in Chicago, where he focuses on investing in early-stage startups. He previously worked as a Product Manager at three B2B tech start-ups in Chicago, spanning the benefits administration, fintech and human capital management spaces.

Episode 14: A Conversation with Christian Angermayer

Christian is the rare breed of polymath Renaissance Man operating in a world that rewards specialization. We had an extremely broad and far-ranging conversation covering:

  • Whether you should always pursue your passion
  • The relative importance of focus
  • How to make the most of the opportunities presented to you
  • Spirituality
  • Happiness
  • Psychedelics: why they are improperly maligned, our respective journeys, and how he turned a moment of self-discovery into a billion-dollar business
  • The latest findings on longevity and metformin
  • The importance of sleep
  • The role of Bitcoin as a store of value in a world of increasing asset prices driven by low interest rates
  • His involvement in film and desire to create optimistic stories
  • How to reinvigorate the West and competition with China
  • Christian’s two must-read books
  • Three technology trends we are excited about in the coming decade

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

2020: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. As you may recall, I ended 2019 intent on selling my New York apartment and renting an apartment March 2020 onwards. The idea was to live a hybrid life where I split my time between New York and Turks & Caicos.

I wanted to spend every other month in New York intellectually, socially, professionally and artistically stimulated beyond my wildest dreams, meeting countless extraordinary people, hosting intellectual dialoging salons and enjoying all of New York’s entertainment options. Then I wanted to head to Turks & Caicos to work during the day, kite, and play tennis, and really take the time to read, be reflective and recharge my batteries.

As you might suspect, the year played out rather differently. The year started out as expected. I went heliskiing in Canada. I went to the fantastic Upfront Summit in LA. I hosted FJ Labs’ bi-annual brainstorming retreat at my place in Turks & Caicos. I went to check out the gorgeous Sanctuary in Utah. I had been inspired by their manifesto and jumped at the opportunity to experience it firsthand. I love their vision and they built the most beautiful contemporary chalets I have ever seen. However, it helped me realize that ultimately Revelstoke in Canada pulls at my heart strings and would make a better winter base as the mecca of extreme winter sports with its renowned steep and deep tree skiing. Not that I have decided to implement that vision yet, but it is nice to dream.

As February wore on, I started pondering the potential impact of COVID-19. I wrote an article in February suggesting COVID-19 could be the black swan causing the next global recession. I sent a message to my friends in early March telling them that staying in a high-density city like New York during a pandemic made no sense. I invited them to join me in Turks & Caicos. Eleven of them responded to the call. We became a pandemic family.

We were quite the motley crew as we were the random assortment of the first eleven people who decided to join me. I had distributed the invitation widely so many of us did not know each other that well before quarantine. We were all in different stages of life including 4 kids ages 12 through 14.

Despite being the most unexpected of groups, I could not have hoped for a better outcome. We all took turns doing tasks in the house and brought our varied skills, passions and energies to bear. We also realized how privileged we were to both have each other at a moment during which many were isolated and alone, and to have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and practice sports or find alone time when most could not leave their homes.

It was a really nice change of pace not to travel for five and a half months and lead a more domestic existence. Like most people, I typically only do important or urgent things on my to do list, but rarely get to the “nice to do”. With urban life on hold, I took advantage of the opportunity to tackle those. I redesigned my blog. I redid the website of my villa in Turks and took control of its marketing such that most rentals now come directly rather than through Luxury Retreats. I started a live streaming show, Playing With Unicorns, to share everything I wish I knew when I started out as an entrepreneur. I read and wrote more than ever before. I improved at kiting. I built the first padel court in Turks and Caicos and spent countless hours practicing.

Come late August, I was itching for a change. I decided to go camping in Yellowstone. It was a fun weeklong trip off grid with no cell reception where you carry everything you need including your tent, sleeping bag and food in your bag pack as you go from camp site to camp site. It was gorgeous and refreshing. A freak August snowstorm reminded me that the best stories are born of adversity. It was a great complement for a trip to the Aman in Jackson Hole.

In the fall, I also went camping on Governor’s Island, went to see the foliage change in Lake Placid, and reconnected with the FJ Labs team in New York.

I was also able to bring my extended family together for the holidays. It is something my grandmother Francoise used to do yearly. However, it is a family tradition that had dissipated since she passed. With the help of my cousin Nalle, I was delighted to be able to restart the tradition. We were especially lucky to be able to get together in Covid times when many are separated from their families. We all got PCR tested before spending 19 days together in Turks & Caicos and were able to stay safe while having an amazing time. I was elated to be able to spend time with my parents, cousins, brothers and uncle for the first time in over a year!

FJ Labs continued to rock. 2020 was our most prolific year ever. The team grew to 28 people. We deployed $57M. We made 146 investments, 97 first time investments and 49 follow-on investments. We had 27 exits, of which 15 were successful including the IPOs of Wish and Airbnb, the IPO of OpenDoor via SPAC, the IPOs of Meliuz and Enjoei on Brazil’s B3 exchange, the acquisition of Postmates by Uber and the acquisition of Fanduel by Flutter Entertainment.

Since Jose and I started angel investing 22 years ago, we invested in 655 unique companies, had 218 exits (including partial exits where we more than recouped our cost basis), and currently have 603 active investments. We had realized returns of 61% IRR and a 4.8x average multiple. In total we deployed $320M of which $120M was provided by Jose and me.

I came to realize that my willingness to participate in panels or give keynote speeches grows dramatically if I do not need to travel for them and I gave more speeches and appeared on more podcasts than ever before. To avoid redundancy, I tried to cover different topics and content and ultimately used a lot of this content for various Playing with Unicorns episodes including FJ Labs’ Investment Thesis and FJ Labs’ Startup Studio Model.

The keynote I am most proud of and did the most research on is my case for technology-led optimism despite the pandemic, populism, climate change, policy failure, social unrest and social injustice. It is worth watching in full and I am including the slides below for your reference.

2020-12-Pandemic-Populism-and-Policy-Failure-The-Surprising-Case-for-Optimism-in-2020

Most of my writing was professional in nature this year largely driven by all the content I needed to create for Playing With Unicorns. My best blog posts were:

I continued to be a very prolific reader in 2020. It is probably worth mentioning that most of what I read is fiction and most of that is science fiction though I dabble in every genre. My favorite non-fiction books of 2020 were:

In general, I do not read “business books” as I find them simplistic. Loonshots is the exception to that rule. It blew me away. It mixes compelling personal narratives of entrepreneurs like Edwin Land (Polaroid) and Juan Trippe (Pan Am) with observations from physics and history to weave a very compelling narrative. I also had the pleasure of having its author, Safi Bahcall, on Playing With Unicorns for a fun and wide ranging conversation.

From a macroeconomic perspective, COVID-19 brought the longest expansion on record to a screeching halt with the lockdown leading to levels of unemployment and economic contraction not seen since the Great Depression. As I predicted, the second order economic impact of the pandemic was more damaging than the first order costs of treating infected people or lost wages from people not working because they are sick. Also as predicted, governments and central banks threw everything including the kitchen sink at this problem.

Given the curtailing of economic activity due to restrictions, the greater short-term risk is deflationary. In the near term historically low interest rates are making the record levels of debt manageable. However, the massive debt overhang will require delicate macroeconomic management to avoid a massive financial crisis.

Record low interest rates are also fueling asset price inflation across most asset classes and a full-on bubble in SPACs. Outside of commercial and residential real estate in major cities, it feels like we are in the late stages of a low interest rate fueled “everything bubble” with extreme frothiness across most asset classes. It may very well continue for a while as there is increasing optimism about the end of the pandemic. However, at some point the harsh reality of weak underlying economic conditions may very well temper today’s frothiness and excessive valuations. I will not be so foolish as to pretend I can predict when the bubble will pop, but I would not be surprised if it happened in 2021.

Historically crisis have accelerated underlying trends and been a source of innovation. The 1930s saw the greatest increase in productivity growth in the US as necessity is the mother of invention. Likewise, the most defining companies of the last decade, Airbnb, Cloudflare, Github, Pinterest, Slack, Square, Stripe, Uber and Whatsapp, were founded during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Uber and Airbnb grew dramatically as individuals’ personal financial difficulties led them to consider renting their apartment to strangers or becoming part time drivers for the first time.

The most interesting companies of the coming decade will likely have been created or come of age in COVID times. This past year has seen a rapid increase in online adoption across most categories. Some sectors such as online food and grocery delivery, telemedicine, online education, and remote work exploded, while others such as ecommerce, online gaming and video grew significantly from already large bases.

Given that online experiences are more convenient and less expensive than the alternative, this increase is here to stay. While some sectors might give back a bit of the growth, in general, there has been a step change in penetration, and they will grow from this increased base.

I am extremely grateful for the year I had, surrounded by loved ones in a safe place and privileged to be able to work remotely in a sector that has benefited from COVID. I am excited that human ingenuity led to the creation of a new class of vaccines in record time. I am hopeful that by the second half of the year we will be able to return to a semblance of normality and put an end to the personal and economic suffering this crisis has caused.

Happy New Year!

Episode 13: What’s the deal with SPACs?

SPACs have been one of the hot topics of 2020. Jeff Weinstein, who co-heads investing at FJ Labs, and our resident venture capital nerd, joins to talk about all things SPAC.

He covers:

  • What are SPACs?
  • How do they operate?
  • Why are they hot in 2020?
  • What’s in it for sponsors, institutional investors, the companies merging into them and retail investors?

Interestingly he concludes that while we are in a bubble, SPACs are here to stay and will become a legitimate way to go public once the dust settles after the upcoming, inevitable crash.

For your reference I am including the slides Jeff used during the episode.

Whats-The-Deal-With-SPACs_

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 12: Pandemic, Populism and Policy Failure – The Surprising Case for Optimism in 2020

Given the omnipresent doom and gloom of 2020, I took the time to reflect objectively on where things stand and where the world is heading. My deep dive across so many industries and technologies left me inspired and awe struck by the opportunities open to us. We will address the two fundamental issues of our time: climate change and social injustice / inequality of opportunity.

In turn I cover that:

  • We are constantly bombarded by doom and gloom
  • During the past 200 years we have seen lots of progress in the human condition
  • Lots of issues remain in terms of social injustice and inequality of opportunity with consequences permeating through every sector: education, health care, cost of living, real estate, income disparities, decreased mobility, access to capital etc.
  • Climate change is becoming an existential threat
  • The political system is incapable of dealing with these issues which has led to the rise of populists
  • Technology and entrepreneurs can and must solve these issues
  • With regards to climate change, the ever-decreasing cost of solar and improvements in storage will help us transition to carbon free energy emission sooner than most people realize even if we do not get fusion (and we may see a breakthrough in fusion as well)
  • We are seeing a clear trend towards electrifying transportation and radical innovation in manufacturing and food production which will make the economy carbon free by 2100 and perhaps as early as 2050
  • Carbon removal technologies are also emerging
  • Once we get to a world of free marginal cost of energy lots of other wonderful things happen
  • Startups, especially marketplaces, are emerging to address many societal ills seeing bad user experiences, discrimination, and high costs as an opportunity
  • Amazing companies are emerging to democratize housing, finance, and education
  • A combination of dark kitchens, robotization, autonomy and density will revolutionize food ordering and delivery providing high-quality low-cost food to all making it cheaper than making it on your own
  • Healthcare and public services are finally moving online with better user experiences
  • We are still at the beginning of the technology revolution and are making great strides in everything from nanosatellites, robots, 3D printing, augmented reality, mind reading, self-driving, drones and much more
  • We will tackle the challenges of our time and build a better world of tomorrow, a world of equality of opportunity and of plenty that is ethically conscious and sustainable

For your reference I am including the slides I used during the episode.

2020-12-Pandemic-Populism-and-Policy-Failure-The-Surprising-Case-for-Optimism-in-2020

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 11: Loonshots with Safi Bahcall

I had the privilege of running into the same social and intellectual circles as Safi Bahcall for the past 20 years. When I heard he wrote a book on how large organizations could continue innovating despite their scale, I was intrigued and decided to check it out.

In general, I do not read “business books” as I find them simplistic. Loonshots is the exception to that rule. It blew me away. It mixes compelling personal narratives of entrepreneurs like Edwin Land (Polaroid) and Juan Trippe (Pan Am) with observations from physics and history to weave a very compelling narrative.

To date Playing With Unicorns taught something specific every week. However, I thought a conversation with Safi would be fun and wide ranging, so I invited him to be my first ever “traditional” live stream / podcast guest. It was great and through many non-sequiturs discussed:

  • His transition from academia to running a private biotech company
  • The transition from being a private company to a public company CEO
  • Thinking through what you really want to do in life versus what society expects of you and how pursuing his curiosity led him to Loonshots
  • What the core learnings from Loonshots are
  • Why he is currently fascinated by “Why Markets Crash” and “How organizations can pick the right strategy” (e.g., why, and how did Amazon beat Google in the Cloud market so far)
  • Much more!

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 10: Validating Your Startup Idea

Last week we covered how to come up with great startup ideas. This week I present how to evaluate if the idea is worth pursuing. I detail which hypothesis you need to validate and how to go about providing or disproving them.

Vivian Graves, an entrepreneur in residence (EIR) at FJ Labs, joins to share how she evaluated whether to pursue a temporary veterinarian labor marketplace idea.

For your reference I am including the slides Vivian used during the episode.

Validating-Your-Startup-Idea

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

2020 Holiday Gadget Gift Guide

It is that time of the year again, so I am sharing my recommendations for all gadget lovers of the world to be happy this holiday season.

Notebook: LG Gram 17

The past few years I recommended super powerful MSI gaming notebooks, especially the GS series. They are amazing, but they run ridiculously hot, the battery life is extremely limited (under 2 hours), and they are bulkier than I would like. This year what I really wanted was a 17” notebook that was insanely light with a super long battery life.

Only one notebook fits the bill, the LG Gram 17. It weighs less than 3” which is a first for a 17” notebook. The power adapter is also exceedingly small and light. I regularly get over 10 hours per charge and feel like I never need to charge. It has a 1Tb SSD which is sufficient, and it is powerful enough to play Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition.

My only gripe is that the graphics card is underpowered, and I cannot run my weekly live streaming show, Playing With Unicorns, on it.

Notebook Bag: eBags Pro Slim Laptop Backpack

It is hard to express how much I love the eBags Pro Slim Laptop backpack. The compartments are perfectly sized and logically placed. The notebook section can accommodate two 17” notebooks. There is a little middle sleeve for my iPad and Kindle. It is followed by another compartment for whatever else you may want to carry and then a small front section for passports, keys etc. I also love the separate notebook power supply section below the front of the bag.

Drone: Skydio 2

I love the Skydio 2. It is by far the best self-flying drone in the market. It is significantly improved on the R1 and is the best at navigating trees. It’s still not perfect as it can take a while to navigate tight trees and if you are going too quickly it will lose you, but it has the best auto-tracking features by far putting the DJI Mavic 2 Pro to shame.

It supports winds up to 25 mph and I have been incredibly happy with its performance following me kitesurfing.

https://youtu.be/hc-OCHpiiI4

Note that getting the Beacon is an absolute must as it will allow the Skydio to track you even if it cannot see you while you are in the trees. I would also strongly recommend having at least one extra battery.

My only gripe is that when I have someone controlling its altitude, distance, angle etc. with their phone is that they keep losing the connection at a rather short range regardless of whether I am using the beacon.

I have not tried the remote control for it yet, but just ordered it perhaps it will help with the range in case I need to bring it back if it loses and is out of range.

Video Games: Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition & Among Us

It is funny that I am recommending a 20-year-old game, but Age of Empires 2 was my favorite game 20 years ago. They re-released it a year ago with much improved graphics and gameplay mechanics and I fell in love with it all over again. It has been a lot of fun play online with my friends and replaced Company of Heroes 2 and Starcraft 2 as my go to real time strategy game. Note that I would not recommend Age of Empires 3 Definitive Edition which was just released as I do not like a lot of the gameplay elements and the competitive community is sticking to Age of Empires 2. The community is thriving. The game keeps breaking audience records on Twitch and attracting ever bigger prize pools. I am also noticing ever more players online. I am hoping Age of Empires 4 will be epic when it comes out and have high hopes as it is being developed by Relic, making of Company of Heroes 2 under the guidance of Forgotten Empires which is taking great care of the community.

Among Us has also proven to be the perfect game to play in 2020. It is an online version of Werewolf / Mafia / Resistance, that requires no real gaming skills, but observation, deduction and/or deception. It is super fun to play with friends you know well either with all of us on Discord or even better in person. I am sure it is a harbinger of simple social fun games to come.

I love third-person action adventure games. This year my great hope was Last of Us 2, but I found the story overly violent and disappointing. What Naughty Dog attempted to do by showing us the world from the two antagonists perspective is creative and perhaps even courageous, but I felt a huge let down relative to the story telling heights reached by the original Last of Us. Fortunately, I am taking great joys in finishing Fallen Order. I am eagerly awaiting Grand Theft Auto 6 in the genre, though I suspect it is many years away. In the meantime, I will keep my eyes peeled for a fun coop third party action adventure game.

As a sidenote, I am excited to see the film adaptation of Drake Uncharted, featuring Tom Holland in the role of Nathan Drake.

You might be surprised that I am not recommending the Xbox Series X or the PS5. Undoubtedly, I will get both, but I have not received them yet (and are hard to get) so I do not feel comfortable recommending them just yet especially as there are no “must have games” for either out right now. That said, I am sure they will feature prominently in my 2021 holiday gadget recommendation list.

Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Charge 4

I considered switching to the Apple Watch Series 6, but the limited battery life was too much of a turn off. I do not see myself switching over until they get at least 3 days of battery life. I really use my fitness tracker both as a physical activity tracker and sleep tracker. Also, I do not like interruptions. I always have all notifications off, so the extra features of an Apple Watch are wasted on me. The last thing I want is to see incoming calls, emails, or messages. I am happy to just track my steps, calories burnt, heart rate, sleep quality (and to be able to see what time it is).

The Fitbit Charge 4 is perfect for this. I regularly get over 5 days of battery life despite doing 15-20k steps of exercise most days. The Charge 4 is also proving to be way more durable than the Charge 3. I gave up on the Charge 3 after breaking 9 of them in one year. It was supposedly waterproof yet kept getting water damage. It was covered by the warranty, but it was still a pain to get it replaced continuously. I have been using the Charge 4 since it came out. I regularly swim and kite surf with it and I have never had an issue with it.

Computer Monitor: LG CX 48

This is the first time I recommend a TV screen as a computer monitor. Historically you would get much better performance by using PC monitors, but the LG CX 48 is an amazing PC monitor. It is G-Sync compatible, has a 1ms response time and supports 4K at 120Hz through HDMI 2.1.

Note that by default it is not a good PC monitor., but once you tweak the settings it is amazing. I first followed the following instructions to set it up as a monitor.

Then I tweaked them with this Reddit post.

Networking: Eero Pro 6

I have been renting houses and apartments all around the world for the past few years. Very often Wi-Fi coverage is spotty and inconsistent throughout the places I rented. Enter the Eero Pro 6. I got a 3-pack and got amazing Wi-Fi coverage everywhere including huge multi-level ones. I especially recommend it if you have an exceptionally large space.

Home Video: Optoma CinemaX P2

The Optoma CinemaX P2 is the best sub-$4k ultra-short projector on the market. It is easy to setup. It is very bright and can even be used with a fair amount of ambient light. If you have a 120” wall for it, you can create an amazing home cinema for a fraction of the cost of much smaller 90”+ TVs. There are amazing ceiling mounted projectors, but they are a pain to install. I am using the CinemaX P2 as a replacement for a ceiling mounted projector that kept dying because of the salt and moisture in the air in Turks and Caicos. Now we just bring the projector out when we want to use it and bring it back in the AC when we are done.

Note that to get an amazing picture quality, you should use special paint. I recommend you install Goo’s Acrylic Base Primer as the undercoat  and using the Goo 2.0 High Contrast 0.85 paint on top.

Fun Watersport Toys: Lift E2 eFoil, Yamahah SeaWing II, Traxxas Spartan

Back in February when I started worrying about COVID, I decided to escape the high-density urban environment of New York, for the beaches of Turks & Caicos for the duration of the quarantine. As I envisioned spending an extended period of time at a beach destination for the first time, I decided to try out a lot of watersport toys especially for low wind days when I could not kite or foil.

There are three that I recommend. The Lift E2 eFoil is perfect for no wind days and for non-kiters to experience the thrill of foiling. I recommend the 5’0 Sport board with the 170 Wing as it’s a good compromise between being easy enough to learn on yet maneuverable enough to be fun once you get good. I am particularly impressed by the battery life as you can get nearly an hour of riding on a single charge. Note that it is not quite the same as foiling with a kite which is way nimbler, but it is still a fun approximation for low wind days. Once caveat is that I would only recommend getting it if you have a flat-water spot. It is extremely hard to learn if it is wavey or choppy.

I swam with Sea Bobs in the past and found them super fun and all the kids staying at my house lobbied for me to get some. However, I balked at the $9 – 17k price points. I looked online for alternatives, but they were all super slow going 3 mph to the Sea Bobs’ 8-13 mph. Enter the Yamaha Seawing II. At $849, it is much cheaper than the Sea Bobs while still going 5 mph. They were probably the most popular water toy we had seeing use for swimming in the pool and ocean, snorkeling and scuba diving by adults and kids alike. My only gripe is that they break rather easily. It became rather obvious rapidly that we should rinse them with fresh water and leave them in the AC after use (which turned out to be true of all our water toys which do not love salt water).

I have been racing RC cars forever, especially the Traxxas eRevo 1/10. This year I tried out the Traxxas Spartan and it is shocking how it seemingly flies above the water. It can reach exceed 50 mph. At that speed, the smallest ripple can send it flying so we had to be super careful given that I run it on the ocean which is rarely perfectly flat. Like with the Lyft eFoil, I only recommend getting it if you have a flat-water spot. Also, if you are running it in salt water (as I am), the electronics will eventually fry. Rinse it with fresh water every time and oil it.

Streaming Gadgets: El Gato Stream Deck XL & Ring Light

Since I started streaming Playing With Unicorns, two gadgets became indispensable: the El Gato Stream Deck XL and the El Gato Ring Light. With the Stream Deck XL you can setup a fairly large number of preset views and switch quickly and efficiently between them without needing to fiddle with your mouse. For instance it is easy to launch the intro, switch to a scene with a guest and I, one where one of us is presenting, one where the camera is only on the guest with or without the comments from the audience. It lends an era of professionalism to what is essentially a self-produced show. BTW if you balk at the $249 price point, you can simply use the Streamdeck app on your phone or tablet for $2.99 / month.  

I also rapidly learned the importance of great lighting. In one of the shows I ended being a bit backlit and you could barely see me. After that episode I bought the El Gato Ring Light, connected it to the Stream Deck and have had much improved image quality ever since. They are a must for all self-respecting streamers.

Episode 9: Coming Up with a Startup Idea

Many aspiring entrepreneurs struggle to come with compelling startup ideas. I detail the four sources of startup ideas:

  • Observed pain points
  • Geographic arbitrage
  • Business model or approach arbitrage
  • Verticalization

I discuss how to quickly determine whether the idea is worth pursuing further. I also share tips and tricks on ideation and early validation.

Arne Halleraker, who co-heads investing at FJ Labs, joins to share the startup ideas he came up with for our most recent FJ Labs ideation session this past August.

For your reference I am including the slides Jeff used during the episode.

Coming-Up-with-a-Startup-Idea

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 8: The Business of Venture Capital

Most entrepreneurs merely see venture capitalists as a source of capital without understanding how venture capitalists operate. Jeff Weinstein, who co-heads investing at FJ Labs, and our resident venture capital nerd, joins to explain the history of venture capital. He details how VC firms operate, how they are funded, and shares his take on the future of the industry. The episode is a must watch for aspiring venture capitalists, prospective investors in venture funds, and entrepreneurs raising from VCs.

For your reference I am including the slides Jeff used during the episode.

The-Business-of-Venture-Capital-1

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 7: FJ Labs’ Startup Studio Model

Last week we covered whether first time founders should build a company on their own or join an accelerator or a venture studio. As a follow-up, I wanted to present the specifics of the FJ Labs startup studio model. Anthony Valente, Andrea Xu, and Charles Gorra join to describe their experiences at the various stages of our program.

For your reference I am including the slides I used during the episode.

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 6: DIY vs Accelerator vs Studio

This week we cover whether first time founders should build a company on their own or join an accelerator or a venture studio. Nancy Dong, our first ever guest on Playing With Unicorns, joins to share the framework she used to decide whether she should join FJ Labs as an entrepreneur in residence (EIR) after stints at Uber and Harvard Business School (HBS).

For your reference I am including the slides Nancy used during the episode.

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 5: Ask Me Anything

Given that I was in Lake Placid looking at the foliage change without my multi-screen setup, I tried a “Ask Me Anything” session for the week. It was a resounding success with very varied questions.

We covered:

  • The impact of antitrust laws on the venture ecosystem
  • The differences between being an angel and running an early stage fund
  • How we acquired the first customers at OLX
  • Whether marketplaces should start by building supply or demand
  • How to build your brand in VC
  • How to prioritize your time as an entrepreneur
  • How foreign startups can succeed in the US
  • Whether we are in a tech bubble
  • Whether startups should be hyperlocal, national, or global
  • My thoughts on impact investing relative to philanthropy and traditional venture investing
  • Whether hunting unicorns is the only viable path for entrepreneurs
  • The state of startups in Africa and whether once could build a unicorn via a rollup
  • Whether business plans are worth the paper they are written on
  • Whether it is essential to be in less competitive markets to succeed
  • What company I would have loved to have founded
  • Whether I will operate another startup in the future
  • The role debt can play in financing startups
  • Whether investors in the pre-seed / angel round should also invest in seed rounds
  • Whether YC is correct to focus on user and revenue growth rather than other metrics
  • What my guiding philosophies have been over the year
  • Whether macroeconomic considerations should be relevant when building or investing in a startup
  • Which investment gave me the best return
  • My perspective on Bitcoin
  • My thoughts (or lack thereof) on the stock market
  • The pros and cons of learning to code as a founder
  • The use of a single vs. multiple KPIs as objectives for teams in startups
  • Why VCs invest where they are located
  • How useful is a college education to an entrepreneur?
  • What helps me stay open and creative
  • My thoughts on The Social Dilemma

I stand by all my answers, but I should complement one of them. With regards as to whether tech is in a bubble, I explained why the low interest rate environment was leading to frothy valuations, but not (yet?) a bubble. However, I should have mentioned that the SPAC world is in a bubble. There are lots of SPACs chasing a few good companies leading to significant adverse selection. The best companies are IPOing outright. The mediocre companies are SPACing. Also, SPACs have historically underperformed the market. Of the 313 SPACs IPOs since the start of 2015, 93 have completed mergers and taken a company public. Of these, the common shares have delivered an average loss of -9.6% and a median return of -29.1%, compared to the average aftermarket return of 47.1% for traditional IPOs since 2015. Only 29 of the SPACS in this group (31.1%) had positive returns.

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Angel investing at scale

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Pankaj Jain, the host of Invest Stream. We discussed how being an entrepreneur led me to becoming an angel investor then went in depth on how to be a good angel investor.

A few takeaways:

  • Have an area of focus: you will make better investment decisions and be more value added by focusing on an area of expertise. In turns this lets you create a brand in the category which leads to more and better deal flow and ever better decision making.
  • Have a diversified portfolio. Venture investing follows a power law with a few startups generating most returns. The larger your portfolio the better you do. Ideally have at least 100 angel investments.

Episode 4: FJ Labs’ Investment Thesis

In the third episode, I described how VCs evaluate startups by using a combination of the team, business, deal terms and whether the idea fits with their thesis to decide whether to invest or not. In this episode, I present FJ Labs’ Investment thesis.

I start by covering why we focus on marketplaces, then detail:  

  • Our current marketplace theses:
    • Verticalization of horizontals
    • Transition to supply pick marketplaces
    • B2B marketplaces
  • The Future of Food
  • The Future of Work
  • The Future of Real Estate
  • The Future of Lending

For your reference I am including the slides I used during the episode.

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 3: How VCs evaluate startups

In the first episode I covered how and when to fundraise. In this episode, I describe how venture capitalists (VCs) evaluate you once you are in front of them to help you refine your approach and pitch.

I explain how VCs use a combination of the team, business, deal terms and whether the idea fits with their thesis to decide whether to invest or not. I also detail:

  • What are unit economics
  • Expected traction and valuation at various stages
  • That venture capital follows a power law
  • How various VCs weigh the different investment criteria based on whether they are playing “Powerball” vs “Moneyball”

For your reference I am including the slides I used during the episode.

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on:

Episode 2: Build a MVP for less than $20k

I start by covering the theoretical do’s and don’ts of building a minimum viable product (MVP) before giving an in depth and specific example of how I would go about building a mobile golf application allowing golfers to find partners to play with at their handicap, in their region and/or club, with the same availability.

I cover how to use various tools and services such as Balsamiq, Awesome Screenshot and Upwork.

For your reference I am including the do’s and don’ts slide I used during the episode and embedding links to the PowerPoint presentation I used as well as the PDF output of the Balsamiq flow.

Build-a-MVP-for-less-than-20k

Episode-2-Build-a-MVP-for-less-than-20k

If you prefer, you can listen to the episode in the embedded podcast player.

In addition to the above Youtube video and embedded podcast player, you can also listen to the podcast on: