Startup Fundraising: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One year ago today, Smart Office Energy Solutions closed a $1.3M angel round of funding. We've accomplished a great deal since then - expanded the team, finished gen-1 product development, obtained all the requisite certifications for our hardware, and built a large sales pipeline - but I find anniversaries to be a good time to pause and reflect.

This is a presentation on startup fundraising I gave a few days ago to entrepreneurship students at the University of Wyoming. In it, I review the pros and cons of several different startup fundraising strategies, using Smart OES and my previous startups as specific case studies.

Toward the end of the presentation, I take a deep dive into Smart OES's three rounds. The quantitative analysis provides some interesting insights:

  • We had a 0% success rate trying to raise funds from people who were not part of our networks. 100% of our investment came from people we knew or people to whom we were introduced.
  • Former colleagues invested the most (in total invested, mean investment size, and median investment size) in my venture. The trust developed by working with or for someone is a real asset in early-stage fundraising.
  • A similar trust clearly is formed in the academic setting as well because a good deal of our investment came through my school networks. Interestingly, Rice contacts invested more (in total invested, mean investment size, and median investment size) than did IMD contacts.
  • Second-degree contacts became much more likely to invest over time. It is helpful, therefore, for startup founders to engage "smart" money (in this case, investors with connections to other investors) early on.
  • Similarly, the value of repeat investors increased over time, demonstrating the value of engaging investors with the capacity to follow on.
  • Geographically, investors in Texas out-invested investors in Switzerland 2:1. However, using my LinkedIn network size (1,100 contacts in Texas; 250 contacts in Switzerland) as a denominator, the Swiss outperformed the Texans on a per capita basis. Most disappointingly, we didn't raise a penny from North Carolina (where I have 300 contacts!) - and not for lack of trying.
  • Unsurprisingly phone calls and in-person meetings were more effective than emailing or messaging on social networks in leading to investment.
We've just opened up a new funding round (with more than 25% already committed by existing investors!) so we're putting these learnings into practice to be better/smarter/faster this time around.


Review: The Dark Tower Series Collection: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower Series Collection: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower The Dark Tower Series Collection: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! The Dark Tower series really blew me away. I'm not a fan of the horror genre so I have never read any Stephen King novels before. Of course, as a fan of movie adaptations of his non-horror works, I have long known that he does stray from the genre occasionally but I was never terribly motivated to give him a try.

However, The Dark Tower kept showing up on lists of top FANTASY books, and that is a genre that I truly love. Last year, in preparation for the [bad] Dark Tower movie, I decided to give the first Dark Tower novel a try and - BAM - I was hooked!

From the opening lines of the novel, King uses evocative language to captivate the reader. He creates rich, complex characters and an interesting, immersive world that leaves the reader wanting to know more about it - and about how it came to be. With eight novels to date and probably more to come (King has claimed to have been done with the series multiple times before but it keeps calling to him.), the series scratches that itch satisfyingly.

Interestingly, different novels take on very different tones. Some might be considered dark western fantasy; some might be considered time travel mystery; some might be considered dystopian future sci fi. They provide substantial variety - but always with the same core of well developed characters, so there is a mix of familiarity and novelty.

The series began as a few short stories that were kind of mashed up into a novel. Then King had an idea for a follow-on novel. Then another. Then a prequel. Then a three-novel meta-series that would tie the Dark Tower into all of his other works. Then another prequel. Organically The Dark Tower has grown into his magnum opus over the course of more than four decades.

In some ways I think King's reach exceeds his grasp and he stretches a little too far trying to massage tie-ins of his other works into the later books in this series but, still, I found every book to be very interesting without a single disappointing entry.

It's hard for me to qualify a recommendation for this series with "if you like XYZ genre" because the series is so broad and expansive. So, let me leave my recommendation as such: I see now what the big deal is about Stephen King.

View all my reviews


2018 Winter Olympics Wrap-Up

Another Olympics has come and gone so it is once again time to take a look at who "won" the Games by several different metrics. Per my previous posts, I continue to use a weighted scoring system to tally up Olympic medals by country. This year I once again tracked not just the medal counts but also economic and demographic metrics for each country - you can see my full spreadsheet here.

Norway was the clear victor in medal scores, winning in every category: golds, silvers, bronzes, total medals, and weighted medal score. The top performers by weighted medal score were:
123 - Norway
107 - Germany
89   - Canada
75   - USA
64   - Netherlands
Norway went from a weighted medal count of 75 in 2010 to 80 in 2014 to explode this year - a true success story! Meanwhile Russia has gone the opposite direction, from 91 (#1) four years ago to 37 (#12) this year. Russia was technically banned from competition this year for doping . . . and yet three Russian athletes competing as individuals were caught for doping at this year's games anyway!

Because Norway is so small, it crushed the competition even (especially!) when normalized by population. The top performers by weighted medal score per million citizens were:
23.43 - Norway
5.60   - Switzerland
5.49   - Sweden
4.59   - Austria
3.77   - Netherlands

These countries are all pretty affluent, though, so how do things change if we normalize instead by GDP? Not much! The top performers by weighted medal score per $B GDP (PPP) were:
0.33 - Norway
0.14 - Liechtenstein
0.10 - Sweden
0.09 - Austria
0.09 - Switzerland

We can mix up the leaderboard a little bit if we normalize by GDP per capita. The top performers by weighted medal score per $1,000 GDP per capita were:
2.12 - Germany
1.84 - Canada
1.71 - Norway
1.51 - China
1.35 - Olympic Athletes from Russia

Many congratulations to Norway, a small country that absolutely crushed much larger and richer countries than itself at this year's Olympics - well done! Keep up the good work and we'll hope to give you more competition in four years!


Escape To Margaritaville

Exactly five lunar years after our last trip to New York City, Katie and I traveled to NYC last weekend and, while we were there, we saw Jimmy Buffett's new Broadway musical, Escape To Margaritaville! Here is my spoiler-free review:

  • The vocal talent is awesome - especially the women! If you're a Buffett fan, it's really cool to hear familiar songs sung with range, multi-part harmonies, and vibrato! It's especially interesting to hear some classic Buffett songs sung by women, which makes for an entirely new tone - and even meaning - to songs you know by heart. I can't wait to get my hands on the cast recording!
  • The song list is a good mix of well known hits and more obscure songs from the Buffett catalog. 
  • The musical takes full advantage of the medium and creates some truly fantastic scenes. If you're a Buffett fan, you've been waiting your entire life to see the full audio-visual realization of Cheeseburger, Volcano, and more - even if you didn't know it! Seriously; a few of the music numbers are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
  • Some parts of the show are just really, really fun. There is one scene, for example, that makes no sense whatsoever, and seems like more of a "Jimmy said that, if this is a Broadway show, it has to have THIS element in it," but it still totally works because it's so fun. The ending also does a really faithful job of recreating the experience of being at a Buffett concert - so much fun!
  • The show is really self aware. It doesn't take itself or its source material too seriously, which is very coherent with its fun tone. There is subtle - and not-so-subtle - political commentary slipped in too, which I really enjoyed.
  • The show is loaded with references to Buffett songs. Sometimes those are paid off eventually with a musical number but sometimes they are left as Easter eggs for fans. Because the show is still in previews, it's possible that these references are actually "orphaned" setups for different musical numbers that we didn't see in our show because they are still playing around with the final set list but, either way, I enjoyed all the additional references.
  • There are some good characters and plot arcs - especially including some strong women!

  • Many of the songs stop prematurely; one or two verses are sung and then the actors return to their dialog. As I have blogged previously, Jimmy Buffett is a storyteller; each of his songs has its own narrative arc. Aborting the song before it reaches its conclusion felt unfulfilling to me.
  • Many song lyrics were changed to fit the song into the overall narrative of the show. Some of these changes keep the song's intent but some of them completely change the song's meaning. I totally get why they did it and, in some cases, I found it to be quite clever. In many cases, though, it subverted my expectations so kind of took me out of the song. 
  • In a couple of places the show weaves multiple songs together into a revolving medley of sorts. Further to my point above about the song lyrics, in some ways I think it was quite clever (E.g. they blend together Coconut Telegraph and Head Hurts / Feet Stinks, both of which march through the days of the week.) but overall it doesn't quite work for me. I feel like it's almost there but its reach just exceeds its grasp. Again I understand why it was done for narrative purposes but it came at the cost of the music.
  • The crowd, at least at our show, was really timid. You could tell that many people really wanted to sing along but weren't quite sure whether that was encouraged or even allowed. During a couple of numbers - and increasingly as the show progressed - people threw caution to the wind and belted it out, which was really fun. If the show could find a better way to make it clear early on if/when singing along is encouraged, I think it would really enhance the experience.
  • There are some bad characters and plot arcs - unfortunately including the central love arc.

  • Nothing to see here!


Buffett fans might be disappointed by some of the changes to songs they know and love but overall will love the Broadway spectacle-ization of his canon. Non-Buffett fans may not experience quite the same highs as those who already love the music but also won't have any expectations to be subverted by the changes. Those seeking serious theater should probably stay away (Duh?) but this is a really fun, light-hearted jukebox musical with great music for everyone else. Attending this show will definitely change your latitude/attitude for a few hours!