Inspirational Mondays with Chris Heivly (Techstars)

The world of startups and technology companies is getting bigger and bigger. So how to know it? Which startups are promising, and what is the key to success? At FTRNW, we welcomed Chris Heivly, co-founder of MapQuest, a writer and blogger who was sole managing director of 77 Capital and has been an executive five software companies. He is currently Managing Partner of The Startup Factory & SVP Ecosystem Development Manager at Techstars. Chris is one of the most famous American leading experts on how to turn startups into multimillion-dollar companies. More than 30 years in the industry has made Chris an expert. Manager, director, investment magician and writer in one person. To learn more about startups, read his book Build The Fort, which he published recently, or click on his blog heivly.com.

 

Hi Chris. We are very happy to have you here and very honored to have a chance to interview you today and get inspired as it is Inspirational Monday at Future Now.
What are your personal investment preferences? Or what are the technologies you are looking at and betting on for the future?

It’s a great question. Most if not all of my investments are very much at what I would call the seed level and have been for ten years. And to that end, the things that are driving, there is so little information at that stage that I find that what I do, is I’m more focused on the people on the team. Because there is so much discovery still to happen about product-market fit, what you guys talked about a couple of weeks ago and how to start scaling up your company for so much more journey left and unknowns that I want to see that I can find a person or a team that has a mindset that sticks to me, about how to attack that journey. I find the initial screen for me is about getting excited about a person or a team. More so than the technology or the sector or industry.

That is interesting because it sounds like a cliché everyone says that the VC business is people’s business and you are betting on people and then there is this question of how do you recognize these people. I’ve read some of your blogs on testing the leasers and talking a lot about leaders, but how do you see that over the few meetings you have? Or do you reference these people, is it your personal feeling? How do you make this assessment when you are talking to the founders?

I’m a storyteller and a story listener so I want to spend a lot of time with people, wheater personal or business, having a lot of different conversations and what I’m trying to see is what makes you ted. How do you think about things? What is your approach? To the point that there are so few answers and so few data at the seed level of investing, (that) I want to understand your approach. I want to understand do you like to get lots of advice or do you operate as if you have all the exact answers right now. And I can only do that just by having a lot of discussions. I like to dive in, I like to be a partner, I don’t lose sleep if you don’t take my advice, but I at least want to have a discussion and beat it around and pull on, thug, smash it, open it up and get lots of other peoples opinions. I think the best entrepreneurs in my mindset love lots of information and then make decisions. And if we can hopefully help an entrepreneur to make better decisions and not wasting time or money, then we increase the chances of success. And so I can only get there by spending a lot of time and digging in. That’s why I love the accelerator model because it’s based on spending three months intensely in a pressure cooker and I get to see how you think and how you act. 

Normally what we tell the founders is to take those few minutes to introduce themselves before introducing the start-up, because a lot of them just come there and they want to speak about the huge problem of the world and what a great solution they came up with. And I advise them to hold on for three minutes and say why you are the one seen here. It may seem like very basic advice, but actually, a lot of founders don’t do that, from my experience.

I’m so glad you’ve mentioned that because that is one of my pet peeves. I always when I sit with someone down for the first time, I say slow down and tell me about you. Back to the first question you’ve asked, I want to connect with you on a human level. Where are you from, did you go to school, what kind of family do you have. Give me a couple of minutes about you before you dive into the business.

Now that we talk about personalities, I’ve read your article that you’ve written recently about the bad pitch personalities. It was really amusing. You named seven bad pitch personalities that you often see. Actually, in every one of them, I could literally see a founder sitting in front of me and sometimes even remembering the company. I know it sounds really bad, but it is something that sticks in your head. Even though I thought it was very useful and you highlighted what these personalities are missing or what they should have/work on, my question is, how do you tell them that this is a problem, and is there a second chance with you? Can it happen?

 Remember the previous story I told, where I say stop, stop, stop. Let me get to know you a little bit better. Once someone is going to do their pitch, I don’t want to be the person who throws a hand grenade in the middle of that. I’m gonna let you finish it your way, I may not be inspired by it, it may actually hurt you. But I’m not gonna have you recraft this mid-pitch. To be honest with you I spent probably more of my time coaching entrepreneurs about how to do the pitch, than being pitched these days. I put stuff ut there so that people can learn. And I think as a first-time founder there is so much nuance and little details and things that they just don’t know yet. This is why I love programs like this, Techstars and Y Combinator, co-working spaces, and all our entrepreneurial tribe.

So once you meet the founder, you laugh and you feel like there is a good connection with him, you believe in his leadership skills and the product is not perfect, is it still a match? Do you believe that you can work on a product?

Great question. Back to your first question, how much is the founder, how much is the technology or the product, market. People like to ask which one do you value the most? And I say it’s more like a set of gates for me. So I want to get past the human gate and once I get to pass the human gate then I dive into understanding the product and the market potential and how are you thinking about attacking that. And obviously if I think that you are a great entrepreneur, but I think you have a crappy idea, I’m not going to invest. I got to love the product, the service, and the market that you are after, and usually at the seed level, I’m trying to look at how to figure out how you gonna find product-market fit. After that, if I’m doing a later stage investment, I’m gonna figure out if you understand and you have a team together to scale this business in the right way. I got to love the product and the market at least a little. I find myself to be, and I think most people at the tech start-ups, find themselves to be a valued add investor. So I can evaluate when I can connect with people, that you haven’t been able to connect with, open up customers, find people for you that add to your team and hopefully help you make better decisions. I do have to like the market space and the product to some minimal level. 

Very interesting. I have the last question of our conversation, what are the next trends for the start-up world in the upcoming future? 

That’s my least favorite question. The trend that I care most about, I think we are going to see an explosion, and have been seeing in Europe and Asia, of new entrepreneurs. And eventually Africa and South America. Some of it is happening in South America, but certainly Europe and Asia, the more Western countries. We are seeing that being able to start a company, having that personal freedom, not assuming that there is only limited economic means for how to work, we will continue to see that. I think the opportunities will only grow. This virtual kind of covid and a post-covid world where people connect more on video always will further break down the geographic limitations. With that trend more founders and entrepreneurs in more places, that will diversify our economy to the point where big economic shifts will not crush or hurt your city, your region, or your country. I will end by saying entrepreneurship is everywhere and if you are an entrepreneur you can find success regardless of what city, a town you live in. This gonna continue as far as I see the next five to ten years. 

Thanks to the inspiring Chris for his time and pleasant conversation.

If you want view the full interview, click HERE 👇🏻