Brad Feld

Category: Education

Yesterday, I wrote a high level summary of this year’s Venture Capital in the Rockies conference.  I thought I’d give the local press one more day to see if anyone was going to write something substantive about some of the companies presenting.  I haven’t seen anything, so here are my thoughts on the companies I saw. 

24 companies presented in two tracks so the most I could see was 12.  I had a couple of conference calls during the day so I only managed to see 7 of them: Collective Intellect, Confio Software, HomeSphere, Solidware Technologies, iPosi, CreekPath Systems, and XAware.  The only company on this list that I directly have an investment in is Collective Intellect, although I have indirect investments (through VC funds that I’m an LP in) in XAware as well as Collective Intellect.  I’ve listed the companies in rank order starting with the one that I thought was most interesting / did the best job.

Collective Intellect: I backed the founders – Don Springer and Tim Wolters – in their previous company (Dante Group – acquired in 2003 by WebMethods.)  Don and Tim are super second time entrepreneurs, and the way they’ve started up Collective Intellect shows.  Their tag line is “filtering new media for the securities industry” – they are using a bunch of hard core computer science to analyze new media content (blogs, chat rooms, discussion forums) for public market fund traders, analysts, portfolio managers, and quants (i.e. the dudes at hedge funds.)  The intersection of new media, heavy computer science, and the massive hedge fund dollars sounds like a good place to hunt.  Don did a great presentation and announced their round of funding led by Appian Ventures.

Confio Software: I met the CEO and primary backer of Confio – Charlie Sanders – about 18 months ago when he first got involved with Confio and its cofounder Matt Larson.  Charlie’s an impressive guy having been a senior exec at Seagate (and previously Conner Peripherals.)  It sounds like 2005 was a very good year for them as they landed 40 new customers, although reading between the lines it appeared that one or two customers accounted for about 50% of their revenue.  Confio’s market – IT performance management – is a crowded one, but they appear to be doing some unique stuff around digging into the Oracle database layer to look for root cause defects (ah – “root cause” – the holy grail of all APM companies.)  Charlie a super salesman and is determined to scale the business up nicely on modest capital.  He’s off to a good start.

XAware: Tim Harvey, the new CEO of XAware, did a super job of presenting after a mere three weeks on the job.  I generally like XAware – it’s in a market segment (SOA middleware) that I like, understand, and have made some money in.  However, I don’t understand their approach to the business.  While they generated a respectable $3m of revenue last year, it appears that most of it came from financial services customers.  Consequently, I don’t understand why they present themselves as a horizontal SOA middleware provider when they could be kicking ass in the deep pocketed financial services vertical.

HomeSphere: I’ve got to hand it to James Waldrop and his team – they raised money in 2000/2001, survived their market falling apart, focused on growing slower but getting profitable, and have accomplished that.  They now have a respectable $10m business that sells two things: (1) manufacturer incentive and rebate service for through group buying (80%) and (2) construction management software (20%).  While #1 is a solid growth business (and HomeSphere has likely gotten to an interesting critical mass), #2 looks like a flat to declining business.  As a result, HomeSphere is looking to raise $10m to roll out three new lines of business (none of which I can remember a few days later.)  I don’t understand why they’d do this – if I was on their board I’d say “no more money – stay profitable – grow aggressively in segment #1.”

Solidware Technologies: Sue Kunz, the CEO of Solidware, is a firecracker.  I’ve known her and her gang for about a year and watched them do unnatural acts (ah – the joys of entrepreneurship) to get their “Splat Software” up and running.  Splat is an SQA product (software quality assurance) that helps identify software defects through visual analysis of the source code.  I declined to invest last year as I’ve already got an investment in a somewhat competitive company (Klocwork), but I’ve tried to be helpful and encouraging to Sue and her team because I like their style.  I only caught the tail end of Sue’s presentation so I don’t know how she did, but she handled the Q&A nicely.

iPosi: I don’t get iPosi.  They presented a vision for a set of E911 products based on GSM-based location combined with IP geolocation (they are talking to one of my companies – Quova – about working together.)  I listened to the presentation and really didn’t understand either (a) what exactly they were going to do or (b) how they were going to do it.  My brain was working hard when I saw their revenue slide – immediately afterwards my nose started bleeding and I started fantasizing about steep upward sloping exponential curves.  I know – and like – a few of the people involved – I’m sure I’m missing something obvious.

CreekPath Systems: I remember looking at Creekpath in 2000 when it was originally spun off from Exabyte.  I was pretty excited about funding it until one of my partners vomited all over the floor after meeting with the team.  As a result I passed – am I’m glad I did.  They’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and retooled their leadership team – again – last year.  Creekpath is a good example of the endlessly elusive storage success animal (hardware or software) that tantalizes, but eludes, the Colorado VC.  Maybe this will be the one, but as many have gone before them, they have a long road ahead of them.  I keep hearing that none of the storage vendors have this, but then I think about EMC’s software group and just shake my head.

Oh, and Seth and Chris assured me that the skiing on Wednesday was outstanding and the skiing on Friday was social (e.g. not much fresh powder, but lots of friends hanging around, blue skies, and 60 degrees.)

For the last 23 years, the Venture Capital in the Rockies conference has been the signature fund-raising conference in the Rocky Mountain region.  A full day of presentations from companies looking for venture capital (with the presenters mostly in suits – a rarity in this part of the country) followed by a day of legendary skiing (and – while I don’t ski – this year was phenomenal) makes for a great conference.  320 attended this year – 100 were investors including a number from out of state.

It was fun to look through the list of presenters since 1996 and see the following companies that I’ve been involved in:

1996: Mercury Mail – IPO as Exactis

1998: Email Publishing – acquired by MessageMedia
          Vstream – IPO as Raindance

1999: Service Metrics – acquired by Exodus
          Tellsoft – unsuccessful

2000: Finali – acquired by Convergys
          Service Magic – acquired by IAC

2001: Deuxo – unsuccessful
          Latis – now StillSecure – current portfolio company
          Prosavvy – acquired by eWork

2002: Dante Group – acquired by webMethods
          Npulse (Xaffire) – acquired by Quest
          Wideforce – unsuccessful

2003: F4 Technologies – now Rally Software
          Finali (again) – acquired by Convergys
          Newmerix – current portfolio company

2005: Oxlo – current portfolio company
          Rally (again) – current portfolio company

It was also interesting to see all the companies I haven’t invested in over the years that presented at this conference that have either been successful (oops – missed that one) or unsuccessful (sorry – but I’m glad I didn’t invest.)

Chris Onan from Appian Ventures did an awesome job hosting the conference this year.  He followed a tough act from Chris Wand of Mobius Venture Capital who hosted the preceding two years – and did great.  Maybe they should rename the conference “Venture Capital in the Rockies: By Chris.”

All the local papers have now written up their piece on the conference at this point.  The Boulder Daily Camera had a light weight piece on the conference in general.  The Rocky Mountain News ran two pieces – one that highlighted David Moll – CEO of Webroot (and the article said that he didn’t stay long because he had more important things to do – ouch) and one that announced ITU Ventures new $120 million fund.  The article in the Denver Post was the most substantive, actually highlighting several companies including Collective Intellect, Accucode, and Groople.

Given the lack of actual focus on the companies, I’ll write up a separate post talking about the ones I saw at the conference, offering feedback and (hopefully) constructive advice.

I speak at a lot of conferences – I’m basically happy to give a speech or sit on a panel if I’m in the town when the conference is happening (I don’t want to have to travel to speak since I travel all the time, but if it’s convenient, I do it), have time, and feel I have something to add on the topic in question.  I generally do this for the intrinsic satisfaction of participating and whatever intangible second order effects result (e.g. who the hell knows why I really do this, other than I enjoy it.)  Yeah – I’m a panel whore.

While I usually get a live thank you in real time, I’ll occasionally get a handwritten thank you note after the fact (very nice – the people who do this should be pleased that their mothers’ trained them well.)  Sometimes I get a token of appreciation in the useless gift category (a pen with a sponsors name on it, some little plaque, or some other left over schwag.)

I spoke at Metzger Associates First Annual New Media Summit last night.  The intrinsic benefit factor was high (the panel was fun, it was a good audience, it was local, Amy came and cheered me on, and I got to go out to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants (The Kitchen) with Amy afterwards since we were in Boulder.)  This morning, an unexpected surprise showed up in my inbox – an Amazon gift certificate for $50 with a thank you.  Of all the things I’ve gotten for being a presenter or panelist, I think this one is the most useful.  It caused me to stop, smile, think happy thoughts about Metzger, appreciate that this is actually a functionally useful thank you gift, and then feel inspired to blog about it.

When someone gives you their time for free, it’s easy to thank them, but it’s rare that people think creatively about how to show appreciation.  Metzger did a great (and relatively inexpensive) job of that – Seth Godin would be proud of them. 

If you happen to be in Boulder tonight, Metzger Associates is putting on a “New Media Summit” tonight at The City Club (885 Arapahoe) from 4pm to 7pm.  It’ll be a panel – moderated by Matt Branaugh (the Boulder Daily Camera Business Editor) and features:

  • Me
  • Doyle Albee: Metzger Associates New Media practice director
  • Howard Kaushansky: founder of Umbria, a company setting new standards for monitoring online consumer intelligence
  • Joe Pezzillo: founder of one of the nation’s first Internet radio stations, and former creative director of Apple’s Electronic Media Lab.

There are still a few seats left – it’s a limited group so if you are around and interested, contact Julie Ludwig at Metzger by email or call her at 303 786 7000 to RSVP.  The cost is $25 and you’ll end up being well fed (and probably entertained.)

There are two conferences going on today – We Media and Web 2.0.  Both are sold out, have great speakers, and have generated lots of “pre-conference” buzz (whatever that means.)

They are radically difference conferences addressing the same thing from two totally different perspectives.  The schedules and the agendas tell the complete story.  We Media – all media, all day long – in New York.  Web 2.0 – all tech, for a couple of days – in San Francisco.

Ten years later, the bifurcation on the Internet between tech and media seems as big as ever.  I wonder which party is going to be more fun (actually, I don’t, but it was a good closing line.)

I’m speaking at the We Media Conference in New York on October 5.  We Media is being sponsored by The Media Center, is being held at The Associated Press headquarters, and Al Gore is giving the keynote.