Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bridgescale Opens Toronto Office

Those of you who remember Rob Chaplinsky from his days as a VC with Mohr Davidow (investors in, among other things, Ottawa's Quake Technologies) will be pleased to learn he has recommitted to the north at his new fund, Bridgescale Partners. PE Hub today reports that the office opening is now official- details to follow.

(Note: Bridgescale focuses on growth equity, not seed stage investing.)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Does SiliconValley Really Thrive Without Non-Compete Agreements?

I love non-compete clauses. I can go on for hours, maybe even days if there are donuts around, about this particular issue.

If deployed correctly, restricting key employees from competing when they a company leave makes the intellectual property assets of a company easier to protect, start-ups easier to finance, and incents employees to produce. The harder it is for founders or key employees to leave a start-up and pursue the same innovation elsewhere, the better.

During the last two or three years, however, mine has not been the most popular view. Outside of Silicon Valley it has become de rigeur to decry the practice of requiring start-up employees to be bound by non compete and non solicitation restrictions. Critics argue that clauses like this stifle innovation. They point to California, where non-compete clauses are void by state law. California’s ban, they say, allows a free flow of ideas as employees churn between start-ups, which in turn stimulates the continuous generation of new start-ups and innovations.

Over in New England, Spark Capital's Bijan Sabet and others have even convinced Massachusetts legislators to take a similar “open source” approach. In January 2009 legislators even introduced a bill that would copy California's ban on non-compete clauses in employment agreements.


Now, it seems I’m not the only one who rejects the idea of open source innovation - some of Silicon Valley's larger players may also feel the same way.

Yesterday came news that the United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation on the recruiting practices of Silicon Valley companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Genentech and several others. The investigation is looking into whether the companies entered into agreements to not actively recruit talent from each other, which may be a violation of antitrust laws.

Stay tuned.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Knowing When to Close the Doors

In the last few months, I've encountered entrepreneurs who've risked it all - house, RRSP, bank balance - in order to keep their fledgling businesses alive. Some of them (most of them) either have or are going to fail, and I can't help thinking that they could have avoided this result had they worked with experienced investors or solid mentors.

Why? Because experienced investors and advisors invest in a business on the basis of acceptable risk. They have invested their time (or provided services) because they have bought into a business plan which de-risks the major challenges of building the business with the funds on hand. Outside investors establish metrics that measure progress of the business and allow them to determine whether the risk is diminishing or increasing. An investor knows how to measure when a risk is too great, and also when to close the doors.

When entrepreneurs rely on friends and family money alone, they often don't build that kind of reality-check into their business. They reckon, even when the market is telling them otherwise, that if they can bootstrap just one more month, they'll make it to the next level. Founders who have bet the farm can be unwilling admit defeat until it's too late to try and recoup any losses.

Outside Silicon Valley there are fewer mentors with who've been in the start-up game long enough to have ridden out the last two boom and bust cycles in the industry. If that's the case in your area, then you need to practice self-help and start adopting some basic rules for how you invest in yourself:

1. It's never a good idea to bet all of your assets on the success of your business, unless you're 19 years old. You cannot assume that there is a white knight investor out there who will take you to the next stage if you just find a way to keep going.

2. If you cannot find some mentors or investors to engage with you, this may be an indicator that it's not such a great idea to begin with. At the least, (in Toronto)go to MARs and use the resources all your taxes have paid for to validate your assumptions.

3. If you are not measuring your progress in an objective, multi-faceted way, then you are engaged in an emotional endeavour. Emotional endeavours have a 50% divorce rate.

Mentoring Start-Ups, Baghdad Style

One of my favourite friends/clients is over in Baghdad working on fostering local entrepreneurship, all as part of the US's Rebuilding Iraq initiative. Going to meetings in Baghdad presents unique fashion dilemma such as, what suit goes best with body armor?

Next time one of your business advisors/mentors balks about an early morning meeting, show him this picture.

Last thought: Billions are being spent on rebuilding and connecting local businesses in war-torn places like Iraq with the world market. Is there an opportunity for your social media business to grab some of that money and carve out a role?