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E2E: News

Returning to Work in a COVID-19 World

COVID-19 has brought about changes in the workplace that no one was expecting, from a nearly 100% shift to remote work to a barrage of Zoom employee social events. With the initial shock of work from home coming to an end, the next phase of navigating COVID-19 for many founders is the decision of whether and how to return their teams to the workplace. Founders are asking themselves a host of questions: When is it appropriate to have employees return to the office? What procedures, tools, etc do they need to put in place to monitor employee health and safety? What sorts of changes to facilities are needed?

Earlier this week we held a Portfolio2Portfolio working session for our founders on the topic of Returning to Work. Panelists from five of our portfolio companies that have solutions relevant to returning to work spoke to senior executives of other Next Coast Ventures portfolio companies. The panelists not only discussed their products’ value propositions to assist other firms returning to work, but also their own company’s adjustments to COVID-19, and future plans for returning to the office. We wanted to share some key takeaways from the founders and executives’ discussion on returning to work.

Key Takeaways

  • Most companies on the panel are not planning on returning to their offices until August at the earliest.
  • Employee sentiment is a key driver of most companies’ return to work plans. All founders felt it is critical to communicate with employees and understand their preferences and needs when designing a return-to-work plan.
  • COVID-19 has created challenges for management teams, such as maintaining company culture and hiring new team members. At the same time some teams had found that committing to being fully remote opened up new opportunities such as complete geographic flexibility in hiring, and therefore potentially a pathway to recruiting a more diverse workforce.
  • Software platforms can facilitate return-to-work planning and office utilization, including scheduling of utilization of particular work spaces and which employees can be present in an office on a particular day. Companies may benefit from this new generation of tools, including the ones offered by our portfolio company Swivel.

EverlyWell: Julia Cheek, Founder & CEO

After becoming the first digital health startup authorized by the FDA to offer an at-home COVID-19 test collection kit last month, EverlyWell has rolled out an enterprise COVID-19 testing solution to help businesses offer employees and family members safe and private at-home testing.

AlertMedia: Brian Cruver, Founder and CEO

AlertMedia enables companies to communicate across channels during crises and urgent situations, such as a pandemic, with employees. Their solution is a great tool for immediate communication related to COVID-19 such as threat monitoring, wellness checks, operational coordination, safety tips, and more.

Ceresa: Anna Robinson, Founder and CEO

Ceresa is meeting the virtual training needs of enterprise talent by providing a nine-month virtual leadership development program that includes executive coaching and external mentorships. Ceresa helps companies keep and grow the best talent by democratizing access to development training, 100% virtual and at scale.

Swivel: Scott Harmon, Co-Founder and CEO

Swivel is reimagining the office leasing experience. With the ability to represent properties virtually, Swivel can allow companies to tour office spaces online, toggle layout and furniture options and ask the leasing team questions. It continues to develop innovative technology powering agile property leasing, as well as flexible office layouts that are appropriate for the new normal of COVID 19.

Enboarder: Jacquelyn De Bonville, Customer Success Director

As an experience-driven onboarding platform, Enboarder helps companies onboard and offboard employees virtually, keep employees safe and informed, and prepares them for blended work, all while maintaining an important human connection.

During these unprecedented times, everyone is learning as they go. Having discussions and learning from others about navigating this pandemic is an important piece in developing a return to work plan for your company.

Thanks to all of our panelists for participating in this strategy session and sharing their insights.

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E2E: News

A VC, an Entrepreneur and a Serial Killer Dial Into a Virtual Sports Bar

How entrepreneurs and investors can use their respective insanity to work together and drive better alignment and results

(A version of this post appeared on Forbes)

Fund-raising is always tough. I originally wrote a version of this post a month ago to help entrepreneurs navigate the always trepid waters of fund-raising. In the past few weeks, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges entrepreneurs face raising capital (along with everything else) have been magnified a hundredfold. Yes, you can still raise capital, but in these unprecedented times, it’s going to be a lot harder. Having been on both sides of the table in good times and bad, I’d thought I’d share some insights on how investors and entrepreneurs can work together in this uncertain environment. For some perspective, let me start by recounting two recent video conference calls…

At the end of a very long day, I logged out of my Zoom account for the day and shook my head. How did two video conference meetings on the same topic produce two totally different perspectives and agendas?

We were considering leading the Series A capital raise for a seriously innovative company. The first call, with a partner in another firm who was considering joining us in investing, was business-like, almost clinical. “This is a really exciting deal,” they said, “and we would be interested in investing if the valuation and terms make sense. Given this COVID-19 thing, we could probably jam them a bit more on terms, especially valuation.” Cold, impersonal and without emotion—just like any good serial killer in the Stephen King novels that fill my sleep with nightmares.

The second call, with the company’s founder, was packed with energy and emotion. “We want to build an amazing company, and we feel like we have established product-market fit,” they said. “With some more capital, we can continue to make our life mission a reality. Yes, COVID-19 is a real consideration but should have no long-term impact on our business model.” Highly emotional, passionate and enthusiastic—just like any of the great entrepreneurs who likewise must be partially insane to deal with maddening highs and lows of starting a business.

So, which was it? Was this a “deal” or a “life mission”? The answer depends on your perspective. Now, more than ever, it is incredibly important to understand the difference between the mindsets of the entrepreneur and the investor. As we all work through the panic, troubleshooting and adjusting financial projections, it is hyper-critical to be as balanced as possible. For both sides to achieve the outcome they’re looking for, it pays to understand the other side’s perspective. We all miss sports, among other things right now, so maybe a quick analogy will help…

The Golfer and the Quarterback

Sports fans know how to appreciate different perspectives. I like watching both golf and football (or at least I used to...now I try and remember what a live sporting event is actually like). But there’s a big difference in how Rory McIlroy (currently the #1 ranked professional golfer in the world) and Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and Super Bowl MVP) go about their jobs.

When McIlroy is about to tee off, he considers the variables (distance, wind, club selection, etc.) and then he takes an isolated action (the swing). When the ball leaves the club, the result is already determined, and he can only watch and contemplate the outcome. Even with a bad shot, he knows he’ll get 60-70 more shots that day. Consideration, decision and action, then watching the results and knowing that while each shot is important, no single shot will make or break the match. That’s the approach and mindset of an investor with a portfolio of investments to oversee.

Contrast that to a typical play in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes calls a play based on the current down and distance. He takes the snap, and all hell breaks loose. He must make multiple decisions based on the huge number of events quickly unfurling around him. After that play, he huddles with his team and quickly calls another one, all the while knowing one bad pass could cost him the game or he could be knocked unconscious—or worse—by a 350-pound linebacker who literally is trying to kill him. Chaos, uncertainty, making decisions on the fly: That’s a day in the life of a high-growth company. Every plan feels like it could be his last—he has no “portfolio”—and tomorrow seems like a meaningless consideration.

Rising Tensions at Investment Time

The contrasting approaches of investors and entrepreneurs meet head-on when it’s time for a company to raise a funding round. And if each side isn’t careful, what should be a momentous event in a company’s history can strain relations long after the deal is done.

It begins with the process of determining a point estimate, essentially the best guess at how much the company is worth. It’s almost ridiculously difficult, building a specific business case that takes into consideration terms, price, ownership and dozens of other factors. When markets and valuations are experiencing incredible volatility - as they are now - these differences get magnified dramatically. But the process is critically important to the investors. The sad part is that 99% of an investor’s success will be determined by the investment she chooses to make and the price that is to be paid for that investment. Just about everything else is noise.

While entrepreneurs are certainly on board for any deal that maximizes their price and minimizes the dilution of their shares, they also know that the details really won’t matter that much if they execute on their vision and plan. They don’t see much point in painstakingly determining a fixed point estimate when conditions change every day. The bulk of her success will be determined by the execution during the years after the investment—and if she is successful, the valuation and price paid at the time of the investment will be largely meaningless.

See the contrast inherent here?

It’s also critically important to note that investors are dealing with a portfolio of companies. They can afford to be wrong every now and then, provided there’s a big win mixed in along the way. For entrepreneurs, the success of their business is all or nothing. There’s nothing for them to fall back on. This simple fact can magnify an already conflict-ridden environment.

A Simple Solution For Both

When we consider leading an investment, we try to do a couple of simple things to bridge the gaps between us (as investors) and the entrepreneurs we are backing. It starts with an open dialogue. We sit down with the entrepreneur before any investment and share our business plan, our perceived investment risk and our expected valuation outcome for their company.

We also ask the entrepreneur to share with us what he or she most wants to happen with the business over time: hopes, dreams, aspirations and best-case and worst-case outcomes. At the end of this discussion, my favorite thing to do is to ask the entrepreneur one simple question. “Five years from now, we are sitting in a bar, and we are either celebrating a great success or drowning our sorrows. Tell me why either happened.” This question more than any other helps both of us get a shared view on what could go right AND what could go wrong – and start the relationship from the same perspective on both.

“Five years from now, we are sitting in a bar (not watching each other sip beer on our webcams), and we are either celebrating a great success or drowning our sorrows. Tell me why either happened.”

We also ask the entrepreneur to share with us what he or she most wants to happen with the business over time: hopes, dreams, aspirations and best-case and worst-case outcomes. At the end of this discussion, my favorite thing to do is to ask the entrepreneur one simple question. “Five years from now, we are sitting in a bar, and we are either celebrating a great success or drowning our sorrows. Tell me why either happened.” This question more than any other helps both of us get a shared view on what could go right AND what could go wrong – and start the relationship from the same perspective on both.

We also write an investment memo for every deal and share it with the entrepreneur. The memo spells out our thoughts on the deal—both the upsides and downsides—so that there’s full transparency.

When we do this, we get reactions like, “Holy cow. Thank you! I never understood how this works, and this helps me plan my business and board updates accordingly.” The entrepreneur understands our perspective, risks we see in the business and the outcome we are focused on achieving. From day one, we have a shared perspective.

Both a Hole-In-One and a Touchdown Are Worth Celebrating

The very best investor-entrepreneur relationships are based on trust and openness, along with a shared vision, goals and expectations.

It’s so important for entrepreneurs to know the key assumptions, financial metrics, and risk factors that the investors are considering. It might be scary to hear, but it establishes the right level of trust and communication with the investment team.

It is equally important for investors to get into the mind of the entrepreneur and understand what she does (and does not) want to do with the business over time.

A shared perspective and understanding not only builds trust and openness from day one, but it also provides a shared viewpoint when things do and do not go as planned. Maybe, just maybe, it can also cut down on the therapy bills for both—but that concept will require a much, much longer blog post to really do it justice!

Categories
E2E: News

Leading Through Difficult Times

Clear Direction and Consistency with Strong Values Can Build Enduring Cultural Advantages

In 2008, I was running a travel technology company called VacationRoost when the Financial Crisis absolutely crushed the tourism market that we served. Seemingly overnight our revenues were cut in half and our break-even operation became a loss generator. Our growth ambitions and strategy were quickly shelved for the necessity of survival planning. Cutting costs through operational retrenchment, pay-cuts, and painful layoffs was miserable. It was during this challenging time, however, that we built strong cultural foundations that helped us not only survive, but thrive during the recovery and later growth stages.

I remember huddling with our management team in the war room making these difficult decisions. Many of us wondered if it was even worth it. None of us had joined the Company with the expectation of shrinking operations and the hardships that went along with it both financially and psychologically. Wouldn’t it just be easier to admit defeat and go pursue opportunities in different companies or industries? “Hey, good idea, good effort. This slowdown isn’t our fault, and there is nothing we can do to change it in the short term. Let’s cut our losses and call it a day.” Some of my more courageous team members shared these thoughts with me. I knew everyone was thinking about it – heck, even I was at times. I remember wanting to assure our team that everything would be ok. That if we pushed through these difficult times, we’d survive and thrive as a Company and everyone would do really well professionally and financially. But the truth was that we had no assurance of that. Maybe we would….but there was also a very good chance that we would not.

After many sleepless nights, I decided to focus the team on what we could control. I brought the leadership team together and shared a vision for success that was attractive while remaining honest about our chances and the things that were out of our control. Then I challenged our team to do something that was completely in our control: Let’s build a Team, a Culture and a Company that we are proud to be a part of. Win or lose in the long term, we are going to create an organization that we are proud of—one that’s worth fighting for every day. We weren’t going to wait until we got through the crisis, had more resources or had more time. We were going to do it immediately so that every day moving forward would be spent in an environment we could take pride in.

After many sleepless nights, I decided to focus the team on what we could control. I brought the leadership team together and shared a vision for success that was attractive while remaining honest about our chances and the things that were out of our control. Then I challenged our team to do something that was completely in our control: Let’s build a Team, a Culture and a Company that we are proud to be a part of. Win or lose in the long term, we are going to create an organization that we are proud of—one that’s worth fighting for every day. We weren’t going to wait until we got through the crisis, had more resources or had more time. We were going to do it immediately so that every day moving forward would be spent in an environment we could take pride in.

Formation

And so began one of the most surprising transitions of my professional career. We worked as a group to create a Vision for what we wanted to become as a Company and how we wanted to impact our industry. After a lot of debate, we agreed to the Core Values that would define how we behaved, how we would recruit team members of certain character and how we would hold each other accountable. We then inserted a Strategy element that would tie the practical plans of the Company to both the Vision and Values.

Getting Started

I can remember to this day the awkward feeling I had trotting out our new Vision-Strategy-Values framework at an all-company meeting during the downturn. We had just laid off 40%+ of our team. These were friends and colleagues that we were close to and were concerned about. Our team was scared for their own security and the future of the Company. My self-conscious “little voice” sat on my shoulder whispering in my ear saying: “Really Mr. MBA dude… people are worried about survival here and you choose now to bring out the MBA 101 Mission/Vision/Values BS??” “Really? That’s the best you’ve got? People are going to roll their eyes. They want to hear that they’re safe, that there won’t be more layoffs. A better leader might give them that assurance.” I pushed beyond the inner voice and gave the presentation. I wasn’t sure how it was received.

Consistency of Communication

One of the practices that we put in place during the downturn was more frequent and consistent communication with the entire Company. We implemented monthly company-wide meetings and weekly leadership team meetings that included a broader group beyond the executive team. I remember making a point to start every presentation with my 4 slides which included the framework and a slide on: Vision – This is Where We Want To Go- This Doesn’t Change; Values – This is How We Behave – This Also Doesn’t Change; Strategy – This is how we are going to move towards our Vision – This year, this quarter, this month – This changes based on what the world throws at us. I recall changing the order of the slides to re-position the framework as Vision-Values-Strategy as it flowed better that way. Then we would go on with our briefing.

I started making analogies comparing our journey to a trip. The Vision is our Destination. We are all going to drive from NY to CA, for example. Arriving in CA is our Vision. Our Values are the ground rules regarding how we are going to go about doing this. They represent agreed-upon behaviors like: we are going to drive, we will obey the speed limit, we will make sure to stop to see something interesting at least once per day, we won’t spend more than 8 hours driving per day, etc… The Strategy is how we navigate each stage of the journey. We are going to take Route 80, We expect it to take 8 days, We will stop in Chicago overnight, etc… This may indeed change. If we see Route 80 closed for construction, we will change the Strategy and take a different road. If the weather is bad, we may alter driving times. If we discover an incredible attraction along the way, we may stop to enjoy it and drive some additional hours the next day, etc… This helped everyone understand how our Vision and Values don’t change – we are going to arrive in CA and we are going to drive in a responsible manner to get there. Within this framework, it was logical that the Strategy might change to accommodate new information, or any new challenges, but it always provided the path towards the Vision/Destination and didn’t conflict with our Values/Ground Rules.

I eventually got more comfortable with the flow of kicking off each meeting with this 5-minute overview of our framework. A key driver to the company-wide success of the framework was asking each manager to start doing the same with their teams—both to hold weekly meetings and to start each meeting with the Vision-Values-Strategy framework. After a while it became routine, and eventually… we started working out of the economic downturn and began to grow again.

The Unexpected

As time went on, our Vision-Values-Strategy routine continued and we slowly started growing again as the market improved. The little voice on my shoulder, however, returned. “Hey, buddy…. Give this Values stuff a rest. It was a nice tool to help you get out of a jam, but we are really busy now. The team is growing again, we have tons to do, and you are starting to sound like a broken record up there. Besides, you even painted the Values and Vision on the wall! We get it already!” (What would we do without our little voices!) Well it finally got to me. I recall one meeting when we were starting late and had a packed agenda. I jumped past my first 4 pages on Vision-Values-Strategy and gave the floor to one of my colleagues to get started. As I looked on, a hand raised in the back of the room. I was annoyed. Doesn’t this person know that we are in a rush here?

“Hey, what happened to our Vision/Values discussion? Me – Ahhh… well, we are short on time today so I skipped it. Colleague – Well, I was really looking forward to it today. In fact, I wanted to share a story about our Values. One of my team members did an extraordinary thing for a client last week. They really went above and beyond to fix an issue to ensure that our client had a great experience, and they didn’t even ask me permission to spend the money doing so. When I asked them why they hadn’t come to me, they answered by reciting a couple of our Values – Customer Service and Accountability. They said – “doesn’t this mean that we’re always supposed to try to live up to these values in our day to day jobs?”

I was floored during the brief silence that followed. Here I was thinking that my team had endured enough of my MBA mumbo-jumbo and that I should give it a rest. In actuality, the consistent Vision-Values-Strategy intros might have been the most important things that I had been saying as a leader. I thanked my colleague for sharing the story, and then looked around the table and asked the question: “Does anybody else have a similar story?” 3-4 hands shot up immediately. The stories were powerful. The alignment was awesome. Then more hands went up. Everyone had a story. The impact at the table was palpable. Eyes teared up. More stories were shared. Management members started explaining how sharing the values had given them something to take pride in and lean on during the difficult times, and now was being noticed by people outside the organization. Recruits came to interviews citing our values as a reason why they wanted to work with us. Partners complimented us on it and chose to work with us because of it. It had happened, and I hadn’t even noticed it. Our team was taking pride in their workplace, their colleagues and the values of the Company. Our managers were proudly sharing the values and reporting on their stories. Our team was getting stronger and the shared values were building a powerful culture. We were in no way ”in the clear” financially, but we were well on our way towards our goal of building a company that our team was proud to be a part of.

This post focuses on building culture as a key strategy for difficult times and is the first of three blog posts on the topic of culture. Here are a few other things to consider when leading your team through difficult times.

Honesty – This is non-negotiable as a leader. Be honest with your team, even when you desperately want to make them feel better. You’ll never build trust without it.

Speed – Move quickly and take action. You may be tempted to wait for more information or to defer difficult decisions, but that costs valuable time. Bite the bullet, figure out what is best for the company and take action. Your team will appreciate it.

Create Your “Burn the Boats” Plan – You will undoubtedly be evaluating multiple scenarios and response plans. Build the worst scenario first. Rather than agonizing over layer after layer of cuts, start with nothing. Then determine what the minimum amount of resources you would need to keep the operation afloat in order to weather the storm while “burning all the other boats”. You may not need to go to this plan right away, but having it built will give you comfort that there is always a safety plan to go to in the next worst scenario.

What Can You Control – You can’t control markets and external events, but you can control your response. This is your move, make it count. Event + Response = Outcome!

Forge Your Steel in the Heat of Adversity– Like our story above, many companies develop core competitive advantages and strengths through the decisions they make during difficult times. What will yours be? Choose your Steel Weapons wisely.

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E2E: News

NCV’s Top 9 of ‘19

1. Closed our Second Fund: NCV II

In November we were incredibly proud to announce the closing of our second fund, which brings $130 million in new capital to NCV. We are thrilled to have assembled a great group of investors – a strong combination of investors from our first fund and new investors who believe in our ambitious goal to become one of the best firms providing early and growth-stage capital in what we call ‘Next Coast markets.’ Like any fundraising effort, it took time, travel and a lot of hard work. But truth be told, this fund was really made possible by the hard work of all the entrepreneurs we have had the privilege to work with since we founded Next Coast Ventures over four years ago. Learn more about NCV II here.

2. Made our First NCV II Investments

In July we were proud to announce that, as our first investment from NCV II, we led the $12.5M Series C in TrustRadius, the leading software review platform. This was a great moment for the Austin ecosystem: Two experienced, local entrepreneurs creating a differentiated product supported by a great Texas syndicate. We’ve been following TrustRadius’ progress since we started NCV in 2015 and are thrilled to have the chance to officially partner with them during this new phase of growth. Learn more about TrustRadius here.

Since July, we’ve made additional NCV II investments in other portfolio companies that are in stealth mode. More to come on these soon!

3. Added Six New Portfolio Companies

We know we are only as good as the founders we back. In 2019, we added six more incredible teams to our portfolio. We were thrilled to announce that we led the $10M Series B in Montana-based Submittable, the leading submission review platform – it was one of the top-10 largest Series B rounds in the state’s history and our first deal in Montana. We were also proud to announce that we participated in the $8M Series A in Enboarder, an experiential employee onboarding platform that was founded in Sydney, Australia – we were especially excited to bring the company to Austin. We also invested in Backtracks, the Austin-based podcast analytics and hosting platform that helps businesses of all shapes and sizes understand their audience and monetize their podcasting content. Our other new portfolio companies of 2019 are TrustRadius and two stealth mode companies mentioned above.

4. Had Two Portfolio Exits: Finery and Brava

Our portfolio companies Finery, the wardrobe operating system, and Brava, the smart countertop oven, were both acquired in 2019. Finery was acquired by online fashion styling service Stitch Fix. We are so proud of Whitney Casey and Brooklyn Decker and the innovation they bring to the world of fashion technology. Brava was acquired by kitchen equipment manufacturer Middleby. The smart countertop oven will continue to cook delicious home-cooked meals alongside Middleby’s existing residential and commercial kitchen appliance portfolio. Congratulations to the Finery and Brava teams!

5. Doubled our Entrepreneurs Council

We are always looking for new and innovative ways to support our portfolio leadership. This year, we doubled the size of our Entrepreneurs Council, which consists of industry-leading entrepreneurs in Next Coast markets who directly advise and mentor our portfolio leadership. We were so thrilled to announce that we added iconic entrepreneurs Cotter Cunningham (founder of RetailMeNot), Brian Sharples (founder of HomeAway) and Julian Castelli (former CEO of LeisureLink and VacationRoost) as the newest members of our Entrepreneurs Council. Learn more about our Entrepreneurs Council here.

6. Grew our Investment Team with Zaz Floreani as Principal

After years of running business and corporate development at various startups in Austin, Zaz joined our deal team this fall and immediately became an integral contributor. She helps execute our strategy in our early stage investments, with a focus on sourcing entrepreneurs and identifying investment prospects in markets outside the coasts. Zaz also supports our portfolio companies by providing advice and introductions around potential hires, investors, customers and strategic partnerships. Learn more about Zaz here.

7. Added Sarah Puil as Entrepreneur-in-Residence

It has always been important to our firm’s culture to have a strong entrepreneur in our office to bring their unique perspective on emerging market trends and work with them to discover their next project. Hence we were so excited to announce that we added experiential marketing and podcasting expert Sarah Puil as our Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Learn more about Sarah here.

8. Brought on Jonathan Kaplan as Chief Operating Officer

We mean it when we say that we are building out a firm for the long term. We were excited to finally announce the addition of Jonathan Kaplan as our COO. He brings an incredible wealth of startup experience to NCV and our portfolio. Jonathan is responsible for all operations of our firm and the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts. He is also integral in the formulation and execution of our investment strategy and supporting NCV’s portfolio companies by providing advice regarding operations, corporate development and compliance. Learn more about Jonathan here.

9. Austin VC Investment Reached Two-Decade High

While we know we can’t credit for Austin’s record-breaking year of VC investment, we couldn’t be more thrilled about the incredible growth we’ve seen in Austin and our other Next Coast markets. As investors focused on rising innovation hubs, we know that we wouldn’t be able to invest in our incredible founders without the support of these booming ecosystems. We’re very proud to be Austin-based investors and are committed to continuing to give back to the entrepreneurial markets we serve – we look forward to seeing what other records Austin’s investment ecosystem breaks in 2020. We have a feeling it will be plenty.

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E2E: News

Announcing: Next Coast Ventures II

Today, we are proud to announce the closing of our second fund, which brings $130 million in new capital to Next Coast Ventures. We are thrilled to have assembled a great group of investors – a strong combination of investors from our first fund and new investors who believe in our ambitious goal to become one of the best firms providing early and growth-stage capital in what we call ‘Next Coast markets.’ Of note, just like in our first fund, this investor group includes a substantial amount of capital from our own team – simply put: we are putting our money (literally) where our mouth is.

Like any fundraising effort, it took time, travel and a lot of hard work. But truth be told, this fund was really made possible by the hard work of all the entrepreneurs we have had the privilege to work with since we founded Next Coast Ventures over four years ago. The portfolio we have been able to assemble and the progress these Founders and CEOs have made with our capital has been nothing short of extraordinary. So, NCV II is really a testament to their hustle and the incredible potential that we continue to see across the markets we serve.

And we are just getting started…

When we founded Next Coast Ventures the strategy was simple: We wanted to build a firm that was ‘built by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs’ to back hard-working teams that were looking to build disruptive companies outside the coasts. We wanted to help where we could by applying what we simply call ‘Company Building,’ which for us means providing practical, real-world advice and resources to our founders without ever overstepping our role.

We had big goals from the start and have already seen some indicators of success. We have doubled the size of our team, had four exits from our debut fund and have invested in over 30 companies in our key markets. But we – like the entrepreneurs and companies we back – are relentless in our pursuit of excellence, and candidly we feel like we have a long way to go from here. In this next phase of NCV, we continue to believe more than ever that we have the opportunity of a lifetime to build a firm that we can be truly proud of, and we are going to continue to keep our heads down and work tirelessly to make this vision a reality.

So, no major celebration. It is much too early and we have a lot more work to do before reaching our goal. Rather, we simply want to say thank you to our investors, our team and all of those in our extended ecosystem that have helped us get to this next phase of growth. With NCV II officially in the books, we will now have over $215 million in capital under management – an exciting moment for our entire, expanding team and the ecosystems we serve.

But most importantly, we want to tip our hat to all of the entrepreneurs that are a part of Next Coast Ventures. Without your hard work and fortitude, none of this would be possible. Or more appropriately: We are lucky to be standing on the shoulders of giants.

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E2E: News

Announcing Our New Principal: Zaz Floreani

Today we are proud to announce that we are adding Zaz Floreani to the team as a Principal.

As you can see below, Zaz has the perfect background to join our team as our first Principal. In short: she hustles, works hard, knows how to get “stuff” done and truly understands what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Next Coast Ventures tagline is:

“Built by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.”

This means that everyone on our investment team has lived the life – and the ups and downs – that come with being an entrepreneur. Zaz has dedicated her career to helping startups build growth-generating relationships with enterprises as well as creating M&A playbooks for fast-growing technology companies. That’s the exact type of focus and drive we want as part of our team.

“I was fortunate enough to see Tom and Michael build this fund and investor base from the beginning, and I knew right away that they were creating a firm dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs in Austin and rising innovation hubs and that was going to have a substantial impact on these entrepreneurial ecosystems. I have been invested in NCV’s mission since the beginning and am thrilled to now be part of the team helping to source and support the best entrepreneurs in these markets.”

- Zaz Floreani

Zaz is going to be an integral member of our deal team. She will help execute our strategy in our early stage investments, with a focus on sourcing entrepreneurs and identifying investment prospects in markets outside the coasts. Zaz will also support our portfolio companies by providing advice and introductions around potential hires, investors, customers and strategic partnerships. As an operator and investor with deep ties to the Austin entrepreneurial ecosystem, she is uniquely qualified to support our founders and help them scale great companies.

On a personal note, Zaz has been invested in our Entrepreneurs Fund – a group of 100+ established entrepreneurs in Next Coast markets – since the beginning of NCV, and is married to renowned Texas entrepreneur and FloSports Co-Founder Mark Floreani. She is the mother of two small children and runs a small real estate empire in her spare time (talk about entrepreneurship!). Finally, and equally important, Zaz is a lot of fun to be around, has an incredible intellect and her influence will be a great addition to our team and our firm’s culture.

We look forward to working with her as we continue our relentless search for the best and the brightest entrepreneurs in Next Coast markets.

Please join us in welcoming Zaz to NCV!

About Zaz

Zaz has spent nearly a decade as a leader of business and corporate development at Austin technology companies and at Austin Ventures. Most recently, Zaz worked at our portfolio company Dropoff where she led their Corporate Development initiatives. She was responsible for creating and overseeing strategic relationships with Fortune 500 companies and ran their M&A practice. Prior to Dropoff, she helped build the business development practice at Spredfast (formerly Mass Relevance), coordinating their M&A efforts and launching and managing social network partnerships. She was previously the director of business development at Austin Ventures, where she identified and evaluated hundreds of early-stage investment opportunities in the greater Southwest region. She earned an MBA from the McCombs School of Business and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Categories
E2E: News

Announcing Our New Entrepreneur-in-Residence: Sarah Puil

We are proud to announce that we are adding Sarah Puil as our Entrepreneur-in-Residence as part of our mission to partner with the most innovative entrepreneurs creating companies in our key investment themes.

Sarah comes to Next Coast Ventures with a dynamic 20-year experience as an entrepreneur, public company executive and innovator in the fast-evolving fields of digital media, online education, workforce training and development, social media and strategic marketing. During Sarah’s residency, she will focus on incubating ideas and solutions centered around the changing nature of digital assets and their consumption – a core investment theme for NCV – and how these shifts in the marketplace can be leveraged to generate massive value for personal and professional development.

Our co-founder Michael Smerklo collaborated with Sarah on a podcast and knew she would be a great fit for NCV’s EIR: “It has always been important to our firm’s culture to have a strong entrepreneur in our office to bring their unique perspective on emerging market trends and discover their next project. Sarah shares our beliefs around the increasing influence of ubiquitous connectivity and digital-first consumers and her significant operational expertise in our core investment themes will be an incredible addition to our firm’s investment approach.”

Sarah has worked at Silicon Valley start-ups, media agencies, and publicly-traded education companies. Across all of these companies, Sarah has uniquely focused on creating innovative new growth platforms built to improve organizational culture and human capital systems. Most recently, she was a Senior Vice President at Civic Entertainment, a Seacrest Global Company, working with Airbnb, Quibi, Elmhurst1925, Argo AI and SYFY Wire among other brands to develop growth strategies through experiential marketing.

Prior to Civic, Sarah served as senior vice president of product development at Strayer Education where she conceived and built Strayer’s first product innovation lab, designing workforce development products to drive frontline employee retention and new customer lead generation. Sarah also developed and launched ‘Education Nation,’ a five-year platform with NBC News that became one of the most impactful educational media events in the country. In the last two years, Sarah has applied her entrepreneurial skills to podcasting, where she has worked with Suze Orman as a co-host and business partner on her show ‘Women & Money,’ as well as on the show ‘Self Made’ with Jessica Herrin. Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from The University of San Francisco, and after 22 years in San Francisco, she is looking forward to calling Austin home with her husband Kevin and daughter Charlie.

We’re thrilled to have Sarah as part of the team and know she is eager to start her work exploring the untapped potential of premium audio and digital content: “I couldn’t be more excited to join the team at Next Coast and have the chance to work with the firm and its portfolio on these incredibly impactful emerging trends in digital assets and consumption. I have seen firsthand the benefits of iterating on a project in an entrepreneurial environment and was very drawn to the innovative atmosphere Next Coast has fostered both in their firm’s culture and its investment approach – I think it will be the perfect place to explore what these digital shifts in the marketplace mean for the future of technology in education, marketing and the workplace.”

Welcome to NCV, Sarah!

Categories
E2E: News

NCV’s Top 10 of Summer

“New deals, new exits and new team members. Needless to say summer slowdown is not a thing for Next Coast Ventures.”

10. Summer Kickoff Meat-Up

We love any opportunity to bring Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem together, and we are firm believers that it shouldn’t take an industry conference or panel of experts to do it – that’s why we founded our series of ‘Meat-Ups’ in 2018. We have truly enjoyed bringing Austin’s founders, investors and service providers together in our backyard for great BBQ. We can’t think of a better way to kick off summer.

9. Three Entrepreneurs Council additions

We were so thrilled to announce that we added iconic entrepreneurs Cotter Cunningham (founder of RetailMeNot), Brian Sharples (founder of HomeAway), and Julian Castelli (former CEO of LeisureLink and VacationRoost,) as the newest members to our newly-branded Entrepreneurs Council, which advises and mentors our portfolio leadership. Learn more about our Entrepreneurs Council here.

8. New Chief Operating Officer

We were excited to finally announce the addition of Jonathan Kaplan as our COO and couldn't be more excited for what he'll bring to NCV and our portfolio: “I was drawn to the opportunity to join Next Coast Ventures because of its differentiated commitment to supporting entrepreneurs in markets throughout the United States and the quality of the firm’s investments to date." Learn more about Jonathan here.

7. Led the $12.5M Series C in TrustRadius

We were proud to announce that we led the $12.5M Series C in TrustRadius, the leading software review platform. This was a great moment for the Austin ecosystem with two experienced, local entrepreneurs creating an a differentiated product supported by a great Texas syndicate.

6. Led the $10M Series B in Submittable

We were so psyched to announce that we led the $10M Series B in Montana-based Submittable, the leading submission review platform. It was one of the top-10 largest Series B rounds in the state’s history and our first deal in Montana. It was right up our alley: an entrepreneur with deep domain expertise creating a full-stack business model in a Next Coast market that solves a big pain point for numerous industries.

5. Added Enboarder to our portfolio

We were proud to announce that we participated in the $8M Series A in Enboarder, an experiential employee onboarding platform that was founded in Sydney, Australia. We’re especially excited to bring the company to Austin to open its U.S. headquarters and grow its team as they continue to change the HR game for companies big and small.

4. Phlur raised Series A, acquired Texas Beauty Labs

We were thrilled to be follow-on investors in Phlur, the leading sustainable fragrance and beauty brand that acquired fellow Texas-based clean beauty manufacturer Texas Beauty Labs to expand their offerings from fragrance and candles to now include a line of clean beauty and deodorant products. And yes, they smell just as fabulous.

3. Added Backtracks to our portfolio

We were proud to announce that we are investors in Backtracks, the Austin-based podcast analytics and hosting platform that helps businesses of all shapes and sizes understand their audience and monetize their podcasting content.

2. Added an Entrepreneur-in-Residence

It has always been important to our firm’s culture to have a strong entrepreneur in our office to bring their unique perspective on emerging market trends and discover their next project, which is why were so excited to announce that we added Sarah Puil as our Entrepreneur-in-Residence. She’s an experiential marketing and podcasting expert that’s going to explore the changing world of digital assets. Learn more about Sarah here.

1.Had a portfolio exit

Our portfolio company Finery, the wardrobe operating system, was acquired by online fashion styling service Stitch Fix. We are so proud of Whitney Casey and Brooklyn Decker and the fashion technology they have created to empower both consumers and female founders in the tech community. Congratulations to the Finery team!

Categories
E2E: News

Announcing the Addition of Brian Sharples, Cotter Cunningham and Julian Castelli to our Entrepreneurs Council

We are so excited to announce that we are adding Brian Sharples, Cotter Cunningham and Julian Castelli to our Entrepreneurs Council. NCV’s addition of these iconic entrepreneurs underscores our mission to assemble a dynamic team of the highest-performing industry experts to source and support the best entrepreneurs outside the coasts.

Since day one, NCV has been ‘built by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs’ and the Entrepreneurs Council is a direct result of that mission. Our Entrepreneurs Council is made up of carefully chosen experts, with a wide array of entrepreneurial backgrounds and industry verticals, all sharing one thing in common: they are all thought leaders and pillars of their entrepreneurial community.

Brian previously co-founded and served as chairman and chief executive officer of HomeAway, Inc., a global online marketplace for the vacation rental industry, where he led the company's successful public offering in 2011 and its $3.9 billion acquisition by Expedia in 2015. Prior to HomeAway, Brian was president and chief executive officer of IntelliQuest Information Group, Inc., a supplier of marketing data and research to technology companies that went public in 1996 and was sold to WPP Group in 2000. In addition to his operational leadership, Brian has served on the boards KAYAK and RetailMeNot, Inc., which was founded by Cunningham, and helped oversee their successful acquisitions by Priceline and Harland Clarke Holdings, respectively. Brian currently serves on the boards of Yelp, GoDaddy, RVShare and Ally Financial Group, and as chairman of private-equity backed Fexy Media. Early in his career, Brian founded I Motors, an event-based marketplace for used cars, and served as a consultant at Bain & Co. He holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Former Co-Founder, CEO and Chairman of HomeAway
Brian Sharples

Cotter founded and served as CEO of RetailMeNot, Inc., a leading consumer savings destination that enables brands to engage active shoppers and saves millions of consumers billions of dollars in the process. As CEO, he guided RetailMeNot through more than 15 acquisitions while raising more than $300M in venture capital, and ultimately took the company public in 2013. In 2017, the company was acquired by MacAndrews & Forbes. Cotter was also an entrepreneur-in-residence at Austin Ventures, where he worked closely with NCV co-founder and managing director Tom Ball. Prior to founding RetailMeNot, Cotter served as COO of Bankrate, Inc., taking it public in 1999, and has extensive operational experience from his work as general manager at VML and assistant vice president at H&R Block. He now serves as chairman of RetailMeNot as well as a managing partner at M&F Ventures. Cotter is based in Austin and has continued to be personally invested in NCV’s mission, investing alongside the firm in numerous portfolio companies including Phlur and 101 Commerce. He holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University.

Former Founder and CEO of RetailMeNot
Cotter Cunningham

From our co-founder Tom Ball:

“I was the first investor in RetailMeNot and had a front row seat watching Brian grow HomeAway when Austin Ventures was the first investor, so I’ve seen firsthand Cotter and Brian’s innovativeness, relentless focus and give-back attitudes propel them to truly iconic status in the Texas entrepreneurial community and beyond. As entrepreneurs ourselves, we have carefully selected every member of this Entrepreneurs Council to bring the best and the brightest in the country to mentor our founders and Cotter and Brian are perfect examples of the incredible caliber of resources we have to offer our portfolio leadership. They have been invested in NCV’s mission and its entrepreneurs since day one, and they have an acute understanding of founders’ potential to successfully scale a business in these markets outside the coasts.”

Julian is chief financial officer of Utah-based Voxpopme and chairman of Utah-based NCV portfolio company Chargeback. He was previously executive-in-residence at Bessemer Venture Partners, where he focused on B2B SaaS and technology companies in Utah – a core Next Coast market. Prior to Bessemer, Julian was the chief executive officer of VacationRoost and LeisureLink, companies that led the charge for integrating ecommerce into the vacation rental industry. Previously, Julian was the chief financial officer and chief growth officer of Primedia, a $300M media company, and PageNet, a $1B public telecom company. Julian holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and resides in Park City, Utah.

CFO of Voxpopme and Chairman of Chargeback
Julian Castelli

From our co-founder Michael Smerklo:

“Julian is the definition of a glass-eating, butt-kicking entrepreneur who shares our vision for what is possible outside the coasts. Julian is intimately familiar with the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey and has successfully scaled numerous technology companies in rising innovation hubs like Salt Lake City and Atlanta. At NCV, we are steadfast in our commitment to sourcing and supporting the best entrepreneurs in these rising markets and the addition of Julian to our Entrepreneurs Council is at the core of that mission, as well as our commitment to expanding our footprint on the ground in these markets.”

Brian, Cotter and Julian’s track records and reputations as incredible mentors to entrepreneurial ecosystems on the ‘Next Coast’ make them perfect additions to our Entrepreneurs Council. This growing team represents the best entrepreneurs in their field and will continue to be critical to our ability to provide the most comprehensive and cutting-edge resources on all parts of the entrepreneurial journey from fundraising to product-market fit to leadership development. This Council also serves as a hands-on extension of our Entrepreneurs Fund, which consists of 100 respected entrepreneurs building companies in Next Coast markets. These additions to the team will further the our developing advisory network, which we plan to continue to grow vigorously and thoughtfully over the next year as part of their pledge to company building.

We also recently added Sarah Puil as our Entrepreneur-in-Residence where she will be working alongside our Entrepreneurs Council members to advise our portfolio and firm leadership. Learn more about Sarah here.

Please join us in welcoming Brian, Cotter, Sarah and Julian to the team!

Categories
E2E: News

Announcing Our New Chief Operating Officer: Jonathan Kaplan

We are proud to announce that we have added Jonathan Kaplan to our team as Chief Operating Officer, a newly-created position for our firm.

Our Co-Founder Thomas Ball has known Jonathan for nearly a decade here in Austin and has seen how his diligence and focus on operations have been game changing for entrepreneurs and companies. We are building out a firm for the long term and have been very thoughtful about creating an infrastructure that best serves our mission, our investors and our portfolio. We believe that Jonathan will be a highly accretive addition and we look forward to leveraging his extensive scaling expertise from an administrative perspective to grow NCV.

Jonathan previously served as chief legal officer and general counsel of Austin-based RetailMeNot, guiding the company in the public markets and through its $630 million acquisition by Harland Clarke Holdings. Jonathan also was the founding executive sponsor of RetailMeNot’s diversity & inclusion (D&I) program and will help NCV with its continued implementation of the Diversity Pledge and other D&I programs. Prior to RetailMeNot, Jonathan was an attorney at leading international law firms based in California and Austin including DLA Piper and Latham & Watkins. His practice focused on the emerging growth ecosystem, supporting entrepreneurs and the investors that finance them through the full business life cycle, including equity and debt financings, public offerings, mergers and acquisitions and strategic transactions. Jonathan has a JD order of the coif from the University of California, Davis, where he was the editor in chief of the UC Davis Law Review, and a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Jonathan is excited to start his new role at NCV and about working with our portfolio: “I was drawn to the opportunity to join Next Coast Ventures because of its differentiated commitment to supporting entrepreneurs in markets throughout the United States and the quality of the firm’s investments to date. I am delighted to join Next Coast Ventures, and I look forward to working with Michael, Thomas and the talented team to evolve the firm’s operational infrastructure to benefit entrepreneurs, portfolio companies, investors and our communities.”

Jonathan will be responsible for all operations of our firm, including financial planning and reporting, investor relations, legal, HR, compliance and the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts. He will also be integral in the formulation and execution of our strategy and supporting NCV’s portfolio companies by providing advice regarding operations, corporate development and compliance.

Since day one, our mission has been to provide our portfolio with the best resources in the industry and Jonathan’s addition to the team is a prime example of that. As entrepreneurs ourselves, we understand how immensely additive operational and legal expertise are to a company and its leadership as they scale, and we know Jonathan’s experience and hands-on approach are going to be invaluable tool for our portfolio as they ramp up their growth. Please join us in welcoming Jonathan to the team!