Return On Investment

One of the claims made by people is that the millennial generation doesn’t care about return on investment.  I think that will be a short lived phenomena.  ROI is one of the unbiased metrics you can use to analyze a portfolio.  People who don’t care about ROI are people who don’t need ROI.

Here is a case in point. I went to Ycharts and charted Altria which is a tobacco company, the S&P, and an index of solar stocks for the last ten years. I picked solar because it’s a “feel good about yourself I don’t care about return category”. Here are the results.

MO Chart

MO data by YCharts

I am sorry. If you were 21 in 2008 and put money into solar and then looked back ten years at 31 you might wonder if you should have a chat with your 21 year old self.  Imagine if you are Continue reading "Return On Investment"

Alumni New Venture Challenge

At Chicago Booth they have had the New Venture Challenge (NVC) for a long time now.   A friend of mine who is a local VC here in Chicago once told me you’d have a pretty good fund going long the winner of the NVC year after year.

In a brand extension, Booth has created the Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) and the Global New Venture Challenge (GNVC).  Critics might say it dilutes the brand but the truth is innovation can happen anywhere, not just the full time MBA program.  Booth attracts some pretty high quality people in all of its programs.  You might say you’d have a pretty strong network if you just networked with people who graduated from Chicago Booth.

Since my classmates and I started Hyde Park Angels in 2007, entrepreneurship has become one of the top concentrations at Booth.  It used to be finance.

The school Continue reading "Alumni New Venture Challenge"

Do You Need A Bank?

I don’t think I need a bank anymore.  I only need a virtual wallet with a little money deposited in it.  I didn’t need a bank for a mortgage.  I have a stock brokerage account.  I only use my bank to pay bills and to get cash out of an ATM when I need cash.  I try never to carry a lot of cash or use it.

Bill paying can be done plenty of other ways as we have seen with our portfolio company PipIT.

No one really uses a bank to get wealth advice anymore.  That’s done via the big brokers or in the RIA market.  I still bank at the same bank I have always banked at, but I don’t feel any particular loyalty to it.  The reason I banked there was they gave me my seat loan.

When we talk to startups about banking, we talk to Continue reading "Do You Need A Bank?"


Was in San Francisco for a couple of days.  My wife and I spent a month there last February. Since last February, it seems like there are less homeless walking around. They are still there, just seemed to be less of them.  I saw no human poop on the street and no used needles. I could be wrong since I only walked in a limited area this trip.  Maybe this trip was myopic for me.

I did try a new restaurant, Mister Jiu’s.  It was pretty darn good and I would encourage anyone to go there.  Maybe the best and most creative Chinese food I have ever had.  As a matter of fact, it was now that I reflect on it.

I was at a conference.  One thing that struck me was the pure myopia of a lot of the panelists.  There are only two or three business schools in Continue reading "Myopia"

Regulation As Sport; Regulation As Political Tool

I was pleased to see the above tweet by Paul Graham. I don’t know Paul at all. I respect what he has done with Y Combinator and other efforts in and around entrepreneurship. I hope that he and other people like him are quickly coming to the realization that the hearts and minds of regulators isn’t in the best interest of people, but in the best interest of the regulators.

His tweet is exactly why you got Brexit.  It’s not because of racism or nationalism.  It’s also one reason Trump was elected president.  Aggressive US regulators killed off whole sections of the American economy dooming people. Not only that, but parts of the government Continue reading "Regulation As Sport; Regulation As Political Tool"

Podcast With Four Star Wealth

I did a podcast with my friend Brian Kasal the other day. He runs Four Star Wealth in Chicago. He was a member of Hyde Park Angels. I recruited him early in the game.  We are co-investors in Ycharts, and he is a customer.  He is also a customer of another one of my angel investments, Riskalyze.

Hope you enjoy it.  I am traveling from San Francisco back to Chicago today.

Can You Trust Existing Crypto Exchanges?

There are 2000 Cryptocurrencies being traded at 14000 exchanges worldwide.  In the first nine months of this year, there has been $1B in theft at those exchanges already.  Here is what Reuters said,

Theft of cryptocurrencies through hacking of exchanges and trading platforms soared to $927 million in the first nine months of 2018, up nearly 250% from the level seen in 2017, according to a report from cyber security firm CipherTrace released on Wednesday.

On another note, some exchanges with very weak anti-money laundering processes have allowed $2.5B to be laundered through the crypto exchanges since 2009.

It is super easy to put together a platform to match trades.  It’s hard to actually do the business of being an “exchange” or even an auto trade platform.

There is a lot of talk about “institutional capital” coming into the crypto space.  It’s talk.  Institutional capital isn’t going to Continue reading "Can You Trust Existing Crypto Exchanges?"

Sometimes You Have to Look At Accounting

One of the things you should learn in business school is the differences between accounting and economic numbers.  You never make a long term business decision based on accounting numbers.  You have to look at costs and opportunity costs.

An aside, government people make this mistake all the time.  If there is a stream of cash, and they want more revenue they think if they increase the tax rate, or slap on a tax the change in the tax will equal the revenue imputed.  Hence, a lot of folks in Chicago think that if you slap a 9.5% personal income tax on people that you will get 5.05% higher tax revenue than you do today with our existing 4.95% tax.  Any logical person knows it doesn’t work that way and human behavior changes.

That’s why accounting numbers and economic numbers are very different.

At the end of Continue reading "Sometimes You Have to Look At Accounting"

The Introduction

This is not about how to handle a double opt-in introduction.  This is about how to introduce yourself on a phone call or a public engagement.  If you go to a conference, sometimes it takes 15 minutes to introduce the panel for a one hour panel discussion.  That sucks for the people that paid to go to the conference.

We have this thing called the internet so it’s pretty easy to search a background on someone.  I think that introductions should be 30 seconds or less, no matter who you are.  The fact that you are there gives the panel credibility, and you can always publish full bios on a handout or even put them on a poster board.

If you ever took a speech class, you know how hard it is to put together a meaningful, impactful 60-120 second speech.  Same with panel introductions which is how I came Continue reading "The Introduction"

The Fed And Valuation

In case you missed it, the Fed raised rates another quarter point.  In case you missed it, unemployment rates are at record lows all around the country and with all ethnic groups.

What’s that mean for startups?

Supply and demand effects from interest rates going up are going to filter through a lot of different parts of the economy.   They will affect things that are not just quantitative.

Great startups are often created in times of duress.  Resources are cheaper.  Problems are laid bare.  In good economic times the tide is in and everyone looks pretty good.  Customers might not be as focused on cost cutting or finding new solutions to problems.  That’s not to say we should always be in duress or hope for periodic downturns just to get great startups going.  But, it’s a fact.

It’s gonna be tougher to recruit.  Founders are going to have to

Continue reading "The Fed And Valuation"

Magatte Wade, The Power of Entrepreneurship

Yesterday, I visited my friend Professor Mike Gibbs class. He teaches microeconomics at Chicago Booth. It was the first class for the new MBA students. He talked about how markets are hard wired into people no matter where they live. If you like chocolate and I have chocolate, and you have sausages and I like sausages, trading with each other makes each of us better off.

This actually happens all the time in situations that are dire. Professor Gibbs talked about the Economics of a POW Camp study that was written by an English economist who was imprisoned during WW2. There was no “money” or fiat currency. The POW’s could only transact in the goods that came in their Red Cross packages.

When I was on the board of the National World War Two Museum, I actually met Irwin Stovroff who was a POW at Stalag Luft One-where the Continue reading "Magatte Wade, The Power of Entrepreneurship"

Helping People $1 At A Time in A $1B Market

Great news for people that live in Zimbabwe and work out of the country.  WLV portfolio company PipIT has partnered with ZymPay to provide effortless and seamless money transfer.

If you know anything about Zimbabwe, you know the government there has totally devalued their local currency.  It’s pointless to use it and even more pointless to expend effort to work to earn it.  That’s fueled a large Zimbabwe diaspora.

The amount of money being sent into Zimbabwe from nationals working outside the country is $1B per year and it’s a giant part of their local economy.  Without it, the country would be in worse shape than it already is.  Three to four million citizens are living outside their home country.

PipIT and ZymPay allow people to make cross border payments and pay for goods and services directly in real time.  Payment is received and confirmed simultaneously and recorded in Continue reading "Helping People $1 At A Time in A $1B Market"

Chicago TechStars

Just went to the Chicago TechStars Demo Day.  It’s a lot different than it used to be.  Some people might miss the way they did it at the House of Blues, but I think each way had its own place.  In the “old days”, we needed some pizzaz.  The community needed some hype, some glitz and glam.  Doing stuff like a demo day at the House of Blues provided that.

Today it was at 1871.  It was low key.  But, that doesn’t mean the presentations were any lower key, they weren’t.  They were as polished and professional as ever.  But, it was a recognition that Chicago has arrived as an ecosystem.  We are the City of Big Shoulders.  We put our shoulder on the object and we move it.  It’s not glamorous.  But, we get it done.

I think that’s what a lot of the Chicago startup scene is.  You Continue reading "Chicago TechStars"

A Unique Win Win Way to Get A Job At A Startup

Often, I get approached by people wanting to work at a “startup”. Perhaps they are sick of the corporate/consulting grind. Maybe they are looking to renew themselves. Maybe they really like to build stuff from the ground up and want to be involved with a startup.

It’s pretty easy to point them in the direction of a website like Built In Chicago or a VC website. Scan portfolio companies and ask the VC for a warm intro. Or, just cold email them if the job you want is posted. Or, network into a conversation. Maybe there is even a head hunter that is working for the company or VC that you can find.

Want to know a better way?

Put your entrepreneur hat on. What are you concerned about?

A Couple of Free Resources For Startups

One of the things that big universities have over smaller universities is resources.  It’s not to say small college isn’t good, it’s just a fact that a big land grant institution is going to have resources the smaller and mid size schools don’t.  It might be worth exploring resources at your local big state school to see if you can use anything.

I know at IIT in Chicago, they have wet lab space available which is hard to find.  At the University of Nebraska they have a similar program.  I am quite sure at big schools you can find something somewhere you might be able to use to help your company out.  There is an opportunity cost, since it takes up time to dig and organize the project.

A number of years ago, Professor Paul Magelli created a resource inside the Gies College of Business.  It’s called “Illinois Business Consulting”.

Continue reading "A Couple of Free Resources For Startups"

Points of Light

On a day when we all can use some points of light, I will bring you one.  One of WLV‘s portfolio companies, Holberg Financial, was accepted into the Points of Light Civic Accelerator.  This is a big deal.

We really love what Holberg is doing and are glad that the accelerator does too. Holberg added more customers again last month and is bringing financial security more people.  Holberg is one of thirteen companies that was accepted. The process to get in was long and arduous with a lot of interviews.  The accelerator takes place over time in three cities, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago.

From the linked article:

“We are Continue reading "Points of Light"

Sometimes A Quest to “Do Good” Does A Lot of Bad

My wife and I run in a lot of circles.  We are lucky in that we get to meet a lot of interesting people.  My wife met a pretty cool person the other day and I thought I would share her thoughts with you.  She has built and sold a couple of companies and now she is attacking education by setting up a school in San Francisco.  I am going to keep her anonymous for the purposes of this post.

Here’s a general assumption that I think most people would agree with.

The US is the most generous country on earth.  As Americans, no matter our political stripe, we generally mean well and try to “do good”.  When a hurricane happens, Americans send resources and donate.  When an earthquake in some part of the world happens, Americans send resources and donate.

However, sometimes the bigness of our hearts and drive Continue reading "Sometimes A Quest to “Do Good” Does A Lot of Bad"

Doing Panels At Events

We are into panel season and event season in a lot of industry verticals.  Let me make a very broad generalization.  If a tech person etc is on the panel circuit talking a lot, they aren’t working on their business and their company probably isn’t doing well.

There are two reasons to do panels.

  1.  Customer acquisition.
  2.  Talent acquisition.

That’s about it. Don’t do it for the press. Press won’t get you anywhere and the best press is your customers talking about how great you do what you do. Don’t do it to attract investors. If your company is firing on all cylinders and growing top line revenue, they will find you. Odds are good they will be better matches because they probably were doing diligence on someone else and found you.

Growing top line revenue is the best way to grow bottom line revenue. If you get the chance to Continue reading "Doing Panels At Events"

Democratizing Food

Prior to investing via West Loop Ventures I made a bunch of angel investments.  One of the companies I invested in was Simple Mills.  I like to joke that I am the worst consumer products investor in the world because my track record proves it.  I invested in Simple Mills for a few of reasons.

  1. Virtually every person I respected said that Katlin Smith was a tremendous person and when you met her, watched her present, you got a very good sense that she was.
  2. I knew about the gluten free trend, had tried some of the products and tried Simple Mills and found their products to be delicious.
  3. Chicago is a good place to invest in a food company.
  4. She won the New Venture Challenge at Chicago Booth.

If you know about early stage investing and look at the above as multiple choice, only the first reason makes Continue reading "Democratizing Food"

What An Opportunity

Yesterday, a group of venture capitalists, angels (HPA, Irish, Chicago Arch) and I toured the University of Illinois and networked with the entrepreneurial efforts going on down there.  What they are doing is nothing short of amazing.  A lot of VC’s figured out how to plug into Illinois and I suspect there will be a lot more deal flow and check writing that goes on between Chicago and Champaign.

If you are reading this and you are being recruited for athletics at Illinois, consider the fact that if you don’t make it as an athlete you can do better and build a sustainable career as an entrepreneur.  The students there are building products and companies that will change the world.  Think outside the box when it comes to your recruitment.  Someday it all ends and you have to find something else to do.  You might not have the idea for Continue reading "What An Opportunity"