Global Entrepreneur, Startup Investor “Airstreaming” Into Upstate to Meet UNY Startup Community
There are many ways to get inspired. For me, I like to listen to and share stories about people from the startup world who have lived through the ups and downs of startup life and come out on top!
Over the last several months, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with DC area entrepreneur and venture capitalist Paul Singh as Upstate Venture Connect and our corporate partner, AT&T, prepare for his Upstate Tech Tour August 15 – 19.
Paul will join us in Upstate New York to meet privately with promising startups raising capital, have lunch with community members interested in learning more about angel investing and share his story with our ecosystem during several fireside chats. He will also be the guest speaker at StartFast Venture Accelerator’s Demo Day on August 16.
“AT&T’s support for Paul Singh’s Upstate Tech Tour aligns with our company’s ongoing commitment to foster local innovation by providing opportunities for entrepreneurs, technologists, makers and developers to create new technologies and ideas that could positively impact their communities and strengthen New York State’s innovative economy,” said Benjamin Roberts, Director of Public Affairs.
First off, Paul’s a little bit of a wild card. Whenever we connect over Google Hangouts he’s driving around in his truck, phone on dash, in the middle of whatever state his tour has landed him. He’s humble and funny and always smiling as he tries to find a place to park his massive Airstream (the size of an 18-wheeler), which he’ll be staying in while on tour in Upstate.
“Hi Kathryn! Great to see you! Just give me a minute. I’ll pull this thing over so we can chat,” he (pretty much always) says.
So far this summer on his North American Tech Tour Paul has visited cities such as Tulsa, New Mexico, Vegas, Fargo, Vancouver, Omaha, St. Louis and Indianapolis. What was originally intended to be a few cities, has turned into a wildly ambitious undertaking in an effort to meet thousands of entrepreneurs and investors, and dive into local tech culture across America.
He’s now making his way to Upstate New York for stops in Syracuse, Utica and Saratoga Springs for a week-long series of startup and investor events. View his complete Upstate Tech Tour schedule here.
“Hey Paul, I can only see your forehead, can you hear me?”
“Yep, loud and clear.”
“Ready for your first question?”
“Only if it’s not too difficult. Kidding. Fire away!”
You’ve said in our past calls you’re a founder that funds other founders. Given your expertise, what are examples of problems you have helped founders solve?
Every founder asks for advice on how to solve a problem. What I learned as a founder is that the recency of someone’s expertise really matters. I’m more of a venture capital and function expert since my most recent experience as a founder is from six years ago. So if you’re a founder looking for insight into which engineer to hire, or if your Facebook ad has a good click through rate – that’s not me. My job now as an investor and mentor is to find people in my portfolio and connect the founder to someone with more recent experience who can help them. Most investors are too quick to jump in both feet when asked a question. When really, investors need to admit 99.9% of the time the questions a founder asks doesn’t apply to their current experience. Bottom line, I don’t think investors add much value directly. It’s through our network and other portfolio companies where our value is found.
Can you share a pitfall in your career and what you learned to dig yourself out?
First off, if you ask someone for advice, you better be ready for them to give it to you. There were times in my companies I was running out of money – my back was up against the wall and I was starting to flail. So I asked around for advice to really anyone who would listen. In hindsight that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. All I was doing was sharing my stress. I learned that instead of talking about everything that was going wrong, I needed to corner an experienced entrepreneur and ask them a specific question. When you start a sentence with ‘I think or I feel,’ or ‘What do you think?’ the response will not be useful.
Second, I never allow myself or my team to blame a problem on “they.” I really flip my sh*t when that happens. Whenever a founder does that, they are absolving him or herself from taking responsibility of the problem. ‘I called 6 times I don’t think “they” are interested.’ I found myself using these phrases and wondering why I was getting the results I wanted.
What do you look for in founders to invest in?
That’s an easy one. A lot of times you’ll hear an investor say they look for founders that are coachable. I don’t. I want to see relentless resourcefulness. I want to see the founder punch through walls, literally. I look for people who I’d want next to me in a bar fight.
Paul is looking for high-growth Upstate New York startups to add to his portfolio of over 100 companies. Register for a chance to have a private one on one session with Paul in either Syracuse or Saratoga Springs. Fill out this form -> http://bit.ly/OfficeHoursNY
What trends are you seeing in the investor world right now?
I think there are two macro trends that are happening right now. The first is that the cost to finance high-growth companies has gone down incredibly. Twenty years ago a company would need millions to finance servers, data centers and so on. The costs have come way down when you get your clients through the internet. The second trend is directly related to the lower costs of starting a company. Operators are becoming investors. More people can now be investors because you don’t need hundreds of millions dollars to be an investor, and you can invest in other companies while still running your own company. Our industry today is driven by operators. Just $10 million can make a huge difference in kickstarting a company. Plus some of the smartest entrepreneurs really respect someone who is in the trenches. In the old days of venture capital, and when I say old I mean five years ago, what mattered was capital, deal flow and judgement. You had to be rich to invest and you had to have deal flow. Now with the costs of starting a company way down, all you really need is good judgement. I guarantee there is no founder in Upstate New York who wakes up and says they only want to take money from someone with $3 million to invest. No way!
Do you think it’s important that founders do as much due diligence on investors as they do on them?
HELL YAH! It’s an unpopular statement in the investor world, but it’s so true. The difference between a spouse and investor is you can at least divorce your spouse. The truth of the matter is founders should do equivalent due diligence and any professional investor respects that. Ask an investor what are three companies they spend the most time with and see if you can call them…and then actually call them. Absolutely! Every time I’m in talks with a new company I say here is the stuff I need from you and here’s a link of all the companies I have founded. Reach out to them. Here are 10 phone numbers. Ask them anything you want. At the end of the day the relationship we’re going to have is complicated. I want to know what they’re like when they’re stressed. For me, I have a stress beard!
Any last thoughts before you power up the Airstream?
I really believe whether you’re a founder or an investor, we’re all media companies that happen to be good at what we do. If other people don’t know what we do – we don’t exist.
Like what Paul Singh has to say? Come meet him in person and ask your own questions! Here’s another look at his Upstate Tech Tour schedule. Sign up for as many events as you like. We’ve planned plenty of great times for startup founders, investors and supporters of the startup community to mix and mingle with Paul and his investor friends while he’s in Upstate New York this August. See you soon!