This is a guest post by Ariana Heintzen, a freelance public relations and marketing consultant helping out big time with NOLA Meetup. She is a New Yorker transplanted in NOLA who is also the current PR Director at Jolie & Elizabeth. Follow her on Twitter @aheintzen.
This evening will mark the inaugural NOLA Meetup, a networking event designed by and for New Orleans’s rapidly developing tech community. Each monthly NOLA Meetup will feature keynote speakers and presentations, and tonight, attendees will have the pleasure of hearing from two very influential professionals, Jeffrey Silverman of Laconia Ventures and Michael de Boer of General Electric.
Though Silverman currently works and lives in New York City, the successful venture capitalist graduated from Tulane and has been actively involved with the New Orleans tech and entrepreneurship scenes for quite some time. While you’ll have the opportunity to pick his brain at tonight’s NOLA Meetup, read below for a pre-event interview in which Silverman talks investment strategies, entrepreneurship, and the future of New Orleans’s tech scene.
You went to Tulane University here in New Orleans and are now a partner at Laconia Ventures in New York City – tell me a little bit about the in-between.
I graduated from Tulane with a Bachelor of Science in History and then moved to New York City. I have been in media and technology for over 20 years. Starting in the TV advertising business, moving on to out-of-home advertising and then the digital media sector in 1997 working at DoubleClick. Since then I have been involved directly or indirectly in media and technology.
What made you decide to be a venture capitalist investor? And an angel investor?
I wish I could say it was a carefully thought out strategic decision. After seven years as CEO and President of a software company, it was a time for a change. I joined the New York Angels and met some great people, met driven entrepreneurs and made a few investments. One thing led to another and eventually to the formation of Laconia Ventures. Although, I would not consider myself a traditional Venture Capitalist; we manage a small fund and the investors take an active role in each of our investments.
What have been your most successful investments to date?
Investing in early stage companies is not a sprint but a marathon. That being said, to date, we have had one successful exit and a number of companies continue to show strong growth while a few have struggled. Like baseball, one can’t expect to bat .400.
How has the investing scene changed since you first started?
Angels used to have the seed and Series A round to themselves. Over the past few years you have seen new micro-VC funds start as well as large funds begin to enter into that arena. It has made the competition for deal flow very competitive. At the same time, it is also a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to find capital.
What characteristics of a company are most important to you when researching potential investments?
The team! It’s all about execution and you want a team who knows the space and has the experience. I would also say that I like to see a team that has made mistakes. I know that sounds crazy, but I personally have learned more from my failures than from my successes.
What are the things that get you really excited about investing in a company?
Working with extremely bright entrepreneurs. Their energy is contagious.
What are some warning signs that tell you not to invest in a company?
People have a tendency to rely too much on the technology as the business plan. You can’t expect success with the attitude – “build it and they will come”. You need to understand how your solution or idea fits into the current landscape and your go-to market strategy. Most companies we see just focus on the problem they see and the technology they can provide to solve it.
What mistakes do young entrepreneurs typically make when they first start out?
They don’t understand how hard it will be. Starting a company is a roller coaster ride with more lows and sharp turns then highs. It will be harder than they expected and take a lot longer. You have to be in it for more than the money. There are easy ways to make money – this is not one of them.
What are the most common mistakes that companies make when seeking investors?
They are looking for just the money. No doubt that is important, however, you have the option to have people investing with you who can not only bring money but their knowledge, skills and network to the table.
With over 27,000 members, NY Tech Meetup has been instrumental in supporting the growing technology community in New York. What do you think has made NY Tech Meetup such a success?
Although I do not know the team personally – I can tell you that they have created a community within the growing technology ecosystem in NYC. A place for people to share ideas, meet like-minded people and learn. It has attracted all aspects of the eco-system – developers, executives, job seekers, investors, lawyers and technology enthusiast.
What have you, as a venture capitalist and angel investor, gotten out of NY Tech Meetup?
I have been inspired by the energy and creativity produced by these bright entrepreneurs, as well as interesting businesses and investment opportunities.
What do you think the tech community in New Orleans is missing, and what do you think makes it unique?
I was incredibly impressed by the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week hosted by Idea Village. I was given a tour of Chris Schultz’s Launchpad and then the recently opened New Orleans Bio Innovation Center. The only thing that seemed to be missing is a group dedicated to bringing people together to share ideas, meet each other and continue to work on building New Orleans as another entrepreneurial hub.
How has New Orleans’s tech scene changed since you attended Tulane, and what changes do you hope to see in the near future?
Was there a tech scene then? I remember my Apple IIc computer in 1986. What do I see in the future? Tulane is re-launching their Computer Science department; their business school continues to encourage entrepreneurship via their programs and classes. All of this plus what the other universities are doing will only help fuel the momentum New Orleans currently has.
What do you personally hope to get out of Tuesday’s first NOLA Meetup?
To be able to raise my cup of NOLA beer and toast the hard work of ChapterSpot founders, Joe McMenemon and Brendan Finke and hope that this helps to continue the entrepreneurial growth New Orleans has experienced since Katrina.
There’s still time to sign up for September 18th’s NOLA Meetup at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant from 6pm – 8pm! Visit meetup.com/nolameetup to purchase a ticket for $5 and be sure to follow @NOLAmeetup on Twitter and “like” NOLA Meetup on Facebook.