He invested in Twitter, Kickstarter, Uber, Twilio, and Instagram back when no one knew any of these companies that well. Yet, a couple of years later, they are companies with hundreds of millions of users raking in millions of dollars a year. Chris Sacca is probably one of the most renowned angel investors in Silicon Valley and the greater world of startups. Investors who are getting into the game want to be like him; to have that much foresight to make the right investments.
Startups that get passed on by Chris Sacca leave in worry wondering whether that is a sign of a big storm. It’s because Chris has grown from investing in hundreds of startups when he got started, to investing in a few every other time after learning from some bad investments. He propagates the importance of saying “No” most of the time. Which is a good lesson for anyone getting into the startup investment field. Saying no to deals most of the time gives you time to go and think about it. If you change your mind, you could come back and say “yes” to the startup founders. However, if you say yes first it is very hard to go back on that and say no, and it affects your trustworthiness and credibility.
He has always wanted to be making deals. Before going to college, he knew he wanted to be in the table where deals are signed; so he conveniently got himself a Georgetown Law degree. Later after working as an associate for a few years, he was hired at Google to help with mergers and acquisitions. This helped him build up the capital he would need to start his own venture capital fund now known as Lowercase Capital. For several years since 2010, he has served as the founder and sole proprietor at his venture fund until 2017 when he retired from investing in startups and hired Matt Mazeo to help direct the fund.
From starting to invest in startups using his own money in the early 2000s to appearing on Shark Tank for a number of episodes, there is a lot of information and pieces of advice that Chris Sacca throws out there for startups. He has appeared on several podcasts including one by Tim Ferris, author of the 4-hour workweek and Tribe of Mentors.
One of Chris Sacca’s most interesting philosophies involves figuring out how to get in the room.
Getting in the room
When he started studying law, he wanted to be in the rooms where deals are made. Even as he began his angel investing career, his biggest worry was “how do I get in the room with 5 people who are the best in this?”
Henceforth he committed his time, money, and sweat to ensure that he becomes as good an investor as he can be so that he will get in a room where there are other best angel investors as good as him.
If you can get into a room with the very best in the business, what you do in the room will be important; however, getting into the room is more crucial because most of the time things work out for the good after that.
This concept can be applied in almost every area of life for startups. As a founder, if you are looking to get into a room where Chris is sitting together with Mark Cuban and other billionaires, it is possible that you get funding, or advice that propels you to the next spot. If you are looking to get featured in the press as a startup so that you can make your story or groundbreaking idea known, you have to look at the 5 best media outlets in the field and figure out how to get in.
Chris’ Guide to PR and Marketing For Founders and Entrepreneurs
In the current world where people try changing themselves so that they can fit in, and businesses are continually losing their voices due to adopting what is trendy, Chris advises startups to stay authentic. Even if they were weird, it’s important to stay weird. Authenticity means that you stand for something, and you have chosen this vision or goal for as long as you are in the business. It shows that you trust in your core beliefs and are deeply rooted in them.
Investor vs Startup definition of success
It is highly likely that as a startup you will get to the point when you are looking for funding to boost your company in various ways. When you get to this point, do not take investor money without ensuring that your startup’s definition of success is similar to the investor’s definition of success.
Usually, some startups have had to suck up to investors and begin to take direction from these investors on how the company should run, and what goals or objectives should be achieved. Oftentimes, these directions absolutely contradict the beliefs of the founders and in most cases the entire team. Such disagreements lead to negative work environments and feelings of defeat. They also cause the team to lose motivation.
To avoid instances like these, Chris says that your goals and the goals of the investors should be the same. It may create disagreements in the methods used to reach those goals, but it is better to disagree on the ways to reach there than disagree on the goals.
Lifestyle businesses, as Chris advises, usually have poor luck when it comes to angel investors. These businesses are usually not easily scalable. They rely on particular demographics and a set of people. For instance, fitness centres or gyms, are not very scalable as say, an app or SaaS product. They are not very attractive to angel investors because it is hard to predict what the exit would be if you opened many of them in several locations. Such founders should stick by their goal, and expand organically if investments are not forthcoming. Mostly, these businesses make more than enough to run themselves and keep a profit even though they are not scalable as web applications or software.
Chris hates distractions. When he is working, he has earphones on most of the time even when there is no music playing because it prevents people from distracting him incessantly. Additionally, his desk is always clean of papers, printers, devices or anything at all except his laptop.
“Put your phone on “do not disturb” mode, you will not miss anything,” he says.
The point is to ensure that you are giving your focus where it needs to be. Incoming calls, emails, or notifications can be gotten back to later after you are done with your work for the day, or after the 3 hours, you needed to get something done.
We live in a world full of distractions today than ever before. While previously you would need to wait for a particular time to get your letters, or maybe have the fax machine distracting you every once in a while, today, computers, emails, social media, mobile apps, and portable devices have become the nemesis of the office environment.
Startup teams need to embrace the new world, but also let focus reign in the teams because it is the only way work gets done.
Build a product with heart
We are all looking to build successful businesses. Anyone in the world wants to have a business that is bringing in money and making them rich.
When Sacca started investing, sometimes he would put his money into such businesses. While they turned out to make profits and returns on the investment most of the time, they were not very satisfying. They sent Chris to look for companies that are building products with strong problem-solving drives. He began to look for products that are making a difference in how people’s lives are lived.
That is how he got to invest in Uber, Instagram, Twitter, Twilio, and Kickstarter. All these products have become pioneers in their fields. All of them have changed how people run their lives.
Build a product to make a difference in the world; not just for the sake of profits. Build a business that has a soul and deep-seated beliefs, goals, and meanings.
Face bad times with relaxation
Startups have the roughest of days. Chris Sacca knows this too well. He has invested in a few failed startups especially when he was new in the business. He felt really bad when they failed, but the startup founders felt worse.
Knowing this, he advises founders and entrepreneurs to always remember that even on the toughest of days, at the end of the day-night will come and they will be in the comfort of their beds. That might not sound very soothing, but to most people, it is. After all, there is no person who doesn’t look forward to a night in their bed after a rough day.
It is all to say that no days are entirely rough, even bad endings or exits in businesses are not the end of everything. Something bright shines from somewhere even though it might just be your bed.
If you are not all in, you are out
In the few episodes we have seen of Shark Tank where Chris featured, he would occasionally say no to deals because he wasn’t going to be fully committed to them.
At some points in his investing, he has actually shown up for work in the startups he has invested in a couple of hundred times. For him, even with his already busy schedule. He finds a lot of time to commit and dedicate to a venture he is part of.
Entrepreneurs have to know that as per Chris, either you are all in, or you are out. There is no balance, no two ways, no one foot in one foot out, no part-time commitments; full-time dedication is what a company requires for it to be successful. Startups sometimes even need more than that.
Commit fully to your idea and make the company happen. Talking of ideas, he has something to say about that.
Ideas are cheap
“Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything,” he usually says.
I would also add to that and say “ideas are cheap. Everyone gets them.”
If you want to turn your idea into a business, you have to wake up and do something about it. There is no shortcut. You have to execute and with a plan. Otherwise, the idea just remains an idea, no matter how life-changing it sounded.
The person who wakes up and gets something done about their idea every day is the one person that is better off than 99% of the people around him who do nothing about their ideas.
Hiring a technical co-founder
There are many platforms that have made it easy to meet the technical co-founder of your choice. However, Chris advises that the best of them all is to go and hang out where the software engineers hang out.
Attend hackathons, go to software or programming events. The best way is to go out and network with people. Only that way do you get the best fit, who are around you.
Therefore, if you want to build a business and do not have the technical skills, go out there and network. You might meet a possible co-founder and a great partner to work with.
Craft a great pitch
If you want to market yourself well, your pitch has to be the best in the game. If you were given two minutes to pitch your product, would you be able to win over your listener, or that angel investor?
The question to craft a proper pitch goes a long way even in getting attention from the press. Many are the emails that journalists sent to their trash because they just didn’t get what these companies did. Don’t let your outreach emails be part of those statistics.
For the best pitch, Sacca advises entrepreneurs to be confident with their numbers. Most of all, they need to be confident about their goals for the company. Highlight the problem and show how your company is solving that problem. After that, show how you intend to scale and take pride in the numbers no matter how big or small. Finally, be very specific about your ask. Don’t request an ambiguous figure or a range of a sum of money. Go straight to the point and ask for the $100k or $1million with conviction.
Except for the money part, these tips also apply to the outreach email pitches sent to the press when looking for media features.
Customers look for proof before buying a product. Investors look for proof of business before writing the cheques. Journalists look for proof of impact before featuring your story in media outlets.
The whole world needs proof. And essentially, the point of your startup in its early days is to garner as much proof as it can.
Gather proof in form of reviews, testimonials, comments, and customer feedback. Get as much of this as you can get, and sell as much product as you can so that you have proof of business for that investor, proof of workability for that journalist and testimonials for that prospective client.
Choose problems to solve
The world has so many challenges and problems. From food to water, global warming to floods, earthquakes to diseases like cancer, diabetes, etc. There are countless problems you could solve in a tiny segment of the market or in a bigger one.
However, it is important to solve problems where people are already paying to get solutions. Do not be the entrepreneur who is trying to solve a problem where everyone is getting an alternative solution for free; without needing to break a sweat.
If people are already paying for another solution, there are high chances that they might want to pay for yours.
Do not aim for average
To qualify as a startup to get into Chris’ investment portfolio. You have to be the entrepreneur who is not aiming for average levels. You cannot afford to be mediocre either.
It is a go big or go home kind of scenario. Go big on solving people’s problems, go big on the income, go big on getting rich, and go big on your story. There is no chance to be average.
Startups have to learn to push the limits. If you want to work together with Sacca, you have to be prepared to go all out.
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