Behind the Founder: Craig Lutz-Priefert // ViewPlace

Behind the Founder: Craig Lutz-Priefert // ViewPlace

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their perspective.

What’s your name?

Craig Lutz-Priefert

Where are you from?

Belvidere, Nebraska

How did your upbringing influence you today?

I’m a Nebraska kid — grew up on a farm where we learned to work hard and have fun and help each other out. In my Nebraska travels today I see those same values of hard work and neighbors helping each other from the Sandhills to the South Central rolling plains where I grew up.

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

Barack Obama. President Obama epitomizes leadership and inspires hope in others.  

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

Doc Savage — Pulp Superhero from the 30s. Doc Savage and his team always used brains and technology to defeat the bad guys.

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

I’d been calling on schools about three years when I realized the teachers and the students in my client schools should be collaborating on the content of their graphic art for their school digital signage.

How did the founding team meet?

We are a four-person LLC; one partner and I worked for the same company in the mid-90s, the two other partners I met through Lincoln networking events.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

Level 2 was both challenging and rewarding.  Nathan Preheim had me go back and revisit existing K-12 clients I’d sold already and interview them again, but this time not trying to sell them anything but rather finding out what their challenges were.  After 25+ years in sales, that was a bit of a switch, but the insights I gained were extremely valuable.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

Level 6 was very rewarding – it’s the level we’ve been on for most of this year as we’ve applied for the State of Nebraska Prototype MVP grant.  We spent nearly five months getting our ducks in a row before we applied. In August we were awarded $25,000 through this grant. TSC and the extended TSC network helped me immensely: Nathan urged me to apply; Ben Williamson from Invest Nebraska helped me with the numbers on our business plan; Brian Harvey from Texty Pitch helped us fine-tune our software platform vision into a Statement of Work and of course Erica is always there to keep me moving towards our goal.  

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

I split my time between calling on new prospects for our existing K-12 Digital Signage business and working on the marketing for our new ViewPlace software.  

What’s next for you and your company?

Our software MVP should be completed by January; so two years of plugging away under TSC guidance is paying off.  This fall we are actively starting to market the product to our client base as well as to K-12 prospects

Vesta’s Momentum // Impacting Omaha’s Event Culture

Vesta’s Momentum // Impacting Omaha’s Event Culture

Meet Andrew Prystai and Billy Martin, co-founders of Vesta. Vesta is making it easy to find out what’s happening in Omaha (by yourself or with friends), and for local businesses and nonprofits to break through the social media noise to drive more attendees to their events, while enhancing brand awareness and recognition in an age when most marketers believe that live events are the single most effective marketing channel for companies. 


It’s always important to celebrate wins as an entrepreneur. And also reflecting on how you got there so that you can automate your proven outcomes. This is what Andrew and Billy are doing right now. They are currently in LEVEL 9 // Outbound Sales with The Startup Collaborative and seeing exciting validation and conversions within their most recent sales campaign. 


Here at TSC, we focus on building a sales strategy to deliver the most relevant messaging to your primary customer persona and then optimize your sales scripts and/or sequences to match the decision-makers’ buying process. Let’s hear how Vesta has optimized for a successful 30 days sprint. 


TSC: Andrew and Billy, what are you most excited about right now?

Vesta: We are excited that we’re officially launched and have paying customers using our platform to drive more attendees to their events, and new customers to their businesses. It has been fun to see how opportunities are reacting to the messaging and service offerings we deliver. Results speak louder than words. 


TSC: What exactly are you offering those customers?:

Vesta: Our primary service for businesses and organizations is called The Promotional Hub, which event organizers use to blast out their event promotions across all of the top event pages in their city. In Omaha that includes the event pages of The Omaha World Herald, Visit Omaha, Omaha Magazine, and several others, which all combine to reach an audience of over 200,000 people each month!


TSC: How are you structuring your day/week?

Vesta: It’s always a mix of customer outreach (& follow-ups), customer meetings/demos, with our time in between used for tracking customer feedback and refining our messaging and materials.

With respect to product improvements, we have an all-hands meeting daily to discuss customer feedback, new tools and features to make sure we’re building the software app our customers want and come back using. It is the repeat usage that our clients want and what Vesta wants to validate product-market fit. 


TSC: What were your primary goals for this most recent sales campaign?

Vesta: The biggest one was getting the validation that matters most for a software platform like Vesta – paying customers. We had spoken with plenty of organizations who said they would pay for Vesta once we finished building it, but that only means so much until we’re able to actually close those deals.


In addition to bringing on paying customers, we spent a lot of time refining our messaging and will continue to do that for the foreseeable future. Almost all organizations that host a few events a year come to understand the unique value that Vesta offers once we get the chance to talk with them in person. Unfortunately, we’re scheduling most meetings by email or phone, so we have to choose our words wisely in order to both educate and intrigue a cold prospect enough to find time in their busy schedules to meet with us. This is something TSC has lent a great deal of help with. Not losing sight of things like our different “Customer Personas” and highlighting the different benefits we provide to customers based on their varying pain points really is key. When we do this well we see that lightbulb moment for our customers, which takes our offering from slightly confusing to a no-brainer. Simply put, “know your customers and speak their language.” 


TSC: What does your next 30 days forecast look like? 

Vesta: Over the next 30 days, we’d like to bring on at least twice as many organizations as we currently have. We know from our customer interactions that we are bringing significant value to organizers in Omaha, and we want to continue expanding here while also making in-roads into Lincoln and potentially another market or two. Additionally, all of the events we promote are advertised on our website, which we want to drive people looking for events and activities to do to go to and sign up for free. We have over 150 events and activities going on over the next month or so, and we have a lot of cool features that make finding things to do individually and with friends really easy.


So whether you’re hosting an event or looking events to attend, we’ve built an online marketplace to help! And you can find it at

Breakthrough Weekend // Building Entrepreneurs on a Collegiate Level

Breakthrough Weekend // Building Entrepreneurs on a Collegiate Level

What can you build in a weekend? That is the question and challenge students of the UNO College of Business had to answer during the 2019 Breakthrough Weekend. The event is provided by the UNO Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising and The Startup Collaborative as the featured partner to help the students learn the first steps in starting a business and the understanding and foundational milestones to navigate towards. The students get a high-level overview of the TSC methodology – Level 1 – Level 4. Click here to read in more detail about the modules. 


Level 1 – Invitation

Level 2 – Lean Canvas / Lean Methods

Level 3 – Messaging

Level 4 – Minimally Valuable Product


Ly Phan, a 2018 Breakthrough Weekend participant, and TSC Fellow currently in LEVEL 7 // Startup Legal had the following to say, “I’m really grateful that I had a chance to attend Breakthrough Weekend. Not only did I make many great friends, but I also learned a lot about starting a business. Breakthrough Weekend gave me the confidence to pitch my own idea, which I did at the Big Idea! Pitch Competition, and won!”

The flow of the weekend is:

1) Pitch your idea 

2) Form a team 

3) Validate a problem 

4) Identify your customer persona 

5) Interview your customer segment 

6) Start a business in a weekend


Breakthrough Weekend is truly a valuable experience to learn the foundational stages of starting a company. The TSC methodology takes the bias out of customer validation and highlights the benefits of the pain points that a founder needs to solve for product-market fit. It’s wonderful to see first-time founders excel and second-time founders taking a captain seat to stress the importance of validating the problems and focusing on what our interviews are showing us. 


This year’s winner was called JustLanded by Ottilie Cooper-Ohm and Noah Schalley. Just Landed was the excellent business idea bringing people together after they had lost touch through a social media application. To date, the co-founders are starting the process to join TSC to further validate the problem. 


Companies that were formed:

Credit Crib  – Financial planning software for corporate daycares across the U.S.
SoVOYAGE – “Better travel experiences”  travel app / Partners: Shopify, Airbnb and Delta
Just Landed – “Connect with friends wherever you are” application that alerts friends that you landed in a new area
Smart Organics – “Composting made conveniently”
Clean Colorz – “We make laundry effortless” D2C application
System O Translate – “Simplify the way to rewrite code” application for software engineers

TSC Top Five // Key Factors When Prospecting

TSC Top Five // Key Factors When Prospecting

How do you effectively prospect for a successful sales campaign? How do I grow my pipeline month over month? How do I make my goal of five demos per week?


Outbound prospecting is the first step before making the first call, cold or warm. 


Outbound sales prospecting means finding direct contact data points from scratch to fill your sales pipeline that ultimately leads opportunities down deal stages within a sales funnel. That way you can do what makes you money—talking to people who actually want to buy. 


Everyone in your organization should be prospecting to grow the company. Even the CEO, or acting board members, are always on the hunt. So how often should you be adding to your pipeline? Well, if you want to succeed and consistently see your sales pipeline build, each team member should be prospecting at least on a weekly basis. Pipelines and funnels are meant to hold a constant stream and sales teams that balance lead acquisition and lead nurturing to grow faster than others. If it’s not in your routine, you’ll end up with crickets and panic will settle in your voice and decisions.


Top 5 key factors when prospecting – 


1) Identify Profitable Customer Segment(s) – every company needs to identify its most profitable/beneficial customer segment(s) that they need to focus on. You have to be aware of how much time you are investing in leads/opportunities that are not reaching your revenue goals.


2) Administer Time on your Calendar – it’s always good practice to start and end your day with prospecting. Allocating time on your calendar is an ideal way to hold yourself accountable. It’s vital to add five net new companies to your prospecting deal stage each day. It’s important to notate new companies, not five net new contacts. One company may have a variety of contacts that you need to reach out to. 


3) Clean List – Time is money and having a clean prospecting list will show true traction and respond to your sales campaigns. Focus on direct data points from key decision-makers and the roles in your customer’s purchasing process are apart of. You should not reach out to HR if you need the sales department. When you have accurate contact information, the time in between calls/email will be minimal and in turn, saves you more time to reach out to more leads. 


4) Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to the Fullest – At its core, a CRM is the technology that your company should use to manage the interactions that you have with your leads, opportunities and current customers. It did not happen if it’s not in your CRM. The buy-in to use a CRM creates a structure and transparency to collect data to fuel your sales funnel. In addition, it’s the basis of scalable sales and marketing execution. Any company will benefit the collection of information from their customer persona for a sales campaign and/or marketing distribution. 


5) Contact Sport – When you get into a good habit of prospecting every day, you will see the results of your hard and focused work. Now that may come with a more “no’s” than “yes”, however, that is a win in and of itself. A good sales representative knows how to optimize their prospecting process to get to a response and/or qualification. 


All startups and entrepreneurs always get asked, “How do you scale that idea? Will that business model scale?” Well, you will never know if you don’t ask, right? Getting the opportunity to ask the right people is the result of sales prospecting. Being smart with your sales prospecting is a key component of growing your business. You are prone to accuses as a business if you don’t prospect to grow your company.

Expanding Our Ecosystem // Why TSC Invests in Events

Expanding Our Ecosystem // Why TSC Invests in Events

As you get to know The Startup Collaborative team and the founders in the fellowship, you can always see the energy and focus on building sustainable companies. With the focus comes a deep understanding of one’s customer and the market in which they operate in. With that customer knowledge and market validation, TSC matches up local and national opportunities for the fellows to participate in. We invest smarter in growing startups that are ready. 


Through product or sales momentum of each fellow’s business, they earn their way to be client-facing! It’s refreshing to provide valuable opportunities to form in-person connections in an increasingly digital world. Our goal is always to de-risk each intrapreneurial pursuit so we covered the cost for the event entry fee or make professionally printed pullup banners for the company or run digital ads to help promote the brand for pre and post-conference promotion or even attend the event as an extension of their team. The TSC team is here to support the fellows to radically improving the odds of success. Success is not overnight and doesn’t arrive without experiments, learning, customer focus and value creation. 


Here is an overview of the latest events our fellows participated: 


Omaha Fashion Week Pop Up Market –

One of our most recent event incentives was the Omaha Fashion Week Pop Up Market for the rise of our uniquely diverse direct-to-consumer companies that are transforming how we shop and how consumers make decisions online. Overall, the event was a success for each company and we all walked away with real customer acquisition and new partnerships in our sales funnel. Here is the list of companies that participated:


Stature – Event Headliner. Stature is custom-tailored clothing for taller women looking to embrace their height and love of fashion. How Stature works is 1) Select your style 2) Enter your lengths for customized fit 3) Stand tall to walk proud and rule the world. 

Chant Bags – Chant is an online shop combining fashion and sustainability through plastic bags made of recycled materials that are stadium and concert ready. You can pass through security lines with ease and style with Chant eco-friendly collection of clear bags that are stadium approved for your favorite live events. 

Scribe – Scribe is an online shop to buy and send greeting cards that are heartfelt without the hassle. They’re eliminating the worry of forgetting that special someone’s birthday — all the while supporting independent artists. You’ll never miss a chance to show you care.   

My Game Day Collections – My Game Day Collections is an online shop selling fully customized gameday clothing for women. They are helping you stand out in the crowd with fun, unique style pieces. Their process is simple – 1) Shop online to plan your game day attire 2) Choose your logo from a variety of team logos 3) Look your best to show pride and passion for your team.

HerHeadquarters – HerHeadquaters is a game-changing collaborating application for women entrepreneurs and freelancers within the fashion, beauty, entertainment, events and public relations industries. The application itself is a digital Rolodex of local and national brand partnerships to coordinate and work with like-minded fellow female entrepreneurs. Learn more about your premium pricing here and how powerful and convenient the process is to secure a big collaboration. 


Tech Crunch – 

As TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference is a requested destination for all startups in the U.S. It was exciting to hear RetailAware was accepted to the Startup Alley which is the heart of Disrupt SF where over 1,000 pre-series A startups and sponsors across all verticals showcased their tech products, platforms and services. Our very own co-founder of TSC, Erica, had the privilege to represent RetailAware to help advise and share how their technology can help brands and retailers measure consumer behavior and retail execution in real-time. 


Start Omaha – 

With Omaha becoming increasingly familiar and friendly toward entrepreneurial pursuits, programs like Do Space’s Start Omaha event provide countless resources for the startup inclined. This week-long event provides valuable drop-in work sessions for early-phase startups, where first-time and veteran entrepreneurs can ask questions, brainstorm on customer acquisition strategies, formulate pitch decks and more. 


Start Omaha’s opening night was kicked off with informative conversations from Dundee Venture Capital’s Allie Esch and serial-entrepreneur Brian Ardinger as Director of Innovation at Nelnet and founder with InsideOutside podcast. Immediately following, three of our Fellows participated in a “Pseudo-Slam”, presenting their companies to the diverse audience of industry experts and soon-to-be entrepreneurs. Paska Juma of Jamila and Billy Martin of Event Vesta began the presentations, with Xavier Jackson of Showcase rounding out the pitches. With a lively and inquisitive audience, all three teams were able to answer questions and receive feedback on their go-to-market strategies, strengthening future iterations of their pitch deck content — with one lucky participant receiving a free Professional Membership to Do Space.


1 Million Cups Omaha and Lincoln –

1MC Omaha and Lincoln is a perfect opportunity to share your traction and business model with a very engaged audience. 1MC is a free event to drink coffee, learn about local startups, ask questions and empower entrepreneurs with tools and resources to break down barriers that stand in the way of growing your company. Here are the TSC fellows that have recently presented:


Job Share Connect – Job Share Connect is working with employers to help them recruit and retain top talent by offering job sharing as a flexible work option. JSC is building the “unicorn employee” with two people. If you’re not familiar with job sharing, it’s when two people share the roles and responsibilities of one full-time position. Job sharing allows employees a way to maintain their career path while having the additional flexibility they need throughout different stages of their lives. Job Share Connect matches talent using a validated selection process to match job share pairs of similar and/or complementary skills based on the needs of a specific position. 

FileFuseFileFuse optimizes collaboration between audio engineers and their clients. They enable real-time feedback to manage files and get paid in one centralized hub.

Imposter Syndrome // Should We Avoid or Embrace It?

Imposter Syndrome // Should We Avoid or Embrace It?

At The Startup Collaborative, we work with a wide variety of founders. They range from those who have started multiple companies to those who have never imagined themselves as an entrepreneur. One consistent aspect we often hear about from those who become successful — or who are well on their way — is the notion of Imposter Syndrome.


Imposter Syndrome is often described as that feeling of not deserving the successes you’ve rightfully earned. That somehow, you got lucky, and that the circles you now find yourself in, won’t fully accept you, your company or a presumed lack of expertise. Simply put, Imposter Syndrome can completely debilitate those susceptible to social insecurities.


So how do we feel about Imposter Syndrome at TSC? There are two ways to go about it, there’s the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach, putting on that expected persona to combat the idea that you might not belong…


…Or you can embrace your individuality. One of the most efficient ways to learn and challenge who we are is to take ourselves out of our own comfort zone. The fact that someone doesn’t “fit the mold” of an entrepreneur is even more exciting for our ecosystem. It’s paving the way for anyone and everyone to take that leap of faith, without the social restraints of being the next Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos.


Our investment thesis actually provides you with a step-by-step approach to knowing every crucial detail about the company that you’re building. From market fit to the development cycle, even financial forecasting and creating your first (of many!) sales pipelines — we’ll be that sidecar on your journey toward building a company focused on longevity. 

We scour our ecosystem for individuals and teams who look at Imposter Syndrome and utilize it as a motivator, a means to prove themselves. We’re constantly on the lookout for people wanting to disrupt industries. And, as our world continues to rapidly change, disrupt what it means to “be an entrepreneur.”

Embrace What Makes You Stand Out

From Skill Building to Starting Up // A Q&A With UNO’s Dale Eesley

From Skill Building to Starting Up // A Q&A With UNO’s Dale Eesley

Dr. Dale T. Eesley is the John Morgan Community Chair in Entrepreneurship, Founder and Director of the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising, and an Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship & Strategy.

Dr. Eesley received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in Entrepreneurship & Strategy. He has been teaching and consulting in the field of entrepreneurship for over 18 years.

The Startup Collaborative is a proud supporter of CIEF and works alongside Dale to ensure that college students who are seeking startup opportunities and capital know the ins-and-outs of how to traverse that path in the Greater Omaha area. 


Q: Dale, tell us about the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Financing (CIEF).


A: The goal of the center is to be a leader for the development and support of student entrepreneurs, high-growth startups and research to promote economic development. We do this by exposing students in every field of study to the potential of entrepreneurship, preparing students to start and grow high-potential new ventures, and conduct research that encourages local business formation and success.  


In addition to our main courses in Entrepreneurship I and II, we offer entrepreneurial finance, social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial selling, we also have faculty in other departments that incorporate entrepreneurship into their own courses in psychology, arts, political science, geography etc.  


Outside the classroom, we offer a wide variety of opportunities for students to experience entrepreneurship, build their skills and connect with the startup community.  Events include Breakthrough Weekend, the BigIdea! Pitch Contest, the Maverick Business Plan Contest, the Midwest Entrepreneurship Conference (April 3 and 4, 2020) and A Celebration of Entrepreneurship Gala and Awards.


We also offer many programs, such as the Entrepreneurial Living Learning Community, the Maverick Venture Fund, Stedman’s Cafe, Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the Maverick Young Entrepreneurs’ Summer Camp (Jr. High) and the eFellows faculty consortium.


Q: Give us the 101-version on what you believe the difference is between innovation and entrepreneurship.


A: Everyone has their own definition of entrepreneurship, but I am happy to just view it as starting or owning a business or organization in a context where there is risk or uncertainty.  


Innovation can lead to entrepreneurship, but it has a much broader application to business and even your personal life. Innovation is a process of improvement and discovery, often applied to an existing problem or to create something altogether new.  


Q: What is unique about the entrepreneurial ecosystem of our region?


A: I am always amazed at how supportive our community is for entrepreneurs. It is not difficult to network and find individuals who can give advice or resources entrepreneurs need. I tell my students that if they had a good reason to meet with a billionaire, we probably could arrange that meeting in less than a month!


Q: What is the most beneficial impact you’ve seen CIEF make for students?


A: We empower students to believe that they could either start or own a business, even early in their careers. We expose them to many entrepreneurs and small business owners, and they come to realize that they are just as smart and capable.  


Q: We’d love to hear about Breakthrough Weekend, how did that get started?

A: Startup Weekend ran four years ago in partnership with TechStars, CIEF and the Startup Collaborative. After the first year, we realized we had the ability to run the event without TechStars assistance and so Erica renamed it Breakthrough Weekend and we have been running it together since then. The Startup Collaborative created a great program that moves the teams through the first four badges in their program in just one weekend. Students love the structure and it is very well-suited to the types of students and ideas we get at BW. I hope the Startup Collaborative shares its program with more universities, it works very well.


Q: Are all UNO students eligible to participate, regardless of major?


A: Definitely. I would say half our students are from the college of business, a third of our students are from PKI, and the rest are a wide variety of other majors, other universities and community members.  


Q: What is the most valuable takeaway students receive from Breakthrough Weekend?


A: Perhaps the most valuable takeaway is that if you have an idea, you can improve your odds of success by carefully listening to your customers and testing your assumptions. Another big takeaway is simply meeting a lot of different people who are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship and the many programs that exist that are willing to help them.


Q: What’s next for CIEF and UNO’s entrepreneurial initiatives?

A: CIEF provides a lot of programming each year, and with current staffing, it can’t add much more in the near future. Instead of adding one more event, we will be focusing on obtaining major grants or donations that could support incubator space on campus, grow the Maverick Venture Fund so that we can invest more in our students and alumni and additional personnel to mentor our students and increase the output of quality research.

Our Takeaways from NVCA + Berkeley’s VC University

Our Takeaways from NVCA + Berkeley’s VC University

The National Venture Capital Association and Startup@Berkeley Law partnered to democratize access to education on venture capital for emerging funds. The result of this partnership: VC University, most recently hosted at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business. 

TSC Cofounder Erica Wassinger was awarded a generous scholarship to VC University and shares her takeaways. 

There are very few mentors geographically within reach that have the muscle memory to guide me through constructing, raising and managing a venture fund. The ones I do have I hold very closely and pester frequently with questions. 

I needed to expedite my muscle formation on venture capital fund development and management. I wanted to learn from teams that had seen and executed thousands of term sheets, hundreds of follow-on funding rounds and dozens of successful exits. That led me to VC University

Questions rattling around in my head prior to VC University included:

  • How could I accelerate success by avoiding common failure points? 
  • How could I sharpen my dealmaking skills so they were both founder-aligned and future-investor friendly? 
  • What do the great VCs know that I don’t?
  • In our current fund and for our future fund, am I fully aware of our bright and blind spots?

Some of the key takeaways:

Fund thesis = Fund construction and vice versa.
At face value, these are not intertwined functions of a venture fund, but if you are promising any type of return they must be intimately supportive of each other.

Our current fund is built on an objective set of customer-related triggers and a tight geographic radius — our thesis. Yet, our fund’s construction was not as tightly defined as it should be. We built our initial term sheets on what we considered a one-size-fits-most traditional venture model.

While these customer-related triggers act as our due diligence – and many of our co-investors’’ due diligence too – they don’t necessarily take into consideration how our terms will convert later based on the startups’ profitability or subsequent rounds of venture capital.

As a result, we are exploring new variants of term sheets to better serve our founders for the long haul.

If you want the deal, get the deal done.

It was eye-opening to me just how much information we have on an angel-stage deal, comparative to nearly all investors before we get to the term sheet.

By nature of TSC’s methodology, we are riding shotgun to a founder for no less than four months but more likely a year prior to making an investment decision.

We know the founding team’s tendencies, superpowers, and Achilles’ heels. And, more importantly, they know ours. If they want us as a partner in their business for the next 10+ years and vice versa, then let’s make this deal happen.

We could stand to be more flexible on terms. We are toying with an additional set of criteria that supports a more tailored, founder-aligned valuation. Some valuation considerations are incredibly well outlined in this recent post by Bill Gurley.

Not all deal flow is created equal, term sheets can evolve.

Perhaps one of the most glaring differences between what is happening in Silicon Valley vs flyover country was the prolific use of KISSs, SAFEs and Convertible Notes in early-stage deals. Outside of Convertible Notes, we have not yet seen an abundance or even a pattern of KISSs and SAFEs hit the midwest. 

I’ll admit that I am sold on the value of Convertible Notes as the easiest means to get a deal done and can set the proper stage for a company’s first act, second act and third act of financing. 

But, I am not yet sold on the traditional fund model that anticipates only one or two deals should return an entire fund. Perhaps it is our homegrown geographic thesis. Perhaps it’s my goal to see more sustainable companies grow for the long haul. Hell, maybe it is my inability to ride the waves of boom or bust in startup land.

Whatever my bias is in this one, I am growing even more keen on models like Indie.VC and Earnest Capital. And, Fred Wilson’s recent blog post on the Great Public Market Reckoning only fanned the flames on this thinking. 

All that opining to say, VC University was hands-down one of the best experiences I have made thus far in my career. The NVCA and Berkeley team helped me leapfrog years of skinned-knee lessons. If you are considering more angel investments or launching a fund, it’s a no brainer. 

Meanwhile, follow these great minds on Twitter for ongoing education:

Adam Sterling @adambsterling

Director, Berkeley Center for Law and Business

Maryam Haque @nighthaque

SVP of Industry Advancement, National Venture Capital Association

National Venture Capital Association @nvca

Startup@BerkeleyLaw @StartupBerkLaw

Behind the Founder: Ross Harding // Scribe

Behind the Founder: Ross Harding // Scribe

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.

What’s your name?

Ross Harding

Where are you from?

I was born in Anchorage, Alaska but I grew up in Omaha. After going to the University of Virginia, I moved back to Omaha and that’s where we’ve been working on growing Scribe.

How did your upbringing influence you today?

I think I owe everything to my upbringing. Though I’m naturally curious I think ambition and a love of learning are cultivated. Without my parents’ encouragement and guidance, I don’t think I’d have the drive or interest to start a business. 

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

I have a friend named Ishmael who has inspired me since day one. He’s an immigrant whose parents both passed away before he was 21. Despite a period of homelessness, no college education, and life dealing him a rough hand, he has gone on to become an incredibly successful software developer and entrepreneur. His grit and drive remind me that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

As strange as it may seem, I find Michael Scott inspirational. As a manager, he sets his employees up to be self-sufficient and responsible. Though this is through his own shortcomings and not by design, I still think it’s a good reminder that people can and do manage themselves. They just need an environment in which to do so.

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

I originally felt the need to start a company in the greeting card space after several fruitless attempts to buy greeting cards. I was increasingly frustrated by the process and selection. Finally, in February of 2018, I tried to buy a card for my uncle’s birthday and my grandparents’ anniversary. After spending forty-five minutes at two stores and only buying one card I was pissed off. I called Jesse and told him we needed to do something.

How did the founding team meet?

Shortly after coming into this world I found myself sharing a room with him. He’s my brother and about two years my senior. 

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

I personally found Level 3 // Messaging the most challenging. While Jesse is very brand-focused, I’m not. I tend to pay attention to operations and logistics. I like the numbers and processes that make up a business. Jesse doesn’t find these things all that interesting and instead focuses on brand, marketing, artwork, etc. Messaging was probably easy for him but I hadn’t given a ton of thought to the story Scribe was telling. This made the messaging stage challenging for me, but it was also fun to think through these aspects of the business I had brushed over initially.  

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

I think it was the first two levels that I found the most rewarding. Prior to joining The Startup Collaborative, we only had an idea and didn’t know whether it was a good one. The team at TSC gave us some quick validation when we joined. But far more exciting and promising was the feedback we got on our initial customer surveys. Seeing the frustration people had around greeting cards and the excitement they seemed to feel when we explained our solution was all the encouragement we needed to really dig in and start building a business. 

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

Since we haven’t officially launched, Jesse and I are still working other jobs, so we mostly work on nights and weekends. I usually go to Jesse’s house and we talk through ideas, send emails, etc. I handle fulfillment from my apartment.

What’s next for you and your company?

We launch on October 16! At that point, we’re going all-in on acquiring users, fine-tuning our offerings, and ensuring we have product-market fit.

More Venture Capital Deals than Anyone in the State // A Q&A With Invest Nebraska

More Venture Capital Deals than Anyone in the State // A Q&A With Invest Nebraska

Ben Williamson is a senior associate and general counsel for Invest Nebraska, the state’s most active venture capital fund. Invest Nebraska is funded through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and, in our humble opinion, is easily one of the best examples of economic development with a tangible return.


The Startup Collaborative is a proud co-investor alongside Invest Nebraska. We are also grateful to have Ben serve as an adjunct. 


Q: Ben, tell us about Invest Nebraska.


A: Invest Nebraska exists with a mission to build a better future for our state by providing financial and operational assistance to high growth companies, advancing the entrepreneurial economy, and attracting out-of-state capital to Nebraska. Though Invest Nebraska was created in 2002, it really became impactful with the passage of the Business Innovation Act, introduced in 2011 on behalf of Governor Dave Heineman and passed unanimously by the Legislature. Invest Nebraska partners with The Nebraska Department of Economic Development and receives an appropriation under the Business Innovation Act that provides the resources to make direct investments into Nebraska companies. The fall of 2012 saw Invest Nebraska make its first equity investment under the Business Innovation Act and Invest Nebraska continues to help grow Nebraska’s economy by assisting entrepreneurs and investing capital in those companies that have high growth potential. Since 2012, Invest Nebraska has invested over $20M in capital in Nebraska start-ups – those investments have been matched by ~$90M in co-investment and those companies have gone on to raise ~$140M in subsequent capital.


Q: Tell us what it means to take capital from Invest Nebraska means.


A: We are industry agnostic, but we require companies to be based in Nebraska and they must have at least a 1:1 match to our investment from private co-investors. Next, we target “high-growth” companies, or companies that have innovative or proprietary products within a large obtainable market and that demonstrate early traction with a scalable business model. We primarily make equity investments (which includes convertible notes) but do occasionally offer traditional loan capital as well. Ultimately, our goal is to be a great partner to our portfolio companies and provide as much value as possible through operational assistance and our network of investors and advisors


Q: In the lifecycle of a startup, where does capital from Invest Nebraska fit in? 


A: We invest at various stages of a company’s life cycle, but primarily invest at the “seed” stage. To us, that means post-MVP (minimum viable product) and usually post-revenue but typically the first round of “institutional” capital. We write checks of $100k to $250k and often lead investment rounds. 


Q: If a startup wants to earn investment from Invest Nebraska, what milestones should they hit?


A: There are currently two ways to get an investment from Invest Nebraska: through the Startup Collaborative or directly through Invest Nebraska. The companies that we help fund who make it through the Startup Collaborative modules are generally earlier than companies in which we invest directly but TSC’s milestones are well defined and TSC provides great tools for success. For direct investments, it really depends on the type of company. Regardless of the company, they must have a working MVP or prototype as mentioned above. Additionally, for example, for true B2B software as a service (SaaS) companies (i.e. business to business software with a recurring subscription fee) we like to see market validation in the form of material revenue. Conversely, a biotechnology or medical device company may be more capital intensive and take years to generate revenue. In those cases, we would instead look for formal intellectual property, prototype tests, and experiences and/or repeat founders. At the end of the day, whether you’re seeking investment or not, it’s essential to get an MVP into the market as soon as possible and start trying to sell it to customers before committing time, money, investment, or burning the boats. 


Q: How – and when – does a startup need to start talking to you about venture capital needs?

A: If it were up to me, I would talk to every startup at least a year before they even consider raising capital. To go even a step further, I’d love to talk to them at the point when they’re deciding whether it makes sense to fully pursue this idea. There are tons of resources available for companies at the business planning stage and it is really important to think about capital needs and business strategy as early as possible.


Q: You are a big proponent of taking capital only when capital accelerates growth, talk a bit about that.


A: This is certainly one of the most self-sabotaging opinions that I hold. Venture Capital is probably inappropriate for 99+% of companies and frankly, I think companies should only raise money (i) if they absolutely have to (i.e. the capital intensive companies I referenced above); or (ii) if they have significant market validation and are growing quickly. Most companies I talk to don’t fit into either category, which isn’t a bad thing. It just means you should consider not raising capital, and “bootstrap” your company – by the way, this is a perfectly valid way to run a business. I fear that founders see other companies talking about raising money on Twitter and think “I’m supposed to raise money.” File that under the category of “Worst Reasons To Raise Money Ever”. 


To clarify, when I say “raising capital”, I mean raising a formal round of financing typically including institutional investors. I think it’s nearly always acceptable to take grant money or raise money (i.e. $0-200,000) from “Friends and Family” to get started as long as the investors’ expectations are aligned with yours!!


Q: What are some of the things founders need to consider when it comes to capital?


A: When it comes to capital to get a business off the ground, I often see founders complicating the financial modeling process. It’s important to look primarily at two things: (i) the baseline cost required to develop an MVP that you can put into the market and start making money; and (ii) the unit economics to ensure that your product is capable of achieving necessary margins (i.e. top line revenue per unit minus the cost of goods). If you can cover/raise the baseline MVP cost and the unit economics are good, then you only need to ensure your product solves a real (and compelling) customer problem that people (whom you don’t know) are willing to pay you for.


With respect to fundraising capital, the biggest thing founders need to consider are incentives and expectations. If an investor and founder incentives/expectations are misaligned, everybody loses, period. Perhaps more obviously, founders also need to understand dilution and how different forms of capital affect dilution (P.S. this directly impacts incentives, as well). Lastly, founders often try to raise money at way too high of valuation at the seed stage – I think there is ego tied up in achieving a high valuation, even though it has nothing to do with the actual value of the company.  This is super counterproductive as companies that do this almost never achieve the traction subsequent to that fundraise to raise at a higher valuation the next time they raise, which has big time detrimental effects. 


Q: What’s one more thing you’d like to add? 


A: Founders: read and learn as much as you possibly can – if you need recommendations, I have them. Lastly, A robust startup ecosystem is based largely on relationships…so let’s get coffee! Or beer!

Are YOU Ready to Startup?