Categories
business startups

Why I became an Angel Investor

I started my business in 2003 after leaving Microsoft and I grew my business to be one of the leading mobile development companies. I was working with a diverse set of companies around the world, building incredible technology. When I sold my business in 2017 I started to think about how I could give back to both the Boston community as well as other founders, leaders, and entrepreneurs.

Investment stages and startup stages

Angel investors are typically people who make investments from 5K-100K in early-stage companies. Companies at this stage typically have an idea, they have a team and maybe they’ve made some traction or progress but they need additional help to get to the next stage of growth. They often are too early for VC’s and don’t make enough to be profitable on their own… The TV show Shark Tank popularized some of the ideas but angel investing has been around since the late 1970’s, and most investors aren’t as predatory or quite as “sharkie”.

Angel investing isn’t adversarial and the drama that unfolds on TV in 15 minutes is often more complex and takes weeks to sort out in real life.

One of the reasons I wanted to give back and help other entrepreneurs and CEO’s is because entrepreneurship and being CEO is incredibly lonely. It’s an amazing job and really rewarding but being a successful leader means constantly solving problems and having the entire weight of a company on your shoulders. This is both exhilarating and incredibly stressful.

It also means that there aren’t too many people you can talk too. You can’t talk to your employees about your business problems and your family and friends wouldn’t really understand the challenges. No CEO knows all the answers and having good mentors and business partners and investors helps companies succeed along that journey.

Angel investors invest not just money but time and expertise in helping companies. Most importantly they can be a sounding board and compass for entrepreneurs blazing a trail.

Why don’t I just invest in the stock market? That seems a lot easier? It is a lot easier and a lot less risky. I do invest in the stock market but it’s also less rewarding. While I can make money in the stock market, I don’t really feel like I’m advising the founders and CEO’s. Elon, Bezos, Sundar, Satya, and Elon are probably having their own challenges but they haven’t called me up… Just sayin’.

As a CEO you don’t really like anyone telling you what to do because you like to run the show, and if your business has any success you definitely don’t want people telling you what to do. But you also don’t have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of.

The second reason is to make an impact. When you start a company, or run a company you’re solving a problem and in most cases you’re helping either people or other businesses. As a founder you can really only focus on one big problem at a time but as an angel investor you can participate and help multiple companies working on problems you care about. I’m interested in the environment, alternative energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, and more. Angel investing allows me to have an impact across a wide range of fields and technologies.

And lastly… Making money. Yes, making money is important but I list it last for a reason. Investing in companies takes time. You often don’t get your investment back for 7 or more years so short-term financial returns isn’t ideally suited for angel investing. The returns for an investment can range from losing your entire investment in a company to making a hundred times your investment. The range is very broad because many companies don’t make it.

Example returns across five scenarios assuming twentyfive companies

If I invest in 25 early-stage companies I can expect that 21 won’t make it, two will do Ok, and if I’m lucky, one will be a huge hit. Lots of angel investors don’t make money and while my goal is to do better than average I think that only by understanding the models for success can I hope to do better.

So far we’ve hit three things:

  1. Helping founders
  2. Making an impact
  3. Financial returns…

And the reason that financial returns are important is that it can help more founders and make an even larger impact.

So, if you’re a startup founder, an entrepreneur looking for advice, funding or help. Please follow along, reach out, and let’s make something awesome!

Categories
technology

Tello EDU 2020

It’s amazing how far drones have come and in 2020 the Tello Edu drone is perhaps the lowest cost beginner drone that allows you dive in, take pictures and fully program a flying drone. For those learning about Drones and not wanting to break the budget, it’s a great starter option. The Tello EDU is also very affordable for those learning about robotics, AI or image recognition.

If you get intro drones, you’re going to crash it. That’s just how it goes, you may as well start with a low cost starter option.

The 2020 Tello costs just $129 and is sold by DJI, it’s built by Ryze technologies and comes packed with a camera capable of doing 720p video or 5MP images. You’re able to program the drone using Swift, Python or Scratch and the Tello SDK allows for even more.

Categories
business

TAGMA is the new FAANG

Tesla Apple Google Microsoft and Amazon – TAGMA

Tesla, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are leading their fields in terms of innovation and if you’re interested in business or just making money in the stock market, pay attention because these five are doing something different. TAGMA is the new FAANG and it’s here to stay.

First, let’s start out with a premise, and that is that customer-centric companies that innovate outperform non-innovative companies.

Is this true? Well, there’s research that shows that innovation can be correlated to company performance. A group from MIT looked at corporate ideation software (an overly expensive suggestion box) to see how many ideas were actually implemented and then looked at the performance of these companies to see how they did.

Source MIT Sloan

When there are few ideas implemented you have some winners and some losers but when you get to the right you have zero companies doing poorly when they are implementing the ideas of the organization.

Now a suggestion box is a good idea and this type of tool can lead to better communication and decentralized improvements across many parts of the company. Some of these suggestions may be small, but it’s not the size of the suggestion, it’s what you do about it that counts.

This is a small lens to use for large companies but small changes and innovations are good indicators that companies are open to larger changes, ideas and bigger, company pivots.

What’s this have to do with TAGMA and is it the new FAANG? I’m getting to that….

The S&P is changing

If you look at the S&P 500 it lists the largest 500 companies by market cap.

If you look at how long companies stay on the S&P 500 list, it’s changed dramatically.

Source Innosight

In the 1980’s it was over 30 years for the average company to stay on the S&P 500. By the year 2000 it was 15 years and some think it will shrink even more. Firms keep slipping off and the average time on the S&P has gone from 20 years down to 7. According to this research into longevity 50% of the companies on the S&P500 today won’t be there in 10 years.

So to be a high-performing firm you need to innovate and to stay on the list you need to be able to reinvent yourself every few years.

That brings us to my list.
Tesla, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

Let’s start with four of these. If you look at the composition of the S&P 500 by market cap, 20% of it is made up by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook. 20%! Ok, then, why isn’t Facebook on my list?

Why not Facebook?

Well… I started off by saying that our premise was that customer-centric companies that innovate outperform non-innovative companies.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have friends who work at Facebook and before I get angry emails, let me explain. While Facebook dominated their segment ofsocial media and the acquisitions of Oculus and Instagram were brilliant. Facebook just has a terrible reputation when it comes to customers.

They actually have a negative net promoter score… when you compare that to Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, it’s not even close.

Facebook has a negative net promoter score compared with all of it’s tech peers

Why Tesla?

Ok, then but what about Tesla? Well, it’s not part of the S&P500? Why? Well, it hasn’t made the list yet. Tesla meets most of the criteria except for one. It needs to have positive reported earnings in the most recent quarter, as well as over the four most recent quarters. Tesla was supposed to hit that requirement but… global pandemic and all. If Tesla was on the list, it would likely be in the top 40.

The other reason I had it on my list is that unlike Netflix (a member of the FAANG club, who already destroyed Blockbuster) Tesla has a tiny fraction sliver of the market and lots of room to grow. Fast growing companies that are innovative grow up to be the next Apple’s and Google’s. No other company is growing like Tesla at scale.

Innovation wins in the long-term

For the last 10 years, I’ve personally invested in innovative companies and doing so I’ve consistently outperformed the S&P500 year, over year, over year. Now your mileage may vary but customer-centric innovation pays off; not just in terms of returns but in terms of positive impacts on society and the world.

Categories
technology

Floating “Sticky” video Player in WordPress

It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand technology, and at least the basics of how it works. In that spirit, I dusted off my Javascript skills because I wanted to modify my blog so that a video player would stay with the viewer as they were reading an article.

I dropped this sample video here so you can see how this works:

Sample Video

I’m using WordPress as my blog and it has some plug-ins that do this but they are large, bloated, and complex. They end-up bringing in all sorts of added Javascript and CSS that I didn’t like. I like WordPress in general but the platform can get bloated making even the simple-out of the box pages very heavy-weight in terms of bandwidth, performance, and complexity.

I ended up making a simple solution myself that anyone can add to their WordPress site without needing to add a plug-in while keeping the code edits pretty simple.

The Javascript can be added to the page loading functions. This is typically done by adding it to the theme header.

// WordPress has an outter div and an inner one that then contains the iframe
// We move the inner frame while keeping the outter frame.
var youtubeDiv;
var video1;
var video2;
function initSizes() {
  youtubeDiv = document.getElementsByClassName('wp-block-embed-youtube')[0];   //fetch first video iframe
  video1 = document.getElementsByClassName('wp-block-embed__wrapper')[0];      //fetch inner video
  video2 = document.getElementsByClassName('wp-block-embed__wrapper')[1];     //fetch the second video on the page, if there is one
}

window.onscroll = function() {
  if (!youtubeDiv) {
     initSizes();
  } else {  // putting the init function in the scroll event allows us to drop this script anywhere on the page
  if (window.scrollY > (video1.offsetHeight + youtubeDiv.offsetTop)) {
      video1.classList.add('stuck');
      if (video2 &amp;&amp; (video2.offsetTop < (window.scrollY + window.innerHeight))){   //if there are two videos on the page and we're scrolling it into view
         video1.style.bottom = (window.scrollY - video2.offsetTop) + window.innerHeight + video1.offsetHeight + 10 + "px";   // move the video up
      }
    } else {    // if we scrolled back up, reset the style
      video1.style.bottom = "";
      video1.classList.remove('stuck');
    }
  }
};

The CSS is added directly to the theme, either in the theme customization or in your CSS files.

@keyframes fade-in-up {
  0%   { opacity: 0; }
  100% { opacity: 1; }
}
.wp-block-embed__wrapper iframe {
    max-width: 100%;
    max-height: 100%;
  }

.stuck {
    position: fixed !important;
    bottom: 215px;
    right: 10px !important;
    transform: translateY(100%);
    width: 360px;
    height: 203px;
    animation: fade-in-up .5s ease forwards;
 }

I had originally found several plug-ins that did this with JQuery or other plug-ins but about dozen lines of Javascript is all that you need.

WordPress surrounds each video in a couple of DIV tags. The outer one acts as the place-holder (so the page doesn’t adjust size) and the inner one gets moved to the lower corner by adding a class.

We let the video float down the entire page until it either hits the bottom of the page or until we run into a second video. It figures out the height of the video and then applies a CSS class called stuck if the person has scrolled the first video off of the page.

The CSS class that gets added clobbers the position of the video and locks it to the bottom of the page. The script is simple and doesn’t do much with non-youtube videos and only minimally deals with multiple videos on the page. This could be added by looking for other classes in addition to the youtube but for now, it’s simple, quick and the perfect way to float my videos and make the experience of reading while watching just a little bit easier.

You can see and play with a CodePen version of this here.