Testing the Big Bend Theory: And the Winners Are….

Last November, I wrote an article posted in PandoDaily titled, “A VC wants startups to move to Bend, OR so he can incubate them.”

I have been traveling to Bend on summer vacations for many years. It is a fantastic outdoor community located in Central Oregon with around 100,000 people in the town and surrounding area. If you like to hike, bike, camp, fish, raft, ski, or drink incredible microbrew beer, Bend is your kind of place.

Over the past 10 years, however, Bend has been quietly transforming from its sleepy recreational roots into a burgeoning high-tech community with senior executive Silicon Valley transplants, a tech accelerator an annual venture conference, data centers from Facebook and Apple located nearby, and more than 40 software companies in and around town.

Dino Vendetti is a transplanted Silicon Valley VC who now lives in Bend fulltime. He and I were connected through some mutual acquaintances and began to strategize on how we might get even more startups interested in moving to Bend.

Why? Because Dino saw an ecosystem for tech startups starting to form, and he believed that with some help it could flourish, bringing more stable jobs to a community where people value education, family and a healthy lifestyle. Thus began his mission to develop and nurture this ecosystem in Bend, recruiting people like me to a play a part.

So, Dino and I came up with an idea for a contest. We called it “The Big Bend Theory.” Our objective: to introduce and recruit top tech talent into the area.

We opened the contest to anyone with a high-growth startup, or an idea for a startup. We asked entrants to send us their pitches and tell us what they are doing and why Bend is where they should be doing it.

We offered to treat a few entrepreneurs from the winning companies to an all-expense-paid weekend in Bend, giving them the opportunity to experience Bend for themselves and to see if this might be a place to locate their company, employees, and even families.

If they should choose to relocate their businesses to Bend, we offered to provide temporary tech space (at no cost), assistance with getting their team and families settled, and help in their funding efforts.

After reviewing 30 qualified applications from entrepreneurs around the nation, we made some difficult decisions and whittled it down to four winners. Originally we’d planned to select three, but with so many good candidates we couldn’t resist awarding a weekend in Bend to four entrepreneurs we think have the vision to contribute to the community – and a company worth investing in.

Today, I’m pleased to announce our four winners!

Company: TheSphere – www.thesphere.comCEO: Charles Armstrong
What they do: The leading platform for 360º content. Its technology is backed by 20 pending patents and is reaching the market through partnerships with companies like HomeAway, Sony and Samsung.
Why we chose them: “Insanely great” 360º video technology.

Company: AdStage – www.adstage.comCEO: Sahil Jain
What they do: All-in-one advertising platform for Facebook, Google, Bing, and LinkedIn. Why we chose them: Leading edge LinkedIn advertising platform.

Company: Aria Systems – www.ariasystems.comCEO: Tom Dibble
What they do: Help companies around the globe using its cloud-based, enterprise-class platform for subscription and usage-based billing.
Why we chose them: Part of the InterWest portfolio. Interested in moving an entire function inside the company to Bend, reducing ability for others to recruit key talent away from the company.

Company: Stealth
CEO: Eric Bahn
What they do: We can’t tell you but trust us, Eric is a pretty cool guy with some great ideas.
Why we chose them: We could tell you, but then we would have to kill you, which would ruin the whole thing for everyone.

On March 13th these winning entrepreneurs and their significant others will fly up on a direct 50-minute flight from SFO to the Redmond, OR airport that is just a 20-minute drive from downtown Bend.

Everyone will stay at Bend’s suave Oxford Hotel, and we will kick off the excitement with a networking event on Thursday evening at The Loft, a private social club in the heart of Bend.

On Friday, our guests will have the opportunity to meet with some of the talented software entrepreneurs headquartered in Bend along with key business leaders, educational leaders, Silicon Valley transplants, and real estate professionals. This should give everyone a better idea of what Bend has to offer beyond clean air and uncongested roads.

On Saturday, the visiting entrepreneurs and their guests will enjoy some of the fun outdoor activities that have put Bend on the map (and drew me here in the first place), followed by another exclusive networking event that evening.

On Sunday, we will wrap it up, everyone will fly back to SFO, and our hope is that some of these entrepreneurs will be inspired by what they experienced in Bend.

Dino and I are very excited to host this event. We believe we have some great people representing some great companies that would make great new additions to the thriving tech culture that is heating up in Bend.

The Big Bend Theory started as an experiment to see what would happen if you introduced really smart people to a growing tech community. I’ll let you know how our experiment goes after we meet with a few of the companies next month.

 

The Power of Consistency

Last week, in preparation for a commercial launch, I asked the CEO of one of my companies the following questions:

  1. Do you and your team feel you know the 3-5 things you do that no other company can do?
  2. Do you feel your customers, prospects and industry analysts understand what these unique capabilities are and value them as “must have”?
  3. Do you believe your Corporate Sales/Investor Presentations, Corporate Demo and Corp Website feature your unique capabilities?
  4. Do you believe each and every person inside your company knows your unique capabilities and value propositions and can recite them verbatim?

These questions sound fairly simplistic but in order to answer affirmatively requires a company to have put in place strong internal communication processes.

 

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Been a while….

It’s been a while since I made my last post. A number of people have actually noticed and asked, “What’s up?”

In fact my youngest daughter said, “Hey dad, you didn’t make the Forbes’ 10 Best Venture Capital Blogs for Entrepreneurs“. She works for Salesforce in Product Marketing and reads this stuff.

“Yea…thanks for pointing that out,” I said as if I hadn’t already seen the article and been contemplating on how to boost my ratings for next year.

She said, “You need to post regularly if you’re going to win these things, you know.”

I said, “Thanks for the marketing advice.” Having adult children who aren’t afraid to point out your failings can be extremely annoying. I need to remember this the next time I look at revising the Will.

I had thought about making some sort of lame excuse about “being busy” but the truth be told I just haven’t felt compelled to write a new post until now.

Letter To IBM

Dear IBM:

Congratulations on your recent acquisition of Kenexa for $1.3B. The HCM application market has been steadily heating up and with SAP’s recent acquisition of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s purchase of Taleo, this looks like a good counter move.

Your announcement coupled with the recent news that Apple has become the most valuable company in the world prompted me to write this.

As I thought more about Apple and IBM and their respective positions in the current technology markets, I realized just how different the two companies are today from two decades ago.

Twenty years ago, when I worked for Apple as a young engineering director, IBM was “the” business information technology brand. Apple was nowhere – except in niche areas such as graphic design.

Under Steve Job’s leadership, beginning with his return to Apple in the mid-90’s, Apple emerged from near oblivion to become one of, if not ‘’the’, most powerful consumer – and business – technology brands.

Today, Apple’s products are used pervasively by people – at home and at work -  throughout the world. Apple has become the leading mobile platform developers target for consumer and business applications.

IBM, in the early 90’s, was faced with its own set of challenges stemming from poor financial controls, lack of innovation and other issues. Gerstner is appropriately credited with solving these and his successors – Palmisano and Rometty – have continued that success.

Now, IBM’s stock is at a near all time high, more than doubling over the past 3 years.  The Company invests in all the right buzz areas: Cloud Computing, Analytics, Mobile, etc. Wall Street is singing IBM’s praises.

Yet, in spite of all outward appearances, I respectfully submit that IBM may be headed toward another very rocky and challenging stretch of waters.

Do Venture Capitalists Suck?

Dave McClure, formerly with PayPal now at 500StartUps, posted a great article this past week he titled, “Scaling Venture Capital. We suck. We can do better.” I encourage you to read it.

Dave makes two points. The first point is that most venture capitalists are hypocrites. They expect entrepreneurs to build large, global companies while they as venture capitalists have never personally held an operational role nor built and scaled a large, global successful company.

I think it is this issue that tends to cause a lot of friction between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and it is this point I am going to focus on here.