Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Alfidi Capital at LAUNCH Festival 2017

The legendary LAUNCH people held their LAUNCH Festival 2017 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. I never pass up a chance to attend a major conference in my town. I attended to check out the latest and greatest tech aspirations. I spent roughly equal amounts of time at the Scale Stage, where scaling and growth hints were hidden inside pitches, and the Main Stage, where startups competed for venture investors' accolades. My adoring readers get to absorb the tons of free wisdom I collected. I emphasize "free" because I was too cheap to pay for a VIP ticket.

Alfidi Capital sees the main stage at LAUNCH Festival 2017.

I have probably seen the Internet slang "TL;DR" before but seeing it at LAUNCH Festival made me want to look it up to refresh my memory. It means "too long, didn't read," alluding to people's short attention spans and their disinterest in reading lots of text. I don't write for those people so they can go away. One tech speaker advised entrepreneurs to buy ads outside their competitors' locations, presumably because their customers will see it and switch to the new product. I guess that works if your competition has brick and mortar stores you can locate. Another guy said that financial partners dislike P2P payment systems due to connotations of illicit activity, but I think that's an illusory pain point that Google Wallet solves.

Here with go again with the KPIs, people. Your KPIs must measure how app engagement leads to conversion; any iterative changes in UX or shopping cart stages to checkout must be justified by conversion improvement and revenue growth.

The pitches that resonated with me were often from people who could cite examples of their GitHub work. GitHub code samples are an emerging example of the future of employment verification and job qualification. IMHO LinkedIn (now a Microsoft property) must catch up by featuring work samples more prominently.

I keep hearing way too much about how job candidates and acqui-hires can write their own tickets in negotiations. That might work if you're a legendary coder with an arm's length list of hackathon victories or grey hat penetration tests. I would like to find a respected book or white paper on compensation negotiation that's data-driven and peer-reviewed, not just some business press baloney.

It's interesting how tech subculture recognizes laziness among DevOps engineers as a desirable work trait. The preference acknowledges that techies with a strong interest in gaming and social media will solve business tech problems quickly and effectively, so they have more time to goof off. I would like to see this dynamic in action at a real startup workplace.

Nir Eyal caught my attention at LAUNCH Festival when he discussed lessons from his book Hooked. The hook/trigger, action/reward cycles drive emotional investments people make in their preferred services. Mr. Eyal noted that these habit-forming steps are at the core of business processes that Facebook, YouTube, and Google used to rapidly scale up from startup to huge successes. I believe startup founders can use his behavioral lessons in conjunction with their CustDev case studies to design addictive solutions.

It's never to early to think about exits, according to the gurus on hand. It's no secret that M+A strategies still favor acquisitions over IPOs for venture-backed startups. I always thought it was because the public disclosures and roadshows for IPOs require more involved work than the private market due diligence a buyer performs in an acquisition. One of the LAUNCH speakers opined that startups should think about which phase of their growth qualifies them to be in an acquiring corporation's due diligence pipeline. I thought the speaker was too limiting in stating that a Series B raise with a mature partner ecosystem was the sweet spot. The speaker also thought that a founder's yearlong relationship with the prospective acquirer's CEO builds trust leading to an acquisition. I guess that favors Stanford and Berkeley grads in the Bay Area, since those are the feeder schools for Silicon Valley's hottest startups and the venture firms backing them. I totally grok the admonition to keep startup board members in the lop on exit discussions and finding an acquirer with a matching business development strategy.

I am really convinced that corporate development people are just dumb trend followers after hearing about how "hot product" market validation often triggers a wave of interest in similar rapid acquisitions. It also implies that the work they do may be little more than supporting their CEO's confirmation bias if said CEO already has a favorite founder relationship in mind. I could point these CEOs to academic studies that most M+A deals fail to add value, but that would just upset them if they have their hearts set on deals with college pals running hot startups.

I paid close attention to the Investor Outlook speakers, because I'm an investor and someday I'm going to buy and sell everyone's sorry behinds like they're a bag of cheap candy. Here comes a blast of random commentary. Venture capitalists with operating experience have insights into product rollouts and recruiting scale-ups that matter to early stage growth startups. It occurred to me that I've never seen an ugly-looking VC firm partner; they all seem remarkably handsome. I shake my head hearing VCs wanting to pivot to AR/VR and agtech if they only have software experience; they don't know these verticals! Agriculture scaling is not the same as enterprise software scaling. The latest blockchain baloney is "ICO tokens" for crowdfunding, yet another misapplication of open-source transaction ledgers as nonviable currency. It's good that VCs are more interested in helping startups solve growth problems than in just doing financial engineering. It was interesting to hear one VC liking podcast monetization; IMHO voice and audio content like podcasts and audiobooks are an underutilized stream. The underutilization may be due to the difficulty of searching audio online. Audio needs better search, analytics, meta-tagging, and delivery platforms. I say the podcast revenue model could resemble freemium app revenue, with ads embedded somehow (perhaps with a visual tag on the audio console, similar to YouTube channel ads). Let's get back to the handsome VCs for a moment. They seem to like wearing expensive designer clothes with a casual chic, showing of wealth while implying they can be as informal as startup founders.

The LAUNCH Festival was the perfect opportunity for startups to show their wares at tables, booths, and pitch stages. I picked up literature from people pushing forestry drones and DIY hedge funds. The whole mash-up demonstrated why I have t live in this town and nowhere else. The next bonanza was somewhere on the expo floor. All the festival needed was some gourmet food trucks on site so the lunch lines would not have been so long. I'll be looking for those trucks at next year's LAUNCH Festival.