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c2ventures

10 Predictions for the Tech Industry in 2019

By Chris Cunningham, Founder of C2 Ventures

It’s become something of a tradition for me to look at the year ahead and predict where the industry is headed. Part of that process involves looking back at the trends that dominated last year and looking to see how much of that momentum will continue into the New Year.

And, what a year it was. Companies like Amazon and Netflix continued to assert their dominance, while others faltered in the face of heightened scrutiny (I’m looking at you, Facebook). On top of that, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented and virtual realities (AR/VR) have continued to develop rapidly, to the point where voice assistants and other smart gadgets have become commonplace.

It can be hard to keep up in the face of such innovation, but here’s what I consider to be the top issues and trends facing the tech industry in 2019.

2019 is the year of the consumer.

My favorite tech movement of 2018 has to be the steady growth of companies focusing on direct-to-consumer products. Allbirds, Casper, Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, Netflix, Peloton — the list is endless. So many of the best brands nowadays are choosing to go straight to the consumer, instead of having to rely on middlemen and third parties. What do these brands all have in common? They all know how to talk and listen to their consumers, and they don’t rely on suspect adtech to do it.

In 2019, consumers will take back control of their data, and start becoming more choosier about the brands they interact with. People will start participating more with the brands they love in a personalized way, which in turn, will allow them to get more value out of the interaction.

The cannabis industry will embrace technology wholeheartedly.

2019 will be the year that cannabis companies start to utilize technology to grow their businesses. While the ecosystem remains highly fragmented and not standardized, technology will allow companies to build a more robust infrastructure, and better meet the demands of its consumers. As cannabis becomes less of a taboo subject and more of a revenue driver, expect to see more brands branching out into the space.

Personalized animation will captivate the public imagination.

What text chain would be complete without at least one gif, emoji, or meme? I’ll add one element to the mix: personalized animation. As we continue to incorporate visuals into our written communications, it’s only natural to want to include more dynamic forms of creative — including animated forms of ourselves and our stories. Apple’s Animoji and Memoji are just a few examples of this.

Fintech will continue to eat financial institutions’ lunches.

Fintech is no longer a cute concept that banks can ignore or make fun of. Instead, it’s quickly taking over every element of the financial industry, from credit cards to savings accounts to payments to determining credit scores. Fintech is THE sector to invest in 2019 — so consumers, take notice.

The wellness craze will continue.

People want to live long lives and feel good while doing so. The global wellness industry is currently worth a whopping $3.7 trillion, so companies that help people on their journey, whether by providing an app that helps you meditate (Headspace) or giving you flexible access to a host of fitness classes in your area (Zenrez: Disclosure, I’m an investor and EVP.), will absolutely crush it in the next year.

Services and software that support SMBs will win.

While larger retailers struggle to leverage their data effectively, smaller businesses will get smarter about their customers through software, CRM tools, and pricing. This will make SMBs nimbler, and better able to respond to shifts in consumer sentiment.

Consumer tech products will stage a comeback.

After a long dark winter of believing that consumer products are impossible to win, new consumer-shaped businesses will rise. Long live the consumer — but maybe this time, do more than just build an app.

People will opt for curated travel experiences.

Everybody wants to feel like something’s been made just for them — that’s why personalization has worked so well. In 2019, more companies will arise that focus specifically on creating personalized travel itineraries based on previous behavior. Given both the premium that people currently put on unique experiences and the fact that more people are traveling than ever before, expect such services to become hugely popular. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see large hospitality companies such as Travelocity or Hilton opting to bring such services in-house.

More industries will embrace dynamic pricing.

Dynamic pricing isn’t just for airlines anymore. Other industries, such as auto and real estate, will also rely on the model so that they can better manage available inventory and reduce production costs. It could also have implications for the customer journey, as it allows users to get better deals depending on when they purchase and how much stock is available at the time.

AI and machine learning (ML) will break past the blockchain.

Let’s face it, the utopia that blockchain promised has failed to materialize. Instead of continuing to spend resources on a technology that has not paid dividends, both investors and entrepreneurs should focus on how to use AI and ML to grow and develop companies. Not only has AI been shown to provide value to businesses, but it’s also much less of a hassle to implement.

There you have it, folks — my 10 predictions for the coming year. In case you’re curious about my predictions last year, check them out on Medium. Check back next year to see how many in 2019 came to pass!

Chris Cunningham is an active tech startup investor and founder of C2 Ventures and C2V Studios focused on investing in amazing founders in consumer-tech, data, financial-tech, travel, and wellness. Follow him on Twitter atC2cunningham and through www.c2ventures.co

Most Start-Ups Fail. Beat the Odds By Avoiding These Common Mistakes.

Chris Cunningham, founder of C2 Ventures, has built companies himself and now invests in them. I first met Chris seven years ago when I interviewed him for my "Corner Office" series in The New York Times, and he always has sharp insights about what makes companies succeed or fail, particularly in those crucial first two years. There are smart takeaways here for anybody in the start-up space — entrepreneurs, investors and directors.

Q. Let’s talk about the critical first phase of all new tech companies – pre-launch through the first two years or so. What are the patterns you’ve seen? The do’s and don’ts?

A. In this day and age, first and foremost, without having technical DNA in the cockpit, you’re doomed to fail. You have to have the understanding of how quickly technology is moving. It’s not enough to hire your third or fourth person as the VP of Engineering and assume everything’s going to be great. You need that person as committed from the outset as the potential commercial lead of the organization.

"If you didn’t quit your job to do this, then you’re not serious."

So mistake No. 1 is using some outsourced development shop or a friend who’s going to do it. Without a best-in-class technology co-founder, that’s a mega red flag. You can’t really think about or present a company without having that domain expertise because you basically have half a deck of cards.

Q. That would seem like table stakes to me.

A. It’s not, unfortunately. It’s still problematic. A lot of people believe they can navigate the early stage through PowerPoints and things like that, and the truth is they often can. The biggest dilemma for some of these startups is that they lean on friends and family to raise, say, $750,000. Where most of the startup failure happens is when they go looking for the next tranche of money.

Q. What else do you want to know about the team when they’re pitching you, beyond their expertise?

A. How long have you known each other? Did you just meet a few weeks ago? Is there a history of working together? When you look at a lot of successful companies, there are usually two founders who are friends, and what that means is that there is trust. Because without trust, you’ve got nothing. It doesn’t matter if you have the idea for the next Instagram.

Investors also want to see some level of traction, sweat equity and pain. Show me your scars and bruises before you come ask for money. If you didn’t quit your job to do this, then you’re not serious. Did you max out a credit card? What risks were you prepared to take and what traction did you generate? Tell me that you spent $10,000 to get this MVP – minimum viable product – delivered.

"Founders need Jerry Maguires. They need rabbis. They need mentors."

The alternative to that is someone saying, “Here’s my idea. I want your money.” That’s a relatively quick out for me from the conversation because you’re not showing me that you’re an entrepreneur. I need to see the fire in their eyes and that the hustle is there and that they’re willing to literally run through a burning building.

When I started my company, AppSavvy, I had $650,000 in booked revenue before we raised money. The point is that there needs to be a there there. You need to show that that you’re not going anywhere tomorrow and that you’re willing to take the risk and make the sacrifice. As an investor, you want to see that you have those characteristics, and those proof points.

Q. How do you get a sense of whether the CEO can scale themselves as a leader and build the culture of the company?

A. The first four to ten people are going to set the culture for you, long before the values are ever written on the wall. You may not realize it, but if everyone in the company is never late to a meeting, always responds in a timely fashion, are always respectful and follows through on what they say they’re going to do, those four to ten people are going to set the leadership of the organization, perhaps even more than the CEO.

One of the biggest drivers of culture early on is getting some wins. Whether you get that first product out and people adopt it or you get that first check, a big part of the culture of the two or three companies I’ve been involved in is getting some early traction. If you feel like you’re having wins and celebrating them – even though you’re going to have a ton of bad days, which are normal for a startup – that is a huge motivating factor for people to rally around a common goal.

Q. What else?

A. Trust and transparency. Quite frankly, when I started my first company, I made a lot of mistakes. I wanted to send that beacon of light 24-7, which you need to do. You need to keep morale and excitement up. But people are smart, they’re intuitive and they talk. If there’s one moment of people feeling like you misled them a tiny bit, then you have a crack in the culture. Trust and transparency will take you really, really far.

Q. It’s a challenge for leaders – to inspire confidence when things are not going well.

A. And a lot of times the founder-CEO can’t let their ego go. Maybe the marketplace isn’t buying the thing you created. At that point, you should regroup quickly and adjust. But sometimes the founder will push and push. They’re not trying to be deceitful, but they want to believe their idea was right. If they have that blind perseverance, they might burn through three to six months of runway and cash.

When finally that conversation comes up, there’s two months left and there’s not enough time to adjust. This is probably the most fundamental breakdown I’ve seen with startups. You need an agreed-upon timeframe and some level of data that supports the fact that there is a there there.

Q. When you give talks at business schools to aspiring entrepreneurs, what advice do you give them?

A. I try to share some of these lessons and insights about the obstacles in front of them. It’s not about giving them the reality check of X percent of all startups fail. It’s more about telling them, “Go for it. Go start a company. You’re in your early 20s, you can afford to fail, and failure’s okay. Because with every failure, you’re just going to learn and get better. You’re not going to be able to take as much risk when you’re 50 with two kids and two cars.”

I also think we need to change the tune in regards to the acceptance of startup failure.

Q. Because it’s a black mark?

A. Yeah, and 90 percent of startups do fail. But is it because you didn’t have the technical co-founder? Is it because you didn’t have that proof of concept? Is it because you didn’t actually understand the market? Is it because you didn’t have an investor who was patient and would stick with you once you have that proof of concept?

There’s a list of 20 or 30 key components, but what I’d love to see is, how do we get the percentage of startup success to be higher? Founders need Jerry Maguires. They need rabbis. They need mentors. And you can’t expect it to come from the VCs. At the end of the day, the VC wants a return, so they’re going to make decisions that are good for the VC and for their board.

In a lot of cases, we’re allowing founders to basically go out without the supervision that they need and they deserve. There’s a great opportunity to provide more insight and experience with founders who are open to listening. And those are the ones you want to work with – the people who say, “I’m all ears. I want to listen. I want to learn. I don’t have the ego.”

 


Rethink the Slides

Let’s be honest, most pitch decks suck and don’t get investors excited about the company or the founders behind the business. Slides can’t highlight the founders and at an early stage, you bet on people. Not only does the personality or energy of the founder not come across but the general business idea and strategy can fall flat and that can hurt the founders potential on fundraising as well as force an investor to miss an opportunity.

Part of the challenge is founders struggle to tell their story in a clear and concise way. They might know their business but often don’t sell it the right way so pushing the pitch into a deck makes it even more challenging.

Slides can only do so much and given there is no standard template you see a far range of decks that are all over the place.

So why am I telling you this and what is the potential solution?

The solution is to kick off your first pitch with a short video explaining the story and how you got here. Keep it under two minutes, let your personalities shine and make the ask. The video keeps you engaged, lets you feel the founder out and voice is more effective than reading a deck. All of this allows to break through the clutter, save time for the investor and get them to ask for more information or a meeting.

Earlier this year I helped co-found a company called Mekl through my early stage investment platform C2 Ventures. Romet and Martin the other co-founders who star in the story created a video as they were the finalist for a startup competition and needed to submit a video for their pitch at this conference. But then we discussed why not flip this video into a fundraise pitch as we are about to raise seed money for Mekl. After some editing, we had something that was ready to send to other investors and the response and success rate was way higher than I’ve seen compared to other companies. This could be for a number of reasons such as the idea, the likeability of the founders or maybe creating just enough differentiation from other pitches to get the first meeting or lock down the second.

I’ve received so much positive feedback from the video from other investors it made me want to write this post and share the learnings so maybe other startups consider the same format

“Even though Martin and I have spent our careers in data and startups, we are young and this is our first real rodeo as founders. So we figured video is the best medium to show our expertise, build trust and show the investors who we really are. It took us a day to film and put together and we have received great feedback! You can convey a lot of information in 2 min vs. risking someone spending 5–10 min on your deck, misinterpreting it and missing your chance to meet them.

As a couple of bootstrapping founders, we used the tools that we had. Two phones (different angles makes your video look more professional, search in youtube “how to film an interview”), a $5 video recording app (the default app limits quality) a $15 microphone (there’s a world of difference between a dedicated mic vs phone mic) and a free trial in the most basic video editing tool to put it together. Luckily Martin is also a talented musician and he made our background music for the video. If you don’t have such a privilege of making your own feel free to use ours here or there are plenty of websites that have free music as long as you give credits. You should definitely have music, as it will help to grab the attention of the viewers!

There’s also additional business value for recording the video, as you are forced to distill your core message into a short period of time and you get to witness yourself how you talk about the company. As a founder, you have to be ready to pitch your company in a couple of minutes and it’s not always easy to do so, especially in the beginning where a lot of things change and evolve really quickly. Looking at our video now, there’s a lot we would change already but as a bootstrapping founder you need to follow the 80–20 rule, as time is your enemy!”

- Romet Kallas, Co-Founder @ Mekl”

Find the video and the Mekl story here and hope you get a chance to meet the guys, partner and our round is still open :)

Chris

6 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make Pitching Their Cannabis Company

The cannabis industry has matured significantly over the last several years and a top-quality presentation is now a requirement when pitching investors. Similar to tech entrepreneurs, cannabis business hopefuls need to nail a few vital components in their sales pitch or risk swiftly losing the attention of their audience.

Here are some common mishaps that should be avoided at all costs:

1. Don’t Pitch Cold

Before you can even take the first step forward, you must convince an investor to look at your deck. Active investors--the type you want to meet--will likely receive several pitch decks a week. Tom Ahlborg, Managing Director and Principal of Ahlborg Acquisitions, warns that emailing a deck without a warm introduction of some sort is a big mistake.

Ahlborg says that one of his biggest peeves is when “somebody sends me a pitch deck cold. I usually never read these pitch decks. If a serious entrepreneur can’t reach out and network to obtain an introduction to me from a friend, business associate, contact, network, or company that I mentor or invest and get a warm lead before sending his/her deck, I probably will not read it. I like to rely on my network to bring me leads, therefore, I really expect entrepreneurs to get someone to introduce them to me.”

 

LinkedIn can be your greatest asset in getting to that warm introduction. Look through the list of connections you have in common with an investor and ask one of them to send an intro on your behalf. This can be a sentence or two about your business and how you have partnered together in the past, (if applicable).

If you don’t have any common connections on Linkedin you can still send a message highlighting some shared connections, even if you vaguely know them. A suggested subject line may read: "Smith, Jones, Lee, Parker - all connections we share."

Not exactly a warm intro, but at least it's not frozen. 

Related: Exclusive: 5 'Shark Tank' Stars Weigh in on the Marijuana Boom

2. Don’t Be Ambiguous

Think: What is the problem in the industry that your company is actively working to solve?

If you cannot answer that question in a very clear and concise manner, your pitch deck is missing the mark.

Piers Cooper, General Partner of Fresh VC shared, “Whether your pitch desk is for the cannabis industry or any other industry, it needs to tell a compelling story and have a logical flow. I like to see the problem solved and to clearly see the market opportunity up front. Only when I understand why this company needs to exist, do I want to hear about the great product and strong team that can execute the plan.”

The need for your company must be explained very distinctly.

3. Don't Dumb It Down

Just as you would never perform stand-up comedy at a funeral, so you should never pitch the wrong deck to investors. For example, if you're pitching an active investor in the cannabis industry, there is very little point in showing them slides on the size of the market or growth potential. They're already investing in cannabis and are intimately familiar.

“The pitch deck needs to cater to new folks trying to learn, but also remain sensitive to advanced investors who want to get a real look under the hood and not have to run through a long deck telling them how much upside the cannabis industry has,” said Matthew Nordgren, Founder and CEO of Arcadian Fund. “They already know.”

It doesn’t hurt to have slides with industry data, but you might consider placing them in an appendix or at the very least skip over them when pitching to cannabis veterans.

4. Don’t Rely On Your Deck

Jim Parco, Ph.D., Founder of Mesa Organics and Purplebee’s Extracts and Professor, Economics & Business at Colorado College, offers some sage advice.“The pitch deck isn’t, and should never be the focus. It simply helps structure the narrative to communicate to potential investors the clarity and efficacy of the idea. The best ideas have a story, and the best entrepreneurs are often the best story-tellers. Use your deck to tell the story to make people feel the power of your idea.”

Before you walk into a meeting, you should know your pitch deck so well that you can do your entire presentation without it. You should be able to tell your ‘story’ without visuals. As a rule of thumb: If you need a slide to tell your story, chances are the story's too complicated.

5. Don't Go Long

“One of the biggest mistakes I see often in pitch decks is the length of the deck," said Marion Mariathasan, CEO and co-founder of Simplifya. “Most investors typically don’t have the time or attention span to spend on a pitch. The entrepreneur should be mindful of this and therefore try to keep the deck under 15 slides, 9 ideally, and clearly highlight the main points that he or she is trying to convey.”

Mariathasan adds,“Hit all the main points in each slide without crowding the slide. Remember that the idea with a pitch deck is to get the reader excited about the concept. Leave all the granular details for a follow-up conversation.”

6. Don’t Go In Blind. Assume Your Model Will Be Replicated

Every business can be copied--eventually. So how can you protect your company’s market position?

Start by asking, “What’s your moat? Is there unique IP that keeps a competitor from creating an identical product? Is there some other idea, traction or technique that will prevent others from duplicating your success?" says Chris Cunningham, founder of C2Ventures and creator of C2V Studios. “Entrepreneurs often poorly address this in their pitch decks and it will lead investors to question your vulnerability.”