Raising Money For A Tech Startup

Image representing Jeff Bezos as depicted in C...
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(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Raising money for a tech startup is a Silicon Valley thing, by now done all over the world. You have a great idea, a basic product, and you go raise money. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com jotted down his idea on a paper napkin. Based on that he raised money.

Google is a great company. But if you had bought Google shares when it went public at $80 per share, your money would have grown only 10 times when those shares hit $800. That is great but not mind boggling amazing.

Probably the best investment of any is coming into the first round of a tech startup that is going to be wildly successful. The first person to put in $100,000 into Google saw that money become a billion and a half in about eight years. The first person to put $500,000 into Facebook saw that money become two billion in six years.

But there are many more mid-level successes that don’t make it to the mainstream press. Numerous tech companies get bought out at valuations ranging from 10 million to a billion dollars. And then there are tech companies that churn out revenues month after month many small businesses don’t manage to.

New York City by now is number two after San Francisco on the tech scene. Used to be Boston, not anymore, although it was great for me to get to meet Rudra Pandey in person this past Friday in his office. Pandey is the richest Nepali in North America. I felt like he was just getting started. Sitting across a table from him feels like sitting next to a bullet train. He is all ready to go. Before Pandey the honor of being the richest Nepali in North America went to Aditya Jha out of Toronto who shares the same home district in Nepal as me: Mahottari. Jha also got his money through the sale of a software firm.

The big companies like Google and Facebook and Apple might all be in the traditional Silicon Valley closer to San Jose, but the center of gravity moved to San Francisco years ago, apparently the pull of the urban lifestyle was too great.

So if you could build a Stanford on Roosevelt Island, as is in the works, there is no way San Francisco could beat New York City on the urban thing. To borrow a phrase from Saddam Hussein who would talk in terms of “the mother of all battles,” NYC is the mother of all things urban. And guess where the biggest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley raise their money from! From the pension funds in New York!

New York City has a decent movie industry and a decent tech scene. But the tech scene is all set to ramp up, although the top venture capitalist in NYC, Fred Wilson, likes to say the city is “decades” behind Silicon Valley in terms of the tech ecosystem thing.

But depends on what it is you are trying to do. If your app is people centric, if your app is big city centric, NYC just might be the place.

Software is going to play a big role in Nepal’s economic transformation, no doubt, and that is why fund-raising in the Nepali community is important. You are trying to contribute to the culture. The thought has to percolate.

Long Island City could be a great place for office space. Several trains stop there. It is right next to Roosevelt Island, where the tech university will be located. It is not in Manhattan, so the rent is cheaper. But it is right next to Manhattan, sure has the Manhattan view. And it is but 10 minutes on the train to Jackson Heights, where all the Desi food is.

Fundraising is about the sense of possibility, of what could happen. A tech startup is of a different magnitude than tech consulting. With tech consulting you are building stuff for other people, for your clients. Often times the project can be small. With a tech startup you are creating wealth.

I remember when FourSquare presented for the first time on stage at the NY Tech MeetUp. I did not “get it.” I thought the check in thing was the weirdest thing. But a few months later I got it, I got it why it was the next Twitter. I got to know the founders of Venmo a few years ago before they had raised any money. Well, they sold the company last year for $26 million. Rumor has it FourSquare’s Indian Co-Founder Naveen walked away with 80 million dollars.

The city’s tech ecosystem sure is building up.

I once met this guy who had sold his company to Google for a billion and a half. When it was my turn to shake his hand, I asked him a question. I said, you got money, why are you still raising money from VCs for your next startup? He said, two reasons. One, VCs giving money is market validation that maybe my idea is a good one. Two, VCs bring way more than money to the table. They bring their knowledge, their contacts.

One hopes the new crowd-funding possibilities will open up the field a bit. But there is no beating the first round, also known as the friends and family round. That is informal. And the founder can bring in anyone. In future rounds, that luxury is no more. Only licensed investors come in.
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