The 8th annual SEVC rolled through Atlanta this week at the swank downtown Ritz Carlton. Put on by TechMedia, SEVC events average over $80 billion in private/venture capital in attendance. All that capital attracts entrepreneurs looking for funding and 48 companies pitched to packed rooms of investors.
One of the most interesting presentations to me was not a startup pitch at all. It was by Reggie Aggarwal founder and CEO of Cvent who told an exceptional tale of his journey then laid out 10 lessons learned.
Cvent is a SaaS event management company formed in 1999. Reggie got it going quickly using credit card debt and in good times raised $17 million through a monster mostly friends round. The company grew to over 120 people. Then the dot com bust and 9/11 hit. Company dropped to something like 20 employees. They turned things around and in 2011 took in $136 million from NEA. In 2013 the company went public on the NYSE and currently has a market cap just over a billion dollars. Here are the lessons Reggie learned along the way:
- Find a pain to solve;
- Not everyone should be an entrepreneur;
- Get up one more time than you fall down;
- Be persistent and constant;
- Think deeply before you give away 50% of your equity on day one, use long-term vesting;
- The DNA of a company is it’s people;
- Creativity is the number one leadership compentecy of the future, create a culture of innovation;
- Obsess with the customer;
- Build an engine with multiple pistons;
- Don’t forget where you came from.
One of the more interesting items on the list was the discussion about equity. While you may not be able to get away with it in Northern California Cvent has moved away from the typical four year 25% vesting with a one year cliff to four year vesting with a 50% cliff after two years and finally to four year vesting with a 75% cliff after three years. This helps them find employees during the recruiting process that are in it for the long haul.
After seeing a bit of employee turnover in less then two years at my last company I like this approach. It might be one to consider when putting together a stock option program.