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July 21, 2011
This Morning's
Start-up Spectacular

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This morning at the Capital Hilton in DC, three startup stars and two VCs shared their secrets to success. (Well, some of them.)
Entrepreneur Series II moderator Luka Salvi of Sheppard Mullin with panelists EverFi CEO Tom Davidson, SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff, and Parature founder Duke Chung.
What looks like a staged reading of a drama is actually Sheppard Mullin partner Luca Salvi leading a discussion with EverFi CEO Tom Davidson, SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff, and Parature founder Duke Chung. Duke and his co-founders started Parature out of a dorm room at Cornell; he says that already having 300 customers after bootstrapping made it a lot easier to get VCs interested. Tom said that too much VC can actually be a problem because it dilutes the value of the company; It also makes you overthink things and lets "bad ideas have time to run." 
FedSources (SanDiego) Min
SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff
Jim just announced the launch of his company's latest product is on for early this fall. (It's a consumer tech blog called The Verge.) He says he runs his business like the worst is always about to happen—to avoid being blindsided by economic developments—and tries to keep money "saved for a rainy day" so he can take advantage of the downside and take business away from the competition. We'll have more startup wisdom, plus tips from venture capitalists Novak Biddle general partner Phil Bronner and Valhalla Partners senior advisor Gene Riecher in our Tuesday issue.

C-SAM founder Darrin Hawkins (left) stopped by our event today with his C-SAM team, offering free shoe shines to guests like Active Minds director Alan Ezagui. The story behind C-SAM could win an Oscar. In 1997, Darrin was shining shoes on the street corners of Chinatown when he met a business man. The businessman agrees to invest in and mentor Darrin in his first business, and Wally’s World Coffee in Chinatown is born. Darrin soon becomes an ace at providing services for busy people (from dry cleaning to catering) and starts C-SAM (aka Complete Staffing Amenities Management) with 500 on-call professionals for almost every industry … including property management and lease consulting. Check out Eye Street Essentials—Darrin’s’ latest shoe repair and garment store—located at 1300 Eye Street NW, opening mid-August. We’ve got dibs on the movie rights! Find more on C-SAM here.



WeddingWire CEO Tim Chi and  wife Tracey
WeddingWire CEO Tim Chi was in the throes of wedding planning with bride-to-be Tracey in Toronto, when the Blackboard co-founder realized there had to be a better way to find vendors. Meshing together his frustration with having to meet a bunch of vendors during short trips to Toronto and his love of tech (and his wife), Tim launched WeddingWire.com in 2007. With Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia as lead investor in a $5.5M round, Bethesda-based WeddingWire is the second largest wedding site for unique visits. The wedding site is among many for brides but the difference is a focus on wedding planning—finding vendors, keeping track of progress, pulling out one’s hair (oops, slight flashback). Resources are localized and reviewed, making it the Yelp of wedding vendors, Tim says. The company also provides its localized reviews to wedding content sites like MarthaStewartWeddings.com and Celebrations.com.
WeddingWire  CTO Jeff Yeh and CFO Joseph Holland on the left and CMO Sonny Ganguly and COO Lee Wang on the right play ping pong.

WeddingWire now has 75 employees, including CTO Jeff Yeh and CFO Joseph Holland on the left and CMO Sonny Ganguly and COO Lee Wang on the right. With some of the management team coming from Blackboard, the company tries to create a fun work environment. Breakfast is catered daily and the team recently treated the crew to a day trip to Annapolis. The idea is that happy employees generate revenue, which has more than doubled annually since its launch. (Tim wouldn’t say if WeddingWire is profitable yet.) Revenue comes from wedding vendors who pay for premium placement on searches. Tim says there are about 600K wedding vendors and about 300K of them are on WeddingWire. About 100K of them have active profiles where vendors are updating info and interacting with brides. It’s a percentage of those that pay for additional services.

Tim, a Cornell grad, is also working on expanding the business to include reviews of other services offered by wedding vendors. (Florists don’t just do weddings, y’know.) And he expects to have a component of the site that gives wedding vendor recommendations based on a bride’s targeted preferences and scheduling needs. The company also recently started selling advertising to national retailers that have a piece of wedding business, including Macy’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond. It also recently acquired Project Wedding, a top five wedding site owned by eHarmony.

TEDCO president Rob Rosenbaum
Yesterday, Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO), the state-created tech investment organization announced that in its just-closed fiscal year it had pumped $1.1M from its Maryland Technology Transfer and Commercialization Fund into 15 companies, each receiving investments of $75K. We talked with TEDCO president Rob Rosenbaum about the investments, and he says there was a lot more than just money involved. TEDCO finds applicants from companies seeking to commercialize tech from Maryland universities and labs (an average of about 8 startups apply each month). Rob says a big difference between TEDCO and other VCs is that his organization provides all of the feedback from the assessment team to the entrepreneur; if they're not selected, they can go back and polish their pitch. As a result, a lot more applicants eventually get funding and have better business plans when they get it.
University of Maryland professor Carol Espy-Wilson (here receiving UM's Office of Tech Commercialization 'Invention of the Year' award in Information Science last year with UM VP for research Mel Bernstein and her research assitant Srikanth Vishnubhotla)
University of Maryland professor Carol Espy-Wilson is behind one of the companies that got a TEDCO check. (Above, she's receiving UM's Office of Tech Commercialization 'Invention of the Year' award in Information Science last year, with UM VP for research Mel Bernstein and her research assitant Srikanth Vishnubhotla.) Her OmniSpeech LLC, launched in UM's VentureAccelerator startup incubator, is using technology she developed at UM that can pull speech out of background noise like a large crowd. Rob says that through all TEDCO's programs, more than 30 companies got funded last year.

Cvent CTO David Quattrone, CFO Thomas Kramer, CEO Reggie Aggarwal, sales and marketing EVP Chuck Ghoorah and CIO Dwayne Sye

Earlier today, we swung by Cvent’s McLean office looking for a glass of champagne after the event management software firm announced $136M in VC funding. Cvent CTO David Quattrone, CFO Thomas Kramer, CEO Reggie Aggarwal, EVP Chuck Ghoorah, and CIO Dwayne Sye will help use the money to add over 200 employees to its 800-employee workforce over the next year and grow its social media, mobile, and supplier network products. The company hadn’t raised money in nearly 11 years but NEA, Insight Venture Partners and Greenspring Associates felt that its 102 straight profitable months were deserving of a check. Reggie tells us it’s better to raise money when you don’t need it. He also wanted a venture team that would help take the company to the next level, which could mean an IPO and acquisitions. Full disclosure: Bisnow is a Cvent customer, so maybe we get a little bit of credit. Maybe.

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