Startup Spotlight: Angel Invest Boston Podcast

Jan 15, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Angel Invest Boston Podcast

Jan 15, 2017

This week we spoke to Sal Daher, host of the Angel Invest Boston Podcast. These are hour-long interviews with Boston’s most interesting angel investors and founders of startups.

GH: What is Angel Invest Boston Podcast?

They are hour-long interviews with Boston’s most interesting angel investors and founders of startups. They are available on iTunes and Google Play starting January 11th. Listeners in the Boston area are encouraged to sign up at AngelInvestBoston.com to be made aware of in-person events we will be holding.

GH: What is your name and role?

I’m Sal Daher, host of the Angel Invest Boston Podcast. After immigrating to Boston as a child and attending Belmont High School, I studied engineering at MIT and Stanford. Decades of work in international finance followed. During that time, I invested in a handful of ventures founded by friends and acquaintances. Now, I’m a member of Walnut Ventures and MIT Angels and spend most of my time as an angel investor taking stakes in about a dozen startups per year. I would like many more people to know about the joys of angel investing.

GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did Angel Invest Boston Podcast get started?

I greatly enjoy attending meetings at Walnut Venture Associates and MIT Angels and always thought that there should be a way to capture some of what goes on there and make it available to a much broader audience. Since I am an avid listener to podcasts, I thought that could be a good way to do it.

GH: What did you learn from your first interviews?

I learned tons. The most surprising thing for me was how much I learned from talking at length to people I interact with all the time. The hour-long format is remarkable revelatory. Then the editing process causes me to really dig into what people say. It’s an enormous learning experience for me. Specific facts: one of the two hundred startups Michael Mark invested in went according to plan, the rest had to pivot. Also, luck plays a huge role in startups.

I started the Angel Invest Boston podcast as a learning enterprise. I figured that in a town a brainy as Boston, would have no shortage of entrepreneurial intellects to pick. After recording eight episodes (nine tomorrow!) I can conclude that my hunch was correct. Here are three of the things I learned:

One In Two Hundred – That’s the number of startups super angel Michael Mark has invested in that actually performed according to their initial business plan. The other 199 plus actually had to pivot. This surprising fact emerged during the recording of Episode 1 titled “Best Pivots Ever?”. The full episode will launch on January 11th, 2017.

Bain & Co. Pays for MBAs at the Sloan School – While recording Episode 6 with biotech entrepreneur and investor Patrick Rivelli I was surprised to learn that Bain & Company pays for its employees to get an MBA. Patrick explained that the consulting firm makes loans to cover tuition, then forgives the loans over time so that the employees have incentives to stay with the company. By coincidence I am advising a young Brazilian entrepreneur whose wife is also getting an MBA at Sloan financed by Bain & Co as well. Bain however, is not the only company that does such things. Entrepreneur and angel Ralph Wagner in Episode 2 tells of IBM paying for his MBA at Columbia back in the 1950s. Even more surprisingly, the computer giant paid part of Ralph’s salary while he was in the Air Force, making him one of the best-paid lieutenants on the base.

Flunk Calculus, Ace Life – The above-mentioned Ralph Wagner really surprised me by saying: “Sal (pregnant pause) calculus killed me!” This led to an interesting narrative of how you could fail calculus and fail computer programming and yet have an incandescent career in computer technology. He relates this in the teaser of Episode 2 which is now up on iTunes.

I have learned many other surprising things which I hope to relate in future posts. I was surprised by how many times luck was mentioned as an important factor in startups in the first three interviews I did.

Loop Pay / Samsung Pay Benefited From a Lucky Exit – Every time you use Samsung Pay you are using a technology developed by a company, Loop, in which several Walnut members invested. In the interview with Michael Mark (Episode 1), Michael describes how Loop, despite having an outstanding founder, Will Graylin, and a great technology, almost became a victim of Apple’s push into the payment space. It was through sheer luck that the company managed to be acquired by Samsung. Michael makes the further point that founders are frequently reluctant to consider the effect of randomness in the success or failure of their startup. They like to believe that they are in control of their destiny, which is clearly not always the case.

Netegrity’s Sale to CA Suffered Bad Luck – Netegrity, was a software security company that Walnut* members helped get on the path to success. The company had been the best performing stock on the NASDAQ for five years, but shortly before it was to be acquired by Computer Associates it suffered one quarter of bad results and ended up being bought at a price well off its peak;  something like 1/3 of the peak price. Despite this unlucky turn, Ralph Wagner (Episode 2) relates that he and other Walnut members made very handsome profits on the sale.

Right Skills, Right Time, Right Market – Ben Littauer (Episode 3) tells that when he started his company he was very lucky to have had the skills needed to build a product that was in much demand among enterprise clients in the days before public email. Through a simple procedure he was able to make messages sent in internal corporate computer networks much more reliable. The product created so much value for the users that Ben Littauer never had to raise investor capital to get the company off the ground.  Ben says that he would never have been able to build the business but for the skills and understanding of the communications market he had the good luck to acquire while working at the storied technology company BBN.

Listen to the first three episodes of the Angel Invest Boston podcast which will launch on iTunes and Google Play on January 11th, 2017.

GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you as an investor?

Boston’s unique concentration of academic talent and entrepreneurial culture offer bountiful opportunities for conversations with people who have funded and built innovative companies. By recounting engaging stories, angels and founders convey lessons they have learned. These narratives illustrate the rewards of helping founders commercialize transformative technologies. We hope you too will find our dialogues entertaining and instructive.

GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking in your perspective?

Money! We import money and export ideas.

GH: What is the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?

To work with other angels closely. Collaboration is the key for success in early-stage investing.

GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?

Several of my portfolio companies got significant follow-on funding. One got a half billion dollar collaboration with a big pharma company. It was an awesome year, particularly given the dearth of Series A money.

GH: What does the future hold for the Angel Invest Boston Podcast?

I hope the podcast will grow and be a resource to a lot of people who would not consider angel investing at present. As I like to say, “You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg to invest as an angel”. If you are successful in any field you have experience that could be valuable to a founder.

The podcast is also a resource for those starting out in their careers. Every interview starts out with a brief bio of the guest with emphasis on how she found her career path.

 

Learn more about Angel Invest Boston Podcast here.

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