VC in the Rockies – My takeaways

The VC in the Rockies conference was awesome, even with a few technical glitches. I will follow this post with my take on the companies that I saw pitch, but I figured I’d jot down some of the high level insights I took away from the conference first.

I really enjoyed Greg Maffei‘s opening keynote. He talked about six trends to watch, which were:

  • The changing consumer landscape. More segmented, growth in hispanic consumer segment, the aging of the US population – big opportunity to market to older people compared to the past.
  • International growth. Europeans getting online (they’re ahead on mobile phones, but not on broadband in the home, etc). Other emerging worldwide markets.
  • The rise of video. Video driven e-commerce – consumers want as many details as possible about what they’re busying – video is a great way to extend e-commece, for example.
  • The proliferation of mobile devices. In Japan, 6% of all QVC orders are placed via a mobile device, and the average sales price from a mobile device is higher than from the web. This trend will come here to the US soon. I thought Greg’s discussion on placeshifting vs timeshifting was very interesting – he posed the question of whether or not people will pay for content delivered to specialized devices or if they’ll simply placeshift the content they already pay for at home onto their mobile device ala SlingBox.
  • Digital communities continue to grow. The big tent of MySpace may not last forever – communities localized around special interests, geography, or demographics are on the rise. It’s inevitable that these communities will begin to drive major e-commerce. We see good examples of specialized digital communities here in Colorado such as,, and Thoos.
  • Vertical search. The Google model of horizontal search is great, but specialized vertical search is on the rise. Zillow is a great example – searching for houses or “zillowing” your date to see what his home is worth. A good Colorado example is Lijit, which seems to have shifted its focus from ratings driven search to networks of trust and expert identification – I’ll talk more about that in a follow up post on VCIR.

I also enjoyed listening to Mark Hessen who is the President of the NVCA. His comments during the Press Roundtable event were insightful, but I took even more away from his talk during lunch yesterday. I was interested to hear how venture capital represents 0.2% of all investment in the US, but that 16% of all jobs are created by companies who have had venture funding. That’s a pretty amazing track record for an industry of only a few thousand people. I was also interested to get Mark’s take on the Colorado Venture Capital Associations (CVCA) transformation into the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association (RMVCA). Mark was very supportive of the move, saying that venture capitalists from outside the region are much more likely to attend an annual conference where they can see the best venture-ready companies from the entire region rather than just one state. Mark also talked at length about the fact that the Rocky Mountain region is a rising national presence for the venture industry in general, and echoed the mantra of improved education and an early and consistent focus on entrepreneurialism in our schools. I have to agree – I think the business school at CU is very entrepreneurial, but computer science students just don’t seem to get exposed to it enough. I don’t think it’s a matter of “teaching” entrepreneurship as much as it is simply exposing all students to basic business concepts and getting some cross-pollination with the geeks and the MBAs, for example. I also thought Mark’s thoughts on the importance of angel investors and their rise in professionalism was encouraging. Mark said that the trend nationwide is that angels and VCs are working more and more closely together – and that is a very good thing.

I thought that the crop of companies at VCIR was pretty impressive. Colorado is cranking out some interesting growing companies with a great deal of potential. I had previously met many of these companies, so I went out of my way to look at some companies outside of my comfort zone (software/web) just to get a better sense of the kinds of stuff going on in the state. All in all, I walked away pretty impressed with most of the companies I saw. Many of them are led by entrepreneurs who have had one or two previous experiences. It’s nice to see the ecosystem feeding off of its own previous success (and failure) – it makes a big difference that people want to live here even after a success, and are likely to contribute their efforts over and over again.

Above all, my biggest takeaway was simply the fact that I met a great number of amazing people. Sure, it was cool to network with these very talented VCs from Colorado, Silicon Valley, Seattle, and elsewhere. But it was fantastic to meet many of the great entrepreneurs in the area that I had not met in person before, as well as the people supporting and encouraging them. It was said several times at VCIR that the VCs simply go where the entrepreneurs are. Luckily for all of us, entrepreneurs and therefore the ecosystem that develops around them, are alive and well in Colorado.

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