Why CEAi?

A few reasons! For context, I recently started helping out over at CEAi. After several years of running my own companies, I decided to join forces with Bradford Cross, because I have wanted a new way to launch startups, find product-market fit, and scale companies, at scale. How do you build a better meta-startup platform? And where do you start, what do you do first? Lots of fun questions, but these things below were my starter hypothesis:

Artificial Intelligence

AI will eat the world.

I’ve been a Lisper for a long time, I’ve enjoyed all the AI books from back in the day, and often wondered when the “AI Winter” would end.

It certainly ended!

With more and more powerful (and cheaper) computing power, newer algorithms are becoming practical, both from a speed and cost perspective. Software was going to eat the world, now AI will eat the software that isn’t using AI techniques.

Cutting Edge Problems

The type of stuff that we’re working on at CEAi is pretty awesome – starting with Merlon Intelligence: an AI driven platform to manage end-to-end financial crimes and compliance (FCC) for banks, insurance, fintech, cryptos etc., to real-estate investment platform that uses data and AI to price homes (B&B), to cyber insurance (TowerStreet), to managing clinical trials using digital mobile end-points (HealthMode), and a new automated trading platform for multiple digital assets (Q).

And many others coming up over the next 2-3 years. Exciting stuff!

Abstractions

Further, I believe in the power of abstraction. At CEAi, a venture studio, we’re refactoring everything that goes into building the companies themselves.

Shared services across business functions such as recruiting/HR, sales development, marketing and growth hacking, etc – these are all often much more powerful and impactful to a startup than just pure software.

And so we’re building these abstractions upon which to instantiate new startups.

Startups!

I’m a huge startup fan-boi. Creating something from nothing, this is what innovation is all about, what the hustle is all about. Sure, not everything succeeds, but that is ok!

Venture Capital, as an asset class, returns pretty poor results – about 7.5%. For all the grand talk that VCs output, this is a pretty shitty showing 🙂

This is all because of the fact that pretty much only 1 in 20 startups really do anything for the IRR. The goal at CEAi is to create a better platform to launch new startups off of, and use all the organizational shared services and learning, to improve these rates. If we’re able to make 1 in 2 startups fail (or succeed!) then we’ve just improved the numbers by 10X. Heck, we’re shooting for a 4X improvement.

Global

CEAi is truly global – we are 2 years old, but thanks to an explicit design decision to be truly distributed, we have 7 offices (and counting!). These include SF and NYC in the US, Prague, Bratislava, Brno, and Kosice in Central EU, and Bangalore in India. Next – probably Budapest and Vienna, along with Tokyo and Beijing/Shanghai.

We go where there’s business and talent!

What’s not to like? 😉

So that is it – doing fun stuff, building amazing things from scratch, the hustle, the game, it’s all here! And that’s why CEAi.

On convertible debt, and why it now seems rather insidious

Cross-posted from Zolo Labs.

I’ve been researching early-stage financings. I know I’ll soon be talking to investors, so I figured I’d better understand what the various options are and what they mean. I also thought I’d share my research with others, and so if you’re in the same boat as I am, then perhaps this post on the evils of convertible notes will help you 🙂

Before I started researching this topic, I always thought convertible notes were a great way to raise your first round of outside money. The benefits were touted by everyone who were supposed to be in the know:

  • they’re faster to get done
  • they’re cheaper to get done
  • they’re easier to get done (term-sheets are simpler)
  • they delay the pricing question so you have time and money to build out your company a fair bit before a price is set on it. That’s obviously in your best interest, since your company probably isn’t worth very much when you just start out
  • everyone is happy, and there are no real downsides to this type of financing

Here’s what I believe now:

  • it isn’t fair to the very people who take the most risk and believe in you before any one else did. Why? Because, the better your company does, the higher the price they pay for their shares. That just isn’t the right way to treat your earliest backers and well-wishers.
  • this situation is why most convertibles now have valuation caps on them. So if you’ve raise 2M with a 8M pre cap, you expect to give away at most 20% of your company. And you’re probably cool with that, in fact, the higher the cap, the better, eh? But a cap is not a (minimum) valuation, so what if you later find that you can only find investors at a price of 4M pre? You’d have given away 33% of your company to those initial investors. Maybe that’s OK, but you no longer have a choice in this decision
  • convertible notes also have a discount associated with them, so in the above scenario, if that discount was 25%, you’d actually have to give away 40% of your company, when you were only ready for 20%. Again, if you thought this was OK to begin with, maybe you’d be OK with it, but you’d no longer have any control on this decision either

These are the reasons that, as an entrepreneur, a convertible debt round is rather bad.

More than the financial reasons, though, my problem is with the misalignment of interests. I’m a very firm believer in partnerships. You want your interests perfectly aligned with your investors. Right? With a convertible round however, even though they wish you success, your investors would rationally hope for a lower price for your company, so their investment works out better. They’d want you to succeed, but not too much. They’d want you to succeed just enough to be able to raise a series A, and then succeed a lot more later. That isn’t aligned.

The color of all money is green, but you get a lot more from your investors than money. And this misalignment screws that up.

Even if it all works out in your favor, I really hate how it isn’t fair to your early investors. These folks took the highest risk, believing in your dreams and capabilities. Punishing them with higher prices isn’t what partnership is about.

So I now think it makes more sense to raise a priced round at a decent valuation. That’s what we’ll look for when we start looking for Zolo Labs.

P. S. – I’m obviously no expert in any of this, and am just getting started on learning about it. So take everything here with several huge grains of salt. Perhaps another thing is that if you’re a super-hot startup and everyone (knowingly) wants to get in, then I imagine it changes this model of thinking…