Featured Network Partners: Microsoft BizSpark

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Featured Network Partner

Company: TheFunded
Interviewee: Adeo Ressi, Founding Member

TheFunded.com is an online community of founders, CEOs, and business executives from around the world. It allows CEOs to anonymously research, rate, and review funding sources worldwide, and enables them to discuss operating challenges. The site lists almost 4,000 funds with contact information for more than 17,000 investment professionals, and has more than 11,500 members worldwide.

Q: Tell us a little bit about TheFunded.com?

TheFunded is a community of Startup CEOs who discuss their experiences with various investors, and share questions and strategies with respect to operations. Started in May of 2007, we already have more than 11,500 CEOs. About 50 to 200 CEOs apply to TheFunded every day. We review their background, and their qualifications, and we let in about 10 percent of those who apply. The site is free for CEOs. Once they join, they have access to a directory of approximately 4,000 funds, and 17,000 investment professionals worldwide. The participating CEOs research, rate and review the various funding sources that have provided them capital, and discuss operating challenges. The entire community is anonymous, so once a CEO is invited into the community, their identity is deleted. This allows the CEOs a great deal of comfort to discuss more sensitive issues relating both to their financing and operations. You will find some of the most serious issues being discussed on the site — things such as firing of employees, growing difficulty in dealing with investors, founding teams falling apart — pretty much every serious matter of operation is covered throughout our 13,000+ discussions

Q: How did you first hear about the Microsoft® BizSpark™ program?

When Jacob Mullins left VentureBeat to go work for Microsoft, that's when I first learned about BizSpark. Once Jacob explained what BizSpark does, we realized there was a huge amount of synergy between TheFunded.com and the BizSpark program. All of our nearly 12,000 CEO members are qualified for the BizSpark program under the current BizSpark terms.

Q: Tell us more about how it works. Do the investors themselves also chime in on the discussions? And is this a revenue-generating site or a non-profit, in other words, what’s your business model?

No, the investors are not part of it - they are able to set up a Certified Profile to describe their fund and keep their information up to date, but only founders and CEOs are able to participate in the discussion. We keep the lights on through advertising and charging service providers for access, but our primary objective is to help CEOs build better businesses. And managing investor dynamics is critical for Startups. In this regard, TheFunded helps CEOs understand and maximize a positive working relationship with their investors.

Q: Is it primarily focused on technology Startups?

Yes, primarily technology. We get CEOs of fast growth, high-tech companies worldwide that are anywhere from a few months to a couple years old — 87 percent of the companies on the site are funded. It’s a pretty prestigious audience.

Q: How many Startups have you signed up for the BizSpark program so far?

We’ve signed up more than 188 Startups so far, and I have another 50 to 100 ready to be approved.

Q: What type of feedback are you hearing about the BizSpark program?

We’ve received a lot of positive feedback - especially from TheFunded’s new start-up incubator, The Founder Institute. This organization runs a four-month program that trains new and seasoned founders on the current best practices for building the next generation of companies. The program facilitates weekly sessions where experienced entrepreneurs help other Founders develop and launch their new businesses. It offers a founder-friendly startup environment, mentorship from renowned CEOs, fundraising opportunities at fair market value, and shared equity upside among all participants in the companies formed. I know there are an additional 20 to 30 of those companies who are going to sign up for the BizSpark program. We're working to scale that to launch 1,000 companies per year worldwide — expanding into other areas of the U.S., France, Singapore, and India.

In particular, Microsoft has been very supportive of the people in the program - it feels like there's a person at the other end of the line. And second, the access to the software has been very helpful to people who are building applications in the .NET Framework. The BizSpark offering encouraged one of our Startups building a large application in .NET to make a final decision to go ahead with SQL Server. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. These young companies get software at a critical time in their development, and that forges a long-term relationship with the Microsoft platform.

Q: How do you promote the program and how else can we help with this?

We’ve done a couple of different things. We have links to BizSpark throughout TheFunded.com site and on The Founder Institute site. And from those links, we’re generating a lot of click-throughs from CEOs. Keep in mind that all 12,000 CEOs of TheFunded are eligible for your program. In addition, Jacob has been sponsoring our e-mails to all 12,000 members. He did that twice. I think that was one of the most effective ways for us to market the BizSpark program. We believe the TheFunded is considered one of the most powerful brands in Startup entrepreneurship because we selflessly back the interest of the entrepreneur.

Q: So, how else can we help you help Startups?

TheFunded is doing great - we think it’s because, in these difficult times, people need answers, and their peers are able to best provide these answers. I think the best opportunity is for Microsoft to help us with the Founder Institute. So the Founder Institute (www.FounderInstitute.com) is a new program, and its goal is to help people who are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur get all the tools necessary to build a world-class business. The Institute is all about CEOs helping CEOs, or experienced entrepreneurs helping founders. So we're always looking for great mentors. I think that's an opportunity for your readership. We’re also targeting cities around the world where we believe the Institute can have a major impact. We're looking at Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Seattle, as an example. We're willing to look at places that might be ignored by the entrepreneurial elite, if you will, and want to pump more high-tech lifeblood into those markets. Internationally, we’re looking at London, Paris, Berlin, Singapore, and several cities in India such as Mumbai or Hyderabad.

We're actually in conversations with people in Australia and China right now. We want to find someone to lead each market, and then syndicate or franchise the model. To provide a quick overview about how the Institute works, every founder in a semester contributes a piece of his or her company to the Institute. The Institute gives the value from that holding back to three groups: Number one, the founders in the program themselves; number two, the mentors who are helping the founders; and three, the person operating the regional affiliate. Everyone in the program gives equity in their companies to the Institute. And then the Institute manages that portfolio, generates a return, and gives the money back to those three groups. It’s a new-model incubator where the priorities of all the participants are aligned.

Q: That’s very cool. So how would you rate the BizSpark program on a scale of from one to 10, with 10 being the highest?

I would say a 9. But I have to say, I think you've done an amazing job. The Xbox 360 and BizSpark are two shining examples where no criticism can be levied at Microsoft, at all. In fact, only compliments, it's a pretty tremendous program.

For more information, contact Adeo Ressi: foundingmember@thefunded.com