Today’s guest on The Successful Pitch podcast is Manny Fernandez, who you might have seen on television CNBC’s Make Me a Millionaire Inventor. He was named the 2014 San Francisco Angel Investor of the Year. He shares with us how he had a successful exit, and the three things he’s looking for when he hears you pitch. Number one is of course, the team, and why you’re able to execute your idea. Number two, is how large is this market, because without a large market, there’s no return on investment for the investor. Finally, are you early in the market, in other words, it’s too late to be the next Uber. Enjoy the episode.
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Get Your Dreams Funded with Manny Fernandez
Hi and welcome to The Successful Pitch. Today’s guest is Manny Fernandez. Manny, you might know as an investor on CNBC’s Make Me a Millionaire Inventor. I’ve watched him be on that show and he’s amazing. He’s also amazing on CNBC’s Squawk Box. He’s quite successful in so many ways, and we’re just thrilled to have him here. He’s had a successful exit. He’s an active Angel Investor, and he was awarded the 2014 San Francisco Angel Investor of the Year and Equity Crowdfunding Leadership Award.
He’s not only the founder of the San Francisco Angel Groups, but he is also the founder of DreamFunded as the CEO. What that company does is crowdfund startups with an online market place. He’s got quite an interesting background. I’m going to let him tell us all about it. Manny, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, John. I’m honored to be here.
It’s great to have you. You have touched every possible touch point on how to be successful from writing a book, How to Make Money Investing in Pre-IPO Stocks, to being on television, to launching not one but two different things. I know that you have been involved with Stanford and Wells Fargo, but take us back, if you will, before you got to be on television as the investor, how did you get involved in this whole world of startups? Because so many people say, “Wow, I would like to be an investor someday, but I don’t have a clue.” What was your journey?
It all started with this thing called real estate, where not as an agent, but I just bought a piece of investment property and learned that I was pretty talented at it and then later, I wanted more. I was stuck with the question, “How do you raise money to be able to buy a hundred homes?” I networked aggressively to figure out the answer. Later at the age of 23, I created a real estate fund, then we bought a portfolio of single family homes and sold at the peak of the market. What many people didn’t know is during the down times, I was studying Computer Science out of our office. I created the online brokerage that was later acquired by the largest Century 21 franchise in Northern California. Later on, I created another real estate fund.
One thing I learned about it was how to work with other people, to invest their money appropriately and get a return. When I was attending Stanford, one of the things I learned professionally was about venture capital, Angel investing. Those are the courses that really stood out at me because it reminded me what happened so many years ago. A lot of the dynamics are the same, that one of the big differences, obviously, the asset class is different. That was the start. As I started to Angel invest and joined a group called TiE Angels and later created our own group called SF Angels. Asked for help like always, and was fortunate to network with someone do an introduction, I’d invested early in Google and Paypal. Was a former partner of this legend, Ron Conway. I learned a lot from him and I did a scary thing, John.
I had to go out, which every entrepreneur has to do. I have to go out and talk to customers about the business. It was the hardest thing that I had to learn, I had to be really high profile in Silicon Valley and that was hard to do. Look at my skin. I had to learn how to public speak and talking to entrepreneurs, those were the customers. I had to let them know that we have money for them, but I had to do it in a different way, John, where I gave them advice and education on the subject to allow them to raise money Which was unheard of because everyone want to keep the secrets, like, “Don’t tell entrepreneurs how to raise money because if you do that, then everyone will have the money.” That’s not the case. A lot of people are still stuck in fear.
Indeed. Let’s talk about San Francisco Angel Group. I’m really interested in how that works compared to other Angel groups, for example. I know you have 30 plus accredited investors. Do you only typically fund people who are in Silicon Valley? Let’s start with that.
Yes, that was the purpose. The purpose was even more specifically in San Francisco early stage. It did go a little bit more into later stage companies, when they were doing the Series A or Series B round, some of our members had access to it. It was primarily Silicon Valley. Throughout that experience of only funding companies here, I realized there are a lot of great companies outside of Silicon Valley, in Austin, in Seattle, L.A., even Florida. At the same time, just being out there in the community, I was forced then to be a keynote speaker in many parts of the world. Many entrepreneurs wanted funding, but what was the most amazing thing, John, is many investors wanted to co-invest. I said, “Our meetings are every Thursday of every month, come on down.” Obviously, I didn’t invite people if they lived in Shanghai or Singapore or Texas and L.A. or New York. I just held their business cards. I remember that many of the entrepreneurs pulling at my heart strings, they want to get introduction to investors, and there was really no way of doing that. I just started thinking about it.
Interesting. If someone lives in San Francisco, Silicon Valley area, and wants to come pitch to the San Francisco Angels, what’s the process and what does it look like when they get in front of your group?
Primarily, you go on a website and you can apply. Some of the members, actually, they’re the best method to get an introduction, usually they’re interested, they’re investing, they’re “sponsoring” you to be presented to the group. If you’re qualified, the entrepreneurs will say their story and the entrepreneur will be asked to leave the group, then the group will ask a few questions among the group if there’s enough interest to do what you call due diligence. If there’s enough, then we will move it forward to do a little research to see if this is an investment we want to do. That’s it in a nutshell.
That’s great. Because this is The Successful Pitch, I’m always interested to hear, do they get ten minutes for a pitch and then there’s a ten minute Q and A? Is that the format you use or is it something different?
No, you’re absolutely correct. It’s approximately anywhere from seven to ten minutes, and then we ask questions among the members of the group.
Those warm introductions are so important, to get even invited to come in and pitch. I know you specialize in equity crowdfunding, the internet real estate software. Does the group itself look for high tech solutions, or is there a type of startup that you like to see come in?
Yes. Everyone in that group is very specifically focused on tech, software, internet-related startups.
Are you funding people who are pre-revenue, giving them their seed round?
Those typically range anywhere from … The definition is so broad now. It could be anything as 250, all the way up to a million, typically. Is that in the ballpark of what your group does?
The interesting thing about the group, some people make a group decision and some people do it individually. Sometimes you don’t have everyone’s approval. I provided checks as low as $25,000. This will be the first check in to a company, and give them a little boost and try to connect them to other investors to fill their round. It’s not one individual cutting a check for a million, it’s multiple people coming together.
Can you tell us about a good pitch that you’ve heard, Manny, that you’re thinking, “They had me in the first three minutes, and they’ve been a big success story”, either at San Francisco Angel Group or DreamFunded.
I think that one of the things that I hear a lot is entrepreneurs, they’re not telling a story. A lot of people talk in logical terms and things that we don’t care about. One entrepreneur that worked out quite well, they talked about the market, they talked about the team, they talked about the potential for the investors to make money, and that sometimes gets our attention. I don’t know why.
The best way for the investors to feel like they’re going to make their money is to have a successful exit. It’s what I typically hear. Do you have other suggestions?
Absolutely, that’s the case. If the entrepreneur says they’re going to hold it for twenty years and give it to their step-kids, then that’s probably not the right business for us. If they think they’re going to become the next Facebook and make it go public, maybe that will work. But if they look at they’re going to potentially have an acquired, and these are the natural acquisitioners, then we can understand the thought process behind the entrepreneur. I think the best I’ve seen, they tell a story, the beginning, middle and the end. The beginning is why they created it, their personal problem, what team they have established, the great market, and they have some traction, it doesn’t mean it’s sales. At the end, where they’re going with it if they did have the money? What would it look like at the end? If you can imagine a movie, all the dynamics of it, I think the entrepreneur should probably cover that.
Nice, I love that. Pitch like you’re telling a story in a movie, like you’re pitching a movie and have us visualize it. Paint a picture, if you will. I like this, why you created it, how big the market is, what the team is. People are always interested in what you look for, besides sales, in terms of traction. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear what you think is important, or what you think is valid traction if it’s not sales.
I think there’s one thing I was taught, it was three little things. I think you can screen out 90% of the startups that are presenting, or if you’re a startup, look for these dynamics. Because these are the dynamics that some investors look for for really large returns. Number one, it’s a large market. Without a large market, it’s going to be challenging to make any real money and to make it a big business. Second, early in that market. Not chase after something that’s really too late because there’s many relationships, and most of the market is already taken. Last but not least, it is the most important thing, is the team. The team who’s executing behind it, who did I piece together to make this story into a reality.
Nice. Those are great three things. We’re going to tweet that out, a large market, early in that market, and a great team. Speaking of tweeting, you have quite the award there, Manny, with being number fourteen in the top 100 Angel Investor’s to follow in Twitter. Of course I’m following you. One of 150,000 people. Congratulations on that. I couldn’t resist giving you a little shout-out on that.
Thank you. One day, it will have extra number behind, 1.5 million, because the more information we can provide to the public about how to invest or how startups can use the equity crowdfunding to raise money, the numbers will greatly grow. The motivational tweets that I provide, it really goes viral a lot.
Let’s talk about DreamFunded.com. This is different than the San Francisco Angel Groups. It’s an online capital platform, where people can invest in startups for as low as $3,000. Yet, you guys have done some major investments alongside major VC firms, like Tim Draper and Greylock, etc. Tell us, how did you get inspired to start DreamFunded? For people who are listening, maybe you could contrast and compare? Like, if this is you, then you should go to San Francisco Angels, if you have a warm intro, or if that’s not you, DreamFunded is more in line with what you need to do.
When I started Angel investing, I had a certain vision of it. When I got involved, then I had a certain reality of it. I said, “Maybe, I’ll create a group and get a few of my friends and network together so we could fund more entrepreneurs,” and more entrepreneurs were being funded. However, 99% plus unfortunately weren’t getting funded. Maybe because for whatever reason, they weren’t in our network, kind of unfair. They’re not in our network, they can’t get an intro, they can’t present in a meeting, and I had a problem with that.
In addition to that, it was other entrepreneurs that probably had a small business or a business that maybe couldn’t really scale but could do well for the entrepreneur and their community. I started thinking about that. I always had a problem with that. Money should be more distributed to anyone that has a desire of creating a business. They should be able to be backed because that’s a rare desire, an entrepreneur who wants to do something different than have a job.
One day in the fall, it was a slow period in December. This was in 2013. I had some time to go through my emails, and there are thousands of them, unfortunately, I haven’t read yet. I was going through them and I said, “It’s a good time to go back and see companies that applied and see what happened to them. I could do a self-study.” I saw two companies that presented but unfortunately were a little bit slow. It took an average of 60 days to get funding, and fortunately they had another way they got funded. They went on some big name platform and actually received the funding. I said, “Wow.” I played with the numbers of what the exit was. I’m keeping the name quiet. What was exit and what were they asking for and what our return was, and boy, when I saw seven figures, I got really frustrated. I got upset because I started thinking about all the investors who are out there that wanted to get access to it, and yet if we’re faster, then maybe we could have got in.
I started thinking about the entrepreneurs that were trying to get funded as well as the investors that want to invest. I thought back, “What am I going to do about this?” I got a stack of business cards of many investors that wanted to invest. I have endless entrepreneurs who are looking for funding. I thought back, my early 20’s, my first dream was to create a startup or create a business. My second dream after that was I need to get funded. That was almost impossible. I said, “Okay, I know that, but then now, I’m a successful investor and entrepreneur. My dream is to fund the next big thing.” It just came to me, DreamFunded. I bought the name and used our network at SF Angels.
It was an interesting time because there was this new thing called equity crowdfunding happening, t allowing accredited investors to invest. We were the fourth platform approved by Angel Capital Association, a trade organization. Almost in a short period of time, 90 days, we had 3,000 plus accredited investors signed up for many of the Angel groups nationwide. I was looking at it, I could not believe we had so much interest. Maybe many people were just checking out what was going on, but then we had some pretty well-named companies that we funded through DreamFunded and it just kept growing.
I love it. How do someone decide if they should pitch the San Francisco Angel Group or another Angel group or go to DreamFunded? What’s the criteria for getting funded via DreamFunded?
Now we’re trying to have everyone go to DreamFunded and apply there, because there’s, we call it deal flow, where we have to start there and sometimes it’s right for a group, sometimes it’s right for our platform, sometimes it’s right for our fund. We don’t know until they apply. Going to DreamFunded.com and signing up and applying, we as a team can quickly review what they’re doing. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to get accepted but some people are better to tap in this thing called equity crowdfunding, Title III of the JOBS Act. What that really means, it allows everyday people to invest. Just to say what you said earlier, at one time the minimum was $3,000, but now the minimum is $100.
DreamFunded is solving two problems. One, allowing people who are not “accredited” investors with a million in assets to invest in startups. Secondly, giving a platform without needing to have a lot of connections to investors directly to get in front of an Angel group, to possibly get seen and not only be part of equity crowdfunding, but if it’s a big enough idea, get the attention of someone like you who says, “You know what, this is equity crowdfunding and then some.” Correct?
It’s really exciting. I think what you’re doing is solving so many problems for so many people that I don’t know how you have time to sleep.
Leverage, my friend. I got a great team. I may be a good marketer but I have a great team, like my co-founder, Avery Haskell. He just graduated from Stanford. He has been secretly building DreamFunded with me throughout the time while he was in his dorm room. He didn’t want to get his focus off of his study. Now he is really improving the site to great ability, because we really have over a 160,000 members all around the world now signed up. We have about 20 companies that are going to be approved shortly, that’s going to be able to raise a million dollars from everyone. People are really spreading the word about DreamFunded because they see it on CNBC Make Me a Millionaire Inventor, or they may have seen it on Wall Street Journal in December or in Bloomberg in December.
The word is being spread, but the message is, entrepreneurs now, they have an interest in raising money and you’re not born in that special network where you can get access to that special club, this is for you. If you are one of the investors that are out there saying, “I don’t know how to get into that special network,” or, “I don’t want to wait for Facebook to go public. Plus, I don’t have much money, I’m not one of the accredited investors. I cannot invest $25,000 or $50,000. I just want to spend $100 or $500.” Maybe back the entrepreneur that I know, that’s going to be creating something. That’s what DreamFunded is about.
Typically, a lot of people will say, “If you’re going to use crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding or any other kind of crowdfunding, you need to “bring your own crowd.” Is that the case with the DreamFunded?
It’s partly the case. But how I started building it is that I started with the foundation of SF Angels and then many of the Angel members nationwide that are members and many of the talks that I’ve done throughout the world brought a stronger base of investors. CNBC’s Squawk Box in the studio, they tremendously increase the visibility as well as the amount of investor sign-ups. It is helpful for the entrepreneur to have a small handful of people that believe in them, to back them. Many of those people can be just found on LinkedIn, so it’s nothing too complex, it’s a combination of both. In a Shark Tank mindset, we have the hungry sharks, the smaller sharks that are ready to bite on the new startups that are going to be applying.
I’m going to shift gears a little bit. In your LinkedIn profile, it describes your successful exit, and that’s always an interesting topic for everybody to hear. Can you tell us that story?
Some things start off one way and they change and they become something different. I think that’s an important thing to know. Every entrepreneur may start off one way and end up changing their direction based on feedback. I just really wanted to create a site where I thought people want to sell their house when the market would change and they wanted a quicker way of selling it. Then the market changed, and unfortunately they didn’t have much equity in their home.
We had people all across the country who were signing up and ended up devolving into an online real estate brokerage where we receive the commission upon the sale of their house. At that time, it was so early, no one knew what this thing called short sales were. We went from zero to an excess of $5 million in sales in a very short period of time. Sometimes you get lucky. It was acquired by the Select Group Real Estate, the largest Century 21 Coldwell Banker, ERA owner in Northern California, with 60 plus offices, thousands of agents.
Congratulations. What you’ve gone through that experience, like going through due diligence. Now you know what to look for and help people that you’re funding get through that process in a way that gives the investors a great return on their investment. Is there any book, besides yours, which we have mentioned, that you would recommend to people to read either about life or about getting funded?
I do have a new book that’s coming out, that’s going to help people to raise money. It will be on Kickstarter shortly to allow people to buy the book in advance. For those that want to raise up to a million or raise up to 50 million, the secrets will be in there. One book that I really love is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. If any of your listeners are looking for a book that’s probably a free version of our book, just email ebook@DreamFunded.com. When that book comes out, I’ll send you a copy of it, just put a headline that you heard about it on the show. There’s no cost, you can save the $20. If you feel bad that you saved the $20, just find an unfortunate person and give it to him.
That’s such a great gift. I really appreciate you doing that. Are there any final thoughts you have on giving a good pitch or just perseverance required to be a successful entrepreneur?
Yes. There’s this guy, and this gentleman came up to me late 2013.I was at this event I was judging, he came and grabbed my arm, he said, “Hey, how are you doing? Nice to meet you. Can you help me show me how to fund my hair product?” I really didn’t understand what this guy said. All I heard was, “fund my hair product.” I’m like, “Sorry, we fund software internet companies.” I turned because my attention was pulled somewhere else. He grabbed my arm and I said, “What is going on?” I turned around and looked at him, and I made a mistake because I looked at his eyes, and his eyes are really sincere. It reminded me of myself a few years ago when I was in my 20’s. “How do you raise money? What is the secret about raising private money? Hey, can you show me?”
I didn’t have an answer, but instantly when he said that, I thought about it and I said, “There has been a PowerPoint that’s been used by our Angel group,” and I’ve seen it circulated throughout the Valley. For some reasons it’s helping a lot of people get funded. I said, “Tell you what, I’m going to give you my business card, you put PowerPoint on the headline, send me an email, I’ll send you a copy of the PowerPoint”, because in my mind I was going to take out the ingredients and just keep it general so people can have a framework. I gave it to him and later on, about 45 days later, he sent me an email that he raised over $600,000.
What’s interesting about that is because I’ve never seen it work outside of Silicon Valley. I’ve never seen it work outside of tech companies. For a guy who I didn’t even understand what he was saying to be able to raise that, it was like, wow. One of the things I do now is, for those that really want a framework to be able to raise money, I can’t say it’s perfect, but it allows you to think what an investor is looking for. I give this away, if you want a copy of that free PowerPoint that will help many people, just email, GetFunded@DreamFunded.com. It’s no cost. It’s my community gift.
There’s a video on YouTube. Type in the word “equity crowdfunding” and it pops up, the number one most viewed video of all time for equity crowdfunding. It was a talk I did at keynote talk in Finland. I gave out that PowerPoint, and I think many people loved that gift, so they started spreading the video everywhere. Fortunately, it has over 200,000 views now. For the entrepreneurs that are looking for a template, take a look at that, GetFunded@DreamFunded. It also shows you ways to follow-up in terms of how to pitch us.
Fantastic. So much value added, so many great insights. You’re so generous with your time, your insights and your knowledge. Anybody who gets to work with you is indeed lucky, so follow you at @MannyFernandez on Twitter. Manny, I can’t thank you enough for being on The Successful Pitch today.
One last thing, there’s an upcoming TV show we’re doing. It’s a new type of show that allows the public to invest in these companies that are approved. More information will follow for those. Follow me on Twitter, Manny Fernandez on Twitter. You will find out the moment I can release it to everyone.
Good. Exciting little tidbits. That’s a great open loop. That’s how you get people intrigued, everybody. Give them a little teaser. Give them a reason to stay listening to your next tweet. Thanks again, Manny.
- J Robinett Enterprises
- John Livesay Funding Strategist
- How to Make Money Investing in Pre-IPO Stocks – Book
- Equity Crowdfunding video
- TiE Angels
- San Francisco Angel Groups
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- ebook@DreamFunded.com – get new book for free
- GetFunded@DreamFunded.com – get the PowerPoint framework/template for free
- @MannyFernandez – Twitter
Crack The Funding Code!
Fox 11 News Los Angeles John Livesay The Successful Pitch book
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