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Interview with Erik Bullen, Startup Advisor, Early Stage Investor, COO, Board Member
Episode 41st August 2021 • ATLalts • Andres Sandate
00:00:00 00:55:12

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Shownotes

00:00 Intro - Erik Bullen discusses importance of execution and self awareness for Founders/CEOs

4:47-9:52 Erik Bullen's background and journey to VC and the corporate innovation space

11:14 Erik Bullen talks about his portfolio approach and making the transition from the corporate arena to the startup/angel investment/VC space

16:20 Erik Bullen discusses why he is focused on pre-seed and seed stage companies

19:09 Erik Bullen discusses his investment approach and mindset of founders/CEOs he looks for when investing

24:40 Erik Bullen discuses building teams at early stage companies

27:09 Erik Bullen talks about why startups fail and founders having a learning mindset and asking for help

30:04 Erik Bullen talks about The Founders Toolkit and how it was created

33:23 Erik Bullen shares his motivation behind doubling down on diversity, equity, and inclusion and making a difference through his actions

35:49 Erik Bullen discusses the state of the VC industry including valuations

40:13 Erik Bullen discusses crowdfunding platforms like Republic, WeFunder and increase in individual investors appetite for early stage investing

43:44 Erik Bullen discusses importance of financial education for retail investors interested in early stage investing

45:47 Erik Bullen discusses his approach to managing so many activities, roles, and what a typical day looks like

49:42 Erik Bullen discusses his favorite things to do outside of work

50:21 Erik Bullen looks ahead 20-30 years and shares some thoughts on what the VC and technology industry looks like

52:57 Erik Bullen shares some of his favorite books

54:14 Conclusion




Transcripts

Erik Bullen:

A lot of times early stage you do look at, okay, who's the founder? What's the potential market opportunity that I believe, need to believe in right? And then, you know, it's at the idea stage. You mentioned before an idea. I think it's more about execution, right? More than a lot of times, founders pitching us saying, Hey, we're the first one out here, doing this or that and you end up Googling it, the next thing, you know, they're 10 other companies doing exactly the same thing, or 10 other companies that are in this similar space, right? So, more than likely, their are very few times when it is the idea, but you mentioned it before, I think in terms of self awareness, right? And the ability to know what you know, and what you don't know is super critically important, right? And then being able to say, look, and even being honest with with whether it's investors or other partners or advisors saying, hey, I've got a gap here, right? I need to surround myself with the right people who can fill that gap, or I need to be able to fill a gap myself, and increase my knowledge.

Andres Sandate:

Welcome to the ATLalts Podcast. I am your host, Andres Sandate and I have designed a podcast to interview founders, fund managers, investors, allocators, CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives whose stories I believe will inspire, educate and inform all of our guests are investing capital, raising funds, executing transactions, closing deals, and serving clients, and many, perhaps like you have overcome long odds, setbacks, adversity, difficult circumstances, and more. through all of this, a story emerges, and it's typically the source and inspiration for why they're pursuing what they're doing today. Join us on ATLalts, where our guests will take you on a personal and professional journey that will inspire, educate, and inform. Today on the ATLalts podcast we are joined by Eric Bullen, advisor investor, executive coach, board member, founder and CEO and strategy and operations executive based in Boston. If you are interested in venture capital, and more specifically, the characteristics and qualities of bankable founders and startup CEOs, I think this discussion will be informative. my interview with Eric covered raising capital successfully the state of the VC industry including valuations, the emergence of reg CF and other online fundraising opportunities, building and recruiting teams for early stage founders, and then also Eric's productivity hacks. So I hope you'll join me on the ATLalts podcast where I sit down and interview Eric Bullen.

Andres Sandate:

Today on the ATLalts podcast, I'm delighted to be joined by Eric Bullen in Boston. Eric is an advisor, investor, and fractional executive that works with startups, venture firms and other corporate innovators to drive growth and shape the future. Eric, welcome to the ATLalts podcast.

Erik Bullen:

Thanks, glad to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Andres Sandate:

Eric, one of the things about the ATLalts podcast is, you know, storytelling, and you've got a really compelling personal story, and you know, who you are and what you're doing - and I want to get into that. But you also and one of the one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show for for for this discussion is, I think you have a really compelling vision and values and action. You know, there's a lot of people that talk a lot in the venture space and in the capital markets and alternative investment space, about doing things and the change we need. And then there are people who actually take action, and they live their values through activities. And so I wanted, I wanted to share a little story before we jump in about how we met. I think we were both at a webinar. And one of the things that I was very attracted to that you're doing is you have this Founders Toolkit. And this Founders Toolkit, you know, while maybe a simple thing for you to put together, I was really compelled. And I'd love for you to talk about that. In the show today, the Founders Toolkit i thought was just super helpful to me and a lot of other people that are interested in, in venture and in startups. And so I want to ask you about that later. But before we do that, tell me about you. Tell me about where you're from, and you know, how did you get to kind of where you are today and in the startup space?

Erik Bullen:

Sure, happy to. So I was born in Germany, to an American dad and German mom, so I am half German half American and lived there for 12 years. Then subsequent to that we moved to the US. So I still speak some German, but it's a little bit rusty right now. But in terms of my career, I've been in the startup and corporate innovation space my entire career. I was employee number one at a startup when I went to a university at The College of Willam & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. And while I was there, I saw a flyer on the dorm wall about, hey, we need an employee to help us with operations, marketing, sales, everything essentially, right. And this was a startup back in the days when he could put together components for PCs. And, well, you had the rise of Dell and Apple on and other startups that are really targeted that particular space. And for us, it was well thats a great market, because every student those days needed a PC. So Lee Scruggs, the Founder, and his his Co-Founder started what was called College and University Computers. And I decided, hey, looks interesting, looks like fun. I need a job as well, right. So I put on my only suit I had jumped on, I didn't have a car, jumped on my bike and rode by 20 miles and 100 degree day in Virginia. And so I finally arrived, fully soaked. And the brought me into his office, which looked very, like startup land boxes all over papers all over and so on, and just basically in a garage. And so he brought me in and first thing he did was he looked like he needed a beer. And he walked out with a fridge and got me beer. So I thought, hey, this is a good start. Yeah, I can get along with Lee. He eventually hired me and I stayed there for several years building the company. And we became best friends. And he mentored me a lot. And I eventually, I think we're on par right now we see each other once or twice a year in non-COVID years. And he's still the best friend to this day at this point. So I highly respect him.

Erik Bullen:

So subsequent to that, I spent some time at a large corporate which today is Verizon doing software engineering. I didn't really like the the corporate culture there. And then when I went back to help a startup, in this case, an agency this was during the rise of the Internet agencies. And three months after joining, I went over to Amsterdam to help open up the Dutch office and spend several years there. While I was there, we were rolled up by a private company and then eventually went public. So that was exciting times as well. And then after that went worked for some additional startups and agencies on strategy management consulting consultant for a while. I was an innovation consultant as well working for a company such as frog design, and what equity doing work for large corporates, AT&T, Intel and GE on their corporate innovation initiatives. Also head of Global Services for a company called Brightcove that's based in Boston. It's an online video provider and was responsible to teams across the globe in the US in Europe and APAC as well. And then a few years ago, I was CEO of a digital marketing saas platform and exited that in August 2018. And at that point, I said, look my daughter just turned five, she started kindergarten. I said, look, I'd rather just not be on the road all the time. And I'll take more of a portfolio approach to the work I do. So I really segmented my jobs these days into three buckets. One is giving back to the community. I mentor at accelerators such as Techstars, MassChallenge and several others. Also on the board of directors for an organization called Vencapital. We provide venture capital training to minorities and women. And we just wrapped up that program and subsequent to the program they are placed at VCs such as Sequoia Ventures. And then I'm also on the board of advisors for the capital network. We provide venture capital training, I'm sorry, fundraising training for all founders, but then also specifically have a female founders program. Second bucket is I advise pre-seed and seed stage companies directly and also some scale ups, typically around strategy, product, operations and scaling. And also have a data science and AI consultancy with a partner of mine called Gravitate. We do a lot of natural language processing and computer vision work both for startups and scale ups as well. And then third is on the investing side I'm an LP in two funds: Mendoza Ventures, which invests in FinTech, in AI, and cybersecurity. The two GPS, it's minority. His background is Latino, Mexican background and then his wife as well. And then about 68% of our investments are in companies that are led by women or minorities. And then I'm also an LP in AI Capital, which applies, investmen in applied AI. And then finally, on the angel Iinvestment side, I'm part of several groups including TBD Angels, which has about 195 members right now, and founded just over a year ag. Still mostly operators to this day, and a very diverse membership base as well and we're national. That's where I spend my time these days.

Andres Sandate:

Well, so I yeah, that's quite a portfolio and and super impressive. And there's a lot of questions. But I certainly wanted to ask you about each of those different segments of your portfolio. And one of the, I think one of the more interesting of many of the things that you're doing that I want to learn more about Eric, one of the more interesting things is, you know, you've talked about this in other interviews, I'd love to sort of pick up on this theme.

Andres Sandate:

You know, you identified sort of at an early stage in your career, that you had tried the corporate route, and worked inside of a larger corporate organization. But really, you know, I think you've even made this comment, like you're sort of a founder at heart and entrepreneur at heart. How did you make that transition? Because a lot of the people that are I think listening, and that are interested in our podcast are folks that are intrigued by the idea of, you know, a career in venture or a career in startups. So I want to talk to you about your own personal journey of like, when did you realize okay, I really want to do this and, and you clearly you've built a career, but how did you make that initial transition? What were those? You remember some of those initial steps?

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, I think it's, it's in combination of what drives me, right. And also mindset as well, I think some people like to go to a job that where there's certainty and organization, you know exactly what you're going to be doing every single day. I like the opposite, right? I like the kind of the environment of uncertainty of risk of trying to figure stuff out, I don't consider myself the most creative person, I'm not necessarily the one coming up with ideas. But I'd love to create overall strategies and implement those strategies in order to create structure and process maybe that's part of my German background as well. But But I just enjoyed that building aspect of doing things. And that's, that's what I learned early on is that was looking at the contrast between the startup world where I could culture University computers versus then working for large companies such as Verizon, I just didn't care for that. Now, that said, I was still a consultant later on in my life working for this large organization. So I but at the same time, I felt that was different the nature of the work I did, there even was, I wasn't within these organizations, but it was helping them to innovate and change and to do things better, faster, cheaper, right, and bring new products and services to market. So that was working for those organizations, but in a different capacity, still building and making stuff, which I really enjoyed. I think that's an I won't get going. No, I was gonna pick up on that. I mean, I, I'd love for you to expand on that a little bit. Yeah. And I think it's important for people to understand because especially, I do see some people wanting to transition from, hey, I've had a corporate life in the past 20-30 years, I now want to do something and the startup ecosystem, right. And I think some people can, can really make that transition. And I'm working with a great founder right now at Focal Point, Anders, who really has done that. And, you know, up to early last year, he was in the corporate world, his entire life and procurement. And now just over a year later, he's got a product and market, but he's got some great clients building a great company. So he made that transition, right, he's able to deal with that uncertainty of the risk of the ups and downs of running a startup. And you know, there are a lot of ups and downs, right? Whether it's trying to find product market fit or working with customers or fundraising, right, fundraising is really, really hard, right, and takes a lot of time, and you will get a lot of nose, and you've got to be able to have the resilience to work through that. And other fun I work with, we have a company called roleplay. And he's an ex baseball player. And that's his mindset, just like you go up to bat and you strike out most of the time, right? You got to be able to do that. But if you never looked at that, you'll never get that home run. Or that win. Right, you've got to take the risk. So yeah, it's so true. And I'm going through that transition, as we were talking about, you know, when we met I, I would say I've worked at a lot of smaller startup, early stage, alternative investment firms. So other sponsors, and I was very, you know, much thinking that growth equity, that's the the venture stage of the company was an area that was very clearly I mean, you can see how technology is just transforming economies, and we just are coming through a global pandemic, where technology even more so, you know, was pronounced in terms of its importance in our daily life and our work life and our personal life.

Andres Sandate:

But being inside of a startup, where, you know, we're going through the TechStars program, we started that yesterday in Atlanta, you know, it's, it's fascinating, you know, to be kind of on the inside, and I had somebody tell me this a month ago, say, Well, you know, if you're ever interested in working in the startup ecosystem, or the early stage, company system, like the best thing you could do is go work for a startup, you know, and, and we'll see I mean, I can, I totally agree with what you just said, which is like, there's a lot of ups and downs, companies are pre-revenue. In some cases, they're trying to figure out how to, you know, do payroll, they're trying to figure out how we're going to keep this team together. And what's so interesting is, you know, we get to have a conversation today. And I'm really interested in hearing from your perspective about Lake as that LP, you know, when you put that hat on, like, what are you looking for? And so I want to ask you some of those questions, because that's clearly a big part of your portfolio is being an LP and an angel investor, and, obviously, being invested in a couple of venture funds.

Andres Sandate:

But, and then we clearly want to get into some of the giving back and some of the activities I mentioned, the founders toolkit, so we'll get to that. But let's let's stick with kind of the startup space and the you know, some of the activities and in terms of advisory and consulting that you're engaged in, why seed and pre seed for you like, what is it about those early stage companies? Because they probably are some of the Messier companies, they're probably, you know, very visionary founder LED, but what is it about that versus, you know, later stage in the venture? lifecycle?

Erik Bullen:

Yep, sure. By the way, congratulations for making it into tech stars. That's a great.

Andres Sandate:

Thank you.

Erik Bullen:

Good.

Andres Sandate:

Thank you.

Erik Bullen:

Great program.

Andres Sandate:

Yeah. Yeah.

Erik Bullen:

Why did decide a few years ago is to really be hyper focus on pre seed seed stage, it's just enjoy playing in that particular life stage of a company, right, because you still have to figure out a lot of things. You might be pre revenue, you might be pre product market fit, you might have product market fit, and you forgot how to scale. So and in my background, in terms of operations, and scalability, and putting in processes and systems and strategies, I think I can be of more help there than companies that I would lay the stage. And for me as well, it's more meaningful work. And the impact that one can have any individual at a company at that particular stage is much broader than later on, when when things have been figured out. Right. And especially when you get to the scaling stage, right, you've got the systems and processes in place. Now it's a matter of hiring the right people to run those and then scale the company. Right. So I like more of the creative aspect of the early stage. So that's why I decided to do that. And really, I would say, I don't, I'm completely guessing here, I would say probably about 75 to 80% of my work is with those early stage companies. And then some of the work I do is with larger, larger corporates, and then scale ups as well. I mean, right now working with a sass company, right now, that's about $50 million with revenue, but it's very hyper focused consulting work in this case, in that particular area.

Andres Sandate:

And what are the characteristics of the founders and the management teams, I mean, sometimes the management team is one person or two people. And I'm seeing that right in real time. And I'm so used to looking at, like a portfolio manager, right. And a portfolio manager has a research process or an underwriting process. And they may have a couple of analysts, you know, maybe a VP, you know, but it's a very lean team. And it's very much the portfolio managers kind of making the portfolio decisions, you know, what credit to buy, what equity to buy. But those individuals never scale? Because they don't realize that it's not about at their level, yeah, you need to have, you know, good portfolio management skills. But ultimately, like bigger LPs, bigger investors, what they care about is to somebody, like, can they run the business? Can they see beyond? And so I know, I'm asking kind of a tough question, because you want to see these founders that have the ability to go there, or at least know their limitations and can't, can't go there. So they surround themselves with the board and with the management team, but But clearly, there's got to be some things. So kind of what's your criteria? What are the skill sets, the characteristics that you see in founders, whether it's, you want to talk about some of your current investments, or you just want to talk more in general, like, these are the things that you know, that that I am highly attuned to when I'm sitting down to meet somebody for the first time?

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, maybe I talked to it just in terms of also just an investor mindset, right? investing in companies where you don't have a lot of data, right? It's different when a company gets to series a need to have a lot of data and to go on. A lot of times early stage, you do look at okay, who's the founder? What's the potential market opportunity that I believe need to believe in right? And then yeah, it's at the idea stage. You mentioned before idea. I think it's more about execution, right? More than we've seen a lot of times, founders pitching us saying, Hey, we're the first one out, you're doing this so that and you end up googling The next thing, you know, they're they're 10 other companies doing exactly the same thing or 10 other companies that are in this similar space, right, so more than likely, there are very few times when it is the idea. But you mentioned it before, I think in terms of culture, yo build self awareness, right, and the ability to know what you know, and what you don't know, is super critically important, right? And then being able to say, look, and even being honest with with whether it's investors or other partners or advisors saying, hey, I've got a gap here, right, I need to surround myself with the right people who can fill that gap. Or I need to be able to fill a gap myself, and increase my knowledge. And there's lots to learn as a first time founder. So self awareness, coachability is really important. Also the ability to say, as you grow, and as a scale, the ability to say, you know what, I want this company to succeed, right? It's my baby, but I'm not the right person at the head of this company at a certain stage, right. And you might say, you know, I'm not the right person, I'm not the right CEO at this stage anymore. Not all founders are some founders are really good at the early stage, but they can scale right, and you might want to slot in somebody else, I think it's self awareness is really important. mentioned before resilience, right? ability to deal with with failure, and a lot of knows as well, whether it's from customers, or investors and the daily ups and downs. Conviction is really important, right? And smart conviction, right ability to say, look, I really believe in solving this problem. I know the space. And that's the other part of having conviction, I think, really understanding a problem. And I love founders who have been in the industry and are scratching their own itch. Right. I mentioned Anders from Focalpoint. He's a great example that he's been a chief procurement exec for many, many years. And he's been trying to find a solution to the problem is solving. Right? These are companies that are have billions of dollars of spend, and they manage that via spreadsheets and PowerPoints. And typically, when you have an industry where you see PowerPoints and spreadsheets being used, right? Might be for disruption, right? So he's Yeah, spent years not finding solutions that can do this. And just a month prior to pandemic, he said, Look, I'm going to build a product to do this and found a company and he did so. Nine months later, he's in market, he understands his customers extremely well, since he's been on that other side of the table, he can connect with them immediately. He's actually a really good salesperson as well, right? So he's not, sometimes you see, especially technologists, right, who are kind of like. either they're not very good at sales, or they kind of feel icky about it. It's almost like it's a bad thing. But Anders is actually really good, because he has such deep experience. And he's not afraid to sell either. And he sees the value of the solution. So anyway, so I think founder conviction and also a deep understanding of the domain is really important for for me.

Andres Sandate:

And it has to be to your to your earlier comment, Eric about you don't have data. So we can't, like you know, in other other investment disciplines, right, we can look at a track record. Or we can look at, you know, you've made a couple of investments via like an SPV or a syndicate, you know, you don't have your fund up and off the ground. But and you look at early stage companies that are seed or pre-seed, it's like you're really trying to evaluate and be as objective I would imagine as possible. But without a lot of data to go on. So you're looking at, again, some of those things you talked about, you know, how much domain expertise do they have? How important is it for that founder to have the ability to build a team in the first three to nine months of the company?

Andres Sandate:

It's really the reason I go Yeah, the reason I asked that question is because from from, from my standpoint, like coming into the space, you see a lot of the early stage companies, like I said, they're very founder oriented, founder-led, founders got a vision, this is where we're going to change the world. And they keep it up there, unfortunately, and they don't have a good process and good systems and good tools in their company yet because they're so early stage to get that from their head down into the organization. Use it as a way to inspire, recruit, develop, retain, because when you're early stage, what do you really have to offer employees? Right? And I'm curious, like as an adviser to companies, and as an investor in you know, other founders, you know, when you talk to them about here's how to think about growing your team, here's how to think about you know, inviting other people to go on this journey with you. You know, they might be leaving a comfortable job, they might be leaving, you know, money on the table and taking a pay cut. What kind of advice do you typically find yourself giving to founders around those ideas?

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, is a combination of being able to inspire those early employees of really painting the vision of where you want to go and what the art of the possible anyways right? But I think at the same time, you've got to be honest with the candidate you're you're interviewing with Ryan saying look, you know, especially if somebody has not been in this type of environment, be honest about the fact that you still do need to figure things out, right? That there may be a lot of uncertainty that some of the processes haven't been figured out yet that you can't guarantee them a job in a year or two, right? Because you're still raising funding, right in the fact that that salary might be lower. So I think brutal honesty about the environment that somebody will go into one at the same time being inspiring, and really having that art of doing both is super important. So, you know, in some ways that somebody told me a couple weeks ago, it half joking me, right, every job interviews is just, it's a dialogue between two liars, right, because everybody's trying to sell each other. Right. But I think, yeah, maybe some light but I think brutal honesty from both sides is always important, right about what the expectations are. Right? And then from the candidates perspective, as well, right.

Andres Sandate:

So yeah, I think we can also be a red flag, that they're just not the right candidate, if they're, you know, if there's too much uncertainty that they clearly just can't get comfortable with.

Erik Bullen:

Right.

Andres Sandate:

That's one thing that I can totally appreciate about the early stage startup spaces, you know, it's not about things change every quarter, or every month or every week, like literally, sometimes every day. And, and you and you have to kind of have people in the foxhole with you that understand that. And we'll go along in that journey. And, you know, and it does make sense why, you know, you see people in the corporate, and I'm not trying to bash the corporate space, right? It's, but it's interesting when you look at venture, and you'll, you'll meet somebody, and you'll look at, or just early startups, and you'll look at somebody, it's like, failure is almost a badge of honor. Right? We're in the corporate space, like if you if you lose a job at a big Fortune 1000 company, it's like, you don't tell anybody, you don't update your LinkedIn and serve like you sort of resurface. But nobody knows where you went for, like a year. And I think that that's, that's sort of as an accepted part of what the venture, early stage company process is all about. Right? You've got to be willing to step up, and it's not always gonna work out.

Erik Bullen:

Yeah. And I think it's important also, to to understand why we start failing as an investor, or as a founder, you know, that most startups fail, right? It's just the numbers bear that out, right. But at the same time, you've got to ask yourself, if let's say you have failed at something, what did I learn right from from doing that? What can do better next time and whether it's, it's failing during the journey, or with the journey right of his company, and then doing the next thing, but even within I think you need to have that. And this is another quality for founders is that learning mindset, right, of figuring things out? And you know, if you hit the wall, don't hit the wall over and over again, figure out a way around, right? And kind of kind of see beyond the wall, and how can you get through it. And if you don't have if you can't figure it out? Again, tap the people around you, whether it's your team, or your advisors, your board members to help you with that. There's no shame in asking. There's no shame in asking even questions that you might think are very fundamental. Right? It's, that's okay. Right, especially from the investor side, you want the founders you want the startups succeed. So well, you know, it's the human capital side, in addition to the cash flows on the financial side as well, right, that you'll get, right.

Andres Sandate:

Yeah, so so two more questions around sort of founders and CEOs. One is around a founders ability to actually sell the company, right, like raise capital. I mean, that is a diff. I mean, I've been doing that for over 10 years. And it is an art. And you know, there's a network effect to it. There's a just being kind of a, you know, somebody that just will run through walls, right. Get on planes travel the world, go where you have to go for the pitch. Obviously, a lot of that's being done over Zoom still. But talk about that, like, how important is that? I know venture has this reputation for being this closed, hard to penetrate, all the money's going to a select number of, you know, founders that come up with startups over and over and over, like, help us understand like that skill set? And is it important to founders? Is that something that they can get better at? What's your experience been?

Erik Bullen:

You can definitely get better at it. What I tell founders always is, you know, raising money or venture is just like selling at selling, right? And just like you're doing customer development, you need to do investor development. And just like you need to sales strategy, you also need a fundraising strategy, as opposed to being haphazard and just now, going from one fund to the next without really understanding what, how I'm raising money. What kind of capital am I raising, and how much do I need to raise? Right? What's the process and how do I create this funnel of investors who I can qualify and then target right. And then the tools and processes that can help you do that. It's important, though, to understand what those tools and processes are, and also the resources available to you. And you mentioned in terms of the kind of view that venture capital is very closed, I think that's changing a little bit right. Especially with the past years where there has been more focus on minorities and women investing and more funds saying, Hey, no one instruction required. Not everyone's has changed, right. But I think there are more funds who are open to that. And where you can get access that said, network is still very powerful, right. And unfortunately, still a big part of it as well. So there is the second sector, I would say, of venture capital, that's really hard to get at.

Erik Bullen:

But, you know, you mentioned the, the lists that are created right - the guide. And the reason why I created that is because I've worked with a coach, a black female entrepreneur about six months ago. And she asked me questions about resources for fundraising. And, and I got the question over and over again and said, Look, I'm actually going to start writing this down, right, create this, this fundraising guide, right. Put it on LinkedIn, so everybody can can have access to it for free. And I was just started, continue to update that for about a month and a half. And the more I dug, you go down these rabbit holes and find more and more resource one more resource and in the fact that there are a lot of resources out there. I think it's also a matter of educating people about what is out there, right. And the fact that Who can I connect them to? Right, what what communities can they be part of that can be peers, potentially, or access to venture capital? and so on. So there is a lot out there. But at the same time, it's discoverability. That's an issue at times as well.

Andres Sandate:

Yeah, well, I want to give you a shout out because I talked about this earlier in our in our interview this whole, you know, notion, which is very important to me, and one of the reasons I started the podcast is the values and action, right? It's like the there's a there's a you know, there's a lot of people in the industry who will talk about diversity and inclusion, and you know, more people at the table and looking with a broader lens and all these different ideas. And I do think that some of that is happening, I'm 100% do. But I also you know, you know, see a lot of people that are willing to actually take action, you know, and it's not just about like writing checks, and, you know, spray and pray and putting the money out. I think it's it's focused, and one of the things that I was really able to do with your, you know, with your toolkit is just forward it on to people, right? I mean, it's just that simple. It's like, and a lot of those people are like, wow, I had no idea all these accelerators existed, I had no idea that there was a platform for female VCs, you know, or African American and LatinX VCs, you know, so, and you're actually invested in, you know, one of them. And Mendoza Ventures, you mentioned that, so. So I just wanted to give you a shout out, because I think it's, you know, I think creating that awareness and helping people understand like where the doors are, it doesn't mean you can walk them through it, but at least you can point them in the direction and start giving them awareness and exposure, about the importance of what we're talking about, which is building that network.

Erik Bullen:

Right. You know thanks, you know, I really double down in the past couple years with everything that was happening. And I said to myself, look, I do have a seven year old daughter, right, she's turning eight next next month, but my major goal is to build a better world for her. And at the same time for others as well. And I, you know, what, what I talk about a lot is intent. Right. And like you mentioned, some people talk in writing, they might write checks, right, but I think there's more to it than that. And I think it's really important for me as a white male, right, to have that intent and to be an ally and to do my job as well. And to help others. I know others do. But I think more was more can be done. Right? So

Andres Sandate:

Sure. Yeah, no, there's definitely all, always more we can be doing. Um, let's talk a little bit about, you know, we've talked about the team and the founders and the CEO and some of the areas I want to get your want to get your perspective on kind of where we are in venture capital. Like if you just look at venture capital, there's been like, I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and a report came out last week that in the first half of 2021, more capital was raised in Atlanta for the VC space than almost all of last year. So there's just a lot of money and that's just Atlanta, Georgia, and it's a hot area. I mean, a lot of people are talking about Atlanta. And I happen to be going through, you know, a big accelerator program. I think there's 10 companies in the cohort and there is just like a lot of enthusiasm there. But looking at venture overall and then you've been in this space for over two decades, so you've seen different cycles. And you've seen, you know what accommodative Fed policy means and you've seen liquidity coming into the system multiple times before, like, give us like an overview of kind of where you think we are, in terms of valuations. You know, obviously, there's a lot of money that's being pushed into the space. And then and maybe also just talking about, like, it's not just about VC anymore, meaning, if you're a founder, and you want to go raise money, I mean, there's family offices getting into the space, there's hedge funds, you know, you're in Boston, there's lots of different sources of capital, that are interested in tech companies, growth companies, early stage companies. So maybe talk a little bit about those two dynamics.

Erik Bullen:

Sure. Yeah. In terms of where we're at. It's, it's, there's a tremendous amount of capital out there right now, right? And especially if you look back a year from when the pandemic started happening, and everybody said, full stop, you know, things are gonna blow up. Right? They didn't, right. Obviously, there, there are some sectors that, travel tourism, entertainment, and so on, that were impacted. But then if you look at e commerce, the booming ecommerce businesses, right, the share of e commerce of global commerce, prior to the pandemic was about 16%. And that was went from 12% to 16%, over 10 years, we're now about 25 to 30%, depending on what numbers you're looking at, right? And we're never going back to that pre pandemic stage. Right? It's going to recite somewhat I think people will go back to the real world, right. But it's going to be more of a hybrid. So I think there's tremendous amount of money out there. The question is, will this boom, continue? And if so, for how long? It will come to an end eventually, I think, right. But it's a question of time, in fact, I don't know. Right? There's chatter right now about, you know, we are in a bubble, right, and there will be a lot of failure. But at the same time, you've looked back at past bubbles, they're natural in the venture space, right. And good companies, there will be a lot of companies that fail, but they'll also be a lot of good companies coming out, right? I think the access to capital, the amount of access to capital is good on one hand. On the other hand, the valuations are so sky high right now as well. Right. So the question is, can that continue at this rapid pace at this point? So not quite answering your question, giving my opinion? I'm not sure. Right. But yeah, it's great to see what's happening right now that the fact that the pandemic hasn't really killed off the sector overall. And it's good to see that there's more capital available to founders. And also globally, I think you're starting to see a trend. We're starting to see more, let's say US investors, a VC specifically, because there's so much money here, they're starting to say, Hey, what about Europe? What about the Middle East or APAC? Right? So you starting to see more money going into those emerging markets from the US base investors as well?

Andres Sandate:

Yeah, and yeah, one of the things that I was talking to a founder yesterday about how they kind of just got those initial dollars, I mean, we're talking like the first quarter million dollars of capital is to kind of get, breathe life into the into the company. And this particular founder said that they were they'd use the reg, I think it was a reg CF, like a reg crowdfunding portal. And it was a more passive way. I mean, they weren't actively reaching out. But you know, that, in and of itself, one thing that I've had this conversation with a lot of people over the last three or four months, and I think this goes back to, you know, Robinhood, when there was a lot of stimulus flowing, and there's a lot of people that were stuck at home. And they had time is like, one of the things that I think happened there to me was that you saw Wall Street and traditional, like financial institutions realize that this organization came along, and it's like, sucked up a lot of small accounts, retail investors, whatever you want to call them, but it was, you know, 10s of millions of accounts that were opened there in a short period of time. Now, you've seen these big, you know, organizations, you know, get into the space, and everybody's slicing up an investment, selling it off, you know, low minimums to open up a brokerage account. So we're seeing all this innovation, I guess, in FinTech and, and I think it's also democratizing access to private companies and access to capital. Not that that's a better way to go fund your business than going to a family office or going to a you know, to venture capital, but I think it is an interesting development that's got a lot more runway. As more and more individuals see these billion dollar companies, you know, or valuations anyway, billion dollar valuations happening. I think more and more people have this FOMO right of how do I participate, you know, even if I'm not accredited, to - Is there a way that I can participate in the private economy, you know, and I don't know, if you have a take on that if that's going to end terribly for people, or if people should be sticking to the experts, you know, and it's a it's a game or or a space only for the institutions.

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, no, I think it's a big deal. And I think it's a good thing that there's this democratization of investing, right. And if you look at the crowdfunding platforms, such as Republic where I'm a venture partner, and WeFunder and others, I think there's more access to capital available, and then more access to the average investor, right. And I think some of the stop guards still need to be in there, especially for those who are not accredited, because it could end badly for them. I think that's a good thing, but at least to be able to have that access to anyone, primarily, right to be able to invest in these startups and hopefully get some of the positive upside with that. I think that's that's a good thing overall. And I think that will continue to grow. You'd look back a few years ago, I think there was a part of mindset of some investors was well, if you're a crowdfunding, right, maybe because he couldn't raise with angels or venture capital. Right, that has changed completely. Right. And I think it's especially now in the past year, you're even starting to see venture capital funds raising on Republic. Backstage Capital raised two rounds right on Republic. There oversold almost within a day or two. So that's becoming acceptable as well. And I think that again, that's a good thing. I think that that same time, you see starting to see alternative money, and investors going upstream as well, to the earliest stage right, as well. So for instance, family offices, traditionally more risk averse, right. I think you see more family offices these days invest, whether it's slps, into early stage venture funds, or directly into early stage companies. You're also starting to see the SPACs, for instance, right, I think SPACs, potentially, they might end badly. Because I think that's an opportunity for somebody uninformed to invest in companies that that they have no idea what's going to happen with them. Right. And that there might be bad actors in that system. But that happens in any type of sector of the industry, will you start seeing a bubble like this happening? I think I think SPACs are potentially bubble. Same thing with Bitcoin, right? So I think if you're investing in Bitcoin and take a bath, it's it's on to you. Right. But I think that's a high risk investment as well. Now, that said, I think that there are a lot of people who have made money, quite a bit of money on Bitcoin as well. Right. Yeah. But But in many ways, I think it is, it's a pyramid scheme, right? It's not, you know, if you believe it's gonna go up, you're gonna have to get that other person behind you to invest as well. Right. So. But, yeah, one

Andres Sandate:

Yeah, I think we share that I think we share that, that that idea around the democratization of alternatives. And that was, you know, it's a big part of why, you know, I wanted to put this show together, this podcast, and really dive into the people behind, you know, the, the funds or the strategies and get, get into conversation, like a real conversation, because it's, because it's some of some of these asset classes are beginning to open up to, you know, the everyday investor, the person that's got you know, they've got their 401k. And they're saying, like, I want to have a small allocation, like, you know, dedicated to looking at early stage companies and private companies. And now, like you said, WeFunder and Republic, some of these, Sliced and others platforms are giving them an opportunity to do that for, you know, for hopefully, not a significant portion of their wealth, but just a fraction of their wealth. And and I think that, you know, the, the the we're in the very early innings of that, so. So, you know,

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, I think I think, again, it's a good thing. At the same time, I think we need to be, as a venture industry be accountable for education as well. And financial education. I mean, financial education, in good practices, it's not taught in school, it's always been a gap, I think, for most people, but I think it's really important if you do invest in this particular sector and startups, you know, two things, you know, one is only invest the money that you can can lose, right? Because you might lose it, all right? And at the same time, understand that this is the riskiest asset that you can invest in, right and make sure that it's it's again, you know, figure out is it 2% of your entire wealth, is it 5% What can you afford to lose? And then be smart by what you invest? I think that education of the retail investors are important as well.

Andres Sandate:

Yeah, agreed. Well, I always like to wrap up with getting to know and hear more about some of the things you're in into on the weekends or personally what you read. But before we do that, I want to I want to finish with one sort of question. You have this really interesting portfolio approach that you've kind of created for yourself, Eric, which is you've got, you know, clearly activities around giving back and building community and you talked about ven capital and being on the board of advisors of capital network and some of the other activities where you're providing exposure and access, you also are clearly very busy in advising and providing consulting to early stage companies, seed stage, etc. And then you talked about being an LP how, how do you manage to see synergy between all of those different activities? Is it an art form? Is it something that you've gotten better at over time, because clearly, you're a very busy person, you've got a lot going on, and you like it. And you seem to really enjoy and thrive in that you've talked about that today. But how do you make it work?

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, it's for me, it's, it's having structure in my, my life and the work and personal life. So I'm very structured, I'm entirely driven by my calendar, I typically find things about two weeks ahead and have a cadence. You know, they're always things where there are exceptions, right, in terms of things blowing up, and somebody needing help immediately, and so on. And I obviously, you know, work with that as well. But I tend to compartment, compartmentalize the work that I do, and over the week, and over the days that I work, so for instance, today, I'm obviously on your podcast, but I'm primarily working with with another startup, on helping them launch. So probably about four to five hours today spent with that one startup. And then tomorrow is another one. So it's a I think the other piece then is where I add the work that I do in my managing or do I need to be in kind of a headspace creatively, right. And if I need to get in that creative headspace, I tend to turn off email, Slack, and all the other things that could be distraction as well. So that that helps productivity immensely. In terms of structuring my day, as well, I started about it's been maybe seven years right now. I started getting up really early in the morning, and a couple reasons for that. I get up at about 4am in the morning, and I started doing that. One is I have clients in APAC, and Asia Pacific, and then in Europe as well. And either needed to work late nights or early morning. So it was already morning for me. And then when my daughter was born, I wanted to get work done before she was awake. So I get up at 4am to this day. I do go to bed by about nine. But I'm I'm extremely productive in the morning before everybody else wakes up. And there are other distractions. So that's been a productivity hack for me personally for the past few years.

Andres Sandate:

Yeah, it seems to be consistent with a lot of the more successful people, they're the busiest people I know, too. Right? And you don't hear them talking about like, I don't have time. You know, they just learned to say no, and they know how to schedule. Right. And they prioritize and, and so I think that there's probably a lot that our listeners can take from that. Because a lot of people want to be involved in a lot of stuff. But then they realize like they've over committed. So it seems like you've found a good balance.

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, I think since you mentioned, I think that's really important as well. It's the ability to say no. I'm not the best person that all the time, right. But I've noticed that in past ones especially I do need to say more, no more often than not alike. And that is just to be fair to the people who I'm working with right now. So I can't keep up the quality of work and pay attention to them, whether it's my family or my clients, right? And yes, I do have maybe two or three week lead time before I can do a mentor session, right. But I need my time as well to build my companies, my business and at the same time help my clients and my mentees as well.

Andres Sandate:

Yeah. Well tell us how you unplug as we wrap up. I mean, there's obviously the human side of this. And so much of what we've talked about today is about you know, its performance. I know you're an avid cyclist, I know that, you know, your health is a big deal. You talked about having a family. So I'm curious, like what are some of the maybe some of the hacks that you've employed around, you know, maintaining your health and well being? Is it reading? Is it just unplugging? What, what kinds of things do you do?

Erik Bullen:

Yeah, so I'm, I love cycling and athletics. So I tend to do a lot of that I work out about six days a week. But when I do that, especially when I'm on my spin bike in my studio, I tend to double task and listen to podcasts or do the mental more mentally and physically as well. Right. So, so that's one productivity hack as well. Obviously, I'd love to spend time with my daughter and my wife, as well. And, you know, during normal times, we'd love to travel and I love to read as well. Reading both nonfiction sometimes fiction. And then on occasion, I binge on a show on Netflix or yeah, service every once a while.

Andres Sandate:

We're all guilty of that. Well, I want to ask you one more question. As we wrap up. You know, we both have children. I have three that are nine, six and four, you have you mentioned having almost isn't an eight year old? What is when you look ahead? When they're, you know, when they're our age? What do you think the venture industry looks like to them?

Erik Bullen:

I think that there's going to be a tremendous amount of innovation over the next 20-30 years, especially if you look at the some of the frontier technologies, you know, it's not going to be you're not going to have general AI in 20 or 30 years, right, the AI you see in movies, but I think there's tremendous innovation happening, for instance, in that sector with those technologies for the advancement of humanity. I think if you look at the all the negatives of the pandemic, the good thing is it's really accelerated a lot of innovation in healthcare and Life Sciences with mRNA, and so on. Okay, we're now solving COVID-19 with mRNA, can we solve cancer potentially right, or other diseases? So it's really encouraging about some of the outcomes of really being able to build a better world, right. And I think venture will eventually start looking at those frontier technologies as well. And I think that's what you'll start to see to. That said, I think there's, I worry a lot about the future as well, right? Especially given politics and social media and everything else that you see out there, right, and the influence on us as humans, right. And potentially, I don't want to get too much in a rabbit hole, but the divisiveness that I think some of the social media platforms cause so I think that's something that I'd like to see, we need to solve as as humanity overall to to have that better world for our our kids and children.

Andres Sandate:

Well, I completely agree. And I think one of the things that you're doing through your activity, your contributions, speaking up, being willing to join, you know, podcasts and talk openly about, you know, these issues, I think, is a big deal. And I'm hopeful that, you know, one of the things that our conversation will inspire is a is a further conversation, and an opportunity to talk about diversity, talk about, you know, the challenges that we face and talk about the role that venture capital, and the founders that are seeking capital from the space have a responsibility to write beyond their product and beyond, you know, their platform is like, what are the you know, what's the contribution, and I know that that's something that a lot, probably more founders are taking, much more serious consideration to, because their LPs are asking them to and demanding of it. So well, with that. I appreciate your time today. Eric, it was a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for joining us today on ATLalts.

Erik Bullen:

Sure, hey, do you want to you ask about book recommendations, right? Since you Yes,

Andres Sandate:

I will drop that in. So to send Yeah, please give me your book recommendations.

Andres Sandate:

Yeah, well, we'll definitely put the links to those two books in the show notes. And I appreciate that. Yeah, I'm a big reader. I know you are. I think one of the biggest things that you talked about that was a takeaway for me today was just learning mindset, this openness, as CEOs being, you know, aware that you have blind spots, surrounding yourself with people that can help fill those, fill those in and, you know, being remaining curious and remaining open to, you know, hearing advice. So, it's fantastic stuff, and I appreciate you coming on the show today.

Erik Bullen:

I do a lot of reading with my daughter these days, right. And a series we really love is Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. It's about female scientists and authors and everything. So it's a great series of books highly recommended. And then on the professional side, Matt Blumberg and Peter Berkland just launched a book. Matt is the founder and CEO of a company called Bolster that I'm part of, as well. It's a fractional executive marketplace. And he wrote a book called Startups CXO: A Field Guide to Scaling up your Company's Critical Functions and Teams. So there's a really good set of thought leadership in there from from industry leaders, it's a really good read for founder's on helping them scale.

Erik Bullen:

Hey, thanks for having me really enjoyed the conversation.

Andres Sandate:

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