Arora urges startups to skip venture funding

June 26, 2006

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Adarsh Arora is doing it again. He thinks local entrepreneurs can succeed by running a tight ship with little or no venture funding. He wants entrepreneurs to take the plunge, because he knows startups are Chicago's future. He sees cash flow as the make-or-break issue.

Says Arora, "Almost every early-stage company board meeting zeroes in on burn rate, whether venture funded or not." As a successful entrepreneur, Arora understands the benefits of containing costs. He wants to pass the knowledge along.

Thursday, Arora, president of TiE Midwest (The Indus Entrepreneurs) brings together three tight-fisted Chicago entrepreneurs who have grown their businesses by watching costs and declining venture funding.

To tell their tales of successful boot-strapping, Arora has cast Mike Domek, CEO of TicketsNow, with estimated annual sales of $142 million without outside investors; Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals, a Web-based products company with more than 250,000 subscribers; and Lucas Roh, CEO of Hostway, which generates nearly $100 million in sales with no major VCs.

Arora has also landed one of Chicago's top early stage VCs, Matt McCall, managing director of Northfield-based DFJ Portage Venture Partners to moderate his program on Capital Efficiency for Growing Businesses.

"It's very positive to see companies growing their businesses efficiently," McCall says. "We need to see as many 'horses' in the race as possible."

Pointing to the dot-com boom, McCall adds, "These companies run their businesses in a more rational manner than their predecessors."

Plus, McCall sees opportunity for VCs: "Many of these businesses eventually need venture capital when they want to accelerate growth."

Proving the point, McCall recently invested in TicketsNow. "We're hoping for big things," he says. "If TicketsNow can keep growing 70 to 120 percent annually, it will establish itself as a significant e-tailer. It is already the highest-trafficked secondary ticket site in the world."

Pointing to 37Signals, McCall says, "Jason has built a great business, which has been self-sufficient almost from the start. They are well-known nationally, and continue to scale virally. Jason has one of the top 100 blogs in the U.S."

McCall knows less about Hostway, but adds, "Their growth is pretty amazing given the shakeout from the hosting wars.

"All three companies have strong prospects."

The event starts at 6 p.m. at the offices of Gardner Carton and Douglas. Admission is free to TiE members, and $20 for non-members, who can sign up at www.tie-midwest.org. The event is a sure sellout and a bargain for any would-be penny-pinching Chicago entrepreneur.

Vintage Arora

While Domek, Fried, Roh and McCall are the reason to show up Thursday, take note of Arora. He's making a difference in Chicago. His programs are inventive, practical, timely, creative and educational.

Last October, he created TiECON: Entrepreneurship in a Flat World. The event featured Motorola CEO Ed Zander and Forbes-list billionaires Michael Krasny and J.B. Pritzker sharing ideas on entrepreneurship and innovation.

In January, Arora conjured up the Great Chicago Tech Debate to assess Chicago's slow pace in entrepreneurship. In March, Arora proved Chicago is no fly-over zone for top VCs by hosting a fireside chat at the University Club with Norwest Venture Partners managing partner Promod Haque, Forbes magazine's No. 1 VC. Last August, he even offered up 10 Chicago entrepreneurs presenting their stories in 10 minutes each.

In addition to his work at TiE, Arora is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Lisle Technology Partners. He's become a force on Chicago's tech scene, and that's a good thing.

Diversity drives innovation

Microsoft Midwest General Manager Janet Kennedy delivered Saturday's keynote at the Black Data Processing Associates education competition and fund- raiser at the Hyatt Regency. Kennedy believes diversity can propel innovation.

Says Kennedy, "To be innovative, a company must be driven by a host of different thoughts, ideas and experiences."

Adds BDPA President and Allstate IT executive Yvette Graham, "This is about giving back to the community by training our high school youth in technology." The winners of Saturday's event proceed to Los Angeles for a national scholarship competition.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.

 

 

 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners