Buck: Welcome back to the show everyone today my guest on Wealth Formula Podcast is Tom Wallace. Tom is a 40 year veteran of technology startups both as a founder and an investor and, after multiple successful exits most recently selling vector learning for 268 million dollars, he’s now the managing partner at Florida Funders which is a hybrid: a venture capital fund and angel investor network focused on finding funding and building the next generation of breakout technology companies in Florida. Tom welcome to Wealth Formula Podcast.
Tom: Buck thanks for having me on your show. I really appreciate it. It’s an honor to be here and thanks for hosting.
Buck: Yeah of course. And you know why don’t we start out you know this is a sort of a different area for us but why don’t you just start out a little bit by talking about your background I know we mentioned that you’ve been a tech guy, for the most part, your professional life. Talk a little bit about that and you know how you ended up I guess from being on the front lines as maybe an actual startup guide ultimately on the angel investor side.
Tom: Yeah sure so I come from a blue-collar family. Neither of my parents graduated from high school. And so when I got out of college it was 1980 and if you think about that time it was kind of the dawning of the microcomputer or personal computer revolution and I worked for a couple of years for a Fortune 500 company Alcoa my father said it’s the only real job I ever had and then at the age of 23 my best friend and I started our first company and we started a company in the personal computer space and had no idea what we were doing we were young we were green. Back then buck it wasn’t like today where there’s all these incubators and accelerators and all these mentors and so many people you can get help starting you know an entrepreneurship is such a you know a cool thing and such a hip thing back then it was something that not a lot of people were doing and I was like most of the kids I went to college with were looking to go work for IBM or some Fortune 500 company but it was really a special time and we got bit when you got bit by the entrepreneurial bug and if you think back every so often game-changing technology comes along and certainly the late 70s early 80s that was the case with a personal computer if you think about up until that time the only had access to computers were universities large corporations or pretty good sized companies and they were big computers they were expensive and they took a team of geeks to program them yeah that all changed in the late 70s with Apple and IBM introduced their first personal computer in 1981 and compact computer and all that and it really now every person every small business could have a computer and the software that came along with it from people like Bill Gates and Mitch Kapoor of Lotus123 that came along with it you didn’t any longer have to be a programmer or geek to figure out how to use this. So we start our business and that was our first company. We exited that about eight years later got about 20 million in sales and then kind of been doing it ever since and an entrepreneur and on the field as is I kind of look at I’ve been the core I was the quarterback for many years and you know living the daily grind and fight of being an entrepreneur. And I like being on the sidelines at this point
Buck: Got it. So you know we talked a little bit offline about my audience and where you know I tend to be for the most part you know alternative asset investors who are looking for different things generally you know heavily in real estate and that sort of thing. So you know a lot of the nomenclature maybe for this area is going to be a little bit foreign maybe just from an educational standpoint maybe kind of if you would you know you hear a lot of different types of things, words thrown around like angel investing and venture capital and private equity within technology, can you talk a little bit about that and maybe you know kind of where you’re focused.
Tom: Yeah sure so I kind of look at it in stages so early, early stage you know say Buck you were going to start a company a technology company tomorrow and you needed to raise a few hundred thousand dollars to get it going. The first thing you would probably do is go out to your family and friends and get them to invest so that’s kind of very very early stage probably pre you probably don’t have any revenue no customers it’s just an idea. The next stage is angel investing and that’s when you typically get a little bit past that family and friends maybe you’ve got some customers now you’ve got a real product you go out to that group and these are kind of and that and angels have changed over the years but you know many of us do it professionally so these are more sophisticated investors they do a lot of deals they see a lot of deals and we’ll talk more about that later. Then if you’re successful if your success continues you continue growing you get bigger now you’re looking to in that angel round is typically maybe 500 000 to a million maybe a little more maybe a little less, now you’re ready for you know a more institutional round or series a these rounds tend to be more like two to three million to 10 million amount amount that you’re raising that’s venture capital still early but you’ve got customers you’ve got some traction and then you know and that really from venture capital private equity is even later stage and the difference in and I spent the last kind of 10 years my career running private equity companies working a lot with private equity guys that’s tend to be that tends to be later stage companies they’re profitable they put a lot of leverage on them so the private equity companies typically put a lot of debt on these companies so there has to be that cash flow in ebitda to make that happen and so property equity guys are looking for two three four x returns on their companies maybe greater than when we exited vector solutions my last company. I take our last private equity round we provide our investors about eight or nine times their money back venture capital is different game they know they’re gonna invest in and by the way private equity guys nothing’s going to zero, they’re not investing in companies that are going to zero. I mean once a while it happens but it’s a rarity where venture capital is a little different game you know and it depends on where you’re playing it because if you’re playing in New York or Silicon Valley it’s a different game than you’re playing in Florida but typically we’re banking on a certain percentage of our companies going to zero that they’re just not going to be successful and you know some we’re going to get our money back and we’re going to make all our money on kind of the top third that’s how we look at Florida Funders the third or third or third but you know the you know the folks out in the valley probably look at it more like you’re investing in 10 companies nine are going to zero one’s gonna be unicorn and they’re gonna make all the returns on the one company. So you know it varies a little differently with you know where you’re playing geographically and what you’re doing but that kind of is how we look at that paradigm of you know stages of investing in venture capital versus private equity.
Buck: Obviously and you’re talking about you you sort of alluded to it a little bit but you know if the tech private equity folks are looking to return you know I think what did you say you know maybe for up to eight three or four three times over a period of how long like a decade or something like that.
Tom: I mean the returns typically they invest in money over a period about three or four years and then the returns start coming in shortly after that and they’re out by usually like 10 years right.
Buck: And then with angel, so what’s the compelling element that you like and maybe investors should know about your space which is you know the angel investing which is really the earliest I mean after friends and family right so it’s certainly the highest risk but yeah so what do you just like the asymmetric nature of that?
Tom: Well it’s risk reward so yeah I will admit I personally am a little bit of a deal junkie but you don’t have to be. If you look at some of the research, I would never suggest anybody that is you know as they look at their asset allocation across their investments that angel investing should be a large portion of it. It is for me because it’s what I do for a living so maybe a chair 20 of my net worth but 10 whatever but typically it’s a small sliver two three percent for an investor but if you do it right angel investing can and has historically outperformed every other asset class including venture capital and private equity that is research coming out of the Angel Capital Association Of America. So the problem is most people don’t do angel investing correctly. We call this the 5 Ds of angel investing, so diversity, deal flow, due diligence, domain expertise and discipline. So the first mistake most angel investors make I use my brother as an example my brother’s a very successful software CEO, he sold his last company for 1.6 billion dollars and I said to him one day Tim you know what about angel investing he said I’ve done that two or three times I went to zero that doesn’t work. Well you really can’t do it two to three times because the odds are against you you might as well go to the casino you really need to be up to build a portfolio a diversified portfolio like you have to in most investing, we say 10 to 15 companies you should invest in to really you know have enough diversity. Secondly is deal flow. How many deals do you look at to invest in each one again look at my brother I’m like Tim well how many deals did you look at to do these two or three deals he’s like well he just looked at those two or three like you know it Florida Funders and vendor we’ll look at 50 deals to do one. So we’re highly selective and we’re you know we like believe we’re getting the best of the best. And then due diligence is how much research and digging in did you do in your process and a lot of research on this 20 plus hours is you know really what you should do to maximize your potential returns if Florida Funders every company we do we have more like 80 to 100 hours of due diligence and this is everything from digging into the the founders and their background their experience to talking to those early customers asking about the product, why they buy it, how important it is, is it nice to have, does it have to have we really get into in their technology, what’s your technology stack look like, what’s their IP, so that’s a big part of it. And then domain expertise and this is investing in what you know. You’re a doctor right you’re a surgeon so if you were looking to invest in a medical device company you would know a lot more about that than me. So with us at 1000 Florida Funders we invest in software companies software as a service we invest in cyber security fintech edtech digital health areas that all of me and my partners have backgrounds in. So we’re investing in what we know. And then the last thing is discipline to be a good investor I would argue real estate I don’t know what you’re guessing you gotta come up with your your thesis and you gotta stick to it. And the biggest thing we see in angel investing or I see an angel investigators mistake people make is fomo. They invest because all their friends are investing and they don’t want to miss out on this deal that is not a good reason to invest and what we found is if you’re disciplined and you follow those other four d’s and that process and do that over and over again that you’re going to be successful and that this can be a very not only successful asset class from a return on investment standpoint but also fun. I mean think about it we’d like to say we get to go to work every day with these young talented smart people who are trying to change the world we’re gonna be more fun than that?
Buck: Yeah let’s you know exploring some of those d’s for a moment one of them I’m thinking about here is you mentioned deal flow and I now you’re in Florida. If I’m you know a software developer and I’ve got something I’m excited about, am I gonna go to Silicon Valley or I mean so how does that factor into this in terms of affecting your deal flow? Do you see some advantages in being you know on the other coast or what’s that been like in your experience?
Tom: Yeah we we do see some advantages in Florida is a very unique state we’re the third most populous state in the country growing rapidly we have great tax laws we’re a very pro state very unlike California in a lot of ways now again they play a different game it’s really not California Silicon Valley In San Francisco right I mean by the way all the venture capital invests in the united states goes into 60 of it goes into four little micro markets. Twenty percent goes in Silicon Valley twenty percent san francisco ten percent boston ten percent in new york so forty percent goes to the rest of the world. We have in Florida over the last decade really great success stories and technology companies like Chewy.com, Jetsmart, Fanatics, Knowbe4, Connect-wise, these are all unicorn companies built here in Florida where the people the entrepreneurs didn’t leave here to go to Silicon Valley they could have but they didn’t and we’re seeing more and more of that in fact we’re seeing the opposite happen where we’re getting calls from from founders are saying we’re getting out of the valley we’re getting out of San Francisco it’s too expensive to the talent google and facebook are sucking up all the talent they pay them they we can’t compete with them and we’re looking for a pro business state to come to and in the past you know when that happened it was more it was mostly Austin Texas had benefited from that in colorado places like Boulder and Denver but now we’re seeing it in Florida and it’s exciting and you know we have a lot to offer these founders, we have 45 incubators and accelerators across the state, we have a lot of support systems for entrepreneurs and we’re a very pro pro business state. So it’s exciting. And then the other thing that’s exciting from an investor standpoint is the valuations. You know companies in in Silicon Valley and San Francisco you know they’re they don’t have any revenues they have an idea and they’re worth 10 million dollars you know in Florida most of the companies we invest in already have revenues already have customers somewhere you know the revenues might be 50 000 in annual recurring revenue up to maybe 500 000, but we can invest in them at a valuation of you know free market valuation maybe 5 million 3 million 7 million. So we don’t need them to be a unicorn for us to have a very successful exit for us and for our fellow investors and we can get you know 10x 20x 30x returns with a company that’s exiting at 100 million dollars which is in the tech world is not a huge exit today.
Buck: Tell me how it works in terms of a typical I mean my you know my listeners are used to you know the types of real estate private equity particularly our accredited investor groups and things like that but how does a fund like this work? Is it you know a typical 2 and 20 type type structure you know and if you could kind of talk about that and you know maybe also some historical in terms of what you’re seeing you know obviously not promising anything future wise but what what kinds of results have you guys had?
Tom: Yeah so yes we’re two and twenty our fund is a two and twenty fund so it’s very typical.
Buck: So two percent annual basically under management and then twenty percent profit right and then right got it so that’s pretty standard and then and then in terms of in Florida Funders what kind of you know structures are you looking at are are you doing? Are these regulation D exemption type things or I mean are they 506 c’s or are they crowd funding or you know right crowdfunding or how are you structuring these?
Tom: Yeah so the way we work if we’re a little different animal. We’d like to think we have a pretty unique model is once a company makes it through our vetting process and we say okay we’re gonna invest in you. Our fund will put in the first, say we’re gonna raise a million dollars for this company, our fund will put in 500 000 and then we take the 500 000 we go out to our crowd curated accredited investors we only deal with accredited so we’re 506 C and then the crowd will fill in the rest, sometimes it’s a little light maybe the fun will make up the distance many times it’s over subscribed it will raise more for the founder or we’ll just shut it off. So you know again we’re a little a little bit different.
Buck: Sorry to interrupt but you’re saying that each opportunity you’re doing separately, you’re not doing it as a portfolio like a fund, you’re doing each business separately?
Tom: So we have two things we have a fund of our own that many of our just invest in the fund and we invest the money for them, but then we have this curated crowd of accredited investors who invest alongside our fund. So like myself personally I’m an investor in our fund I invest in almost every deal we do as well and I’ll vary what I put in the deals based on what I think what I like you know that’s that sort of thing. Now we have some many investors that are just in our fund they love what we’re doing they’re really excited about they’re like you know hey we don’t know technology, I don’t know technology, I don’t have time to look at even though you guys do all the due diligence and put it off on the portal and I don’t really have to do a lot of work you kind of take the heavy lifting out of angel investing for me, I don’t have the time to do it or I don’t know tech so why don’t I just give you the money and you guys invest it for me. And so we’re on our second fund to go back to your question about our returns we’re just stamming our first exits from our first fund which is about four years old. We had we’ll have we’ve had two in the last week and one was 1.8 x times your money back and one was a little over two so those are moderate returns in our world yeah and we’re playing you know we’re we we expect to have some of those but we also expect to have 10x 20x 30x deals and then we expect to have zeros too.
Buck: Right got it. In terms of right now in this day and age specifically talking about a recessionary environment, a pandemic environment, how is this all affecting your business and you know your business is that you invest in you know capital all of these things.
Tom: Yeah it’s been interesting because you know if you look back at 2009 2010 the great recession, the one area of investing that really never slowed and took was was early stage tech investing in an angel investing. It didn’t really have much of an effect on it. We’re kind of seeing that we’re still doing deals we’re very active or you know lots of deal flow you know some of our portfolio companies were severely affected by cobit but with the PPP loans and we work with our companies we don’t just invest in them and leave them alone we take a board seat we get involved we coach them we provide introductions to them we help them in any way we can be successful. Many of them got ppp loans that are going to be forgiven or you know that really helped them a lot some of them pivoted and most of them have really bounced. We lost one there was a restaurant tech company which you know obviously that’s not the space you want to be in this downturn in overdays but they weren’t doing so great anyway. But a lot you know some you know some of our companies are k-12 education companies most of them have really bounced back now I mean they took a hit but they bounced back. We have companies in the healthcare space that you know they’re involved a lot with elective surgery, they obviously took a hit but now they’ve bounced back. So it’s been interesting it’s been on you know we we hunkered down there with our companies for a while and said hey our message to them was cut your burn preserve cash you don’t know when you’re gonna be able to raise money again extend your runway and make sure you can live the fight your way through this and most of them have done that very successfully.
Buck: Where does for for your typical investor and I think you kind of had mentioned a little bit in terms of allocation, but you know if you look at a portfolio of you know 100 of your investable assets, what sort of a rule of thumb people I’m maybe not you know Tom Wallaces the world where you’re in the middle of this but if you’re looking to get exposure what what do you tell people what is sort of the rule of thumb on these types of things whether it be you know direct technology investments or angel investments or how do you look at or how do you suggest people look at it?
Tom: You know I think it’s five percent or less you know whatever you’re comfortable with but you know. There’s something that’s happened out there if you think about technology the days of buying amazon and apple and a couple hundred million dollar valuation rounding that to a trillion dollars or over. Facebook went public the valuation was what 70 billion. Uber went public valuation 40 50 billion. These companies because there’s so much venture capital money out there these companies are waiting so long to go public to really get phenomenal returns angel investing is how you’re going to do it because you know again companies are waiting so long to go public and so we you know again if you do the five Ds and you diversify you know there there’s an opportunity for for great returns here and you know we’re only seeing that trend more and more and it’s becoming more exciting with all the changes to crowdfunding and all the rules that came out in you know when crowdfunding was first made legal back within six or seven years now so yeah it’s an exciting space and it can be one again that you can have a lot of fun with and you can really see some exciting companies and meet some crazy founders great founders a tad crazy yeah and but yeah I’d say five percent or less I mean that’s typically what our number would be.
Buck: So before we go maybe just sort of in general like for Florida Funders that’s what it’s called and what’s the website
Buck: So if you kind of gave us you know your you know your elevator pitch so to speak on on Florida Funders and why to look into it more and how you’re different from the other angel groups what would you say to that?
Tom: Our secret sauce has a couple things. One is deal flow we’ve been named by cb insights and pitch book both those organizations says the most active EC in the southeast the most active venture capitalist in Florida. So we are out and about in the tech community down here, we’re very well known. Every month 50 to 100 companies just go to our website and apply for funding. So we’re looking at way more deals and as a result we think we’re getting access to the best deals. The second part of our secret sauce is the extensive extensive due diligence we do, even more we invest alongside some Silicon Valley venture capitalists some New York venture capitalists and we often have co-investors in our deal and I would argue that almost nobody does the level of due diligence we do and that’s everything from really getting to know the founders a lot of this is betting on the jockey to you know those early customers and interviewing them to plugging in a subject matter expert and we tap into our network of 1500 investors and you know we’re looking at a health tech digital play you know we’re pulling people that have extensive domain expertise who can really work in that space who have years of experience and they really help us evaluate these deals and once we invest they help these companies advise them and mentor them and coach them. So that’s kind of what makes us different here at Florida Funders and if you think about you know where the future is for so many states, and obviously you know we’re focused on Florida. We like to say we’re we’re looking to change Florida from a state we want Florida to be as known if not no more for technology and innovation than we are today for the mouse and tourism and strawberries.
Buck: Sure got it. Well listen Tom it’s been great and very helpful and educational for my audience here. Again it’s Florida Funders like fun having funders dot com Floridafunders.com and Tom I wanna thank you again for being on the show and maybe have you on again sometime and let us know how your next fund does.
Tom: Will do Buck it’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much. All the best to you and your listeners and I’ve really enjoyed spending this time with you.
Buck: We’ll be right back.