Zach Coelius, Coelius Capital: “I look for entrepreneurs who can communicate in a single sentence”

The Web 2.0 Expo SF 2008 Launch Pad event.

Lisbon Investment Summit is less than three months away and the excitement is growing by the day. After I spoke with Jenny Fielding, I interviewed Zach Coelius, the Managing Partner at Coelius Capital, an advisor and investor in early stage technology companies.

Zach is a first timer in Lisbon Investment Summit and besides talking about his expectations for LIS and his amazing 1B exit, we talked about the Republican Party and gun control. In the end I asked him to teach me in June how to be recommended for “general awesomeness” on LinkedIn, like he is.

Read the whole interview below and make sure you register here for the Lisbon Investment Summit 2018, on June 6-7.

It’s your first time as a speaker at Lisbon Investment Summit, what are your expectations?

I’ve heard great things and I love Lisbon. One of the things that as an investor I really look for are the opportunities to explore the amazing stuff that is happening outside Silicon Valley. If you look at the history of innovation and technology the real exciting stuff tend to happen on the edges, I think international problems, international startups and international teams are some of the most exciting edges in technology right now, so Lisbon is a great opportunity to go see some cool stuff.

Your sister wrote that you have “an amazing ability to understand and see markets emerge before they become obvious”. Can you tell us which markets are emerging that aren’t obvious?

I don’t know if I necessarily see markets emerging but I like to pride myself on getting to listen to entrepreneurs who have discovered an emerging market. Truly if I knew where those new markets were I would just go start a new company to do it. The secret to the investing business is that entrepreneurs are the ones who discover those things and then hopefully they’ll share it with me and hopefully I’ll be smart enough to listen to them and jump on board for the crazy ride that is building a company. Obviously there’s a ton of interesting stuff happening all over the world, there’s stuff happening in crypto, there’s stuff happening in every market in fintech, but the best opportunities are found underneath the rocks and I don’t know where those are.

You got a 1B exit, what did you feel?

When it happened I woke up and I was shocked, it’s a huge number I never would have expected that. As a matter of fact, I’m still in shock.

Do you still find it weird that people call you “unicorn whisperer”?

(Laughs) it’s super weird. I don’t know what to say about that, but it works, people think it’s funny so I don’t mind. I’ve had worse nicknames so I’ll go with what I can get.

To be a successful entrepreneur is it hard work or is it luck?

Both. If you don’t work hard as an entrepreneur you better be really lucky and hope that you can win the lottery. On the other hand if you work hard you probably don’t have to be as lucky and you can figure out how to get to the right place and do great things. I believe that 90% of success is finding magic, find a product that your customers are desperate for and you can solve their problems. It’s hard work to find that, it’s one of the hardest things in the world. Hard work goes a long way in making things happen.

There’s this recommendation on LinkedIn from a friend of yours that says: “You work mornings, nights, weekends and holidays”.

Now that I live a cushy and better life I don’t think I work nearly as hard as my entrepreneurs do by an order of magnitude. Being an entrepreneur is the hardest job in the world because you can work yourself to death and still not do enough, compared to those guys and young ladies I’m living a very cushy life right now.

If an entrepreneur wants to reach out to you at Lisbon Investment Summit what do you recommend?

The best way to get a hold of me is LinkedIn or just grab me when i’m walking around.

As an investor, do you keep in touch with the startups you’ve invested in?

Absolutely. I’m a 4 time entrepreneur, I spent 20 years as an entrepreneur and I love to pretend I’m still useful. My companies will call me up and I get to help out on fun problems and I can’t really do that unless I keep in touch and stay on top of what they’re up to. I get to pretend I’m still in the game even though I’m definitely not.

You tweeted “being a VC is like having hordes of people throwing rocks at you in terms of requests for your time. But some of those rocks are diamonds”. Do you speak with everybody who reaches out to you?

Obviously not. When you give away money for free a lot of people call you and they’re like “hey do you want to give me some money?”, there’s a lot of people who are always trying to raise money. I look for stuff that is not obvious, that’s exciting. I look for entrepreneurs who can communicate in a single sentence, something that catches my eye, that is unique and different. I look for new things. A lot of the startups that are trying to raise money from me I’m just not the right fit for, because I don’t know their market and I don’t get excited about the problems that they’re working on.

What would your advice be for startups struggling to find investment?

Finding the magic is the hard part. When the startups are struggling to raise money often times my suggestion to them is that maybe they haven’t found it yet, they got to keep looking to find the magic. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t want to hear that they think they know the right answer. I don’t think that’s always true, sometimes they haven’t found it.

Second thing is sometimes people don’t like your market for one reason or another and it’s actually really good for the entrepreneur when that’s true, because that means your competitors aren’t being able to raise money either so that means you get to go slower and be more careful. Sometimes it’s to your best interest when it’s difficult to raise money because your market is difficult.

Truth is: raising money is one of the hardest things in the world to do, you have to communicate what you’re doing in a very short period of time to people who like me tend to be ignorant about your market and don’t know as much as you do. It’s a challenge.

You’re pretty vocal on Twitter about the Republican Party and also gun control. What’s your take on that?

Actually I agree with a large percentage of the traditional republican position on economics. I’m a capitalist, I believe in the market, I believe in the power of companies to change the world, I believe in allowing the entrepreneurs to do great things and I think the Republican Party, at least historically, not anymore, used to really stand for that. So I think a lot of my frustrations with the current Republican Party is that they don’t stand for what I really thought they did and that makes me really angry. I think that their positions on gun control, and the environment and liberty, the rights of individuals to love who they want and to live the lives that they want are wrong, totally wrong.

In our country we sell weapons that are designed to kill people, their only purpose is to kill people and it’s easier to buy them than it is to buy a beer, that’s totally wrong, it’s totally silly, it’s stupid and it needs to stop. When you go hunting for deers in Minnesota where i grow up you’re only allowed to have 5 bullets in your gun because anything more than that would be unfair yet we are willing to sell people guns that hold 50 bullets and that makes me angry.

Could you teach me in June how to have “general awesomeness” as a skill on LinkedIn like you?

I can try. Everyday I just try to do a little better, it’s not clear I’m all that good at things. But I’m trying.

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