S5 Ep 4. Carl Grant: Executive Vice President of Global Business Development at Cooley
Tim Schigel: Welcome to Fast Frontiers. I am your host, Tim Schigel managing partner of Refinery Ventures. In this episode, we're talking to Mr. Carl Grant who leads business development firm- wide for one of the top venture startup firms in the country, Cooley. He assists clients in connecting with sources of angel investment, venture capital, and private equity. Carl also co- founded VentureRaise, a LinkedIn- like platform with a specific purpose of helping entrepreneurs identify investors who are a fit and connecting them through trusted referral sources. In today's episode, we're going to talk about Carl's career in venture capital and technology and what it's like working with startups and finding fortune by happenstance in one of America's economic epicenters and establishing the Austin Venture Association. And then finally, we'll talk a little bit about the nature of remote work and changing geography of work due to COVID- 19. The biggest theme or so what I hope you can take away from this conversation is that you got to take what you know well and get creative. Carl took his experience at Cooley building connections for entrepreneurs and built a product where he saw a need by creating VentureRaise, a platform for entrepreneurs to match with venture funding. Then please enjoy my conversation with Carl Grant. Carl, welcome to Fast Frontiers. Thank you so much for joining me on this podcast today.
Carl Grant: It's my pleasure, Tim. Thanks for having me.
Tim Schigel: You have seen a lot of connections through your role at Cooley, definitely have been on the frontier in many different respects geographically and from a market standpoint, et cetera. But first I'd love to just dive in a little bit more on your background, your experience, and what makes you tick. If you could, actually, share a little bit about where you grow up and what ultimately brought you to Austin, Texas?
Carl Grant: Well, I should tell you, Tim, that I was born in Ohio. So I still at the heart of me consider myself an Ohion. Born in Youngstown, Ohio, moved to Columbus, spent a little time in the Philadelphia suburbs, but really Northern Virginia was where I grew up from first grade on. And I went back to Ohio for college and then to Indiana for grad school. And so I have those Midwestern roots and I've taken them with me wherever I go. And so as I grew up in Northern Virginia, I went back to Northern Virginia and really wanted to be an entrepreneur after getting my MBA. And I love entrepreneurial activity, but sometimes the economic cycles and circumstances go against you. And so I tried to start a cable television network with my dad right out of graduate school. And we got bits and pieces of the enterprise up and running. But back then, this was the early'90s, it was a very capital intensive business. And our inability to raise the capital that we needed, ultimately kept us from putting up the whole network. Today you can do it without all that capital. It's fairly easy to stand something like that up. And so after doing that, look, I met my wife, we had our first baby, reality set in, she wanted to stay home and raise our kids. And so we made the tough decision of leaving the entrepreneurial venture and going and taking a job. And so I had some jobs early on too that really enabled me to get to know the entire venture ecosystem. My first job that was really part of this space was being the capital attraction manager for Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. Fairfax County, back then, if you could rewind, if you're old enough to remember this time period in the mid- nineties, it was really the beginning of the internet. Email had just come out. The world wide web just became a thing. Browsers just became a thing. And all of that activity was really instigated by the federal government. And most of the guts of the internet were in Northern Virginia. So if you wanted to get an internet domain, you had to get it from network solutions. If you wanted to get an email address, typically it was coming from AOL, PSI net, or one of the other internet service providers in Northern Virginia. So 70% of the world's internet traffic traveled through Northern Virginia. So it was really the place to be back then and I went around as an Emissary visiting venture capitalists in Silicon valley going up, and Sandhill road. Everybody would meet with me because I was not a threatening person. I wasn't asking for their money, but I was telling them about deal flow out of Northern Virginia. And after doing that in New York and Boston, I managed to attract a lot of capital to Northern Virginia. We held the first venture fare in 1997, which was kind of the shot heard around world. And then we doubled the number of venture funds in Fairfax County during the two years that I was there and I didn't lose any entrepreneurs. And so after a successful two- year run as a government employee, I got recruited to PricewaterhouseCoopers and did the same thing for them. We built up a huge practice there. When I figured out what was the secret sauce to selling something they needed, but they didn't want, that was an audit, what a miserable thing to sell. Nobody wanted to buy an audit. But I sold a lot of audit engagements and every entrepreneur that raised venture capital needed an audit and back then they wanted a big four. It was five big five back then, but there's four now audit. And so by connecting those entrepreneurs to venture capitalists, I was able to then secure audit engagements with each of those companies. Did that successfully for two years. And then I didn't realize it was the end of the internet bubble, but I made all my friends millionaires, which was fun. That was a good time. I had a lot of rich friends. And I had a lot of job offers because everybody and their brother was doing a startup back then, and everybody was getting funded even with silly ideas in the late'90s. But I joined a real company that was put the first company to put video on the internet. If you can believe this, it was 22 years ago, I was part of the management team of a company called ICAST. We raised a 36 million dollar series, a round led by NEA, and we had west coast investors as well. And we thought we were going to conquer the world with this. If you can imagine Tim, we raised 36 million dollars on one frame per second motion JPEG.
Tim Schigel: What year was this again?
Carl Grant: This is 2000. This is the year 2000.
Tim Schigel: Amazing.
Carl Grant: And then we got our money March 2000 and the market cratered. And we didn't know that the party was over because we were fat, dumb, and happy with 36 million dollars in the bank and we were burning 4 million dollars a month at one point. And stringing T1 lines to traffic cams that nobody was watching. But we weren't really generating revenue. We were putting together partnerships with companies like Sony and we had big heads, but after about nine months or so our venture investors said why don't we bring somebody in from the west coast, one of our CEOs to come and see if there's really anything here? And I remember this guy, Woody, he came from the west coast and spent about a week with us and then shut the company down and that was rough. Then I joined a friend of mine, it was kind of an early FinTech company, it was a company that was doing financial services morphing to the data company. And I came in to expand the company and to grow it and we took it from a million dollars to 2 million in revenue and then 9/ 11 happened.
Tim Schigel: Oh, wow.
Carl Grant: And who you have is venture investors really matter. That's one of the things I learned is you got to know how they behave in good times and bad. So NEA, they pulled the plug. I mean, they're a go big or go home venture fund and I get that. The next fund they came in, I won't mention them by name, but not a top- tier venture fund. So on 9/ 12 if it wasn't bad enough, seeing the world train centers go down, our venture investors said cut everybody's salary in half. I looked at Mark who founded the company I was on the board with them. I said I can't work for that amount of money. I've got kids. I had four kids at this point in time and he goes, well, we're not going to do that. So we cut the staff in half instead. And that was just the beginning the unraveling of the company. At that point, Cooley had asked me to come and join them. And I did, and my wife looked at me after that and said, Carl, well, we have five kids. Well, I'm raising all these kids. Will you please not do any more startups? And so I obliged. So I'm a startup guy at the core of who I am, Tim. And so for the past 20 years, I've lived vicariously through the entrepreneurs that I've helped launch their businesses. I get down and I lock arms with them. I helped them with their ideas. I helped them learn from the mistakes that I've seen made in other companies and I helped them make good decisions. And at the right time, I get them connected to sources of capital and with other management team members that can help them build their companies as well as partnerships and customer relationships, if I have those connections.
Tim Schigel: Those experiences are obviously very formative, particularly overcoming adversity, going through the bubble, et cetera. How has that informed how you look at the markets we're in today?
Carl Grant: Well, we have a very uncertain future ahead and I don't know when this will air in, but we have a lot of unstablenesses in the political sphere international. And I've talked to some entrepreneurs. I work with a lot of young people. I enjoy that. And a lot of the investors today are very young as well. And when I talk to some of these young entrepreneurs, I say as you're raising this capital, I'd really make sure that you have somebody who's at least been through a recession before because some of these guys investing today, they were kids in 2008, they were in school. They don't know what that is like. I was the founding board member of a bank in 2007. Believe me, I'm still an entrepreneur Tim, I just have to do it in ways that I don't quit my day job.
Tim Schigel: Right.
Carl Grant: And Cooley has given me a rope and let me go almost hang myself with the bank. Who would've ever thought Bear Stearns would go down in the middle of a capital raise? But you know, when you look around the boardroom, when you're going through that, all of a sudden experience really matters. Okay. We had a DNO insurance provider on the board, that's directors and officers liability insurance. You don't think that's important until Bear Stearns goes down in the middle of the capital raise, and you're not going to be able to raise 29 million to open your bank branch. And all of a sudden, directors and officers liability insurance is very important because is you could get sued, right? And then other guys on the board, you want to have people on the board that know what to do. Okay. So I'm just going to give you an example of the kind of thing entrepreneurs need to think about. So we had raised 9 million dollars from individuals that were going to fund this, but we needed our investment bank to raise the remainder of this. And we had a lot of folks that we owed a lot of money to. I mean, we owed somebody$ 500, 000. And so now you're stuck in a situation where you got to work through this and we did, but thank goodness we had people on the board that had been through situations like this before and were able to say, look, we're holding onto this 9 million dollars, we're going to use the interest, back then there was interest Tim, the interest to pay off these vendors we owe money to, and we're going to work everything out. And we talked$500, 000 into$175, 000. And we worked through it all and we sold the bank. We sold it to a publicly- traded bank.
Tim Schigel: Yeah.
Carl Grant: For pennies on the dollar, but still, it was better than it could have been. And so you need to have people around your board and on your team that know how to get out of situations like that because you don't know what lies before you.
Tim Schigel: That is such a good point. Not something I thought we'd talk about today, but it's a great reminder that's coming up with a number of our portfolio companies as well. And I bring it up with some of the CEOs and maybe a little surprised that they're not thinking about it, but what you brought up is a great reminder. It has nothing to do with whether they're a good leader or a good CO, but if they haven't lived through it, you could hear about it. But living through it is a very different thing.
Carl Grant: And I think you've lived through something you got to live through it.
Tim Schigel: I've lived through the same yeah. The same cycles. Exactly. But it's a very good reminder and great suggestion for entrepreneurs to think about that as they're putting together their investor groups and the rest of their advisory boards and corporate boards.
Carl Grant: Yeah. And look, when you're heading into uncertain times, it's good to raise more than you need. Right. Because what happens is if we hit a hiccup here and we haven't really hit it yet, but if we do, then it's hard to raise capital. Guys like you, Tim, you're not looking for new deals. You're looking to nurse the wounded and take care of the portfolio really. I mean, that's what happens. And VCs go into preservation mode and hibernation. I remember when I thought the recession of 2000 was going to be over, I was really close to the managing partner at new enterprise associates, despite the failed portfolio company. And I said I saw some signs of improvement in the economy. And I said you guys are going to start investing now. And he told me the date when they were going to start investing. And it was like a year from when I thought they were going to do. And I'm like, wow, a whole other year we got to wait. And sure enough, right on the date that he said they would start investing, everybody started investing. So really entrepreneur listening, be prepared for something like this, don't run in fear, but you got to prepare. It's just like having some emergency cash on hand or food on hand, you hope you don't need it, but it's good to have.
Tim Schigel: Yeah. And don't assume that you're going to be able to go to market the end of this year. If you have a chance to raise it now, get it done, make sure you have good 24 months runway. Well, I started in the venture business in 98 and the first company I was involved in was in your neck of the woods. Well, the Virginia neck of the woods Annapolis US Center Networking.
Carl Grant: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I know the company well.
Tim Schigel: Yeah. So another way that you've learned and had been productive in uncertain times is during COVID with the formation of VentureRaise, which I think is a fascinating story and that has created a life of its own as well. Correct?
Carl Grant: Yes, Tim. So it really was a solution to a problem that I had as so many good companies are. Right?
Tim Schigel: Mm- hmm(affirmative).
Carl Grant: So I've always held myself in and our team at Cooley out as connectors willing to make connections to sources of capital. And usually, we get about one or two entrepreneurs a week that need our help and that's totally doable. I used to do all my own research to figure out who was a good fit. And then the activity picked up such that I started to use a research team to do it. And so the way we used to do this, an entrepreneur sends an executive summary or deck. I send that after looking at it out to a research team, they research who's a right fit to invest in that company and they do that in pitch book, and then they query those results against my LinkedIn sales navigator. And then they tell me this is who I'm connected to that would fit for this company. I send that list to the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur looks at, it says, I want to talk to these. And then we make 10 or so introductions or referrals, double opt- in referrals. That's a very time- consuming process that I just described to you, Tim, that takes about a month and a half after you get through all of the double opt- ins, and they're buried in your inboxes and there're hundreds of emails later. And so what happened is in the middle of COVID entrepreneurs could not get out to venture fairs and events and meet investors.
Tim Schigel: Right.
Carl Grant: In other ways, other than going through guys like me who know most of them. So this is a perfect storm. I took over Cooley's relationship with Techstars in the middle of COVID in the middle of moving to Texas. And you can imagine what it's like to go from a six bedroom house on 20 acres to a condo. And so I had my hands full. I didn't have a lot of extra time. Right? And I'm driving what was supposed to be a two- day trip, turned into a three or four- day trip because a hurricane came through. So in the middle of all this, my inbox just blew up with hundreds of entrepreneurs trying to get my help getting to sources of capital. And as I'm driving to Texas, I'm thinking there's got to be a better way to do this. The way a venture capital referral hasn't changed since I started in the business in the nineties. Right? And so I'm thinking about this. I'm thinking, man, there's all the things that have changed since I started in this and there're like apps for dating where you could find the perfect match. If you're you want to meet someone, you've got LinkedIn for business, you've got social networks. You can find your friends, you can Zoom, we've got video. Like, why are we sending emails with attachments like we did in the late nineties? And so that's when I really envisioned this platform. It's a LinkedIn- like platform that will take all of that information that otherwise would have to be found in PitchBook or on websites and all the information on LinkedIn and bring it into a smart system where an entrepreneur can come in, put his or her information up, build a profile, just like you would in social media or dating and put the certain elements about your company and where you're located. I mean, this is what it pulls out of it, where you're located, how much revenue you have, who you're selling to, how much you're raising, whether or not you're a female or minority entrepreneur, and a number of other little items like that. And then what it does is it queries the database of investors and it shows that entrepreneur on a percentage basis how well of a fit each fund is for their company. But it doesn't take them directly to the fund because guys like you, Tim, don't like entrepreneurs just coming and barraging you with stuff. And you like to get stuff from people you know and trust. Right?
Tim Schigel: Exactly.
Carl Grant: If I say, Tim, I saw this great deal that I think you ought to take a look at, you're probably going to be a little bit more open to looking at if it comes from me as opposed to some entrepreneur you've never heard of before. Right? And so that's what this system does. It'll show you which trusted sources of deal flow or connectors are connected to these investors that would be a fit for you. And then you get to decide as an entrepreneur, do I want to get to know somebody who works for a law firm or a bank or an accounting firm or whatever. And/ or is TriNet a big customer? You know, it's a human resources PEO company. Anyways, you need all these things, but maybe you already have one and you don't want to talk to this person. So perhaps there's another connector that gets you to that same investor. Or perhaps you see that there's one person who knows like 30 people that could invest in your company. Maybe you ought to invest in getting to know that person. They're not going to send you to the investor unless they get to know you and if they're a service provider, they probably want you to use their services. And that's usually the quid pro quo that goes on here. And so I take what was a month and a half process of helping an entrepreneur get to investors, and literally I can do it in the time I'm waiting for an Uber. That's how much of a time- saving it is for me. So it was a huge solution to the problem I had, and I can make more investor referrals than before and they're more targeted. I'm not sending a life sciences company to a company that doesn't do life sciences because I forgot. I know exactly what you invest in, and I've updated it with you. I've either done a Zoom call with you and updated it, or I've researched it on your website, or I've sent you a survey where I've had you update your deal flow. And so it gets smarter and smarter over time, we get more and more connectors on the platform over time. We've got over a thousand investors on the platform, we've got something like four or 500 entrepreneurs, and I think a hundred connectors on the platform. So it's its still early stage, but we've got some of the biggest companies in the world, big fours, law firms, PEOs. We're selling to the enterprise today. And it's been quite exciting. Look, when we launched this business, it wasn't a business. It was a solution to a problem that I had. I have a full- time job. I can't go run a business while I'm getting paid by my company. So we actually brought on a CEO who's running the company and turning it into a business, which is quite exciting. I'm going to be the biggest raving fan and customer of the business because I designed the software and it's being improved by the other customers that are coming on board and saying what they need.
Tim Schigel: Yeah. That's a big problem. And I think you hit on something that I think is really important for entrepreneurs to know that they can learn from this platform, which is, who are the right investors for me to talk to? When I hear entrepreneurs say, oh, I've got a list of 80 investors that we're going to send our plan to and just kind of carpet bomb. That is not the way to fundraise.
Carl Grant: No, it doesn't work.
Tim Schigel: And there's usually less than a dozen funds that really fit the criteria who will actually understand your business.
Carl Grant: Exactly.
Tim Schigel: If you're pitching to somebody and they don't get it, then you're talking to are the wrong people. Right? So that alone is valuable, I think, to the entrepreneurs.
Carl Grant: It doesn't change the way the investor gets the deal flow though they get an email just like they used to, but they see that it comes from a person that they trust. And then rather than clicking on an attachment, they click on a link that takes them back to the profile. And the entrepreneurs, I mean, it has Tinder- like functionality. I'm too old for Tinder. I guess the whole Tinder thing, I was already married.
Tim Schigel: Swiping and stuff like that.
Carl Grant: It's like you click left to pass and you click right to accept. And then what the beautiful thing is the platform generates an email intro from me to the investor without having to find it in the bottom of my emails that has been sitting there for two weeks because it got buried and the entrepreneurs sending me more emails asking if I've heard back from that investor and it just speeds up the process.
Tim Schigel: True confession, I did sign up early on when you told me about it, but I haven't been recently, so I'm going to reengage. It sounds like it's also matured quite a bit since I probably logged in, I don't know how early I was, but it was probably pretty early on it.
Carl Grant: Well, we can get on and walk through it together.
Tim Schigel: Oh, yeah. Okay. I think of you as a super- connector and that's evidence of it right there. What are some of the other big lessons that you've learned in that process that you would share with entrepreneurs?
Carl Grant: Well, can I talk about geography in the lesson here a little bit?
Tim Schigel: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Carl Grant: When I started in this world of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, it used to be that you had to move to the bay area where Boston and later on New York city to get funded. The coastal companies, mainly the bay area early on, and boy, has that changed. So now I get the bay area funds saying we don't want to invest in the coast. You know, we want to stay away from coast. I can't tell you how many funds, there's still some that still invest in the old model, but I'm telling you, it's a tectonic shift, Tim, that the funds want to invest in places like Cincinnati, Ohio, or Columbus, or even Austin to overfunded now for some of them. But they really want to look outside of the overfunded areas. They find better valuations. They find more retention on the management teams. They find lower salaries and cost of living. They appreciate that and so that's the biggest change I've seen so entrepreneurs don't pick up and move to the bay area to launch your business, stay in a town near a city preferably that has some resources. You want to have... Well, nowadays with COVID with the whole COVID shift and you don't necessarily need them in the city, but in the past, you've had to have your auditors and your lawyers and your bank and certain functionality to help you as an entrepreneur. But not necessarily in one of the venture centers, right? There are whole funds that are developed with the theme of flyover country and investing in non- traditional markets. And so if I could just say one other thing that VentureRaise has done which I think is pretty cool is the venture industry was a black box. When I entered into trying to be an entrepreneur early on, it was a bit black box. Where do you even start? I had to build all these relationships from nothing but most people don't get to do that. If you're a minority entrepreneur outside of Cincinnati, and you're not connected to the venture ecosystem, and you don't know anybody who is, what do you do? Who are you going to talk to? You can actually get on this platform, and this is the great equalizer, one can mark that you are a minority or female entrepreneur so that which funds actually focus on companies, there's actually funds that are focused on these companies today. And you could see based in Cincinnati or outside of Cincinnati, who's going to be the best fit for this company? And then you can navigate it and start to build your relationship. So if somebody reaches out to me that has a good idea, that is in one of these areas, I'm going to listen to them. I am, I'm going to coach them. I'm going to tell look you're pre- revenue, I get zero responses for pre- revenue companies so you're going to have to build your business and turn it into a business and move it beyond idea in order to be attractive to my contacts. But certainly, start out talking to folks in your community. There're sources of capital right there in Cincinnati. Let's get you connected, Tim, who do you know? Right.
Tim Schigel: Odds are your angel seed money is going to come from local resources.
Carl Grant: Yeah, that's my experience. It's still the same thing. It's really about a two- hour driving radius around where you live because most angel investors are investing other than it's the best thing for reasons, other than it's the best thing they could do with their money. They probably could do better things with their money, but they have some sort of emotional attachment to what you're doing to you perhaps and they want to be part of it. You know, maybe they want to be entrepreneur like me that wants to live vicariously through what you're doing. That's what you're going to have to tap into in your local angels.
Tim Schigel: Yeah. And some folks may want to move to go to some accelerator somewhere. One of the big benefits of an accelerator is getting matched up with mentors, but you can also do that on your own. You don't necessarily have to do an accelerator. You could reach out and it's amazing, entrepreneurs love helping other entrepreneurs, right? Especially if they've been successful. So that always worked for me when I was kind of early in my career. Reach out to people who've been through it, and especially if they have roots, if they're from your same hometown or what have you, and they could be a huge source of advice and assistance when you're in that earliest stage.
Carl Grant: I agree. Not all the best companies come out of accelerators, but being an entrepreneur can be a lonely thing. I know. I did a startup where I was working for four years, pretty much in an office not surrounded by other people and it's a lonely place. Right? And so it's nice to have a community around you. And so I've been involved with Techstars. That's a great program I've been involved with capital factory and several other of these, I don't want to start picking them out one by one, city by city, but there's almost every small town has something where you can go and be around other entrepreneurs. So even in my work now, Tim, I'm working remotely. I travel what I need to, I go into capital factory, which is an accelerator here in Austin, Texas, and throughout Texas. And I just like to be there a day a week, at least, just to be around the entrepreneurs and inevitably folks that I've bumped into or done zooms with, they'll come up and talk to me. And it's a good way to stay plugged in and be part of the ecosystem.
Tim Schigel: So share if you will, what you're doing in Austin, in terms of that community, you mentioned that there are a lot of folks moving there. It's been known as a kind of a tech community and city and home to South by Southwest, but there's still plenty of opportunity there as well.
Carl Grant: Well, Tim, I feel blessed to have been in the right spot at the right time during each of the booms that we've had post whatever. So like Northern Virginia during the run- up of the internet, and then I started covering New York back in 2008 when New York became the epicenter. And that was exciting. I did that for two years, and I didn't know that it was going to be the epicenter of the next economic boom but I was right there in the middle of it and was part of it. And that was exciting. Well, so I've been coming to Austin, Texas since 2013 for South by Southwest. And I really think South by Southwest is what positioned Austin to be the go- to place during the whole COVID transition. And because so many of us have been here so many times and know that city, know the community, and I like the vibe here. And so this was pre- COVID 2019. We were actually having a corporate group offsite here in Austin, Texas, and my wife had heard six or seven years from me, how awesome Austin was, every time I'd come home. You know, so think about this, a second week of March, and in most places it's still cold. There's still some snow. And then you come to Austin, it's 78 degrees and it's sunshine, you're wearing shorts and flip flops and it's like a spring break for the tech community. So what's not to love? So every year I'd come back and I'm like why do we live here in this cold weather? And so we were trying, we were looking at Florida, we were looking different places where I could commute back, and so forth. So I brought her out here in 2019, and we go out on a boat on Lake Travis and looking at homes. And much to my surprise, she said let's do this. And so here we are. So we bought a place in 2019 and we had no plans to move or anything. We had to figure all that out. Well, COVID was the perfect time for that, except that it was hard to sell a house. Nobody came to look at our house for a long time and so as soon as that started to change, we were able to sell the house and move here in August 2020. So I look like a freaking genius for doing this, Tim, because Elon Musk followed me here, as well as Oracle and everybody else.
Tim Schigel: They all heard the secret was out.
Carl Grant: Yeah. Right. Yeah. I'm sure they all heard Carl Grant move there. And so the place we bought has gone up by a third and I mean, there's so many entrepreneurs and VCs moving here, I can't keep up with it all. So what I did was, and this is ahead of Cooley having a formal presence here. We have an informal essence here. There's a few of us that have done the work from Austin during COVID, we've got people working from all over the place right now. So this is not unusual.
Tim Schigel: Mm- hmm( affirmative).
Carl Grant: We've got people in Florida and the Carolinas and all sorts of other places. And so I don't know what it's going to look like when people start going officially back to the office again. But anyways, so I have started to take advantage of what's here in Austin. I realized that there were a lot of old- timers that have been here from the beginning with ties back to the Austin ventures crowd. And then there's all these newbies, all these young people moving here, and I'm getting to know them as well as the old- timers and I'm realizing they don't know each other. And so from what I learned back in the Mid- Atlantic region, the Mid- Atlantic venture association is what I used to attract all those venture capitalists to Fairfax County back in the day. I just redid that here. I got a couple people together, got an entrepreneur and a VC, and we formed the Austin Venture Association. And we had a kickoff event rooftop overlooking the state capital. We had 80 venture capitalists show up. It was a fantastic event, and we're doing an encore event to that during South by Southwest. And right now we're focused on building community. And the goal is to really have quarterly marque events. We're planning a party barge event out on one of the lakes for the spring, which will be fun. And the community seems to really like it. We've got all the big players in as founding sponsors. We've got a full- time executive director and a board and the association is a pro bono client of Cooley. So we are able to pull it all together.
Tim Schigel: Wow. Well, I am going to have to make sure I get on the invitation list for the barge cruise I think. One of our team members is coming down for a stop by so we'll connect.
Carl Grant: Shoot me an email on each of those. And I will get you on the invite list.
Tim Schigel: Yeah, it's a great time. So through all this shift that's taken place in terms of geography seems to be different this time as a Midwesterner, we've talked about it from time to time, but now it's different. And I know you see that this is a massive shift, but why do you think it's different?
Carl Grant: Well, it's interesting that a lot of the effort and attention has shifted to the central part of the US. And so during COVID, we opened a Chicago office that you're in the geography for the Chicago office.
Tim Schigel: Mm-hmm(affirmative).
Carl Grant: And so the first official business development trip I did interestingly was to Ohio with my Ohio roots and all of the time I've gone back to Ohio, my album mater is in Ohio, my daughter's in Ohio going to school in Ohio. So I have reason to be back in Ohio, but rather than just go visit my daughter at college, I do business development trips back to Ohio. And so Ohio and Indiana are both part of that geography of the Midwest that we're targeting. And so yeah, Austin, Texas, and Texas, in general, has really blown up, as well as surrounding areas. But it seems like it's all migrating to Texas or closer to Chicago. And certainly, the Midwest is included in that. And so I've just seen a lot more activity out here in the center of the US than I do on the coast. It's still on the coast. I'm not going to get some angry email from somebody out of the bay area telling where I'm crazy. I'm just telling you it's not what it used to be. It's changed.
Tim Schigel: Right. Well, and now the other up and comer city is Miami.
Carl Grant: Oh, yeah. You're absolutely right Tim.
Tim Schigel: It's so hard to predict. It's like all of sudden Miami's the place.
Carl Grant: I know. So what our observation has been, and I've spent time down there in Florida, we've hosted a venture capital reception down there, another rooftop reception outside. So not to bother anybody's COVID jitters when we did it. And what we've observed is it's really not 100%, but people with families are tending to move to Austin. And the single people are tending to move down to Miami to be part of the entrepreneurial community, not 100% either way. But generally, that's the trend. And so yeah, I've spent a lot of time in Florida over the COVID time. Florida was a little bit more relaxed kind of like Texas. And so it was a good place to meet people in person and be able to do business.
Tim Schigel: Fascinating to watch and to see and really exciting to see how things change here. And there're more opportunities than ever for entrepreneurs. So that's the good news. We're seeing it through our portfolio in terms of just their teams and where they're able to hire talent and recruit people. So take advantage of the opportunity and the adversity to invest in yourself and learn from it.
Carl Grant: And the remote work opportunities are great.
Tim Schigel: Yeah.
Carl Grant: In the past, it was one of these things where you had to move to take a job. Nowadays, you don't have to move. I mean, you can take a job and it would be nice if you moved. It'd be nice if you came and were part of the team part of the time and I'm seeing really the job descriptions because we help people find jobs here. We have this thing called executive connect at Cooley and we have the companies define what they're looking for. So if somebody's got a company, this is actually a real situation, a company in Dallas wants to go public and they want to hire a CFO to go public. And the CFO to take that company public most likely is not in Dallas, you know? And so we're drawing from the coastal candidates, but the CEO is kind of an old- school type of person who wants to have the in- person face- to- face type of meeting. So this person has to be willing to be in Dallas and we're defining how often this person needs to be in Dallas. So that's the new world. My son works for a growth- stage startup. He actually lives in the same town as the headquarters of the startup, but he works remotely, him and his wife both work in the company and they work remotely. And so I said, don't you want to go in the office to have some face time? He goes no, just the executive team is in the office. I don't want to go in there. It'll be weird. So yeah.
Tim Schigel: Yeah, the work environment, it's just kind of interesting to think about how the younger generation who's come into of the work environment in this atmosphere, how that's going to evolve and develop. On one hand, they've become very good and proficient at working online, but you also got to think that the social component of it getting in person's going to be important as well.
Carl Grant: I've heard a lot of that Tim. I've heard younger people saying I really want to be in an office environment. I want to be around other people. Look at my son. He did his junior year of high school remotely. He hated it. And his grades reflected it. And now he's back in person without masks and he's happy and he's doing well. He's got all A's. So I think there's something to say for that human connectivity.
Tim Schigel: Absolutely. So Carl, at your core you're an entrepreneur, and you've leveraged your entrepreneurial instincts in whatever context you've been placed in. How has, and I know you're also a man of faith. So how has your faith influenced your journey?
Carl Grant: Well, so it has influenced it a lot. I lived half my life without faith and half my life with faith. And the half of my life with faith has been a lot more satisfying than the half of my life without faith. And so as somebody who's lived on both sides of it I can tell you that it's more fulfilling to do things in accordance with God's will and his word. And so I'm a lot happier today. I'm in a marriage, we've been married 27 years. We've been together 30 years, without faith that wouldn't have been possible. I probably would've been living my life in a way that wouldn't have made that possible. And in terms of the things like COVID to me personally, and I'm really sorry for the people that had loved ones died during COVID. But I saw the time as a blessing. I launched a podcast. I launched a business. I was able to move to Austin and nobody thought anything of it. I mean, those are great things. And a whole host of other things. I'm authoring a book. I mean, I had extra time that I wasn't commuting to the office or traveling like I used to do for business, where I had headspace to think of new creative things I could do to make this chapter of my life exciting Tim. And so I'm excited about the future. I know that God has a plan for my life, and I'm excited about what that plan is. And so I know he has good things in store for me, and it allows me to live with excitement for the future and not the doom and gloom that most people have experienced during this whole COVID experience.
Tim Schigel: Yeah, no, that's excellent. And I'm not surprised to hear. Anyone I know whose faith is strong, has been optimistic and encouraged throughout this because they know their situation doesn't determine their value as a person and where they're going to be eventually. And so they have hope and they are optimistic, right?
Carl Grant: That has been the difference I've experienced Tim. During COVID, half my contacts are people without faith and I get along great with them. And half my contacts are people with faith. The people with faith did a lot better. They were all out more optimistic and talked about all the blessings that have come through the circumstances that they've had and the others complained.
Tim Schigel: Yeah. Well, I've been the recipient of similar kind of blessings, and it's been fantastic to see how God's been at work through all that. Thank you for sharing that, Carl. Thank you for being on Fast Frontiers, a lot of great information. I've got a list of follow- ups I want to do with you. We don't connect as often as we should. And you're welcome anytime you're coming through Ohio and Cincinnati of course.
Carl Grant: I appreciate it, Tim. It's been a pleasure.
Tim Schigel: Join us next week when we bring you my conversation with Pete Blackshaw, CEO of Cintrifuse in Cincinnati, Ohio. Thanks for listening to Fast Frontiers. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our website, fastfrontiers. com. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with others and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. The Fast Frontiers podcast is brought to you by Refinery Ventures. Our producer is Abby inaudible. Audio and engineering by Astronomic Audio and our podcast platform is Casted.
Carl Grant joins Fast Frontiers and host Tim Schigel to chat about his career journey, and how experiencing a recession at an early-stage startup influences his insights and leadership in the VC world. Carl also talks about his initiative with Venture Raise, a platform for entrepreneurs to match with venture capital funding, shares tips for building connections as entrepreneurs, and how faith has helped him navigate life and business.