Today we welcome Jeff Saling, co-founder of StartUpNV, a nonprofit statewide startup incubator and accelerator. Since founding StartUpNV in 2017, Jeff has seen 700+ startup pitches, mentored dozens of founders, and helped raise over $70M in funding for more than 20 companies. 

Before founding StartUpNV, Jeff was a SaaS startup founder and enterprise software company executive, with four successful exits between 1992 and 2016. 

Jeff treats us to some valuable insights on how he is helping grow a robust, inclusive and vibrant startup ecosystem throughout Nevada. So, if you need funding for your startup or have ever wondered how to get funding from an angel investor, you’re going to want to tune into this show. 

Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full Episode:

  1. Find out if Jeff recommends an IPO as the ultimate goal for startups.
  2. Jeff defines the difference between incubator versus accelerator.
  3. Discover the importance and impact of the AngelNV program.

Episode Highlights

Who is Jeff Saling

  • Executive director and co-founder of StartUpNV, Nevada’s only statewide business incubator.
  • After years of launching, running and investing in multiple successful startups, Jeff has focused on expanding the business community in his home state.
  • StartUpNV is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a vibrant and inclusive startup ecosystem to help grow Nevada’s local economies and diversify its workforce.
  • Jeff also teaches Engineering 461 (High Tech Entrepreneurship) at the University of Nevada, Reno.

His successful exits

  • Jeff has been a part of seven companies.
  • Three of them were successful and went all the way through to an IPO.
  • One of them was privately acquired.
  • One of them is hopefully going to be acquired in the next few years.
  • The others didn’t work, they failed and Jeff had to close them up.

Is an IPO the ultimate goal

  • Having been through it three times, it is not something Jeff recommends as the only way to sell your business or to have a successful exit.
  • If it can be acquired, it’s much cleaner than going through an IPO.
  • Going through an IPO is complicated and costly. Jeff says there are a lot of financial and legal rules. There is also a huge amount of scrutiny for those in leadership positions.
  • While an IPO is a major goal for many startup founders, it’s not the only way and may not be the best way.

The passion for software development

  • Jeff wanted to do something interesting and could have a big upside.
  • He started in the world of call centers and developing software for those companies.
  • One of the first companies he did was called the Vehicle Information Network. They managed to raise a lot of money from famous people, but it got complicated and did not work.
  • He then developed a company called Accordion Software, which helped identify the customer before talking to an agent. General Motors was their biggest customer.
  • Accordion went public and has since been acquired by another larger company.

The attraction to the startup world

  • Jeff Saling enjoys the idea of not having a path made for you and figuring things out that no one has done before.
  • After his first startup failed, Jeff opted for some safety by working in the corporate world for two years. Accenture is a huge company with a process in place for everything.
  • There was a total mismatch where Jeff would question why things were done in a certain way, and it became very evident that he was not cut out for the big corporate world.
  • He craved the journey where you’re figuring things out with your teammates.

The emotional state upon handover

  • When the time comes to hand over the keys, Jeff admits a feeling of a little boredom and a lot of frustration.
  • The frustration of having to follow the rules because it’s the rules. Even if there is little logic or reasoning behind it.
  • When companies get to a certain size, there are more rules and procedures in place. This is when Jeff looks for the next patch of jungle to whack through.

The lessons in failure

  • Jeff’s advice is to keep going. Just because it doesn’t look like it’s working the way you’d like it to doesn’t mean you should give up.
  • Look to pivot, look for help or ask for help from others.
  • If you’re not getting the results you want, do something different. The game’s not over until you say it is.
  • And if you get to the point where it’s not financially viable to continue, take the lesson from it and apply it to what you do next.

Celebrating success

  • As a future-orientated guy, Jeff is always thinking about what’s next. 
  • The good thing about being future-orientated is that you tend to be an achiever.
  • The bad thing is that you don’t live enough in the present to enjoy your successes.
  • Jeff Saling has to consciously think about being a little more present orientated and taking the time to celebrate and enjoy his successes.

Choosing Nevada

  • Jeff’s second company had gone through to an IPO point, and he was only going to be with the company for another year or two.
  • He did not want to be a Californian by the time he formally exited the company and knew he needed to make a move to Nevada for it to be his official state of residency.
  • He discovered that a startup community or ecosystem did not exist in Nevada.
  • After a pretty fortunate run, Jeff decided it was time to give back, and he did so by building and growing a startup community and ecosystem in Nevada.

Defining incubator versus accelerator

  • The incubator tends to be for companies who move from an idea stage to when you have your first prototype or your first minimally viable product (MVP).
  • The incubation usually occurs in three or four stages that go from idea to where you have a product and are starting to sell it.
  • When you gain traction and make a little bit of money, you’ll reach a point where investment and mentorship are needed to accelerate the company’s growth. 
  • Being in the market, growing like crazy, and getting your next round of funding is where the accelerator comes in.

Some of the programs at StartUpNV

  • FundNV: Pre-seed fund that people can join, and either participate a lot or leave it to the investment committee to do their work.
  • AngelNV: This is a 13-week program where they go out into the community and find 40 accredited investors curious about learning to be early-stage investors.

AngelNV program in more detail

  • A program where they go out into the community and find 40 accredited investors curious about learning to be an angel investor or early stage investors.
  • Each individual invests a certain amount into a fund which will be awarded to the winning startup.
  • It’s a 13 week-long program whereby angel investors learn by doing.
  • The investment is done in a group where both seasoned and novice investors collaborate, and the novice investors get to be mentored by those who are more experienced.

Angel investing 

  • Angels invest at the early stages of a startup, investing the first outside capital to the company. 
  • Startups in this early pre-seed or seed stage have the biggest upside but also the highest risk.
  • Angel investing is risky, so regulations limit it to an individual who is an accredited investor, people who theoretically can take the loss if there is one.
  • The founding team is a big part of early-stage investing. It’s critical that when faced with adversity, the team can pivot and make good decisions in the company’s interest.

Becoming intentional about inclusivity

  • Jeff mentions that this was not a focus before, and while he doesn’t know why this wasn’t done from the beginning, he is fully committed to being more intentional about inclusivity.
  • He wants to ensure that they’re actively including those that might not otherwise feel welcome.
  • At StartUpNV, they want to see the entire community lifted up so that people can chart their careers, their path and create new wealth in their communities.

How does Jeff Saling want to be remembered?

  • Jeff wants to be remembered for creating entrepreneurial opportunities for those who want to work for it—teaching people how to chart their path and take control of their destiny.

3 Powerful Quotes from this Episode

11:57 – “I like the idea of not having a path made for you, of having to sort of hack your way through the jungle, figuring it out, as you go, that no one has been here before. And you have to figure it out, at least in the little slice of the startup world that you’re undertaking.”

18:37 – “You need to keep going, that just because it doesn’t look like it’s working the way that you’d like it to doesn’t mean you should give up. Look for pivots, look for help, ask for help from others, try to figure out if there’s somebody else that’s doing this, whatever it is that you’re doing, you know, slightly different way and having better results than you are, you know, you don’t want to do that.”

38:56 – “An A team of founders or a founder can take a B or a C idea and make it successful? A B team of founders will take an idea, and it’ll never go anywhere. So it’s not all about the founders.”

About Jeff Saling

After years of launching, running, and investing in successful startups, Jeff has turned to focus on expanding the business community in his home state of Nevada. His nonprofit organization, StartUpNV, is dedicated to building a vibrant startup ecosystem to help grow Nevada’s local economies and diversify Nevada’s workforce.
As part of his work with StartUpNV, Jeff co-founded FundNV in 2020, a pre-seed startup fund and AngelNV in 2021, a seed fund that also educates new angel investors. 
The goal is to produce a growing pipeline of entrepreneurial founders, new companies, and early-stage investment in Nevada. Upon a successful exit, the people at these startups, and the investors in them, give back or “pay it forward” to newer startups, resulting in a self-sustaining and innovative business ecosystem and community.

Connect with Jeff Saling

Website 
Linkedin
Facebook 
Instagram
Twitter

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Thanks for listening,
Darrell