Debt, CLOs and Competition: Monroe Capital

Ted Koenig

Watch the full video interview here

Ted Koenig, CEO of Monroe Capital on Debt, CLOs and Competition

Paola: Tell us what Monroe Capital does?

Ted: We’re a middle-market asset manager. We provide debt-capital solutions to middle-market companies located in the US. We have offices in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Charlotte specializing in buyouts, re-capitalization transactions, re-financing gross capital for companies of $25 million of EBIDTA and below.

Paola: What are some of the unique ways you create value for companies?

Ted: Our product, the Unit Rox debt product essentially is a one-stop financing source for middle-market companies. We combine senior- and junior-secured debt as well as mezzanine debt to provide a single solution for our borrowers. There are no inner-creditor agreements, no multi-lender transactions and no uncertainty. We try to provide certainty of close and minimize our borrowers’ execution risk.

Paola: Which hobbies or talents of yours drive your work performance?

Ted: I am a pretty competitive person. I play a lot of basketball. I play baseball. I play a lot of golf, anything that gets my competitive juices flowing on the ball fields. I try to bring that same camaraderie, team work and team spirit to the workplace.

Paola: What is one thing that you can attribute to the success of your company?

Ted: It’s a single-minded competitiveness. We’ve stuck to our knitting. We’ve been doing this as a company for over a dozen years. We’ve seen three or four different business cycles in those dozen years. When most of our competitors fell by the wayside in ’07, ’08 and ’09, we came out stronger. What’s happened over the last couple of years really set the table for us in terms of being what we are today.

Paola: What do you mean by: “single-minded competitiveness”?

Ted: We are very, very focused on what we do and try to be the very best at what we do. We’re not all things to all people. We don’t do oil and gas or venture capital. We don’t do private equity. We provide debt capital to middle-market companies and think we do it as well if not better than anybody else in the market.

Paola: What are your predictions for your company in the next year?

Ted: We’ll continue to grow our business. We’ve got a private, institutional capital business where we raise money from pensions, endowments and insurance companies. We’ll continue growing that business. We now have a public company, Monroe Capital Corporation (www.monroebdc.com), which is a publicly traded, business-development company on the NASDAQ (symbol: MRCC). That business has been growing nicely and I would bet that our collateralized loan obligations (CLO) business grows as well in 2013.

Paola: Thank you.

Online Fundraising to Help with Medical Bills: Give Forward

Ethan Austin

To find out more about Ethan Austin and GiveForward, visit his profile.

Watch the full video interview here

Talking with Ethan Austin, President of GiveForward

Paola: Tell us what your company does?

Ethan: We provide online fundraising pages to help people raise money to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for loved ones. So, if my buddy has cancer and has bills that aren’t going to be covered by insurance, I can set up a page for him, kind of like a Facebook or LinkedIn profile with pictures and his story. I can then send that link to friends and family across the world. They can contribute by credit card. We are supporting the page so he knows he’s not alone.

Paola: What gave you the idea to start the company?

Ethan: My co-founder, Desiree Vargas Wrigley was at the Kaufmann Foundation after hurricane Katrina and wondered: why can’t you give to individuals as opposed to just giving to organizations like the Red Cross? We should be able to do that. She created this business and then asked: How am I going to raise money for this business? Then she thought about an online fundraiser page. She started to think really about small scale, down-to-earth ways to help individually. A couple months later I came into the mix. We met through mutual friends and I moved to Chicago a couple months later to start it with her.

Paola: Can you give me a use case of how your services have impacted your clients?

Ethan: We’ve helped people raise nearly $33 million for friends’ and loved ones’ out-of-pocket medical expenses. We’ve helped people who needed surgery and they didn’t have the money for it and wouldn’t have gotten the surgery without it. We recently helped someone who couldn’t hear get cochlear implants at $15,000 dollars. She was able to hear for the very first time and sent us a video about it. Everyone was crying. It was pretty incredible. We get stories like these all the time.

Paola: What are some tactics you used to push your company forward in the first few months of operation?

Ethan: The first few months of operation were very slow. We didn’t have a clue as to what we were doing. We have a slightly better understanding now but back then we would try everything and anything. We reached out to sororities and fraternities. We reached out to non-profits. We tried blogging. We would do all sorts of things. I don’t think any of these tactics in the first few months were particularly successful.
When we started we fundraised for anything. It took a while actually to hit our stride and find that medical fundraising was where we had a sweet spot. Until then things were slow. I don’t know if I have any great secrets or tactics.

Paola: What are some tactics or methods you use now that help move your company forward?

Ethan: Now we have a much more sophisticated mix of tactics. In the beginning, some days it would literally be me running around in a banana costume handing fliers to people, telling them about our company. Now we do digital marketing, paid search, SEO, and Google display. We reach out to hospitals across the country and talk to their social workers and patient navigators to get them to partner with us. We’re working with close to 200 hospitals to have them promote us to patients.

Paola: How do your services compare with those of your competitors?

Ethan: The one thing that really distinguishes us from our competitors is that when we started in 2008, crowdfunding didn’t exist. Kickstarter hadn’t begun. It wasn’t common at that time. Today there are probably over 500 crowd-funding sites. A large part of the platforms are somewhat similar. What really distinguishes us is that we provide one-on-one fundraising coaching to each or our users. A lot of them have never started a fundraising page before. We’ve always had this idea of cultivating through compassion. We actually care. When people come to our site they don’t just have an interaction with it. They understand that there are human beings behind it. That shows in the loyalty we have with our users. They then tell their family and friends about us, creating more users.

Paola: What is the one thing that you attribute to your success as a company?

Ethan: The fact that we went for it. So many people are afraid to start or try something. When we started the site it was so horrendous that I couldn’t believe that someone would actually donate on it or start a fundraising page on it. But we tried it and we put it out there and improved upon it. Over time it became better and better. For most companies or most people, it’s hard to put yourself out there and trust that everything is going to be okay.

Paola: Tell me your prediction for your company in the next year.

Ethan: By the end of 2014 we want to become the first resource people think of when a loved one is sick. When somebody’s sick and everyone’s asking, “What can I do to help?” We want the obvious answer to be you’re going to start a “Give Forward” page. We’re working towards that in the next year. We’ve been growing. We’ve tripled last year. We’ve tripled the year before and the year before that. We expect to do that again this year, grow what was once a transactional web site into more of a brand and become a bigger player in this market.

Paola: Do you have any methods that you plan on using to continue expanding?

Ethan: Just the ones that we’re doing now. We’re continuing our hospital outreach and getting deeper into the healthcare spread.

Paola: Thank you.

Interested in learning more about Give Forward and connecting with Ethan Austin? Go to www.fundology.com.

Drive More Sales with Smarter Emails: Simple Relevance

Erik Severinghaus1

To find out more about Erik Severinghaus and Simple Relevance, visit his profile.

Watch the full video interview here

Paola: Please tell me what your company does.

Erik: Simple Relevance makes it really easy for primarily E-commerce companies, but really for anybody in the B-to-C (Business-to-Consumer) space to personalize the messages they send. The analogy I use is to think about that e-mail you might have gotten from Amazon that seems to know you better than you know yourself. It suggests something you might be interested in buying based on what you bought before, maybe what you clicked on, etc. We take that same sort of technology and make it very easy for other B-to-C companies to personalize their digital marketing.
If you think about when somebody’s preparing to send an e-mail, we can have it arrive at the time of day that each person will most likely open it, with a subject line that’s most likely to interest them, product recommendations that they might be most likely to act on and we do it at the individual level, as well as social, and in a whole bunch of different digital marketing chains.

Paola: Tell me an interesting story about your business.

Erik: Entrepreneurship is full of highs and lows but one story that sticks out, something that really changed our business is one of the first things we did when we got into this space. We employed interns and signed-up for newsletters from about 15,000 companies so we could actually see what they were sending and to better understand how people send e-mail. The thing that really changed our business and put us on a whole different trajectory was when we came to realize that 84% of these E-commerce companies that we signed up to receive their newsletters, didn’t send us anything after three months. We came to realize our initial value proposition…to help people send better e-mail and do a better job of personalizing the way they had traditionally done so. What we came to understand is, in fact automating that process, and making it dead simple, dead easy to send highly targeted, highly personalized communication is what was most important. Based on that experience we restructured how we would go in the market.

Paola: Tell me how your services compare with that of your competitors.

Erik: There’s nobody else that’s really quite taking the exact same spin on the market that we are. There are others that do “personalization technology.” There are competitors that are sort of marrying personalization with e-mail service-provider capabilities. However, we’re in a completely different segment. We are an e-mail service-provider agnostic. We work with everybody from iContact, Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, Exact Target, E-mail Direct, Active Campaign etc. The list goes on and on. We work with all sorts of different e-mail service providers. You don’t need to change ESP’s if you want us to help send smarter, better e-mail.
At the same time, we really try to differentiate ourselves on a couple of different points. Number-one is we are committed to being the easiest, simplest solution to use. The technology around things like artificial learning have existed for a long time. A lot of times the challenge is that it’s too difficult for folks to actually set up and implement. We try to be the easiest solution.
The other thing that differentiates us is making sure that we’ve got a variety of different data sources, so that our personalization is robust, comprehensive and incredibly and measurably effective with an improved delivery time. It comes down to two core things that we try to do better than anyone else. Number one, provide the easiest solution and then use different data sources to make sure that what we send is relevant and ultimately increases our clients’ revenue and conversions.

Paola: What is one thing that you can really attribute to your success as a company?

Erik: We help the community. We’re in the Chicago start-up community and have a lot of smart people on our team working very hard. Some of the smartest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with are here. It’s an unbelievable feeling. However, there’s also an ecosystem. There’s the old cliché that it takes a village. We’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by unbelievable advisers, capital sources in the Chicago market, and an ecosystem in the Midwest and Chicago that has been fantastic in terms of helping us build, grow, advising us, making introductions, giving us the capital that we need to succeed, all that kind of stuff.

Paola: Tell me your predictions for your company in the next year.

Erik: We’ve got some very specific plans and predictions. We expect to be well over a million dollars in revenue by the end of the year. We’ve got a variety of strategic partnerships. But when it comes down to it, what we’re really focused on in 2013 is making sure that each and every one of our clients is getting the most value out of our platform that they possibly can.
We need to make sure each of our clients generates more revenue, gets more page views and higher conversion rates. We’re going to make sure that as we scale this business, and we’re really starting to see it take off as we start to scale, that we make sure that we continue to focus on each and every one of our customers, so they receive the maximum possible benefit.

Paola: How do you plan to increase revenue this year?

Erik: This year, 2013, is a transition point for us because 2012 was about proving the technology and then proving the business model. Now it’s about taking that and starting to scale it. You have to make sure you point the rocket in the right direction before adding fuel to it because when it takes off you want to make sure it’s going the right way. Our focal point has been to understand exactly where we can be effective, where clients get the most value from us and then how to maximize that.
Increasing our revenue is a multi-part approach. It’s a combination of starting to invest in digital marketing. We’ve got a great digital-marketing team and we’re developing more content and leadership positions. We’ve got a ton of data, a ton of research that we’re starting to share more and more and use as a focus for adding benefit with the idea that it turns into more sign-ups on our site. We’re combining that with an effort to scale-up our business development as well. We’re making hires on inside sales as well as sales executives. Now that we understand how to execute from a technology perspective, and have validated how much value we could give to our clients, the next step is starting to scale the business-development team. We’re in the process of doing that now.

Paola: Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Erik: Absolutely. We just signed up for Fundology and are looking forward to it.

Interested in learning more about Simple Relevance or connecting with Erik Severinghaus? Please visit: www.Fundology.com.

Bringing Private Placement Documentation out of the Stone Age: V-Rooms

video

To find out more about Dan Bradbary and V-Rooms, visit his profile.

Watch the full video interview here

Paola: I’m here with Dan Bradbary, CEO of V-Rooms. Please introduce your company.

Dan: We’re a virtual data room provider. The industry started approximately 8-10 years ago by providing secure online document exchange and collaboration for sensitive information, for Mergers-and-Acquisition (M&A) transactions, intellectual property, etc. We’ve been in the marketplace for eight years. We were one of the early providers of this type of service.

Paola: To which specific industries do you cater?

Dan: It’s split between the merger-and-acquisitions market as well as business capital-raising, which is where we actually started by developing an acceptable online-distribution program for Private Placement Memorandum (PPM) documentation. We brought that market out from the Stone Age by freeing clients from having to print for example, 500 copies of a 60-page document, then send one to a number of accredited investors and keep track of what was sent. We’re very well-focused on these two areas.

Paola: Tell us an interesting story about your business.

Dan: About 30% of our business is involved in crossover transactions—international transactions. Here’s a typical arrangement that’s indicative of the market and where it is right now. About a month ago we received a call from an investment banker in Paris representing a client in Canada. The buyer was in Hong Kong. Without a virtual data room-type program to handle the logistics and documents exchange, for three months they relayed back and forth. The sheer magnitude of trying to get that accomplished between three continents was not cost-efficient. This scenario reinforces the need for this type of service.

Paola: What would these companies have done prior to having a virtual data room? How would they share information?

Dan: It would have been a struggle. They would have had to use the telephone and national and international courier services to ship documents between countries. The length of the transaction would have extended far beyond the time actually needed to conclude the deal.

Paola: How do your services compare with competitors like Merrill and IntraLinks?

Dan: We’re very comparable to those firms. We have a lot of the high-level security features, the access levels, the rights to premium-information downloading as well as the full array of administrative performance that shows how the information was uploaded, who uploaded it and who accessed it. The whole area provides secure, controlled information distribution.
One of the prime areas that we compare very well with the larger providers is our low-overhead structure. We offer a very cost-competitive, economically priced model since we’re not tied to a major printing firm. We do have printing presses in Omaha which we support through our virtual-data rooms.

Paola: Tell me one thing that speaks to the success of your company?

Dan: We continually hear that our customer service is extremely good. We offer 24/7, around-the-clock, around-the-world support. When customers call our Support Dept., they talk to a live person. They may talk a little slower because they’re in Texas but you can understand every word they say. We do not outsource our support.

Paola: What are your predictions for your company in the next year?

Dan: We’re going to continue to increase our international exposure and the way in which we handle international transactions, it’s already at 25-35%. I fully expect international coverage to be up 50% by the end of this year.
We’re also expanding a new platform for outside the virtual-data room industry which has typically been used in M&A fundraising transactions. We are making a major push into life sciences as in clinical trials, biotech and pharmaceutical development. Other areas are legal cases, litigation.

Paola: What are some of the tactics you plan on utilizing to increase your international exposure?

Dan: We have become involved with several UK- and Asia-based organizations. They’ve provided us with national exposure. We just returned from the Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors conference. There we were able to connect with a number of international service providers such as law and accounting firms that support transactions on an international scale. These are actually located outside the United States.

Paola: I look forward to seeing that happen and thank you for meeting with us.

Dan: Thank you as well. I look forward to keeping in touch with Fundology.

Paola: If you’re interested in learning more about V-Rooms and connecting with Dan Bradbary, head to: www.Fundology.com.