BJ Lackland - CEO
One might immediately be curious to understand how a venture firm like Voyager becomes engaged with a company that essentially disrupts the traditional investment infrastructure – the foundation of venture. At Voyager, our mission is to promote innovation and excellence that builds lasting value and good returns, both for investors and entrepreneurs. This means that we not only invest in disruptive technologies that enable innovation, we also invest in entrepreneurs. Our foundation has always been built on the spirit of entrepreneurship and helping entrepreneurs grow sustainable companies. Lighter Capital represents both of these key values. And, it is no surprise that BJ Lackland is the CEO at the helm.
BJ joined Lighter Capital as CEO in 2012. He has been a venture capitalist, an angel investor, a CFO of a public technology company, a consultant to early stage companies, and a senior finance and marketing leader at startups. BJ has spent his career working with emerging technology companies as an operating executive and investor, and he understands first-hand that “one size does not fit all” in the world of entrepreneurship and business in general. Using proprietary analytic technology to deliver rapid credit analysis, Lighter Capital provides an alternative revenue-based model and flexible financing opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses whose financing needs don’t work well for traditional venture or bank financing.
We recently sat down with BJ to take a deeper dive into what drives this entrepreneur and CEO. What we found was not only why he’s so passionate about Lighter Capital as the new alternative within the financial services ecosystem, but also how his entrepreneurial spirit inspires other entrepreneurs to become the best they can be.
What inspired you to join this new venture?
I joined Lighter Capital for several reasons, the first being that there were top notch people involved, including the board, investors and employees. I believe that ultimately people are key to a successful business. Additionally, and having experienced this first-hand as an entrepreneur and also a venture capitalist, there is a growing need for new financing methods for companies, especially in the technology/software arena. This is due to a confluence of several factors:
1. The cost of starting up a company and attaining revenue has dramatically fallen because of platforms and ecosystems like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure and Salesforce, the simplicity of putting out a Minimum Viable Product, and the “app economy”. These companies have no traditional assets for a bank to lend against. You have to understand their real underlying assets, which frequently is the stickiness of their revenue stream and their scalability.
2. The financial services industry, and in particular lending, is overdue for deep technical disruption. Lending is still done primarily by self-reported historical information, such as financial statements sent by fax or emailed in PDF or Excel. There is little real-time, third party validation of this information. So naturally, lenders are cautious and therefore slow. This isn’t a good fit for small business, especially dynamic technology companies.
Lighter Capital is using technology to expedite and improve the financing process, enabling a deeper and faster understanding of borrowers before funding a loan as well as for ongoing monitoring. Essentially, I think of it as APIs replacing coffee meetings.
There is a treasure trove of companies out there that need this type of financing. When I was a venture capitalist, I ran into tons of great businesses with great people that simply didn’t fit the “VC” model. Either they didn’t have a large enough potential market, they didn’t need as much money as I needed to provide them to make it fit into my fund appropriately, or they didn’t really want or need an equity “partner” in the business. In fact, I’d estimate that the number of good businesses that I couldn’t fund as a venture capitalist because they didn’t fit my “model” outnumbered the business that I could fund by a ratio of 10 to 1. The “revenue loan” model of financing fits many of these businesses.
What has been your biggest challenge and your most satisfying moment in growing and building the business?
As an entrepreneur, the biggest challenges in growing almost any new technology business are almost always money, product-market fit, and getting the right people in the right places at the right time. As a startup, Lighter Capital is no different.
As for the most satisfying moments, it really has been the about getting over some of these challenges and seeing the business start to perform and scale up. Additionally, there is a tremendous satisfaction in seeing our customers thrive and how amazed and grateful they are that we can provide them growth capital in a structure they like, with so little time and effort. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a customer succeeding with our help.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Hiring key people and getting everyone pointed in the same (or relatively same) direction has been crucial to growing the business. I’m a firm believer that getting the right people in place at the right time is key to overcoming a lot of challenges.
What people have been the most important to your business success?
Besides family, which is a fundamental underpinning for achieving anything, the most important people are the people I have worked with closely for extended periods of time. I have to personally get to know someone to learn from them. I don’t follow “business celebrities” or have anyone that I particularly idolize. I believe that there’s a lot of learning that goes on with anyone you work with over time because you see “how” they work. I learn most from the people that I interact with on a regular basis – from bosses to peers to direct reports.
In your experience as an operating executive as well as an investor, is there some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful business?
People, focus, capital, integrity, hard work and a strong dose of luck! I can’t emphasize enough how strongly I believe that these six attributes, with people being top of the list, are key for achieving long term success in business.
What is your favorite aspect of being a CEO and entrepreneur of a growing company?
Building, growing and learning every day, because each day is different!
Excluding Lighter Capital, what company or business do you admire most?
For me, it isn’t about admiring a specific company. It is about the entrepreneurs behind the company. There are so many of our customers that I admire, because it is these entrepreneurs who are building great companies and doing cool things with little capital and incredible fortitude!