Bryan Emerson
IMPACT INVESTING

Bryan Emerson

#161

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Investor, Board Member and Mentor to Early-Stage Companies

Investing in people – Bryan Emerson

“Invest in the jockeys, not the horses.”

ABOUT

A financial operations and compliance professional, a mentor to early-stage companies, and an occasional investor. Bryan is the founder of Starlight Capital Inc., which has developed an angel investment network and hosted more than 100 conferences for entrepreneurs to meet investors.

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THE FULL INTERVIEW

Bryan Emerson

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery: Welcome to Impact Investing, brought to you by the Supporters Fund. From the most sunniest days of year, coffee center of the country, Marseilles, France. I’m your host, Geoffrey Potvin. And let’s please welcome from the city. Built on gold in 1897 from Willow, Alaska, United States. Our guest, Brian Emerson from Starlight Capital. Welcome, Brian. It’s a real pleasure having you join us today.

Bryan: Hey, J.P., great to be here. Thanks so much for inviting me.

Jeffery: I’m really excited about this conversation. Not because we’ve had to try a couple times to make this all, all work with travels and everything else going on in the world. But you pretty much are running such an awesome show that you’ve been in this industry for. I think it’s 20, 25 years now, so you’re kind of like a pinnacle to how all this investing started and where it’s been going. And there’s so much learning that we’re going to gain from you today. Because again, when you’re in the trenches this long, you’re going to have a lot of good insights on what makes a successful company and what are the areas that people tend to falter on and don’t really pay attention to when they’re running and gunning their business? So before we dive into all that excitement, we’d love for you to share a little bit more about your background from your MBA days all the way across to what you’re doing today. And then one thing about you that nobody would know.

Bryan: Okay, great. Thanks, JP. so I guess the short story is when I graduated with my MBA in the mid 90s, some friends had put together a bought a little shell company for $0.20 a share with the idea of doing a roll up of Latin American telecom providers. So I moved to Mexico City for what would be three years. And at the end of the three years, we had six companies in the firm, doing about 150 million a year. The stock was trading about $24 a share. So I had the good luck of cashing in before the dot.com bust. And I moved back to Houston, Texas. And at that point I did two things. First, I started angel investing. And second, I started a small investment bank, a Fender registered broker dealer. And so those are the two things that I’ve been working on for the last 23 years. The short story on the investment on the, angel investor group is now we’re up to about 30,000 members in our network. We funded about 600 million over the years. And we’re we now meet each month on zoom, and we get probably somewhere between 500 and 1000 members. And we pick six companies to pitch to us. And then from the investment banking standpoint, I had sold my firm a few years ago, but still have all my securities licenses and tend to work on helping small public companies that need 20 to 40 million in equity. So that’s the real short story of of my business background.

Jeffery: I’m not sure we should do it any justice by doing it short, but we’ll we’ll let that go and we’ll start to peel into that because that’s pretty awesome and pretty exciting. And it’s not. And I guess the reason why it fits that category of being, awesome is because I’m not sure where it came across your mind to say, hey, I just built these companies, and we rolled up six companies, and now we’re diving in and we’re going into angel investing. 23 years ago, angel investing was, you know, very thin, like everywhere. There was very few. from my recollection, I started working in this space 20 years ago, plus years ago. And there was very few, like it was very refined on who you were going after and the types of people that would be interested in it. I heard so many great stories over the years of, the angel investors that were investing at the time, and it just seemed kind of ad hoc. It was meeting in a coffee shop, and the person’s holding a check for 20 grand, and that was her investment. And it was kind of like not structured the way it is today and the way it’s been done. So I’d love to kind of peel back on to what got you involved in this. But before I do one thing about you that nobody would know.

Bryan: So the one thing that not many people know is a few years ago, when the kids moved out, my wife and I retired to our lake house here in Alaska, and we just loved being surrounded by the mountains and, get outside and enjoy the fresh air. So there’s, there’s a little tidbit for, for your, listeners.

Jeffery: I love it. And the outdoors to the best. in the more recent podcast that I was doing, it was with, a lady investor out of Germany, and I find the tournaments are the best. and I’m going to compare it to the Canadians. And now to yourself that just love getting outdoors and exploring and just being part of that. So I think that’s exceptional. It’s pretty amazing.

Bryan: We love it.

Jeffery: So to take, a layer back to where this all started, and I love the story that you started off at $0.20 a share. And you kind of just started rolling up companies, and then within three years you were doing 150 million. Incredible. Can you share a few tidbits on what created that success? Was it, an area that nobody was doing anything and what kind of got you interested? And what I also love about this story is that you were all in, you moved to Mexico to do this. It wasn’t something that you just thought took lightly and said, oh, I can do this at home, or I’ll just go do this at Texas. You literally picked up and rerouted yourself to a whole new area and dove right into this. What was kind of the impetus of this? What drove you to say this is important, and I know this is going to be successful and what got you there? And maybe there’s a couple things you can share to the audience on why it took what it did to get you to make this big leap.

Bryan: Yeah. You bet. Well, you know, I think the old refrain is is appropriate here. A rising tide lifts all ships. This was a time when, MCI had, been battling against AT&T for a while, and the telecom markets were starting to open up worldwide, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the liberalization. And, I can remember back in those days, if you wanted to make a call, from, let’s say, the U.S. to Central America, you were probably paying one or more dollars a minute to AT&T for those international calls. Well, as things started to open up and there were more competitors in the market and there were options like prepaid cards and dedicated lines, we happened to be in the right place at the right time and put together this team so that, we dramatically lower the cost of international, phone service. And we were able to benefit from that. That’s that’s, you know, so I would say for anybody who is looking to create a unicorn, there are these things that come around, a couple times in someone’s lifetime where they’re the game changers, where, you know, whether it’s now the, you know, I or, other things that, you know, social media some years ago, those are the things that if you happen to be there at the right time, you can really do well.

Jeffery