Pictured above: (from the left) Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Steve Case, Mat Dellorso, and Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey
Mat is the Co-Founder & CEO of WealthForge Holdings, Inc. At WealthForge Mat leads the operations of FundRoom.com, an online private placement platform that has completed over $3.9M in investment transactions for several growing companies, and is the Managing Director of WealthForge, LLC, a Member FINRA firm & licensed broker-dealer. Mat is a contributing author to the book TheCrowdFunding Revolution and holds the Series 7, 24 & 63 licenses with FINRA. Mat is a leading member of the CrowdFunding Intermediary Regulatory Authority (CFIRA) that works with FINRA and the SEC on establishing rules for crowdfund investing. Mat is a 2009 graduate of the University of Richmond having received Bachelor’s Degreesin Finance and Information Technology.
CIT: Tell us about your current venture.
Mat: WealthForge exists to make capital flow to entrepreneurs more efficient and increase awareness of the early-stage private equity investment asset class. In 2009, a classmate at the University of Richmond and I had an idea that stemmed from his father’s pain point of not being able to access diverse investment deal flow. He was a successful business owner that was busy operating his company and a friend told him about an angel-investment that made great returns. He began to ask around for additional-early stage investment opportunities but there was no trusted marketplace for these risky illiquid assets at that time. So, we set out to build a marketplace where investors could actually invest in vetted early stage private companies over the internet. Our professors and the SEC thought we were crazy when we pitched the idea. Securities laws set in place in 1934, well before the TV was mainstream never mind the mobile/social internet, were too antiquated to deal with the innovations of the information age. These laws, although they made sense at the time did not make sense to two college students now so, we set out to help change them. Fast forward to 2012 and after much business planning & lobbying the JOBS Act was passed. For the first time entrepreneurs would be able to advertise that they were raising money (how were you supposed to get people to invest if you couldn’t tell anyone about it publically?) and any American (not just the wealthiest of individuals or Accredited Investors) could now invest. Soon, an efficient marketplace for investing in private companies will emerge in the US.
At WealthForge we are building the foundation and transactional layers of that marketplace. Through our own investment portal, FundRoom.com, and several other affiliated portals around the country, we are completing investment transactions more efficiently than previously possible. We are building out the marketplace piping, that which will connect these portals and aggregates data and transactions. Efficient markets have lots of participants and we are enabling collaborative participation.
CIT: What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Mat: Where to start? Find a co-founder who shares the same vision you do; constantly ask for feedback & advice; validate your idea in as simple a means as possible; and don’t jump into your venture unless you truly want it to consume 100% of your time (because it will). On the fundraising side, if you have not started a business before, start simple and small. Raise a convertible note round from friends and family and don’t worry too much about valuation until you have quantifiable validation. Work to develop a minimum tractionable product and assemble a committed management team to complete it. Then, test extensively and make sure your product is something people want to consume and buy. If all goes to plan, set metrics and goals; run models to determine the key inputs and outputs of your business and to try scale. The best businesses are those that operate solely on revenues, however if you need outside capital (as many businesses do) start fundraising months before you will need to use the funds. We’re working to decrease that timeline so entrepreneurs can do what they do best and operate their businesses, but, in the meantime that’s my advice.
CIT: What events/meetup groups are essential for startups?
Mat: Go to pitch events, startup-weekends, hack-a-thons, co-founder meetups - anything and everything where people talk/think about new businesses before you begin to put your head down and execute. Specifically in Richmond, there is the Venture Forum, IE Event Series, RVA Companies to Watch Events and many more. There is at least one event a week – if you want to network there are venues to do it. Some of the best things for those outside of Richmond are to attend Demo Days and Venture conferences. If you want to get a quick education on the recipe for success, go to one of these spotlight events.
CIT: How important is collaboration and knowledge sharing to you?
Mat: It’s important to stay up with trends and learn from your peers. It’s been said that students learn just as much, if not more, from their classmates than they do from their teacher. That’s why I think the accelerator/incubator model often enhances success. You’re not isolated, rather you’re constantly learning from others.
CIT: What makes your city’s tech scene unique?
Mat: Richmond is going through an entrepreneurial awakening, in my opinion. Over the past five years the city has moved leaps and bounds with the founding of a few very successful ventures, including Snag-a-job, GetLoaded, and Health Diagnostic Labs. Their success might be partly a result of losses in the number of big employers which created a strong pool of human capital desiring to be involved in something new. Now, we are seeing a second generation of innovative startups such as CarLotz, Ledbury, PlanG and many others emerging and trying to find sustainable success. The city is organizing itself more effectively to help early stage big businesses grow and flourish and not leave to Northern VA, NYC or SF because of a lack of talent, support or capital. Great events like the ones I previously mentioned have united entrepreneurs and groups like New Richmond Ventures, New Dominion Angels, Lighthouse Labs and 80amps. The hard work of providing support and capital are starting to payoff and the results can be seen in Shockoe Bottom and within the entrepreneurial programs at both the University of Richmond and at VCU. I think what’s most unique is that the startup community is not just all about tech (just look at Hardywood and BestBullySticks) nor is it all about building a high-growth business to sell quickly. In Richmond there is a real sense of “live here, build a business here, and reinvest in the community here.” I think we are just scratching the surface on the benefits of that mentality as it relates to the next generations of entrepreneurs.
Founder and CEO of Fundroom.com