If you’re a small business owner, it’s nice to get a helping hand once in a while. After all, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Where’s the money going to come from? Do you have a good product? Do you want to expand or stay small? This is where Carter Weiss comes in.
A venture capitalist, Weiss, co-founder and former CEO of BUILT NY, now helps small businesses grow to medium-sized businesses through his new company, Silas Capital, based in New York City.
Weiss and his business partner, Frank Lin, will speak at the Venture Capital Association of New Jersey on Tuesday, June 14, at 11:30 a.m. at the Marriott Hanover in Whippany. Cost: $55. Visit www.vanj.com.
Weiss grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and started his path to the life of a VC at Pennsylvania State University, where he majored in accounting. His mother, a homemaker, and his father, a retired Wall Street broker, encouraged Weiss to follow his passions.
“Accounting is a good basis for business,” Weiss says. “If you can’t understand accounting, you can’t understand business.”
After receiving his bachelor’s in 1991 Weiss began his career at World Marketing Inc., a Trans World Airlines holding company. He moved to venture capital firm Cornerstone Resources and was an M&A analyst at CIS Corporation. Weiss then spent seven years as a venture capitalist. He was previously a member of a corporate venture capital fund, Hollinger Capital, where he made successful investments in consumer Internet companies such as Shopping.com.
Before founding Silas Capital earlier this year, Weiss co-founded BUILT NY Inc. — maker and seller of neoprene wine bottle tote bags — in 2003. Under his leadership, Weiss grew the BUILT brand to what it is today, selling in over 50 countries around the world at retailers including Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, MoMA, and Target.
At Silas Capital, Weiss hopes to be an investment partner for entrepreneurs in early-stage consumer products. This means he will help businesses with between $500,000 to $10 million in revenue. Along these lines, he looks to invest in emerging consumer brands and web-enabled companies. The goal? Create long-term value, superior brand recognition, and increased market share for the companies they work with, while allowing founders to maintain both creative and shareholder control.
As CEO for six and half years, Weiss grew BUILT into an internationally recognized and highly profitable consumer products brand, taking sales from zero to approximately $30 million. So, how is this possible?
It’s not all about social media. Weiss says it’s easy to get sucked into the social media bubble. But it’s not necessarily the best way to promote your business. With entrepreneurship, he says, you might want to do the inverse by building and growing more traditionally.
“I know of apparel companies who are great at social media, but if you don’t execute it correctly it could do more harm than good,” he says. “You still need to embrace all the new technology. Maybe you don’t want to chase it, but you should embrace it.”
Building the team. In 2003 Weiss approached the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and began selling BUILT’s two-bottle wine tote there. Then he raised third-party funds from friends, family, and others to get BUILT products into other retail stores and voila, sales of $30 million.
“The first thing you need is a great team,” Weiss says. “Then it’s all business strategy. I looked for hardworking generalists and then for the specialists.”
Weiss and his team then thought about products they could make for $20. “What can be unique? We have to have a business model to create a product we all like,” he says. “A lot of an organization is about a successful product, not a successful company.”
But that’s not all. Weiss says it also is about how you execute the idea, helping your team and ensuring that you don’t run out of money. “Once you end up with enough talent, you can leave (the company).” Which he did in 2009.
Weiss started Silas Capital because companies started calling him to learn how he raised his capital. He says banks don’t lend to people who need it. They like to lend to more mature businesses.
Seeing a lot of “white space” in the consumer products area, Weiss decided to place his investment focus on companies that are two or three years old and generate about $2 million in revenue. “Some of these companies look down the road and see they have a great product, but don’t have a company yet,” he says. “That’s where we come in.”
While there are more than 700 venture capital firms in the U.S. alone, Silas Capital is one of few focused exclusively on emerging consumer products businesses. The company looks for partners who seek financial, operational, and strategic expertise that Silas can provide in the underserved (and often overlooked) early-stage consumer products segment.
Silas likes to make equity investments in a broad range of emerging consumer-focused companies that possess rapid growth potential and well-defined business objectives, Weiss says. The companies it seeks have great founders and promising brands, often with opinion-leading customers in place.
Silas Capital’s interests lie in specialty consumer goods, such as electronics accessories, housewares, green/sustainable products, clothing, and fashion accessories; consumable goods, such as personal care products, branded food, and household products; consumer Internet services and technologies; and online retail, as stand-alone businesses and as add-ons to branded wholesale companies.
Weiss has specific criteria for investing in these “white space” companies. He looks for motivated founders and capable management teams; revenues of $500,000 to $10 million; operations, product market, and customer experience driven or enabled by technology, web services and social media; lead product that can be expanded, diversified and taken to international markets; strong product/design differentiation, high gross margins and solid intellectual property; significant growth potential over the next five years; and validated or innovative business models.
Weiss invests in privately held companies throughout the U.S. To provide a higher level of service, he prefers to partner with companies within reasonable distance from Silas Capital’s New York headquarters.
Weiss and Lin have worked as both founders and investors and have sat on both sides of the table with a combined 30 years of experience. “We’ve built, funded, and supported companies through a number of historic economic cycles,” Weiss says.
The team provides more than just capital. “We actively work with entrepreneurs to help them master the core parts of their businesses to help them achieve long-term value, greater brand recognition, and increased market share,” Weiss says.
It’s not always about selling pieces of your business. “If something’s really great, why sell? Keep it for yourself,” Weiss says. “It’s perfectly fine to stay small and keep it all to yourself. We just want to see more people investing with their eyes wide-open.”