Tim Schigel’s life and career have been shaped by his Cleveland roots, a large ethnic family, and a passion for music. In this blog, Tim shares his journey from growing up in Cleveland to becoming a pioneering figure in the tech and venture capital space.
His story is one of resilience, innovation, and a commitment to solving problems. Let’s delve into the details of Tim’s remarkable journey and the valuable lessons he has learned along the way.
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Early Years and the Path to Engineering
Tim’s upbringing in Cleveland was marked by the influence of his technical father, who worked as an electrician in a steel mill. Despite not attending college, Tim’s father instilled in him a love for problem-solving and a fascination with gadgets.
Recognizing the future’s technological shift, Tim chose to pursue an electrical engineering degree, setting the foundation for his journey into the tech world.
From Music to Engineering: Finding a Path
As a guitar player and gadget enthusiast, Tim embraced his passion for music and technology. He embarked on a journey that led to the intersection of music and engineering, creating a curriculum between the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Case School of Engineering.
This unique blend of interests eventually paved the way for Tim’s entry into digital music production, marking the beginning of his career.
Venture Capital and the West Coast Experience
Tim’s exposure to the West Coast during the early days of digital music production opened his eyes to the world of venture capital. Recognizing the potential for innovation, he transitioned from a technical role to the customer-facing side of business.
Tim’s involvement in a company closely tied to Apple positioned him at the forefront of developing applications in Hypercard that were networked with VAX minicomputers. The company soon became one of the two leading companies that Apple would turn to for custom software development for their largest enterprise customers.
These clients included Procter and Gamble, GE, Hallmark Greeting Cards, Mayo Clinic, Hughes Communications, and many others. Tim was also present in Newton, Massachusetts, when John Sculley launched the Newton, Apple’s first handheld PDA.
Tim’s company also developed the showcase application for Monsano to track bugs and other issues for precision farming. His time on the West Coast and Silicon Valley exposed Tim to venture capital and how it works.
Entrepreneurship and the Birth of Advertising.com
Tim was faced with the choice–to join Harvard Business School to learn how to run a venture capital firm. Or to buy his own company and get to know investors. Eventually, he started an internet company sometime in the early 90s.
Although the company wasn’t successful, his investor, a venture capital firm, which was a blue chip company, offered Tim a job. It was the first of its kind in Cincinnati and one of the largest in the Midwest. The company had four funds worth $600M under management.
Tim stayed with the company for nine years, investing in companies like Advertising.com that were later sold to AOL. The journey with Advertising.com, one of the earliest ad tech companies, showcased the significance of distribution and the dynamics of fast growth.
Tim shares insights into raising capital during the 2008 recession, emphasizing the importance of managing funds wisely and optimizing for learning during the early stages.
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Lessons from the Dotcom Bubble
Tim’s venture into the dot-com era exposed him to the highs and lows of the industry. From the excitement of a booming market to the challenges of the dotcom bust, he gained valuable insights into the volatile nature of the tech landscape.
Tim emphasizes the importance of learning from failures and understanding the dynamics of board interactions, shedding light on the often-overlooked challenges in the venture capital world.
As Tim observed, although they have never really worked together, board members’ motivations are driven by their fund cycles, raising money, and the time to exit. These motivations are very difficult for CEOs, especially new CEOs, to navigate, which is why being the smartest person in the room is the most vital skill.
Reflecting on Past Decisions and Learning
Looking back, Tim reflects on the lessons learned during the ShareThis journey. He realized that users were no longer searching for information using conventional channels. Using concepts like complexity theory, genetic algorithms, and the early days of machine learning, they developed the consumer chromosome.
This concept was based on a unique user ID, search habits, navigation on the web, and how they shared links. People were finding information using links that were shared with them. That’s how they were able to find things that nobody could find on the internet using Google, Netscape, Yahoo, or AOL.
Tim raised their series A from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Emily Melton, who are now the managing partners at Threshold VC. They closed this round on March 1st, 2008, a week before the great recession started, raising $15M at a $60M valuation.
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Their response to the recession was to keep their burn rates low at $200,000 until they could start generating revenues and see some income and cash flows. As the company grew, Tim learned another of the most important lessons of entrepreneurship–not to place constraints on growth.
Tim emphasizes the importance of leadership, healthy tension, and the need to surround oneself with advisors genuinely concerned about personal interests. Tim acknowledges that success often comes with challenges, and navigating complex dynamics requires resilience and strategic decision-making.
The Transition to Refinery Ventures
Tim’s venture capital experience led him to a pivotal moment – transitioning from an investor to an entrepreneur again. Recognizing the need for growth experience in the Midwest’s startup ecosystem, he founded Refinery Ventures.
Tim looks back at his interactions with founders who expressed the lack of funding as their biggest hurdle for growth. However, in Tim’s opinion, investors follow growth, regardless of where the company is located.
Refinery now trains upcoming founders on how to run cost-efficient organizations, infuse capital efficiency in their operations, and take their products to the market.
Refinery is a unique firm that focuses on the “early scale” stage, helping entrepreneurs bridge the gap between product-market fit and rapid growth.
Tim’s vision for nurturing talent and building a network of hypergrowth entrepreneurs aims to reshape the region’s entrepreneurial landscape. Refinery has recently raised $300M from investors.
Tim Schigel’s journey is a testament to the power of resilience, adaptability, and a forward-thinking mindset. From his roots in Cleveland to pioneering digital music production, experiencing the dot-com bubble, and shaping the future of venture capital in the Midwest, Tim’s story is one of continuous evolution.
As he leads Refinery Ventures, Tim remains committed to fostering growth, innovation, and a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in the heart of the Midwest.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- The Cleveland upbringing and diverse family laid the foundation for his resilient and innovative approach to life.
- From a guitar-playing gadget enthusiast, Tim transitioned to engineering, recognizing the future’s demand for technical expertise.
- Tim’s venture into custom software development for Apple-connected companies in Silicon Valley opened his eyes to the world of venture capital.
- The dot-com era taught Tim valuable lessons about the dynamics of venture capital, emphasizing the need for adaptability and learning from failures.
- Navigating the highs and lows of Advertising.com, Tim underscores the significance of distribution and wise fund management during economic downturns.
- Tim’s transition to Refinery Ventures reflects his commitment to nurturing growth experience in the Midwest’s startup ecosystem, focusing on the “early scale” stage.
- Reflecting on past experiences, Tim emphasizes the importance of leadership, healthy tension, and surrounding oneself with advisors genuinely invested in personal interests.