Vancouver executive Christopher Kape is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who founded JAMCO Capital Partners, an early-stage investment and strategic advisory firm that focuses on a number of industries, including gaming, high-tech, food and wellness.
Chris graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Administrative and Commercial Studies from Western University and went on to earn his Master of Business Administration from the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University.
For the past 20+ years, he’s focused his attention on providing guidance to numerous private and public businesses in various stages of their life cycle, from incubation to commercialization to maturity. A successful venture capitalist, Chris and his team at JAMCO continue to consult with and maintain equity positions with a range of firms operating in his areas of expertise.
Outside of work, Chris loves spending time with his three children and participates within their lives whenever he can, including volunteering at their schools, sports teams and other extracurricular activities. Chris enjoys staying active and is an avid runner, biker and traveler. He has gone on several service trips with his children, including a trip to rural Uganda with The Walking School Bus, and one to rural India with ME to WE.
We sat down with Christopher Kape to talk about his business, learn about his interests and get his advice for new entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to establish JAMCO Capital Partners and what excites you about the future of the firm?
Chris Kape: I established JAMCO in early 2001 in the wake of the dot-com bubble collapse. Anyone involved in Internet related high-tech businesses at the time learned much from the loss of easy to raise capital with high valuations and quick IPO/RTO exits. However, with market instability comes opportunity – opportunities to identify value when everyone is bearish on anything tech related and to establish yourself by taking a calculated risk.
JAMCO’s first investment was a telephone-based dating service that we acquired from a receiver/trustee through a bidding process. When we won the bid, I personally took the reins of the business as President and CEO for the next 3 years, bringing about a change in practically every way the business conducted itself. Our team was able to turnaround the entire operations and bring about a significant increase in value while benefitting from a ever increasing and healthy bottom line results. That business was sold in 2004 and provided JAMCO with its first profitable exit which resulted in the creation of a sizeable pool of capital to use going forward. I’m also quite proud to say that, although I have no relationship with the business today, it still exists and is one of the market leaders in the online dating space.
The future is also exciting for JAMCO. While not every investment has been successful, we have managed to complete significant exits in four businesses in 2018 and 2019, providing us with an ever-larger pool of cash with which to make future investments. Given our expertise in gaming – specifically sports betting – and with the recent changes in the US federal laws related to sports betting, there are ample opportunities that JAMCO has been pursuing.
As a serial entrepreneur, do you have any particular tried and true habits that you think contribute to your success?
Chris Kape: I believe that luck and timing play a huge role in all success – hence the saying, “It’s 90% luck and timing and 10% hard work”. I know from experience however that the 10% hard work has to translate to 100% continuous effort on the part of the entrepreneur and is a requirement to achieving your goals. While it is possible to get lucky once, it is unlikely to happen time and time again. Hard work is the key to it all, day in and day out.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs when it comes to sourcing funds for a new business?
Chris Kape: Start with presenting your idea to friends and family to get a feel for what it’s like pitch your new business while honing in those ever-important communication skills. Do it enough times, and it will become a lot easier. You will also have encountered many of the questions people may ask and be ready for them when it comes to more important presentations. This group of people are easier to get time and attention from, and will likely give you some real advice and feedback – especially if you ask and make it clear that they shouldn’t hold back. And do not take any of that feedback personally from them – it can be really constructive and used to build upon your business. If one person doesn’t like your idea, make sure to ask why and determine if they have a point. If many don’t like your idea, ask yourself why and determine if you even have a business!
While the friends and family group may be easily accessed, I would caution not to take too much money from them. Make sure both you and they understand the risks involved in investing in startups – which is that more than 90% of startups fail and there is a high likelihood that their money is at risk. Make sure you also understand that if you take money from them, you will feel more responsible for it – which can sometimes be great, leading to more careful decision making – but it can also lead to other personally disastrous consequences, especially if things don’t go well. I would recommend keeping the friends and family raise at a very low number per person, so a loss isn’t a significant for anyone.
The next group I would look to are angel investors. Angel investors are individuals who invest their own money in companies at early / startup stages. In every large city, there tends to be a few groups of angel investors loosely operating through a network that pass around business presentations and plans. Get in with a person in a group, and they’ll introduce you to others. At the end of each meeting, thank them for their time and ask them for a couple of referrals to pitch to – you likely won’t be disappointed.
Some of these networks host an annual or biannual event where they invite you and other businesses to pitch to a couple of dozen angels at the same time. These are excellent opportunities to open doors, and while a deal is generally not consummated on the spot, you can network with the angels and meet them on a one to one basis in a follow up setting.
You value service work and have organized and traveled to rural Uganda and India with the mission to give back. Why do you think philanthropic work is important as an entrepreneur?
Chris Kape: Not everyone recognizes the value of service work and how it can change you as a person. In my younger days, I did not focus on this whatsoever – and that is fine for many as they start out and need to earn money as a priority. After all, there are only so many hours in the day and many entrepreneurs don’t have enough time to even tackle their daily tasks, let alone set aside time for service work.
Once I experienced some financial success and became a little more settled – and had employees that were able to shoulder some of my work responsibilities – service started to creep in, and it was very rewarding. We live in a very fast paced and hectic world and as an entrepreneur, you tend to work very hard at your business and don’t take any time to realize just how fortunate we all are just for being born in the right place. Service work, whether it’s local or abroad, gives you a lot of perspective on things we may otherwise take for granted like food, running water, hospitals, roads, etc. All of a sudden, the stresses associated with startups don’t seem so insurmountable anymore.
In an interesting twist, I have also found that service work can actually result in economic benefit. On a recent trip to Bulgaria, I pre-planned a day of service with a local NGO that provides meals for the homeless once a week. During that service day, I ended up meeting some other volunteers who came from a vast cross section of socio-economic life. Two of those people happened to be in the same industry I was investigating in regard to a business investment. Not only did they unknowingly give me a couple of hours of insight into the industry, but I become friendly with one of them and he ended up working for the business I invested in. While I do the philanthropy work to give back and try and do my part to better humanity, it can be interesting to see where it leads.
You are involved with a number of firms engaged in a cross section of industries, including gaming, skin care and high-tech. Why do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs to diversify their experience outside of their main area or industry of interest?
Chris Kape: The short answer: I don’t! My involvement in more than one industry is based on my 20 plus years of history as an investor and, quite frankly, is a relic from the past – where something like this was possible. The reality on the ground today is that it is becoming a lot harder to be an ‘expert’ in multiple industries. The speed of information and business has really changed over the last 2 decades, and I no longer think it is possible to maintain this type of expert level involvement, staying on top of news, trends, etc., and being able to execute on many different fronts.
While I have experienced tremendous success in many industries, new investors and entrepreneurs should probably focus on one – and become an expert in that one industry. As an investor, that is the type of entrepreneur I look for these days. As for myself, I have begun shifting my focus by narrowing my diversified approach to just a few industries. And I would not be surprised if over the next few years, even the ‘few’ is narrowed to just one.