Hire Networks

From Infield Recruiter to Outfield Angel-Triangle Business Journal Interview

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Raleigh native Craig Stone, founder of Triangle Angel Partners, a Chapel Hill-based angel investment firm made up of more than 40 investors in the Triangle’s high-tech and life sciences industries, was an IBMer, serving in a variety of roles, from sales to analyst, spending most of his time in Washington, D.C. Nearly 20 years ago, he found himself calling a friend who was working in recruitment – asking about startup roles that might be available. That conversation eventually led to what’s now called HireNetworks, a recruiting company whose clients run the gambit, including early stage companies.

About 15 years ago, he started investing in the Atlantis Group, which funneled cash into companies such as ChannelAdvisor and Motrocity. Ten years later, he decided to try his own hand at a fund. He found that was harder than just earmarking a percentage of your paycheck.

TAP’s first deal fell into that category: EvoApp, a company that attracted $3.4 million in investments from 2010 through 2012 but subsequently folded. TAP had contributed about $160,000 into the company. Had it been the second or third investment, it would have been easier to dismiss the failure. But it being TAP’s first investment, it hit hard.
In the years since that deal, he’s turned down term sheets simply because the process was too quick.
TAP is raising a new, $4 million fund, dubbed Triangle Angel Partners II LLC. From Sept. 29 until now, 43 investors have raised $2.5 million, with $1.5 million left to go in the round, according to a securities filing disclosed in October.

What led you to IBM? I had family members that had worked there for a long time and I always admired the company. Plus I knew technology was where everything was headed and where I wanted to be.

What’s your biggest professional success? Regarding HireNetworks, building a profitable company that has sustained through two market downturns. Also winning Best Places to Work and Best Employers in N.C. multiple times. These are especially important to me because it validates the type of company we have been working to build – we have been able to recruit and retain a great team. Regarding Triangle Angel Partners, we have put together an unbelievable group of investors and have built a great local portfolio of startups.

What’s your biggest professional challenge, and how did you overcome it? Of course becoming an entrepreneur is always a major professional challenge. The downturn in 2008 was especially challenging. Our growth plans for HireNetworks were slowed down and the idea for TAP was put on the back burner. Meanwhile, my wife was pregnant with our fourth son. We were able to survive by keeping the core of our team together and working with clients to continue to be a valuable resource and be ready for when the market turned.

What do you want entrepreneurs to know about TAP? That we genuinely care about helping entrepreneurs. The majority of our group is as interested in helping the entrepreneurial ecosystem as much as they are in making a financial return. Well, maybe almost as much!

Where do you see the Triangle entrepreneurship community in five years? Ten years? I truly believe it will be a national top-five entrepreneurial hub in technology, life sciences and advanced materials and I’m excited to be part of it.

What advice do you have for other corporate employees thinking about striking out on their own? Make sure you talk to enough people who have done it and fully understand the commitment and sacrifice.

What’s your pet peeve when it comes to a startup pitch? Not being prepared enough that the pitch itself becomes a deterrent in the decision. There are plenty of resources available (from the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, for example) to know what and how you should be presenting and what questions you should be able to answer.

What do you wish entrepreneurs emphasized more in their pitches? Passion about their idea, their company, and their drive to succeed.

What’s the most bizarre startup idea you’ve ever heard? I don’t know about bizarre, but there have been a few where the entrepreneurs were convinced they had a new idea but it had been attempted numerous times before.

Which startups in the Triangle should we be watching? WedPics, Windsor Circle, FilterEasy, Physcient, Adzerk, K4Connect, ServiceTrade, Axial Exchange, Brooks Bell, Canopy, Pendo, Valencell, Mati, Learn – there are so many good ones now.

What’s your favorite way to relax in the Triangle? Hanging out with friends at Lonerider Brewery or tailgating with my family at an N.C. State University football game.

What did you want to be when you grew up? My father (my parents are my heroes) grew up in Oxford Orphanage. When I was young, he would take me there often and he spent a lot of time helping the kids there. I knew then that I wanted to help people in some capacity.

If you weren’t at HireNetworks or angel investing, what’s your backup career? Tennis coach.

What’s the last book you read? “Mission Drift,” by Peter Greer, about faith-based organizations, and “Discover Your True North” by Bill George, about becoming an authentic leader.

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Lauren Ohnesorge covers information technology and entrepreneurship.

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