New to town

Silicon Valley fintech company officially opens its second headquarters in Houston

Bill.com's new Houston office is in West Houston and has space for 125 employees. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Only 18 months ago, a growing Palo Alto, Calif.-based fintech company was weighing its options for its first out-of-state expansion. And yesterday, Bill.com opened its second headquarters in Houston.

"When we set out to find a second headquarters in Houston, we had three criteria we were looking for," says René Lacerte, CEO of Bill.com.

Those three things were a good education foundation, vibrant business economy, and diversity, which "Houston has that in spades," Lacerte adds.

Lacerte, who is based in Palo Alto, celebrated the opening of the office on September 18 at a reception that included Mayor Sylvester Turner, Susan Davenport, president of the Greater Houston Partnership, and others who were involved in the process of bring Bill.com to Houston. Mayor Turner even celebrated the office opening by proclaiming September 18th as Bill.com Day in Houston.

"We've worked very hard the past few years to strengthen Houston's digital tech innovation ecosystem," says Davenport. "Today, I think solidifies the momentum we've been building."

The new office is located on the west side of town at the CityWest office development. Bill.com has 25,000 square feet and can have up to 125 employees. Lacerte says he wants to have every department represented in the Houston office, from sales to programming.

"There are two reasons I founded the company," Lacerte says to the crowd. "One was to make a difference in the lives of our customers, and the other was to make a difference in the lives of our employees. Having this second office is a huge opportunity in the lives of people in our communities."

Lacerte founded Bill.com in 2006, and the company has raised over $259 million in funding. The software-as-a-service company has over 3 million members, according to Bill.com, and processes $60 billion in payments annually.

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Building Houston

 
 

Plug and Play, an international accelerator and investment group with a presence in Houston, joined a panel to discuss startup investment, networking, and more during the pandemic. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

It's no secret that the spread of COVID-19 has greatly affected startup ecosystems by shutting down coworking and accelerator spaces and providing economic uncertainty in the venture capital world. However, organizations focused on investment and acceleration are still working to virtually guide startups virtually.

Plug and Play Tech Center, an accelerator and investment group based in Silicon Valley that recently launched its Houston presence, is still offering support and even investments to startups as the pandemic continues on. One way they've recently done so is through Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to answer questions from Houston entrepreneurs.

On the panel, Neda Amidi, partner and global head of health at Plug and Play Tech Center, Milad Malek, associate at Plug and Play Ventures, and Payal Patel, director at Plug and Play Houston, discussed concerns and questions about the organization's dedication to Houston, advice amid the pandemic, and more. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Timing and opportunity set up the Plug and Play Houston office. The mayor and other business leaders in Houston had seen what happens in our Silicon Valley office and with all the things that are going on in the burgeoning startup community in Houston, we saw the opportunity.”

— Patel says on how Houston snagged its very own Plug and Play location. "Given the high concentration of large companies here — as well as the growing number of investment opportunities — we moved quite quickly to open the office here," she adds.

“There’s a number of great entrepreneurs here in this city. I think a missing ingredient has been the number of early stage investments — especially in that Seed or series A stage. So, we hope to make an impact in that. Our CEO has publicly stated that he’d like to make five investments in Houston a year.”

— Patel shares about Plug and Play's investment strategy in Houston. She adds that five investments in Houston a year is the bare minimum, and they actually are striving for more.

“[Investing virtually is] kind of the same process, but we definitely try to make sure we have cameras on and distractions are away, really giving that entrepreneur that same experience as we can in a face-to-face meeting."

— Amidi says on how Plug and Play's investment team approaches investment meetings and pitches during this time. She explains that during the beginning of the pandemic, most of their investments were with companies that had existing relationships with or follow on deals. Now they have made investments in companies they've never met in person. She says Plug and Play has relied on its network to give feedback on these potential deals.

“During COVID, we’ve recommended to a lot of our portfolio companies to raise more than what they needed at the time to be able to power through what’s happening now and what will happen on the economy side as well."

— Amidi says about investment advice they've given to Plug and Play startups.

“A lot of hardware companies get too intense in terms of thinking about one avenue of fundraising. Spend a lot more time thinking about fundraising strategy.”

Malek says on fundraising for hardware startups specifically. He adds that there are other options for generating cash flow, like grants. "Don't forget the business side of things" he adds. "I know early on, a lot of founders are focused on the technology and prototyping, but it's important as well to think about a compelling narrative for potential investors — even if you're pre-revenue."

"For SaaS, it’s important to have a unique differentiation. There are a lot of copy cats in this realm. It’s ok to be doing something that has competitors — every startup has competitors."

— Malek says about software-as-a-service startups pitching to investors. "It's a red flag when we're talking to a startup — especially one with a SaaS product — that says we don't have competitors," he adds, saying it's usually not true.

“A lot of investors out there prefer teams with multiple founders and not just one founder. It never hurts, at least in an investor’s eyes, to have two or three founders.”

— Malek explains, responding to a question about how to begin the process of bringing another co-founder on board. Investors, he says, value a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

“Take your time — it’s kind of like picking a spouse or partner. You want to make sure you’re compatible.”

Amidi adds, saying it's an exceptionally difficult process nowadays. She recommends reaching out to your network for leads on a potential co-founder or even looking into sites like AngelList or LinkedIn.

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