Play Poker, Win VC Funding

Posted on January 21, 2008
Filed Under VC Insanity |

What would you do to get VC funding? If you’re not playing poker in Silicon Valley, you might want to start. A recent Wired article details the chronicles of 28 year-old Zach Coelius who has worked his way into Silicon Valley’s inner circles by playing poker. His new startup, Triggit, just raised $500,000 from Bay Partners, the firm that never received the memo announcing that the New Economy was a sham.

This time, however, they’re investing for all the right reasons:

Even with a hazy profit outlook, the company scored $500,000 in seed funding from Bay Partners. Salil Deshpande, a partner at Bay, played poker on the VC circuit with Coelius for about a year before he made the investment in Triggit.

“Zach is a high-IQ individual,” says Deshpande. “When we invested, it wasn’t clear what he was going to build. And it’s still not clear whether they’ve built the right thing. But it’s a process, and I felt like even if he hadn’t figured it all out yet, there’s a good chance that he would.”

Somehow I think Deshpande is the type of guy who would announce to the entire table that he’s holding a 7-2 off suit. Honest, but not quite qualified to judge the IQ of another for obvious reasons.

So what does Triggit do anyway? According to Wired:

The idea is this: The easier it is for bloggers to link to advertisers, the greater the potential for generating revenue from affiliate sites such as or

It looks like a win-win situation for advertisers and bloggers. Affiliate marketing is a cheap way for advertisers to expand their reach. For bloggers, Triggit is a nifty way to link to products or to pull photos from Flickr, ideally increasing their blogs’ visual appeal as well as enhancing their revenue. The tool lets bloggers drag and drop ads, YouTube videos or Flickr pictures directly into their sites.

If it looks like a feature, acts like a feature and smells like a feature it’s probably a…VC-financed startup located in Northern California. And despite Wired’s enthusiasm, it seems to fall flat where it counts most:

“Triggit’s made a little difference in terms of sales, but overall sales are down this year for a number of reasons,” says Anne Levy, a Chicago full-time mom, blogger and Triggit user. “But really I use it because it’s so much easier for me to load links.”

Of course, this, and the fact that the economy is sinking don’t bother Silicon Valley poker guru Coelius:

“We’re uniquely positioned for a downturn,” Coelius says. “Our users are small publishers — like stay-at-home moms. Those are people who will need Triggit.”

Yes, with no revenue and an unproven value proposition (i.e. helping bloggers generate revenue), Triggit is ready to thrive in a recession: the stay-at-home moms who ponder how the family is going to keep the house from going into foreclosure are going to need Triggit to help them stay afloat when times get tough. The $25 they might make from blogging each month should keep the bankers at bay! Hey, “uniquely positioned for a downturn” sounds good and that’s all that really matters.

Amarillo Slim, one of the most famous poker players ever, lists “Play the players more than you play the cards” as one of the top 10 keys to poker success. After reading the Wired article on Zach Coelius and Triggit, I couldn’t help but chuckle because it’s pretty clear that Coelius is playing the VCs more than he’s playing the game of entrepreneurship. Any doubt? Look at this:

Zach Coelius came to San Francisco at age 25, as a Minnesota native and Silicon Valley outsider. Within a month he crashed the high-profile Demo conference and charmed his way into a top-secret poker game among venture capitalists, where he won a thousand dollars in seed funding for a then-nonexistent company.


Coelius and his sister Susan Coelius Keplinger (Triggit’s COO) are longtime entrepreneurs, having started three other businesses together. They’ve led a pretty charmed existence in Silicon Valley: Shortly after they arrived, a friend of a friend hooked them up with angel funding and raw office space in San Francisco.

They furnished the entire office with free stuff (including free artwork courtesy of Flickr). In fact, the founders have collected so much free stuff that they’ve since sold some of it, turning a $1,000 profit.

If you still had any illusions about the intelligence of the average VC, Coelius’ exploits should erase them. VCs are little more than the suckers you hope to find when scouting the tables at the Venetian Poker Room.

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