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Start-up millions needed to wine and dine CIOs

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Software start-ups have many reasons to raise mega-financing rounds these days. Talent is expensive, money is cheap, marketing is hard and there's a land grab for customers who are shifting to cloud computing.

Jai Das, managing director of venture capital firm Sapphire Ventures, has an even more creative explanation: Fine wine and sporting events cost real money.

"As soon as one of my companies closed a round, the CEO asked, `How much does it cost to get a box at Sharks games?'" Das said in an interview earlier this week.

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Das was referring to the National Hockey League's San Jose Sharks, and while he wouldn't say which company the CEO represented, it was clearly one that needs to impress chief information officers at Fortune 500 companies.

"You have to wine and dine CIOs," he said.

Das is seeing it time and again, because his Palo Alto, California-based firm scouts deals across the enterprise computing landscape. Until October, Sapphire Ventures was called SAP Ventures, as in the German software giant SAP. The firm rebranded in order to be viewed independently of SAP.

Das' team has contributed to its share of steak dinners. Sapphire's investments include collaboration software company Box, e-signature provider DocuSign, cloud infrastructure developer Mirantis and data center technology vendor Nutanix. They've each raised at least $100 million this year.

In many cases, these challengers are working hard to displace some of the world's biggest technology companies, which generate billions of dollars in quarterly revenue. In addition to giant balance sheets, the legacy vendors have the advantage of "account control," said Das.

"To break that takes a lot of resources," he said. "They take a very long time to land and someone has to fund it."

That's not to say that start-ups should play fast and loose with capital. Das says that when companies get to the point where they're raising such big pools of cash, they should have a "really strong" chief financial officer to ensure fiscal discipline.

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"The CEO always wants to grow, grow, grow," Das said. The CFO is there to say make sure that the company has enough revenue potential to fund itself in case the markets turn, he said.

Still, "it's always good to have a big war chest, if possible."