Every Generation Learns The Same Lessons

While it’s easy to tell people things, it’s much more powerful to learn things. And, as I get older, I see the same lessons being learned by subsequent generations. While this isn’t a post that says “everything is the same as it was before”, there are foundational lessons in life that play out over and over again.

I spent the weekend with a friend from the last 1990s who was the lead banker on the Interliant IPO (I was a co-founder and co-chairman.) Last night, at the Aspen Entrepreneurs event, I was asked to describe several failures and I rolled out my story about Interliant, which, for a period of time (1999 – 2000) appeared to be hugely successful before going bankrupt in 2002. If you like to read IPO prospectuses, here’s the final S-1 filing after INIT went effective and started trading on July 8, 1999.

A few days ago, Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Capitulation? In the middle, he’s got a sentence about the theme of the post.

“Now, the crypto markets are in the eighth month of a long and painful bear market and we are starting to see some signs of capitulation, particularly in the assets that went up the most last year.”

On January 16, 2018 (almost seven months ago) I wrote a post titled It Can All Go To Zero. While I included a lesson from the Interliant experience, I highlighted the top 10 crypto prices, which had already fallen 30% – 50% from their high points a few weeks earlier.

Compare those to the prices right now.

Bitcoin is down another 50% (from 12,001 to 6,157). Ethereum is down over 75% (from 1,118 to 264). XRP, holding strong as the third most valuable cryptocurrency, is down 81% (from 1.37 to 0.26). Stellar, which rallied from #9 to #5, is only down 55% (0.49 to 0.22).

My guess is there are a lot of people who wish they sold their XRP at 1.37. Or, maybe around its all time high of 3.83 on January 4, 2018.

Capitulation in markets is one of those endless lessons that gets learned over and over and over again. My first moment with this was Black Monday in 1987. But that’s not when I learned the lesson. My foundational moment, where I really learned the lesson, happened during the collapse of the Internet bubble in 2000 and 2001.

It’ll be interesting to see if this is the crypto generation’s capitulation lesson moment.

The Economics of VCs Recycling Management Fees

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled Why VCs Should Recycle Their Management Fees.

From the start of Foundry Group in 2007, we have felt strongly about this. We feel that if an LP gives us a $1 to invest, we should invest at least that $1, not $0.85 (the average fee load over a decade for a typical VC fund is 15%.) Our goal for each fund is actually to invest closer to 110%, which means if an LP gives us a $1 to invest, we are actually investing $1.10.

Our long-time friends and LPs at Greenspring recently wrote a great post titled Creating GP-LP Alignment: Why Terms Matter. The post specifically discussed three items: Management Fees, Recycling, and Carried Interest.

The entire post is worth reading, but I especially liked their section on Recycling which includes a handy chart showing that recycling means that you only need to generate a 3.65x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x net multiple to your LPs, vs. a 4.10x gross multiple if you don’t recycle. The section from their post follows:

In addition to management fees, the process of reinvesting realized proceeds into new investments, or recycling, can also meaningfully impact net returns and alignment. While management fees cut into the dollars available for investment, recycling can have the opposite effect, increasing the investable pool of capital while offsetting a proportion of management fees. To illustrate this point, we revisit our $100 million fund example, and in this case show how recycling $15 million, equivalent to the fund’s management fee, positively impacts the fund.

The fund that chooses to recycle fees requires a 3.65x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x net multiple, whereas the fund that does not recycle proceeds to offset management fees requires a 4.10x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x target net multiple. As long as re-invested capital is prudently deployed into opportunities capable of generating strong results, recycling is an impactful way for GPs to increase net returns, which ultimately benefits investors and themselves.

Now, imagine if you recycled 110%. Your investable capital would be $110m. You now require a 3.45x gross multiple to achieve a 3.00x multiple. Plus, as a bonus, you get $56m of carry (vs. $50m of carry in the case where you don’t recycle proceeds.)

Many fund agreements, including ours, require us to pay back all fees and expenses before taking carried interest. We think this is another element of GP-LP alignment and have supported this from our first fund. As a result, if you recycle at least 100%, it is more realistic to think of your management fee as a risk-free, interest-free loan against future carried interest, instead of additional compensation.

As a result, our goal is to generate as much of a return on the dollars invested, and get as many dollars invested as we can in each fund. Recycling allows us to do this and brings the gross and net returns closer together, reducing the spread to the carried interest from profits on investments.

While many GPs focus on their gross numbers, in the end the only numbers that really matter to LPs over time are the net multiples.

That’s worth remembering.

16-49-81

What do these numbers mean to you?

At a recent offsite, during our conversation about evolving our communication patterns (which I refer to, in my head, as “the Matrix”), Ryan said “16-49-81.” Everyone stared at him and I responded “4-squared, 7-squared, 9-squared.” Then, everyone nodded their heads but were probably thinking “these guys are numerology goofballs.”

But then Ryan said, “Metcalfe’s Law” and everyone immediately understood.

When we were just four partners, our communication matrix was 16. We added three new partners and it became 49. We recently added a General Counsel to our team and consciously included our CFO in the communication matrix, so now it’s 81.

81 is a lot different than 16. Our communication matrix is highly optimized (and something we are extremely focused on as a key attribute of what we do), but Ryan was pointing out that we needed to make sure we were paying attention to make sure we kept it clearly optimized at nine people, rather than just four.

We describe our communication and decision-making process as continuous. It happens in real time, on multiple channels, between all of us. We have very specific ways of reacting to new data which can flip quickly to a yes or no decision, rather than storing things up and making a collective decision at the end with summarized information. We have no intermediaries in our process – the seven partners are the ones interacting, with our GC and CFO now in the information flow.

There are days where it feels extremely noisy and others that are strangely quiet. This is different than a decade ago when it felt noisy all the time. I find the difference fascinating as I get used to the new surface area around the matrix.

June Launches their Second Generation Oven for $499

When Amy and I cook, we want it to be as hassle-free as possible. That’s where the June Oven comes in.

I first learned about the June Oven in 2014 and was impressed with how the June Oven was using technology to make cooking easier and more time efficient. Not only did we invest in June, but I’ve owned a June Oven for over two years.

Now four years later since I first spoke to June co-founders Matt Van Horn and Nikhil Bhogal, June has launched their second generation oven and it’s better than ever. It addition to being a convection oven, it is also a slow cooker, air fryer, dehydrator, broiler, toaster, and warming drawer.

So, with the June Oven, you get seven appliances in one which is good for both your wallet and kitchen counter space. The oven cooks the perfect medium-rare steak, air fries chicken, or bakes chocolate chip cookies. It can even cook up to a 12-pound turkey, not that I eat turkey. To do this, June does all the hard work of alternating between different modes of roast, broil, and bake to cook steak (and anything else) to your preferred doneness.

The new June Oven has never been more affordable with a limited time offer of $499 with promotional code NEW100. You can buy yours at juneoven.com.

Get your kitchen out of the past and into the future now by getting a June Oven.

Where Does Foundry Group Invest?

Semil Shah recently wrote a post titled Investing Outside The Bay Area. In it, he talked about his own experience expanding his investment horizons beyond the bay area, but also mentioned some other folks, including us and USV, where he did a quick analysis of the location of our partner funds.

From Semil’s post:

“Another firm linked closely to USV — Foundry Group in Boulder — has also been investing with an eye for geographic diversity. While I don’t have portfolio level stats for them, their new endeavor Foundry Next (to invest in smaller funds and then follow-on into key investments) has built up an LP basket of 23 positions in a variety of new VC funds. Of the 23 funds listed here, 13 are in the Bay Area, 3 in NYC, 3 in Boston, 2 in LA, and one each in Detroit, Seattle, Toronto, Waterloo, Indianapolis, and Fargo, North Dakota. This is a very clever way of helping new funds get their footing and hearing about what is working before others may pick up the scent.”

That generated a fun email exchange between us and prompted me to do an analysis on the locations of the direct investments that we’ve made since we started Foundry Group in 2007. The geographic breakdown of our 123 direct investments follows:

Twelve years later, we were pretty close. When we started Foundry Group, we said that 33% of our investments would be in California (which, at the time, we thought of as equivalent to the Bay Area), 33% would be in Colorado, and 34% would be in the rest of the United States.

We have always believed that great companies can be created anywhere. While we don’t have a geographic allocation approach, we were willing to travel and invest everywhere in the US. We knew that some places, like NYC, Boston, and Seattle, where we already had deep networks, would be common places for us to invest. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the expansion of our networks in other geographies, like Southern California (LA, San Diego, and Santa Barbara) and Portland.

It’s useful to note that in addition to our direct investing and partner fund investing, we are investors in Techstars, which has redefined seed stage investing all over the world. Currently, they are running accelerator programs in over 16 cities and 13 countries, in addition to Startup Weekend and Startup Week activity, which thoroughly covers the world.

As we start investing Foundry Group Next 2018, I expect we’ll add a few more states on both the direct and partner fund investing side. Hopefully, we will continue to help develop and expand existing and new startup communities.

Speaking at the Aspen Entrepreneur Showcase on August 13th

On August 13th, I’m giving a talk as part of the Aspen Entrepreneur Showcase. I’m doing an AMA moderated by Chris Klug on:

  • Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Rural Communities
  • Angel & Venture Capital Investing
  • The GiveFirst Ethos and its Impact on Startups
  • Forming Great Boards of Directors
  • Techstars Accelerator Going International
  • Mental Health and Depression
  • Philanthropic Giving
  • Trends for 2019

And, since it’s an AMA, that means people who show up can ask me whatever they want.

If you are near Aspen on 8/13, it’s from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Basalt, CO.

Becoming Warren Buffett

I regularly get asked where my investing philosophy comes from. There isn’t an easy answer, as it comes from a lot of places, numerous people who influence my thinking (publicly and privately), my partners, and lots of reflection and critical thinking around things that have worked and haven’t worked for me over the past 25 years.

However, one public person who has influenced my thinking for a long time is Warren Buffett. I don’t know Buffett, but I’ve been a fan and follower since college. I read his annual report every year. I’ve also read several biographies on him as well as a bunch of stuff on his long-time partner Charlie Munger (who I’ve learned even more from.)

Last weekend, Amy and I watched the documentary Becoming Warren Buffett. I thought it would be a harder sell to her, but I think we needed a break from binge-watching The Expanse, so she was game to go in an entirely different direction for a few hours. She loved it, which was fun. I liked it a lot also, and, while there wasn’t much new information for me, seeing and hearing Buffett reflect on some things was fascinating.

My behavior is not to emulate Buffett. Nor is it to emulate any of the other inputs I have. All of the inputs influence how I think about things, but I view them as inputs rather than fundamental principles to follow. But Buffett has been – over an extended period – a particularly interesting and stimulating input for me.

As a bonus, his view on philanthropy and generational wealth is very consistent with mine and Amy’s.

If you are a Buffett fan, or just interested, Becoming Warren Buffett is definitely worth watching.

Our New Fund – Foundry Group Next 2018

This post originally appeared as Announcing Foundry Group Next 2018 on the Foundry Group website.

We are happy to announce the closing of our seventh fund, Foundry Group Next 2018. The $750 million fund combines all of our prior fund strategies – our early stage, early growth, and partner fund investments – into a single fund.

For historical reference, our early-stage funds (FG 2007, FG 2010, FG 2013, and FG 2016) are all $225 million in size. Our first early growth fund raised in 2013, Foundry Group Select, is also $225m in size. In 2016, when we raised Foundry Group Next, we approximately doubled the size of that fund to $500 million since 30% of it was going to be invested in partner funds and 70% in early growth. So, at the beginning of 2016, we effectively raised $725 million (FG 2016 and Foundry Group Next). Foundry Group Next 2018 is simply the combination of those two funds rounded up slightly.

Our strategy is unchanged – we’ve just combined all of our investing activity into one fund going forward. When we started Foundry Group, we had four equal partners. We now have seven equal partners. We invest all over the United States and Canada. We have a deliberate and focused set of themes that encompass almost all of our investments. We are syndication agnostic, being indifferent between investing by ourselves or with co-investors – especially our partner funds – where we mostly have long and successful relationships. Our goal is to have significant ownership in companies we are investors in (often over 30%). We are very long-term investors, focusing on net cash on cash returns, rather than short-term or intermediate IRRs.

While we have an early entry point from our historical early-stage investing, we don’t have to be the first investor in a company. With the Cambrian explosion of seed funds that has occurred in the last five years, we’ve chosen to invest in these funds directly (which we call our partner funds) rather than try to chase seed investments all around the country. If a company hasn’t raised more than $5 million, we are a good target, as long as it is in the US (or Canada) and in one of our themes.

We are full lifecycle investors and willing to invest, and lead, Series A, B, and C rounds. We refer to B and C rounds as early growth – essentially financings with valuations between $50m and $300m pre-money. By being syndication agnostic, we are happy to lead multiple rounds of companies we are already investors in, but we also love to welcome in co-investors who we like and respect, along with any of our LPs who want to participate directly alongside us.

We have a small team (16 people total). The seven partners all work directly with the companies and partner funds. We have a CFO, a General Counsel, six EAs, and one fund investment associate. We don’t expect or intend to add anyone to our team going forward.

We’ve worked hard to have a network-centric view of the world. As a small team based in Boulder, Colorado, we have developed a very broad network which includes all of the entrepreneurs we work with, our LPs, VCs we co-invest with, our partner funds, several startup studios, Techstars, and many other colleagues through our writing, startup community leadership, and non-profit activities. We think of ourselves as one node on a mesh network, an important node, but not a central node through which everything must flow. We subscribe to the notion of #GiveFirst and try to be helpful to everyone we come in contact with.

We know who we are at year 12 in our journey as a firm, love what we do, and try very hard to do it clearly, honestly, authentically, and transparently with everyone we interact with. Creating and building companies is extremely hard, and we have deep respect for everyone we get to work with through all the ups and downs.

We very much look forward to continuing to work with everyone we currently work with, as well as another group of great entrepreneurs and VC fund managers in our Foundry Group Next 2018 Fund. We are also happy to welcome a small number of new Limited Partners to our family. We are pleased to partner with such a great group of investors.

Thanks for allowing us to be part of your journey.

– Jason, Ryan, Seth, Brad, Lindel, Moody, and Jamey

Designing For Underrepresented Technologists First

I’ve written several times about leveling the playing field for women in tech, including our own actions at Foundry Group. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground for how to do this better.

Recently, I was connected to Kate Catlin, the Founder of Find My Flock, by my partner Jason. From the outside, it looks like Find My Flock is a tech job board that is enthusiastically open to all. What isn’t obvious is that they did 100% of their product research, design, and UX testing with developers who happen to be women and/or people of color.

This led to some very specific features:

  • You can filter jobs by benefits like maternity leave, trans-inclusive healthcare, or visa sponsorship.
  • You get a personal interviewing coach.
  • If a company wants a premium posting, Find My Flock has an off-the-record phone call with two developers in the company to make sure they’re happy.

While mostly driven by “determined intersectional feminism,” Kate thinks more platforms should be designed this way. She’s a former IDEO CoLab Fellow, and follows IDEO’s belief that you can spur the most creativity by interviewing users at the extreme ends of the bell curve, in addition to those in the middle.

To understand this, imagine you’re designing a new sneaker. You’ll come up with very different ideas if you go interview the most blister-prone ultramarathoner instead of the average neighborhood jogger.

Find My Flock took it a step further by interviewing only at the extremes. If developers most likely to experience unconscious bias feel this process is effective, supportive, and fair, then they believe everyone else will also have an outstanding experience as well. “This is not about handouts,” Kate says. “No one I know wants a job they haven’t worked for. It’s about a level playing field.”

What are your thoughts? How would major tech platforms be different if they had designed for underrepresented people first?

The Value of Both Optimists and Pessimists in the Room

I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on team dynamics. For a sense of how we think about them at Foundry Group, read Lindel’s great recent post Working at Threshold.

During a recent board call, there was a particularly challenging segment of the discussion. Afterward, I was frustrated because I felt like I was having an argument with another board member about something, but operating with different data. When I reflected on it, I realized that it wasn’t the data, but our respective frames of reference.

I was coming at the issue with an optimistic posture. She was coming at the issue with a pessimistic posture. The other board members on the call just listened, so while the data was the same, went ended up discussing it from opposite perspectives.

In general, this is a good thing. When the biases are known in advance, or explicitly stated, different starting postures can generate better critical thinking. But you have to know your bias as well as the other biases in the room. And, it has to be ok to come at things from different perspectives.

In this case, we weren’t explicit about it. I expect the other person knew that I was coming at things from an optimistic perspective (including the notion of “ok – we have an issue, but I’m optimistic that we can solve it) since that’s my nature. However, it’s possible that her pessimism about the situation overwhelmed her view of my position, and my frustration with her pessimistic viewpoint caused me to forget that this is her nature. If either of us had paused during the conversation and acknowledged our bias, or if someone else on the call had made the observation that we were simply talking past each other, that might have resulted in a more productive and fruitful discussion.

We talk a lot about this inside Foundry Group. Each of the seven of us comes from a different frame of reference on many issues. We have different biases, some deep-seated. We react differently to stimuli and behavior of others. We carry our own stresses in different ways. But, we know each other extremely well. By knowing that, and embracing it, we have more robust and honest discussions that we think lead to better decisions.

Ultimately, it’s not important to feel like you have to win each point, but rather simply be heard. As part of this, you have to also listen. Through this process, especially if you do the work to understand the posture of the other person, you should be able to modify and evolve your position based on the data you are hearing.

I wish I had a do-over on the board call that started this post with this rant in my mind.