May 1 2007

Watching the Seeds Grow Into Trees

I’m an early stage investor.  Very early.  Think “seed stage.”  My favorite investments are in tiny teams of founders that I can get in a closet (e.g. one to four – a normal sized closet, not Amy’s.) 

One of the seeds I planted in 2004 was NewsGator.  I met Greg Reinacker in the spring of 2004 via an introduction from one of the members of the Return Path leadership team who said “hey Brad – there’s this RSS thing – it looks a little like email – you should check it out.  Oh by the way, there is this guy named Greg you should meet.”

I sent Greg an email and we set up a meeting.  I spent some time poking around on the web before the meeting. I figured out that RSS was a protocol, a bunch of smart software guys had gotten into a huge war over it and a protocol called Atom, and it had something to do with the blog things that were popping up all over the place.  Other than that I didn’t really get it.

In that first meeting, I spent two hours in a conference room with Greg.  The first thing I learned was that Greg was one of those rare software developers that is 100x better than virtually everyone else.  When you find a guy like Greg, you lock him in your basement, make him break up with his girlfriend, and don’t let him out until you have a deal.  The second thing I learned was that RSS was a transformational protocol that has extremely broad implications. 

I often say that my analogy for RSS was SMTP.  SMTP is the protocol that begat email.  Email has been very, very, very good to me (and continues to be – witness the success of Postini and Return Path.)  SMTP:RSS as RSS:“something”.  I didn’t really know what the “something” was, but I knew it was something (brilliant, I know.)

We did the seed financing for NewsGator in May of 2004 and its growth has exceeded all of my expectations.  Yesterday, along with announcing a new version of the NewsGator Enterprise Server, they announced that they now have over 100 customers and 400,000 seats of its enterprise software licensed.  NewsGator now has well over a million people using some version of their software every day.  And yes – it’s a real business – generating real revenue.

I’ve continued to plant plenty of seeds.  My garden of stuff around RSS and a theme I call the “Implicit Web” is growing nicely.  I continue to tend to it, remove weeds when necessarily, and fertilize regularly (I’ll let you figure out how I do that.) 

Greg, JB, and the entire team at NewsGator – thanks for helping create a tree!  Now – let’s work on the forest.  And Greg – sorry about that girlfriend thing.