The Force Awakens has been particularly exciting to me since we are investors in Sphero. If you haven’t seen BB-8 from Sphero yet, take a look.
I watched Star Wars for the first time the week it came out in 1977. I was 11. I’ve been an unashamed Star Wars fan since then, loving almost every moment except for the ones I had to suffer through with Jar Jar Binks. It turns out that I’m about six months older than J.J. Abrams so I feel similar to him about Star Wars.
“I was 11 when I saw the first ‘Star Wars’ and my mind was blown,” he says. “It was everything. It was funny, it was surprising, it was aesthetically gorgeous. It had designs and effects you’d never seen before. It had the most incredible sound effects and music you’d ever heard. It had amazing characters who grabbed you by the heart. It was spiritual. It was filled with adventure. On every level, it was just this incredible thing. If it had only looked that cool, or had that great script, people would still be talking about it. But it had all of it. It reminds me of the Beatles, the way, for any other band, any one of their songs would have been enough for a career. But they did it all — the way George Lucas, somehow through his brilliance, did it all.”
And yes, I’m a big Beatles fan also.
BB-8 is so deeply awesome. If you don’t have one yet, you know you want one. See you at the movies.
As I sit here watching Amy play tennis with her coach Mason (I hurt my shoulder serving so I’m taking a few days off), I’m reflecting on my first week back on the grid after a five week sabbatical. A few things come to mind.
1. Amy’s tennis game has improved dramatically over the past six weeks. She’s always had nice strokes, but she definitely has been playing beginner tennis. As I watch her play, everything has elevated at least a level for her including her confidence on the court. It’s beautiful and I expect her tennis girlfriends will have a big challenge on their hands when she returns. And, I’m ready to start (and look forward to) playing mixed doubles with her.
2. I stayed off Facebook and Twitter this week, other than to respond on Twitter to some @bfeld mentions. I was too busy with other stuff to really get in the flow of it and I didn’t really find myself caring, as I’d rather spend my Twitter / Facebook time walking Brooks, staring out the window, watching classic tennis matches from the 1980s on Youtube, or reading.
3. When I did bump into social and news stuff, especially politics, there was an amazing amount of vitriol in the world. I know that politics and the now year long election cycle that stretches endlessly in front of us adds significantly to this, but there also feels like a lot of global schadenfreude in the system, especially in the news. It’d be ironic if the lack of Twitter in my diet last week drove this, but somehow I doubt it.
4. I really missed my partners at Foundry Group and was delighted to re-engage with them. I expected to feel this way when I left for sabbatical but it’s always powerfully reassuring to experience it.
5. Very few dramatic things happened while I was gone. While there was a bunch of transaction stuff in our portfolio that my partners handled, there were no fundamental shifts in the matrix, the AI didn’t yet become sentient, and the moon didn’t split into seven pieces. I read a few books last month that reminded me that humans consistently overestimate our importance in the universe – this was once again reinforced by re-entry.
In a conversation with a CEO of a company I’m an investor in, he said “Wow – you seem incredible chill after being gone for a while.” It feels great to be chill.
Over the years at Foundry Group we’ve built an extensive network of companies. While we’ve invested in some of these directly, this actually represents the smallest set of companies that we are involved with. We have also invested indirectly in many others through our investment in Techstars. Yet another, and much larger set of companies, come from our investments in other venture funds.
In 2013, we started thinking hard about the future of Foundry Group. When we started Foundry in 2006 we were very clear that we were not going to build a legacy firm. There would be no generational planning, no transitions to younger partners, and no senior partner hold-outs who would hang onto economics well after they had stopped working. Simply put, when we are done investing, we will drop the mic and shut off the lights.
During these discussions, we reflected on the incredible collection of early stage VC firms we’ve invested in personally over the years. We’ve been investing as individuals in venture firms going back almost 20 years. The four of us have served as mentors, and in a number of cases, formal advisors to funds around the world. In 2010 we started making the majority of our fund investments together through a common entity. While we never thought hard about this activity, over the years we’ve amassed a very strong track record through these fund investments. It’s also been fun – a great way to get close to new managers, build lasting personal relationships, and see deal flow for our Foundry Group investing activity.
In late 2014 the four of us got together to talk formally about the future of Foundry Group. We had each taken a month off in 2014 – well needed breaks after what had been a seven year sprint since starting Foundry Group. We were clear at that point that we wanted to continue to make early stage investments through a new Foundry Group fund, which we subsequently raised in the middle of 2015 and started investing at the end of the year.
At the same time we discussed our later stage investment strategy. In 2013 we raised a fund called Foundry Group Select. The strategy behind Select is to make late stage investments into successful companies where our early-stage funds had previously invested. The strategy has been a good one and with two early exits (Gnip and Fitbit) we’ve already returned significant capital.
As a result of our extensive networks, we constantly see other potential late stage investments. We’ve stayed away from these investments, not because they aren’t interesting, but because with the Select fund strategy we had limited ourselves to investing in existing Foundry portfolio companies. We broke this rule recently to make an investment in AvidXchange, a business run by an entrepreneur who I have known for over 20 years. The conversation around AvidXchange brought to light the magnitude of the opportunity we have to invest in interesting companies outside of our early stage portfolio.
We also had a long conversation about our GP fund investing strategy. It is clear to us that we enjoy investing in other VC funds and working to support the GPs. When we looked carefully at our track record, it became clear to us how lucrative this activity has been.
As we discussed the confluence of our fund investing strategy, our current Select strategy, and our interest in acting on our unique later stage deal flow, we realized that there was an opportunity to wrap these three ideas together into a single entity that would encompass not just what we had previously called our Select strategy but would also institutionalize our fund investment strategy as well as leverage those and other relationships to invest in other later stage opportunities in our broader network.
The critical ingredient for bringing this all together was finding the person to help us execute our GP fund strategy. Fortunately we knew exactly who we wanted to work on this project.
For the past 13 years, Lindel Eakman has been the head of UTIMCO’s private equity group. He’s created an incredible portfolio of investments in venture capital funds, including Union Square Ventures, Spark Capital, True Ventures, IA Ventures, Techstars Ventures, and Foundry Group. In April 2007, Lindel committed to be our largest investor in our first fund in 2007, taking 20% of the fund. This was a bold move, as we only had one commitment at the time.
Lindel – through UTIMCO – has continued to be our largest investor. He has been on our advisory board and for the past eight years has been a key advisor to us. Over the years he also has become a close friend.
We’ve been discussing this strategy with Lindel for most of the last year and have started calling the initiative “Foundry Group Next”. The Next strategy will not only allow us to continue making direct investments in high-potential startups, but will also scale-up our ability to support venture firms and funds whose vision and values align with ours. Through this activity, we hope to spread the Foundry Group values and DNA further into the overall venture and startup ecosystem.
We are pleased to welcome Lindel to Foundry Group Next and are excited to start this new chapter with him. And to make the the lawyers in our lives happy, we need to say that in no way is this blog post an offer to sell securities or an advertisement of us raising a new fund. We have yet to announce anything regarding any new funds that we may raise in the future.
If you play tennis almost every day for five weeks you get a lot better.
In addition to turning 50, I had an incredible mental, emotional, and physical reset. Two years ago, Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I decided that we would each take a month off the grid each year. We’d do this asynchronously so only one person would be on sabbatical at a time. We’ve now had two cycles of this.
It serves two powerful purposes. For the person who goes off the grid for a month, it gives them a complete reset. I just spent every day with Amy since November 1. We had long stretches of time together doing vacation things rather than daily life things. We had lots of friends come visit this year. We played a ton of tennis. I read a bunch of books. We went to bed early and slept late. We watched every episode of Archer and Star Wars 1 – 5 (Return of the Jedi will get watched this week.) I feel 10 zillion times better than I did on October 31.
The second, more subtle purpose, is that by going off the grid, I handed over all of my work to Seth, Jason, and Ryan. One of our core values is that we all work on everything together. There’s nothing quite like stepping away for a month and letting your partners cover everything for you, or having one of them step away for a month and you cover his stuff. If this happened once every decade, that would be one thing, but by having this happen every year I believe we are creating another, even deeper level of trust and connectedness between us.
When I wrote my post #GiveFirst on 10/25, I planned to check out from blogging through the end of the year and just work on my next book (#GiveFirst). But, as my sabbatical came to an end, I was missing the rhythm of almost daily blogging. So, I decided to start blogging again when I feel like it, rather than wait until January 1, 2016 to start again.
Yesterday was my first day officially back. It was a busy day, but I managed to get outside and play 90 minutes of tennis. As I re-enter my normal world, I’m glad to be back, but I had an amazing time away.