Category: Foundry Group
My partners Chris Moody, Seth Levine, and Lindel Eakman are all blogging right now. My other two partners, Ryan McIntyre and Jason Mendelson have blogged in the past, ut took a break in 2017. Also, the Foundry Group blog is always active, with occasional thought pieces but mostly updates on initial financings both for companies and other funds that we invest in.
So, I thought I’d point you at Moody, Seth, and Lindel’s blogs (and some posts) in case you are interested in following more of what we are doing at Foundry Group.
Seth has started a Friday series named Friday Fun because the world needs more fun. His longer thought pieces like The Feature -> Product -> Company Continuum, How to value your SaaS company, and Reading Your VC Pitch Meeting are must-read posts for me – and for every founder and company executive. Also, Seth’s not afraid to be very personal and open, as he shows in his post Drowning.
Lindel is getting into a grove with posts like Saying “No” too often is part of being a good investor, Mi Casa Es Su Casa – How we seek to interact with our family of GPs, and Venture Risk and Return circa 2017. Very few LPs blog, so it’s neat to add Lindel’s perspective as a fund investor into the mix.
If you are following and reading me, I encourage you to follow and read my partners to get the full view of how we think about things at Foundry Group.
We very rarely hire anyone at Foundry Group (although we are hiring an Executive Assistant). However, many of the companies we invest in are often hiring.
Over the years we’ve had a Foundry Group Jobs Page but we’ve never found software that was painless for us to use to keep it current. As a result, it would often get out of date and have to be updated manually. The endless kludge that we’d created was yucky, a pain to maintain, and likely much less effective than it could be.
If you are looking for a new job, take a look and tell me what you think of it and how we could improve it, as we are still tuning it.
We are excited to announce that Chris Moody is joining Foundry Group as a partner.
When we started Foundry Group in 2006, we were very clear that we were not going to build a legacy venture capital firm; one meant to outlive its founders. 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.
In 2014, Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I had the first of many conversations about our long-term plans for Foundry Group. These discussions resulted in the creation of Foundry Group Next, the addition of Lindel Eakman to our team, and our first Foundry Group Next fund which we closed in 2016.
The conversation that we started in 2014 has continued on a regular basis, both formally at our quarterly off-sites but also pretty much every time the four of us were together. As part of this, we started an exercise of explicitly looking forward a decade and talking about what Foundry Group looked like from each of our perspectives at that time. With each new fund we raise, we are making at least a ten year forward commitment to each other, our investors, and the founders whose companies in which we invest. For the first seven years, this was easy, since we each had a 20-year view of Foundry Group when we started it in 2006. But as time passed, we realized we needed to start to think more deeply about the future of Foundry Group and how we evolve our investment activities.
The venture business is an inherently challenging one to scale. Leverage – of time, capacity, and capabilities – is hard to achieve. As Foundry Group raised more funds, we realized that our ability to continue to manage our business effectively was becoming limited by our individual time and capacity. Recognizing this, we started to make a list of people we would consider adding as partners, as one of our deeply held beliefs was never to have associates, venture partners, or EIRs as part of our firm.
For a while, the only name on the list was Lindel’s. It took us several years to get our mind around adding someone, but once we did, we added a few more names to the list. It probably won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this that it is a very short list.
Back to Chris Moody. Chris was most recently VP & GM of Data & Solutions at Twitter, running a multi-hundred million dollar enterprise business unit. In addition to running one of Twitter’s fastest-growing business unit, Chris was responsible for leading Twitter’s developer platform and ecosystem involving hundreds of enterprise partners and one of the world’s largest active developer communities. We’ve known Chris since 2007 and worked extremely closely with him when he was the CEO of Gnip and well as a leader in the Boulder Startup Community. Over the years, we also became very close friends with Chris.
After we had raised the first Foundry Group Next fund last September, we started having a serious conversation about having Chris join us at Foundry Group. This was driven by our reflection on our current workload, how we were adjusting what we were doing based on the addition of Lindel to the team – which had re-energized us a lot, and how we were thinking about the next ten years of Foundry Group.
In addition to working closely with Chris as a CEO (I was on the board of Gnip), we all worked with Chris through Techstars (he was one of the original mentors in the 2007 program). After Twitter acquired Gnip in 2014, Chris joined the boards of two of our portfolio companies (Pantheon and mLab) and worked closely with Ryan on these boards as an outside director.
We knew Chris was an extraordinary board member as well as an extremely seasoned CEO. We had a great affinity for each other, and he shared our value system. When the five of us sat around talking about Chris, after each conversation we got more excited about having him join us, especially as we learned about his personal view for the next decade of his life.
For those of you who don’t know Chris, I encourage you to watch this short video of Chris’ commencement address at Auburn University last spring. I think you’ll get a small glimpse of what he is about and why we’re so excited to have him as our partner.
Chris has been burning the candle at both ends for 27 years without ever taking a meaningful break. We insisted that he take the summer off to recharge his batteries and spend focused time with his awesome wife Sarah and his three delightful kids. He’ll officially join us at the end of the summer.
I’ve become a huge fan of Harry Stebbings, the intrepid entrepreneur turned VC whose age (20) matches the title of his podcast (The Twenty Minute VC.) Today, at SaaStr at 1:40pm in the Hypercritical section, Harry is interviewing me about – well – whatever he wants.
Harry has done hundreds of 20 minute VC interviews over the past few years. It’s a staple of mine on my podcast listening rotation so I’ve heard a bunch of them. It’s fun to watch Harry evolve as an interviewer as his knowledge of the industry has increased dramatically and his point of view about various VC-related things has become crisp and clear. And his hustle is relentless and has led to him also doing the SaaStr podcast and joining Atomico.
All five of the Foundry Group partners have been interviewed at this point. I think our interviews are a great way to get to know us quickly since we each tell our story, our strategy, and our approach in our own words and from different perspectives. Over the past few weeks I’ve probably talked to over 100 VCs between my trip to Australia, LA, and SF. When I find myself telling our story in response to being asked, I often wish I had a short cut to point people to.
This post is now the shortcut. I’ll use Harry’s original titles so you can see how his SEO prowess has evolved.
Yeah – I don’t love the capital letters either, but there you have it.
In case you are wondering about the tone of the 100 VCs I’ve talked to, I’d rate it as very high on the anxiety meter. Some of the tone is from the macro dynamics post election, but some seems deeper and more unsettled. I don’t know what it is, but I switched my Headspace meditation pack from Motivation (which I don’t need any help with) to Anxiety, just to be proactive.
It’s Sunday and it’s -8 degrees in Boulder. Egads. As I sat in my warm office catching up on email from the week, I sent links to our Foundry Group videos to a friend that had never seen them. I realized two things: (1) I’m still annoyed with Ryan for accidentally deleting our Youtube account and resetting the counters on both videos from > 100,000 views to 0 views and (2) A bunch of people in my world have probably never seen these videos.
So – for your viewing pleasure, here are me and my partners making fun of ourselves. As a special bonus, check out my singing and dance movies. And Seth – well – enough said.
If you see Jason in the next few weeks, tell him that it’s time to make Video #3 so we can get Lindel in the mix. Maybe the next one will be called “I’m an LP.”
Last month I had dinner at Pizzeria Locale in Boulder and did a long interview with Nick Chirls and Alex Lines of Notation Capital for their podcast. Dinner was about them and as they learned, if you trek out to Boulder, dinner is on me.
Their podcast series is called Origins and is unique among podcasts as they go deep into the formation history of venture funds, especially from an LP perspective. I was their ninth interviewee following some really great ones including Beezer Clarkson (Sapphire), Naval Ravikant (AngelList), Chris Douvos (VIA), Michael Kim (Cendana), and Judith Elsea (Weathergage).
They walked me through multiple origin stories, including how I started making angel investments (1994), the origin of Mobius / Softbank Venture Capital (1996-1997), the origin of Foundry Group (2007), and the creation of Foundry Group Next (2015-2016).
The show notes for Harry’s interview with Lindel follow.
1.) How Lindel made his way into the weird and wonderful world of LPs and then Foundry? What is the origin story behind is first fund investment, Union Square Ventures?
2.) Question from Michael Kim @ Cendana: How is Lindel approaching portfolio construction for Foundry Next? What combination of GP portfolio & direct exposure diversifies the portfolio while retaining upside through individual deal performance?
3.) With the direct co-investment platform how does Lindel look to mitigate the negative signalling that can occur with opportunity funds? Does Lindel agree with Chris Douvos in stating this could lead to the ‘hybridisation of GP and LP’?
4.) Where do most prospective fund managers fail when pitching to LPs? What does Lindel look for in a risk strategy for a potential fund investment?
5.) What are the biggest problems with the LP community today? What would Lindel like to see change? What do the financial compensation plans look like for LPs?
We have some entertaining news to share with you today. We have recently registered with the SEC and are now considered Registered Investment Advisors. Did we do this so that we can have cooler business cards? No. Did we do this because our back office was lacking in purpose? Heck no.
We had to, per the SEC rules. And the reason you ask? Well, we can’t tell you that or we could possibly break some other SEC rules. So for now, just accept that your friendly neighborhood venture capital firm is now subject to a lot of new and stimulating paperwork.
Why are we even bothering telling you this? Because it will affect what we can say on the Foundry Group blog and personal blogs that we write. We’ll have to be careful with statements that we make about companies we invest in. We’ll also be cautious in what we write about our funds or the industry in general. According to the SEC rules, we can no longer write anything that “promotes” our funds. While we’d argue that we never try to promote our firm, but just write anything that comes to mind and try to have fun doing it, with our new registration status comes new responsibilities.
This will be a learning process for us and our goal is to bring you content that is still 100% transparent. Please be patient with us if there are hiccups along the way, or perhaps even questions that we can’t legally answer in the comment sections anymore.
And as always – thank you all for the support. We love what we do and the community, and our interaction with you through our blogs, is a big reason why. And, don’t worry, there will be a third VC video from us – someday.
After two years of a dedicated experiment, we’ve decided to stop making new investments via our FG Angels Syndicate. We’ve learned a lot, achieved some of our goals, but ultimately have decided that the effort required to maintain our investment pace on AngelList is too great for us, at least for now. More on that in a bit, but let’s start with some history.
The Monday after AngelList announced their Syndicate product in September 2013 we decided to to jump in with both feet and start FG Angels. As a result, we were one of the very first syndicates and the first VC firm to create a syndicate.
We had several high level goals:
- Understand how AngelList and Syndicates worked by actively participating;
- Be able to experiment with seed investments outside of our themes;
- Extend our network of entrepreneurs and angel investors; and
- Generate additional economic returns for our funds.
It took a few months for AngelList to gear up Syndicates so that they actually worked. As a result our first investment wasn’t made until early January when we invested in OnTheGo Platforms, which was just acquired by Atheer.
Our plan was to make 50 investments, directly committing $2.5m from our funds ($50k from us for each investment) through 2014. When we did a retrospective on our first year of FG Angels, we had invested in 42 companies. Seth did a nice job of summarizing what the deals and the syndicate activity for the first year looked like.
- Total number of investments: 42
- Average syndicate investment amount per deal: $316k
- Largest syndicate investment in any single deal: $785k
- Total number syndicate investors (syndicate members who invested in at least one FG Angels deal): 116
- Total number of investors (all investors who have joined FG Angels in at least one deal): 410
- # of investors who have participated in at least half of FG Angels deals: 30
- Most active syndicate member investment total: $905k across 41 of our 42 FG Angels deals
- % of investments with a female co-founder: > 20%
Our plan was not to generate investment deal flow for us to follow on with our main funds. Instead, we took a one time seed investor approach patterned after an angel strategy that I’ve used for almost 20 years that has now generated a realized return over 10x invested capital and still has about half the money at play.
We’ve ended up investing in three companies through our main funds that we had invested in first with FG Angels (Mattermark, Revolar, and Havenly). However, both Revolar and Havenly went through accelerator programs that we are involved with (Techstars and MergeLane, respectively), which allowed us even more perspective into working with them.
We decided to continue making FG Angels investments through 2015 at about the same pace. By the end of 2015, we had made a total of 65 FG Angels investments. We have 49 funded Backers, a 236 unfunded Backers, a total syndicate backing of $976,653, and an estimated 30 day raise of $171,058.
At the end of 2015, we revisited the goals I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Let’s see how we did and what we learned.
Goal 1: Understand how AngelList and Syndicates worked by actively participating: In addition to understanding in depth how AngelList and Syndicates worked, I’d like to think we helped Naval and his awesome team at AngelList on figuring out the legal, workflow, and UX dynamics around AngelList. We’re fans of both AngelList and Syndicates and it was important to us to give back to the platform and help them work through the dynamics involved in creating and rolling out their Syndicates product.
Goal 2: Be able to experiment with seed investments outside our themes: While we did a lot of investments outside our themes, we generated very little incremental learning on our part. While we could be very helpful in a generic early investor way, the time to value ratio was way off in both directions. While we regularly did short, quick hit help via email, whenever someone wanted to spend an hour or more with one of us, we eventually realized that our investment and ownership in the company was dramatically underweighted. And, this took time away (we each have a finite number of hours each week) from companies we had much larger investments in. We also realized that we were getting the experimentation value and learning at a greater rate from our deep engagement in Techstars.
Goal 3: Extend our network of entrepreneurs and angel investors: As we expected, our network of entrepreneurs was expanded (by about 150 people across the 65 companies.) These founders are active members of our portfolio and our goal is to be helpful to them any way we can, given time constraints. However, we have been disappointed in how we have – or haven’t – been effective at building a broader network of angel investors. We’ve made some new friends and built strong connections with a few angels in the syndicate, but we’ve struggled to build any kind of extended community. The tools for this on AngelList just aren’t there yet and we haven’t committed the resources to do this separately. And, ultimately, some face to face time is likely needed which we haven’t been willing to do.
Goal 4: Generate additional economic returns for our funds: We’ve invested about $3.2 million in FG Angels and are excited about the portfolio. However, it’s a very early stage portfolio that will take a very long time to mature. Even when you include the carry we are getting on FG Angels (15%), this total amount represents less than one fund investment on our part (our typical investment size is $5m to $15m, with this growing to as much as $40m when you include our late stage fund.) Even if we generate a huge multiple on our overall FG Angels investment (say 10x), the impact on our fund return is limited given the size of the investments we were making.
Ultimately, we’ve decided that the effort that we are putting into FG Angels is too great for us to continue on in the way that we’ve have been for the past two years. However, by running the experiment, we’ve better understood the leverage points at the angel / seed level that AngelList and Syndicates create, which for some investors, and many entrepreneurs, is very powerful. Finally, we’d like to believe that we’ve contributed to the evolution and dynamic of angel / seed investing through this effort.
While we are no longer going to be actively making FG Angels investments, every now and then we might do something out of FG Angels. We continue to believe that AngelList Syndicates is an effective platform for companies and investors. We simply felt that we needed to better balance the time and effort we were spending on FG Angels relative to the weight it has in our overall portfolio.
It’s important to all of us at Foundry Group to experiment around the edges of our industry and to push the boundaries of the venture model to find new and innovative ways to create value for our investors while supporting as broad a set of entrepreneurs as possible. We’ll continue to look for ways to do that.
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.