Category: Foundry Group
Yesterday we closed our fifth fund, Foundry Venture Capital 2016, L.P. As with all four of our other funds, it’s a $225 million fund.
In 2007 we raised our first fund – Foundry Venture Capital 2007. We subsequently raised a $225 million fund in 2010, another one in 2013, and a late stage fund in 2013. Our 2013 fund was originally raised in 2012, but we didn’t start investing it until 2013 so we renamed it 2013.
Except for our late stage fund, each of our funds has 30 investments (+/- 2) in it. Each is $225 million. Each is roughly invested 1/3rd into companies in Colorado, 1/3rd into companies in the bay area, and 1/3rd into companies in the rest of the US (Boston, NY, Seattle, LA, Portland, Austin, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Burlington, and Phoenix.)
Our investment strategy has been unchanged since we raised our first fund in 2007. We are thematic investors, an approach we pioneered with a few other firms that today is trendy (and often mislabeled). We invest $5 million to $15 million in a company over its lifetime. We are early stage investors – if you’ve raised more than $3 million you are too late for us. We only invest in the US, but will invest anywhere in the US. We are syndication agnostic – we’ll invest with other VCs or invest by ourselves.
Our late stage fund gave us flexibility to invest more money in our later stage companies. We aren’t a growth investor, but rather interested in investing more money in our winners. This fund has already seen two big exits – Gnip and Fitbit.
We view our jobs as taking a box full of money that our investors give us and giving them back a bigger box full of more money over time. It’s pretty straightforward. We try to do this our own special way while having a lot of fun doing it. We have a small number of investors (around 20) who we appreciate deeply for supporting us in our journey.
And we couldn’t do any of this without the founders we get to work with. We appreciate them more than anything. Well, other than Jason’s musical abilities. For example:
In an effort to buy real estate in burgeoning startup communities around the United States while more deeply engaging in the startup community, my partners and I have bought a house in the Cass Corridor neighborhood in Detroit. Jason Mendelson grew up in Detroit so this is a nice homecoming for him.
If you’ve followed my efforts with my Kansas City Fiber House, you’ll know where we are going with this. This time the four of us bought the house together (personally, not with our fund) and are providing it to Techstars teams in the Techstars Mobility program which is based in Detroit.
The house is a four bedroom Victoria house built in the 1920s on a cute cobblestone street near midtown. It’s around the corner from the Shinola store and several new brew pubs. It’s within walking distance of a Whole Foods.
We are converting the basement into a big work space so it’s a comfortable live/work house. Turnstone is once again helping out with the furniture. Jason is threatening to create a basement bedroom for us (Foundry partners) to stay at when we come to Detroit. Since I stay in my guest bedroom at the Kansas City house when I’m there, I’m a fan of this.
Ted Serbinski and the team at Techstars in Detroit has been amazingly helpful on all fronts with this, just like Lesa Mitchell, Ben Barreth, and the KCSV folks have been in Kansas City.
Now that we have two houses, I wonder where the third one will be.
I passed on something referred to us by a close VC friend (who I’ll call Joe) who I’ve done a bunch of investments with over the years. A few minutes later I got the following email from the entrepreneur.
hey brad –if you get a moment, i’d love to hear your unvarnished reasons for the denial. thanks for the time…- i remain a huge fan of your blog…….
I get asked regularly for feedback on why we pass on something, especially when we pass after a single email interaction. As with many things, it’s useful to start with your strategy, assuming you have one.
In Foundry Group’s case, our goal is not to invest in every great company, it’s to invest in ten potentially great companies a year.
As part of our strategy, we have purposely constrained our fund size ($225m per fund, which lasts about three years and covers about 30 investments) and our partnership size (four partners, no associates.) As a result, our goal is to say no in 60 seconds. Sure, we’ll miss some great opportunities, but that is fine as long as we believe (a) there are more than 10 great potential companies for us to invest in each year and (b) our deal flow dynamics are such that we see a lot more than the 10 we end up choosing to invest in.
Based on our current deal flow dynamics, if we had unlimited time, unlimited capital, and unlimited partner resources, there are at least 100 companies each year that we would invest in. This 100 number is not “deal flow” – this is actually investments that we’d make. So given our strategy constraint, we could miss investing in 90% of the things we wanted to invest in and still have enough new, great, potential investments to execute on our strategy.
Many of our quick passes are in the “it’s us, not you” category. There are a few things driving this. Following is the response I sent to the entrepreneur above in response to his question about why I passed.
1. Stage – this is later than our usual entry point. If you’ve raised more than $3m, we generally don’t engage. We don’t have to be the first money in, and we love to work with Joe, so I squinted and made an exception since you’d only raised $4m
2. Focus – We are very selective since we only do 10 new investments a year. I wrote a post about this a while ago (https://www.feld.com/archives/2009/06/say-no-in-less-than-60-seconds.html). I took the first meeting / call because of Joe. I tested high level response internally against the other 100 things that are in front of us. It was no where near the top (we have this discussion continually and use each other for reactions).
3. Engagement – I’m in Dubai next week and then Canada the week after that. Then I’m home for a week, in Cleveland, then in Boston/NY. So the next month is one of those months where nothing much new is going to happen on my end. We hate to play the slow roll game with entrepreneurs – one of our deeply held beliefs is to either engage or not engage quickly. Given #2 and then considering #3, I know that nothing is going to happen for a while and I have no interest in being the schmuck that just hangs around waiting to see if something happens.
Fundamentally, the quick positive reaction was “neat + Joe is awesome” then weighed down by 1, 2, and 3 above, resulting in “I’ll face reality quickly on this – we aren’t going to get there on it…”
While at some level this might not be satisfying to the entrepreneur, and I’ve had many challenge me to go deeper in my exploration of their company, given 20 years of investing it’s usually pretty clear when something is not going to happen. The reasons vary greatly, but having a strategy that causes it not to matter in the long run has been something that we’ve spent many hours talking about and making sure we understand.
Ultimately, understanding what we do, how we do it, and the strategy behind it is key to us being able to run Foundry Group with just the four of us. I take inspiration from a lot of people on this front, including Warren Buffett and his approach to his headquarters team for what is now one of the largest businesses on the planet.
There are clearly more than one way to run a successful VC firm – our goal is to run it the way we think we can be successful at it.
Foundry Group has now been around for over seven years and I’ve been working with my partners for 14 years. We’ve started to develop some traditions.
One of my favorites is exit gifts. When a company has an exit that generates a return for us, we give a gift to the partner who served on the board. These gifts are generally tuned to what the partner loves such as musical stuff for Ryan and Jason, bike stuff for Seth, and art for me. They are modest, but very thoughtful and something the partner wouldn’t have just gone out and done for himself. They are often self referential, such as the Makerbot sculpture of me created by an artist and printed on a Makerbot after Stratasys acquired MakerBot.
A few weeks ago Seth, Jason, and Ryan corralled me in our small conference room. Whenever they do this, I’m never sure if it’s going to be a happy thing or an intervention. Ryan was holding the following 2′ x 3′ framed print.
To get a better sense of this masterpiece, let’s zoom in on the G and the N.
This is a list of every tweet I made at @bfeld from the day of our investment in Gnip to the day that Twitter acquired Gnip. This first one is from 2/29/08.
The last batch is from 4/14.
Ryan told me that Gnip was used to generate the tweet list for the poster. And Postertext was used to print it. Thanks guys – this one made me smile a huge smile. I love this tradition.
With yesterday’s announcement that early-stage VC Greycroft has raised a $200 million growth fund, this type of fund has officially become a trend. But before we dig into the dynamics of it, let’s pay homage to the originator of this concept, Union Square Ventures.
In January 2011, USV raised what I believe was the first “opportunity fund.” Prior to this, plenty of VC firms invested across the early stage to late stage spectrum from the same fund (e.g. Battery, General Catalyst, Sequoia, Greylock, Bessemer). Others had separate early stage funds and late stage funds, often with separate teams and economics (e.g. Redpoint, DFJ, North Bridge) typically aimed at different opportunities. But the USV Opportunity Fund was the first time, at least in the post 2001-Internet bubble cycle (or last decade, if you want to put it that way) where an early stage firm created a separate fund to invest in late stage rounds of their existing early-stage portfolio companies. In USV’s case, Fred Wilson explains the strategy extremely clearly in the post The Opportunity Fund.
Greycroft is the latest firm to raise this type of fund. In the last week I’ve talked to two other early stage VC firms who are raising similar opportunity funds. In one case they referred to it as a growth fund. In the other case they referred to it as an opportunity fund.
In the fall of 2013, we raised a similar type of fund called Foundry Group Select. It was a $225 million fund, just like our other three $225 million funds raised in 2007, 2010, and 2013. But we called it “Select” instead of “Growth” or “Opportunity” for a specific reason – we only use it to invest in existing portfolio companies of ours.
USV has done a magnificent job of investing in later stage rounds of their existing portfolio companies as well as later stage rounds of companies that fit tightly within their investment thesis. We decided to drop the second half of that strategy as we didn’t want to spend time being late stage investors. It’s not natural for us as an entry point and we didn’t want to add anyone to our team since keeping our team size exactly the same is a deeply held belief of ours.
The decision to raise this fund came out of a combination of desire and frustration. We have a well-defined fund strategy, based on a constant size of each of our funds. Our goal is to make about 30 investments in each fund (2007 has 28, 2010 had 31) that range between $5m and $15m over the life of the company. Part of this strategy is that we are syndication agnostic – we are happy to go it alone through two or three rounds of a company if we have conviction about what they are doing. We are equally happy to syndicate with one or two other VC firms. Either way, while we focus on being capital efficient (we’d rather not overfund the companies we are involved in early), we are interested in buying as much ownership as we can at the early stages.
As a result, when a company begins to accelerate dramatically, we weren’t in a position to contribute meaningfully to the later stage rounds since we’d likely already have something in the $10m to $15m range invested. That’s the desire part of the equation – we knew we could make money off a later stage investment, but when we were talking about investing an incremental $1m or $2m it didn’t really matter much.
The frustration part was more vexing to us. In a number of our successful companies, we saw a long line of financial investors lining up to follow. None of them would engage as a lead, but all want to participate when a round came together. If a company was raising $30m, we’d have $50m+ of “followers” waiting to take whatever was left. We didn’t find that particularly helpful.
So we raised Foundry Group Select. We explicitly limited it to only companies we were already investors in and on the boards of. As a result, it is literally zero incremental work for us since we are already deeply involved in the companies we are investing in. This led us to an interesting decision – since we recycle 100% of our management fee, why would we charge a management fee on this fund if we are doing no incremental work? The conclusion was easy – we don’t charge a management fee. We only make money when the investments make money, resulting in very tight alignment with our LPs.
To date, we’ve invested from Foundry Group Select in Fitbit, Sympoz, Return Path, Gnip (acquired by Twitter), and Orbotix. It’s been a powerful addition to our strategy without creating any extra overhead on us.
I’ll end where I started – by paying homage to our friends at Union Square Ventures. They’ve led the way on many elements of early-stage investing post-Internet bubble, dating back to 2004 when Fred and Brad raised the first USV fund. As the “opportunity fund” becomes a trend, they’ve once again created something that, in hindsight, looks brilliant.
Time for a new Foundry Group video. If you want the backstory, go take a look at the post Foundry Group Announces Major Shift In Investment Strategy. If you just want a break from reality and hopefully a few laughs in the process, enjoy.
The video has over 100 easter eggs referring to either portfolio companies of ours or other things in our lives. Some are obvious (like the tshirts), some are very obscure. If you find one, list it in the comments. The best, most obscure one will win a special treat.
The lyrics follow.
Man, things are so hard these days
Tell me about it. I wish we could go back to when things just worked
You know, those old guys don’t know lucky they had it with all their technology 30 and 40 years ago
Y’all, you straight. Let me drop a story on you
I’m king of email, I craft a witty header
Anywhere, any time, life is so much better
Ninety unread emails. Inbox zero, hashtag #FAIL!
Life was better when we licked and stamped our letters
Gonna hit a new club with my favorite homie
Got GPS Satellites watchin’ over me
They got me to the spot, but they were off a block
Life was better when we trusted Rand McNally
Took 28 pictures of my gourmet dinner
I want to post them for all the world to honor
I shared on Instagram. No likes, I got no fans
My life was better with photos made of paper
I need a fact so I do a search on Google
All these results man, are giving me an eyeful
I see Viagra ads, That shit’s for older dads
My life was better using Dewey Decimal
Chorus: These are the worst of times (repeat)
So many videos, I could waste away my years
I’m rockin’ Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake has me in tears
Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, I got no time for you
Life was better with my TV and rabbit ears
Check out my new phone. Global connectivity
3G, 4G, I even got my LTE
So then I phoned my pop But still the damn call dropped
Life was better with faxes and a rotary
I found a website. Amazon, they sell it all!
Silk boxers, gouda cheese, they even got robotic balls
Addicted to “One Click.” Right to my house they ship
Y’all life was better fighting traffic at the shopping mall
I got my choice of every album ever made
iTunes, Spotify, anywhere I want it played
I just can’t choose between, Iron Maiden, Beiber, Sting
Life was better with my vinyl and mix tapes
Chorus: These are the worst of times (repeat)
This morning my partners at Foundry Group and I announced that we are going to make 50 seed investments of $50,000 each on AngelList between now and the end of 2014. We’ll be doing this via AngelList’s new Syndicate approach through an entity called FG Angel where we will create a syndicate of up to $500,000, allowing others to invest $450,000 alongside anything we do. For now, we are using my AngelList account (bfeld) which I’ve renamed Brad Feld (FG Angel). We are working with Naval and team at AngelList to get this set up correctly so that a firm (e.g. Foundry Group) can create the syndicate in the future, at which point we’ll move the activity over to there.
For years, we have had people ask if they can invest alongside us at Foundry Group at the seed level. We’ve never had an entrepreneurs fund, or a side fund, so we’ve encouraged people to invest in Techstars and other seed funds that we are investors in. As of today, we have a new way for people to invest alongside of us – via AngelList’s syndicate. The minimum investment is $1,000 per deal, so if you make a $1,000 commitment to our syndicate, you are committing to investing $50,000 alongside of us between now and the end of 2014 in the best seed investments we can find on AngelList. Simply go to Brad Feld (FG Angels) and click the big blue “Back” button. Special bonus hugs to anyone who backs FG Angels today (as I write this, the first backer has come in – from Paul Sethi – thanks Paul – awesome to be investing with you.)
This is an experiment. If you know us, we love to experiment with stuff, rather than theorize about things. We are huge believes in seed and early stage investing and through a variety of vehicles, including Techstars and our personal investments in other early stage VC funds, have well over 1,000 seed investments that are active. This has created an incredible network that adds to our Foundry Group portfolio. With FG Angel, we are taking this to another level as we begin a set of activities to amplify this network dramatically.
So there is no ambiguity, the investments come from our Foundry Group fund. All economics, including the syndicate carry, go to our fund. We are calling this FG Angel because we are approaching this the same way we do with any angel investment. I’ve written extensively about my own angel investing strategy in the past – you’ll see this reflected in what we are doing here. Over the years my angel strategy has been very successful financially and our goal with FG Angel mirrors that.
We expect we’ll learn a lot about this between now and the end of the year. When we learn, we’ll share what we learn. We believe deeply that the best way to learn about new stuff is to participate. So – off we go. We hope you join us – both in the syndicate and the ensuing network.
Our new video is almost out. Let’s do over / under bets on whether it’ll be here before Twitter goes public. In the mean time, enjoy the teaser.
If you’ve forgotten what you are in for, or never saw the first video, take a look at I’m A VC.
I’m crazy proud of my partners Jason Mendelson and Ryan McIntyre for their band Legitimate Front. In addition to being VCs, we each have a creative outlet that is super important to us. Mine is writing books; their’s is creating awesome music.
In August, their released the first album from their new band Legitimate Front. The idea of staying up until midnight on a Saturday night at The Fox Theater in Boulder is an odd thing for me, but I showed up and rocked out with them. And was totally, and completely, blown away.
Two of our old partners from Mobius Venture Capital – Greg Galanas and Carl Rosendahl – showed up to support them. And our IT Guy – Ross Carlson – made an impressive guest appearance on the sax.
They’ll have more gigs coming up in the future, including a magic top secret one in San Francisco in a few months. Guys – y’all rock.
Everyone needs a diversion. We’ve updated our Foundry Group web site with the new Liquidation Preference beer photo. Yes – we make beer – or at least my partner Ryan McIntyre and our long time friend Matt Galligan does.
If you miss our old web site pictures, you can now get to them via the diversion tab on the top right. Seth as Frankenstein, Jason as Don Draper, or Ryan at Mr. Pink (or was he Mr. Blonde?) – how could that not make you smile.
And with that, I leave you with our hard hitting documentary on the lives of four venture capitalists. Time to stop procrastinating and do my next call.