Tag: Foundry Group
Ever since I met Ben Huh 18 months ago via an introduction from Micah Baldwin (see Micah – I do take you seriously – some of the time) I’ve had a major entrepreneur-crush (sort of like a man-crush, but, well, you get the idea) on Ben. C’mon – the guy wears a cheeseburger on his head – how can you not love him.
After meeting Ben, I decided to try out the site. My first LOL was my wife Amy’s car on fire – feel free to click on it and go vote it up.
We’ve made this investment as part of our “Distribution Theme” which includes Zynga, Topspin, and StockTwits. I realize that I haven’t written about Distribution on the Foundry Group blog – guess I’ll go do it after I finish this post. Or maybe I’ll just surf around on some of the 50 Cheezburger Network sites.
Standing Cloud, which makes it easy to deploy and run apps in the cloud, recently closed a $3m financing led by Rich Levandov at Avalon Ventures. Rich and I have known each other and worked together since the mid-1990’s and more recently have invested together in NewsGator and Zynga.
Rich has spend a lot of time in the clouds lately, including his investment in Cloudkick which was acquired yesterday by Rackspace. He got excited about Standing Cloud and their mission to “reimagine hosting” in the context of cloud computing. Shared hosting was a great idea back in 1999 but most users of Web apps today require more control over upgrades, better access to backups, ability to move applications across cloud providers, and extremely high reliability. In addition, deploying apps on most cloud providers continues to be unnecessarily complicated.
There are a huge number of solution providers out in the world who are specialists in any of the more than 70 open-source apps that Standing Cloud supports. For them, Standing Cloud is a simple way to deploy multiple instances of a single app across all of their clients, retain a high degree of flexibility and control over the apps, and not ever have to worry about hosting. These are folks who are helping businesses launch and maintain not only websites but the software they use to run and manage their business.
This week, Standing Cloud launched the Standing Cloud Partner Program for these customers. Becoming a partner includes free hosting for one instance of a single application for one year, volume pricing, and a listing of their services in the Standing Cloud Application Network, launched last week, which is gearing up to be the go-to place for end users and solution providers around Web apps. The program is designed to help grow the business of service providers who customize, support, and deploy online applications, ranging from CMS systems like Drupal, WordPress and Plone, CRM systems like vTiger and SugarCRM, and other business tools like Status.Net, and OpenVBX.
If you’re a solution provider looking for a better way to manage apps for your clients, you can sign up at Standing Cloud. And if you want to see how easy it is to set up any of over 70 open source apps in under five minutes, just select an app and click on “Use It Now.”
I’m super proud of my friends at Gnip. Last week they announced that they had closed another $2m investment from Foundry Group and First Round Capital and signed a deal with Twitter to become Twitter’s first authorized data reseller.
Via Gnip, you can now get three new premium Twitter feeds in real time for non-display use:
- Twitter Halfhose (50% of the full firehose)
- Twitter Decahose (10% of the full firehose)
- Twitter Mentionhose (all @replies and retweets that mention a user)
Gnip provides access to over 100 other social media feeds but has spent a lot of time in the past six months optimizing and tuning their system for Twitter-related data.
While Gnip has had its public ups and downs, including a reset of the technical approach and parts of the team about a year ago, co-founder and CEO Jud Valeski has done a magnificent job over the past two quarters of accelerating the business with real customers, adding huge depth to the technology stack, building a team that is continuing to scale nicely, and solidifying a long term relationship with Twitter that has been in the works for a while.
If you haven’t look at Gnip recently or didn’t know they exist, sign up for a free trial and take their social media API for a spin for 72 hours. Or just contact them directly if you are interested in any of the new premium Twitter feeds.
I’m at Newark Airport waiting for my plane to take me to Quebec for the Quebec City Conference where I’m being interviewed at the end of the day by Rob Cox of Reuters Breakingviews. Yesterday Rob and I had a short call so he could get to know me a little better.
As he was probing me about Foundry Group and what makes us tick, we started talking about what we refer to as “deeply held beliefs.” In my first company (Feld Technologies) we referred to these as “precepts” As we were talking through them, I realized that they defined us, and how we work, extremely well.
We will never raise a fund larger than $225 million. We just raised our second fund. It was exactly the same size as our first fund. Assuming we are successful, our next fund, which we expect to raise in three or four years, will be $225 million.
We will never add anyone to the team. I have three partners (Seth Levine, Jason Mendelson, and Ryan McIntyre). We’ve worked together for a decade. We’ve committed to each other to work together as partners “until we are done investing as VCs.” We work extraordinarily well together and have no interest in ever introducing someone new into the mix.
Entrepreneurs want to work directly with us, not through junior people. The manifestation of this deeply held belief is that we don’t have principals, associates, or analysts.
We all work on the same things. While we each have different strengths and weaknesses, we only invest in areas and companies that all four of us have expertise and affinity for.
We have plenty of other deeply held beliefs but these should give you a feel for how we think about it. It’ll be interesting to see how the interview goes today at the conference and if these come up – if I end up on a long riff about it I imagine another blog post on this topic may be forthcoming.
This summer I made two new friends who completely blew my mind – Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson. I met them through TechStars – they were founders of Orbotix, one of the 11 teams to go through this TechStars Boulder this summer. Today, Foundry Group announced that it has led an investment in Orbotix.
I’m always on the lookout for what I consider to be genius level software engineering talent. As an MIT graduate, I’ve been around plenty of it, but I also know that it shows up in unexpected places. A few weeks into TechStars, I realized that not only was I hanging out with genius level software talent but that Ian and Adam thought about hardware and the combination of hardware and software in unique ways. For example, take a look at a robotic ball controlled by a smart phone.
As part of my involvement in TechStars, I choose one or two companies from each program to mentor. We believe the magic of TechStars is the mentorship and while I tried to work with all the companies in the first two Boulder programs, given that there are now over 40 companies a year going through TechStars (10 each in Boulder, Boston, Seattle, and New York), I realized I needed to act like every other mentor and focus at most on two companies per program.
While Foundry Group has investment in two other TechStars companies (both from the TechStars Boulder 2009 program – Next Big Sound and SendGrid) this is the first company that I’ve mentored that we’ve invested in. One of my goals with my mentorship is to work with companies that are both within our themes and outside of our themes – this keeps my thinking fresh in other areas. So, I set the expectation early with the companies that I mentor that it’s unlikely we will invest. For example, the company in the TechStars Seattle program that I’m currently mentoring is absolutely killing it, but it’s far outside any of our themes. But, I’m learning a lot and they are also.
In the case of Orbotix, I knew they’d be within our human computer interaction theme, but when I started working with Adam and Ian, I didn’t realize how profound what they were doing was. Fortunately, by mid-summer I did, and began encouraging one of their other mentors, Paul Berberian, to engage more deeply with them. Paul, Adam, and Ian quickly started talking about teaming up and used the last four weeks of the program to “pretend” they were partners. By the end of the program they decided to join forces with Paul becoming CEO of Orbotix.
While this investment has resulted in endless teenage humor for my inner 14 year old, it is also another step in my personal strategy of making sure that if the robots actually do take over some time in the future, I’ve helped create some of their software.
My partner Seth Levine has a detailed post up today titled Trada – from the beginning that describes the creation and financing of Trada. Foundry Group is the seed investor in Trada and Seth’s post describes one example of what I think is effective VC seed investing.
The meat of the funding story follows:
“Of course coming up with the idea is the easy part. Executing against that idea is another matter. In this case neither Niel (nor I) had any interest in creating a traditional syndicate to fund the company. Instead we quickly put our heads together about a financing (we like to say it was over beers, but the truth is more mundane – we hammered out the details in a 10 minute conversation in the conference room of the Foundry office). We decided that we wanted to bring in some experts to help us with the business and together flew around pitching the business to a small handful of strategic angel investors to pull together a small syndicate that became the initial Trada investor base. Niel and I hammered out a second financing in similar fashion (again around the Foundry conference table, this time without the need for an angel roadshow). It’s a great example of how we like to work with entrepreneurs – especially those that we have a long history with. We like to be involved early (in this case before an idea for a business even existed) and we think of our angel investments as a down payment on a subsequent investment in the business (we’ realize that we need to give early businesses some time to develop).”
The short version is that the seed round was figured out in ten minutes – this was the “Series A”. A few strategic angels were added to this round. We did a second financing by ourselves at an increased valuation – this was the “Series B”. Recently Google Ventures led the a $5.75m “Series C” round.
The terms on the Series A and B were straightforward as Niel Robertson, the founder/CEO of Trada is a sophisticated entrepreneur (Trada is his third company) so he had no patience (nor did we) for silly, complex early stage terms. More importantly, the two key aspects of any deal – price and control – we able to be negotiated quickly between Seth and Niel, partly because of their long history working together which was built on mutual respect and trust.
When we funded the Series A (the seed round) of Trada, we fully expected we were at the beginning of a multi-round journey. Seth does a great job of explaining how it got started – I encourage you to read his post for an example of one of the financing cases where I think a VC can be an excellent seed investor.
We recently invested in a Seattle company called BigDoor Media. The founder/CEO Keith Smith wrote a wonderful love story about the deal which was picked up by the WSJ VC Dispatch in a post titled A Summer Romance Between Founder And Venture Capitalist. Yes, I’ve fallen in love (in a very non-sexual way) with Keith, his co-founder Jeff Malek, and BigDoor.
Over the past year I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the idea that the computers are going to take over. I’ve even begun to think that we are already working for them. So – why not have fun while we are at it? By using a light weight API approach, BigDoor enables any non-game publisher to quickly integrate game mechanics such as points, badges, levels, leaderboards, virtual currency, and virtual goods into their web and mobile applications. They’ve already rolled out integrations with Cheezburger Networks and BuddyTV and have a pile of additional publishers launching in the next 90 days.
BigDoor straddles our Glue and Distribution themes. While Glue may be familiar to you, Distribution is a new theme that we’ll be talking about soon when we re-segment Glue into a couple of new themes to more clearly delineate what we’ve been investing in over the past two years.
I’ve already been spending plenty of time in Seattle due to Gist, Impinj, TechStars Seattle, and some other good friends that I have there. In fact, according to Daytum, I’ve spent 14 nights there in the past eighteen months. I expect I’ll be spending plenty more there soon, including a few next week on my way to Alaska.
If you are a web publisher, take a look at what BigDoor can do for you. And, while you are at it, check out Lijit if you haven’t already incorporated the slickest publisher search on the planet – now with an ad network and a fresh $6m – into your site.
I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with Om Malik. We’ve had a handful of nice, relaxed discussions about some deep stuff. Last week I took a break from Google I/O and spent an hour and a half with him. We spent about an hour talking about life and some very personal things and then did a thirty minute interview which includes a really nice post on GigaOm about me and Foundry Group.
Om does a great interview and really brings out the best in people. The next time he emails, he’ll have me at “Brad, would you talk to me about …”
I promise I’ll write something thoughtful tomorrow and not torture you with more video and audio.
Over the weekend, I did a fun interview with Howard Lindzon on StockTwits TV during his annual Lindzonpalooza event. We covered a wide range of entrepreneurial topics and gave each other plenty of good natured shit. Eek – I’m a looking a little chunky – note to self: more running, more swimming, less eating. Or maybe it was just the camera.
This afternoon I did an interview with Jon Hansen on Blog Talk Radio about an article that Ariana Huffington wrote on the Huffington Post titled When It Comes to Innovation, Is America Becoming a Third World Country? Jon does a good, thoughtful, long form interview.