Last Tuesday, while I was enjoying a week off the grid, AvidXchange announced they had raised a $225 million financing led by Bain Capital Ventures. I’m psyched to be joining the board of a company co-founded and run by Mike Praeger, a friend of mine for over 20 years.
It was big news in Charlotte, North Carolina where AvidXchange announced the groundbreaking on a new headquarters complex in the N.C. Music Factory. And, Matt Harris from Bain Capital Ventures wrote a good thought piece titled Submerging Payments, Part II on why AvidXchange is such a big deal.
This was an atypical investment for us as we participated in the financing through our Foundry Group Select fund. While we do late stage investments via Foundry Group Select, up to this point we’ve only used it to invest in companies we are already investors in. AvidXchange is our first Foundry Group Select investment that we weren’t previously investors in.
The price of admission for us to make an investment like this is that we think the company is extraordinary and will be an unambiguous long term market leader. But we see lots of late stage investment opportunities like that and consistently pass on them as it’s not where we engage. And, when Mike initially called me for advice on the financing he was putting together with Bain Capital Ventures, it didn’t even occur to me that it might be something we’d invest in.
But then Mike called me about some more stuff a week later. During this call, he asked if I’d be open to joining the board of directors as part of the financing. I told him that I couldn’t as we don’t join boards for companies that we aren’t investors in. Mike then asked if we’d be willing to invest if he could get Bain Capital Ventures to give us some of their allocation (they committed to the entire round.) I told Mike I didn’t think this made any sense given our strategy and we left it at that.
A few days later, Mike emailed and asked if he and his wife Cindy could come to Boulder to spend some time with me and Amy. We hadn’t seen each other in many years and it seemed like a fun evening if they were already traveling. A week later we had an awesome dinner at Oak and then Mike, Cindy, and I stayed up until after midnight at the St. Julien talking about AvidXchange. Mike again asked me if I’d consider investing. This time I told him I’d run it by my partners and get their feedback.
Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I had a long conversation about it after going through the AvidXchange financing deck and monthly financial package. I expected that we’d decide to pass and set up the conversation with them this way. But I was pleasantly surprised that they were all interested in exploring it more. Besides thinking this was an outstanding business at first blush, there were three other things that caused us to consider breaking our rule about late stage investing.
1. My long standing relationship with Mike. We met through YEO in Boston in the early 1990s when we were each running our first company. Through YEO, I got to know Mike and Cindy (who is also an entrepreneur and was in YEO) very well. A few years after Amy and I moved to Boulder, Mike and Cindy sold their first company and moved to North Carolina. Their experience in Charlotte has been similar to ours in Boulder, as they made it their home and immediately went to work building their next business and their life. In 2000, Mike co-founded AvidXchange and has been building it ever since. While we haven’t seen each other in person for a while, we periodically go back and forth on email and have a deep emotional intimacy that comes from the relationship we built through our time in YEO.
2. We are very interested in investing in fast growing companies in different geographies. When we started Foundry Group in 2007, we stated that we would invest in companies throughout the United States. While roughly 33% of our investments continue to be in California (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a third city to be named in a week or so) and 33% of our investments are in Colorado (primarily Boulder and Denver), we have developed deep networks in many different cities, including Boston, New York, Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis through the other 33% of the investments we’ve made. And, through our deep relationship with Techstars, our reach and network is even further and includes cities like Detroit, Kansas City, Austin, Chicago, San Antonio, and San Diego. When the opportunity to invest in one of the fastest growing, and most significant tech companies in Charlotte appeared, we couldn’t resist.
3. We could do our unique thing alongside one of the best fintech investors in the industry. We have enormous respect for Matt Harris and his work at Bain Capital Ventures. While this is the first time I’m working with Matt, my partner Seth has known him going all the way back to high school and Mark Solon, one of the managing partners at Techstars, worked with him during his time at Village Ventures. While fintech is not one of our themes, we think of AvidXchange as Glue in the fintech world, which gave us a comfortable lens to view it through.
Before making a decision to invest, we talked to each member of our advisory board to get their feedback. We knew we were onto something when several of them asked if they could invest alongside us in the round. Their feedback, as one would hope from an advisory board, was direct, clear, and ultimately supportive.
With that, we decided to invest and Mike got me to join the board after all.
This morning, Mapbox announced a $52.55 million Series B financing. We’ve been on a wonderful ride with them ever since we led their first financing – a $10 million round – in October 2013.
Let’s start with the simple stuff. My partners and I have a massive founder crush on Eric Gundersen, the CEO of Mapbox. My partner Ryan McIntyre was introduced to Eric by another CEO we’ve backed, Zack Rosen of Pantheon. I remember Ryan raving about Eric and pushing me to squeeze in a meeting before I had to run out of town one day.
Zack is also a total star who I connected with immediately so his referral carried a lot of weight. I first met Eric in the summer of 2013 on a trip he took to Boulder to buy imagery from a satellite company in the area. I remember feeling super rushed at the end of the day and wasn’t in the mindset to sit through a presentation. Eric clued on in this immediately, or maybe Ryan warned him, so rather than drag me through slides Eric just started showing me stuff that Mapbox did.
He started with an algorithm that made clouds go away. He then launched into a custom map design tool which Foursquare had just used to switch out Google Maps. By this point my jaw was on the floor. Words kept tumbling out of Eric’s mouth and amazing maps kept appearing on our large conference room monitor. I looked over at Ryan and he gave me that “yup – I wasn’t kidding – this is fucking awesome, isn’t it” look that we share between ourselves when we see something beautiful, incredibly hard to do, presented by an entrepreneur who is completely and totally obsessed by what he is doing.
I knew Gnip was doing some Twitter data visualizations with Mapbox, so I asked Jud Valeski, the technical co-founder of Gnip, to see what he thought. Jud responded with something akin to “Mapbox is amazing.”
Even better, Eric and team had been at it for several years bootstrapping development and had just decided to raise their first outside capital. They had done this amazing amount of stuff with no investment. No hype. No bullshit. Just crazy deep tech abilities.
In 2013, the mapping space was in yet another wave of turmoil. Waze had been snatched up by Google for over a billion dollars just a few months earlier, further consolidating a space dominated by a few giants. Those giants were investing billions a year in maps. And we were still getting over our fresh scars that confirmed how hard the geo technology was after our failed investment in SimpleGeo (acquired by Urban Airship). Mobius, our prior firm, had been a long time investor in deCarta (now owned by Uber) and had been mostly recapped out of the investment after years of struggle. So mapping didn’t feel natural to us.
But in 15 minutes of watching and listening to Eric, I realized something Ryan already knew. Mapbox is an API company, not a mapping company. The map simply was the output of the API. And, like the best API companies we’ve been involved in, such as Gnip (now part of Twitter), it was right at the intersection of our Glue theme and our Protocol theme.
Seth and Jason had similar reactions. So we invested. Since then Eric and team have built an incredible company that is the foundational building block for any developer, large and small, who wants to include mapping in their product. In case there is any question about scale, MapQuest, which still has 40 million active users, confirmed it was switching all of their maps to Mapbox.
Eric and gang – we are buckled up and ready for the next part of the ride!
My partner Ryan McIntyre says that any company doing business on the web should be practicing some form of DevOps. One of the biggest trends in tech today is DevOps, which is closely tied into Agile, Cloud, PaaS, and SDN.
If you remember Gene Kim’s guest post on the importance of DevOp post, or recognize some of the investments we’ve made in our Glue and Protocol themes that are focused on DevOps, such as JumpCloud and VictorOps, this will be a familiar topic.
Last fall, JumpCloud and Softlayer/IBM hosted a DevOps Conference in Boulder for the companies we’ve invested in. At this conference, I heard of an effort to put together a new community site that would pitch a tent big enough for anyone interested in DevOps. This would be a place where technical folks could learn and communicate, where novices could find out more, and where business people could understand why and how DevOps matters.
Alan Shimel, who I have known for over 15 and has been writing for Network World and a bunch of other places was heading up the effort. In typical Shimel fashion, Alan simultaneously put together a top flight collection of content providers while doing a deal and partnering with Martin Logan who had a blog over at the domain, DevOps.com. If you are going to have a DevOps community media site, it is hard to imagine a better domain to for it to live at.
Since that time Alan and Martin have been working hard retooling the old blog into a full-fledged online community e-zine. They launched the site this week with SoftLayer and JumpCloud as founding sponsors. Another one of our portfolio companies, VictorOps is a sponsor and VictorOps CEO Todd Vernon has a regular blog on the DevOps.com site.
The list of contributors to DevOps.com reads like a who’s who of the DevOps world with a goal of having over 100 unique content pieces a month at DevOps.com. But media content is not the only mission. Alan, Martin and team are planning to help amplify the DevOps grass roots efforts around the world through conferences and community events.
I am jazzed to see what Alan makes of it, but I am even more excited to watch the continued growth and influence of DevOps.
Two of the themes we love to invest in are Protocol and Glue. We’ve especially been interested in companies that make software developers and DevOps lives better. Some examples include SendGrid, Urban Airship, VictorOps, Pantheon, MongoLab, and Cloudability.
To that end, Raj Bhargava and I created a company called JumpCloud late last year (our eighth venture together). After being involved in hundreds of technology companies, we know that young and fast growing technology companies have little time to devote to the details of managing their server infrastructure. Often, there is a perception that things are fine, until they aren’t. And then much pain ensues.
My partners and I often worry about companies we’ve invested in having enough bandwidth and resources to adequately cover issues of reliability, availability, and security. We know firsthand what that entails, especially as companies hit high-growth inflection points.
Enter JumpCloud. JumpCloud helps DevOps and IT attain high levels of reliability, prevent unplanned downtime, and manage their environments like the big guys, without slowing them down. Watch David Campbell, one of JumpCloud’s other co-founders, explain JumpCloud at TechCrunch Disrupt.
JumpCloud is an agent-based SaaS tool designed for both cloud and physical Linux servers which provides full user management across all your users, all your servers, and all your clouds. JumpCloud also monitors your servers, identifies missing security patches, watches for attacks in progress, and identifies anomalous resource usage. JumpCloud is completely complementary to your Chef / Puppet / Opsworks configuration / automation tools. Think of JumpCloud as taking over server maintenance, management, monitoring, and security once the provisioning tools have done their thing.
JumpCloud closes the gap between what you can do and what you know you should be doing with regard to user management and security of your cloud infrastructure. That means fewer late-night calls, an easier to manage environment, and more reliability for your customers.
Also, if you are a DevOps person or senior technical person in your organizations, Raj, Paul Ford from SoftLayer, and I are hosting a private DevOps Conference in Boulder on October 24th. While the event is for Foundry Group, Techstars, and Bullet Time Ventures portfolio companies, we have a few open slots in case a few folks would like to join us. Just reach out to me via email and I’ll get you connected.
Enterprise development is once again white hot. More evidence is this year’s Gluecon. Not only does Gluecon have the usual raft of amazing startup/early stage sponsors, but this year, the “big guys” are showing up (SAP, Intel, HP, Google, IBM, General Motors, Rackspace). And, I also know (because Eric’s told me) that we’re seeing a leap in the number of enterprise developers that are registering for the show.
Is it cloud computing adoption that’s driving this? Or mobile? or Big Data, or APIs? I’m not sure if it’s one topically-driven thing, but it sure does seem like the little developer conference that we helped to start just over five years ago is turning into *the* place to be if you’re looking for technical content.
The most recent agenda is here. Click on the link and you’ll see loads of juicy, technical content. I don’t know of anywhere you can go to get this depth of content.
So, I hope to see you at Gluecon (in just under 3 weeks). I’ll be there – absorbing everything that I can along with the rest of you. Use “gluespring” to take 10% off of the registration price.
As we enter the 5th year of Gluecon, I’m very excited to see it come together. Eric Norlin has been saying year after year that his goal is to make Gluecon “the most technical, developer-focused conference” out there and I love watching him try.
You can check out the most recent agenda here, but some of the sessions that are indicative of what Eric’s talking about include:
Beyond the content, I can personally testify that you’ll find an amazing group of people to hang out with, a truly welcoming atmosphere, and the best conference wifi you’ll find anywhere. Plus, it’s in Boulder at the beginning of summer!
Be sure to grab the early bird price (which ends April 7th) while you can — and use “brad12” to take an additional 10% off.
We’ve been investing in our Glue theme and Protocol theme for a long time – well before we started Foundry Group. Many of our Glue investments and our Protocol investments are growing quickly and becoming integral parts of the Internet and web software infrastructure.
It made me smile to see a recent post from Promoboxx titled We’re Powered by TechStars Companies. It’s a great post about focusing on what matters for your product while leveraging great technology infrastructure from other companies. Several of the companies we are investors in are mentioned, including SendGrid and FullContact, each which are TechStars companies that we invested in after they finished the program.
For as long as I’ve been involved in writing and creating software there has always been a deep philosophy of creating building blocks that you can leverage. Something magical happened around this with the web and in the past five or so years there have been a number of amazing companies created that are easy to quickly integrate, either through a little bit of code or an API. It’s part of thing that has changed the dynamics of creating and launching a web software company, dramatically lowering the price of just getting something out there so you can start getting real feedback from users and customers.
When I reflect on this year’s Glue Conference, it feels like we’ve finally reached a tipping point where this concept is ubiquitous. I expect we’ll talk about it at Defrag and Eric Norlin’s post from yesterday titled The 20 Year Cycle hints to some of the deeper ideas about how this affects enterprise software and corporate IT, in addition to all the obvious consumer implications.
It’s a great time to be building software – the innovation curve is speeding up, not slowing down, and I expect when we look back 20 years from now we won’t recognize what we were doing in 2012.
Here’s a taste of what’s saturating my brain.
And then it was lunchtime. Breath deeply.
Gluecon is now slightly less than a month away, and if you’re not going, you should. Gluecon is a phenomenal gathering of developers working in the big data, mobile, and cloud computing arenas (where the topic of the API comes up continually). Yet, Gluecon is not “expo-big,” so you’ll be able to actually interact with everyone there, and not feel like you’re drowning in a sea of people amidst a concrete hall full of vendor booths.
The sessions that are assembled for Gluecon are done the right way — namely, there are no panels (zero), and they’re technically deep. Sessions like:
“The Badass Beyond Hadoop: Percolator, Dremmel, Pregel”
“Why MongoDB + Node.js is the new server-side stack”
“Architecting for Performance in the face of Mobile and APIs”
“Building the best mobile libraries to consume all kinds of backend APIs”
“Scaling Mobile Services on Diverse Networks”
“Big Pipes: Architecting for High-Volume Realtime Social Data”
“Securing Your Pocket to The Cloud: OAuth and Mobile Devices”
“Model-Driven Deployment: The Best Practice Successor to Virtual Appliances”
Beyond the sessions, there are three, 4 hour long workshops being presented. They cover:
“Constructing Cloud Architecture the Netflix Way”
“Developing polyglot applications on Cloud Foundry”
“Inside the DevOps PaaS Toolshed”
No matter where you live (east coast or west coast or anywhere in between), you should get to Gluecon. And if you’re a developer that lives in Colorado, it’s an absolute must.
Use “brad12” to take 10% off of your gluecon registration. See you there!
At this point I’m literally getting invited to a conference a day. I’ve never enjoyed going to conferences so I pick them carefully and am particular about the kind of things I go to. I regularly get asked how I choose which conferences to go to and I rarely have a good answer. So, after getting asked for the 4,317th time, I sent an email to Eric Norlin, who puts on three conferences that we have helped create and participate in (Defrag, Glue, and Blur) how he thinks about it. Eric’s thoughtful analysis – aimed at startups (and the entrepreneurs at startups) follows.
One of the natural consequences that comes with being in an “up” part of the tech boom/bust cycle is that there are an almost overwhelming amount of tech conferences, trade shows, and events that a startup could attend. These events offer opportunities to network with potential business partners, users, venture capitalists and customers, but they can also place a huge demand on a startup’s always scarce resources of time and money. So, the natural question is: which events should you attend and/or sponsor?
First, let’s understand the landscape (hat tip to Phil Becker for discussing this bit at length with me back in 2005): Imagine the entire range of tech trade shows and conferences on a spectrum. On the left hand side of the spectrum is the pure “expo/tradeshow” – you know the type — held at Moscone or in Las Vegas, hundreds of exhibitors on a concrete floor – think CES or Dreamforce. Sure, there’s often content at a “pure expo/trade show,” but normally the “expo floor” is something you can walk on to for free or very cheap ($100 bucks – usually less if you snag a discount code). The easiest way to identify an expo is to ask: who is the event organizer’s customers? If you’re walking around for free or nearly free, then it sure isn’t you (the “attendee”) — it’s the exhibitors. That’s important to note.
On the far right end of the spectrum is the “pure conference.” The purest conference format I’ve ever seen (and, unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore) was PC Forum. PC Forum was Esther Dyson’s legendary event. 500 people, ZERO sponsors (and zero sponsor dollars), one room full of keynotes — and at it’s height, you had to have an invite. And – oh yea – every single attendee paid. PC Forum was not cheap. But, the model was very clear: Esther didn’t want any sponsor dollars involved, and thus, the attendees were the only customer.
Between those far, end points of the spectrum, you get a mix of stuff. The three shows that we run (Defrag, Glue, and Blur) are at various points along the spectrum. And in truth, most shows are a blend these days. But the spectrum is useful because it can help a young startup understand what *kinds* of shows to think about attending.
So, with that in mind, what do you attend?
Let’s start with your “industry.” Are you a big data infrastructure company? Then write down all of the big data events. From this list, I’d begin with your goals. Are you seeking funding? Customers? Brand awareness? Business partnerships? Press? It’s really hard to find all of these in one event, so you’re probably going to have to pick and choose.
Next consider the type of interaction you’ll need to accomplish your goals. Example: if you’re a very early startup (seed/Series A), and you’re in enterprise software, then you’re most likely going to need more “hands-on” time with a customer prospect, as your product won’t be developed to the point where you can simply have people walking themselves through demos at a kiosk. That is to say that, in this case, quality of interaction outweighs quantity of leads. You’ll then seek out events that offer you intimacy of atmosphere over the sheer bone crushing flow of attendees on an expo floor. As you grow, you may find this dynamic changing, and thus you’ll change the type of shows you attend. (Sidenote: I run Gluecon – which is a smaller, more intimate show when compared against expos. I’m in no way suggesting that you shouldn’t attend expos – they absolutely have their place. It’s simply a matter of where your startup is in its lifecycle.) On the other hand, if you’re a consumer facing app that’s trying to make a splash ala Twitter, then you may forgo the smaller event in favor of trying your luck as SXSW.
Once you’ve a) created a list of events in your niche; b) considered the goals that you’re trying to accomplish with your event attendance; and c) considered the *type* of interaction you need to accomplish those goals, your list of events should be down to – say – 15-20 possibles.
So, how do you choose? First, ask around. Who do you know that’s been to what? What’s the reputation? Second, give yourself some geographic “spread.” If you have 12 events on your list and none of them are outside of Silicon Valley — well, maybe take a look at something in New York, or Boston. Third, break your list down into quarters — as a startup you have to balance how much time you spend on events versus on building your company. In the early days, you just won’t have the resources. I’d argue that a seed stage startup should be doing no more than 1 or 2 events per quarter (not including local meetups, hackdays , etc) MAX.
Checklist: Industry, Goals, Interaction, Reputation, Geography, No more than 1 or 2 per quarter (for Seed Stage; 1 per month for A/B round) — and you’re down to roughly 4-6 events for a seed stage company and roughly 10-12 events for an A/B round company.
“But aren’t there some conferences that I should just avoid?” you ask. Rather than speak badly about my competitors, I’d rather turn it around and say “which conferences should you always consider?”
I have always found the gang over at O’Reilly to be “straight-shooters” that put on awesome events. Start there. Throw in the company-run events that are specific to your case (Google I/O, Dreamforce, Microsoft’s events, Oracle OpenWorld, Adobe, etc), and then add in some independently run events (BigOmaha, Glue/Defrag, 360 Conference events). If applicable, add the monster shows (CES, SXSW) and the networking/startup shows (Launch, Disrupt). And, if you want an international flair, toss in LeWeb for good measure. There’s your starting point.
“Should we sponsor?” This is a tough question. If you have the resources and can make a clear case, then it can be very beneficial. If you do sponsor, avoid the larger expo events, you won’t have the dollars to throw at it to get noticed (attend those and take people out for drinks instead.) Stick with smaller venues where you can be seen and truly interact. And seek out conference organizers that will customize their packages for you (discounting, creating speciality packages, etc) — you shouldn’t simply be buying off of an inventory list like you’re shopping at Wal-mart.
That’s the beginning primer on picking conferences to attend if you’re a startup. Maximizing the value of attending or sponsoring is a whole other post for a whole other day.