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.
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?
My partner Lindel Eakman wrote a post a few days ago about his transition from Austin to Boulder and a really helpful one about how to work with him titled A Human User Interface….with lots of quirks. This prompted me to poke around for other content from the limited partner (LP) side of the LP/VC/entrepreneurship universe.
I think the first LP blogger was Chris Douvos who periodically puts up an instant classic post at Super LP. I fondly remember a meeting with Chris in NY at the end of the day when we were raising our first Foundry Group fund. I was tired and dragging a little from the fundraising, but Chris’ energy and enthusiasm around VC picked me back up in advance of dinner. He didn’t invest in our fund, but he made a strong impression on me.
OpenLP is a new site moderated by the gang at Sapphire Ventures that seems to be a collection of all the LP stuff floating around the web. They are also promoting the idea of an #openlp twitter hashtag. It does appear that they need to work on their SEO so they don’t get confused with Free Open Source Church Worship Presentation Software
The team at Notation Capital is doing a really good podcast with interviews with LPs. Sapphire Ventures is again in the mix as a sponsor and – no surprise – episode 3 is with Chris Douvos.
As I continued poking around, I found a few LP firms hosting blogs on their websites. I never find this as compelling as when an individual LP has their own blog, but it’s better than nothing. A few blogs I found include Top Tier Capital Partners, Weathergate, and Sapphire Ventures (on Medium).
I wish more LPs would blog to help VCs and entrepreneurs understand them better. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments.
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.