I’m in Seattle for the next few days. I’ve built this trip around Techstars Seattle Demo, a bunch of time at PSL, and a Moz board meeting. Oh – and time with several of our portfolio companies as well as some nice social stuff with long time friends.
Today, PSL announced their new $80 million venture fund. We are significant LPs in the fund and my partner Lindel is joining the PSL advisory board. In addition to being LPs in PSL Ventures, we are major investors in PSL Studio and I’m on the board. While we don’t have an office in Seattle, I’m confident we have a comfortable place to hang out when we are in town.
Amy and I have a periodic conversation around what happens if one of us died unexpectedly. We each know that it would be impossible to keep living alone in Boulder given our deep connections to many things as a couple. So, we each have our “other place” we’d live if it wasn’t Boulder. Amy’s is Paris; mine is Seattle.
I’ve been going to Seattle regularly for business since 1990. Feld Technologies was in the inaugural Microsoft Solution Provider program that Dwayne Walker created around 1991. I fondly remember a box of happiness from Microsoft showing up at my office in Boston every month, usually full of software, books, an occasional t-shirt, or plaque. At the time, we did almost all of our Windows development using Microsoft Access, which was a remarkably effective pre-client/server app development environment.
In the mid-1990s, I made a handful of angel investments in Seattle and spent more time at Microsoft for AmeriData, which had acquired Feld Technologies. Windows NT was beginning its conquest of Novell Netware, and AmeriData was a huge Novell reseller. I was part of the championing of Windows NT, regularly suggesting to the leadership at AmeriData that we needed to get on the NT train. I wasn’t as effusive as Steve Ballmer was, but close.
By the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, I was still going to Seattle regularly for a variety of reasons, including several investments that Mobius made. At some point Dan’l Lewin invited me to join the Microsoft VC Advisory Board where I had even more reasons to hang out in Seattle. I had become comfortable with Seattle the city, Amy and I were spending more time at our house in Alaska (so Seattle was occasionally a stop on the way to Alaska), and I’d started to enjoy the rain.
When we started Foundry Group in 2007, we knew that Seattle would be a key geography for us. It’s been really fun to be involved, through many different organizations, and with many people, in the massive growth of the Seattle startup community. We expect our various investments in PSL will provide a key focal point for the next decade of our Seattle experience.
I’m really looking forward to the next three days in Seattle. Even though they are very scheduled, I’ll be with a lot of people who I enjoy – a lot.
Amy and I have been big supporters of a movie about immigration called For Here or To Go?
With our friends at Boundless, we are sponsoring a week of screenings in Seattle. We are supplying a bunch of free tickets and – when they are used up – will still have a set of paid tickets available.
It’s playing at the Landmark Theaters Crest Cinema Center from Friday 9/22 to Wednesday 9/27. If the topic of immigration is important to you, this is a great, powerful, thought-provoking movie.
If you want to bring a big group or spend some time with Rishi, the creator of the movie, just email me.
In October 2015, Pioneer Square Labs launched. We led the financing, and I joined the board to work more closely with Greg Gottesman, Geoff Entress, Mike Galgon, and Ben Gilbert to build a long-lasting and enduring startup studio in Seattle.
Today, Julie Sandler joined Pioneer Square Labs as the fourth managing director. Julie previously was a partner at Madrona Venture Group and is deeply involved in the Seattle startup community. She has also been a leading voice for women in technology as a founding member of the Seattle Entrepreneurial Women’s Network and Startup Weekend Women’s Edition.
Basically, Julie is awesome. And it makes me super excited to get a chance to work more closely with her at PSL.
Foundry Group has a deep connection to Seattle. In addition to currently being investors in Pioneer Square Labs, we are also investors in Boundless, Glowforge, Mighty Ai, Moz, and Rover. Over the years, Techstars has expanded their footprint, now running Techstars Seattle as well as the Alexa Accelerator (powered by Techstars). And, as many of you likely know, Techstars acquired UP Global several years ago, which was headquartered in Seattle.
As I’ve gotten to know Julie over the years, I can’t think of a better person to join the PSL team. The PSL entrepreneur-in-residence program has become an attractor for quality entrepreneurs in Seattle – both experienced and emerging ones. In some cases, entrepreneurs come to PSL to work on a specific idea the PSL team has developed, while others choose to iterate on a product of their own and launch something new with the PSL team.
This has happened in an incredibly short time. If you had told me 18 months ago that PSL would have already spun out six VC-backed companies already, along with building out the now 17 person PSL team, I wouldn’t have believed you and would have suggested a time frame about double that. But the PSL team has achieved that and, with the addition of Julie to the team, is moving even faster on its mission.
Julie – welcome!
Pioneer Square Labs (PSL) launched today. We led the round and I’m joining the board. PSL, based in Seattle, is a not a VC firm, accelerator, or incubator, but instead is a startup studio, which is a company that creates companies.
The co-founders are Greg Gottesman, Geoff Entress, Mike Galgon, and Ben Gilbert. Greg is a co-founder of Madrona and long-time VC. Geoff worked with Greg at Madrona for a decade and is one of the most prolific and successful angel investors in the Pacific Northwest. Mike was the co-founder of aQuantive which was acquired by Microsoft for $6.2 billion. Ben was a co-founder of Madrona Labs with Greg.
PSL was announced today at GeekWire’s conference and there’s an extremely comprehensive post explaining how it works at Top Seattle investors raise $12.5M for new ‘startup studio’ Pioneer Square Labs. Marcelo Calbucci, who is part of PSL, explains in his post Next Chapter: Pioneer Square Labs, why he joined and what’s unique about the approach.
At Foundry Group, we’ve experimented with lots of different things around company creation and early stage investment. In addition to our direct investing, we co-founded Techstars which has had a profound impact on company creation around the world. Techstars now owns Startup Weekend and Startup Week, which extend Techstars impact on and support of the Entrepreneurs Journey. We’ve made over 60 investments through FG Angels – our AngelList syndicate – and are one of the most prolific investors on that platform. We’ve invested in over 30 VC seed funds and emerging managers, supporting even more investors and founders at the early stages.
We have a lot of investments in Seattle. Currently active ones include Rover.com, Spare5, Moz, Glowforge, Cheezburger, and Impinj (via our Mobius funds). Previous investments include Gist (acquired by RIM) and BigDoor (which failed). Mattermark, which is based in San Francisco, just opened an office in Seattle. Techstars has a big presence there, including much of the team from Startup Weekend. And we have another new investment based in Seattle that should close mid-October.
We’ve known and worked with Greg Gottesman for over a decade. We consider him one of our closest friends and most trusted partners in the VC world. We’ve had ups and downs together, which is critical to building a real relationship in this business (if everything is good, it’s bullshit, and if everything is bad, it’s no fun.)
When Greg started talking to us about the idea for Pioneer Square Labs, we were immediately interested. Two of our Seattle investments – Rover.com and Spare5 – came out of the Labs effort that Greg created at Madrona. While Rover.com preceded Labs (and was actually a Startup Weekend project that Greg led the team for), it was the prototype for Labs so we understood the concept well. Both Rover.com and Spare5 are doing great and validated the premise of the Labs concept for us.
The last piece of the puzzle was how to fund something like this. I encouraged Greg to have an extensive syndicate of VCs and angels as the goal was to build an engaged, invested community around PSL. The result is a magnificent group of 13 VCs and over 50 angel investors.
When we saw the opportunity to invest even more in Seattle, working with three of the strongest leaders we know in the early stage market with an amazing collection of VCs and angel investors, jumping in with both feet was a no-brainer.
After a year of zero travel for business, I’ve started to venture out into the world again. I just got back from my third business trip this summer – this time to Seattle for the past three days.
After 20+ years of traveling 67%+ of the time for work, I was sick of it. So I’m wandering back in with a little trepidation.
I’ve decided to take a very different approach. Historically on a three day trip to Seattle, I’d have 10 meetings a day, starting early in the morning and going until after dinner. I’d pop from place to place, taxi-ing (now Uber-ing) around town. I’d check my email in cars between meetings, and I’d be a sweaty, smelly mess by the end of the day. I’d meet with every company we are investors in (Moz, Cheezburger, BigDoor, Rover, Techstars, and Impinj), meet with a bunch of entrepreneurs for companies we might be interested in, hang out with a few of my long time Seattle friends, visit at least one or two Seattle VCs, and do a public event or two. And then I’d stay up until 1am trying to grind through my email.
This time I planted myself at Moz on Monday and Tuesday and then Cheezburger on Wednesday. While I had plenty of meetings at Moz, they were all about Moz. I spent Monday with each of the four product teams, going really deep on the existing products. I spent time with people on the leadership team, including significant time with Sarah Bird (CEO) and Rand Fishkin (Founder). I had a dinner with Sarah Monday night followed by a hangout at Rand’s house with Rand, Geraldine, Sarah, her husband Eric, and the tireless Jackson-child. We had a board meeting on Tuesday along with a bunch of 1:1 meetings. Tuesday night I had an awesome meal on the roof of Terra Plata with the Moz leadership team. And just for fun on Tuesday morning I went for a run on the waterfront with my long time friend TA Mccann, who if you know our origin story includes a run at the first Defrag (where he kicked my ass, just like he did Tuesday morning.)
I slept in on Wednesday, did some email in my hotel room, made a few phone calls, and had a late breakfast with Andy Sack at Purple. I then had lunch with Ben Huh (how’s that – breakfast and then lunch, with nothing in between – what more could you want out of life) followed by a great board meeting at Cheezburger.
As I napped on the flight home last night, I felt very different returning home. I love Moz and Cheezburger – and the people I get to work with there. Each company has had different challenges over the past two years (like every company I’ve ever worked with), but both feel like they are in a great place to me right now. When I was walking to lunch with Ben, he asked me a question about how I was feeling in general and I said that at this point I believe that I’m only working with entrepreneurs who I love, adore, have respect for, and am friends with. That’s a big part of it for me. I know this doesn’t always, and won’t always happen, but as I’ve gotten older I realize it’s an important part of my value system and selection criteria for who I work with.
While I’m not going to turn the travel spigot back on in a radical way, being very deliberate about how and why I’m traveling is part of my new trip planning mantra. We’ll see how it works on the next ones, which are to Austin, LA, and New York.
TechStars Seattle applications for year four of the program are now open! The startup community in Seattle is expanding rapidly and TechStars Seattle is right in the middle of it all, located in South Lake Union surrounded by Amazon, Microsoft and tons of other amazing startups. We’ve been investing a lot in Seattle lately beyond TechStars, including BigDoor, SEOmoz, Cheezburger, and most recently Rover. We love Seattle as a startup community!
TechStars Seattle teams will be working out of Founders Co-op which is also home to The Microsoft Accelerator (powered by TechStars) and CodeFellows programs. There’s a lot of startup talent as well as investors and other members of the tech community around to help out.
Think you might be a good fit for TechStars Seattle? Apply now!
Wednesday night I’ll be in Seattle doing a Startup Life Meetup with some of the contributors to the book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.
Well – I’ll be in Seattle all day (and all day Tuesday) meeting with Startup Weekend, Rover, SEOmoz, Cheezburger, and BigDoor, but the real fun will happen at the Hard Rock Cafe between 5:30pm and 7:00pm on Tuesday. Or maybe after 7:00pm.
My co-hosts will be Emily Huh (Cheezburger Network), Geraldine DeRuiter (Everywhereist), Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz), and Keith Smith (BigDoor). great relationship in the context of the crazy, high intensity startup life we all life.
We’ve got some seats left – it’s free and everyone who attends gets a free copy of Startup Life. But you have to register before we hit the fire code limit – only registered attendees will get in.
Woof! We just announced Foundry Group’s investment in Rover.com this morning. We led a $7m financing in the leader in digital dog boarding that connects dog owners with approved, reviewed, and insured sitters. Rover.com is part of our marketplace theme, which now includes investments in SideTour and PivotDesk. I’m psyched to be joining the board, working with my good friend Greg Gottesman at Madrona on another Seattle-based company.
Two years ago we probably wouldn’t have considered Rover.com as it would have fallen outside our active themes. Marketplace is a good example of how our themes evolve. Seth and I worked together on ServiceMagic in the 1999 – 2004 time frame (IAC acquired it in 2004 for $180m) so we had a deep understanding of how a heavily metric-based buy/sell marketplace worked. However, at Foundry Group, we didn’t start paying attention to this theme again until we made a seed investment in SideTour coming out of the TechStars New York program. In this case, Seth had been SideTour’s mentor and we classified it as “other” as we sometimes make exceptions and invest in companies outside our themes when (a) we love the founders and (b) we are interested in what they are doing.
Last summer, Jason mentored the founders of PivotDesk as they went through TechStars Boulder. At the end of the summer, we decided to invest as well as categorize SideTour and PivotDesk together in the same theme, which we originally named RAM, after Ryan’s initials, which happened to be the same as the abbreviation for “remnant asset monetization”, the key element of each of these companies that we were interested in.
Specifically, we aren’t interested in investing in any two-sided marketplace. Instead, we are looking for ones that have a very clearly defined inefficiency around “remnant assets”, or assets that expire if not used in a timely fashion. We’re also looking for ones that have huge under-accessed supply or demand, where mobile and location have an immediate impact on utilization, and where existing transaction friction – either as a result of process or trust – exists.
Rover.com was the first of over 100 companies we’ve seen in the last three months that fit these criteria. As a bonus, we loved the entrepreneurs and the domain, as three of the four of us are dog lovers (Jason, sadly, goes for cats, but we have Cheezburger for that.) Furthermore, it’s our fifth investment in Seattle, joining SEOmoz, Cheezburger, BigDoor, and Gist (now part of RIM). And it’s got two linkages to Startup Weekend (where I’m a board member) – they are both Seattle-based and Rover.com was conceived at a Startup Weekend.
I’m psyched to be an investor. And, every time I get in my Range Rover, I’ll think of Aaron. Especially when I’m with my golden retriever Brooks.
I spent the day in Seattle yesterday, starting off with an awesome early morning run along the ocean near downtown and ending the day walking back with some folks from a bar at UW in a freak Seattle snowstorm.
I spent time with four different companies yesterday – two that I’m an investor in (BigDoor and Gist) and then two others that I’m working on interesting things with. As I went from meeting to meeting, I reflected on the tempo of the Seattle entrepreneurial community and how it feels like it has really come alive in the past few years.
I’ve been coming to Seattle for a long time. In the mid-1980’s when I was an undergraduate at MIT, Microsoft and Oracle were two of the hot companies at the time who were aggressively recruiting at MIT. For a brief moment in time I thought about seeing if I could get a job at Microsoft in 1986 but I was already working on my first company and was about to start a master’s program. That moment passed, but in 1990 when my first company was growing, we joined the very first Microsoft Solution Provider program (created by Dawayne Walker if I remember correctly) and as a result started coming to Seattle regularly.
Over the years I’ve made plenty of investments in companies here. Today it’s a regular part of my monthly circuit due to investments in BigDoor, Gist, Impinj, and activity around TechStars. I like it here a lot – the food scene appeals to me, the city is manageable, the people are smart and fun, and every now and then you get totally bizarre weather like we had last night.
I’m going to head out for another run this morning before heading to LA for a few days and as I’ve tried to wake myself up from a very late night, I find myself reflecting on something I said at the UW lecture I gave last night at the MBA school. Among other things, I talked about why I do what I do. My answer was pretty simple – “because I love working with entrepreneurs and helping create new companies.” But I could have just said “because I love what I do.” Because I do. And, bleary eyed at 5:51am, it’s really satisfying to both write those words and ponder that thought.
After my talk, a few of the folks in the audience asked me in different ways the question of “what should I do.” Some of them presented me with two options; others presented with with a more open ended question. The thought that guided my answer was “do what you love.” It seems so simple and yet is often so hard. But, as a guiding principle, I don’t know of any better one.