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.
We had our Foundry Group annual meeting yesterday. I enjoy our annual meetings – we get to spent a focused chunk of time with our investors. We have a straightforward meeting – a dinner for our advisory board the night before, drinks after for all LPs, our advisory board meeting first thing in the morning, and then the full meeting until lunch time. There’s no crazy party, no big events – just substance on our part and direct interactions with the investors supporting us. Our goal is simple – provide a clear update about what is going on in our funds, talk about what we are thinking about, and get direct feedback from our investors.
We spend the day before the meeting as a team putting the final touches on our presentation and reflecting on the previous year. We always talk about our key principles that we established when we started Foundry Group in 2007. One of these key principles is a “thematic investing approach.” An important part of our themes is that they are continuously evolving (if interested, we publish details on how we are currently thinking about themes on our Foundry Group website.) Our LPs understand this well and always like to hear how we are currently thinking about themes at our meeting.
On Tuesday, we realized that we have made several investments yesterday that have a concept in common – that of raving fans. I first thought of raving fans when I read Ken Blanchard’s book by the same name in 1993 when I was CEO of Feld Technologies (my first company). The message rang true for me then and still does today. The tl;dr version is “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.”
Our investment in Sympoz (owners of Craftsy) is an example of a company built on raving fans. Craftsy is a community of people who love to make things – knitters, quilters, sewers, jewelers. If you know a knitter (I do – Amy is a fanatical knitter as is my mom Cecelia) you know that knitters are “raving fans of knitting.” We invested in Sympoz in our Distribution theme, but it has this special characteristic around its community that felt a little different to us.
We classify our investment in SideTour as “Other”. We say that we aren’t slaves to our themes – we’ll occasionally do something outside of a theme if we love the entrepreneurs and have a special connection to them. In the case of SideTour, they were one of our favorite companies in their TechStars New York class and we were infatuated with the types of experiences they were talking about providing in their marketplace. As we were talking about Sympoz (which is doing extraordinarily well) and SideTour, we realized that the “raving fans” concept applies to each of them.
I had a call yesterday with another entrepreneur running a company that we passed on the seed round. We all like the entrepreneur a lot, but the company didn’t feel like it fit in any of our themes and was too vertically oriented for us. The company is doing great and as we were talking about it a week or so ago we said “it feels a little like Sympoz, but has some characteristics of SideTour.” Yesterday, when I was talking to the entrepreneur, I realized it also was about a community of raving fans.
I love raving fans as the phrase for this theme since it sets an incredibly high bar of the dynamics of the people in the community these companies appeal to. These aren’t “vertical social networks” or “vertical exchange marketplaces” – there is something deeper going on in the relationship between the people and the company, and the people and community. And it’s something that is magically enabled by the current state of technology – mobile, video, real-time social – a bunch of things have come together than make this work.
Look for more on raving fans from us as it evolves. For now, you have a little bit of a window into how we think about themes.
Update – My partner Seth reminded me that our investment in CrowdTap (in our Adhesive theme) is all about helping brands interact with their raving fans, Todd Sawicki said “dude – how about Cheezburger” (in our Distribution theme) and Jeff Malek, the co-founder of BigDoor (in our Glue theme) said “ahem!” So it seems like we’ve got a lot companies involved in the construct of raving fans!