The physical world will be the reference coordinates for the fleets of robot cars of our imagination. We’re living through the transformation from digital to virtual, and Softbank leading today’s investment of $164 million in Mapbox accelerates this even faster.
I’ve posted about the massive founder crush my partners and I have on Eric Gundersen, the CEO of Mapbox. When we led Eric’s first financing — a $10 million round and the first capital into the bootstrapped team — we believed mobile location and mapping would be big. Four years later to the week, our vision is dwarfed by the reality that location is at the heart of everything from ride-sharing and autonomous driving, to IoT and AR/VR. We are excited to again participate in this round.
It is no surprise that Eric and Masa both have this bold vision. Both share an exceptional way of dreaming and executing. I remember Eric showing me the maps from his time with the World Bank and UN. There was no AR or autonomous back when he was in Afghanistan, but there was a need for location data and a better mapping platform. In the years since, with massive customer launches like Snapchat and the Weather Channel, the horizontal scale of Mapbox’s platform is now much more obvious.
Knowing Eric and the team, this idealistic passion will not only scale as a company grows, it will set the trajectory for building a product and a company that changes how we experience the world. When I asked Eric a couple years ago about how far he wants to take this he responded:
“It simply would be a mistake to stop building right now — it’s too early. We’re going to be inside of everything.”
We’re long on the team at Mapbox, and it’s obvious to me why Softbank is also enthusiastic. I’m very loyal to my friends at Softbank and love any opportunity to work with them. Back in 1997, Softbank Technology Ventures (which became Mobius Venture Capital) was the first VC fund I helped raise. Ron Fisher, the Vice Chairman of Softbank, was responsible for watching over us, is one of my favorite people on the planet, and has been an incredible mentor to me.
This team and our world are at a unique moment in time. It’s is going to be incredible to watch Eric keep building.
I’ve been reading a bunch of history lately. So I was psyched to see a long post titled Never trust a corporation to do a library’s job highlighting some of the amazing stuff that the Internet Archive has done with the Wayback Machine and its other properties including the Live Music Archive and their Software Collection.
So – I decided to go down a website memory lane trip for Intensity Ventures (my personal investment company), SOFTBANK Technology Ventures (my first VC firm), and Flatiron Partners (Fred Wilson and Jerry Colonna’s first VC firm, which was an affiliate of SOFTBANK). As a special bonus, I was the webmaster for Intensity Ventures and SOFTBANK Venture Capital (for at least the first few years.)
Let’s start with Intensity Ventures on 12/23/96 (the first entry in the Wayback Machine). The URL is www.feld.com (just like site for the page you are currently on) – I’ve owned the feld.com domain since 3/2/95, although apparently I have to get Seth Levine’s permission to change things now. Here’s the home page.
If you want to play around, just click on the image above and then start exploring from within the Wayback Machine. For example, take a look at the Companies page.
Ok – time to move forward in time to 12/5/98, the first time the Wayback Machine grabbed a copy of the SOFTBANK Venture Capital page which at the time was called SOFTBANK Technology Ventures. Note the four partners and the various office addresses, including mine in Eldorado Springs, Colorado.
If you want a little more SOFTBANK Technology Ventures, take a look at the Partners page.
You’ll note a few extra partners here. Ron Fisher, who at the time was Vice Chairman of SOFTBANK Holdings was responsible for watching over us for SOFTBANK. Ron is one of my favorite people on the planet and has been an incredible mentor for me. Any time he calls me about anything, I make sure I do everything I can to help make sure it happens.
You’ll also notice Flatiron Partners on the list. At the time, it was jointly funded by SOFTBANK and Chase. Fred Wilson and Jerry Colonna owned the firm but SOFTBANK and Chase were their LPs, they were an extended part of the SOFTBANK team, and we were an extended part of their team. There is a ton of history here that’s good basis for longer blog posts at some point, but for now I’ll leave you with the Flatiron Partners website from 3/29/98 along with a special bonus link to the Flatiron Partners 1996 Holiday Card.
It’s always useful to remember that humans can modify their view of history, but the Internet never forgets.
Yesterday I read Kara Swisher’s post What Does the Recent Tech Stock Downturn Mean? The Truth Is Nobody Knows. It’s great. Go read it – I’ll wait for you.
In the last two weeks there’s been a flurry of articles about the implications of a 25% decline in the public market value of a bunch of Internet stocks. They range from “the sky is falling” to “the IPO market window is closing” to “there will be more stupid television shows about Silicon Valley” (I prefer Game of Thrones and 24, thank you very much.)
As many of the Cylons from BSG are fond of saying, “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”
I remember a moment in time in 1997. We were in the middle of fundraising for Softbank Venture Capital (which became Mobius Venture Capital.) It was the first VC fund I’d helped raise. We probably had about $150m committed and were running around trying to get to $300m for what we had positioned as a dedicated Internet VC fund. I can’t remember the month, but I think it was in the summer, that all the public Internet stocks dropped a bunch (probably 25%). Suddenly every meeting we had turned cold with all of our potential LPs either asking how we were going to make money on the Internet or asserting that there was no way that we’d make money on the Internet. A few months later the public markets for Internet stocks turned around and we closed a $330 million fund which ended up doing extremely well.
In 1999 we filed an S-1 to take Sage Networks public. I was a co-founder and co-chairman. We were planning to go public in the early spring, but in February we acquired a company called Interliant which doubled our side. We had to grind through a refiling of our S-1 which cost us a month. We finally hit the road with the intention of going public by the end of April. Our underwriters (Merrill Lynch) told us not to worry that the SEC hadn’t cleared our filing yet – they always did it a few days before you went public. I spent three weeks on a road show with our president and CFO building the book. Day after day passed and we didn’t hear from the SEC. Two days before we were supposed to price, the book was 10x oversubscribed and our $9 – $11 price looked like it could move up meaningfully. They day we were supposed to price we still hadn’t heard from the SEC. “Don’t worry” said the banker at Merrill Lynch, “We’ll get it done.” The next day, when we were supposed to be trading, a fax came through from the SEC. It was 20 pages long and had about a month’s worth of work to pull together on the F-pages of the filing (we had acquired 20 companies.) That night we all drank a lot of scotch – we knew the IPO wasn’t going to happen that week and we’d just wasted a road show. I remember being completely numb the next day as I flew home from NY to Boulder, not completely understanding how we had just blown the IPO.
A few weeks later Internet stocks started to fall. I vaguely recall that eBay was one of the bellwethers at the time and I think it had a big drop. Suddenly the IPO market window closed. No one was interested in Internet stocks, let alone one that was being tortured by the SEC for accounting disclosure on a bunch of acquisitions of tiny companies.
At the end of June I went to Italy for a week vacation with my wife Amy and my parents. We did a walking trip which I remember being wonderful – 10 miles a day finished off with lots of food and wine in a beautiful Italian countryside. No phones, no email. Until Thursday, when I got a call at the villa we were staying at from one of my board members who said “you have to come home right now.” I responded with “I’m flying home Sunday and will be back on Monday.” He said, “No – now – the road show starts again Monday and you have to be at the printer on Saturday to sign off on the filing.”
I scrambled to find a flight home from the middle of Italy, got to NY by Saturday mid-day, re-started the road show on Monday, and we were public by the end of the week. We went out at $10 and traded up to $15. When I checked the market indexes, they were basically the same as they were two months earlier before things dropped.
Lots of folks are going to pontificate about what is going on in the public markets. Most have an agenda or a vested interest.
If you are an entrepreneur, ignore the pontification and go build your business. Pay attention to the dynamics in the macro, since they will impact you, but don’t get caught up in. Don’t create a narrative to justify something that is going on. Focus on the reality – your reality – and do your best operating in the context in which you can’t control.
All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
Techstars has launched another “powered by” accelerator, this time with Sprint around mobile health. It’s based in Kansas City (Sprint’s headquarters) and is our fourth powered by Techstars accelerator, joining Nike, Kaplan, and R/GA.
I’m an enormous fan of four things about the Sprint Accelerator – what we call “PBTS” (powered by Techstars), mobile health, Kansas City, and Sprint.
The PBTS strategy is one we started working on in 2012. We knew that we would continue to expand Techstars geographically (in 2013 we’ve added London, Austin, and Chicago). At the same time we were talking to a lot of large companies with outstanding brands about building accelerators specifically around their ecosystems. It dawned on us that the dynamics of an accelerator could work as well for building innovation and new company’s around a particular company/product ecosystem as it could for a city. So far the results have been awesome with outstanding companies coming out of the Nike+ Accelerator and the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator.
As an investor in Fitbit, I’m an enormous believer in quantified self. As the son of a doctor who is obsessed with repairing the healthcare system I’m regularly subjected to hearing about the massive flaws in today’s healthcare system. My dad has beaten into my head that my healthcare is my responsibility, and I’ve become an enormous believer in consumer-driven healthcare. I’ve never been interested in investing in medical devices, but I’m very interested in the consumerization of the medical device industry. And the intersection point of many of these ideas for me is mobile health.
Kansas City has a special place in my heart. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years, going back to the mid-1990s when I was an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Kauffman Foundation. I bought a house there last year to experiment with Google Fiber in the middle of the Kansas City Startup Village. While I don’t like BBQ or the Kansas City Chiefs, I like the people a lot and think it has one of the most exciting growing startup communities in the United States.
Sprint makes me smile. Many of you know that I have a long history and relationship with Softbank, which just acquired Sprint. I’m very loyal to my friends at Softbank and love any opportunity to work with them – directly or indirectly. Sprint was my first long distance carrier – if I think hard enough I can probably remember my Sprint calling card number – and I used it many times to call my parents and my ex-wife when I was at school at MIT. And Sprint is a great US entrepreneurial story that traces its roots to the Brown Telephone Company in Abilene, KS in 1899.
This is going to be a fun one! Applications are open.