Talent Networks

At the highest level, venture investors are looking for talent and to invest behind that talent. Obviously, it must be a talent that is lined up against an interesting opportunity. Hopefully, it’s a fully complete and talented team of people with specific domain expertise but it may just be a single founder with a burning desire to fix a given problem. No matter how much an investor may identify with the problem, you still have to believe that the single founder can be a magnet for the additional talent he/she needs to pursue the opportunity. Building companies requires a group of talented individuals to decide to work together in common cause.

We think about the world in networks. If venture investors are pursuing talent, what is it about their network that allows them to see and attract talent? How do they identify talent? And how do they convince the talent to work with them? How additive is the venture investors network to the founders? Will it help them succeed in acquiring talent? Is there shared domain expertise in their networks?

As a Limited Partner, we also consider venture funds as networks. A single GP fund is easier to discern than most. In the same way as founders, is that GP proven as a high-quality talent? In what domains? Is he/she positioning themselves in a way that maximizes their network effect?  Then, you start adding in partners. What are they good at? How do their networks overlap? How do they mesh together to create a stronger, wider network? What is the dynamic between the partners (this one is important)?

What is the network coverage of the venture firm? Where is it aimed? Will it attract the talented founders they are looking for? Where they are best suited to help? How have they tuned that network to attract the right founders? Just as importantly, do they know what they are and are NOT looking for? How defined is their filter? Can they get time back by quickly saying no?

There are many ways of tuning a network. It may be sector, themes, business model, geography, founder genotypes or any other specific view on talent. Our view is that the strategy of the firm must match the strengths of the team’s network. Defining your network and maximizing competitive advantage of attracting talent is critical to your success as an investor.

The Power of Continuity

I started investing in venture funds with a very lucky first investment back in 2004. I’m now at LaGuardia airport headed home after attending the 14th annual edition of the firm’s limited partner meeting. Yes, that first fund is still active 14 years later!  

It is such a privilege to have a long-standing business relationship with good people. Sure, it helps that the returns have been great but I’ve also had the opportunity to see them grow and mature, to know them beyond the investments and to watch their team develop. To see brand new EAs grow to help run the firm, to see former analysts go on to become incredible GPs themselves. To see kids move from elementary to college and into the working world. This firm has been consistent in their fund size, limiting their growth to a few new partners of the same ilk, and carefully selecting any new LPs so that the overall size of the meeting has remained manageable.  

I look forward to this trip every year.  It anchors an opportunity for me to check-in with the manager but also to see the group of limited partners around the fund. Many of us have become friends and co-conspirators investing across several funds so that we see each other several times a year. LPs often form these informal alliances and this is one of the best.

What happens with all of this history together? You’re able to build real relationships and inspire a deeper connection to the companies and the partners. There is no need for salesmanship or portfolio cheerleading. Good returns give you the space but relationships give you the comfort to acknowledge the constant challenges of venture investing and share the inevitable issues that arise. A real partnership can absorb so much when you have good people around the table.

I hope that we have the privilege to develop this sort of relationship with many of our partner funds. To see these firms grow and have the success in not only investments but in building a real partnership of people and capital that form a community.

A final note – we were all very young in 2004!

Networks, Indianapolis, and Outside the Valley

I woke up this morning thinking about networks. Geographic networks in particular.

Our Partner Fund strategy is to connect with and support both our peers and the next generation of emerging venture managers. We’ve now supported 27 managers across multiple funds. When you think about this group of individual GPs, it’s a really powerful network of investors, influencers, and connectors. You can cut this network across multiple vectors, but I woke up this morning thinking about geography.  

Perhaps geography is on my mind given travel. I was lucky enough to spend a great day in Indianapolis with team High Alpha last week. I will admit to having low expectations of Indy. It was my first trip to the city and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

What I found was a thriving city of 2M+, with more beauty and hustle than I would have guessed. It clearly didn’t hurt that I was seeing Indy through the eyes of Scott, Mike, Blake, and Eric (I was jealous that Kristian had a “gone fishing” sign up on his door). The High Alpha team is a very important part of the ecosystem and have a deep and high profile talent network spread throughout the city and region given their prior successes. I was able to visit with a number of their portfolio companies and hear updates on all their studio companies, most of which are growing up right there on Monument Circle in the heart of the city. We had an excellent dinner at Vida and took a quick drive up Massachusetts Avenue to see their future home in the Bottleworks district. What a great place to call home.

I came away convinced that High Alpha can leverage their position in the Indy market to build great companies, right there at home. Not just with the homegrown talent that already is found in Indianapolis but that it’s a vibrant market where they are able to recruit the best and brightest. This generation of entrepreneurs and company builders understands that opportunities exist outside the valley and great companies can be built in places that offer a quality of life at a lower cost of living. You can build a company with much less capital and the same quality of talent.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that Foundry Group has a broader view of venture than Boston, New York, and the Bay Area. My partners helped grow the Boulder/Denver ecosystem and Brad literally wrote the book on Startup Communities. Our Partner Fund approach allows us to participate and invest across many important and thriving markets. These network nodes are on top of our direct investments that are national in reach.

We have great partners and networks in cities such as Seattle, Toronto, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Austin, and Detroit. Each of these cities is a case study on talent and networks where we are lucky to have one or more partner funds as a node on that network.  I should also mention Techstars, where the MDs are key contributors in attractive markets such as Atlanta, Kansas City, and across many important corporate accelerators. We still love Boston, New York, and the Bay but we are seeing more and more talent recognizing that opportunities exist outside those markets.

Later this week, Moody is leading a group of our CEOs to Birmingham where city leaders have rolled out the red carpet to highlight the rich talent pool and beneficial cost structures of building a company in Alabama. It’s good to see Moody engaging with the local stakeholders in Birmingham to expose the opportunity set for both homegrown companies and for some of our coastal companies to create a secondary base of operations. We think that almost all coastal companies of scale will have a secondary base outside of their home market.  Why not Birmingham? Or any other number of secondary markets that are embracing the tech economy?

We are deep in the flow of managers that are raising funds in these markets and while we can’t invest with all of them, we are excited to see so many new funds forming. I’m thinking of local funds in Madison, Omaha, and Des Moines that have reached out recently. We want to support those where we can’t invest and hope to spread the #Givefirst approach to growing local communities. Now, off to LA today and Fargo tomorrow. Lucky me.

Our New Fund – Announcing Foundry Group Next 2018

This post originally appeared as Announcing Foundry Group Next 2018 on the Foundry Group website.

We are happy to announce the closing of our seventh fund, Foundry Group Next 2018. The $750 million fund combines all of our prior fund strategies – our early stage, early growth, and partner fund investments – into a single fund.

For historical reference, our early stage funds (FG 2007, FG 2010, FG 2013, and FG 2016) are all $225 million in size. Our first early growth fund raised in 2013, Foundry Group Select, is also $225m in size. In 2016, when we raised Foundry Group Next, we approximately doubled the size of that fund to $500 million since 30% of it was going to be invested in partner funds and 70% in early growth. So, at the beginning of 2016 we effectively raised $725 million (FG 2016 and Foundry Group Next). Foundry Group Next 2018 is simply the combination of those two funds rounded up slightly.

Our strategy is unchanged – we’ve just combined all of our investing activity into one fund going forward. When we started Foundry Group, we had four equal partners. We now have seven equal partners. We invest all over the United States and Canada. We have a deliberate and focused set of themes that encompass almost all of our investments. We are syndication agnostic, being indifferent between investing by ourselves or with co-investors – especially our partner funds – where we mostly have long and successful relationships. Our goal is to have significant ownership in companies we are investors in (often over 30%). We are very long-term investors, focusing on net cash on cash returns, rather than short-term or intermediate IRRs.

While we have an early entry point from our historical early-stage investing, we don’t have to be the first investor in a company. With the Cambrian explosion of seed funds that has occurred in the last five years, we’ve chosen to invest in these funds directly (which we call our partner funds) rather than try to chase seed investments all around the country. If a company hasn’t raised more than $5 million, we are a good target, as long as it is in the US (or Canada) and in one of our themes.

We are full lifecycle investors and willing to invest, and lead, Series A, B, and C rounds. We refer to B and C rounds as early growth – essentially financings with valuations between $50m and $300m pre-money. By being syndication agnostic, we are happy to lead multiple rounds of companies we are already investors in, but we also love to welcome in co-investors who we like and respect, along with any of our LPs who want to participate directly alongside us.

We have a small team (16 people total). The seven partners all work directly with the companies and partner funds. We have a CFO, a General Counsel, six EAs, and one fund investment associate. We don’t expect, or intend to add anyone to our team going forward.

We’ve worked hard to have a network-centric view of the world. As a small team based in Boulder, Colorado, we have developed a very broad network which includes all of the entrepreneurs we work with, our LPs, VCs we co-invest with, our partner funds, several startup studios, Techstars, and many other colleagues through our writing, startup community leadership, and non-profit activities. We think of ourselves as one node on a mesh network, an important node, but not a central node through which everything must flow. We subscribe to the notion of #GiveFirst and try to be helpful to everyone we come in contact with.

We know who we are at year 12 in our journey as a firm, love what we do, and try very hard to do it clearly, honestly, authentically, and transparently with everyone we interact with. Creating and building companies is extremely hard, and we have deep respect for everyone we get to work with through all the ups and downs.

We very much look forward to continuing to work with everyone we currently work with, as well as another group of great entrepreneurs and VC fund managers in our Foundry Group Next 2018 Fund. We are also happy to welcome a small number of new Limited Partners to our family. We are pleased to partner with such a great group of investors.

Thanks for allowing us to be part of your journey.

– Jason, Ryan, Seth, Brad, Lindel, Moody, and Jamey

Working At Threshold

I’ve been toying with this idea of working at threshold. It first came to me as I considered a recent hike where I wasn’t synced up with my partner. When hiking, I like to move as fast as I can up a slope at a pace that is sustainable for at least a given section. That’s also the way I prefer to run. Some people like to run hard and fast, above their threshold, and then stop and walk before running hard again. That’s not for me, even though it may ultimately have the same time and distance result.

The interesting thing about hiking or running in this analogy is that finding the right partner or set of partners, that have the same rhythm or style of working can meaningfully improve your threshold. One of the things I miss most about Austin is my running partner, Glenn Stotts. You wouldn’t know it to look at us (he’s tall, long-legged, and thin!) but we were excellent running partners. On good days, we would yo-yo back and forth, pulling the other along at an ever-increasing threshold. Running with Glenn, from around 2010 to 2015, was incredibly gratifying and we meaningfully increased our thresholds because we had found the same rhythm.

I feel like I’ve found that same set of benefits from my partners at Foundry Group. Brad, Jason, Seth, and Ryan have had a special relationship since forming Foundry Group in 2007. They’ve become best friends along the way but I think combining that emotional connection with sustained effort in the business has also meaningfully increased their output and effectiveness as a group. We’ve worked hard to add in three new partners to the mix and it feels like we are hitting our stride as a pack.

One of the cultural norms for us is that we all work hard. And we all do the work ourselves. We tend to work an investment or project on a single or small-team basis, constantly reporting back to the partnership, getting feedback and also knowing that they are there to back us up or pick us up when things aren’t going right. Perhaps its the high communication level, or witnessing your partners doing the work that is the motivational cog. It’s also true that we’re all competitive and we sure don’t want to disappoint each other. Whatever the case, the effect has been that all of us work at a higher threshold because of each other.

In fact, we run the risk of spinning each other up too much. It’s fun to be part of a team that pushes you to be a better version of yourself but it’s also hard to keep up! We all like our work and it can become addictive at some level. Each of us tend to take on slightly more than we can chew and have an automatic response to “fill” any blank space. This actually isn’t healthy long-term as we tend to run about 120%. It’s fun and we all like to be spun up but it can affect our work, and our personalities, not to mention any idea of balance and putting our families first. One of my partners read this post and added the comment – “One interesting observation is that we tend to individually take on too much. But, as partners, I think we are good at looking out for each other and helping (or simply pointing out) when someone gets too deep. Basically, we often look after each other better than we look after ourselves.”

We’re in a constant push to optimize our time and be brutally efficient while still being responsive to random goodness. I don’t think we’ve found the right way to regulate our pace but there is a certain seasonality to the work that tends to save us from ourselves. I can feel that we’re all running hot right now and I’m looking forward to a summer season that allows us to pull back to a more reasonable threshold. Maybe the analogy holds, think of summer as a flat part of the trail before the natural push of work in the fall. Either way, I’m glad to be part of this team. We’ll keep working to find the right cadence as we keep pushing our threshold higher.

Now, if I could just get Glenn to move up to Boulder and help me get back into running shape!

Up Early

I’ve always been a natural early riser. Even as a child, I would put myself to bed at sunset and rise at dawn. My parents tried to make this a feature rather than a bug by teaching me to turn on the coffee maker. That didn’t really work out, as the coffee would be all wrong or burned by the time they roused. Perhaps that’s why I never learned to like coffee?

I must also admit there are times when I wish that I could sleep later. My mother put a sign in my room during high school admonishing me for staying out too late (I found a similar one above).  Yes, there are times when I stay up too late and have too much fun when the curse of being an early riser is painful!

The early morning remains my favorite time of day and I’ve come to appreciate this time more as I age. The quiet of dawn, whether sitting near the hearth or (preferably) out in the field, is a time for reflection and anticipation of the future.  It feels like you’re getting ahead of the race.

These quiet moments are hard to steal in our constantly connected world. Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, I encourage you to find a moment of repose and be grateful for the quiet of that moment.

And if you’re lucky, you’ll then hear the pitter patter of your eldest daughter’s little feet coming to join you as she too has been struck as an early riser…

 

 

Acknowledging the grace of this life

I’ve had two of my good friends lose a parent in the last month. One lost a mother unexpectedly to complications of the flu. The other lost his dad today, after a more than 3-year battle with cancer. His note to me was beautiful.  I pretty much tear up every time I read it.

“RIP Dad. Was so nice though. My brother and I at his bedside holding his hands. He started having labored breathing and unresponsive. I told him that my brother and I were both here and that it’s ok to go. He raised his eyebrows, opened his eyes, looked at both of us then took 2 deep breaths and passed. It was so strange…he was definitely holding on for that moment. I feel so lucky”

We are all so lucky to acknowledge the grace of this life. I lost my dad to cancer in October of 1991, he was 46 and I was 17.  I’m now 43 and I can’t imagine that he only had 46 years on this planet.  It weighs heavy on me.

One of the favorite things I heard when my own father died was from a school vice-principal, David Parker. He had just lost his own mother. He said that while you may be sad today and can’t see past the feeling of loss, you’ll come to realize how lucky you were to have him at all. That has become very true for me. I miss my Dad often (and still have a giant hole there) but I know how lucky I was to have him.

None of us can control how long we have on this planet. We all try to bend the odds or do our best to ignore the fact that we all have a certain ending. The passing of my friends’ parents has reminded me that we all need to face that end and live our lives every day in appreciation for the grace of this life.

Sending love, especially to my two old friends.

A Ridiculous Day at Foundry Group

It was one of the most frequently asked questions when we announced me joining Foundry Group. It usually came in the form of a question but was sometimes a statement.  

“Are you going to be in one of those videos?” or “You know, they are definitely going to make you be in a video!”  

Of course, I knew that Jason and the gang had another video in mind. And I knew it would likely be embarrassing and fun all at the same time. However, it’s one thing to consider and accept the notional idea. It’s entirely another experience to actually find yourself singing into a microphone and posing for cameras in silly attire. The last time I participated in something like that was high school. And let’s be honest, I’m really glad those videos never made the jump from VHS.    

It was a ridiculously fun day at Foundry Group. Jason is our creative director and all other roles mixed into one. None of this would happen without him. It takes a lot of work to make this all come together; not least of which is to dream up a song, pull together a video sequence and then make all of us extend ourselves to come up with something legitimate. or at least humorous.

There are a few moments worth calling out. The day started out incredibly cold. We were up on the side of a hill, actually on the roof of Jason’s house.  We each were wearing some sort of gear to sketch out our interests.  I’m glad I was a fly fisherman and not a runner in shorts and tee shirt like Brad!

We then moved into the various sequence and location shots. These all provided some good humor. Boulder really isn’t one of those places where you see a bunch of suits walking down Pearl Street!  Much less with a camera crew and singing into a mic.  

One particular moment that had me shaking my head was to find myself walking down Pearl Street in full cowboy regalia – hat, boots, chaps, spurs, holster and cap gun. Boulder is also not a place that you carry guns, not even cap guns. I was confident however that the Lululemon bag would keep me protected from having to shoot my way out of a hacky sack circle!

I should note that in this moment of walking down Pearl, I realized that my two companions (Micah and Jaclyn) had decided to walk about fifteen feet behind me as if they were not associated with me. Memories of middle school and walking in the mall with my so very uncool mother came flashing back. Now I was the one that these two were distancing themselves from….at least Micah took these pics.

I did at least get to show off the custom FG boots that all the partners received once they brought a Texan into the fold! And if you were wondering, I did already own the chaps.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include this picture of Jaclyn. It appears that she is drinking on the job and, to be fair, it would be completely reasonable given the wig here. Her expression tells you enough about a day like video day at Foundry Group!

And then there’s Jamey. Words leave me.

I’ll part with another link to the video here. And tease you with the idea that we’re already after Jason to come up with the next iteration, one that makes a lot of sense when you look back at the first video.

Thanks to Jason and the gang for a ridiculously fun day at Foundry Group – 

BREAK THE INTERNET TO SAVE NET NEUTRALITY

We have just hours. The FCC is about to vote to end net neutrality—breaking the fundamental principle of the open Internet—and only an avalanche of calls to Congress can stop it. So we decided to help “Break the Internet” on our sites. You can also support on TwitterTumblrYoutube or in whatever wild creative way you can to get your audience to contact Congress. That’s how we win. Are you in?

More info here.

 

Burst Your Bubble

We are spending turkey week down at our family place on Lake Texoma. The house is located in the Red River Valley with rolling hills and Fall colors, the lake, the wildlife, and surrounding topography of rolling hills and forest giving way to farmland. These form a beautiful landscape that is as close to a sense of “home” as any place else for me. I have lots of good memories here and I hope we have many years where we continue to visit.  One benefit of being in this place is that it changes my perspective and “Bursts My Bubble”.

I think it’s really important that all investors get outside their own bubble and see how other people and communities live on a daily basis.  

Our place here is near the communities of Durant, Oklahoma and Denison, Texas right on the border. To give you a sense of scale, Durant has a population of around 16K and Denison is modestly larger at approximately 23K. Each of the towns are lovely in their own ways but it would be hard to describe them as growing and thriving economies. They are hubs for the farming and small business communities with some bleed over from Dallas (45 minutes south). Their demographics skew older with a hollowing out in the middle. Many people are living paycheck-to-paycheck. My family has a number of rent houses in Denison that are left from my grandparents. These are generally low-rent ($300-450 per month) housing stock. Many people struggle to stay in these as their hourly wages leave little room for other necessities. One unexpected car repair or trip to the doctor can mean that they are missing rent or the electricity gets turned off.

Interacting with the local businesses, shopping at the local Wal-Mart, and talking to people can give you a real sense of place. Especially when you’ve been able to do this over many years. Small business, farming, and retail are the mainstays of this economy. Many of the most promising young people in these communities left for Dallas, leaving behind those that are less educated, many with young families they are struggling to support with retail jobs. This is not uncommon in small town America.

If you live in Silicon Valley, Austin, or Boulder with their affluence and prosperity, then you’re probably going to lose touch that much of our country is struggling. If you’re an investor, I encourage you to get outside your bubble several times a year and check-in to see how those outside the tech sector are doing. It will serve you and your companies to have a perspective beyond the echo-chamber of the tech sector.  And you just might find some good memories along the way.