Le Tour

Today wraps up the final stage of this year’s Tour de France or “Le Tour”. This is my admission of love for this event. I’m certainly not a bike rider (wrong shape for that) but I simply love to follow this one cycling event each year. It’s not just the amazing bikes, incredible physical feats, or even the drama of the crowds on mountain top finishes. It’s the story of strategy, team strength, differing goals, good days and bad days, psychological warfare, and glorious solo rides off the front. There is so much drama, even during a flat stage, with the ever changing winds, intermediate sprints, and threat of crashes. Each competitor looking for weakness from their rivals, a constant reappraisal of standing, and a reward each day for glory by capturing just one stage. Yep, I love it. All of it.

Yes, Lance Armstrong was the Texan that got me into Le Tour nearly 20 years ago and I have at best mixed emotions on him, but the sport itself has kept me interested all these years. It’s right up there with the college football playoffs as one of my favorite sporting events of any given year.

So, while I may not be the obvious bike nut in our partnership (Moody and Seth holding that role), I want to publicly congratulate Egan Bernal for an incredible race, not just for the yellow jersey, but also winning at such a young age. I hope we see lots more of Egan in the coming years. It’s also worth congratulating Julian Alaphilippe on an incredible run in this year’s tour. He should be proud. I’m sorta sad to see this year’s tour end. It was a great one. Until next year, see you on the Peloton….

What happens if you do get a big win?

Go ahead and click this link and hit play. It definitely changes the read (warning: explicit).

I was recently asked to talk to a room full of founders and one of the questions was sorta taboo.  Not something that we talk about often but a real-life issue that everyone in that room hoped to face. What happens if you do have a big win? How do you think about the life-changing money? How do you invest it?

Maybe it’s all the news of the upcoming IPO bonanza that prompted this question but if you’re in a spot where you have that upside, then you ought to at least have a plan. Now, I’m not a retail investment expert so don’t take this as any specific guidance. However, I did have the benefit of seeing how you successfully manage one of the largest endowments in my time at UTIMCO. I would argue that a large amount of money for a family starts to look like an endowment, planning for intra-generational wealth over long periods.

The quantum of money definitely matters. There is an entire spectrum of risk that lies between managing money to create wealth and managing money to stay wealthy, perhaps while living off the proceeds. One size does not fit all but I think the process does transfer: Understanding the goal of your investments, Understanding what risks you want to take, and Working with the right partner to help you execute.

I talked a little bit about this with that room full of founders and have continued thinking about it. I wanted to write a blog post so I reached out to my friend who comes from the endowment and foundation world and now manages HNW clients for a living to see what I was missing. I jokingly said that my best advice was to “Stop, Collaborate, and Listen”.  His response was perfect. I’ve included it below in italics and inserted my own commentary below:

So it sounds like you are going with a hip hop themed post (Vanilla Ice lyrics)?

I would include:

1) I got to say it was a good day (It was a good day – Ice Cube)

Enjoy the win. Run a victory lap. Recognize the success for what it was – a combination of hard work, skill, and luck. Celebrate. But that’s in the past, what are you doing tomorrow?

That’s right, you had a big win and you likely still have some work to do closing that out. Take a little money and buy yourself (and your partner/spouse) a few nice things. Maybe you take X% and buy that boat, car, house, ranch (let’s dream big). I hope you also had the foresight to think about Pledge 1% before that Good Day.   

2)  We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us, no heat, wonder why Christmas missed us. Birthdays was the worst days, now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay.                                         (Juicy – Notorious BIG)

Don’t forget where you came from.

This is good advice, even before you have that big win. Wealth can do more than change zip codes, it can also change relationships. Be prepared for some challenges and stay humble, that’s how you got the win.

3) I’m not a businessman, I’m a business man   (Jay Z – We’ll go with “all the way up” even though it’s just a quote)

Post exit, you have now proven expertise in a specific area. Leverage that into a brand.

He brings up a good point, is there more that you can do with the attention your exit got you?  Is there something else you want to work on in that sector? However, I come at this one a little differently.

Many entrepreneurs possess a lot of self-confidence (some call them crazy to start in the first place), don’t let that risk-taking approach automatically bleed into your investing. Have a business plan and make sure you understand what your risk tolerance is before you start scatter blasting angel investments across the universe.

4) Check Yo Self before you wreck yo self  (Check Yo Self – Ice Cube)

Being successful at one thing, doesn’t mean you will be successful at everything. Know what you are good at, and recognize other people are better than you at other things. Get them on your team.

I’ve seen too many people assume that they are going to have continued success or another big win, and that usually leads to some very poor decision making. One challenge is thinking that you have more money than you’ll ever need. Too many people adopt a lifestyle and burn rate that eats up their capital. Or decide to pile money into their next start-up. Or worse, their friend’s start-up. Don’t be the pro athlete or the pop star that finds themselves in the bankruptcy court.

Now, let’s talk about how to get the right team in place and not make that mistake. I’m one of those people that have always been guilty of being cheap, too cheap in fact and it has come back to bite me many times. The more capital that you are investing, the more important it is that you get someone that has the right experience and is aligned with you. Paying for professional services is hard, just make sure you get the right team. More on that in a minute.    

5) As I leave my competition, respirator style

Climb the ladder to success, escalator style   (You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You) – Notorious BIG)

Long term financial success is a methodical approach made up of repeatable wins managed in a risk controlled format. The only scorecard that matters is your own – define the game you are playing and stay focused on that game – don’t let the games of others cause you to lose focus on the outcome you determined matters for you.

Tushar brings up a good point. Successful investing isn’t about the big win, the most important thing is to execute your own plan and not take big losses. Erratic moves as an investor almost always come back to bite you, don’t let emotion drive your game. Instead, understand the risks you’re taking and keep your portfolio balanced.  

6) Ain’t no half steppin  (Ain’t No Half Steppin – Big Daddy Kane)

Exit was successful because you fully embraced the journey. Fully commit on the next thing if you want the same kind of success.

Many successful founders start to forget the grind and miss the commitment of the start-up world. Too often, they accidentally find themselves back in an operating role without the true passion for a project. We all know that start-ups aren’t a part-time job. Whatever you do with your time, make sure you’re committed to it.

7) Even the genius asks his questions    (Me Against The World – Tupac & Outlawz)

Seek out experts to help you achieve your goals.

So back to that idea of getting the right team. I’m going to bash most retail brokers right here but I don’t think you can ever know what excellent looks like until you’ve seen the world of investment opportunities at the global institution level. It’s difficult to grow up in a retail-oriented financial institution or trust company and understand what the manager opportunity set looks like.  No knock on that background or that specific person, they may be great, but the challenge is that they’ve never been exposed to the full menu. I have the same concern with affiliated bank platforms (Goldman, UBS, ML, etc). Plus, you have the underlying motivation to use that platform’s products (yuck). You also need to understand exactly what the rest of their practice looks like. Are you important? Do you resemble their other clients? And how, exactly, are they getting paid? Easy questions don’t always have simple answers, but the answers should at a minimum be transparent. This is where the relationship can take one of two turns – one that is a partnership or one that has more of a transactional type bent. Relationships that are partnership-based strive to deliver value to both parties over a long period of time; transactional based relationships often result in one party trying to extract value from the other party. Make sure you understand the incentives and motivations created by whatever arrangement or platform they might be using. Who owns their business?  What happens if they leave? They are essentially your key-person. You get the idea. How are you aligned at every turn?

8) So here I go it’s my shot, Feet fail me not, (just capitalizing Feet as a reference to my Peleton screenname), this may be the only opportunity I got  (Lose Yourself – Eminem)

Not sure what the lesson is here in this context, but can’t have a list like this without the G.O.A.T.

I think Tushar just wanted to include Eminem but I would use this to emphasize that you have some work to do when you hit the big win. The most important decision after your deal closes might be who you choose to be on your new team. Finding the right partner for your financial wealth is a big lift. These relationships are difficult to move with lots of friction from private investments, multiple accounts, and lots of shared historical knowledge between the parties. This is one hire that you want to get right (and not something that you wait on if you need to admit that you made a mistake). So get it right from the first shot!

Well, this turned out to be way more fun than I might have guessed. I hope you at least got a kick out of the quotes. Let’s hope that we have many of our founders and their teams that have these questions.

And if you’re looking for an advisor – I know one that I think is great. I’ll leave you with this quote from my pal – I love the intersection of hip hop and managing money…

Don’t let that negative bias win out

I was thinking about our predilection for negative bias on the way into work today.  Mostly in the context of the broader community but then that led me to muse about partnerships and spouses.  

If I’m being honest, I was internally cursing the fools that run in the middle of the street in Boulder.  I’m right behind you with a very large automobile. I’m empathetic that it’s cold and snowing. And I know the sidewalks aren’t always even and may be harder to run on. I’m freaking impressed that you get out in the very cold weather and get your run on. However, it’s 8AM and much of the world is trying to go to work or school. Let’s all work together to not run you over. That means you need to actively get out of the “effing” way. There, that’s what really prompted me to muse about the negativity of human nature and the way we all affect each other. Moving on….

The negativity bias is strong, it’s part of what informs our survival and it’s clear that we are constantly looking for risks even in our closest relationships. And we see the challenges of that in our companies (often among founders) and in our partnerships (more than we’d like to admit). And yes, even in our closest relationships with our spouses and family.

It seems the human mind is built to evaluate risk and look for the negative in any relationship.  That’s why you have to work so hard to stay positive. My wife likes to say that you aren’t just “happy” but that you have to make an active decision to “be happy”.  It’s something you have to work at and, for me, that usually comes from a place of humility and gratitude. It turns out you have to work even harder to stay happy or positive in your relationships with other people. I came across this interesting article that claims we have to maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences in a relationship just to maintain neutral bias.  

Your physical condition definitely influences your ability to bias positive. That’s why some form of consistent exercise is important. Also, the temporary setbacks of physical sickness affect your mental health. I’ve been trying to shake a cold for the last 3 weeks. Every time I get to feeling better, I try to rally or push through some travel and end up sick again. It has definitely impacted my psychological state. I’ve been “fussy” to put it kindly.  Thus, the rant against street runners above.

As investors, we have to guard against our physical and emotional state creating a too negative or too positive bias.  We are experienced (meaning we wear scars from our mistakes) and it would be easy to become cynical given all the daily challenges of investing in early-stage companies.  However, as an equity investor you must be an optimist at your core. The game is controlling that peaks and valleys.

As partners, we have to work hard to keep our partnership in a good place. It’s entertaining but we also have put emphasis against having fun together to keep that magic ratio in place. We all work hard and it’s easy to miss having those positive experiences if you don’t prioritize them.  

And most importantly as spouses, we all have to make sure that we maintain a positive relationship with our most important partners in life. I think the secret to our group may be that we all have strong, amazing partners at home that keep us in a good place.  

So, go work on the positive and make a decision to be happy.  

A Churning LP Landscape (and a bunch of great jobs)

As a venture investor, we often bemoan churn in our SaaS companies but we’re also seeing churn in our LP base too. Increasing staff turnover in the LP world has been a trend for several years and it has implications for institutional portfolios and private investment managers alike.  

If you’re a GP, you should know by now that you need to have at least two solid personal contacts at each of your LPs because one of them is likely to turn over in less than 5 years. And if you’re an LP, you’ve seen your friends move to new platforms much more quickly than in the past. Just take a look at the open jobs on ILPA.org or Trusted Insight! This churn is the result of so much more institutional capital trending into private strategies. We’ve seen that trend move from the E&F community into private and public pensions. We’re even seeing retail capital inroads into venture and private equity in a search for returns.  

So what does this mean? I will strongly argue that staff churn is highly damaging to institutional investors. It takes years to properly train even the brightest new LP.  I used to say 18 months before you even have any context. It takes even longer to build a portfolio and begin to learn from a terribly long feedback loop. And then team turnover inevitably causes a strategy reset as the new staff looks to distance themselves from the “mistakes” of the prior team.  A portfolio can be successful even with the inherent turnover but I think it takes consistency of leadership from the CIOs and Board (where you’ve also seen turnover). These leaders are recognizing the high cost of churn in the private portfolio, and have begun recruiting and paying more for talented, experienced individuals to lead their private programs as it is generally the only part of the total portfolio with expected returns greater than the required payout rate.  

As a GP, I believe you now have to underwrite meaningful staff turnover in your LP base between funds. I mentioned having more than one contact at your key LPs. I think it’s also wise to carefully consider diversification in your LP base by understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each group as both a capital source and a platform for your individual contacts.  Are they likely to stay? What is their system of governance? and basis for their compensation? How do you fit in that portfolio if the team changes? I think you should plan for 10-15% churn in your LP base. Sometimes you get lucky and get a 2:1, the existing institution returns and your former lead relationship bring in their new institution. That’s great when you can continue relationships, but do you have a pipeline of prospects to replace those that turnover?

GPs are wisely paying a lot more attention to not only where their capital comes from (and what causes it supports) but also to just how likely it is they have the same point person that understands their strategy and values the relationship that is built over years.

I’m particularly sensitive to this topic as I’m currently aware of several great opportunities that have surfaced in my network. I would love to help place great people in these roles.

Two Senior Leadership Roles

I know of two very senior roles that aren’t currently advertised. Each of these roles has a focus on venture and are amazing opportunities with a compelling platform.  One on the east coast and one on the west coast. These are the kind of opportunities that would have been interesting to me in my prior life. I can’t say more but encourage you to reach out if you have real venture experience in funds and/or directs.

Two Mid-Level / Senior Roles

We have two LPs that are either adding staff or have experienced churn. One is looking for a lead private investment manager at a large foundation with a great cause. I also like the new CIO greatly and I know the board is very supportive. You would inherit a good portfolio and have an opportunity to lead the private program.

Another LP is looking to add an experienced mid-level role with an emphasis on growth equity/buyouts. They are open to someone with fund experience but also someone with a direct background. They have a great team in place and you would be joining world-class investors that take their craft very seriously. They are based in Charlottesville, a great town very similar to Boulder.

It’s also worth saying that every one of these roles is seeking to add elements of diversity to their team.

So, I suppose I’m actually encouraging more churn but would love it if you let me play matchmaker for one of these roles. And even if you’re not really looking, I’d be happy for the chance to connect with you for future opportunities. I’ve been very lucky to build a good network of friends in the LP community over the last 15+ years and I hope to share these opportunities when they arise.

I’m easy to reach – Lindel@foundrygroup.com

The LP Anti-Portfolio

The idea of an “anti-portfolio” reflects some of the great investments where you had the opportunity to participate but missed for one reason or another. There are many excuses, as you’ll see below, but the truth is that you completely screwed it up. This idea was first shown to me in the Bessemer Anti-Portfolio and I think many other VCs have since copied it. I don’t know that any LPs have publicly owned their own fund investing mistakes but some may be out there and I hope readers will point them out to me.  

This notion of the LP Anti-Portfolio came up twice in the last few weeks in conversations with managers and prompted me to go ahead and write this post. It’s an interesting, albeit painful, mental exercise to look back at decisions you made that turned out to be wrong. If you invest for a living, you’re going to have made A LOT of bad decisions. You can only hope to learn from them.  

Venture investing is a little different than other asset classes. I always say that you have to be BOTH lucky and good in venture and I think that I’ve been very lucky. Early stage venture, whether in directs or funds, is about picking the right people to partner with as founders or GPs. There is often less data available than buyouts, or growth, or credit, and the like when you make your decision. When you invest as a venture LP, it’s very similar to investing in early-stage companies. You are buying off on a team and idea with little proof. However, the passage of time provides more information and, now that I’ve been doing this a long time, there is hard data on how fund investment decisions turned out from earlier in my career. And with the benefit of more data, I think you can learn from your mistakes. So, I’ll lay out the most obvious ones here and try to throw in a few learnings too.

True Ventures II –  It’s only fitting that I start with True Ventures as they recently announced their new fund. We are happy to be investors in the two latest funds. And I was lucky to be an investor in every fund since True II while at UTIMCO and now here at Foundry. However, I can remember the chair I was sitting in when we decided not to invest in True II. It was late in the fundraise for them when we got in front of Jon and Phil at the little office on Pier 38. And there wasn’t as much capacity as we needed for a minimum investment (these should sound like excuses) which was a common problem and part of the reason I needed to move platforms. All that said, we knew that True would be a good investment but we didn’t make the exception for size, nor drop everything and pursue it. It turns out True II was a REALLY GOOD investment.  I’m glad we have the whole True gang as friends and partners, we’ve had a lot of good direct investments with them and hope to have a lot more in the future.

First Round Capital – I remember a walk from the St. Julien hotel in Boulder, Colorado with Rob Hayes. We were walking up Pine Street to my partner Jason’s house for a social hour post dinner. I remember the walk specifically but I can’t place the exact year. It had to be the 2008-2009 time frame. FRC was raising a new fund and it was already clear that they were building something special yet it wasn’t well-known to LPs. Rob and I had a very direct conversation about sizing being a challenge but it was perhaps the very first time that I internalized the challenge of scale for me as a venture LP. I remember how that felt, saying it aloud to Rob, and knowing that scale was the enemy of returns in this case. Rob and I have had a chance to stay in touch as friends and now fishing buddies (thanks @Ken) which makes missing those funds all that much worse!  Even so, we are happy to cheer for our friends at FRC to continue knocking it out of the park.  And congrats to Rob on his new role as Board Partner. I hope that means more fishing time too.

Lux Capital –  Peter and Josh came to see us when they were raising what had to be fund two or three? We were still in the old UTIMCO offices so I know it had to be 2003-4-5? They were doing something really interesting with their thought leadership via research and writing. However, they were super young (my age at the time) and we had a really hard time wrapping our heads around their success. The thing that made us pay attention was that Bill Conway had been involved and begun to personally mentor them. That, and they were doing some completely amazing technology investing. Mind-blowing, “can that actually work?” type of investments. They had recently done 3-4 deals with Arch at the time they came to see us and Arch gave them a strong endorsement. We decided not to make the investment from a top-down portfolio perspective. That is almost always a dangerous way of thinking. It should be an input but the bottoms-up view on the specific deal should be the heaviest weighting. At that point, Arch was doing a lot of physical sciences investing and we felt like we were getting some of the exposure already. That may have been true but we shouldn’t have passed. Peter and Josh were a special pairing of minds (and good humans). We should have backed them early and it’s proven out that they’ve built a special firm that continues to back really cool technology (that can actually work!). We are cheering for them and I hope we find a couple more direct deals to do together.    

Spark Capital Fund III – We were lucky enough to find Spark Capital as they raised their second fund. Mark Shoberg gets much of the credit for this one as he found and built the initial relationship. We invested in that second fund which turned out to be a great returner. It was also one of those funds where you could see early on that it had great potential. Interesting companies with early mark-ups and connection to our network of other funds that built conviction for us. Unfortunately, Spark came out to raise fund III just as the overall economy was dipping in 2008-9. UTIMCO had its own set of challenges in that period that kept us from making the investment. One of the challenges was that we had a lot of pressure on legal terms that caused us to push too hard as Fund III formed. We got sideways with Spark and they pulled the fund together without us. Ultimately, that was a very painful outcome. Fund III was a huge returning fund that we missed on. I’ll take some of the blame for that, as I’ve always struggled with the balance of terms in LPAs versus what we see in term sheets for company investments. That said, it was a learning moment. I think you should always focus on the cash flow terms in an investment (timing, order, splits) but the governance terms of LPAs are not where you should focus attention nor burn a relationship. There is certainly data in the negotiation of terms but it should not end up solely driving the outcome. I’m glad to say that the Spark team remains one of our favorite relationships and a big co-investor of ours at Foundry Group.   

The Column Group – The Column Group is one of those where we engaged, recognized there was something there but found a way to be too busy to get it done. This was a team that had the confidence to preach a concentrated strategy and the experience to back it up, even in a first time fund.  Mark Shoberg should get credit for raising this one to the top and I’ll take the blame for not focusing on it. I haven’t seen the actual returns but I’ve heard that they are pretty darn impressive. I had a hard time listing this one, or the next one, as I’ve never been a great selector of life science funds. I feel like we were very lucky with Arch, Sofinnova, and Sante in our life sciences portfolio at UTIMCO. Add in Terry at Polaris and you had some pretty good drug development investors there, even if it was all likely luck. Those funds all were accretive from a return perspective and were done based on special partnership dynamics, not our ability to really vet drug development or life science projects. That said, the next fund to mention is a life sciences fund as well.  

Flagship Ventures – Simply put, Noubar is a force of personality. We should have invested with him. There was a clear change of culture happening at Flagship when we looked at it and the partnership dynamics didn’t feel quite right. We felt that life sciences was going to be driving the firm but it wasn’t apparent in the partnership at that point. We also were really keen on Samir and weren’t surprised to see him leave. However, those are excuses. Sometimes you see a money-maker type of investor and you should invest with them. I’m happy to have seen Noubar prove the success of Flagship and glad that he and Bob at Arch have been co-investors on a few of the good ones.  

There are A LOT more funds where we should have invested and I’m sure that I will get more than a few notes that remind me of other mistakes. That is part of investing. You can’t do them all, nor will you get all of them right. Note that I’m only listing a few of those funds that were deeply considered and/or where real conversations existed. There is a long list of funds where we didn’t engage, usually because of size or bandwidth.

We were lucky to have such good access and opportunity sets. I’m always grateful to have the opportunities to partner with emerging managers (something all these had in common) and I’m sure there are many GPs that are thinking they should be on the list. I always cheer for other portfolios, even when we’re not invested.

Hoping this gives some more insight as to how/why LPs behave and it was actually fun to revisit some of these mistakes, a few that were corrected, and a few on-going relationships despite missing on some good funds!  

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!