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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.
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.