Funding All Projects on DonorsChoose in Alaska

Amy and I just funded all of the unfunded DonorsChoose projects in Alaska as part of the annual DonorsChoose #BestSchoolDay event. As part of the #BestSchoolDay program, your donation is matched. In all of the Alaska projects, Aspect Ventures matched our donation. Huge thanks to Jennifer Fonstad, Theresia Gouw, and team!

Amy grew up in Alaska and we have a house in Homer, which is what motivated us to support Alaska this year on #BestSchoolDay. As I was supporting projects, I saw one in Homer and a few Sphero and littleBits requests which made me smile.

We’ve been continuous supporters of DonorsChoose for many years. Whenever I have a shitty day, I often go to DonorsChoose and support a few projects. It’s generated some incredibly satisfying moments for me, like a connection with Monica Zamora, a fourth grade teacher in Edgewater, NJ. I funded several programs for her students including some BB-8s and some littleBits. I gave a 30 minute Skype talk to her class, where I met a budding CEO of a new company called SockWorld who pitched me on her new business around socks. Or, the time I got a note from Norma Gibson at Carr Creek Elementary in Littcarr, Kentucky. At her initiative, she pointed me to a number of projects at her school which we funded. Her appreciation – for her students – lept out through the email to me.

If you are motivated to participate, I encourage you to pick some projects on DonorsChoose in the city you grew up in.

Today, we funded 72 projects, which delights us. If you want to see a few examples, check out:

White Boards to Think It, Write It, and Share It!

Math in the 21st Century

Who, What, When and Where: Books With Answers

Building Young Architects

Geocaching Field Experience

Got Power? We Need Charging Stations

Good Women’s Hygiene

Science Books and Supplies

Iditarod: The Last Great READ

Coding Into the Future!

Maker Space For Twenty-First Century Learners

Putting the DNA in our DNA Fingerprint

Little Bits for Science Exploration

When One Month Of Real Time Is Three Months of Company Time

Most of us learned about dog years as children. Unfortunately, the adage that one human year = 7 dog years is not entirely correct, as dogs mature much faster than humans and the aging process depends on the size of the dogs. But the general idea works.

Recently, I was in a board meeting at a company that had increased its revenue by a factor of four in 2016. We were discussing two things: (1) the 2017 budget and (2) all the things that broke in 2016 that we needed to fix in 2017. After a long, healthy discussion, we did an AMA with the whole company.

I’ve been fortunate to be involved in some extremely high growth companies. It can be a blast, but it’s also daunting. Everyone always has this strange look in their eyes that is a combination of being exhausted while knowing they are on a rocketship ride they are supposed to be enjoying.

During the AMA, I looked around the room a had an insight that most of the people had never experienced this pace of growth before. I suddenly had a thought which I decided to try out on the audience.

“Y’all are experiencing something rare. It happens to a few companies, but not that many. You are currently in a phase where one month of real time is equal to three months of company time. It’s like dog years. You are jamming four years of company time into every year of real time. That’s why it is so intense.”

A lot of head nodding ensued.

Kindred Spirits – Our Investment In Founder Collective

Founder Collective

Foundry Group is best known for our investments in startups, but our vehicle currently investing in other venture funds, Foundry Group Next, is off to what we believe to be a great start and I wanted to share an update about it by talking about our new investment in a fund managed by Founder Collective.

I’ve written previously about why we created Foundry Group Next. We have been personally investing as LPs in funds of other managers for decades and found the activity to be emotionally rewarding. When we decided we wanted to expand and formalize that activity, it gave us a chance to work more closely with Lindel Eakman, who was the largest investor in our first fund through his role at UTIMCO. Lindel joined Foundry Group as a partner to lead the fund investing activity of Foundry Group Next.

We’ve made about a dozen investments in funds including funds offered by Union Square Ventures, True Ventures, and Forerunner Ventures. One of our recent investments, offered by Founder Collective (FC) – an eight-year-old manager with offices in Boston and San Francisco – is an excellent example of what we look for when we invest in funds offered by other managers.

It starts with the people. We don’t invest in managers unless we can picture working with them for decades. We’ve had the opportunity to work with Founder Collective’s partners – David Frankel, Eric Paley, and Micah Rosenbloom – over the years on several companies. We also know many of the entrepreneurs in their portfolio. From those founders, we are aware that FC takes their mission “to be the most aligned fund to founders at the seed stage” very seriously.

We aren’t a generational firm, but investing in other VC funds gives us the benefit of working with managers who challenge and enhance our thinking while sharing the lessons we’ve learned with other investors. We want to work with people who bring a focused and complementary perspective to investing and were interested in the Founder Collective mantra of being “stage-focused and sector agnostic.”

This means FC avoids trends and relentlessly questions entrepreneurs about how their product enables specific use cases and market opportunities. This approach has paid off and helped the team to identify hot sectors well outside of the current hype cycle. If you look at the Founder Collective portfolio, you’ll see many well-recognized companies that they invested in at the very first round. In general, these investments were rarely competitive at the time of their first financing.

“Founder friendly” is an overused term, but there is a big difference between marketing this as a concept and living it every day. The team at FC has structurally designed their firm around alignment to founders. They’re a rare venture fund that doesn’t exercise pro-rata rights over the lifetime of an investment, meaning they dilute alongside company founders, which they believe better aligns their interests as seed investors with the entrepreneurs.

At a time where funds are aggressively deploying capital and not considering the downsides for founders, FC is actively promoting the value of efficient entrepreneurship and helping founders maximize their outcomes and optionality. Not only are the downsides of overcapitalization problematic for founders, but FC also examined overcapitalization in upside scenarios by studying the data from the last five years of tech IPOs. The findings were surprising in that the amount of money a company raised and its success in the public markets were not positively correlated. In fact, the companies that raised less money out-performed the most funded over time. Needless to say, having investors that keep this balance in mind can be precious to founders.

It’s one thing to have a unique perspective; it’s another to generate returns with it. As an LP, I’ve had the good fortune to be an investor in many funds, including some exceptional ones. Before diving into diligence, we had a sense that Founder Collective had strong performance based on their portfolio. When we saw their financial track record, we realized how special the performance was.

We know many firms that build portfolios with great logos by buying into companies at later stages and higher valuations. FC’s portfolio is made up exclusively of seed stage investments at seed valuations.

These aren’t just paper gains – they have already returned a meaningful amount of cash to their investors. Founder Collective’s first fund has the potential to be enshrined in the annals of VC history. Their second fund is tracking ahead of the first at the same point in development.

Needless to say, we had many reasons to hope to be part of their third fund. The only problem was they didn’t have any room. We found out they were oversubscribed just from their existing Fund II investors – that’s without pitching any new LPs. But they didn’t take advantage of that demand. Instead, they stuck to their principles and kept their fund size the same as their previous fund.

We love seeing that strategy discipline as we believe it is the mark of good fund managers. When Union Square Ventures’ 2004 fund was on fire, Fred and Brad raised their next fund at the same size. This has also been our approach at Foundry Group.

In the case of Founder Collective, the partners effectively shrunk their fund regarding outside capital by increasing their personal financial commitment to their fund. This investment generates additional evidence that they are confident in their strategy while creating more alignment with their LPs.

As a GP I applauded the approach and accepted that as an LP we had to beg and plead our way into to the fund. All the same, we were honored that Foundry Group Next was the only new investor in Founder Collective III due to our long and trusted relationship.

By virtue of time and focus, we can only help so many startups, but we’re proud to be investors in funds like Founder Collective, which is deeply committed to helping enrich the startup ecosystem. We are delighted to be working alongside them and finding other managers of their caliber going forward.

Venture Deals 3rd Edition Available via Kindle Matchbook

If you have purchased the hardcopy edition of Venture Deals 3rd Edition, you can now buy the Kindle version also for $2.99 via the Amazon Kindle Matchbook program.

Jason and I have been asking our publisher (Wiley) for this for a while and we are psyched they’ve agreed to it. It came about after a number of you asked us if we were going to do this, so thanks to y’all for pushing us on it.

Relationships Are 100/100, Not 50/50

In a vox with my partner Seth recently, he said something that stuck with me.

“Relationships are 100/100, not 50/50.”

He was referring to a business dynamic between two people, but it applies to any relationship and any number of people.

It’s a simple idea, but a great one. When I consider my relationship with Amy, it’s 100/100. Sure, we have plenty of conflicts, but we are both 100% all in on the relationship.

When I consider my relationship with my partners, it’s 100/100. We refer to our relationship as one of business love. We communicate with brutal honesty delivered kindly. We argue, disagree, and get frustrated with each other. But we own our actions – good and bad. And we learn and evolve together.

We are best friends. Our relationship is 100/100.

When I talk about my relationships with a CEO in a company that I’m an investor in, I describe it as one where I only ever want to make one decision, which is whether or not I support her. As long as I do, I work for her. If I don’t, it’s my job to do something about it, which does not necessarily mean “fire her,” but instead try to get back to a place where I support here. Again, I’m all in on the relationship, and I expect it to be 100/100.

Thanks Seth for the concept. I hope never again to say “relationships are 50/50.”