Origins is a podcast about Limited Partners - the firms and institutions that invest in venture capital funds. Through a series of interviews, they will explore what has historically been an opaque corner of the startup ecosystem and learn how the people behind the capital make decisions.
Josh Abramson is the co-founder of Connected Ventures (CollegeHumor, BustedTees, Vimeo) as well as TeePublic. In this episode, Josh talks about starting CollegeHumor in his freshman year dorm room in 1999, bootstrapping, building, and ultimately selling the company to IAC with his team in NYC, some of his early angel investments, as well as his experience as an LP in funds like Lowercase Capital, USV, and others.
Jeff Fagnan is a founder of Accomplice and more recently Spearhead, in partnership with AngelList. Jeff is well known as a founding investor, working with most of his portfolio since inception, sometimes as a co-founder including Veracode (Sold to CA Technologies for $614M in 2017). Jeff sits on the board of many scaling startups including AngelList, Carbon Black, InsightSquared, PillPack, and others. He's also the founder of Spearhead, a program that provides funding and mentorship for new angel investors; Maiden Lane, the first investment vehicle built on top of AngelList; Boston Syndicates (BOSS),a federated movement to create stronger angel substrate in New England; and TUGG (Technology Underwriting Greater Good), a nonprofit foundation harnessing the power of the tech ecosystem to catalyze social innovation in New England.
In this episode, we discuss Jeff's fourteen years as a partner at Atlas Ventures in Boston, the spinout and transition to Accomplice, and the many experiments with the venture model that's run with Maiden Lane, Angellist, and now Spearhead.
In this episode of Origins, Beezer Clarkson turns the tables and interviews Nick Chirls and Alex Lines of Notation. Having just closed Notation II, we figured this would be a good time to explain who we are, what we do, and why we do it. We cover our time working together in the early days at betaworks, our decision to ultimately leave and start Notation, the process of raising our first and now second funds, and how we think about the future of the firm.
One small footnote - We recorded this episode almost a year ago, when we first closed Notation II, so some of the language is a bit out of date - For example we prefer using "first-check" instead of "pre-seed." Check out our new website and Notation II launch announcement to see what we mean :-)
On this episode of Origins, we sit down with Roland Reynolds, a managing partner at Industry Ventures. Industry Ventures is a fascinating “full stack venture capital firm.” Their funds invest into companies and venture capital partnerships through both primary and secondary transactions, which is an important part of the venture ecosystem that we have yet to cover on the Origins podcast.
We cover a lot in this episode — including Roland’s experience working earlier in his career at JP Morgan and Columbia Capital, as well as founding one of the first dedicated micro-VC fund of funds more than ten years ago. Roland’s firm, Little Hawk Capital, was an LP in Industry Ventures, and ultimately merged into it to begin their primary fund of funds business.
What we found most interesting about this conversation was the breadth of the Industry Ventures business — their flexibility to approach the venture landscape in many different ways — as buyers of other LP’s positions in VC funds, as well as secondary buyers of individuals and employees shares in VC funds and companies, as primary investors in VC funds, and finally as direct investors in startups. Industry has the ability, and in fact mandate, to do it all. We learned a lot in this episode and think you will too.
On this episode of Origins, we sit down with Soleio Cuervo and Adam Michela, the founding partners of Combine, a brand new design and venture firm. Combine is different than many of the other new venture firms we’ve profiled on the show, and Soleio and Adam are also unlike many of the founding partners we’ve interviewed to date. How exactly?
Well, for starters, they’ve both spent most of their careers as designers, playing meaningful roles in the product and organizational design of some of the most iconic startups in the past decade — Facebook, Airbnb, Dropbox, among others. During the past couple years as angel investors, Soleio and Adam both noticed how critical it was to recruit top designers and embed design culture into the organization of early-stage, fast-growing startups. But they also noticed how difficult this was to execute in practice, and how few investors in SV could bring this expertise to the table.
So Combine is a natural evolution of a mutual recognition of both these challenges, and they do this by combining capital and design advisory into an institutional early-stage venture capital firm. In this episode, we cover a lot — their backgrounds as designers in SV, the challenges of scaling design organizations, getting Combine off the ground together over the past year, the unusual structure of the firm, and what they hope to achieve with Combine in the future.
We cover a lot in this episode — including Andy’s experience working in the early days at AOL and how that informed the creation of betaworks. We discuss what it was like joining Fred, Brad, and Albert as the fourth partner at USV, and subsequently becoming a managing partner at the firm a few years later.
What we found most interesting about the conversation was Andy’s description of his perpetual search for the “New New Thing,” a term made popular by the Michael Lewis book under the same name. Given the incredibly competitive venture landscape today, Andy argues it’s no longer enough to be looking to invest in the latest hot trend, but to do venture the right way, one most look further out on the horizon to find the thing no one else is yet looking for. This is maybe the most challenging part of doing VC well, but also the most fun and rewarding. Andy provides some hints at a roadmap, so we hope you’ll listen and find it useful.
Mike Larsen is a managing director at the global investment firm Cambridge Associates, based in Boston. Mike works with endowments, foundations and other large institutional investors on their private investment programs, particularly focused on venture capital exposure. He spends his time meeting with managers, sourcing new ideas, and implementing VC programs for his clients’ portfolios.
Cambridge Associates has come up several times on Origins in the past, so in this conversation with Mike, we dig into exactly what it is that CA does—and how they advise their clients to invest in VC and PE. We discuss the difference between CA’s discretionary and non-discretionary activities, how they approach building venture portfolios from scratch, how Mike evaluates VC managers, as well as how he thinks about the future of the asset class.
Aaron Gershenberg is a founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s fund of funds and direct investment group, SVB Capital. Aaron joined SVB in 1999 and has been part of the venture capital industry since 1996. Under his leadership, the group has over $3.3 billion under management across fund of funds, direct funds and separate accounts.
Prior to joining SVB, Aaron oversaw the opening of FirstCorp’s Northern California office, a venture leasing company focused on early stage companies. Aaron earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics and African Studies from Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in finance from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Aaron combines his passion for philanthropy with his love of the outdoors. In 1984 he joined 50 students biking from Boston to Los Angeles, raising money for Oxfam America. In 1993, Aaron was a founder of the Hearst Castle Best Buddies ride, a 100 mile ride from Carmel to the Hearst Castle benefiting the intellectually and developmentally disabled. This is his 10th consecutive year of participation.
Winter Mead is a Vice President at Sapphire Ventures, where he focuses on Sapphire's fund investments in the United States and internationally. Before joining Sapphire Ventures in 2014, he worked at Hall Capital Partners. Prior to Hall, Winter founded Mead and Mead, an international food distribution and logistics business. He also spent a number of years working for several early-stage technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In this episode, we discuss why Winter joined Sapphire Ventures in the early days to help build out their fund investing business, building a track record as a young LP in the industry, and how Sapphire approaches working with VC fund managers in a way that looks and feels different than most LPs in the market today.