This Week in VC with @VCMike Hirshland of Polaris Ventures

Posted on Jun 28, 2010 | 4 comments

This Week in VC with @VCMike Hirshland of Polaris Ventures

Here is the link to this week’s TWiVC with Mike Hirshland. I apologize for the audio quality – we did this in a rush because we found a last minute studio and recorded in San Francisco.  But you can see & hear the entire interview well and I think it will be well worth your while.

One of things I’ve loved the most about doing now 11 weeks of This Week in VC is a chance to have an hour-long recorded conversation with investors.  One of the most difficult things to do as a first time entrepreneur is to get to know the investors you might be working with if you accept money.  And in my interviews with many VCs I feel that people can watch these and get to know the VC’s as human beings a bit better.

And this week’s TWiVC was especially relevant in the human element of understanding your VC.  I had an hour to interview Mike Hirshland of Polaris Ventures.  If you watch this I think you’ll agree with me that you can’t help but really like this guy.  He started his career as a lawyer (he even clerked for a supreme court justice!) and quickly decided practicing law wasn’t for him.  He then served as staff member of the senate judiciary committee under Senator Orrin Hatch and was responsible for leading the hearings on the Microsoft antitrust hearings in the mid nineties during the Netscape vs. Microsoft era.  You’ll hear this story in the video.

So how did Mike get into VC?  He got into the industry through the same traits required for entrepreneurs – persistence & resiliency.  And that is why I believe Mike will make a great VC when the scoreboards are calculated over the next 10 years.  When he entered the industry he caught the tail end of the dot com bubble and then was immediately thrust into a 3-year period of “triage” where VC’s had to deal with problems in portfolio companies.  This lasted from about 2001-2004.  This probably wasn’t a fun period of time for a new VC but nonetheless probably made Mike stronger than having started in 1997.

Since then Mike has built his career by investing in early-stage companies (seed or series A), which is remarkable given that Polaris Ventures is a $1 billion fund.  This includes seed funding Automattic (who produce WordPress, the blog I use for this website) and investing in, stickybits, Thing Labs (producer of Brizzly), KissMetrics and many others including Quantcast.

So how is Mike able to do this at a time when others have warned against taking seed money from VC funds?  Simple: according to Mike, Polaris has followed on nearly every seed investment that they’ve done.  He says they are just as selective on seed investments as they are in later stage deals.  And Mike believes that entrepreneurs often need less capital to get started these days.  You can hear his full argument in the interview.

Finally, I do want to mention that Mike was the founder of DogPatch Labs, which has facilities in Cambridge, New York and San Francisco.  It’s basically office space where as a startup you can be located with dozens of other companies at a similar stage to your own.  Each facility houses about 50 companies so you really do get the opportunity to work with similar companies before “sizing out.”  It reminds me of PlugnPlay facilities which have long provided this kind of environment.  I spent a couple of days hanging out in DogPatch San Francisco and I was both impressed and envious.  I shall be looking to replicate this in Los Angeles.  I’ve already started the business modeling.

To get to know more about how Mike Hirshland thinks make sure to watch a bit of the interview.

Venture Financings we Discussed

1. Lijit

-Provides publishers innovative site-search tools that enhance user engagement ( and Fred Wilson’s blog use Lijit as does [but he’s an investor]).  I plan to test Lijit on this website in the next few weeks.

-Also offers premium ad campaigns to publishers by tracking reader intent, behavior, and demographics

-Has 12,000 publishers, 700mm monthly page views and 53mm daily unique visitors

-Competitors: Google

-Founded 2007 in Boulder, CO

Current round:  $6.0mm in Series-D from existing investors Foundry Group, Boulder Ventures, High Country Venture.  Total raised: $18.3mm . Read more: TechCrunch


2. SGN

-Founded by Shervin Pishevar (COO of Webs). CEO- Randy Breen (ex-EA, and LucasArts)

-Developer and publisher of social mobile games

-SGN games downloaded +17mm times on mobile devices

-Competitors: Zynga, PlaydomBoonty

– Spun off from Freewebs in 2008, based in Palo Alto

Current round: $2mm Series B from Tomorrow Ventures (Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google) and  Lars Hinrichs (Xing founder).  This is said to be part of a much bigger B round that is in process.

Total raised: $17.0mm.  Read more: TechCrunch

3. Apptera

-Operates a ‘Voice and Visual Mobile Advertising Network’ called MobileAd Xchange that delivers in-call voice advertisements and follow-up visual engagements (SMS, MMS)

-Example of publishers include: moviefone, Fandango, Jingle, SayNow, and voice blogs

-CEO Henry Vogel (ex CRO of Quigo, and VP at Ebay)

-Formerly known as Fonelet Technologies

-Founded in Sunnyvale, CA in 2001

Current round: $10mm in Series E from Alloy Ventures, Lightspeed, and Walden International.  Total raised: $30mm.  Read more: TechCrunch


4. SafetyWeb

-Web service that allows parents to monitor children’s activity on social networks in realtime for about $10/child/month

-Scans the web for a kid’s activity in realtime and sends alerts

-Co-Founders Michael Clark (ex-Photobucket), Geoffrey Arone (ex-DanceJam)

Current round: $8.0mm led by Battery Ventures with First Round participating. Total raised:. Read more: TechCrunch


-Formerly CashView, helps businesses streamline bill payments

-Invoices are scanned faxed or emailed into the service and then electronically  routed to the necessary people for approval

-Founder Rene Lacerte previously founded PayCyle and sold to Intuit for $170mm

Current round: $8.5mm Series-C led by Jafco Ventures with DCM , Emergence Capital, and August Capital participating.  Total raised: $19mm.  Read more: TechCrunch

  • Mike Su

    I'm also pretty sure I read a tweet that Mike is an Eagles fan, which in my book is the number one and two criteria for selecting a VC or business partner or co-founder. After all, misery loves company.

  • msuster

    You're right and it should be every entrepreneur's number one criterion! 😉

  • Camilo Lopez

    Hi Mark,
    I encourage you to move forward to replicate the “incubator” lab here in Los Angeles. It would be a great resource to the entrepreneurial community in LA beyond Launchpad. If you need help I would love to volunteer.

  • Julian hearn

    Real shame about the audio. I love the show normally (it's better than Jason's start-up show, but dont tell him). I've listened to them all now, but had to give up after about 20 mins.

    Love your style and tone Mark, keep up the good work.