VC Industry


Let me start with the news that I’m excited to share with you. After years of trying to persuade Kara Nortman to become a partner at Upfront Ventures I can officially announce now that she’s joined us effective immediately.

I have known Kara for 7 years and knew almost immediately after meeting her that I wanted to work with her one day in some capacity. Thus began my marketing campaign. It is rare to find somebody who matches exactly what I’m looking for in a partner so when you find it you act:

Academic rigor (Princeton undergrad, Stanford MBA)
Competitive (Athlete: skier & rowed at Princeton, hates losing at everything she does)
Investment experience (5 years a VC at Battery Ventures)
M&A experience (Morgan Stanley and later co-headed M&A for Barry Diller at IAC)
Operating experience (Helped run parts of CitySearch & UrbanSpoon, tons of product management experience, Board of Hatch Labs which helped spawn Tinder)
Startup CEO experience (Founded P.S. XO along with my good friend Soleil Moon Frye. Helped merge company with Seedling – on track to do $20 million combined revenue in 2015 – will now become Chairman)
Wonderful human being who is civically engaged, mother of 3, mentorer of younger founders, hard worker and arguer extraordinaire (so says her current Twitter bio)

People often ask me what VCs look for when we hire partners and many have asked how to become VCs themselves one day. I can’t speak for other VCs but it may interest you to at least know our thought process at Upfront.

For starters we’re an LA-based venture fund who invests nationally (and sometimes internationally, but less so).

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We all know that funding markets have changed for startups. The trends are well understood: more angels, more seed funds, more crowdsourcing and so forth. We all can intuit the benefits to founders of these trends so there’s little reason to elaborate. What is less understood are the consequences of these changes.

I have blogged about some of the downside consequences of the changes and the private information I have says the consequences are much worse than is reported in the press since few people publicly talk about

1. How founders get screwed on convertible notes
2. How party rounds can burn you if it takes time to find your groove

There’s another issue I can add to your list of things to be aware of – information rights. Generally speaking in venture capital financings the legal documents will specify that only “major investors” (a threshold set in the agreement – which can be $500,000 investor or more). There is a reason for this.

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Prorata rights are one of the most important rights of private market technology investors and yet are seldom fully understood. They often create the biggest tensions between investors who are investing at different stages in the business.

politics of money by bastera rusdi on 500px

These tensions seep out in some angels or seed funds publicly or semi-privately deriding later-stage VCs for their “bad” behavior. I have seen bad behavior from later-stage VCs, believe me. But I have seen equally bad behavior from super early stage investors.

As always a balanced perspective is in order. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Why investors care about prorata rights
Prorata investment rights give investors the right to invest in a startup’s future fund-raising rounds and maintain their ownership % in the company as the company grows and raises more capital. This is important for nearly every institutional investor because once you have 25-50 investments being able to “follow” the investments that are working well is critical to making money. It’s why

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By all measures the past year has been successful. Teams that I’ve backed have sold their companies to Disney, Apple and AOL for substantive amounts of money. Founders have done very well, our fund has done well. Exhibit: Champagne and celebrations.

But the truth is that selling a company doesn’t always feel like a celebration as a VC. Not being a baby about it – my job is to return money to LPs. But I’ve been thinking about what had me a bit down about selling Maker Studios, Burstly and Gravity. Each of those teams were family. And the family extended beyond just the management team to include investors and the boards.

The more I’ve internalized things I’ve come to see selling a company like graduating high school or college. One day you have these great friends that you talk to all the time, you deal with tons of personal issues and drama, you have highs and lows but dammit – you were there together. I went from weekly (sometimes daily) phone calls with senior members of the team or other VCs. And now we barely see each other. And I miss those interactions. I miss those friends.

We’re all still friends but it’s not the same. Life moves on. You graduate.

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When VCs Play Defense

When VCs Play Defense


Posted on Sep 18, 2014 | 0 comments

Somehow the world seems to be spinning faster these days than just a few years ago. The frantic pace of technology cycles, the amount of tech news, the blogs, the conferences, the demo days, the announcements, the fundings, the IPOs. It’s exhausting. Perhaps unsustainable.

It got me thinking about the advice that I often give to new VCs. For years I saw myself as the new guy in VC but then you wake up one day and realize that 50% of your peers have been doing it for less time than you and time has moved on.

Any longtime readers of this blog will know that I often try to simplify complex ideas into a simple parable that is easier to remember to set the tone of one’s behaviors. Lines, Not Dots. Attitude over Aptitude. Building Startups for Basecamp. And so forth.

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There has been much discussion in the past few years of the changing structure of the venture capital industry.

On the surface the narratives have been

The rise of “micro VCs” or seed-stage funds
The rise of alternative sources of capital (crowd funding and the like)
The poor performance of the asset class (this analysis has largely been wrong as I pointed out here –> most analyses were clumsy rear-view mirror looks at the data)
We are in a bubble (with so many private $1bn+ valuations)

15 years ago we were at the peak of Internet hype with the launch of many over-capitalized businesses with a market size & opportunity was limited.

Where are we today?

50x more Internet users (2.4 billion)
Online connections that are 180x faster (10.

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