In the early spring of 2009, the fundraising nuclear winter of the previous year hadn't yet thawed. It would be months before Foursquare's first round touched off a NYC venture frenzy. I was out trying to save my startup by talking to as many investors as I could. One particular investor pass--from someone we thought we had a good shot with--felt like a punch in the the stomach. Many of you entrepreneurs know that feeling.
Like all good abdominal blows, however, it taught me to catch my breath, stay standing, and keep charging forward. It wouldn't be the last time I had to call on that approach. While my company may not have lasted, and even though I swore to myself that I wouldn't do another startup--this recently launched new venture is moving forward with the help of some fantastic partners.
I'm ecstatic to announce that Brooklyn Bridge Ventures has just completed a first close of $3.5 million of limited partner commitments--a huge and exciting first step. The funding was anchored by a major commitment from Two Sigma Ventures, the private venture investment affiliate of Two Sigma Investments. Two Sigma is a technology and finance company in Soho filled with incredibly bright engineers and developers, so I’m really excited about leveraging that partnership in a number of cool ways. A significant amount also came from KEC holdings, a NJ based family office led by Jeff Citron, who is known for using technology to disrupt a number of industries. The company makes direct and indirect investments across a broad spectrum of asset classes. A number of individuals also participated, including partners from First Round Capital and Wilson Sonsini, Wiley and Allison Cerilli, David Rose, Tom Wisniewski, Chad Stoller, and Ramesh Haridas, among others.
Back when I was pitching my previous startup to investors, it had never really dawned on me that they had experienced what I was going through--and that a VC firm was essentially a startup. VCs pitch for money, too. No one ever thinks about VCs having to pitch, who they pitch to, or how it works. It's the black box of the startup world. In a way, startup companies have it easier because VCs and many angels make themselves known. The family offices and institutions that represent fund investors fly under radar--often without websites, Twitter accounts or a clear LinkedIn mention. The great thing, if you can find them, is that the excitement around early stage investments in New York City is carrying over to a lot of investor interest--and the story of being actively involved as a hands-on investor is one that the market appreciates. That bodes well for the startups who need help just as much as they need money.
It should be a comforting thought--that the investor across the table from you can relate to your predicament. Some VC partners might be a little far removed from it these days, but there was a time when they were going around with a plan and a Powerpoint just like you. Most firms still have founders involved and they live fund to fund the way startups live customer to customer. In a environment that is constantly innovating, the best ones realize that they have to out-execute the next firm with a higher quality product if they're going to stay in business. That product isn't money--it's their time, attention, sound advice and network.
I've been extremely fortunate to work at two of the best venture capital firms in the country--Union Square Ventures and First Round Capital. I could not have asked for better mentors in the VC industry than professionals like Fred, Brad, Josh, Chris, Howard and Rob. I've had the opportunity to work with some of the most exciting companies in the NYC area, like GroupMe and SinglePlatform, both of whom were recently acquired. It's been a fantastic apprenticeship that will, in many ways, never really end. I have always learned a ton from those who are more experienced than I am and will count on those people even more going forward. One of the first things on my agenda now that all this legal documentation is behind me is to spend more time with some of the other more senior investors in New York and the Valley as well to hear learnings from when their firms first got off the ground.
What is just as exciting is the Brooklyn Bridge Ventures focus on talent. I've placed nearly thirty developers, designers, product managers and business development professionals at startups in the last two plus years--and helped plenty of local students 'undeclare" themselves accounting majors. It's incredibly rewarding to help people find positions at exciting high growth companies with great founders at the helm. That's what led me to open up an office in Brooklyn--where half of the people in the New York City startup community call home. It is paying off--as not only have I gotten the chance to meet a new sphere of design and development talent, but three out of the first six deals I'm working on closing are Brooklyn based companies. While I am not exclusive to Brooklyn companies, it's fun to be a part of the growth of the startup ecosystem across the East River.
That's not to downplay the importance of spending time all over the city. In fact, two of the investors in the fund--including one of the largest--are directly attributable to working out of General Assembly a few days a week. One investor, who had previously been successful launching a NYC tech company in the late 90's took one of my career classes at GA. Another GA community member introduced me to the team at KEC holdings. Several GA members have made introductions for me to high net worth and family office investor contacts.
I'm excited about the next phase of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures--getting to publicly support companies and make additional investments. There are so many exciting seed and early stage opportunities here in New York and lots of great people to work with that I go to bed each night completely psyched about what I get to do the next day.