Backing someone pre-pitch: The story of how I backed Clubhouse

I'm excited to be able to finally announce Brooklyn Bridge Ventures' investment in Clubhouse, a company I agreed to back before I even knew what it was.   

In 2010, a bunch of techies got together to do the next year's NYC Triathlon.  I had already done two and was looking forward to joining people from the tech community.  

It was also right around that time when I started CTO School--a small five session series on how to go from being a developer to a technical leader, which blossomed into a not only a very active meetup, but also gave birth to a great conference series as well.

Of course, I had no business starting such a group, so I enlisted the help of some people I had met through the community--like my fellow triathlete Kurt Schrader, who was, at the time, leading tech for Intent Media.  

Kurt is a no-nonsense guy with fantastic experience growing and managing technical teams.  He's direct, focused, and he gave me great feedback on what to teach about how to get teams working together at scale--so great that I roped him into giving the talk, and eventually co-founding the meetup group that CTO School became.  

We stayed in touch, doing a couple of tris together, chatting about startups, and venture, life, etc.  I was really impressed with his ability to distill things down to what was really important--and his constructively critical eye when it came to the buzz around products that most people just didn't need.

So when we grabbed dinner about a year ago and he told me he gave notice, and that he had a guy working on a thing (that guy was his co-founder Andrew Childs), I just said "I'm in."  

I didn't even know what he was working on--but Kurt isn't the kind of guy that wastes his time on some Uber for moustache grooming app.  For him to leave a great job at a growing company where he had become CTO, it had to be real.  Kurt is the kind of founder you back whenever they're working on something, and I've had a lot of success backing pre-product founders like Raul from Tinybop, Adam and Chris at Canary, and Chantel from chloe + isabel.  All had enough experience that led them to being the absolutely right founder for the products they were working on.  

Eventually, he told me the premise--creating product management software that development teams would actually want to use.  He spoke of why developer teams outgrew Trello and didn't love Jira.  When I started to float the idea by product managers I knew, they couldn't wait to talk to Clubhouse.  

We closed the round with some great co-investors, but what's striking is how little of it they spent to actually get to a product that teams loved.  I introduced them as "product management software that doesn't suck" to tech team at my portfolio company Orchard, their CTO wrote:

"Thanks for the intro! We're actually vetting alternatives to our current toolset for suckage reasons."

Less than three weeks later, he wrote:

"Just wanted to thank you for the intro to Kurt at Clubhouse.  The product is exceptional.  Home run."

One of their developers wrote in separately:

"This tool is incredible. Absolute best PM tool I've used."

Basically, just a couple of developers built a better tool than what people have been using for years.  Even potential employees are excited.  At one of the Stackup Talks that Brooklyn Bridge Ventures runs, a developer from the hedge fund world who had been making quite a fair amount of cash just walked up to the team and said that he's excited about what they're working on and wants to join.  

So why is Clubhouse different?  First and foremost, Clubhouse aimed to help developers do their jobs without creating an extra layer of administrative overhead.  They did that by integrating with the tools that devs are already using, like Github.  When you do things in Github, they're reflected in Clubhouse.  

Another hugely successful software company with that design philosophy was Salesforce.  They realized that salespeople lived in their e-mail--and the last thing they wanted to do was to log e-mails into a database.  By creating Outlook plugins and bcc tools that ingested e-mails, attaching them to clients, they made the lives of a salesperson so much easier.

But that's not all.  When everyone is actually using a tool correctly, you can start quantifying productivity, and optimizing for it.  The way we now have deep insight into salesperson productivity is exactly the way we *don't* have it during the development process.  What PM knows exactly how long everyone accomplished their tasks when the team is updating the product management software during the standup?  Jordan Crook's comparison to Clubhouse as Salesforce for developers is spot on

I can't wait to see how things develop for the company now that they're out there in the world.