Shows NYC’s continuing surge with 5 straight quarters of deal volume growth. While dollars invested in NYC are up overall, they haven’t risen at the same steady rate as deals, meaning that average dollar value per deal is decreasing. Not surprising given that the costs of starting a company (at least at the early stages) continues to fall, but worth mentioning given all the talk of a coming Series A Crunch.
As I took stock of all that I have to be thankful for this past Thursday, I realized there was an unfamiliar addition to this year’s list. It dawned on me just how excited and optimistic I am to be involved in New York’s startup community these days, and just how lucky I am to be able to say that.
During most of my professional life (I graduated college in 2005), the prevailing economic zeitgeist has been pretty bleak. Between severe and lingering economic crisis, elevated unemployment, political gridlock, ballooning national debt, and two prolonged wars, the narrative has been dominated by a steady drumbeat of doom and gloom. Those last seven years stand in stark contrast to the energy and upward momentum that characterizes today’s day to day in New York’s startup community.
New York’s startup boom has been well documented. VC deals for New York companies are increasing faster than anywhere else in the country, early stage deals account for an ever-greater share of this activity, the number of community events continues to explode, and the list goes on… For my part, I get to spend my days talking to inspiring entrepreneurs, working alongside brilliant VCs, and generally trying to absorb as much as I can. Overall, the prevailing sentiment, both on the community and personal level, is that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today. That energy is as infectious as it is inspiring.
A lot of life is about timing and I’m lucky to be starting the next phase of my career with the winds of this time and place at my back. Thanksgiving is a good time to pause and be grateful for that good fortune.
Stat of the day: “In the third quarter of this year, 39% of the companies that raised venture capital did so at valuations at or below those secured in their previous investments, up from 26% of companies in the second quarter, according to a financing survey by Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West LLP.”
One quarter does not make a trend and this number has moved around a bit recently but this quarter’s jump was enough to raise my eyebrows. Perhaps the effects of the Facebook IPO are finally starting to trickle down.
Both InSITE and the New York tech community have matured over the past decade. At InSITE, we have responded by: first, remaining true to our roots serving the most promising early stage tech startups; and, second, expanding to work with later stage tech startups and other members of the New York tech ecosystem–like incubators and venture capital firms–who help these companies flourish.
I’ve read that half the work of maintaining a good blog is simply updating it regularly. If that’s true, I’m batting below .500 since it’s been a few months since the last post. So I thought this would be a good time to share an update on what I’ve been up to professionally over the summer and into the fall.
I came to business school last year looking to make a fairly dramatic professional shift: transition from 6 years in nonprofit community development work to a career working with tech startups in venture capital. It’s been an amazing run so far, starting second semester last year with an internship at AOL Ventures (the venture capital arm of AOL) and a fellowship with LearnCapital (an early stage VC firm focused on eduction technology). I’ve been fortunate enough to continue this journey, first over the summer at Draper Fisher Jurvetson Gotham (DFJ Gotham), and now at Canaan Partners.
I spent my MBA summer internship at DFJ Gotham. DFJ Gotham is an early stage technology-focused VC firm and the New York affiliate of the global DFJ network, one of the most storied names in the VC industry with 16 affiliates across 4 continents. DFJ Gotham is one of the oldest VC firms in New York, raising its first $90 million fund in 1999 and its second $70 million fund in 2007. This summer was a busy time around the DFJ Gotham office, meaning it was a great time to be there. I had the opportunity to participate in the diligence and decision making process for DFJ Gotham’s newest investment (Pickie), help the team prepare to raise their third fund, saw the acquisition of one of our portfolio companies (SinglePlatform by ConstantContact), and watched the team promote its first new partner (the wickedly smart Thatcher Bell) in years. Not bad for 3 months. I learned more and had more fun than I could have expected and want to say a big thank you to Danny, Ross, Thatcher, Joy, Lucas, and Aaron for a great experience and friendships that I anticipate extending well past the summer.
I’m now working two days a week throughout the school year at Canaan. Again, couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. Canaan is also an early stage, tech-focused VC firm. They’ve been around for roughly 25 years, have 5 offices around the globe and raised their 9th, $650 million fund this past January. The NYC office is small (three investment professionals, laid back and, most importantly, the fridge is always stocked with good beer and coconut water. The deals we’re seeing are some of the most interesting I’ve seen to date and the people (both partners and entrepreneurs) are as sharp as they come. A lot of my time is spent on deal sourcing, screening, diligence, and in pitch meetings, which basically means seeing a ton of startups. Hard to imagine a better way to spend the last few months and looking forward to a great year ahead.
When I started out at Columbia, I really had no idea how to even start to break into this industry. I consider myself very lucky to have had such a rich variety of experience over the past year and have been trying to absorb as much as possible along the way. One of the most interesting aspects of the past year has been observing the differences and similarities between the four firms I’ve worked with. Some, like LearnCapital and AOL Ventures, focus on specific tech industry sectors, while others, like DFJ Gotham and Canaan will consider most things digital. Some prefer to invest in Seed rounds, while others primarily look at slightly more established startups looking to raise A or B rounds. Some are deliberative while others pride themselves on agility. None of these choices represents the “correct” approach. Rather, each generally seems like the right fit for the firm’s personality and objectives and is a good lesson that there are many reasonable approaches to early stage venture investing. It also illustrates why startups usually end up hearing “no” from numerous VCs before finally hearing a “yes.” Just one of many useful takeaways from a fascinating year.
All in all, this has been the most educational, humbling, and engaging year of my professional life. New York’s startup and VC ecosystem is filled with some of the sharpest people I’ve ever worked with and my challenge now is to figure out exactly how I fit into it. I’m far from certain exactly where this journey will take me in the end but I’m loving the ride.
(Above: DreamIt Ventures’ NYC demo day featured a couple companies worth highlighting. Check out Winston, the Siri meets social content app whose “briefing mode” demo looked pretty much like how you always envisioned waking up in the future (iOS app coming this fall). Tripl, which scrapes your social graph for travel stories and recs is worth a look as well.)
I’ve had the chance to attend a number of startup accelerator demo days recently and want to take a moment to jot down some thoughts and the increasingly important role that these accelerators play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. (For the uninitiated, accelerators are selective programs that provide startups with a battery of mentorship and resources to speed their development, generally in exchange for an equity position in the company).
These demo days have obviously become big to dos in the startup/VC scene. Brand name accelerators like Techstars, Y Combinator and DreamIt now represent the ivy leagues of startupdom. Much like Harvard and, ahem, Columbia provide their students with a first rate education, these accelerators provide entrepreneurs with top notch mentorship and advice. And, like their elite university counterparts, accelerators also provide two equally valuable yet less publicly touted services to those applicants lucky enough to gain admittance: the ability to market yourself and a signal to the market that their graduates are the best of the best.
Over the past few years the number of VCs has contracted and dollars have consolidated while deal volume has risen. This means that there are more startups, especially early stage startups, out there than ever before for a relatively small number of VCs to sift through, all of whom are looking to find the diamonds in the rough. In this landscape, it’s only natural that investors turn to top accelerators, who receive thousands of applications for a few coveted spots, to do some of the filtering for them, much like top employers look to ivy universities to filter would be job candidates.
However, much like ivy league grads, it’s questionable whether the attention that these accelerator-backed startups attract is warranted. It seems clear that many a startup that may not otherwise have generated much VC interest has leveraged the imprimatur of a top accelerator to gain access to investors. Similarly, accelerator graduates that do legitimately deserve investor consideration can see the bright spotlight of a shining demo day performance drive up their valuations.
I’m not out to bash accelerators, just to add my voice to the crowd that questions the effect that they are having on the startup investment ecosystem. Data on accelerators’ effectiveness is hard to come by as they have only become a mainstay of the startup scene in the last few years. As more of a track record is established, I’d be interested to see how VC investments in accelerator-backed companies perform versus investments in non-accelerator affiliated startups. My guess (or more accurately, my wild speculation) is that accelerator-affiliated investments will fair better, but not by as large a margin as one might think given all of the hype they receive. If you know of any studies/stats on the subject, or if you want to add your two cents, I’d love to hear em in the comments section below.