Monday, December 19, 2011

Joining Genacast Ventures

After spending my entire career at startups, including one that went bust and two that got acquired, I became a big bad MBA (stop me if you’ve heard this story before), and joined the corporate development group at a [relatively] large company. While I was having fun meeting with entrepreneurs and reviewing their companies for potential acquisition, I found myself longing to be on the other side of the table. Knowing that there was booming New York Tech scene going on, I decided to jump ship and see what it was all about. After a year of exploration and learning from a bunch of super-fit, super-fun, super-smart, and super-caffeinated entrepreneurs, I am thrilled to announce that I am joining Genacast Ventures as a Senior Associate. My role at Genacast will be to give the fund a full-time presence here in the greatest city on earth, as well as to help Gil and Austin with all aspects of the venture cycle with the goal of increasing Genacast's investment pace from their already phenomenal track record.

This announcement is very exciting to me for a number of reasons:

  1. I have always been energized by startups and entrepreneurs. The thrill of the being the steward of your own destiny; the creativity of inventing your own business model; the reward and recognition not merely for making successful bets but for making any bet at all; is not something that organizations past a certain size are structurally able to offer. I am self-aware enough to recognize that I don’t have the super-high risk tolerance that Alex Taub talks about, so I see VCas my way of helping entrepreneurs by providing them capital - and hopefully more - to enable them to realize their dreams. I hope that the NY Tech community will hold me to this standard.
  2. VC has been my own dream since I first learned about it. I spent the dot-com boom with my head down, writing code, and the second two startups I worked at were not VC-funded, so I didn’t know a whit about finance until I got to business school. After about a week of flirting with private equity I learned about VC, and there was no looking back. You mean there was a job that consisted of meeting and working with entrepreneurs to help them succeed? And I could get paid for it? It was like finding out that not only does Santa Claus exist but that he’ll pay you to ride his sleigh (with all due apologies to the fact that I’m Jewish and the fact that my using this analogy may upset my family).
  3. I <3 New York. I am a product of Ellis Island. Four generations ago my great-grandparents – all eight of them, each in their own way – fled Eastern Europe and settled in the Five Boroughs. A hundred years ago my great-grandfather had a store on the Lower East Side. My paternal grandparents were raised in the Bronx; my maternal grandparents in Brooklyn. My father was born and raised in Queens, and I used to visit my grandparents there a few times a year until they moved to Florida. My grandmother tells me that she always knew I would move back to New York. I had been forced to reconcile with having to choose between tech – meaning San Francisco, Boston, or Israel (another love of mine, but that’s a story for another time) – or NY, but not both. So the opportunity to be a contributing member of the NY tech community feels like having my proverbial cake and eating it too.
  4. The New York tech scene is thriving. Or exploding. Perhaps booming. Showing huge growth. Ron Conway saysNew York has built a tech ecosystem as strong as Silicon Valley” – at a conference in San Francisco – even if Paul Graham doesn’t agree. And we’re all in it together because as PaulG did get right, if there is one thing you can count on New Yorkers for, it’s to come to our city's defense when someone hates. This will be the topic of a separate post, but let’s just say that New York was the capital of American entrepreneurship before California was even a state.
  5. Genacast is a tremendous firm, and Gil is a tremendous entrepreneur and investor. As the co-founder and CTO of TACODA, the first behavioral ad-targeting company, and Real Media, one of the first ad networks back in the mid-1990’s, Gil has been a pioneer in the Internet world. Barely three years into his second career as a VC, he has already participated in successful exits in Invite Media and Demdex, as well as the initial investments in companies like DoubleVerify and Enterproid, both of whom have recently raised significant follow on rounds (the latter of which has a very cool and intuitive product that I finally got the chance to play with the other day). I look forward to learning from him and the entrepreneurs that we invest in.
  6. As a joint venture between Gil and Comcast Ventures, Genacast brings a unique value proposition to technology entrepreneurs. As a seed fund providing the “first money in” to its portfolio companies, our interests are aligned with the entrepreneurs, including the ability to make good returns on an “early exit” rather than needing a moonshot. At the same time, if you do want to go for the home run, we have the firepower of Comcast Ventures behind us, who has invested in follow-on rounds in 3 out of 5 of our early-stage deals (although not in DoubleVerify's $10M or $33M rounds; while we often partner closely with Comcast we certainly do not require our portfolio to work with them). Similarly, if you want to work with Comcast itself, well, we know some people.
  7. Our strategy is to focus on the digital media and internet sector whose innovation is changing the world, with an additional emphasis on core technology as a differentiating factor. We believe that this is an area where our own engineering backgrounds and excitement about solving hard problems with technology allow us to add value to our partners, including our portfolio companies and our co-investors. That’s not to say that we expect a seed-stage company to have a fully built technology platform, but we are looking for founding teams whose engineering and technology chops give us confidence that they will manage to stay one step ahead of the market both on the business and technology sides. When we invest in consumer web companies like PackLate, you can be sure that they are doing something interesting on the backend.

I’ve run out of words to express my excitement, but I’ll sum it up by saying that I am humbled by the opportunity to work with Gil, Austin, the Comcast Ventures team, and all of the amazing entrepreneurs, investors, and hustlers who make this city so great. I have so much to learn and I am super excited to get to it.

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