Web Innovators Guru: An Interview with Venrock’s David Beisel
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what is going to be a good package that provides good content for people attending.
X: Your one criterion is that these companies have to be pre-venture funded. What’s the object there? Is it to get these companies in front of investors at the time when they most need the money?
DB: No, that’s just a good way to draw a line somewhere. I tell presenters that this is not really a capital-raising pitch, it’s a way to demonstrate their service to the community. I really try to make it a demo. And it’s interesting—a number of the demos are polished, but a lot of them are raw. I think that’s a lot of the attraction for people to attend. The content is very authentic. It’s real entrepreneurs in the process of trying to figure out what they’re going to do and really putting themselves on the line.
X: At the last session, there was one guy in the audience who kept raising his hand after every demo and asking, “So how are you going to make money?”
DB: He does that every time. I like it a lot, because it’s challenging. We’re all inside this little Web ecosystem, and it’s a great reality check. At the end of the day these are businesses that we’re all trying to create.
X: Having done this for three years now, do you see any trends in the kinds of ideas entrepreneurs are coming up with, or in how mature those ideas are?
DB: Three years ago people were just starting to think about Web businesses again. There were some dark days in the early 2000s. One of the things that’s interesting is that we’ve probably featured 90 companies and about four or five have received venture financing and five or six have been acquired. From my perspective, it’s been interesting to see which ones have succeeded. And the ones that have, have not always been the crowd favorites.
X: Which are the crowd favorites—the ones with a more obvious consumer appeal?
DB: The ones that are crowd-pleasers are usually the sexiest, most consumer-facing ones or, earlier on, the ones that were very geeky. But if you look at the ones that have had exits or funding, they are companies like MyBlogLog, which was acquired by Yahoo; Sconex, which was acquiired by Alloy; Reddit, which joined Conde Nast; LocaModa, which was funded by Dace Ventures; and most recently IDG Ventures, now Flybridge, invested in GuildCafe, the gamers’ site. I’m happy to hear those stories—it’s a testament that the community is gelling.
X: What does Venrock get back from sponsoring this Web 2.0 forum? Have you met companies that you’ve invested in?
DB: I’ll get to your question, but I should explain that my own focus is on the digital media space. By digital media I think of any consumer facing service or media property, whether it’s on the Web or on the mobile side. I focus on that and then one layer beneath that—technology services that help facilitate those properties, and advertising networks. I tend to spend 90 or 95 percent of my time there, because of my own background as an entrepreneur on the Web.
I think first and foremost, as a venture capitalist you have to participate in the entrepreneurial community, but it’s even better to actively engage and contribute to it. The primary thing that we at Venrock get out of this is just being in the middle of it. A secondary benefit is that as I continue to do this over the next three to five years it would surprise me if we don’t end up a funding a company somewhere along the line, just by having a touch point with a lot of young startups in the area.
X: I know you were at Masthead Venture Partners before Venrock, but I don’t know anything about your background as a Web entrepreneur. Let’s start at the beginning.
DB: I was at the Parthenon Group, which is a consulting firm here in Boston, and left with two other people from Parthenon and one gentleman from Microsoft and we started … Next Page »