Destin Out, Karlen In: What’s Next for Atlas Venture?

4/8/14Follow @gthuang

There’s been a lot of personnel movement in Boston-area venture firms lately. On Tuesday, Dan Primack at Fortune reported that Atlas Venture partner Fred Destin is leaving the firm and that Jon Karlen, formerly of Flybridge Capital Partners, is joining Atlas as a new partner on the tech side.

This is notable because Destin is one of the more popular VC figures among local tech entrepreneurs. And Atlas has built a reputation for focusing on New England companies at the seed-stage level.

In March, Karlen left Flybridge Capital Partners, where he had been for eight years, having led investments in companies such as Digital Lumens in connected devices, Open English in edtech, 33Across in adtech, and Zing Systems (acquired by Dell) in digital media. His official start date at Atlas is May 1.

But first things first. Karlen says he has “huge respect for the Flybridge team. It’s a great team, and they’ve done great work.” Flybridge is currently raising its fourth fund, reportedly targeting $125 million. Karlen says his role with his Flybridge companies—whether he’ll retain any board seats and so forth—remains to be determined. Flybridge had no comment on Karlen or the fundraising.

Jon KarlenKarlen (pictured) says he’s a good cultural fit with Atlas, where the philosophy is to “be bold, move fast, and back entrepreneurs who are big thinkers and are not afraid to fail completely.”

He brings expertise in online education and the software side of “Internet of things.” “The ways in which connected devices are powering our world, there’s so much room to go there,” Karlen says. “I’ll continue to look for massive disruption and innovation that’s software driven.”

As for Destin, the 10-year Atlas veteran told Fortune that it’s “gut-wrenching and heart-breaking to leave this firm and my portfolio companies,” but that he and his family wanted to return to their native Europe (sounds like either London or Paris). He also said he plans to stay in venture capital.

Fred DestinDestin (pictured) moved to Boston in 2010 and was an integral part of Atlas’s refocusing around its Boston-area office. He wrote a detailed blog post about the process last year. His portfolio companies include CustomMade, Kinvey, Lagoa, PillPack, Recorded Future, and Zoopla. Keep an eye on that last one: the U.K. real-estate site is looking to go public this summer. Destin’s most notable recent exit was Dailymotion, a French video site acquired by Orange for $168 million in 2013.

Atlas partner Jeff Fagnan understands where Destin is coming from, family-wise. “When we first talked about it, I was super bummed. But if the shoe were on the other foot, and I had gone to Europe,” Fagnan says, he would want to return to his roots, too.

It sounds like Karlen’s arrival and Destin’s departure are mostly independent events. It also sounds like, for all his popularity with Boston techies, Destin’s business network has remained rooted in Europe. “Jon may have actually more New England network and momentum,” Fagnan says.

Fagnan and his Atlas colleague Ryan Moore have known Karlen for 10 years and have been actively recruiting him for a year and a half, Fagnan says. “He brings a like-minded philosophy about service to entrepreneurs. He fits in perfectly.”

And Fagnan says Atlas is still looking to add another partner on the tech side, if the right person becomes available. “We’ll remain serendipitous and add the best talent to the team,” he says. (Atlas has four partners on the tech side—Fagnan, Moore, Karlen, and Chris Lynch—and three partners on the life sciences side.)

So what’s next for the firm, which raised a new $265 million fund in 2013?

“The next phase for us is really focusing on early stage in New England,” Fagnan says. He cites established portfolio companies like Bit9, Veracode, and DataXu—as well as newer startups like InsightSquared and DraftKings—as ones to watch.

“What we really need to do is move the portfolio along and drive some exits,” he says. A mantra at Atlas, he says, is “Let’s make Boston worth winning before we worry about winning Boston.”

As Fagnan puts it, “Boston’s got a little resurgence going, but it’s going to take some big successes.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • johnlandry

    Big loss to Boston.. Bigger loss to Atlas.. Fred was one of the sharpest seed-stage VCs I’ve met.. Me thinks there’s more to this story than him getting closer to Belgian brew. In any case, his spirit, intellect and humor will be missed.