Quick Hits with Venture Capitalist Bill Bryant, Partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Bill Bryant is one of the best-known venture capitalists on the local scene. As a tech entrepreneur and angel investor, he’s been involved with startups in the Seattle area for 20 years. In the early 1990s, he was the founding vice president of sales and marketing for Visio, now part of Microsoft. Last October, he joined Draper Fisher Jurvetson as the venture firm’s only partner outside of its Menlo Park, CA headquarters.
Bryant led a discussion last night at StartPad, a Seattle-based organization of software developers, on “Venture capital unplugged: the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I had to miss it, because I was at the ballpark watching the Mariners take on my hometown team, the Boston Red Sox. (Bryant: “If I had tickets to see the Red Sox, I’d probably pull a no-show.”) So I caught up with Bryant earlier in the day to get a few insights into the innovation community and the investment climate.
—On why Draper Fisher Jurvetson tapped him here: “They realized they were underrepresented in Seattle [deals]. The goal is to change that.”
—On the economic climate: “The natural reaction is to pull in your heels and focus on existing investments. Things have definitely slowed down… but entrepreneurs are still moving forward. They don’t just start companies when times are good, they start them when they have to start them. So the bar gets higher, and entrepreneurs have to work a lot harder. You really have to want it.”
—On what’s hot: “I focus on individuals and people. I’ve met with easily over a thousand entrepreneurs, so I have an idea of who tends to succeed and who doesn’t. I don’t pay attention to what’s hot. When an investor tells you something is hot, they’re a year behind—they’re reacting to what’s already out there. Entrepreneurs focus on what doesn’t exist today.”
—On why Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) should look out: Bryant is sticking to his prediction, given to the Seattle P-I in January, that the search giant’s stock will decline by some 30 percent this year. Why? Shrinking online advertising budgets and stronger competition. “WidgetBucks is eating away at its share,” he says. I took this to mean that Google needs to innovate to keep its competitive advantage in search and advertising, against startups like Seattle-based WidgetBucks, an online ad network funded in part by Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
—On local software developers choosing between working for startups or a big company like Google: “If they’re interviewing with both a four-person company and Google, they’re confused. At a big company, if you make a small feature change, it impacts many, many people. But it’s very different from someone in a startup who really makes a difference each and every day. The makeup, values, and skills are really not the same for people who succeed in startups [versus big companies].”
—On investing versus being an entrepreneur: “I’m still hoping a bolt of lightning will strike, and I’ll be involved in a brilliant startup idea. In the meantime I’m happy to support other people’s projects.”