Quick Hits with Venture Capitalist Bill Bryant, Partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson

7/23/08Follow @gthuang

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.”

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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  • concerned

    As a serial entrepreneur in the Seattle area that has met with Bill, one comment above especially concerns me: “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.” This puts Bill in a conflict-of-interest position vs. the entrepreneur; he benefits from not having to sign NDAs since he’s a “VC Partner” (actually a Venture Partner which is *very* different) and could take off with your business plan to pursue his own competitor. Think this doesn’t happen? Madrona has done this to at least 2 entrepreneurs I know by using their EIRs as a means to capture intel and incubate their own competitive solution…

  • Bill Bryant

    To concerned: I can’t speak to Madrona or other firms, although I suspect that the story of Madrona “stealing” someone else’s idea is one of those apocryphal myths that never seems to go away in the world of startups (“I had the idea for Facebook before so and so stole it from me”). Ideas are cheap and plentiful, so no need to misappropriate.

    But I do want to respond to the concern. I believe those who know me, know that I’m a person of integrity. I have *NEVER* been accused of “taking someone’s idea and running with it”, and conversely none of the startups that I’ve been involved with were based on someone’s idea who wasn’t also part of the founding team.

    Happy to discuss this further with you offline.

    Bill

  • Krassen Dimitrov

    Mr. Bryant,
    would you be taking over the DFJ board seats in Seattle?
    You know, it could reduce DFJ’s carbon footprint by reducing air-travel. Think about it!

  • Bill Bryant

    No, I won’t be taking over existing DFJ board seats. The DFJ partners who are involved with companies like Redfin, Nanostring and Varolii have been involved with those companies (and the entrepreneurs behind them) for several years — nearly eight in the case of Varolii. The current DFJ partners have a strong connection to their portfolio companies that I’d be hard pressed to replicate.

    What I really hope is that we’ll find enough great startups for DFJ that we’ll be forced by capacity to get even more DFJ partners traveling to Seattle !

  • Mitt Dhotisurn

    I think Concerned’s point is still valid, even if Bill is indeed as moral and upstanding an individual as he says he is (or as his friends might say he is). The point is that his entrepreneurial interests *might* conflict with counseling other entrepreneurs. Lawyers are refuse potential clients when such a conflict arises, for instance. I know of no other Venture Partner who has put himself in such a situation. Bill could sign a simple non-compete with entrepreneurs and this should be taken care of.

    As far as the Madrona point goes, I’ve seen physical evidence of this from a local entrepreneur so, from my POV at least, Bill’s out-of-hand dismissal seems ill considered.