When Josh Kopelman and I first spoke about me joining First Round Capital, we talked a lot about alignment of interests—what First Round Capital was interested in with regards to investing in New York City, and also what my interests were with respect to my own career.
Given that our discussions had only started about a week and a half before my last fulltime day at my startup, I hadn’t really had a lot of time to think about what my next move was going to be. It didn’t really make sense for either of us to commit to a big four year engagement when I couldn’t say for sure what my goals were. Josh suggested that I help First Round firm up their footprint in NYC over the next year while I figure it out.
So, that being said, what am I actually doing with my time? The Entrepreneur-in-Residence title is a bit of a misnomer. Traditionally, EIRs are out looking for the next thing to build, and are only peripherally out looking to help on dealflow. I’ve been quite the opposite. It took me 7 years to decide I wanted to build something in the career guidance space—I highly doubt I’ll gain enough passion for a new idea anytime soon, so I wouldn’t look for me to start a new company.
I’m spending about a third of my time looking at deals, another third meeting with folks that see a number of startups to boost our NYC dealflow, like angels, lawyers, etc., and then a third of my time on what I’m calling “community support”—helping to make NYC a better place to build a startup. A rising tide lifts all ships, so that not only helps the community, but helps First Round, other NYC investors, other local startups, people looking to build tech and digital media careers here—the whole ecosystem.
Here’s a little more detail on each of those endeavours:
One thing I realised is that many people in NYC don’t actually realise what First Round does and how it differs from a typical venture capital fund. Actually, you can think of us more like an angel investor more than anything—one that has the ability to follow on. We’re one of the few places in NYC, other than from an individual angel, where you can get a check of $100k. We’re more than happy to lead a $500k angel round by being half of it, and we don’t need to get 20% of the company upfront. One way I measure my own dealflow is on how many people have a finished Powerpoint deck. If they do, I’m seeing them much later than I want to. I want to meet people when they just started hacking or they’re vetting the idea—not when they’re shopping it around to every investor. I think I can be pretty helpful, having just gone through raising angel capital for my own startup, in helping people think about their financing plans, product viability, business models, etc.
So if you’re raising an angel round in New York City, thinking about it, or you’re in an angel round, please do make sure you come talk to me. ([email protected]) The best thing we can do for you is to be a really value added investor around the table, and the worst thing we can do is just give you a quick no—or tell you what’s missing.
My role at First Round from a deal perspective is to uncover as many interesting startups as possible, but also as early as possible, and help vet them for the team. We have a very team focused approach to deals and all of the partners, with the support of the rest of the team, get involved in decision making. I remarked to another VC the other day that the idea of “Partner X’s deal” seemed so foreign to the way things get done at First Round. (It’s actually quite the well oiled decision making machine, actually… you should see our meetings. I was impressed when I first saw it.)
I think a lot of local entrepreneurs feel like they’re too early to talk to us until they’re ready to raise a million bucks. Please do come see us much earlier than that—even without a deck. I know one entrepreneur in particular that I’m helping write her deck so she’d be better at pitching us.
Other Players in the Ecosystem
You’re a lawyer, a school running an incubator program, a designer who has worked with startups—let’s talk. First off, I have companies that might be able to use your services. Second, let’s chat about the NYC market in general and what we can mutually do to help make NYC a better place to build a company. Third, undoubtedly you’re seeing a lot of companies that might be thinking about financing. Send them my way. Don’t worry about screening them. That’s my job. Screening is what I get paid to do.
Like I said before, the better that New York City is at supporting startups, the better it will be for First Round and for everyone else in the community. I’m very dedicated to making that happen, and the team at First Round is also committed to participating in that effort. I want to run a lot more events for nextNY and for First Round in New York City that are relevant, educational, and productive. Sure, I’ll probably get roped into running another Shake Shack event, but what I really want to do is more events like we did last night at TechSales—where 100 professionals, like sales people, developers, product managers, etc., get together in a room on a focused topic and have a great discussion.
That’s the kind of thing that has brought the community together over the last five years. Give me a room for 75 people and I’ll push the community forward—or rather set the stage for the community to push itself forward like it’s been doing. That’s the kind of thing that I think is hard for folks in government, for example, to understand. When they do surveys and hearings about what the community needs, I tell them the community needs easy access to free event space for 75-100 people and a single person to just run around connecting everyone. Seems too small, but that’s what innovation is. It’s a house to house ground war, with conversations taking place just a handful of people at a time.
So if you’re a company with space to host 50, 75, 100+ people, trust me, I’ll fill it with innovative folks from the NY tech community and their ideas, arguments, and accumulated wisdom.
Does it need to be explicitly branded First Round? Not really. We have a great network in New York and I’ll be making sure that network not only mixes with itself, but gets out in front of the community. So, expect to see a lot of experienced pros from the First Round portfolio on various panels and out at events more often, but don’t expect a lot of in your face banners and schwag.
Charlie O’Donnell is entrepreneur in residence at First Round Capital. He is also co-founder of Path 101, a NYC-based startup, and founder of NextNY, a tech community group. He blogs at This Is Going To Be Big, where this post was originally published.
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