Some Thoughts On Geography
Many people, including some of our investors, think of our firm as New York centric investor. That has never been true. We are focused on one thing, internet services of scale, and are willing to travel to find them.
But you can only spend so much time on an airplane unless you are Dave McClure or Joi Ito. And I am not in their league when it comes to air travel.
So I thought I'd show some data this morning. I went back over all of our investments since we started in 2004. And I added three term sheets we have signed but have not yet closed on (yes, we've been busy).
Here is the data:
What you see is that we have never been focused exclusively on NYC but over time we have started to stretch our wings. And our "wings" go in two places, SF and Europe. Basically, we fly the NYC-SF and NYC-London routes.
Europe is particularly interesting. We have sourced investments in London, Berlin, Holland, Israel, and Slovenia. I know that Israel is not technically in Europe but I put it there anyway. Of the six investments we have sourced in Europe, three are now headquarted in NYC and one other has significant operations in NYC. We like finding great teams in Europe and helping them set up the headquarters in NYC. I expect we will do more of that as well as more investments headquartered in Europe.
We will have eight SF based investments by year end assuming everything closes. That is roughly 22% of our portfolio by names. I suspect we will continue to do between 20% and 30% of our investments in SF for as far forward as I can see.
NYC is our home and where we do the majority of our investments. That is how it should be because we are primarily early stage investors and it is best to be close to our companies. We have 25 companies headquarteed in NYC, including two who have exited. I think that is one of the largest portfolios of venture stage (not angel stage) companies in NYC. Maybe the largest. We are proud of that fact and plan to keep adding to it as long as we see opportunity. And we see a lot in NYC right now.
This post might leave the impression that we won't go anywhere other than NY, SF, or Europe to look for investments. That is not true. We have companies with operations in Boulder and Austin and go there regularly. We see opportunity in Seattle, LA, Boston, DC, Chicago, Toronto, and elsewhere. But it is also true that once you start going someplace regularly, start working with the local investors and the local entrepreneurs, you tend to focus your energies there. We'd like to add a few more geographies to our routines so keep the opportunities outside of our big three locations coming. As I said in the start of this post, we are focused on internet services of scale and will travel to find them.
I’ve noticed that it is actually easier to travel to and then around Europe than it is the US. Certainly NYC/London is about the same flight time as NYC/SFO. It’s not just the scale of the country-to-country travel and various options – car, train, flight. It is also the fact that, in my experience, European Airports just work better than in the US. I’m not even sure it costs more to fly around either, with people like Ryan Air.My experience is also that the startup communities are much smaller in Europe, especially tiny in certain countries. So I would think that the network effect for a VC should be very strong. (If you are interested in the concurring academic viewpoint my wife actually wrote her Ph.D. on this specific topic and could talk your ear off. Of you (shameless plug) could buy her book on Amazon: Entrepreneurship: A Multilevel Theory and Analysis.)-XCPS – I think it is hysterical that you lump Israel in with Europe.
Cyprus is considered Europe and it’s 20 mins from Israel. The strong bridges between Cyprus & the UK or Israel & the US allow that to be said.
But most of Cyprus is part of the EU, whereas Israel isn’t.Fred maybe one day you could elaborate on the difference in doing deals in the US vs Europe vs Israel? There’s obviously regulatory differences but also how does the different in culture, ambitions for work life balance affect the way you invest?
great questioni don’t know if i have enough data yet to give you a good answer
Fred,where incorporated foreign startups, USV invested in?
I don’t, Israel is stuck playing against europeans for all their major sports. It’s been like that for a while-most of their primary customers are European or American.
There were discussions about integrating Israel to EU, they are very connected historically.
The Israelis are great to deal with and travelling there from Europe is just like a inter-European trip. I have very fond memories of business/leisure time in and around Tel Aviv.Re: Israel and the EU – Israel already participates in the EuroVision Song Contest, so it’s half way there! Apologies if unfamiliar with this contest, is something of a cult kitsch Pan-European ‘song’ contest which has been going for many years. Very hard to explain its ‘appeal’ … ;-)Would be interesting to see if any such formal Israel/EU move had negative implications regards Israel’s special relationship with the USA, however.
It would be an interesting mix. There are currently a ton of French olim, and Israel has some distinct characteristics that make it seem “European.” Underneath, it’s very clearly middle eastern.Ah, I miss Jerusalem.
Only had brief visits to Jerusalem – but I know what you mean.I always felt very much at home wandering the streets of Tel Aviv of an evening, even though this was when there was still the occasional terrorist threat – eg, my taxi driver always carried a rather fearsome gun – still, living/working in London during the 80s/90s makes one relatively immune to any paranoia regarding such things, I guess…Will never forget relaxation-time trips to Bethlehem, The Dead Sea, Herod’s Palace, etc. Breathtaking, humbling.
I used to hitchhike to jersualem and take the busses inside the city. The terror risk there is really overrated. And yes, the route to the dead sea (only route that goes the length of the country) is breathetaking. I took way too many busses following the northern half…super beautiful ride.
I like what you said about helping companies establish offices in NYC. New York is a great springboard for US operations
like The Netherlands is for European ops
Although some might say London or Paris too, but it depends on every situation.
What’s your trend line on the ‘other America’: the suburbs?
i left the burbs in ’99 and hopefully will never returnalthough i get a taste of them in triburbia and the UWS
when you say that you left the burbs – does that mean you left Brooklyn in 99?
Left Brooklyn in 94. Headed to northern Westchester. That didn’t work outtoo well. Returned to NYC in 99
I was talking about scalable web services…not your personal life!A lot of consumers live in non-urban areas…whether they like it or not…and thereby engage in very different behaviors.And they don’t always ‘follow’ urban.
Hard to build the right team in the burbs. I am sure it can be done. But itsharder
I believe so re: team-building. Part of it is the appeal (or lack of) – to me, the ‘burbs is nowheresville, with no real appeal. A conurbation with no clear identity.Team members will end up living in disparate areas, becoming commuters, with no real sense of spirit within the company culture – a 9-5 ‘commuter’ mindset will kill any company, especially a startup…I/we’ve had pretty polarised lifestyles, living/working either in the heart of a city (eg, London, New York, Sheffield, Vienna) or based at a rural location, such as now.However, our rural location is just some 30-45minutes from several vibrant cities in Northern England – Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester. This has facilitated my doing business in all of them as different centres of expertise in a more virtual ‘scrum’ manner.
Care to elaborate on some major differences?
This morning as you asked this I was walking out of a meeting at Hearst. One of her key points was that you don’t get very far when you market to New York. You market to ‘fly over America’ because it’s a lot bigger. But you have to be constantly reminded that it often has opposite tastes from NY/LA/SF. And a reason why research and testing is important, because you could lose big over silly things.Note my personal tastes track to the cities. But reality is reality.Also note some — lots — of people enjoy the city but cannot afford living there, especially when kids’ schooling is involved. So, committed here for a while, we make the best of it, live the lifestyle, and sometimes even enjoy it along the way. Then there are others who just plain want to be there and wouldn’t live anywhere else.Differences that affect consumers’ time, place, relationships and attitudes in the suburbs include:–much more family-/kid-focused. In the city, families are treated as more of an ‘edge case’ or niche market, not a regular occurrence. As a result it’s more culturally OK to leave the office to go to a kids’ softball game. In fact when I’ve done work for companies in the suburbs they are a ghost town at 5 or 6 to get to the family…BUT way more efficient in the hours they are there. Also if you’re in a one-horse town you try to make your work situation work, because you don’t have other places to go and don’t want to disrupt your family. One example: one client in Iowa told me once, “She hasn’t been here very long so she’s really not an insider.”. Me: “Oh, how long?”. Client: “Just seven years.”–Snarky and sarcastic can get you rejected from the system like a bad organ match–much more time in the car. Places are more likely to be destinations, not fly-by’s or drop-ins. You’re somewhere because you planned to be (and may be the only option of its type in your neighborhood)–you’re likely to know the people you deal with daily by name; the ratio of acquaintances to strangers in your life is significantly higher; generally people are less anonymous… hard to hide.–fewer restaurant choices; you eat at home more–live with less noise and stimulation. As a result they are less jaded. New Yorkers have seen it all so it takes something pretty out there to give them a rise.–get more excited when something comes in from out of town, because less does–they’re not naive; they are aware that NY-ers look down at them and find that kind of annoying. –commuters are generally very well-read…but not much time to stick around and socialize after hours –where I live there is crappy cell service, can’t rely on it at all. Tough to use cool mobile services!In the same way that “shrink it and pink it” often falls flat with women, lots of the things that turn us on the most in NY or SF or in the cities don’t translate well when you leave the coasts or go to the burbs….but we need them to, to make the big bucks.
I think you are right on for things that don’t start with the “urban elite” and then translate and move out to the mass majority.There are many things that the “urban elite” would scoff at that work well in the burbs.There are also many things that the burbs say “why would I ever want that???” that successfully translate….like email and web browsing.
Now this is pretty awesome in terms of explanations.
If triburbia = tribeca, that’s the first time I have ever heard it called that.(And so true about the UWS…)
i heard that a while back and that is what i call it now
The area south of San Francisco, including all of Silicon Valley, is as quintessentially suburban as it comes. Even Palo Alto. (ok maybe excluding San Jose).
yupthat’s one reason why NYC is a better place for young engineers tomove to right out of schoolsuburbs might be a good place to live once you are married but notwhen you are single
True but I’ve been told by many folks there that the valley is very light on people with expertise in marketing/consumer insight. Also, Fred has said himself that USV’s investments there almost exclusively tend to be in the city of SF and not in the valley. They have more of a media flavor.All that is fine and it seems to be a conscious choice.I just want to call out that it leaves some other large opportunity on the table.There is expertise and insight that is not part of the start-up brew as much as it could be.
Australia too far?
yesasia is too fari wish it weren’t because it is where a ton of action is happeningbut i am just being honest with myself and my body
I thought asia is just one skype-click away from NYC!!! Yes i understand you are comfortable having face-to-face meetings.
I was going to pose exactly the same question, Paul.I agree that there is a fair bit going on down here but, as a Perth-based startup presently chasing early-stage investment, I think our investor networks are miles behind the rest of the world…Perhaps that is a function of isolation — sure, we might be “one Skype click away” as @kagilandam explains, but that is still a whole world of difference when it comes to face-to-face meetings etc
When the product is great location may not matter…
It’s interesting to see that your European companies tend to migrate New Yorkwards. I wonder what the conditions would have to be for the opposite pattern of migration, with companies sourced in NY heading to Europe for the opportunities there. Perhaps the classical disadvantages of a continent with so many languages and cultural diversity could be made an advantage of in some spaces: educational start-ups you’d guess might benefit from that, I wonder what else.
I often wonder whether it is better to fund companies right in your backyard – which is what everybody seems to do – or go a little further afield. I’m not sure that engineers in Madison are that much worse than engineers in Williamsburg – but the competition for the next hot thing in NYC or SF seem to drive some nutty behaviors – whereas I’m guessing that outside of the big centers there are probably fantastic deals to be had. Perhaps that is the next great model – find the company in Iowa – move it to NYC where the founders can interact with a larger ecosystem.
Best prices are off the beaten pathBut we can help more if they are closeAnd its easier to build a killer team in the startup hotbeds
Have you found that geography has any correlation (even if minor) with success from a pitching and/or exit POV? Obviously there are more funded and ultimately successful bay-area startups than anywhere else, but that may be because there are so many more to begin with.thx
The big wins to date are in SF but our NYC portfolio is coming on reallystrong. Too early to tell on Europe
wow, more deals sourced in Europe than SF for your 2008 fund. That is such an encouraging stat to see for a UK/European based entrepreneur. Nice work, looking forward to hearing about your new investments.
Jeez, Fred, way to stab us in the back. 🙂 Next thing we’ll hear is that, not only are you easing down on NYC but also on consumer-facing media. Like maybe some European printing technology with quasi industrial aspects… Oh, wait…
Well shapeways is moving to NYC
Check out the post on this link, similar to the one done here by Fred. Is it a re-post or that sinful act of plagiarism? http://www.nyreport.com/api…
my creative commons license allows this
Nice to see the updated scoop on USV portfolio global distribution. I bet you and USV team members get plenty of requests to invest outside your target areas. I can see why no one would invest in Long Island startups, the ecosystem is non existent.When it comes to any activity that takes significant skill to perform at a peak level, it’s publically perceived as easy. This happens because the pros make it look that way. Keep on scoring solid IRRs and nailing proof of USV investment philosophies.
Can you share some advice on how you helped your European startup founders solve work visa / immigration issues?
not welltwo founder CEOs of different portfolio companies are stuck in europe right now awaiting visasour visa policies here in the US suckthese founders are building companies and hiring people in the USit is nuts
I’ve had to deal with that as well. Fortunately I’ve had a couple of successes but I can’t see why somebody would want to go through with the indignity of the whole process.It is unimaginable to me that we let people get technical degrees (and advanced ones at that) and then not reap the reward for our investment in education. Not only do we literally burn our investment we actively push it to compete against us.Absolutely un-freaking believable. I can’t even come up with a good analogy because its so stupid. Its worse than investing in infrastructure and then shipping it overseas. I just sputter when I talk about it.
I found the whole work visa process frustrating/harrowing, especially when my partner was refused a visa – on no grounds of any substance at all, we simply couldn’t face the protracted appeal process (my immigration lawyer said we’d win any appeal but would take time/money) – so, I spent a year or so alone in NYC, without my partner, who was stuck in the UK. I/the start-up I was involved in at the time was busy creating many USA jobs, yet we were treated with huge suspicion at all times. I’ve discussed it here in the past so won’t repeat the saga, suffice to say radical change is long overdue…
My brothers wife who is a leading expert in BioInformatics with a PhD, who did several IPO’d startups, is well published, etc was denied a green card.Apparently it was lucky that I spent a lot of time out in AZ and had a room at their house because I had to write a letter explaining that I knew they actually were living as a married couple. How degrading is that?
A google map with the portfolio companies on it would be a nice touch on the USV website
I’d show your foursquare checkins over the past quarter or two to see if your travel roughly correlates to the percentage break-down of your portfolio companies’ locales.Though I know you hate to tie your book to your blog… 🙂
http://goo.gl/maps/T0btthat's my last 1000 checkins on foursquarei think the correlation is pretty high
http://goo.gl/maps/tgun – there you go, excludes Amee and Zemanta. Blame Crunchbase if there are any errors!
thanksit doesn’t render particularly well as a global map
nope, it doesn’t even render well at state level.
Richard — I am learning that you are truly an idea guy!(And my goal is to be finished reading through the comments before you come back online!)
…by a hair.
Do you see your european dealscape growing (because of the growth there in sources)
Maybe we should talk about that too.
Funnily enough, I left NYC a year ago to get the ops of our business started in India. The idea was always to move back to the US once things were running smoothly. Fortunately we’ve done that, with a great co-founder and motivated engineering team in India building something that a quarter of our users (American travelers) already like a lot.I was in the Valley & NYC last month and of course, our location was always an undercurrent in all my conversations with potential investors and partners. The fact that I would be here soon assuaged some concerns.But I struggled with something new – how not to lose the chemistry I have with my team if I’m away. In our case, I also have the best data on what makes our customers tick, and losing that perspective on a daily, tactical basis seemed like a real possibility.At some level, it almost felt like I was choosing between my investors and my team.
it’s a big problemi can connect you with the entrepreneurs we have backed from europethey struggle with this and have made it workthey may be able to help you
That’ll be helpful. I’m anshuman at mygola.com
“We like finding great teams in Europe and helping them set up the headquarters in NYC.”Works for me. We should talk about my next company. 😉
nice to hear that! what about buenos aires, argentina?
Whenever I see a spreadsheet with geo-data in a story like this, I have to try visualizing it. I copied the data into Excel to create this:http://www.openheatmap.com/…What’s interesting is the relationship between NY and Europe, especially in sourcing. If you toggle between the two times it looks like you’re squeezing a water balloon, finding fewer on the East Coast and more over the Atlantic. That’s a lot less visible in the located tab, as three of them obviously hopped over to New York. Here’s the raw spreadsheet, you can upload it as-is to OpenHeatMap:http://static.openheatmap.c…Now I’m itching to visualize those four-square checkins, map-pins aren’t too informative once you’ve got more than a few dozen points.
That’s a fun exercise
Here’s the last 1000 checkins on a heatmap:http://www.openheatmap.com/…A couple of things jumped out at me. There’s only 35 checkins in San Francisco, versus 64 in London and another 50 or so in the rest of Europe. Texas is getting some love too, with 13 checkins, which gives me hope some of my Austin friends might get lucky.Anyway, super-unscientific since I’m weighting all checkins equally, but I think there’s a lot of power in surfacing this data visually.
that is just awesome
Have you looked at investments in the Asia-Pacific like Hong Kong or Seoul?
I miss Hong Kong, I should like to go back soon. Unique city and such close proximity to Macao.
Any thoughts on South America? (I know the Argentina check-in was a holiday, but still…)
I was chuckling to myself during AngelGate, with US investors worried about funding competition.In Europe we have the inverse problem, too much talent chasing under-financed investors who are very much out of the loop.I remember talking to one European VC who asked me what Flash was (I swear this is true). I answered “You know YouTube? Same thing”.I know so many talented hackers in Italy who would get funded in the States at the drop of a hat. Instead, they do run-of-the-mill websites during the day and post to github in the evenings. Not a business model.Hopefully, like all economic imbalances, this one will sort itself out over time. Hopefully….
Completely agree re. funding in Europe and Italy.Do you see any possibly solutions for Italy in the near future? I think there are a few encouraging signs but at the same time most of the smartest Italians I know, can’t wait to get a chance to go abroad where conditions are usually better.
In Italy, no. In fact it will probably get worse.The problem is with the asset class – returns have been terrible here. In the ultimate paradox, new Italian money (although very small) is more likely to be invested in a non-Italian VC fund.This creates an opportunity though. If a foreign fund opened a small office in Italy focused on webtech, they would basically have the market to themselves.
Yes, I think it’s a general European problem that there is a lack of transparency about VC returns. Often it seems like e.g. EVCA combines PE and VC returns to make it look better and clearly all the poor VCs prefer to keep their performance in the dark.I also don’t know if VC as an asset class receives as much attention from pension funds and the like as in the states.I agree re: a small fund focused on webtech in Italy, but it’s hard to see who could potentially lead the way. Perhaps some successful Italians from abroad are most likely to do it.
My ‘favourite’ UK ‘VC’ simply countered – to any debate/idea – that “Google already does that – there’s no point” – funny/soul-destroying? Let the audience decide….
Have an interested local source who did the Google thing too….was fun to message him with the news Google had trashed what he was talking about. Better yet, the time frame was less than a week.
Hi Fred. How about Detroit? We are building something ‘of scale’ here. I’ll be as close to NYC as the Rally to Restore Sanity in DC this weekend. I’d add 5 hours to my Sunday drive home for an elevator pitch.
We need to get Canada on your map, Fred.
The two interesting words, for me, are London and Berlin – which is not the same as UK and Germany. This is real Geography. There is a perception that you need to be in the capital – whereas in reality any costs and support for a start-up may be better in a nether region.The correlation between coder and climber makes my corner of north west Wales attractive. On the other hand my angel and I are having to synch phone conferences with San Francisco, and today I am on a ferry to Dublin – in part with recruitment literature for another local start-up.Fred – there are excellent restaurants with regional produce when you get out of the capital.
Where in NW Wales, Martin? My family roots hail from Caernarfon.Rural is good but as discussed in this thread – and other threads touching this topic in the recent past – there are certain compelling reasons for a start-up being based in a cool ‘connected’ city, generally.In my previous start-up – http://www.ensembli.com – we did use the lure of a cool University city base, Sheffield, (close to me and my co-founders/VC at that time), and the proximity of the countryside – Sheffield being Europe’s greenest city. This attracted a number of quality people.I am now involved in http://www.cirrusiq.com and we are using Leeds as a base, which has a very similar appeal as Sheffield.We are fortunate in being in the catchment area of Manchester/Leeds/Sheffield – which is becoming something of a technology triangle, all 3 cities being cool in their own ways, separated by stunning countryside, yet easily connected (and relatively small distances inbetween one another) with Manchester and Leeds airports offering all the international flight connectivity one could wish for.Yet, London is London, and I doubt that will change much any time soon…Have a great trip – love Dublin!
Carl, I work in and (also sometimes for) and incubation unit built by the Wales Assembly Government: Technium CAST. Which is between Bangor and Caernarfon.We get fibre, receptionist, good meeting spaces and nice food for the cost per month of a Ist class rail ticket to London.
I’d love to move back to Wales and create jobs and value there (albeit, south) but there is much greater access to angel and VC funding in the South East. Maybe one day!
It is very strange that during a quick scan of the comments I nowhere saw Shanghai or Beijing, whereas there are a lot of startups begging for money to further develop their ideas or grow what they launched. The +400 mio internetusers should be a wet dream for all startups and investors.
Hi Fred,Great post, as always. I believe Montreal will also be on your list before long. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of activity since we launched our first seed fund Montreal Startup in 2008 with some early successes like Beyond The Rack. We closed our second seed fund yesterday to fund another 50-60 companies over the next few years. http://www.jscournoyer.com/…. Let us me know next time you want to stop. It’s a short 1 hour flight from NYC and is the best city in the world.Cheers,JS
D.C. needs it tech blood pumped up, it has a lot of potential.
Open up new offices.
lotta payments, security, digital media, bioscience and other tech startup activity in the ATL. good talent. massive air transport hub. world class universities. rapid population growth especially in 24-35 demographic. 2 hours from laguardia. light on startup capital. stylish by necessity to bootstrap down here.
your likely home runs are twitter and zyngaprobably will dwarf the rest of your portfolio combinedthe bay area continues to dominate the successful home run landscape!!!
i will bet you that we have at least one and probably two deals in ourfirst fund that get to that same level that are not in SF
Just to throw in some more exotic geography: I’m living in Johannesburg, SA. Has anyone got a clue about current/future tech and VC centres on the dark continent?
Thanks for the great insight into what role geography has on raising funds from venture capital. Does the same apply for angel investors?
you know, food and technology would be an interesting mix out there
and Shoofly Pie http://whatscookingamerica….
i was thinking NYC suburbsPhilly has an easier transportation scenarioif you are in westchester, you can’t attract people from LI, NJ, and Brooklynthat’s at least 50% of your potential workforce
Conshohocken is not urban, its also not an area where a lot of young people would be excited to live! Not people who are used to a more urban environment anyway.
My partner is from Jersey so NYC will always be our central place. I will always have revenue and partnerships to generate in NYC.As for Westchester the geo area there is actually “Fairchester” which extends to include Rockland and Bergen. A huge amt of folks reverse commute the Tappan Zee to White Plains, Greenwich and Stamford. There’s also the longstanding Westport marketing mafia. Some of the best marketing talent in the world. I’m continually surprised at how many jobs are in CT (I’m 10 min from Stamford/Greenwich which is very handy).Long Island is tough bc there are not many large companies to be clients or for spouse to work at. It’s bedroom communities, SMBs and city commuters. Of course NJ is pharma central.
from me? Nope. Wouldn’t call myself young for instance! And I really detest bias against experienced engineers. But if I was choosing where to start a company I would think about the availability of engineers at different levels of experience — less experienced people can be (and should be) cheaper. The character of the area has a bearing on all that. Though i don’t think it is all that important until a company needs to grow.