My long-time business partner Andy Sack just announced his resignation as Managing Director of Techstars Seattle. Together, we also announced that I’ll be taking on that role as soon as he wraps up the final details on his most recent class.
This post shares some of the backstory on how that all came to pass, and what things will look like going forward…
Andy and I started Founders’ Co-op together in 2008. Our previous company — Judy’s Book — had failed, but we wanted to keep working together as partners, and instead of starting another company we decided to start a fund.
I had come back to Seattle from the Bay Area in 2001 and Andy had moved here from Boston about the same time. During our Judy’s Book experience we were both struck by how much harder it was to build a company in Seattle than in either of the places we’d come from. Our simple idea for Founders’ Co-op was to build a company that made it easier to build companies here in the Pacific Northwest.
The year before, as we were winding down and selling off the assets of Judy’s Book, Techstars was founded in Boulder, Colorado. One of the co-founders — Brad Feld — had been an investor and board member at Judy’s Book and had known Andy since his Boston days. Andy got involved as a mentor in the Boulder program and would come back from his frequent trips to Colorado all fired up about the Techstars model. He asked Brad and (Techstars CEO) David Cohen if we could somehow expand the program to Seattle, but they we’re still figuring out how to run it in one city and not yet ready to think about expansion.
In 2009, Techstars added Boston as their first expansion city, thanks in part to Brad’s strong association with MIT. Seeing that they were now ready to grow, Andy revisited the topic with Brad and David and — with support from Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group — launched Techstars Seattle in 2010. We moved the Founders’ Co-op offices to South Lake Union that summer to make space for the 10 incoming companies in our first class. We also started raising our second fund that fall — three times bigger than the first one — in anticipation of a strengthening market for high-quality local startups.
Fast forward to today. Techstars just graduated its fifth class of startups. Fifty new companies have now been created in the Pacific Northwest as a result of the program. Hundreds of experienced entrepreneurs and technology leaders have volunteered their time as mentors, and dozens of those mentors have also made angel investments in Techstars companies, helping them raise over $75 million in total and creating hundreds of high-skilled jobs here in the Pacific Northwest.
Founders’ Co-op has grown as well. We’re now on our third fund, having raised tens of millions of dollars from some of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs and invested that money in dozens of high-potential startups in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. Our own portfolio companies have gone on to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, and now represent some of the leading growth-stage companies in the region. We’ve also partnered with the University of Washington and UP Global to create Startup Hall, a commercial innovation hub on the edge of the UW main campus that mixes UW students and academics with early stage companies to the benefit of both.
As partners, Andy and I have supported each other on both Founders’ Co-op and Techstars. For the past five years, I’ve taken the lead on the fund side while Andy has spent more time on Techstars. But I’ve played an active behind-the-scenes role in all the Techstars classes, and Andy has continued to invest in and work with Founders’ Co-op portfolio companies.
Founders’ Co-op and Techstars Seattle share the same mission — making Seattle and the Pacific Northwest the best place in the world to be a software entrepreneur — and both take the same approach — engaging experienced entrepreneurs and industry leaders as mentors, investors and advocates for the current generation of startup founders.
So despite our respective changes in title, the work will go on very much as it has before. Andy will continue to be involved in Techstars Seattle, and I’ll still be making (and managing) investments on behalf of Founders’ Co-op. This year we also added a new partner at Founders’ Co-op — well-known Seattle angel investor Rudy Gadre — expanding our capacity and broadening the network working to support our early-stage community.
Seattle has come a long way as a startup city since Andy and I first started working together, and we’ve been lucky to be a part of such an incredible community of founders, investors and leaders. But will still have much to do before we reach our goal. Last week we celebrated — and switched things up a little — but now it’s back to chopping wood and carrying water.
(Note: the image above is a Creative Commons image by Heinrich Klaffs of Who frontmen Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. I thought of titling this post with a line from their classic tune “Won’t get fooled again“: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” But I thought most readers would never have heard of the Who, the song or the line, I’d only be showing my age 😉 )