Last night I attended a really fun event called the NEVY’s put on by the New England Venture Capital Association. It was a wonderful showcase of all the great companies, people, and investors that have helped the Boston technology market come roaring back in recent months and years.
It was fun to attend, and I was really pleased that a bunch of our portfolio company founders (and many other friends) were nominated for awards that night. Click here for the full list of nominees and winners.
I was reminded last night why I moved to Boston from Silicon Valley many years ago and why I think the ecosystem is so great. There have been naysayers in recent years about the strength of the ecosystem here, and I think people are finally waking up to the reality that that meme is simply untrue. It’s funny that it’s taken so long – given that the raw data on large-scale venture-backed exits is so strong relative to some other markets.
But forget what the media says. There are things on the ground here that make this place really great, and the folks that were honored last night really hammered it home for me. In particular, I love this place because:
Boston is a town of substance. Maybe this is why the tech community here has been less embraced by pop-tech media which seems to care more about movie-star investors than real businesses. But I love the focus here on real substance. Now, substance can take many forms. Where this market has gone wrong ~5 years back was in failing to understand that “substance” could mean something different from “hard science” or “a guy who sold his company for $500M and is doing it again”. The definition of substance is much broader, but the new crop of investors and entrepreneurs totally get that. And along the way, amazing businesses of substance have been built. Wayfair in particular was honored as the “best startup” in Boston, and what a startup it is. Although other flashy e-commerce sites might have greater notoriety, none can come close to matching Wayfair for scale ($600M+ revenue), profitability (bootstrapped all the way until last year), and long-term potential (that’s my own commentary). And by the way, check out all the “deal of the year” candidates and you’ll see a bunch of other extremely substantial businesses in the making as well.
Boston founders want to finish. Acme Packet won the award for exit of the year for its $2.1B acquisition by Oracle. What impressed me was that the company is still led by its founder Andy Ory who stuck with the business from inception, to IPO, and to acquisition. Similarly, I’ve really admired Steve Kaufer, who founded Tripadvisor and saw it through its acquisition by Expedia, but then continued to lead the company as it was spun out as an independent public company. You hear a lot about founders leaving formerly “hot” startups and starting new companies to great fanfare, and that can be good at times. But I do love that many of the best Boston founders want to start, build, and finish. Just as impressive, I find many entrepreneurs that are far earlier in their careers really seek to build their abilities and leadership so that they can scale to be GREAT CEO’s, not just great founders. Sravish Sridhar, who was the “rising star entrepreneur” award is just this sort of guy, and I admit I regret not being in business with him just because of what a great CEO he is becoming. Our portfolio company founders at IS2, Boundless, Plastiq, and Lookout were also all nominated for various awards, and fit this bill as well.
Boston is a town of grit. After the horrific bombings a few weeks back, pretty much everyone who commented publicly about this city said something like “Boston is tough”. It’s funny – people know that this is a tough town, it doesn’t seem that way outwardly, but everyone knows it inwardly. People here just have a lot of grit, and can bounce back from challenging times. That’s why the story of Atlas Venture is so captivating for folks here. Fred Destin (who is a new but terrific member of the tech community) wrote a really wonderful post yesterday about the re-invention of Atlas in light of their newest fund. As he describes, the firm had their “battle of Thermopyles” moment, but the team there took the bull by the horns and wrestled the beast to the ground to build a really terrific firm that entrepreneurs rave about. All startup founders know how much grit is involved in building great companies, and I love this town for the grit you see everywhere you look.