Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spark to Boston: Let Us Buy You a Beer, At Least

The party thrown at Cambridge Brewing Company last night by Spark Capital was loud, crowded, and fun. You couldn't actually move around the room much, but I managed to bump into Dave Balter of BzzAgent, Doug Levin, Chris Marstall of tourfilter, Eric Giler of WiTricity, Wade Roush of Xconomy, Jon Radoff of GamerDNA, Misha Katz of AdHarmonics, Nabeel Hyatt of Conduit Labs, Jon Pierce of Betahouse, and Dennis Miller, Rob Go, Bijan Sabet, and Todd Dagres of Spark. Dagres, in a short speech to the assembled crowd, plugged Spark's investment in Twitter, as well as its new Start@Spark seed funding initiative.

What was interesting about the party, full as it was of entrepreneurs, was how few of them were Spark-backed entrepreneurs. One guy, founder of NYC-based AdMeld, took the mic for a couple minutes to talk about how Spark helped him get the company going.

In looking at Spark's portfolio this morning, what I noticed (and maybe I'm just slow to pick up on this) is that just one of their current investments, VeriVue, is located in Massachusetts. The bulk of the companies are in NYC, LA, Silicon Valley, and Texas.

So while Spark is making some great moves to be more supportive of entrepreneurship here in Boston, with Start@Spark, TechStars Boston, and the Alliance for Open Competition, the bulk of their bucks so far have gone elsewhere. This is a relatively new dynamic in venture capital... in the olden days, you'll recall that VCs often said that if they couldn't drive to a company (and get back) within a day to attend a board meeting, they wouldn't invest. Spark (which has just one office, in Boston) clearly doesn't mind racking up some frequent flier miles.

(In the photo at right is Spark founder Todd Dagres welcoming party-goers last night.)

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The World is All A-Twitter

Today's Globe column is on Twitter, which has had a pretty amazing couple of weeks.

Founder Evan Williams is profiled in the NY Times' "The Boss" column today. Williams was also at the White House this past week week, for a summit of young business leaders, and was interviewed by Charlie Rose last month. Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee also mocked the company recently on 'The Daily Show.'

All without a business plan that they've chosen to announce yet. And all without a PR firm, according to Twitter board member Bijan Sabet, a partner at Spark Capital in Boston.

I sat down with Sabet on Friday for a quick chat. He'd just returned from a Twitter board meeting in San Francisco. Like his colleague Todd Dagres, he's a bit bemused by how much interest there is in what Twitter's business model will be. He gave me the impression that it'll start rolling out this year, though it's still undetermined exactly when.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Todd Dagres on Twitter's (Eventual) Business Model

I was talking yesterday with Spark Capital founder Todd Dagres... and I asked him if the rumors were true that he has begun Twittering. (Spark is the lone Boston investor in San Francisco-based Twitter, having recently participated in the company's $35 million fourth round.)

It's true, but his Twitter identity is tough to find. (It's here.)

A pithy sample post: "Lots of coats and ties in the room. Ties = bear market."

I asked Dagres why he'd started using Twitter (though others at his firm blog, he has never been a big blogger), and when we'd hear about Twitter's business model.

"I tried it because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about," Dagres said. "This thing is growing about as fast as I’ve ever seen anything grow before. Now, I’m addicted to the stupid thing. I follow Shaq and a few other people who’ve got interesting insights." That would be Spark colleagues Bijan Sabet and Santo Politi, and Jonathan Seelig from GlobeSpan Capital. (While at Battery Ventures, Dagres was an investor in Akamai Technologies, which Seelig helped start.)

Dagres says that Spark and Union Square Ventures are the two biggest shareholders in Twitter.

"We think it’s kind of funny to listen to people [in the press] talk about the lack of a business model," he said. "We know how we’re going to do it, and we’re very confident about how we’re going to do it, and it’s not necessarily in our interest to tell people how we’re going to do it. There is a biz model that has yet to be implemented. Of course, I can't guarantee it’s going to work."

Dagres continued, "All of a sudden there will be some changes that won’t undermine the experience or the virality -- but it will be pretty obvious how we’re going to moentize it."

Twitter hasn't generated any revenue thus far. Dagres said that changing that situation was definitely a project for 2009. But "we’re in no rush right now," he said.

Isn't it nice to fantasize, amidst the current economic gloom, that you work for a company that is under no pressure to start bringing in revenue any time soon?

"Calgon, take me away....."

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