Promote within helping hand

Spark Capital announced today that it has promoted Andrew Parker to the role of General Partner. Parker has been with Spark since 2010, joining the firm as an Associate and making the leap to Principal less than a year later.

“Hiring Andrew was the easiest decision ever,” says Spark General Partner Bijan Sabet. “I met him in 2007 while he was working at Union Square Ventures – we did the first round in Tumblr together. When he told me he was moving his family to Boston, it was a no brainer. Has been fantastic helping with high level strategy, helping portfolio companies, hacking elements of our internal workflow, and making fantastic investments. This promotion is really just a reflection of the way we already think about his role.”

Spark announced a $450 million fourth fund this February, making it a natural time to expand the partnership, Sabet ads. Parker led several investments as a principal in fund three including Series A bets in Kik, Upworthy, and Quantopian and Seed bets in Close.io, Panjo, Priceonomics, Timehop, Socratic, and BloomNation.

“I think one of the really unique things here, and something that I’m really proud of, is the fact that we’ve promoted from within,” says Sabet, noting the rarity of such a “partner track” career path within the venture industry. It’s far more common for those joining a firm as an associate to stay for two to five years, get a promotion or two into non-investment roles, and then leave the firm to join another firm or strike out on their own.

Sabet continues, “We’re always preaching to our portfolio companies the value of promoting from within, and this is actually not the first time we’ve done it – Alex [Finkelstein] joined as a Principal and was promoted to GP within our second fund and Mo [Koyfman] joined us as a principal and is now a partner as well. When you promote from within, you’ve already answered the chemistry and culture question. When you hire from the outside, you’re not always sure if someone will be a fit, even if they’re completely capable.”

Parker plans to continue his focus on Seed and Series A investments, with an emphasis on consumer facing products and teams with strong technical talent.

“I’m a recovering programmer, and I relapse occasionally,” Parker says. “I use that to as an advantage when competing for a deal, and I just seem to relate better – maybe have more empathy is the right word – to technical founders.”

Beyond this, Parker says that his two core criteria for any investment is that the product be strongly differentiated based on user experience and that it have some form of network defensibility.

“I spend a lot of time in due diligence talking to end users and I look to see them glowing about some aspect of the experience – which is why I don’t really make pre-product investments,” Parker says. “And I think that a network is the last form of defensibility for Internet investments.”

Spark is a remarkably flat organization, according to both men. “There’s no such thing as ‘Andrew’s deal,’ or “Bijan’s deal,’” Sabet says. “If a company wants to talk to any of the partners they’re always available.”

Parker adds, “We don’t have an official investment committee, or an official vote. But everyone, regardless of their title weighs in on every deal. It’s not always unanimous, but everyone has to come to a strong consensus and get be behind any transaction before we’ll move forward.”

Spark now has $1.4 billion under management across its four funds, with offices in Boston, where it was founded, as well as New York and San Francisco. The firm’s most prominent investments include Twitter, which is prepping its IPO, as well as Tumblr (acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion), Foursquare, and OMGPOP (acquired by Zynga for $200 million).

There was no formal plan to expand the partnership, no “job opening,” according to Sabet. But as the portfolio has grown, the desire to add additional talent has grown more pronounced, he says.

“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity and am thrilled to be able continue down this path,” Parker says.

[Image via Duke]