First Round Capital Opens Portfolio Company Services to the Community with +Startup Series, Starting with Design
Venture capital firms differentiate from one another by promising a laundry list of services to potential portfolio companies. They'll make introductions; they'll give advice; they'll do your PR; they'll help you recruit talent. As angel investors and crowdfunding options have disintermediated the VC game in recent years, many firms have made their "value add" programs official.
The next step is to make those resources -- or at least some of them -- available to the wider startup community (and it can't hurt in landing the hot deals to get some good will from the community, either). First Round Capital launched a program earlier this year to do that called +Startup.
The firm has begun hosting community networking events to drive the conversation around a specific topic, the first of which is focused on design in partnership with interactive firm IDEO. The idea behind Design+Startup is to have design practitioners sharing practical knowlege with their communities. The first ones featuring IDEO's Design Director Tom Hulme have been San Francisco and quickly sold out; a New York event will happen September 27 at IDEO's Soho offices.
First Round Partner Phin Barnes says he chose to focus on design first because of the obvious "designers are the new coders" macro-trend. The increasing influence designers have in their roles at startups has outpaced the community's ability to serve them, he says.
Besides, there's not yet much of a community -- within a startup, designers often work alone or with a small team, as opposed to the armies of coders many startups have to bounce ideas off of and learn from. I've heard from a number of designers at startups who say they sometimes feel a bit lonely at their jobs. The popularity of the first +Startup event proved that the design community within tech is "starved for great content," he says.
In the first video, Hume discusses the importance of "designing for emergence" over a/b testing your way to a good design.
He's also personally keen on the intersection of design and tech because of his background -- before entering the VC world, he was a creative director at basketball shoe brand AND1.
First Round has done events internally for its portfolio companies; this is its first time bringing them outward. The venture firm isn't likely to open up the portfolio company resources that are beneficial to its companies solely because they're closed, off-the-record communities.
But one idea Barnes mentioned was using findings from portfolio companies about their interactions with service providers. That information could be used to help service providers better understand how to work with startups. There is a shared pool of knowledge that First Round portfolio companies use to make decisions on vendors and service providers from PR agencies, banks, marketing agencies or UX agencies, and that info -- not specific but aggregated and anonymous -- may prove useful.
[Disclosure: First Round Capital Partner Josh Kopelman is an investor in PandoDaily.]