Family Traditions, Part Two

Later this week the extended Hazard Family will congregate for Thanksgiving.  The group includes my parents, 3 sisters & 3 brothers-in-law and the 13 kids we have between us that range in age from 8 to 19.  I am exhausted just writing about the long weekend!

One of the last times we were all together we had an interesting conversation sparked by my father on all the technologies that did not exist when he started his work career in 1953.  It is an fascinating set of technologies to think about including cell phones, fax machines, personal computers, pacemakers, ATM machines, and the Internet.  A common denominator of this list is that they all benefited from the staggering advances e have seen over the last 50 years in semiconductors and networking technologies.

This led to an even more interesting conversation, which was unfortunately cut short in our last evening together, about what technologies and trends would our kids look back on 50 years from now and say they had the same kind of profound impact on their lives, and society in general, as the advances of the last 50 years.  A few ideas that did surface were:

  1. Cures for diabetes and other diseases based on advances in stem cell research
  2. The advent of personalized medicine, specifically therapeutic courses of action that are modified based on a person's specific genetic make-up, based on the ability to sequence genomes at a very ow cost
  3. The vast majority of energy production coming from sources other than oil, coal and natural gas based on the tremendous advances in "clean" energy
  4. The majority of defense technologies will be based on unmanned, remotely controlled, vehicles, planes and and other robots
  5. The advent of real telepresence applications that truly can replace face to face meetings (one of the favorites of the kids, perhaps the impact of watching too much Star Trek)
  6. Another favorite of my kids:  high-speed mag-lev superhighways connecting major metropolitan cities

So in preparation for this Thanksgiving's conversation, what ideas do you have that we missed?  Or are the Hazard Family's ideas crazy and far fetched and we should instead stick to watching football?

Welcoming 10gen to the Flybridge portfolio

While I try to avoid promoting Flybridge portfolio companies on this blog, from time to time I will write about our new investments in the hope it sheds some light into how we are thinking about opportunities. 

Today it was announced that we recently invested, along with Union Square Ventures, in a New York City based company called 10gen. 10gen was founded by Dwight Merriman, Kevin Ryan and Eliot Horowitz and they are an open source software company that developed the non-relational database, MongoDB. 

We invested in 10gen for a few reasons:

  1. Strong founding team: Dwight was the co-founder and CTO at DoubleClick, Kevin was the President and CEO of DoubleClick and Eliot was a lead software architect at DoubleClick.  As a result, the team knows a few things about both building large scale web infrastructure and growing and scaling businesses.  We were also fortunate, in a prior life, to have been investors in DoubleClick so we also had the benefit of knowing the team well.  
  2. A belief in the "NoSQL" database market: while the name is a bit of a misnomer, we believe that databases are getting more specialized over time as users realize that the one size fits all relational database model does not often fit what they are trying to achieve with their applications.  Specifically, a schema-free, non relational document oriented database such as MongoDB is particularly well suited to web applications where scalability, performance and flexibility will be highly valued. Virtually all the web developers we spoke to in our diligence were using, either in production or in their labs, NoSQL databases with very positive results.  We expect this trend to only increase as more applications are deployed in Cloud environments as these databases are particularly well suited to that architecture.  
  3. MongoDB is a leading solution in this emerging market: while MongoDB was only recently introduced into the market after a few years of development, the product has been downloaded by tens of thousand developers and is in production at companies such as SourceForge, Business Insider and Disqus.

While there are other reasons we, in short, liked the team, the market opportunity and the company's specific solution.  We look forward to working with this great team to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.  If you have an interest in downloading the product, please click here, or joining the team, please click here.

Immigrant Founders

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of doing a panel discussion at a TiE DC event focused on strategies for growing and financing entrepreneurial ventures.  TiE now stands for "The Innovative Ecosystem" and is a not-for-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals, although when the organization was originally founded TiE stood for The Indus Entrepreneurs and was focused on entrepreneurs primarily from India.  Befitting this heritage, most of the entrepreneurs I spoke with had Indian roots and as many of them reached out to me to discuss their ideas for their new ventures, i was struck – as i often am at TiE events – by the quality of the entrepreneurs, their passion for their new businesses, and the general level of aggressiveness in networking and seeking advice on how best to move their business forward.  All good signs for the local DC entrepreneurial community!

As I was speaking to everyone, I was also reminded of a study that was commissioned by the NVCA on the impact of immigrant entrepreneurs and professionals on the U.S. economy.  In short, what this study found was that over the past 15 years, immigrants have started 25% of US public companies that were venture-backed and that the market capitalization of these firms exceeds $500 Billion.  Further, 40% of US publicly traded venture-backed companies in high-tech manufacturing today were started by immigrants, including companies such as Intel, Solectron, Sun Microsystems, eBay, Yahoo! and Google.  For those of us in the venture industry, this is not new news as we see this in our daily lives as we meet with new companies, but it is interesting to think about why this is the case.

From my perspective, there are three reasons immigrants to the US make up a disproportional amount of the start-up companies backed by venture capitalists.  First, most of the immigrant founders were drawn to the US for either college or graduate studies in technology driven fields, so they are well trained technically and are no strangers to innovation.  Second, as I saw when I lived for a couple of years outside the U.S., being in a culturally different place tends to lead one to be more curious and to take less for granted, resulting in a proclivity to identify something that "just does not make sense" and therefore is in need of a solution.  Finally, immigrants tend to have a lower fear of failure and seem to be much more open minded to take the calculated risks that are required by entrepreneurs.  From my lens, I think this is because the shear act of leaving one's homeland to study and live outside of what is naturally comfortable is, in and of itself, a significant risk and that those who succeed in thrive in having taken that risk realize that with such decisions often come great rewards.

The frustration with this analysis is how hard the US immigration policy makes it for these talented folks to stay in the US, especially as they are leaving university programs.  If you want to stay in the US post university and work at a company, immigrants quickly discover the H1-B visa program is an annual mess and if you want, heaven forbid, to start a company, it is even more complicated.  It makes no sense that as a nation we do a great job attracting the best and the brightest to our world-class universities and then make it incredibly hard for people to stay, something that is exacerbated in today's world when the idea of returning home for an immigrant from India, China or the like is far more attractive for an entrepreneurially minded individual than it would have been 15 or 20 years ago.  I am not alone in seeing this as a lost opportunity for the US – both Brad Feld and Paul Graham blogged on this in a far more eloquent way earlier this year – but I wanted to throw my hat into the ring of pushing our policy makers to think more creatively about driving entrepreneurship and the associated job creation opportunities in this country.  I recognize this is not a politically popular stance for our elected officials, in fact one Congressman in a discussion of the visa issue recently remarked to one of my partners, "try telling that to the gas station attendant", but if they hear from enough people, perhaps the tide can change.