Today Nick Chirls and Alex Lines announced that I will be lending a hand at Notation Capital as a part-time partner. Electric Objects is more than a full time job at this point, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give back to the NYC technology community, and contribute in some small way to what Alex and Nick are building.
I got to know Alex in the summer of 2012, when he and I were on the 7-person team tasked with tearing down and rebuilding Digg.com — a site with a few million monthly visits at the time — in six weeks. There are a few blog posts worth of stories from that sprint, but I’m going to let this photo of Alex’s keyboard the night before launch speak for it.
Nick and I met when he started at betaworks in 2011. We became fast friends, spending many long nights discussing, among other things, what some interesting alternatives might be to the way companies are funded and built. He’s one of my closest friends, one of those rare sorts in life that you just trust implicitly.
When I was just beginning to think about Electric Objects, I turned to Nick and Alex for support. While still at betaworks, Nick helped put together the first round of investment for Electric Objects. It was the end of 2013, and it was a weird moment for me and my almost-company. I was feeling the pull to work on it full time, but I couldn’t afford to fund development myself.
At the same time, I wasn’t ready for what had become the standard seed round of capital: an investment of $750k – $1.5mm, valuing the company north of $3mm. The company and product didn’t deserve it yet, and I wasn’t ready to shoulder that kind of responsibility, or make that kind of commitment, for a totally untested product and market.
With that in mind, John Borthwick and Nick put together a relatively small $200,000 round of investment to help me get the business off the ground, bring in a couple of freelancers, and begin to test my hypotheses. It was a lot of money, and I was so excited to get started, to work on this thing full time, to set off on my own.
And then Nick sat me down, looked me in the eye, and said: “Are you sure you want to do this? Pause for a moment. Think about what this money means, and where it will lead you. Think deeply about the project. Is this really how you want to spend the next 10 years? Does it mean that much to you? Weigh this heavily and sleep on it before you make a decision.”
That moment was the beginning of a journey for me, and for Electric Objects. But it also demonstrates what makes Nick and Alex so special: the connection to reality, the willingness to speak plain, the honesty and transparency that is so missing from the world of venture capital — a world filled with myth and illusion, with big personalities and tiny inescapable, insidious, and unspoken incentives.
I went for it, but I went for it with open eyes and a clear understanding of what I was signing up for.
The first thing I did after incorporating Electric Objects was make Alex and Nick my advisors. Alex was instrumental in helping me build my early engineering team, and Nick continues to be a critical sounding board for fundraising strategy.
In some ways I think Electric Objects helps validate the Notation Capital hypothesis. We benefited tremendously from the time and space afforded by a relatively small amount of capital early on, before committing to and hitting the ground running with a large seed round, and we benefited tremendously from the guidance and advice that Alex and Nick brought to the table.
It’s lonely to start a company without co-founders. Alex and Nick were two of a small handful of people that gave me the confidence and energy to keep going. They both contributed greatly to the success of the company, and helped grow it from a tiny seedling of an idea to an organization worthy of the mission we set out to fulfill.
I’m sure the learning curve will be steep, but I hope I can be helpful in some small way to the current and future Notation portfolio. I’m thrilled to join a tremendous group of other part-time partners, and I couldn’t be happier to do what I can to further the Notation Capital mission.