By Josh Kopelman
I’ve always felt the most important decision you make in life and business is choosing the right partners.
Twelve years ago, I embarked on an experiment with my good friend and mentor Howard Morgan, and I couldn’t have chosen better. Together, we had a hypothesis that there should be more funding for startups at that vital, early stage between an angel round and traditional Sand Hill VC. It may have raised eyebrows from the collective VC community at the time (kind of hard to believe today), but in that hypothesis, First Round was born and our current obsession with being the first capital into a startup remains unchanged.
Howard has been integral to creating First Round from Day One. He’s helped shape our culture to be relentlessly curious and optimistic, compassionate and original. He’s also taught us how to not take ourselves too seriously — just look at his annual star turns in our Holiday Videos. Howard taught me almost everything I know about being a good investor. His deep respect for entrepreneurs and the craft of entrepreneurship has become core to the way we operate at First Round. He’s brilliant and kind, and you can see both in the insane passion he brings to his work, even after investing, advising and teaching for the last 50 years.
After giving us all of this and more, Howard has decided to step back from formal venture capital at the end of the year. He’ll be returning to angel investing — which, fittingly, is where he started his career and is how we originally met. He was my first angel investor and has backed every project I’ve worked on since.
I know I speak for everyone here at First Round when I say we’re deeply indebted to him — for his wisdom, humor, and helping build this special place we get to work at every day. We look forward to him remaining a close friend. You’ll continue to see Howard around our New York City office, and we hope to co-invest with him for years to come. We also anticipate he’ll make a cameo or two in our upcoming Holiday Videos. There are some roles that only Howard can play…
Incidentally, the Holiday Video has also been meaningful in the career of someone else at First Round. Brett Berson joined us as an intern, and one of his first projects was to apply his formal NYU Film Studies skills to cut together the earliest incarnation of the video.
That was just the first of countless internal projects he led for us while finishing up undergrad. He started working full-time six years ago, and immediately started building something completely unique to VC at the time — a Platform Team that would support our companies post-investment and bring them together in a community to share their knowledge with each other.
I recently came across a quote from Bill Joy (co-founder of Sun Microsystems) that really highlights our approach with Platform: “In any given sphere of activity most of the pertinent knowledge will reside outside the boundaries of any one organization, and the central challenge is to find ways to access that knowledge.” That’s what Brett pioneered — a dynamic network that gives every startup we partner with access to the information they need whenever they need it.
It all started with a Yahoo Group for CEOs to swap advice. Since then, Brett has built it into a team of 15 people who work tirelessly to help First Round companies fast forward through the tough stuff so they can focus on what they do best. He’s left his mark on nearly everything we’re known for in this area and leads our culture of constant experimentation and invention — First Round Network (our software tools), First Round Review, Pitch Assist, CTO Unconference, Expert Network and dozens of other internal and external programs. Most importantly, he’s recruited incredible talent to take our engineering, content, advising, and event initiatives to a level we didn’t know was possible.
It’s my pleasure to share that Brett will continue to shape First Round as a Partner — reinforcing the importance of his work on Platform, and recognizing his impact in our weekly partner meetings as we decide which companies join our community next. His insight into how startups get built and aptitude for spotting new opportunities is incredible. You couldn’t ask for better qualities in this line of work. I look forward to Brett helping us make the best investment decisions while continuing to make the product we offer to those companies better and better.
Both of these changes will take effect with our new fund, First Round VI, which closed last month. It’s the exact same size as our last one, $175M, underscoring our belief that discipline in investing is one of the keys to durability. We stay in business because of the founders that choose to work with us and our limited partners who have stood by us from the very beginning. We’re so grateful they’ve chosen us to be their partners.