Meet Chris Keller, the Face of Newly Expanded NextGen Angels in Boston
“We need more angels in Boston.” A phrase we hear often across our startup community.
Specific movements, like FKA’s Boston Syndicates, have sprouted up alongside established groups like CommonAngels Ventures and Launchpad Venture Group to help close the gap and drive more angel investing. And, while success stories like HubSpot continue to pump more angel investors into the ecosystem, those take time.
In Washington D.C. an informal group of young investors seeking to fund local startups created NextGen Angels in 2012 with the goal of becoming the most entrepreneur-friendly angel investors in the world.
“We combine the best of a traditional seed-stage fund with a vast network of young entrepreneurial leaders working hard for our portfolio companies,” said NextGen Angels founder and CEO Dan Mindus. “We intend to invest in the best startups coming out of cities all over the world.”
Last month NextGen Angels announced plans to expand into Boston. To lead expansion efforts, Mindus enlisted Chris Keller as NextGen Angels Managing Director of Boston.
Meet Chris Keller
A serial entrepreneur whose last startup, FollowUp.cc, was acquired by Argon Technologies at the end of 2013, Keller is a graduate of Virginia Tech where he earned degrees in Computer Science and Economics and excelled in Tennis.
Prior to FollowUp.cc, Keller, himself had a stint with HubSpot as a Product Lead and founded two other startups. One of those startups, MeshTennis — “A Facebook for the Tennis community,” Keller described it to me — is where his connection to NextGen stems from.
A lifetime Tennis player, Keller ran MeshTennis as a side project for several years connecting like-minded players across a social platform — cutting out the noise often found on Facebook. After experiencing significant traction Keller entered talks with a large Tennis media company for a buyout a few years in. While the buyout never came to fruition, the main point of contact within the company would eventually lead to the introduction between Keller and NextGen COO, Brian Vahaly (who played Doubles with Andy Roddick on Tour).
Keller originally came to Boston from Johnson & Johnson through Adam Valkin of General Catalyst, who was at Arts Alliance Ventures in London at the time, recruited him into their Boston based startup, Povo. Valkin, a former Harvard Tennis player, came across MeshTennis and reached out to Keller through the site because he found it impressive.
After dissolving MeshTennis in 2009, Keller weighed several options before ultimately joining Povo to head up product development. One of the options he passed up, looking back, was costly.
“I passed on an opportunity to join the early product team at Facebook,” Keller told me in good humor. Adding, “I’d probably be retired right now.”
While he may have missed a cash windfall from Facebook, Keller has had a successful run nonetheless. After leaving Povo he raised roughly $1 million from a New York VC to found Fafarazzi, a Fantasy Celebrity League whose platform was licensed out to major networks such as Bravo and VH1. During this time period Keller had his MeshTennis acquisition talks as he was still operating the site on the side.
It was in 2009 when Keller would join HubSpot before leaving just over a year later to focus on FollowUp.cc full time. The Argon Technologies acquisition of his email-focused CRM platform would come about three years after departing HubSpot.
“The acquisition of FollowUp.cc gave me time to travel and really think about and explore what I wanted to do next,” Keller said. When NextGen came calling, Keller, who is an investor in Boston-based startups ChangeCollective and Cocomama Foods, knew this was the right move at the right time.
What you need to know about NextGen Angels
The angel group, as its name alludes, is focused on the next generation of angel investors. While there are no hard and fast criteria, Keller says membership will be mostly made up of investors 40 years of age or younger. This focus is the key differentiator for the new member-based angel group — something young entrepreneurs in Boston should welcome as they seek to partner with investor with whom they can better relate.
Adding to its uniqueness, NextGen, which pools member dollars into a special purpose vehicle and invests via an LLC, provides investors the rare opportunity to sell off shares early without harming the startup. Furthermore, Keller tells me NextGen expects to close deals within 30 days and does not take a board seat in their investments.
Keller expects NextGen to see two pitches per month. Members then write checks to those entrepreneurs and NextGen will round it out.
“One unique thing with NextGen is when our members make an investment, we’ll try to fill out the round or our allocation with an internal fund we’re currently raising,” Keller explained.
Keller, who is currently building out the membership, is seeking members with previous entrepreneurial or investing experience, or, “ideally both,” he said. As is the case with age, the experience isn’t a requirement. Keller says successful business people with unique experiences or skillsets who are looking to get into investing could also be a great fit.
“It’s a great entry opportunity for new investors as they’ll have the support and backing of our entire membership,” Keller said.
Keller expects NextGen to start hearing pitches in July after he builds out his initial membership.
This is a great addition to the Boston startup ecosystem. Entrepreneurs not only need access to more investors, especially angels, where they can secure early-stage funding, but it should also result in more competition amongst investors and better terms for startups.
We’ll keep a close watch as we anxiously await the announcement of NextGen Angels membership and, ultimately, their first Boston investment.
Originally published at venturefizz.com.