Erica Brescia is Co-Founder and COO of Bitnami, an enterprise software company that has automated the ability to package, deploy and maintain applications. In her copious spare time, Erica is also an Investment Partner with XFactor Ventures, a seed stage venture fund that invests in teams with a female founder.
What do you love most about your day job?
I love our business, I love the market we’re in, I love the fact that it’s used by millions of people all over the world. But I probably could be as excited working in a completely different sector. For me, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is building an amazing team and helping the people on my team to grow. Knowing I helped someone perform at their best and watching them grow in their career makes me feel fantastic. I also love to see how something we conceived of and built delights customers and makes their lives better — and generates revenue in the process!
Ten years ago, would you have expected to be the co-founder of an enterprise software company?
No. I studied investment finance and I wanted to run a hedge fund. Bitnami was the result of my being open to an opportunity that fell into my lap. I had been reading up about Linux and open source. My now co-founder Daniel was a member of the Apache Software Foundation and he was speaking at a conference I was attending. We were introduced by a mutual friend. I had a sales and operations background and he was an engineer. Since our skills were so highly complementary, I started helping him on the side. And now we’ve been working together for almost 13 years across two businesses.
When you’re on the VC side of the table at XFactor, what are the types of deals that you get most excited about?
I understand B2B infrastructure and open source software quite well. I can more quickly judge opportunities in those spaces. But I also like to use XFactor to learn about other spaces. Looking at other deals in other markets helps to broaden my perspective, which is both fun for me and helpful in how I think about the Bitnami business.
Someone who is herself a founder can relate to an entrepreneur in a way that someone on the VC side can’t. We’ve had founders tell us that they really felt that we were allies.
How has being a VC changed your perspective?
Getting involved with XFactor has helped to drive home how VCs operate. One of things that leads me to a “no” the most quickly is when I can’t see how a company can get huge. I recently met a founder who’s a total badass but I just don’t think her company will be a successful standalone company for long. If she continues on her current path, I think she’s going to get acquired for $50M in the next three years. And I can’t invest in that, even if it would be an incredible outcome for her.
I try to give direct and honest feedback to the founders that I meet with. That’s what I would want. And sometimes when I can’t see a business being big enough, it’s my job to encourage the founder herself to think bigger. When you start from zero, getting to $10M in revenue seems amazing. It’s sometimes hard for founders to understand that venture investors need to see a clear path to something much bigger.
XFactor is unique in that its Investment Partners are all full-time operating founders. Do you think that model scales?
I think this model is really good for helping to source and identify deals that might not make it through traditional VC channels. Someone who is herself a founder can relate to an entrepreneur in a way that someone on the VC side can’t. We’ve had founders tell us that they really felt that we were allies. But it’s still a very new model and we are still figuring out how it will work. It’s not a time commitment I take lightly, and my first priority is still to my own company (and to my family before that.)
Most recent deal you did?
I invested in an NYC-based company called Hyr. For workers in the gig economy, Hyr creates a system of portable benefits, so that workers can fill in shifts and build up credits that are redeemable for vacation and healthcare and other benefits that are normally associated with full-time work. The founders, Erika and Joshua, are badasses. They sold their house and moved cities to start funding the business before they raised outside capital. They have so much commitment and hustle and it showed.