Cold email to hot BBQ in a flash — welcoming Coder to the Uncork portfolio!

Conventional wisdom in our industry says that cold emails generally don’t equate to great deals. Most VCs (including us) put a great deal of emphasis on our network — upstream investors, potential syndicators, accelerators, our family of founders and execs — referring deals to us. This makes a lot of sense in most cases as great people tend to know great people, and folks we trust will (hopefully) bring us great opportunities.

However, there is risk in being too myopic on this front — our network certainly isn’t universal and we simply can’t be connected to every great founder. Despite most cold emails simply not being very good (the bad mail-merge or ‘dear sir / madam’ is a common sin) or poorly researched (no, we’re not interested in leading a Series B in South America) it would be silly to disregard each one immediately because occasionally something genuinely interesting can find you.

I was sitting at my desk one afternoon in September when an email from an unknown entrepreneur arrived. It started strongly, talking about how three 20-year-old (!) co-founders in Austin, Texas were building a not-very-sexy (he’d done his homework and knew what I liked!) dev tools company called Coder.

He went on to mention that they’d been using our portfolio co LaunchDarkly’s product (points for that) for the last few months and loved it, and they’d wondered who would be the kind of VC who would have invested in a business like that. They visited LD’s website, found my name and sent me an email. Attached was a very cool introductory product video and a very compelling investor deck. Everything screamed high quality so I was intrigued to learn more.

I arranged to speak with them that night and following the call — where I was extremely impressed by their story, vision and technical insight — I texted Jeff to ask if he could chat with them the next day as it all sounded too good to be true. Sensing my excitement and being a good partner, Jeff agreed to take a meeting with them the very next afternoon. Like me, he was intrigued and asked Stephanie if she could chat with them as he was concerned we both might have missed something!

“Go to Austin, meet the team in person, and confirm this is real!” was the agreed next step, so a week later I jumped on a plane and — with old fashioned Texan hospitality — was greeted at 3pm at the airport by Coder’s CEO, John Andrew Entwistle. He explained on the ride to the office that the entire team was waiting for me to arrive so we could eat lunch together (from Texas’ second best BBQ joint, La Barbecue, no less), as most of their young team had never met a VC before and had a ton of questions.

We spent the next day in their office — affectionately known as ‘The Shed’ — digging into the technology, talking about future plans and getting to know each other. Their product — a web-based IDE for coding software, plus a cloud-powered back-end that connects to your local IDE to make building and testing code 100x faster — was still in private alpha but already showed tons of promise, and their thriving global community of software engineers were extremely passionate about the product.

Coder HQ aka “The Shed”

Web-based IDE products aren’t new, and history is littered with companies who failed to deliver a product powerful enough for everyday professional use, or compelling enough to make hobbyists pay. “You can’t make money in dev tools” was a common line with investors until very recently (thanks GitHub!), and I heard more than once that “you definitely can’t make money with an IDE”. However, we believe that the timing is right — from both a technology and culture standpoint — for there to be an important company built in this space.

Fast forward through couple of weeks of diligence (including an excellent reference call where a highly-regarded technical CEO confided that he still couldn’t quite work out how “a group of random 20-year-olds in Texas” had built the “best technical product he’d used in years”) and we proudly gave the company a term sheet to lead their seed round.

I’m thrilled to welcome John Andrew, Kyle, and Ammar to the Uncork family, and extremely happy to be working with our good friend Alex Bard of Redpoint Ventures as our co-lead. There’s a lot of great stuff coming from this young team as they work to reimagine how software is made and we’re excited to partner with them on their journey.