Turning 15: a reflection on the early years of Uncork Capital

Jeff Clavier
May 1 · 4 min read

On May 1, 2004 our son Axel turned 7. It’s also the day Uncork Capital started its journey, as SoftTech VC. I had finally gotten rid of my Nextel GSM phone (one of the only phones I could buy in the US that would also work in Europe, at an exorbitant rate). Barely anyone investing in Web 2.0 companies, the new generation of web startups that would see the rise of Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and so many more social media giants. At the time, startups had to assemble syndicates of angels contributing a few thousand dollars for a seed round — it was actually rare to raise a million dollars, and it was called a Series A.

Fund I, as we refer to my angel portfolio, was funded by our hard earned savings. I shared with my beloved wife, Bernadette, the crazy idea of becoming a full-time angel investor, and after discussing the impact and potential risks for our young family, she signed off on it. Nothing would have happened without her trust, support, and patience.

My very first investment was $40K in Feedster at the end of 2004. That Blog/RSS Search Engine competed with the well-funded Technorati, and it felt like these two companies had massive potential. Not really, it turned out. But I got to meet a lot of awesome entrepreneurs and angels at Feedster, and that small loss turned into millions of dollars in profits from other deals and prolific relationships.

My second angel investment was a $1M Series A in Truveo, in which I put in $25K in January 2005. That pre-Youtube video search engine was acquired by AOL in less than a year and generated a 17X return. This was the first lucky exit in my Angel career, which got boosted to “Super Angel” in 2006 by (the now defunct) Business 2.0. Super angels did not have larger wings: we were just investing in more deals and risking more personal dollars. Our group anchored the micro-VC world when we started raising institutional funds in 2006–2007. As angel investors, we built an active community supporting founders with our capital and our time — and the concept of competition just did not exist.

I raised Fund II, our $15M fund, over the summer of 2007. A number of people had suggested they’d be interested in becoming an LP but no one pushed it as far as Tim Chang at Norwest did (he is now a Partner at Mayfield Fund). Tim became our anchor LP and gave us the momentum to quickly close on this initial institutional fund that was announced at TechCrunch 40 in September 2007. At the time, I did not anticipate the magnitude of the disruption the micro VC OGs were collectively bringing to early-stage investing — which has materialized over the last few years with the creation of 750+ seed firms. Capital efficient company creation created an opportunity for us to insert seed-stage financing in the ecosystem, and over time, we replaced the traditional Series A.

As a solo GP I did everything: sourcing opportunities, closing deals, helping our portfolio companies and raising funds — and I would not go back and do it alone. However, there was no playbook back then, and I had to figure things out before I brought our team on board: Ashley on operations in late 2010, then Charles as my first Partner, then Stephanie, followed by Andy, and finally Caden as our office and social media manager. I want to thank each and every one of them for taking a chance on me, joining this crazy ride, and bringing their essential contributions to our success.

After ten years bouncing around Palo Alto, we decided five years ago to add the San Francisco office — as one of the initial VCs to call South Park home. It has served us well, and we’re excited to have a great place for ourselves and a co-working space for our early-stage companies in this vibrant part of town.

We’ve been privileged to work with scores of awesome founding teams, helping build some iconic companies (and passing on a long list of great ones at the same time) thanks to the support of our Limited Partners. It was not obvious at the beginning, so we are thankful to both sides for their trust and for the opportunity they gave us. As we celebrate our fifteenth anniversary today, we can only express our gratitude to all the people who enabled us to get to where we are: mentors, founders, investors. And share our excitement for the crazy market we are working in — whereby every day we get to see the future through the eyes of entrepreneurs, some of whom will get it right and build awesome, enduring companies.

So, thank you all for your support, kind words, and any deal flow you may want to share ;-).

Uncork Capital

Uncork Capital (formerly SoftTech VC) is a seed-stage venture firm that commits early, helps with the hard stuff, and sticks around. Really.

Jeff Clavier

Written by

Founder of Uncork Capital, one of the OG micro-VC firms. BOD member, NVCA. Invested in 200+ cos. Dad of 2, wino, skier, happily living in Palo Alto/SF/Kirkwood

Uncork Capital

Uncork Capital (formerly SoftTech VC) is a seed-stage venture firm that commits early, helps with the hard stuff, and sticks around. Really.