Did you hear that Benchmark Capital is opening an office in San Francisco. In the Tenderloin District to boot. Peter Fenton, a partner at the fund announced the move via a blog post. He outlined his reasons but what got to me was the wrapper of the “civic duty” and helping San Francisco message.
The fact that Benchmark is opening a SF office is great news for the city’s startup ecosystem. However, to couch it in civic and economic development message is just poppycock. Yup, that’s right – I said what it really is.
“That a prominent venture capital firm is expanding from Silicon Valley to San Francisco demonstrates how strong San Francisco has become as a center for innovation and talent,” Mayor Ed Lee told the San Francisco Chronicle. Lee, hasn’t met a press opportunity he didn’t like. And like any other politician, he loves a easy money backer!
There have been many funds who have invested in many startups long before he became Mayor Tech-Lover. He needs to get a clue and find those long term believers and laud them before championing the new opportunists. Seriously, who is Lee’s press secretary! Unlike the tech-industry supporters of Lee, I see him for what he really is a faux-believer on whose watch we saw a functioning and thriving startup greenhouse, Pier 38 put out of business to make way for some expensive real estate.
The same space that produced my company and also Instagram (that made a shit load of money for Benchmark, by the way) has not been replaced. The local business community has suffered. And the startups have withered in the wind, and found homes in more expensive locations, which of course means that there is need for more investment dollars. Circle is complete. In my book, actions speak louder than words. So unless Lee and his team can reverse this cycle by say offering no-strings attached real estate for any pre-funding startup below 5 people with a nominal/affordable rent, they should stop calling themselves friends of startups and technology.
So what it really is about? Deal Flow – plain and simple. San Francsico has been emerging as a center of new web startups for nearly a decade. Over past few years, numerous blog posts have been written about the changing epicenter of web startups from Palo Alto/Mountain View to San Francisco. David Lee of SV Angel noted on Twitter that “For first time in 20 yrs, most of SV-based @svangel companies are in SF instead of Peninsula. Watershed moment.” SV Angel opened an office in San Francisco, five years ago.
“The business moved, and we’re all waking up to the fact that this is a monumental shift. These forces are long term, and we’re making a bet consistent with that.” Two-thirds of Benchmark’s deals since 2009 have been in San Francisco, he said. [SF Chronicle]
Lewis Cirne, one of my favorite founders who has been backed by Fenton says, “Benchmark is capitalizing on a trend, and it signifies them being ahead of the curve.” Ahem, edit/rephrase. My question is what took them so long? I mean if some of Benchmark’s top investments — Twitter, New Relic Instagram, Zendesk are in San Francisco then it is has taken them three years to figure out the trend. Or is “the new office now” is simply an extension of Benchmark strategy – swoop in to make an investment when a startup/service is starting to gather momentum.
Actually Benchmark isn’t the only VC looking to commit to San Francisco. I have met and talked to at least four other large funds – some from Sandhill Road and some from out of town who are looking to set up shop in SF and try and capture the lightening in a term sheet.
I have seen this movie before. It was more than a decade ago when web startups were the new black. A lot of VCs showed up, made polite noises. Some of them were giants, some of them were new comers. When the music stopped, they left. Like all fair-weather friends. What makes anyone think that it wouldn’t happen again. But hey, today it gets headlines, brings attention and helps win elections…