Ron Conway (Wikipedia photo)

Ron Conway is one of the best known angel investors on the planet. So, when the early backer of Facebook, Google, Trulia, Airbnb and Zappos talks, people tend to sit up and listen. Conway — who has invested in more than 650 startup companies — was a guest this week at the Inman Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, an event attended by Seattle area companies such as Estately, DocuSign, Market Leader, Redfin and Zillow.

Findwell CEO Kevin Lisota shot some video of the Conway chat, and shared it with GeekWire. Here are some excerpts from the conversation with Brad Inman:

On why he likes to invest early:

“We are always involved when it is five people or less, and I happen to believe that that is the most exciting time in a company’s history when it is five people in a one-room office. We give those entrepreneurs advice, just like any other startup entrepreneur. And fast-forward 10 years later and it is Larry and Sergey, it is Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey of Twitter…. We are only involved in the very front-end of the cycle but it is the most exciting. It is when these entrepreneurs are just like anybody else…. We don’t help them in the back-end of the process, but we were there when they were nothing so to speak. And that is very satisfying — to see them grow and mature into some of the best entrepreneurs ever.”

On the new competition between Google +, Facebook and Twitter:

“They are all competing for consumers, and because you have three very capable companies … the consumer is going to end up with awesome products because you do have Google, Facebook, Twitter in a horse race to bring consumers the best solution.”

On whether we are in a bubble:

“The companies that are going public today or waiting to go public today, they all have real revenues, they have real business models and true monetization (strategies) that are sustainable. The companies in 1999 and 2000 many of them didn’t have a sustainable business model…. I am not an investment banker, but I would say the valuations are a little bit ahead of themselves. But because these companies are all growing so fast I believe all of these companies will, in fact, grow into their valuations that they are getting today that are a bit generous. And I think they will exceed those valuations. So, I am very, very optimistic and absolutely do not think that we are in a bubble.”

On Silicon Valley, New York and Chicago as innovation hubs:

“I think Silicon Valley is the center of the universe, and like eight years ago I was caught on video saying that the Bay Area would always be the center of technology and nobody would ever impact us at all, and I was wrong. Five years ago, we had just a handful of companies in New York. Today, we have 45 companies in New York and it represents 24 percent of our portfolio. So, just in the last three years, New York has exploded…. There is no stopping New York now. We think Chicago, with the advent of Groupon, which we think is an awesome company, that Groupon is going to spawn entrepreneurship…. But the center of the universe still is the Bay Area.”

On what he looks for in an entrepreneur:

“You can’t measure passion. And we watch for it instinctively, and it has taken me 15 years to pick up those instincts. But, within 10 minutes, I can tell if we are going to invest in a company. The entrepreneur is talking about their idea, but we are more looking at their personal characteristics.”

On Zillow rival Trulia:

“(Trulia’s) Pete Flint and Sami Inkinen, they are in my top 20 model entrepreneurs. They are in the Zuckerberg mode. They go into the hovel and they just keep making the product better. You don’t see them out in public much. You don’t see Zuckerberg hardly ever at a speaking engagement. He just wants to make the product better. And the Trulia founders are in that mold.”

On advice to entrepreneurs:

“Bootstrap as long as you can.”

Comments

  • Guest

    While entrepreneurs don’t often have the same luxury of “choosing their investors” as investors do in choosing their entrepreneurs – If you can spot passion and commitment in an investor within 10-minutes, and it’s mutual, that’s serendipitous and a long term relationship is about to begin.

    Too many investors think that if they can check off 10-boxes out of 12 on some cheat sheet, they’ve found a good investment, rather than taking Conway’s approach.  That start-up genome project comes to mind as one of the worst ways for an investor to determine whether they should make a commitment.

  • Pesgreen

    THANK YOU FOR ADVISE AS BROKERS WE ARE HELPING TO FUND MANY NEW BUSINESS IDEAS  pesgreen@eircom.net  patrick.

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