Maveron struck gold a few years ago when it provided the initial seed funding to a young e-commerce startup by the name of Zulily, housing the startup at its offices as entrepreneurs Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon got the idea off the ground. Of course, that’s proven to be a very, very good investment for Maveron, with Zulily last summer raising $85 million at a whopping $1 billion valuation.
Now, Maveron is looking to repeat that success.
The Seattle venture capital firm, co-founded by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz and former investment banker Dan Levitan, today is announcing a new seed funding program designed specifically for consumer-oriented startups.
The goal? Invest in one seed-stage deal per month, sinking $100,000 to $250,000 in each.
The money will be provided from Maveron’s $240 million fourth fund, with each of the firm’s six partners (spread between Seattle and San Francisco) looking for young upstarts. Levitan notes that the firm has “plenty of dry powder” available to support a dozen new seed-stage deals, and it has already started the process by backing TechStars Seattle grad and automotive shopping service Tred.
“Our hope is that a bunch of these seeds become cores,” says Levitan, adding that he’d be satisfied if 10 to 20 percent went on to raise successful next rounds.
Maveron’s new program comes amid changing winds in the venture capital business. For one, seed-stage deals have increased in volume as investors attempt to get in on the next big idea, earlier. According to CB Insights, seed-stage deals increased from 472 in 2009 to 1,749 in 2012, a trend that is creating the so-called “series A crunch” for those early-stage companies trying to raise their next round of funding. (See yesterday’s story: “Yes, it really is harder to land that series A round from VCs”).
Furthermore, consumer technology startups, once the hottest realm of the venture capital set, have fallen out of favor in recent months as investors turn their attention to enterprise software companies.
Levitan thinks that trend is creating an opening for Maveron, which has tightened its focus in recent years around consumer technology upstarts in health and wellness, education and e-commerce.
“We know one thing, and that’s what we focus on, which is consumer,” said Levitan, a backer of Julep, Decide.com, Trupanion and Potbelly Sandwich Works. “As we’ve seen more venture dollars flow away from consumer, we think now is as good of time as any, perhaps better, to build a consumer company.”
The reason is that consumer technology companies now have a better opportunity to integrate into people’s lives, especially as they use various devices in different ways.
“In the e-commerce world, you’ve gone from virtually zero to 30 or 35 percent of traffic and sales … in mobile off of really the emergence of iPads and other kinds of devices,” he said. “Quite contrary to the way the dollars are speaking, the opportunities to build great consumer businesses using that distribution infrastructure and social mechanisms are better than ever before. And so we are glad to put money to work, and in terms of our seed program, step it up.”
Typically, venture capital firms of Maveron’s size have struggled to make investments of that size.
Partners only have so much capacity, and the smaller deals, though they can turn into the next Zulily, don’t always work out. Most importantly, they also can eat up time.
Levitan said that they have streamlined the decision process around the smaller bets, and that they will be clear with the early-stage entrepreneurs that money provided at the seed-stage won’t come with the heavy lifting usually associated with the later-stage deals.
“We clearly say to them, when we invest $100,000 that’s different than when we invest $4 million,” says Levitan.
Even so, Levitan said that they hope to use the program to get to know some of the emerging consumer-tech entrepreneurs. It also will allow the firm to put more money to work in early-stage bets that are working well.
“The opportunity to get a very large pie hopefully emerges,” said Levitan.