It’s been a long journey for entrepreneur Tom Gonser, who founded electronic signature and paperwork startup DocuSign in Seattle 13 years ago. He has since served as the startup’s CEO and then its chief strategy officer, and navigated DocuSign through explosive growth, hundreds of millions in funding, and a headquarters relocation to San Francisco.
And now, Gonser is stepping away from the company to fill another essential role in the startup ecosystem: venture capitalist.
Gonser has joined Bend, Ore., based venture capital firm Seven Peaks Ventures as a partner, and says he is excited to enter this new phase of his entrepreneurial career.
“I’ve actually always been investing in technology, its just been my own in the past several iterations,” Gonser told GeekWire in an email.
“That aside, my FAVORITE part of starting something is the zero-1 step, where you create something that has not been done before, despite everyone telling you it can’t be done,” he said. “That stage creates amazing things that kills some and makes others real founders. Short answer, I love the passion and grit it takes to start something new.”
In his new role at Seven Peaks Ventures — a three-year-old firm started by venture capital veteran Dino Vendetti — Gonser said he will be looking for gritty entrepreneurs who persistently chase what may seem like unrealistic dreams. That’s something Gonser knows well, since he helped build DocuSign into a company with more than 250,000 paying customers, over 1,000 employees and a market value in the billions.
“I know what it takes to create a new category, and to build an industry,” said Gonser. “I hope to meet and work with founders who have this same ambition. In building DocuSign, we made many many decisions on our growth. Some were great, some I wish I had back. During the process, I learned how to build a true market-bending Unicorn…. I am eager to share this experience — the good and the bad — with our portfolio companies, so they can avoid some of those issues, and get there faster.”
Gonser said he’s particularly interested in companies and entrepreneurs who are looking to digitize processes, removing “old-style/fragile systems” with flexible “cloud based processes that can be nimble.”
“There are a number of technologies including enterprise workflow and smart contracts, blockchain solutions, and mobile empowerment that will give leading edge companies a 10x advantage over those who move slowly,” he said. “If these new companies are smart they can execute a phased plan that gives them a position that is very hard to break. This is where I’m interested in investing.”
Gonser did consider joining other venture capital firms, but he said Seven Peaks’ geography and “rise of the rest” motto resonated with him. He said that “the next great idea could come from your neighborhood, not just from the San Francisco Bay Area.”
For someone like Gonser, who has deep roots in the San Francisco and Seattle startup scenes, a somewhat out-of-the-way city like Bend may seem like a strange choice. But Gonser said cities like Bend are actually ideal for startups, and companies like Seven Peaks Ventures are heralding in a new set of options for startups.
“I think smart people will realize that the gains in baseline standard of living are so much higher just one hour away from major metro areas, that we will see a flock of really smart founders decide to build the next great company in a location that allows a better balance, and is actually much more efficient,” he said.
“Seven Peaks Ventures shares a similar feeling that technology has moved to a point where you no longer have to move your company to a big city to succeed,” said Gonser. He added that he anticipates hubs like Bend, only an hour’s flight to the San Francisco Bay Area, will become increasingly popular locales for young startups.
“How awesome was it to find a high caliber team (led) by a seasoned VC from the Bay Area living in Bend, already creating the best venture capital opportunity for startups in the Pacific Northwest, where my roots are,” Gonser said.
Vendetti, a former partner at Bay Partners in Silicon Valley and Vulcan Ventures in Seattle, is certainly excited to have another experienced entrepreneur on the Seven Peaks’ team.
“Tom shares our belief that category-leading companies are being built in thriving regional markets across the country and in particular in the West, where easy access to the Bay Area has made markets like Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City very attractive to both entrepreneurs and investors,” said Vendetti in a release.
An early stage venture fund, Seven Peaks has backed a number of companies in the past three years, including Portland-based Opal Labs, Seattle-based Amplero and Bend-based Droplr.
Watch Gonser speak about his experience as an entrepreneur at the 2015 GeekWire Summit below.