In Palo Alto, a Micro Community in the Making

demo dayOn Tuesday, in leafy Palo Alto, Ca., tucked away in a nondescript office enlivened by bright, computer-themed art, the 1.5-year-old early-stage firm Pejman Mar Ventures welcomed journalists and investors to watch half a dozen startups explain what it is that they’re doing. Four of the teams were comprised of Stanford students who had tinkered on their nascent ideas at Pejman Mar’s offices this past summer. The other two startups that presented are fully up and running and about to hit the fundraising trail.

In terms of quantity, it wasn’t much of a showcase. Two of the four Stanford-led teams are returning to school, its founders determined to finish their computer science PhDs. Pejman Mar’s timing could have been better, too, given everything else that was going on in the Bay Area on Tuesday, including Apple’s highly anticipated launch event and TechCrunch’s signature fall conference in San Francisco.

Still, plenty of VCs and reporters showed up — including from SoftTech VC, Floodgate, CRV, and Forbes — and for two reasons, seemingly.

First, Pejman Nozad and Mar Hershenson, the firm’s likable cofounders, are highly focused on creating a community around their young firm. Making room for ambitious Stanford students to hole up during the summer months is one way of going about it.

The pair also hold weekly events at their space that feature VCs and renowned founders. Past guests include John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang, and Zynga founder Mark Pincus — though an even more popular attraction, says Nozad, is a life coach who comes twice a month to help founders with their personal problems. (“When you say you’re going to have a VC here, maybe 10 or 20 people come,” he says. “As soon as we announced the life coach, we had a wait list.”)

Of course, squishier stuff aside, investors are paying close attention to Pejman Mar because of its track record to date.

On his own, Nozad, who famously sold rugs to tech millionaires before becoming a full-time investor, has backed more than 100 companies over the last 14 years, many of which have gone on to big exits, including the early smartphone company Danger, which sold to Microsoft in 2008 for $500 million. (It’s also through Danger that Nozad met Hershenson, a three-time entrepreneur whose husband cofounded Danger.)

photo 2Since launching their fund a year and a half ago, the pair have backed another 21 companies, half of which have raised follow-on rounds – including some doozies. DoorDash, for example, a 1.5-year-old, Palo Alto-based restaurant food delivery startup, closed on a $17.3 million Series A round in May led by Sequoia. The company has raised $19.7 million altogether. Guardant Health, a Redwood City, Ca.-based startup that has developed a blood test for cancer, has also gone on to raise significant funding, most recently raising a $30 million Series B round in April led by Khosla Ventures. Guardant has raised at least $40 million altogether.

Little wonder that on Tuesday, VCs were paying close attention to the two startups that will soon be seeking funding: Solvvy, which is trying to reinvent mobile search and has so far raised $500,000 from Pejman Mar (it’s seeking out more seed funding this fall), and Fieldbook, whose software lets users track and organize their information in simple data tables. Fieldbook has also raised $500,000, including from Pejman Mar; AngelList cofounder Naval Ravikant; former Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky; and Lotus founder Mitch Kapor. The company says it will seek out more funding in the middle of next year.

It’s a little early to know whether the assembled investors connected with the startups this past week. With Pejman Mar’s growing reputation, though, it’s easy to imagine they’ll find interest somewhere along the line. “These companies are for real,” Nozad told me on Tuesday, looking like a proud parent as the crowd chatted with the presenting companies. “They’re great people.”

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