VC Andy Weissman on the DNA of Union Square Ventures

andy_5By Semil Shah

For the last four or so years, Andy Weissman has been a partner at New York-based Union Square Ventures. But like his colleagues, including Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham, Weissman has been investing since the boom and bust of the late ’90s. He first joined Soundview Ventures/Dawntreader Ventures in 1999, spending more than six years with the firm before cofounding Betaworks with John Borthwick in 2007. In 2011, when Betaworks began to focus less on creating an investing portfolio (which Weissman had managed) and more on becoming an operating company, he hopped over to Union Square Ventures.

We talked last week about his work, and what USV is doing to maintain its status as one of the most successful venture firms in the game today.

How has USV’s thesis around “engaged networks of users” factored into investing in mobile-first companies? It’s obviously hard to find apps on mobile, and distribution can feel gated.

Well, at some level our thesis is not monolithic but instead is by design flexible, debatable, and evolving. When we wrote this post [about our pursuit of large networks of engaged users, differentiated through user experience, and defensible through network effects], we tried to explain how each of those words in the thesis matter, and how they each are subject to conversation over time.

So, at another level, the thesis applies to mobile-first companies the same way it applies to any companies or sectors, from mobile to blockchain to marketplaces. That being said, when you have a device that is available in everyone’s pocket, is location aware, and so forth, all the other attributes of a mobile device and mobile apps, there are real questions about the strength of the network effects. Are they the same? Or stronger? Or even weaker? That’s a conversation we’ve been having.

Speaking of which, tell us more about Figure1 and the story of how you came to invest in the company.

Kind of funny. I read something somewhere about the company. And I searched on Twitter and found the names of some of the founders. So I reached out to them on Twitter. A year later, we participated in their Series A financing. One of the best things was that as we got to know them, we realized Figure1 was precisely the kind of company in a medical or healthcare related field that was consistent with our thesis. I just didn’t know that until afterwards.

USV often travels as a team to the Bay Area and other regions to meet companies. This seems different than the lone-wolf culture of other firms.

USV operates in particular way. It’s not necessarily the only way to operate, nor is it necessarily the best way, but it is our way. We are a small firm by design and structure (meaning team size and capital size). And our framework for decision-making is a a particular point of view about the Internet – the thesis. So at least two times a year, we all go to San Francisco and get to spend a little more intimate and collective time with the companies we’ve invested in and others that we want to get to know us better. It works well. That small collaborative nature is part of the DNA. So we move in packs sometimes.

On mobile, besides Twitter, where do you find yourself having the most conversations? What apps are you most social on and why?

Twitter, Tumblr, Groupme, Reddit — the usual suspects. I lurk a lot in Figure1 and K-Pop Amino [a social network for Korean pop songs, photos, news and Korean music videos], then some other, very niche communities. As my friend Brad Dickason wrote to me the other day, “Put any self-branded introvert in a room with someone else who shares their passion and an intense dialogue ensues.”

USV has been doing more seed rounds of late. Naming rounds these days seems more complicated than it’s worth. How has USV adjusted its strategy to meet today’s environment?

I think we view our DNA as early stage investors foremost, without regard necessarily for whether something would classically be called Seed or A or whatever. I don’t think we’ve really adjusted the strategy. There are periods when we seem engaged in companies that at the earliest stages require less capital, and periods when the don’t. Lately, there have been more of the former than the latter, but we’ve also done a few of what you’d consider classic “Series A.”

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