• Lending Club Zooms Into Car Refinancings

    screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-12-57-25-pmMany Americans learned through Lending Club that they can refinance their credit card debt online; now, the lending marketplace is hoping they’ll start refinancing their automotive loans using its platform, too.

    Indeed, though automotive lending is a massive market, car refinance is far smaller owing to a lack of awareness, suggests Lending Club CEO Scott Sanborn, with whom we spoke by phone earlier today. “People know they can refinance their home. But after their home, their car is their second-largest purchase, yet the car refinance market in the U.S. was about $40 billion last year.”

    In comparison, the overall U.S. auto loan debt market had grown to $1.103 trillion by this past June, according to the research firm Experian Automotive.

    For Lending Club, it’s a prime opportunity (no pun intended), though it carries plenty of risk, as well.

    The publicly traded, San Francisco-based company has struggled throughout 2016, following the forced resignation of its founder and CEO Renaud Laplanche in May over alleged conflicts of interest and a mishandled sale of loans to Jefferies Group.

    Laplanche’s departure shook investors’ faith that the platform was among the strongest in the world of online lending. It also prompted more investors to examine whether the platform had become overly reliant on Wall Street banks that were looking for yield but are notoriously fickle customers.

    Scott Sanborn, who took over as CEO and who’d served as the company’s chief operating officer prior, has taken drastic steps to get the company back on course, but none has had a meaningful impact just yet.

    For example, in addition to hiring a new CFO, a new COO, a new general counsel and a new chief capital officer, Bloomberg reports that a separate new initiative hasn’t gone as well as hoped: providing loans to small businesses via partnerships with Alibaba and Alphabet.

    Asked about that earlier today, Sanborn says that what “gives us confidence when I think about auto is that it’s not just leveraging our technical skills and learnings but also takes advantage of our marketing acquisition skills,” which he suggests Lending Club has been less able to do with its small loans program, given that it’s depending on partners for their distribution.

    Sanborn also argues that though Lending Club has plenty of competition, the large auto lenders aren’t among its worries.

    More here.

  • Watch: Marc Andreessen on Twitter, Secondary Sales, Pulling the Plug, and More

    On Thursday night, at a StrictlyVC insider event, I interviewed famed entrepreneur-investor Marc Andreessen, whose most recent headline-grabbing maneuver (intentionally or not) was to take a Twitter break one week ago.

    I talked with Andreessen about why he has had enough of the social media platform for now, along with a lot of other things. For those of you without the time or inclination to watch the entire 50-minute interview, I’ve broken out some of what I asked Andreessen, and where you can find his specific answers. (I’d write out his comments, but anyone who has seen Andreessen speak can attest that he talks in wide-ranging paragraphs, so we thought this might make more sense.)

    First 4 minutes or so: Twitter stuff. Andreessen suggests he left for now owing to today’s highly politicized environment, saying he feels “free as a bird” as a result. My colleague over at TechCrunch, Katie Roof, wrote a related story here.

    At 4:00: We talk about whether he still believes that there are 15 companies per year that will go on to create at least $100 million in annual revenue (and that those are the firms top VCs must back to stay on top). It’s the thesis around which Andreessen’s venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, was founded in 2009. My question more specifically is whether that number has grown larger or smaller or remained static.

    Around 9:00: I asked if more of the winners — no matter their number — are being created outside of the U.S., Silicon Valley-focused Andreessen Horowitz is perhaps missing them.

    At the 11:20 mark: Here, Andreessen answers whether too much money is finding its way to Silicon Valley and what the impact might be if so.

    At 16 minutes: Andreessen answers why today’s private companies — which Andreessen has argued can better compete with public companies (versus other public companies) — won’t run into the same exact constraints as their public company counterparts when they eventually go public, too.

    At 18.5 minutes: Here, I bring up Bill Gurley’s recent theorizing that once Uber goes public, it will be expected to be profitable, and its well-subsidized, still-private competitors will undercut it on price and try to steal market share. I ask whether this is a concern for Andreessen-backed Lyft and others of its portfolio companies.

    At 22 minutes (ish): Andreessen talks about why it’s easier but not absolutely necessary for founders to implement a dual-class structure in order to maintain control of their companies once public.

    Approaching 23:30 minutes: I’ve just asked Andreessen why, despite an uptick in M&A by nontraditional tech acquirers (think General Motors and the many private equity firms to go shopping this year), we aren’t seeing more acquisitions by Google, Facebook, or Amazon.

    28:00: Now we’re getting into specific questions about Andreessen Horowitz, starting with whether or not Andreessen thinks the firm changed the game on the field by paying more for deals than Silicon Valley investors had ever seen.

    At 31:30: I note that Andreessen Horowitz missed what seems to be the biggest winner of the last decade: Uber. I ask how that impacts the firm. He doesn’t love this particular question, and steers the conversation down the path of why it makes sense to lead more than one round in a winner (which also came up in my question).

    At 35:00: I reference a 2015 New Yorker profile of Andreessen, which noted the daunting amount of capital the firm will need to produce for investors who’ve given the firm a whopping $6.2 billion, assuming they expect a venture-like 5x to 10x return. He tells me the firm is “elephant hunting,” a firm he has used frequently to describe Andreessen Horowitz’s investing style. (Evidently, that explanation is sufficiently convincing to the firm’s investors for now.)

    Around 35:30: Here, I ask a question about whether or not he thinks Andreessen-backed Airbnb could possibly catch up to the valuation of Uber. (Btw, in the course of this answer, he says that Andreessen Horowitz has backed Airbnb “primarily in one round,” so make of that what you will. TC has reported that Airbnb is currently raising another humongous round.) Astute listeners might also note that in a reference to Sequoia Capital’s Alfred Lin, I accidentally refer to him as “Alfred Lee.” I sometimes have verbal dyslexia.

    36:30: Has Andreessen Horowitz sold stakes via the secondary market? (He takes his time here, but the answer is yes. I missed the chance to ask where/when, because of his lengthy reply, though the WSJ has reported that the firm sold some of its shares in the ride-share company Lyft earlier this year. )

    At 40:35: Andreessen talks here about the firm’s philosophy about selling after an IPO. (“Our LPS are very clear with us, which is that they’re paying us to manage private, not public, money.”) His answer is characteristically more nuanced than that, but it sounds like they distribute stock to their investors faster than other VCs might.

    At 42:15: I share an observation that I’ve heard from entrepreneurs, which is that they are sometimes disappointed by how little time they get with the AH partner who leads the investment in their company, and that they are sometimes passed off to non-investing partners quickly (and sometimes, those non-investing partners’ junior staffers). He responds.

    At 45 minutes: The WSJ recently reported that AH’s returns trail those of other firms, but because it’s frankly too soon to know how it will stack up, here I ask Andreessen how he measures the firm’s success in the meantime, and what makes him think his firm’s whole agency-style network set-up is working.

    At 48:30: Here, I ask how AH decides to pull the plug on an investment.

    51:20: This is the last question (I was dinged by an assistant for running over our allotted time): Andreessen, whose son was born last year, answers how fatherhood has surprised him.

    Photo: Dani Padgett 

  • SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie: IPO, Yes; 2017, Not Likely

    screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-9-18-37-pmOn Thursday night, at a StrictlyVC event at SurveyMonkey in Palo Alto, this editor sat down with CEO Zander Lurie to learn more about the direction of the 17-year-old company, known for the roughly 90 million surveys that the outfit and its customers create for their various constituents each month (and whose average order volume is $300, says Lurie).

    I was particularly interested in Lurie, a former GoPro, CBS, and CNET executive, given his relatively quiet tenure as chief executive — a role he accepted in January after the passing of longtime CEO Dave Goldberg last year (and following a brief stint by a more immediate precedessor, tech veteran Ben Veghte).

    We wound up chatting about the company’s valuation, polling accuracy, and whether and when the company will go public, among other things. Part of that chat, edited for length, follows.

    You’ve been a CEO for nine months. What do you now appreciate much more about every CEO you’ve ever known?

    I always had a boss or somebody who was there for constant feedback, and it’s different when you’re CEO. We have an amazing board of directors . . . but as CEO, you’re in charge of the script: What’s the strategy, who are the teams you’re entrusting to build the company, then all the comms and the motivation and accountability associated with delivering on the company’s promise. It’s on you to be that great storyteller. And I love it, but that’s what has struck out for me. There’s no one to ask: Am I doing a good job?

    You inherited a unicorn company – valued at $2 billion at its last financing in late 2014. You also inherited the company under unique circumstances. Do you feel extra pressure owing to those circumstances?

    We’re fortunate to have one of the most profitable businesses on the internet. You couldn’t really do a survey until SurveyMonkey and its founder really invented this new online survey platform. The company in 2009 had about 12 employees and $25 million in profits, then beloved Dave Goldberg became CEO in a buyout and in six years hired about 600 people, and today we’ll do about $200 million in revenue, with EBITDA margins in the mid 30s. So sure, the circumstances under which I became CEO were awful. Dave was one of my best friends in the whole world. But the culture he built, and his ability to recruit a team of world-class people across product and engineering and marketing, amazes me still. So while it’s a lot of pressure, it’s also super fun and a great honor.

    How many people are using your surveys?

    There are 15 million who are sending [surveys] on an annual basis and interacting with our products in different ways. The vast majority are responding to surveys from people they trust, increasingly on a mobile device.

    We have a very detailed cohort analysis whereby people who try [the service] on a monthly basis tend to come on a somewhat transactional basis, and those who sign up for an annual plan — the longer they stay, the less likely they are to churn, and those are obviously our most profitable companies.

    Uber is one of your many corporate customers, correct? Are they responsible for those five-star ratings we’re asked to give drivers at the end of each ride?

    Uber is using a variety of [our] products, though I can’t say exactly which. I think the largest survey company in the world today is Uber. Today, every time you take an Uber, you take a .2-second survey where you’re rating your driver, and obviously those data points are helping inform them about which drivers are doing a great job, as well as [informing Uber about] the customers who drivers like. It’s using what we call people-powered data in a really refreshing way to drive their product forward.

    I always give drivers five stars out of some paranoid fear that if I don’t, there will be ramifications. Other people game surveys for their own reasons. How do you ensure these surveys are actually useful to your customers?

  • True Ventures Just Led a $12 Million Investment in Still-Stealth Brava

    team_portraitIf you’re curious to learn about the latest investment out of San Francisco-based True Ventures, you’ll have to be patient. Though the firm is disclosing that it has led a whopping $12 million Series A round in new startup Brava, details about the startup are scarce.

    What we do know: Brava is a new IoT company that plans to create a suite of domestic hardware and software products, beginning with a kitchen appliance that aims to make cooking easier. It also just brought aboard John Pleasants as CEO.

    If that name is familiar, it’s because Pleasants has led a number of digital media companies over the last couple of decades, including as co-president of Disney Interactive Media Group, COO of Electronic Arts, CEO of Ticketmaster, and most recently as an EVP at Samsung.

    Pleasants also spent a year as the CEO of Playdom, a social gaming company that was acquired for $563 million by Disney in 2010 (thus Pleasants’s role there). It was at Playdom where he met Brava cofounder Dan Yue, who went to high school with Brava’s other cofounder, Thomas Cheng.

    Yue was Playdom’s chief product officer and headed to Disney with Pleasants after the sale, logging a couple of years with the entertainment giant as an SVP of product. Cheng meanwhile cofounded the smart parking company Streetline and recently spent a year as the head of hardware at August, the smart lock company.

    Oh, and if you’re wondering where True Ventures fits into all of this, the firm sold an earlier portfolio company, social gaming startup Hive7, to Playdom back in 2010 and got to know Pleasants then.

    We had the chance to talk with Pleasants yesterday about Brava, which quietly came together about a year ago.

    More here.

  • NFX Guild Just Introduced 13 Buzzy Young Startups to Investors

    nfx-guild-logo-bigThe young Bay Area accelerator NFX Guild hosted its third “demo day” yesterday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, and the attendees were a veritable who’s who of venture and angel investing.

    It wasn’t necessarily a surprise that roughly 200 top investors were sitting elbow to elbow to see the presenting companies. NFX Guild prides itself on being different that most accelerators in numerous ways, including that there’s no publicly available application process; startups are instead referred to NFX “scouts,” who happen to mostly be VCs. The last class, which passed through the program earlier this year, saw referrals from 42 people; this class involved 68 scouts.

    NFX was also founded by a trio of well-regarded entrepreneur-operators, including James Currier, Stan Chudnovsky and Gigi Levy Weiss, who provide NFX companies with $120,000, along with 30 hours of programming, mentoring and investor introductions. NFX in turn gets 7 percent of their company. (If the company has already raised more than $750,000, NFX asks for 5 percent.)

    Investors also seem drawn to NFX because its startups and teachings center around a narrow idea with very broad implications: the importance of network effects, a phenomenon when a product or service becomes more valuable to its users as more people use it.

    As far as NFX is concerned, any company, at any stage, can “add” network effects to multiply the value of their company. And Brian O’Malley of Accel Partners, who was in the audience yesterday, suggested afterward that he agrees. “Network effects aren’t just for social applications. We’re seeing this across our portfolio, but it was highlighted in today’s demo day that blockchain, SaaS, labor markets and more can benefit from core network effects embedded in product.”

    NFX-backed companies like the home remodeling and design platform Houzz and the event planning platform Honeybook are “nailing this model,” added another attendee, Jeff Richards of GGV Capital, saying, “We as a firm are betting big on this trend as well.”

    Click here to check out the companies that presented yesterday.

  • At Pear Demo Day in Palo Alto, 13 Companies to Watch

    IMG_1265As  dozens of Teslas baked in the sprawling Palo Alto parking lot of a local law firm yesterday, 100 top investors packed into a high-ceilinged meeting room. There, they listened as 13 startups deliver four-minute presentations about why they’re worth watching.

    The companies — all of them roughly six months old or younger, and all led by current college students or recent graduates — were part of the Launchpad program of three-year-old Pear, an early-stage venture firm that annually invites computer science students from top schools to build companies in their office with a $50,000 uncapped note and no strings attached. (Until recently, the firm was known as Pejman Mar Ventures.)

    So far, Pear seems to be choosing these student teams wisely. Out of the eight groups that presented a year ago, one startup sold to Google and four others have raised seed funding. Pear’s inaugural class, in 2014, also saw one startup, FancyThat, sell to Palantir.

    Certainly, the venture capitalists gathered yesterday seemed enthusiastic. Ross Fubini, a partner at Canaan Partners, tweeted partway through the presentations that it was “looking like the best demo event of the year.” Another investor, Lux Capital partner Shahin Farshchi, told us afterward that he also thought it was “fantastic, with something for everybody, including consumer companies, analytics and AI companies, and deep tech for investors like me.”

    For those who weren’t there and may be curious, here’s what you missed:

    Allocate.ai: This company makes AI-powered time sheets to enable companies to better understand how and where their teams are spending time. According to the founders (who come from Stanford and UC Santa Barbara), 45 million people fill out time sheets in the U.S., and they estimate that this adds up to $11 billion in lost time. (Think of lawyers whose time is valuable and may spend upwards of 15 minutes a day tracking their billable hours.) They argue that made more efficient, the market could be a whole lot bigger, too. If you agree and want to reach out to them, you can do that at founders@allocate.ai.

    BlackSMS: Its tech allows users to send encrypted, password-protected, self-destructing iMessages that can even be disguised and masked inside of fake replacement texts. This struck us as useful for a variety of cases, and we hope we’re right about that. Its 20-year-old founder, Tyler Weitzman — who says he has built 30 apps since his middle school days — is now dropping out of Stanford to “go all in on BlackSMS.”

    To learn more, you can check out a longer piece that TC wrote here earlier this year. To contact Weitzman, you can email him at founders@black-sms.com.

    Capella Space: This data company says it can provide persistent and reliable information from space through a constellation of shoebox-size satellites that it’s building. How do they differ from the satellites of other startups? Its tech relies on synthetic aperture radar, meaning it sends radio waves down to the earth’s surface that — based on the reflection of the radio waves that go through the clouds and don’t require illumination from the sun — can capture images at night and despite heavy cloud cover. (Many other new constellations rely on optical technologies instead.)

    Capella does have competitors, including Ursa Space Systems. Ursa currently sells information to customers based on traditional (read big, bulky) satellites that employ synthetic aperture radar, and it’s planning to develop its own constellation of satellites. But it’s pretty much an open race at this point. You can reach the founders at founders@cappellaspace.com.


    DeepLIFT Technologies: This company has developed a set of algorithms that it says can understand and explain any deep learning process by looking at inputs, identifying recurring patterns and other stuff.

    Why bother drilling into why machine learning processes work like they do? For one thing, regulators are starting to push back against “black box” technologies. Most notably, the EU recently introduced a provision to pass legislation that guarantees EU citizens a “right to explanation” when machine learning models are used to make decisions that impact them.

    The founders say the company is not raising money. (We’re not sure we believe this.) They also say their tech, currently in use across eight genomic labs in the U.S., has already attracted substantial interest from Alphabet, including from Google’s mobile development team and Alphabet’s life sciences subsidiary Verily. You can reach them at founders@deeplift.ai.

    More here.

  • AngelList Deals Will Soon Be Private (and Other Updates You’ll Want to Know)

    Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 10.08.31 AMEarlier this week, we sat down with Naval Ravikant, cofounder of five-year-old AngelList, a popular platform that matches startups with early-stage investors. Three million people, including 50,000 accredited investors, have created profiles on AngelList since its founding, and AngelList now uses that information to pair startups with capital, pair startup employees with employers and, more newly, pair startups with customers.

    It’s become a big business, as well as a confusing one, Ravikant readily admits. And while we can’t report on one interesting new, performance-related wrinkle that’s coming soon, he walked us through many other stats and initiatives. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

    TC: A few years ago, AngelList introduced Syndicates, essentially pop-up funds that allow angel investors to syndicate their investments in exchange for some upside. It was fairly transparent at the outset, but that’s been changing. Why?

    NR: Seventy-five percent of the deals are now private, up from 45 percent a year ago. It’ll be default private soon because a lot of the hot deals tend to be private. Also, that public-private dichotomy is always really hard for entrepreneurs [in fundraising mode] to figure out, so they start associating our brand [with a place to share information publicly to accredited investors], which is a negative, so they don’t want to go on here. We might take a hit on liquidity by making the default private, but at the end of the day, it’s all about getting the high-quality companies.

    TC: An investor, Gil Penchina, has built a big business on the platform. Are more leads starting to see a kind of of network effect?

    NR: Gil is a unique case. He’s the one who’s always breaking the system. We’re more catering to operator-angels, meaning people who have operating jobs, or VPs at big companies or who’ve started their own startups. It’s people who aren’t professional VCs but who do four to six deals a year, investing in alumni and people they know.

    TC: How many of them close a deal each month? And are the investors on the platform mostly based in Silicon Valley?

    NR: We had 55 deals led by 41 leads close in June; we had 44 deals led by 38 leads close in July. The average for most leads on the platform is a couple of deals per year. As for demographics, I’d say over half [the people who lead deals on the platform] are in Silicon Valley.

    TC: You’d said publicly somewhere that you were getting into special purpose vehicles, which come together quickly to invest in a single, later-stage company. Why would someone create an SPV on the platform?

    More here.

  • Naval Ravikant on China Money into Silicon Valley: This Trickle Could Become a Tsunami

    Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 10.08.31 AMAngelList, the online platform that matches startups with early-stage investors, has grown by leaps and bounds since its 2010 founding — and so have its ambitions. In fact, the company, which already bills itself as both the biggest seed-stage firm in the world, and the world’s largest hiring platform for startups, also aims to become the biggest venture fund in the world.

    Earlier this week, we sat down with cofounder Naval Ravikant at the firm’s swanky new, three-story digs in San Francisco’s Jackson Square, and as workmen shifted planks around the nearly completed ground-floor level, Ravikant caught us up to speed on a many aspects of what’s happening at AngelList.

    We’ll have more on his overarching vision tomorrow. Today, we’re publishing a part of our conversation that centered one of the biggest drivers of AngelList’s current growth: the $400 million that CSC Group — one of the biggest private equity funds in China — committed to invest through AngelList roughly 10 months ago. (The WSJ billed it as the “largest single pool of funds devoted to early-stage startups—ever.”)

    Ravikant shared how that relationship is evolving, and why he thinks CSC’s money is just the tip of the iceberg for both AngelList and Silicon Valley more broadly. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

    TC: Let’s start at the beginning. Who is managing this $400 million from CSC?

    NR: It’s a fund called CSC Upshot that’s managed by CSC’s Veronica Wu, who used to be a VP at Tesla Motors in Beijing; Ming Yeh, who’d spent the previous six years or so as a managing director at [Silicon Valley Bank] in Shanghai; and Tom Cole, a former partner at Trinity Ventures.

    TC: How much have they invested in startups on AngelList so far?

    NR: They’re on track to invest between $25 million and $40 million this year, with an average check size of $100,000.

    TC: Wow, that’s quite a pace. How does the decision-making process work?

    NR: We’ve built a dashboard for fund management, and all these managers [have signed nondisclosure agreements] so they get to see literally hundreds and hundreds of deals on AngelList. And they chat with each other and [with the lead investor’s approval], if enough people vote yes, the deal gets done.

    Much more here.

  • VC Charlie O’Donnell on Building Up Community, Cheaply

    Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 10.05.05 PMBrooklyn Bridge Ventures, a nearly four-year-old, seed-stage venture firm that’s solely run by founder and general partner, Charlie O’Donnell, just closed its second fund with $15 million, up from an $8.3 million debut fund in early 2014.

    Yesterday, we talked  with O’Donnell about what the process was like, whether the New York venture scene will be impacted by the $3 billion sale of e-commerce company Jet.com to Walmart, and how a small operation like Brooklyn Bridge Ventures can make an outsize impact on a shoestring budget.

    TC: We sat down last November and you’d mentioned that you’d circled $13 million or so for this new fund.

    CO: I estimated that I had about $13 million in estimated commitments, and we didn’t go into detail on what that meant. For me, it’s a spreadsheet that has a [potential investor] in the fund, a number, and a percent chance of closing, much like a sales pipeline.

    Comparatively, my first fund took 9 months from announcement to first close, and 15 months from first close to last close. This fund took 6 months from first close to last close, with 70 percent of the capital commitments coming in the first two closes.That all seemed super fast to me.

    TC: We were wondering if you ran into trouble this year with investors; some of the institutions that fund venture firms say they were mobbed earlier this year by firms that raised funds a couple of years ago and that didn’t want to be the last in line for their new fund.

    CO: Most of my [investors] aren’t in any other funds. An endowment that wrote me a $1 million check certainly is. And I think my lead investor is in one or two other funds, along with maybe a handful of individuals [who wrote me checks]. But they’re definitely in the minority. At my size, I’m not talking to many traditional [investors]. I have no idea why they keep writing checks every two years for funds that haven’t proved themselves out yet. I came from the fund side. I thought VCs raised every three to four years.

    TC: You’ve funded a lot of very promising companies. In your past life as a principal with First Round Capital, you also backed a number of companies that have sold. Do you have any “exits” yet at Brooklyn Bridge?

    CO: One exit returned its capital, but given that most of these companies average about two years old or less (it was a three-year investment period fund), it would be pretty early to start seeing exits at this stage. Also, standouts like [the smart home security company]Canary are ramping up revenues and releasing new and improved products and not looking to take an early exit anytime soon.

    TC: People have long said that New York needed a giant exit, especially after certain companies that looked to become big wins saw their fortunes change, including Gilt Groupe and Fab. Was Jet that exit? 

    CO: Jet was certainly a large exit and a testament to the great team the company assembled. Three billion dollars is a lot of money, but given how much they raised right out of the gate, I don’t know what multiples its investors got given what one would assume were the entry prices. So, do the aggregate dollars count or the return multiple? I’m not sure, but I’m also not someone who believes in the “giant exit” theory.

    What’s supposed to happen when we get a giant exit? We get more angels?

    More here.

  • Several Key Rothenberg Ventures’ Employees Have Left the Firm

    Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 9.28.08 PMSeveral high-level employees at the early-stage venture firm Rothenberg Ventures have recently left, we’ve learned. Among them is Tommy Leep, a partner and the head of Rothenberg’s San Francisco office, who left last month after spending two-and-a-half years with the firm. (A former product manager at Intuit, Leep spent the previous two years as “chief connector” at the venture firm Floodgate.)

    Other recent departures include Tom Leep, father to Tommy, who’d spent more than three years as Rothenberg’s director of finance before leaving in June; Sophie Liao, who was recently hired with the title of Managing Director, Asia-Pacific Region and appears to have left this month; and Catherine Johnson, a former SVP of HR at BrightSource Energy who joined Rothenberg Ventures this spring, only to leave three months later, in June.

    Neither Liao or Johnson has returned a request for comment. Leep referred all questions about the firm to a company spokesperson. Asked if his father’s departure and his own were connected or unrelated, Leep said he had “no comment at this time.”

    A separate source suggests Leep left of his own accord, while a wide number of other employees were laid off. We don’t know if Michael Dempsey was among them, but the former CB Insights analyst, who joined Rothenberg Ventures in January as an investor, also left last week. Dempsey didn’t respond to a request for more information.

    Rothenberg Ventures was founded just four years ago by Mike Rothenberg, an Austin native who nabbed a master’s in management science and engineering from Stanford before getting his MBA from Harvard.

    Despite its age, the firm has made something of an outsize impact on the local venture industry, including by organizing popular events, such as an annual Founders Field Day at AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play, and by barreling into virtual reality investments before many investors were paying much attention to them.

    Indeed, in late 2014, Rothenberg Ventures announced it would be launching a startup accelerator, River, which planned to provide $100,000 in seed funding to virtual reality companies expressly. Among those early bets was FOVE, which makes an eye-tracking head-mounted display. FOVE passed through Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London before being selected for River’s inaugural class, but, notably, it went on to raise an $11 million Series A round in March.

    By May of last year, Rothenberg Ventures had also created River Studios, a “creative house for VR production” that, according to the firm’s site, currently “consists of 30 passionate creators, artists and developers, committed to creating inspiring stories, and pushing the boundaries of this awesome medium.”

    More here.

StrictlyVC on Twitter