• Silicon Valley’s Most Famous Rug Dealer Forms a New Fund

    0320_pejman-nozad_390x2201Pejman Nozad, Silicon Valley’s best-known rug dealer, has launched a new, low-flying venture firm.

    According to SEC filings, Nozad began raising $20 million for the new firm, Pejman Mar, a couple of months ago; his cofounder in the venture is serial entrepreneur Mar Hershenson.

    The new effort isn’t exactly top secret. Nozad has himself mentioned it in social media forums, and Hershenson’s LinkedIn profile reflects that she’s been co-running Pejman Mar since May. Still, Nozad isn’t discussing the effort publicly just yet. (When I’ve asked to meet about it over the last couple of months, he has politely declined each time, suggesting that we sit down at an unspecified future date.)

    The firm will be the second that Nozad has cofounded. In 1999, Nozad partnered with Saeed and Rahimi Amidi, whose rug-dealing father had given Nozad one of his first jobs as a salesman soon after the Iranian native arrived in San Francisco with $700 in his pocket. Silicon Valley lore has it that Nozad so successfully formed relationships with the rug gallery’s well-heeled clients — including Sequoia Capital’s Doug Leone – that the Amidis and Nozad formed Amidzad Partners to seize on those ties and the investment opportunities that come with them.

    Some VCs would kill for the track record that Nozad has established since, with past investments that include the mobile computing device company Danger, acquired by Microsoft in 2008; the online contest site Bix, which Yahoo purchased in 2006; and the online movie service Vudu, bought by Walmart in 2010.

    None were huge home runs for investors, but Forbes estimates that Nozad is “worth in the ballpark of $50 million,” suggesting those many base hits have added up. More, Amidzad is an early investor in other, flashy companies that have yet to exit, including Dropbox, which Nozad himself reportedly introduced to Sequoia. (Dropbox closed its most recent round of $250 million a year ago, at a $4 billion valuation.)

    It isn’t clear whether Nozad will continue to invest with Amidzad, on whose Website he remains featured. Rahimi Amidi didn’t respond to related questions.

    Either way, he seems to have a hard-charging partner in Hershenson, a Stanford engineering PhD who has cofounded numerous companies, including, most recently, the mobile commerce company Revel Touch. The 2.5-year-old startup, since renamed Tocata, has raised more than $10 million from investors, including Nozad. (Hershenson left the company in November 2012.)

    The duo has already placed numerous bets in recent months, including on a still-stealth startup called Solvvy; on Sensor Tower, whose tools help developers track and increase their app rankings within app stores; and on DoorDash, a food-delivery company whose funding was led by Khosla Ventures and Charles River Ventures.

    The question now is whether investors will be as charmed with Nozad as the many industry friends he has made over the years. At least one VC who has co-invested alongside him thinks they will. Nozad’s credentials may not look like everyone else’s, the investor told me, but it’s all about track records. And “Pejman,” he said, “has a good reputation.”

    Photo courtesy of Forbes.

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  • Med-Tech in the Midwest: Are the Coasts Missing Out?

    223625v2-max-250x250As a Cleveland native, I often find myself reading about some advanced medical technology that’s bubbling out of Northeast Ohio. To learn more about what’s really happening in the Midwest, I recently caught up with Mike Stubler, the Pittsburgh-based managing director and the cofounder of Draper Triangle Ventures, who nicely answered my very broad questions.

    You focus on healthcare in the Midwest, right?

    About 25 to 40 percent of what we do is med-tech. The balance is generally information technology, enterprise and cloud computing. But we’ve had great success with med-tech companies and frankly, we can’t ignore them; we live in a very rich environment for it. The Cleveland Clinic is arguably one of the world’s most renowned research institutions and a pioneer in coronary care. Meanwhile, here in Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is a great research institution.

    What’s changing in the industry? My understanding is that the focus used to be on licensing technology to big pharmaceutical companies, but now there are more development groups helping to commercialize these technologies.

    A lot of different efforts come into play now: Universities, government-backed venture development groups, other combined programs. Many more people are now focused on getting this research commercialized rather than just licensing the technology to somebody. [The Cleveland-based, early-stage support organization] JumpStart has probably made 60 or 70 investments at this point. Innovation Works [an equivalent program focused on Southwestern Pennsylvania’s startup ecosystem] has made dozens of investments to which we pay very close attention, to see what’s coming through.

    We’ve also seen more companies getting funded with super angel kinds of rounds. You didn’t see that five or six years ago.

    Do you have more or less venture competition than you did, say, five years ago?

    Well, you see some big coastal firms coming in, especially once you see a company gain some traction. Sequoia Capital just did a bio deal in Cincinnati last year. Drive Capital [newly cofounded by former Sequoia investors Mark Kvamme and Chris Olson, who are investing in Midwestern startups] has closed on $180 million of a $300 million target. I think when Mark Kwamme came from Silicon Valley, he was probably cynical but quickly saw the opportunities here.

    Unfortunately, the contraction that’s taking place throughout the industry is also taking place in the Midwest, so there are fewer firms. We’ve always been more collaborative than cutthroat, as in the Valley, where every one is fighting for the same great deal. But those that are here are really trying  to work together more so than ever.

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  • Attorney Jay Gould on the Pros and Cons of a Public Venture Offering

    Jay GouldEarlier this week, I wrote that venture capitalists should take advantage of new general solicitation rules that allow them to advertise when they’re in fundraising mode. I was expecting pushback from skeptical VCs; what I heard from them instead was confusion about how they could advertise without breaking the rules.

    For help, I phoned Jay Gould, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who heads up the law firm’s investment funds practice. Gould — who’s in regular communication with the SEC and says those proposed amendments around the new rules will likely be “substantially” adopted — agreed to discuss the pros and cons for VCs interested in advertising.

    According to Gould, one of the biggest downsides of advertising is “potentially” drawing more scrutiny from regulators and investors. (It’s already VCs’ biggest fear, seemingly.)

    There’s also just a lot more paperwork. First, a firm will have to file a Form D at least 15 days before beginning its general solicitation for the offering. It will then have to elaborate on whatever advertising methods it plans to use. And it will need to file offering materials, like PPMs, with the SEC before it starts handing them out to investors. Not last, a follow-on form has to be filed once the offering is closed.

    The solicitation period can also be a little labor intensive, particularly if it drags on and the firm’s performance changes during that time. The reason, says Gould, is Rule 156 of the Securities Act, which states that funds can’t represent information is any way that’s misleading or causes “material” confusion to investors. That means if an existing investment goes south during the marketing of a new fund, the firm needs to alter its advertising to reflect that change in its overall performance to stay in the good graces of the SEC. (Gould says firms should do this “promptly,” and suggests that even minor changes in performance could necessitate these updates.)

    What if a venture firm embarks on a public offering, then decides to shifts gears to raise the rest of a new fund privately? It’s not something Gould recommends. Among other challenges: after a public offering closes, a firm has to wait another six months before launching a private offering. (It’s a rule meant to keep the offerings from becoming integrated.)

    So what are the advantages for firms interested in availing themselves of the new rules, I ask Gould. He’s quick to point out that the funds that embrace them can post their performance numbers on their Websites, or go on television and talk about their funds without “getting grilled by compliance people.” Both could be effective in bolstering a firm’s brand and making it faster to raise a fund.

    In fact, he says, Pillsbury already has “a couple” of fund clients that intend to pursue general solicitation. And he anticipates many more to come — even if it takes a couple of years for firms to grow comfortable with the prospect.

    Most venture firms still “view these new rules somewhat suspiciously,” Gould notes. “But someone will do it right,” he says. “And it will be a really professional, polished effort. And people will go, ‘Holy shit. That’s the new standard. I guess I have to do this now.’”

    Photo courtesy of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

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