• Boris Wertz Raises a New, Much Bigger Fund

    Boris WertzVersion One Ventures, the Vancouver-based fund of entrepreneur-turned-investor Boris Wertz, is taking the wraps off a $35 million early-stage fund today. That’s nearly twice the size of Wertz’s $20 million debut fund, closed in early 2012. Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund and BDC Capital are the new fund’s anchor investors.

    As you might imagine, the extra capital will allow Wertz to write bigger checks. In a call yesterday, he said he now plans to make initial investments of between $500,000 and $750,000, up from $250,000 to $300,000, a shift that should allow him to lead more deals. The bigger pool should also enable Wertz to pour more follow-on funding into Version One’s existing portfolio, which right now includes the online cosmetics company Julep; the business intelligence platform Mattermark; and Kinnek, an online platform that brings together small businesses with suppliers.

    All told, said Wertz, he plans to invest his second fund in 20 to 25 companies. I asked him what else he’s planning for, particularly amid what feel like big shifts in the market.

    Congratulations on the your new fund. That’s quite a jump up in size.

    Thank you. We set out to raise $30 million and probably could have raised $40 million but didn’t want to make it larger. I’m still the single investing partner, and we think a good benchmark is $30 million to $35 million per partner, which is what you see at comparable funds like Floodgate.

    You say the collective value of Version One’s portfolio is now $600 million. Recognizing it’s early days, have any companies exited yet?

    No, angel investments I made prior to [creating Version One] have [been acquired] like Flurry [sold to Yahoo], but one rocket ship in our portfolio – [a consumer marketplace] that has raised an A and B round – hasn’t even announced [its funding publicly].

    More companies are waiting on their funding announcements. Why do you think that is?

    We have two companies in our portfolio that have raised [capital] and never announced. The entrepreneurs feel that they’re on to something and want to get solid traction and a head start before telling anybody else. It makes sense, especially if you have a product where you aren’t going to acquire users on StrictlyVC or TechCrunch and don’t need [the press] for branding purposes.

    You live in Vancouver but invest all around North America, including Silicon Valley. What are you seeing in terms of seed-stage valuations right now?

    Two-thirds to three-quarters of our deals are outside the Valley – in Seattle, Toronto, and New York. And those ecosystems have never gotten that crazy. But there’s definitely a little insecurity in the market, which is good, given that seed-stage valuations have continued to creep up over the last three or four years. I think we’re seeing a healthy correction of expectations on the part of both investors and entrepreneurs. Things can’t always go in one direction.

    When we last talked, in May, you were spending more time looking into digital healthcare, government “2.0” and bitcoin. Have you made any related bets yet?

    We have one digital healthcare investment, [Figure 1, a crowdsourced medical image library for health care professionals that VersionOne invested in last December], but the challenge in [backing another] is that it has blown up crazily in terms of valuations. Look at the on-demand doctor space. There are at least eight players, all of which were well-funded at crazy valuations. [The sector] ran away pretty quickly.

    As for bitcoin, we believe in the long-term potential, but we’re still forming an investing thesis around when is the right moment to invest.

    It must be challenging. I’m amazed by how many seriously smart people are divided over bitcoin.

    I’m in the middle. The technical platform is beautiful, and a decentralized system to record ownership makes a lot of sense for a lot of use cases. I think the real problem is that right now, there isn’t a killer use case. Payments in North America aren’t broken. I can use credit and debit cards or cash or PayPal. So people need to start focusing more on international payments and remittances, where bitcoin does make sense. The challenge is how to get into the markets that could use it the most – Brazil, Vietnam, Nigeria – and make it easy to spread. And there’s no clear path [to doing that], though we do believe some entrepreneurs will eventually figure it out.

    A prominent institutional LP recently said that right now could be an especially bad time to start investing a new fund based on traditional market cycles. Is that a concern of yours?

    Yes, there are cycles, but nobody can really predict them. You can only make your best investments given the environment and stay disciplined around valuations and your investment thesis and not get carried away by hype. The reality is that some vintages of funds will do better than others based on waves of new innovations or when valuations were really low. But it’s hard to predict beforehand and say 2014 or 2015 will be a terrible year for venture funds. Who knows? Timing and luck are involved in all of it, but if you focus on fundamentals and support your companies for the long term, you can hopefully smooth out your returns over time.

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