To Get This VC's Attention, Stop Making Spreadsheet-Based Decisions

One VC explains why he backed three startups.
To Get This VC's Attention, Stop Making Spreadsheet-Based Decisions

Howard Lindzon

Image credit: Vendela Media
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This story appears in the April 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Howard Lindzon is an irreverent buzz machine who powers through wall-to-wall meetings on five milligrams of Adderall. A prolific blogger and serial entrepreneur (StockTwits, a Twitter for traders, is his crown jewel), Lindzon is founder and general partner at Social Leverage, an eclectic seed fund. He typically finds entrepreneurs before they find him. Here’s what he likes: founders who show grit, solve problems and won’t crumple in chaos. Here’s what he ignores: business-news TV and spreadsheet-based decisions. His fund’s average investment: about $600,000.

Related: Seeking Venture Capital? This T.I.P. -- a Team, an Idea and a Plan -- Is Crucial to Follow.

Buddy Media

Its approach: temerity and confidence

Howard Lindzon was ticked. “Why didn’t you call me?” he asked Michael Lazerow when the two ran into each other in New York. The investor had once tried to connect with him, and Lazerow had ignored him. But now Lazerow didn’t blanch; he joined Lindzon at a swanky bar nearby and revealed his plan to build a currency that would be spendable on Facebook. This was 2007, the era of MySpace, but Lazerow swore Facebook was going to be huge. Lindzon loved it -- but more than that, he loved Lazerow: “Mike exuded confidence.” (And he had a track record, creating and selling Golf.com to TimeWarner.) That night, the investor helped round up $1 million for what would become Buddy Media. The currency flopped, but Lindzon wasn’t spooked: The founder, he says, got “the biggest part” right -- that businesses could be built atop Facebook. Buddy Media pivoted to social marketing software and sold in 2012 for around $745 million.

Related: What Crossing the Arctic Ocean Taught This VC about Entrepreneurship

TubeMogul

Its approach: don’t panic; find solutions

Back in 2007, Lindzon asked his intern to visit hundreds of websites and tally video viewership data for his startup Wallstrip. The task was finished in about two minutes, which shocked Lindzon. How’d the kid do it? With TubeMogul, a video analytics tool. Lindzon quickly arranged a meeting with Brett Wilson, TubeMogul’s Oakland, Calif.-based founder, whom Lindzon loved. “He had a great vision of the future of video and monetization that I wanted to be a part of,” he says. So he invested. But within a few years, it became clear that the market wasn’t as big as they had expected. “He didn’t call me all panicky,” Lindzon says with approval. “He just tried to figure out a different model.” That meant selling the original technology for a few million dollars and transforming into an advertising software platform. It worked: TubeMogul went public in 2014 at a valuation of $244 million, then sold to Adobe in 2016 for $540 million.

Related: Making Your Pitch for VC Funding Means Facing a Very Tough Crowd

Robinhood

Its approach: be fearless

About four years ago, Lindzon got an email from a couple of young guys with a new idea: a stock brokerage mobile app that would let users trade for free. No commissions! Lindzon sat up. The co-founders had nailed their audience; Lindzon’s company, StockTwits, is a social media platform for traders, and he knew his users would love this. “It seemed so obvious,” Lindzon says. He met the founders, Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, in San Francisco for breakfast, and pressed them: “Are you sure you want to do this? The regulators are a pain in the ass.” But they weren’t afraid, which was an attitude he loved. And more so, he was convinced by the potential: If their company worked, its impact would be immediate, and trading would become more accessible to millions of millennials. He wrote an initial check for $100,000. 

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