Sunday, December 26, 2010

Portfolio Update Part 2

Continuing my little 2010 portfolio review (here's part 1), the next stop after San Francisco (Zendesk), Vancouver (Clio) and Berlin (Momox) is Edinburgh, home of FreeAgent Central. By launching a flurry of innovative new features such as multi-currency support or project profitability analysis, in 2010 the FreeAgent team has shown again who's setting the bar for online accounting. An incredibly powerful yet simple-to-use application is what 1000s of users love us for (as well as the press), and is the reason why we've won a Software Satisfaction Award for the second year. And there's more to come. 2010 has been a big year for the company in other ways as well: In March we announced that we've taken a minority investment from and entered into a strategic partnership with IRIS, the leading supplier of software for accountancy practices in the UK with over 14,000 practice customers (50% market share!). Kudos and a huge thank you go to Ed, Roan, Olly and everyone else at FreeAgent Central.

The next portfolio company takes me to Tokyo. Konnichi wa, myGengo. myGengo is a pretty recent investment of mine which I've done about half a year ago together with Dave McClure and other angel investors. myGengo is a crowdsourcing marketplace for human translations – think Amazon Mechanical Turk for translations. myGengo connects people who need translations with qualified translators in a way that's much more efficient than it used to be and thus allows it to offer high-quality translations done by certified translators at affordable prices. Thanks to this very clever idea, extremely strong execution and lots of innovations (like an iPhone translation service and a very smart API), as well as a rapidly growing list of language pairs, my Gengo has more than doubled translation volume and revenues in every quarter this year. Even so, the young startup is of course just scratching the surface of the huge, multi-billion dollar translation industry, which makes me extremely excited about the opportunity ahead. Thank you very much and doumo arigatou gozaimasu, Rob and Matt.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Portfolio update (part 1)

As 2010 is drawing to a close I’d like to take a moment to give you a quick update on my angel investment activities and more importantly, thank the incredibly talented and hard-working people who have made it such an amazing year.

Since becoming a full-time angel investor in 2008 I’ve made 14 seed investments, with 4-5 additional ones being on the way. Except for two of my first investments that didn’t work out – rookie mistakes, fortunately pretty small ones – I’m absolutely blown away by the success of each and every company in my portfolio.

Some highlights:

Zendesk has had a phenomenal year. In May we announced that we’ve reached 5,000 paying customers. We didn’t publish an updated number since then but I think it’s no secret that the number of Zendesk lovers worldwide has continued to explode throughout the year. With a world-class management team and Board, one of the best products and brands in B2B software and a recent $19M cash infusion Zendesk is ideally poised to bring Cloud-based zen and good karma to even more people in 2011. Mange tak to Mikkel, Morten, Alex, Michael and the whole crew.

Speaking of the Cloud, 2010 may mark a tipping point with respect to the adoption of Cloud-based services in the legal technology field: In 2010 my portfolio company Clio, which provides a web-based practice management solution for solo lawyers and small law firms, has grown its customer base by more than 400%. The company also continues to launch new features and initiatives pretty much on a weekly basis, boasts (by far) the highest trial-to-subscription conversion rate that I’ve ever seen and has a ton of great new stuff in the pipeline. Thanks and merci to you, Jack and Rian, and your growing team of hand-picked rock-star developers and industry experts.

The development of Momox, which has bought more than 8.4 million used books, CDs, DVDs and games from private sellers since 2006, has been equally impressive. We’ve grown revenue by more than 2.5x , recruited two stellar executives to head logistics and marketing, moved to a new 85,000 square foot warehouse, relaunched our online shop, raised a couple of million Euros from Acton Capital Partners and scaled up the whole organization to make sure that we can handle our continued growth. Huge kudos to Christian Wegner and his 150+ people in Berlin for this gigantic and successful effort – jut jemacht!

More in part 2.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Keeping your "friends" list up-to-date

If you're reading this, chances are that you use at least three of four different social networking sites (or social bookmarking tools, microblogging services or other community sites) that let you “friend” or “follow” other people. I, for example, use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and XING.

LinkedIn and XING I’ve been using for years and I find both sites to be invaluable tools for finding, connecting and staying in touch with people, as well as for checking references. Over the years both LinkedIn and XING have allowed me to get in touch with numerous people who otherwise would have been hard to contact. I think both sites are particularly valuable for younger people who do not yet have a large professional network, e.g. first-time entrepreneurs looking for angel investors, employees or business partners. It took me a little longer to adopt Twitter but meanwhile it has become one of my primary sources for news (and I became a reasonably active Twitterer). Facebook I don’t use very actively but it allows me to “follow” (almost) everyone who doesn’t use Twitter.

The challenge that comes with using multiple social networking sites is, of course, that you want to stay on top of all sites without wasting too much time. Meanwhile there are plenty of solutions to aggregate the news feeds of various social networks at one location. You can even do that with Pageflakes, despite the fact that the site is somewhat outdated by now (just look for the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and XING Flakes in the Flake Gallery and add them to your page). However, to date I haven’t seen a single tool that automatically and easily keeps your friends list in synch across all sites.

What I’d like to be able to do is this: Whenever I make a new contact I’d like to check if the person is on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/XING and connect with him or her. The tool could be integrated into Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail and other desktop or web email applications. Right-clicking on any email address could bring up an “Add to my networks” option in addition to "Add to my address book".

Until someone develops a tool like this, here’s a workaround:
  1. Add all people who you’ve sent an email to to your address book.
    (Apple Mail lets you do that automatically if you choose “Previous recipients” in “Windows”. I don’t know if there’s a feature like this in Outlook, but there are some third-party tools that will do that for you. Gmail, as far as I know, automatically builds your address book based on the emails that you send and receive, right?).
  2. Export your address book to a file (e.g. .vcf).
  3. Upload your contact file to Facebook/LinkedIn/XING and choose the contacts that you want to connect with (make sure that you use the “See who’s already there” option as opposed to the “Invite” option to avoid spamming your whole address book with invitations!). Twitter unfortunately doesn’t let you upload contact files but you can upload your contact file to Gmail and have Twitter import your Gmail contacts (did I say it’s a workaround?).
  4. Repeat 1-3 every couple of weeks or months.

It’s not elegant, but it works, and at least it’s less effort than maintaining your contact lists manually. If you know a better solution, please leave a comment!