What is this episode all about?
Indie.vc is a venture capital firm started by Bryce Roberts, where he is revolutionizing the way startups grow and get funded. Bryce lives in Utah, works from home, spends weekends with wife and kids, all while funding successful, profitable, and growing companies. How is that possible? We look for the answers in this interview.
What is Create33 ?
Create33 is the new entrepreneurial center in the heart of Seattle, started by Micah Baldwin and funded by Madrona Venture Group. The centre offers a number of programs aimed at growing venture startups, a community of driven entrepreneurs, and of course, top-notch office amenities to run a business.
What is Venture Capital?
Venture Capital is a form of money where people give you something, and you don't have to give them anything back! ~@bryce
What is Indie.vc trying to accomplish?
Bryce and Indie.vc are enabling startups to grow and to scale on different terms than a typical venture-funded startup. Indie.vc focus on profitability and a path to attaining leverage, over high burn rate and unrealistic expectations of a typical venture-funded startup.
What are some examples of companies that could scale without venture?
Bryce lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a few of their recent wins were Pluralsight, that went public, and Qualtrics which got bought by SAP. Both companies were bootstrapped and hugely profitable. They were able to scale and be so successful not because of a huge venture round, but because they had solid business fundamentals, real customers and real margins.
How did Bryce Roberts end up in Utah?
Bryce grew up in Portland, Oregon and loved it there. However, after doing one year at a college in Idaho and dropping out, he took a few years off to go on a Mission, and upon returning to Utah afterwards, he decided to stay.
Why did @bryce leave San Francisco and move back to Salt Lake City?
After first living in Utah and then moving to San Francisco for his job, Bryce and family could only stay in SF for two years. While the Bay Area was a fantastic place to work, it was a very hard place to live, especially with a family of 5 kids.
Bryce admits that moving back to Utah, shortly after raising his third venture fund, was also very empowering. It was a statement, of sorts.
Is Utah changing under Mormon influence??
The urban demographics are changing, but it is still heavily dominated by Mormon church. However, it used to be perceived as a weird place where Church has a big influence over the state, but it's changing. There are now local breweries, great coffee and restaurants...etc. The community has recognized that in order to bring new blood into the area they would need to adopt and adjust.
How can Indie.vc invest in companies that work differently and still expect high returns on their money?
Bryce says that when you are doing something differently, there will be people who would notice and appreciate your uniqueness.
Not playing by the rules would enable you to do things like hire diverse candidates, or to work remotely, and you would not be seen as a weird outlier. Instead of spending 100% working, founders and employees may also choose to have a life, and with it find a deeper purpose and be better at working for their companies.
There are already a group of companies that are breaking the norms and doing things differently. Zapier, Basecamp, WordPress, among others. The more companies follow suit, the better it will become for the next ones.
What is family life like for working parents in the Bay Area?
When Bryce was working out of San Francisco, he would try to either get to the office super early and see his kids before bed time, or eat breakfast with them, and then stay in the office into the night. This tradeoff is not uncommon, and while being in the Bay, many do not realize this is not a choice they have to make.
How did Bryce manage to live in Utah and work from San Francisco?
Bryce and his wife had a social contract that while working SF he would barely sleep, work, and not call home unless it was an emergency, but upon return, he would be fully present with the family. Bryce and his wife got married really young, so even though he had five kids, they were all pretty young and did not mind dad's travel.
This may sound strange to folks outside of the Bay, but Bryce says that in the Bay Area people work so much, that constantly working while there was basically the only way he even knew how to function.
How much do you have to work to be successful?
Indie.vc is Bryce's business and he finds it really satisfying to work on. When the fund was young and he had to hustle to get it off the ground, Bryce admits to working very long hours.
While living in SF, for example, Bryce would show up at the office at 6am, and leave by around 4 to spend some time with the kids. Despite working so hard, he felt that perhaps he was judged for not being in the office long enough, even though others would only roll in at 10am.
Everyone has their own lives and schedules and we should not be judging one another for how we get work done.
Can you have a family and a billion dollar company too?
It is very hard to maintain a healthy family life and to be chasing a billion dollar company. But, as Bryce points out, folks in the Bay Area do not necessarily even value a healthy family life, instead they value changing the world.
Why aren't most startup founders trying new ways to run their companies?
When you take other people's money you are locking in for a certain type of a ride. Startups are really hard, and trying new things is discouraged to avoid making things even harder. That's why every company that goes after massive scale ends up following the same playbook, a playbook they did not write for themselves.
How did the VC community respond to Indie.vc investment model?
VCs are really rather thin-skinned when someone questions their model. Bryce says that 80% of his LPs left when they changed from a typical VC fund to a new, Indie.vc model. For the longest time he's felt like an outside, lost friends and got disinvited from events, all because he was convinced that not every company should be chasing venture dollars, at least not before they were ready.
What is the meaning of a burning unicorn?
If your primary filter for starting something is whether it would be a billion dollar company, you may never start anything, and yet, your life's work might be among those ideas and just not be a billion dollar's worth. Does it mean you should never start?
Burning unicorn is the ideas that not everyone should be chasing the "unicorn," the high-growth billion dollar startup. That is just one type of company, with one outcome. There are plenty more that need to be started, and YOU might just be the person to do it.
What companies are the best fit for Indie.vc model?
The companies that fit Indie.vc the best are the ones where the founders either (a) have never heard of the venture funds and would like to build a big business on their own or (b) have raised money for their prior company and would like to avoid it for the next one.
Can Indie.vc exist if they never find a unicorn?
Bryce says yes, Indie.vc has a return model that enables them to exist and to return funds to their investors without having a home run. Remember though, companies with positive cash flow who don't need to take money and don't need to sell also happen to be the companies that can do both of those things quite easily.
Update: As of October 2019, Bryce had a $2B combined exists from just two portfolio companies. They are doing alright.