An Interview with Seth Levine

Seth Levine Interview

Seth Levine’s career spans venture capital investing as well as operational, transactional and advisory roles at both public and private companies. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, Seth began his venture capital career at Mobius Venture Capital.

Prior to Mobius Venture Capital, Seth joined a restart of the data communications company, FirstWorld Communications. He was the third employee of a new management team with a goal to transition what had been a traditional competitive local exchange carrier (“CLEC”) into data and Internet world.

Seth graduated summa cum laude from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota with degrees in both Economics and Psychology.

In this Startup Savant interview, Seth shares his entrepreneurial experience as a venture capitalist. You’ll also find out what makes Foundry Group unique and the mantra that has brought them success in the last 10 years. Enjoy!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Seth and how you got the idea for Foundry Group?

I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts and lived there up until I left for Macelester College in Minneapolis. I’m a little geeky, a little funny, a lot opinionated as well as a father, a husband, a cyclist, an avid skier and explorer.

My career has spanned venture capital as well as operational, transactional and advisory roles at both public and private companies. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, I was at Mobius Venture Capital which is where I met Brad, Jason and Ryan.

What makes Foundry Group unique from others? How did you find your competitive advantage?

With Foundry we wanted to differentiate ourselves in a few ways:

We wanted to focus on geographies other than Silicon Valley – part of our investment thesis is 1/3 CO, 1/3 SF, 1/3 everywhere else. Nine years later, we have stayed true to this and can see our rule of 1/3 in the portfolio construction today.

We have a strict no Assholes policy at Foundry. We want to work with the best entrepreneurs that are maniacal about their product but are also fun to work with.

We are who we are – we blog, tweet, etc. and are pretty vocal about the types of people we are and how we are to work with. I think if you asked our portfolio companies, they’d say that we’re pretty much as we come across online – honest, hard working, opinionated but not pushy, etc.

Where do you see Foundry Group in the next 5 years? Any new products/services in development?

We are extremely excited to announce the closing of our Foundry Group Next Fund and to welcome Lindel Eakman to the team. Lindel brings years of LP experience to the table and we see FG Next as a way for Foundry Group to spread our ethos to the greater VC community.

We decided from the start that Foundry Group is not a legacy firm – we are not seeking Junior level associates to train and take over some day. We all love what we do and don’t plan to throw in the towel anytime soon.

What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting Foundry Group?

We are firm believers in the #GiveFirst mantra that has spread across the ecosystem. Simply put, giving first to others in our community with no specific expectations of return. We’ve seen some amazing things happen from this – including Brad’s first meeting with David Cohen that led to creation of Techstars.

As a business owner, what is your greatest fear and how do you keep it under control or harness it?

I think a lot about how we keep true to our founding mission as the business and portfolio grows. We’re stretched in a lot of directions now and manage almost $2Bn. That’s a lot of growth from our founding just 10 years ago.

What was your biggest business mistake and how you did you come out stronger at the end of the day?

There have been many, many mistakes so it’s hard to pick out just one. Most fall somewhere in the category of not listening/communicating effectively. Ultimately, I believe that the root cause of many mistakes (if not most) is the failure to listen carefully and think before reacting.

Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?

We’ve certainly had disagreements over the years. I try to approach all problems with the following mantra:

1) don’t panic 2) gather information 3) make informed decision

The order here is important.

How do you stay focused on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a key motivator that keeps you going and fighting the good fight?

I love what I do – plain and simple. If my work wasn’t my passion, there is no way I could handle the amount of travel, emails, phone calls, etc. that I deal with on a daily basis. I’m also energized and motivated by all the amazing CEO’s and founders that I get to interact with. These are the real hero’s of the startup world. As a VC, I’m really just a cheerleader for them.

What was the best piece of advice you have ever gotten from another business owner or someone you admired?

Be yourself.