Thanks to everyone who tuned into our Periscope stream, where we discussed the past 5 years at 500. To watch the saved video, tune in here.
500 Mountain View office in Fall 2010 (before we moved in)
A little over five years ago, we started working on something called 500 Startups. At the time we really didn’t know exactly what we were doing, but we wanted to combine a bunch of things which included a VC fund, an accelerator, startup education, conferences and events, the best elements of our years at PayPal and Google, but most importantly a community of geeks and founders and startups. When we started there were barely five of us, and we hardly had any money to get off the ground, but somehow we managed to (barely) keep the lights on while we figured things out over the next few years. Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t die… or at least we haven’t yet, perhaps because we were more lucky than smart. But we thought we would take a few moments to be THANKFUL and GRATEFUL.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who initially helped and inspired us. There were many, many people we’d like to thank, but in particular we want to recognize Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, and Mitch & Freada Kapor — those folks encouraged us to give 500 Startups a go, and made some of the first initial verbal commitments to get us off the ground. In addition to those foolish people, other friends and VCs at Founders Fund, Blue Run, Accel and Redpoint were instrumental writing letters of reference that helped us get our initial office in Mountain View. Others who wrote us small checks included Marc Andreessen, Josh Kopelman, Gus Tai, Mark Goines, Geoff Ralston, Aki Sano, Taizo Son, Marcus & Andy Ogawa, Michael & Xochi Birch, and so many other friends and former colleagues from PayPal, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, Amazon, Twitter, etc — we are probably forgetting a bunch of other early investors (we had to beg a lot of people!), so apologies if we left anyone out. You took a chance on us when so many others wouldn’t or didn’t.
There were also many others who provided inspiration, including Idealab, Y Combinator, TechStars (who we sometimes compete with, but also whose companies we invest in), and especially Bill Gross at Idealab, PG & Jessica at YC, and Brad & David Cohen at TechStars were people we looked up to a lot (and who spoke at some of the events we ran back in 2008-09, like Startup2Startup, or Facebook fbFund, or Google I/O). We also have a ton of respect for investors like Ron Conway, Jeff Clavier, and Aydin Senkut, who were investors in Mint.com and also running micro-VC funds that were somewhat similar in scope and size. We learned a lot together in those first few years, and we called them for advice and support.
May 2010 at Google I/O – when Dave was an “internet hobo / angel investor” and Christine was a Googler
There were a few things which we wanted to do that were a little unique to 500 that we were pretty sure about: we knew we wanted to invest in a LOT of companies, help companies focus on “design, data, and distribution” and we knew we wanted to do something with people all over the world. We also knew that diversity was important, and we wanted to involve women and people of color, and we wanted to help a few underdogs who didn’t happen to go to Stanford or Harvard or MIT (although we hoped to get a few of those folks to join us as well). We also liked to write silly press releases, and have fun doing marketing (and it turns out we were pretty good at that stuff).
We joke about how in the early days, we had to beg companies to join our accelerator. That’s not entirely in jest. As much as we took a bet on these companies and in many cases were their first investor, they were taking a bet on us. While the 500 accelerator has evolved significantly over 15 batches for the better (in both quality and quantity), we can’t help but always think of those first few batches as *OUR* accelerator — we probably learned more from them, than they did from us! And hey, as it turns out, we managed to invest in some awesome companies in those early batches like Applauze, TalkDesk, Intercom, ContaAzul, ToutApp, PicCollage, LoveWithFood, and many others who frankly didn’t need us as much as we needed them.
Batch 3 (Fall 2011) field trip to Facebook
Batch 5 Demo Day in NYC
One of the amazing things we are most proud of is that we aren’t just some traditional VC fund or yet another accelerator or incubator. We built something called #500STRONG that is really a family of friends, a guild of geeks… whether or not their startups succeed or fail, we are a huge family, all over the world. We have fun, we work hard, we make money, we screw up… but most importantly, we are relentless in our approach to make a dent in the universe, and to do our best to create new products, help customers, create jobs, and create something of value for our employees, investors, and fellow human beings.
We also built a lot of our community and mentors from people we worked with at PayPal and Google and Facebook and YouTube, and we also met (and hired!) a lot of people we met while doing all of our GeeksOnaPlane trips around the world, and all the many conferences we put together like WarmGun, MamaBear, UnSexy, InboxLove, PreMoney, Commercism, and more. We really care about bringing people together, and those events and conferences helped us gather the community we love so much and makes us who we are.
The last 5 years have been quite a ride. We’ve invested in 1300+ companies across more than 50 countries around the world, have $200M under management, 100 team members, and many other numbers which we won’t bore you with (although are fascinating to us). While we’re very proud of how far we’ve come, it certainly didn’t happen without a lot of blood, sweat and tears and sleepless nights. Cheers especially to Enrique, Christen, Melissa, Paul, George, Sheila, and Max for sticking with us those first couple years when sometimes paychecks and money for paying rent and making investments were a little hard to come by.
So what will we be reflecting on 5 years from now in our Thanksgiving 2020 post? Unfortunately, DeLorean time machines are a little hard to come by (not unlike the plutonium that powers them), so we can’t go back to the future to know this for sure. But we know for sure we’ll be GSD and having fun. (a core 500 value). We know we are going to invest in a LOT more companies all over the world, and who knows — maybe in a few more years we will be 500 VCs, not just 500 Startups.
Happy Thanksgiving 🙂 ^_^ xoxo
Thanks to everyone who tuned into our Periscope stream, where we discussed the past 5 years at 500. To watch the saved video tune in here.
Post artwork and Halloween photo by Yiying Lu