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Andrew Parker Sparks Boston’s VC Firmament: The “Entry” Interview

June 11th, 2010    Share

When I was an undergrad at Georgia Tech, my friends would sometimes refer to MIT as “the Georgia Tech of the North.” Years later I did end up at MIT. Andrew Parker, longtime Associate at Union Square Ventures in NY, is moving north as well to Boston’s Spark Capital. Regarding his impending arrival next week, Roger Ehrenberg tweeted him a “Welcome to USV North!”, to which Andrew quick-twitted back “or am I departing Spark South?”

Semantic fun aside, Andrew’s arrival is exciting for the Boston startup scene. A hacker out of Stanford, Andrew did some LAMP development but his real passion was Human-Computer Interaction, probably a large reason he has a keen appreciation for consumer products.

Andrew was kind enough to answer a few questions to help us get to know him and his new role a little better:

What are a couple of interesting tidbits for Boston entrepreneurs to know about you?

I’m originally from the Boston area, so this is a bit of a homecoming for me. I grew up in Wellesley and went to Belmont Hill for high school before heading across the country for college.  I approach venture capital from the perspective of an engineer (spent some time writing code on a project built on the LAMP stack) and product designer (did design and product management work for a startup called Homestead, which was bought by Intuit a few years back).

How would you compare the SF, NY and Boston scenes from what you know? (qualitatively, not “who kicks whose butt”)

I have little familiarity for the Boston startup scene, so I’d defer comment on that for now.  As for Bay Area VS NYC, they’re Apples and Oranges.  I think a company like Foursquare had to be in New York to be built (because of the geographic density and emphasis on going out all the time) and a company like Facebook needs to be built in the Bay Area (because of the sheer number of engineers they need to hire). Companies raised in a specific geography will naturally become shaped by their geography.

Also, slightly unrelated, I think a big turning point for New York was Google opening an office in NYC about 5 or so years ago. I believe it is Google’s second biggest office next to the Mountain View mothership, and it’s good for a number of reasons: 1) it’s a great source of talented engineers looking to jump to startups; 2) rich, early Google employees have invested in early stage startups in the city; and 3) they help draw programmers away from Wall Street and show them that there’s a whole interesting world of programming outside of writing a new derivatives-trading mechanism.

What will be your focus at Spark? Any particular spaces or goals?

I’ll focus on investing in consumer-facing web services. Only the applications layer of the stack. Spark has investments outside of the applications layer, and I look forward to learning more about investing in lower layers of the stack, but I know that’s not my strong suit going into this new gig.  I imagine early on, the stuff I’ll be looking at will be a pretty natural extension of the stuff I’ve been looking at for the past 4 years at Union Square Ventures.

On a personal level, what are some things you like to or want to do around Boston? (reader suggestions welcome!)

I’m a Red Sox fan, so you’ll definitely catch me at Fenway.  Running along the Charles.  I had a lot of fun on a Dodgeball team in NYC… it’s such a hipster sport.  Don’t know if people do that up in Boston or not, but if so, that would be fun.

[Yep, WAKA kickball is big in Boston! -RR]

Tell us a bit about how Andrew thinks about the space. What are some companies you have an opinion on, e.g. overhyped, underhyped, contrarian view?

The market for consumer facing web services on the whole is growing faster that people believe (if that’s possible). More people are coming online, who have more prior experience with computers, who are more trusting of web services, who know more people online, all while high speed access is both getting faster and more widely available. These are some of the factors that combine to create the demand for consumer-facing web services, and they multiply together, which fuels their growth. The only constraint to this growth I see is people’s attention. Because attention is the new scarcity, it’s more important than ever that entrepreneurs work on problems that people genuinely care about, otherwise you will fail to capture users’ attention.

Also, many ideas from the original bubble that failed before can now succeed, because the environment is more fertile now: more potential users and faster bandwidth. So don’t dismiss an idea because it was unsuccessful 5 years ago. “The times they are a changin’.”

What are two things that consumer space founders can do to improve their interactions with potential investors?

1) Keep pitch emails short (your site should speak for itself — if it doesn’t then the splash page needs help).

2) If the VC is not in the target audience for your service, help him/her talk to the target audience so they’re more likely to understand the value prop.

Bonus: Always put action items (I’d like a call… Can you intro to…) at the top of emails.

Thanks again to Andrew and welcome! You can follow him on Twitter @andrewparker and check out his blog.

photo credit: Mykl Roventine
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