When I think back to the time where I was most excited about being an entrepreneur, it is that one to two year period at the very beginning that was the most fun, the most challenging, that created the most value, and made the biggest difference for everything that came after.
I first experienced the wild ride of starting a company when I was in college at Wharton. While others were cramming for tests at all hours of the night, I decided to co-found a company called Infonautics Corporation and was fortunate to take it public on the NASDAQ in 1996. I then had this crazy idea to allow anyone to buy and sell used books, music and DVDs online and launched Half.com in July of 1999. The timing worked out and we were acquired by eBay in July of 2000. I followed Half.com with one more company called Turntide that Symantec quickly acquired.
So, when I had the opportunity to start a VC firm after operating for a decade, it made sense to work at the seed stage, helping other founders make the most of the blank slate you only get at the very beginning. We didn’t try to attach a growth fund or expand internationally, or get into the next hot Series C. We chose to specialize, and that gives us clarity of purpose.
And I didn’t call it Kopelman Capital, because I didn’t want to build something about the investors. I chose First Round to make it clear that we wanted to talk to founders at the earliest possible point — we thrive on incomplete ideas — and that we wanted to make serving them a team sport with no egos (we know that’s tough in the venture business).
Having been a founder three times, I know how lonely it can be. No one goes through the same things except for other founders. I know that the advice I got from fellow entrepreneurs made all the difference for me at Infonautics, Half.com and Turntide. Finding them is usually the hard part. We aim to make that much easier, and it’s amazing to see how much this mindshare has accelerated many of our companies. We call all of these efforts “Platform” and it has become central to our firm for the last decade. It all started with a simple mailing list of all our CEOs, allowing them to ask questions of us and each other. It worked so well that we doubled down — again and again. Now we have a whole team called Platform designed to help founders at every critical juncture of company building: hiring, growth, compensation, management, the list goes on.
I like to think the value I offer as a partner is equally clear and direct. After having invested in well over 100 companies in addition to being a founder myself, I’ve weathered my share of booms and bust cycles, taken companies public and laid people off. I do my best to translate those experiences into advice, and in doing so, I try to provide two things: my candid opinion and my unwavering support. I’ll tell you what I think, but back you up if you choose differently. I will never tell you what to do, but I’ll try to help you ask the right questions. That’s my mission.
The founders I love working with the most are purpose-driven too. They’re biased toward action and make decisions quickly. When they choose wrong, they’re confident in how they communicate what happened and what they learned. Most importantly, they’re willing to rethink conventional wisdom and never accept the way it’s always been done. They’re founders like Max at AltSchool, Dave at Upstart, Nat and Zach at Flatiron as well as Kris and Vivek at Clover Health. They’re focused, mission driven and execution machines and I’ve been honored to play a small role in the incredible things they’ve created.