Who Are Boston's Go-To Venture Capitalists?October 09, 2012
by Scott Kirsner
I surveyed 91 entrepreneurs over the past week to create a list, from their perspective, of the "go to" VCs in Boston in five different categories. It turned out to be easier to determine the top dogs in software and the web than it was in fields like life sciences or semiconductors.
I solicited entrepreneurs to participate primarily by e-mailing people in my contact database who have started companies and raised venture capital before... but I also invited people to respond via Twitter. My question was simple: "Who is the first VC in Boston/New England you'd pitch?" I asked people to weigh in only on fields where they'd had experience:
• Social, mobile, consumer web, and games
• Enterprise-oriented software, services, software-as-a-service
• Life sciences, healthcare, and medical devices
• Cleantech, energy, sustainability, LEDs, and batteries
• Semiconductors, telecom, materials, robotics, and other "hard" technologies that don't fit into the cleantech category.
There was far more consensus on the first two categories than the last three. Top vote-getters in those categories received more than a dozen votes, while winners of the other categories rarely received more than three. That's both because I received fewer responses from entrepreneurs in fields like life sciences and cleantech, and also because votes were spread over a longer list of investors, especially in the life sciences category (where 45 respondents gave votes to 23 different VCs.)
David Skok and Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix, pictured above, were among those who made the list:
Social/consumer web/mobile/games (62 responses):
Go-to investor: Bijan Sabet, Spark Capital (blog)
Runner-up: Eric Paley, Founder Collective (blog)
Go-to firm: Spark Capital (this category tallies all of the mentions for individual investors working at the firm, plus votes for the firm that didn't mention individual investors)
Enterprise-oriented software, services, and SaaS (57 responses):
Go-to investor: David Skok, Matrix Partners (blog)
Runner-up: Izhar Armony, Charles River Ventures
Go-to firm: Matrix Partners
Life sciences, healthcare, and medical devices (45 responses):
Go-to investor: Michael Greeley, Flybridge Capital Partners(blog)
Runner-up: Bruce Booth, Atlas Venture (blog)
Go-to firm: Polaris Venture Partners
Cleantech, energy, and sustainability (32 responses):
Go-to investor: Matt Nordan, Venrock (blog)
Runner-up: Bilal Zuberi, General Catalyst (blog)
Go-to firm: North Bridge Venture Partners
Semiconductors/telecom/materials/robotics (32 responses):
Go-to investor: David Aronoff, Flybridge Capital Partners(blog)
Runner-up: No clear runner-up
Go-to firm: Matrix Partners
Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners joined the firm in 2010, and his lack of a long track record of investments may be why he received votes in three different categories: social, enterprise, and semiconductors. His votes across those three categories totaled 7.25, which made him the third-highest rated individual investor in the survey after Skok and Sabet. (Rodriguez's blog.)
Here's a Twitter list of all of the individuals and firms above.
A few notes: Everyone on the list is an active blogger, except for Armony at Charles River. (Though Armony has blogged in the past about his alternate career as a off-road rally driver.) Aronoff at Flybridge moved to New York over the summer to help expand the firm's office there, so he may not really be accurately defined as a Boston VC going forward.
A bit on methodology: Every time a venture capitalist was named in the survey, I gave them one point. Except, that is, if an entrepreneur said that investor had funded their current company, or one they'd worked for in the past. Then I split the point, 75/25, between the first investor they named and a runner up that I asked them to name. (I wanted to counterbalance entrepreneurs' tendency to want to stay in the good graces of current backers.) In cases where respondents didn't name individual VCs as I'd asked, but instead listed a firm, I kept a tally of those points too. To figure out the go-to firms in each category, I tallied the votes for individual investors at that firm as well as those for the firm itself. I asked respondents not to alert their venture capitalist pals about the survey, as I didn't want anyone campaigning for votes.
You can view the survey here, though I'm no longer tabulating responses.