Google — a year into operating its venture capital arm, which now counts 10 companies in its portfolio — invited reporters to its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters today for a progress report. If you’re running a startup that would like to get Google Ventures in your next round, here’s what you need to know:
Sectors: Google is looking to invest in areas such as cleantech, biotech, health, and in IT, specifically “cloud storage, companies that function off of large datasets, online monetization and mobile,” according to managing partner Bill Maris. As important as the topic are the quality of the team and the potential for Google to help. The firm’s latest investment, announced today, is in payments services platform Corduro.
Buy or invest? Maris and Google CEO Eric Schmidt insisted that the matter of Google acquiring a company or investing in it is wholly different, and that there are really two categories of companies — those seeking funding, and those seeking to get bought. Schmidt said that Google will continue to make one acquisition per month, initiated by product managers who identify a need, find the best startup to fit it, and send the company through vetting and approval. Google Ventures’ mandate seems to be more broad and long-term.
What Google Offers: Google Ventures wants to find promising companies that Google can help, rather than companies that will “wholly” help Google, said Maris. So, for example, portfolio company Pixazza, which uses image recognition to embed relevant ads in pictures, was able to significantly increase user responsiveness to ads by tweaking its interface on the advice of Google Ventures partner Braden Kowitz. Or, said Maris, Google Ventures might invest in a protein design company because it could put Google’s massive computing assets to use.
Sourcing and referrals: If you want to get Google Ventures to invest in you, the best way is to get referred by a Google employee or someone in one of the partner’s network, or work with one of the two VC firms that have closely aligned themselves with Google: Kleiner Perkins and August Capital. To date, approximately one quarter of the firm’s investments have been in companies referred by Googlers. Interestingly, none of the companies Google Ventures has invested in to date were founded by former Googlers (that’s a marked contrast to the companies Google has been buying lately).
Investment size and terms: Google Ventures investments have so far ranged from less than $500,000 to the tens of millions, said Maris. The firm has already done some follow-on rounds — in fact it has yet to decline to participate in one. Its deals contain “no special hooks” and no rights of first refusal, said Maris. The firm is also careful to move quickly; “We’ve never been a gating item” on a deal, Maris said. Google Ventures holds board seats for about half of its portfolio companies so far.
Selling to competitors: Google and its M&A team would prefer to keep their prize deals out of the hands of competitors, but Google Ventures is mandated to help its entrepreneurs first. “It’s been made explicitly clear that if an entrepreneur wants to sell to a company that Google considers an competitor it’s not in the calculus,” said Maris.
The fund: Google Ventures is planning to invest $100 million this year, as part of its second fund. It’s set up in an unusual way where every new year has a new fund, with a separate allocation of money. Maris did not disclose the total amount of last year’s investments but said this year’s was expected to be bigger. Google is the sole LP in the fund, and partners are incentivized as VCs to see returns on their investments.
Regions: Until now Google Ventures has been solely focused on North America, and its team of 11 partners (up from two last year) is split between the West and East Coasts. Schmidt said at the event, to Maris’ surprise, that the firm should go global to address the worldwide opportunity — so expect that soon.
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