Los Angeles-based VC firm GRP Partners has raised a whole new, $200 million fund to make investments both in Southern California and throughout the U.S. With the launch of the new fund, the firm is also rebranding as Upfront Ventures, and it’s opening up a brand new office in Santa Monica to be closer to all the action.
GRP has been operating since 1996, making investments in tech companies like Overture, CitySearch, BillMeLater, Kyriba, and HDI in that time. Over the past several years, it has been working to better position itself for the next wave of investments, with some infrastructure that it’s built behind the scenes, as well as a public-facing presence through blogs and social media. But with all that change, the firm’s name — GRP Partners — didn’t seem to get across the mission of its partners.
With that in mind, it sought to find a new brand name that reflected the transparency and accessibility that it attempts to foster within the startup community. The firm also wanted a name that hinted at its preferred investment stage — seed and Series A — while also having a nod toward its home town of Los Angeles. And it seems “Upfront Ventures” fit all those requirements.
For the firm, the rebrand represents its movement toward a new, 21st-century style of investing. While historically VCs haven’t had to think much about their outside communications, that’s changing, partner Mark Suster told me. For VCs, transparency and openness is important in this day and age, which is one reason why Suster has such a public-facing blog.
Of course, he’s not the only one: Blogs by investors like Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon, and Brad Feld are becoming the norm, as opposed to the exception. Today, VCs are not just competing for deals, they’re also competing for share of mind among entrepreneurs.
“We felt it was important that we had a brand that reflected how we were already working,” Suster told me. The rebrand will help, particularly as Upfront Ventures has a fresh new $200 million to invest. That will be the firm’s fourth fund, following a $200 million fund in 1996, a $400 million fund in 2000, and another $200 million fund that it had raised in 2008.
The new fund will follow along a lot of the play book from the one it raised in 2008. In particular, Suster said the firm will continue to invest heavily in the local startup ecosystem. About two-thirds of all its investment dollars went to Southern California startups from its latest fund, and he expects that the current fund will also see about 60 percent spent locally.
While it’s been writing a lot of checks for Los Angeles-based startups, the firm has also founded local incubator Launchpad LA. And it’s helped to place interns from local schools like USC and UC Santa Barbara at startups in the region. The reason for that, of course, is that once they get a taste of working for a startup in L.A., they’re much more likely to return once they’ve finished school.
In addition to the new fund and rebrand, the firm has more big news — plans for a brand new office space that will move Upfront Ventures to Santa Monica, a little bit closer to where startups are located, and where all the action is. The team has signed a 10-year lease on a place that has 8,000 sq. ft. of indoor office space, and another 4,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space.
While it’s bet big on Los Angeles, the firm will continue to be opportunistic about deals in other locations. Suster says it’s had success in London, New York, Chicago, and other markets as well. That said, while it will try to make a few smart investments in Silicon Valley, it probably won’t be focusing on every hot startup that passes by there.
“The number one rule of venture capital is to be differentiated,” Suster told me. “I don’t want to be one of the 80 firms on Sand Hill Road fighting over deals.”