Doug Renert told me yesterday that his firm Tandem, which backs early-stage mobile startups, is about to expand in a big way. The first step is bringing in more people, starting with two new partners that Tandem is announcing today — Rohit Bhagat, formerly chairman of Asia Pacific for investment firm BlackRock, and John Ellis, co-founder and executive vice president of product and technology at ad tech company Turn.
Tandem is currently investing in three startups a quarter, but Renert said he’s hoping to do much more. At the same time, he doesn’t want to change the firm’s hands-on approach. He describes it as an accelerator with “muscle capital.” Like other startup incubators, it mentors batches of startups and offers them office space. However, it makes a bigger investment than most — $200,000 to start, and follow-on investments if the company is successful.
Bhagat has experience scaling companies globally, Renert said, so he not only helps Tandem’s startups grow, but also does the same for the accelerator itself. Meanwhile, Ellis’ technical background means that he can help companies with product and infrastructure. Together, they effectively double the Tandem team, which until now consisted of Renert and Sunil Bhargava.
I asked Bhagat over email why he’s jumping from a giant firm to a (relatively) tiny one, and he responded:
I moved to Tandem because it is ideally positioned at the confluence of the rising tides of mobile, social media and cloud computing. Relative to large firms, I felt confident that Tandem’s model of “hands on” seed stage investing would spur more disruptive innovation, create stronger investment returns, and allow me to work more directly with smart people working on truly ground-breaking ideas.
There will be more expansion news in the near future, Renert said. And yes, that will probably include more funding (Tandem announced a $32 million fund last year), although he said it’s too early to talk about specifics.
As for the companies that he wants to invest in, Renert said Tandem’s strategy is to target startups before they would normally raise money — when they’ve built a product but don’t yet have traction. He said many of the current opportunities lie in emerging markets — not just copying successful American products, but figuring out what makes them work and how to transfer that to other geographies.
Renert actually wrote a guest post for us in February outlining the areas in mobile that he thinks have become too crowded (location-based social networking, photosharing, workplace collaboration), are still too nascent for successful companies (in-car apps and services, mobile wallets, integrated TV apps), and are just right for launching now (everyday apps, mobile developer platforms, rich messaging/SMS marketing).
“At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re not just trying to build companies around our ideas,” Renert said. “We’re very open to entrepreneurs’ ideas. We want to back their ideas.”
Tandem is also announcing the three latest startups that it’s backing:
Tile — Tandem’s first hardware company, which helps users find and track lost items
Swoopt — mobile fantasy sports tournaments
HomeTapper — real estate browsing for tablets
The deadline to apply for Tandem’s next class is May 1.