Matrix Partners, the 38-year-old, early-stage venture capital firm, has just added a 10th general partner to its roster: Hardi Meybaum, an Estonian entrepreneur who sold his computer-aided design company to GrabCAD to the 3D printing giant Stratasys for a reported $100 million in cash and stock roughly a year ago.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Meybaum, who founded GrabCAD in 2009 and who received his first institutional check from Matrix. We talked with him yesterday about the move.
TC: As a young founder who was living a world away in Estonia, how did you find Matrix?
HM: When I was starting GrabCAD, I knew I wanted to come to Silicon Valley and Boston and I stumbled across [Boston-based general partner] David Skok, who I could see was on the board of SolidWorks, the most important company in our space at the time. So I tracked him down, and I really liked him, and likely he liked me, so Matrix invested in our seed round. At the same time, I was homeless from Estonia and Matrix had just opened up an office in Cambridge, and I was the first person to work in it.
TC: Have you done much in the way of angel investing?
HM: When I was building GrabCAD I was extremely busy with it and didn’t do much angel investing. To be honest, I never thought I would become a VC. But after selling the company, I started to spend more time with entrepreneurs and I did some angel investing and became an [investor] in different incubators and I found that I really enjoyed the process of becoming like a best friend to [a founder] who can bitch about how hard things are. [Laughs.]
TC: What do you think the orientation process will be like at Matrix? Are you worried it will be hard to say no to entrepreneurs?
HM: I’m optimistic about absolutely everything and I do love to say yes, so this is probably going to be the most difficult part of the job. But I’ll be working closely with David because he’s such an experienced investor.
One area that interests me is vertical communities focused around a niche market, like the [publicly traded, cloud-based company] Veeva Systems, which started out as a network for doctors at the beginning and is now a big company that builds software for life sciences customers.
TC: Has much has changed since you founded GrabCAD in Estonia six years ago? Do you think entrepreneurs should still come to the states?
HM: I just spent three months in Estonia this summer; it’s an interesting country. I think one reason why I became an entrepreneur is that Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and though I was still in school when we got our freedom, I could see how you build a country from the ground up. Because of that, in fact, I think it’s a very entrepreneurial place.
That Skype was founded there also made a big difference to the local startup ecosystem.
Overall, I do think it’s now much easier to build a company in Estonia, but you still need to have some kind of business in the U.S. For example, [the international money transfer business] TransferWise has its engineering and product teams in Estonia but it’s building its sales operation in the U.S. We often see product stay in Estonia but sales and marketing get built in the U.S. Also, as a founder, I do think you still need to visit Silicon Valley at least once a month. It’s still the epicenter of the tech world.