It was a few months back that rumours began to circulate within the European — and specifically Berlin — startup community that ex-Early Bird VCs Ciarán O’Leary and Jason Whitmire were raising a fund of their own. Well today that news comes to surface with the new firm, dubbed BlueYard Capital, getting an official, albeit modest, outing via a blog post written by O’Leary.
The new “early-stage” fund has raised $120 million so far and will be based in Berlin but plans to make investments across Europe. Aside from a high-level thesis on the types of startups BlueYard plans to invest in (more on that below), O’Leary’s blog post is short on details — and he declined to comment further — although I’ve learned from sources that investments will be at both the seed and Series A stage, in the $500,000 to $5 million range.
They’ll also be an emphasis on startups that can have a global reach, including building a bridge to the U.S., and those that have a disruptive or unique proposition — in other words, not simply copying or incrementing on an existing and proven business model but actually going out and doing something truly new.
Perhaps tied to this mandate is that it’s my understanding that the vast majority of BlueYard’s LPs are U.S.-based as interest in Europe from across the pond continues to increase.
According to one well-placed source, there’s also a feeling within BlueYard that the European startup ecosystem, and maybe Germany in particular, has matured and as a result is seeing a second generation of entrepreneurs who are engineering rather than business school-led as ‘doing a startup’ becomes a more viable option for those with a technical or product background.
That’s also likely a reference to the early reputation Rocket Internet/Germany had for parachuting in MBAs to found tech startups, the antithesis to a more Silicon Valley engineering-led approach. But I digress…
Zooming out, O’Leary’s blog post talks about three elements of BlueYard’s investment thesis: The decentralisation of markets, the democratisation of capabilities, and the liberation of data.
The first is described as enabling “individuals and organisations to transact directly amongst each other, while reducing the power of gatekeepers and in other cases creating entirely new markets.” Here something like Airbnb is a classic example. Or perhaps EyeEm (which EarlyBird is an investor) because it enables anybody to sell their photography, thus cracking open the existing stock photography market.
The “democratisation of capabilities”, meanwhile, refers to way that tech is enabling more people to be able to do more things, either entirely or simply much more efficiently and cheaper. One example might be analytics or automated online marketing, whereby technology puts data science in the hands of just about anybody.
Finally, the “liberation of data” is described as making data “more free, usable, portable” and positively influencing the “balance of power over data”. That’s pretty high level, but one example is the way startups have begun innovating on top of the Blockchain, in which sharing data for the good of the ecosystem as a whole is inherent in the technology itself.
While another example of liberating data that immediately springs to mind is a company like Xenta, which asks companies to upload their freight quotes in return for getting better price comparisons and intelligence.
Writes O’Leary: “…we are trying not to think of the world too much in terms of specific sectors – but rather what the macro level economic and social changes are that technology is driving. There are a few other things we are excited about and we’ll make sure to keep an open mind.”
A few other tidbits: BlueYard Capital will be an “equal partnership,” meaning that if and when the firm expands, all partners will have “equal economics in the funds they are involved in”. The VC has also recruited its first Venture Partner in the form of Chad Fowler of Wunderlist fame (where he was CTO and now General Manger under the ownership of Microsoft), bringing further operational and entrepreneurial credibility to the newly-hatched VC firm.