Equity transcribed: Investing elsewhere with Revolution’s Clara Sieg

Welcome back to the transcribed edition of the popular podcast Equity. Kate Clark had the hosting reins this week and welcomed Revolution’s Clara Sieg to the studio.

They discussed the trend of investors backing companies from “second-tier” markets like Austin, Atlanta, Denver, Philadelphia, Seattle, etc. Just how do cities become tech hubs? It’s a special kind of recipe, Sieg says. A city must have a great university, or a few, nearby to provide a constant flow of talent. They need some big corporations around for the same reason. They need a healthy community of angel investors ready and willing to get things going.

Sieg: Fundamentally in these second and third tier markets, an idea on the back of a napkin doesn’t get funded, so you really have to bootstrap to a certain degree and prove out really economics before you can unlock capital. Typically the companies that we’re investing in at the Series A, Series B level are a little bit farther along than their brethren would be in the Bay Area or New York.

Valuation expectations are just lower so you own more of a company for a smaller check-in. Inherently, if it’s an exit, that is a better outcome for you and it’s just cheaper to scale companies in those markets. Employee retention is better, cost of living is lower, so the capital required to scale these companies and that’s coming in after you and diluting you is less.

Clark: So when Steve Case founded Revolution, was he coming at it from the perspective of like, “This is obviously good business?” Which it is, to invest in these companies, or was it coming from a perspective of like, “It’s not fair that companies in these areas just don’t have access to capital like we do here in the Bay Area?”

Sieg: Neither, really. I think our investing approach in the early days, and what we still focus on today is what is now commonly referred to as disruption, right? Historically, Zipcar was basically disrupting the rental car market, and it was not really thought of as a great venture-backable opportunity in the early days. That’s obviously changed now, transportation is a huge piece of what venture capitalists focus on, but from day one, we focused on sleepy, incumbent markets where technology can be an enabler of a new business model that makes it better, faster, cheaper for the consumer, or the business that it’s serving, and where you can change the margins in the business to create a market leader that incumbents then either have to own or that can be a large standalone company.

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