Detroit’s Ludlow Ventures goes for fund four

Venture funds have been springing up everywhere in recent years. But a decade ago, it was far more difficult to build a new venture brand far away from a tech hub like Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston.

One firm that has pulled if off is Ludlow Ventures, an 11-year-old, Detroit-based seed-stage venture firm that’s in the process of closing its fourth fund with $65 million in capital commitments, according to SEC paperwork filed this week.

We’ve reached out to firm founder Jonathon Triest, who declined to comment, citing SEC regulations.

Triest began building Ludlow as a twentysomething University of Michigan grad who worked as strategic marketing consultant for Sony-BMG in Atlanta before returning home with his wife to be closer to family. Working initially with his attorney father, he began investing in startups on a deal-by-deal basis, using his base in Detroit to his advantage by showing investors and founders he could grow and leverage a network.

Triest started to gain traction, too. Early and continuing investors include prominent individuals like Dan Gilbert, the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers (Ludlow has long shared an office with Gilbert’s venture firm). Ludlow has also garnered growing institutional support over the years, including from Vintage Investment Partners, Grinnell College, and Foundry Group.

Part of the appeal, seemingly, is the fresh perspective that the team brings to the many places where it is now investing. Indeed, though Ludlow was initially perceived as a regional firm, it quickly expanded outside of Detroit to invest across the U.S.

Just last month, it joined the $2 million seed round of Umba, a 2.5-year-old, Lagos, Nigeria-based digital bank for emerging markets. Ludlow has also written checks in recent months — both new and follow-on — to Welcome, a 1.5-year-old, New York-based HR software startup; Boulevard, a four-year-old, LA-based spa management and payment platform; and Lightyear, a 16-month-old, New York-based startup that wants to make it easier for large companies to procure networking infrastructure like internet and SD-WAN.

But Ludlow’s investors have surely been tracking its exits, too. Among the most notable, the firm was an early investor in Honey, the LA-based coupon finder that PayPal agreed to buy for $4 billion in late 2019. It also nabbed stakes in Flywheel, an Omaha-based WordPress hosting and management company that sold to WordPress in 2019 for $150 million; Gather, an Atlanta-based event management software startup acquired by Vista Equity Partners for a reported $55 million; and San Francisco-based Product Hunt, which sold to AngelList for a reported $20 million in 2016.

Like all firms, Ludlow has had its write-downs. Navdy, for example, maker of a heads-up automotive display, went out of business in 2017.

Still, in addition to its newest bets, it holds stakes in a variety of fast-growing startups. Among these is the nearly six-year-old Boston-based online notary platform Notarize, which has now raised more than $80 million from investors and said last summer it had seen dramatic growth owing to the pandemic and the shift to remote work.

It’s an early investor in the L.A.-based e-sports and lifestyle brand 100 Thieves, which announced a $35 million Series B round in late 2019 at a $160 million post-money valuation. (Gilbert is among its owners, along with music manager Scooter Braun and Drake.)

In 2018, Triest also appears to have worked a check into the Series B round of Detroit-based resale marketplace StockX, a company that was last month assigned a $2.8 billion valuation by its newest investors.

Along with Triest, Ludlow is run by partner Brett deMarrais, who joined the firm in 2012, and a third investor, Blake Robbins, who joined the firm in 2016 as an associate. He was promoted to partner in 2019.

The firm closed its third fund, a $45 million vehicle, in 2019. Its second fund, announced in 2017, also closed with $45 million. Ludlow’s debut fund closed in 2014 with $15.5 million.

Illustration above courtesy of Ludlow Ventures, featuring, from left to right, Triest, deMarrais and Robbins.