Tonight, TechCrunch will celebrate the last twelve months of fearless ingenuity, dogged ambition, and above all, plain ol' good luck that underpins the stories of all the dauntingly impressive companies that have been nominated for The 2009 Crunchies. Many of the entrepreneurs who inspire me each day are among those contending for awards tonight including: Posterous, Gowalla, DailyBooth, Zappos, Betaworks, and my beloved Twitter.
As in years past, I am thrilled to see the unwavering passion of these teams rewarded with some due recognition from their peers and, more importantly, from their users. It is in the light of all of their hard work and success that it feels weird to me, uncomfortable really, to have been nominated for the Crunchie for Best Angel Investor.
It isn't that I don't think I am a helpful angel investor. To the contrary, it has thrilled me over the last couple of years to find that I really can move the needle for the companies I advise and in which I invest. It charges me up to see my involvement allow company founders to be focused and empowered and free of a lot of the traditional startup bullshit that can be a debilitating distraction. I love what I do precisely because the teams I work with see and feel how helpful I am. That's a win for everyone involved.
So why does it feel so uncomfortable to be nominated? Because, well, look who else is on that list!! The other folks nominated have each quite literally revolutionized early stage investing. I don't say that lightly. Each of them is an unmitigated pioneer:
Betaworks - John Borthwick and Andy Weissman took their vast experience as product gurus and all-around businessguys, raised a small fund, and built a place where brilliant entrepreneurs in NYC could not only get access to capital, but also experienced co-founders and a wonderful physical space to get stuff done side by side with other geeks. Their track record speaks for itself when you consider companies like Summize (acquired by Twitter) bit.ly, and someecards. I wouldn't think of touching down in NYC without a visit to their enclave and I always emerge smarter and happier as a result.
Jeff Clavier - Jeff was one of the first guys to establish the notion of the small venture fund, a big break from an era that was driven by VC lust for management fees. In doing so, he took angel investors from riding shotgun to being in the driver's seat with a new breed of lean companies. Rather than waiting for a lead to dictate all the terms, Jeff gets a full round of seed investment to a team so they can get back to the business of building great products. Jeff and I have done a couple of deals together including with the superstars at Fanbridge and I am impressed every time by his product insight and his willingness to roll up his sleeves.
Yossi Vardi - Not only has Yossi been a groundbreaking angel investor, and incredibly successful at that, he has opened the eyes of many of us in the Valley to the wealth of talent that lies beyond the borders of the US, particularly in Europe and the Middle East. Yossi is often held out as an example of the rise of the Israeli technology realm, but after spending time with him over the years, and traveling to Israel with him, it is clear Yossi's work has an even higher purpose. Though it is easy to remember him just for his corny jokes at conferences, Yossi has been an instrumental voice of reason in the Middle East peace process and actively encourages technology as a bridge that transcends divisive religious identities. I personally witnessed how deeply respected he is by both Jews and Muslims throughout the region and am humbled by the work he has done toward that end.
YCombinator - No one has done more than Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston to permanently change how web companies are built and how users are made happy. These two were among the first to embrace the realities of how cheap it was to start a company and how today's founders no longer needed to surround themselves with a superfluous layer of MBAs trained to raise millions of dollars from swollen VC funds. Instead, they preached a gospel of cheap, simple, helpful, did I say cheap? company-building all resting on a foundation of ethics and respect for the broader community of coders and entrepreneurs. While there are certainly investors I like and respect a great deal, YCombinator is an institution I believe in, and Silicon Valley is a better place for it.
Ron Conway - I mention Ron last only because this one gets a little emotional for me. It goes without saying, his prolific reach is legendary. He is the Zelig of the startup world in that there isn't a liquidity event in our industry in which he isn't involved and a closing dinner to which he isn't invited. Of course, he isn't just invited as an investor, but usually as the guy who made the introduction, helped negotiate the terms, and saved it from the brink of disaster along the way. It gets emotional for me because no one in this business has been more generous, more selfless, or more caring with me. We all learn from Ron, and none of us could be here without him. I will never understand how he covers so much ground and how he manages to be so responsive and perform so much service for others. When you are with Ron, you know he will go to any length to help you. When guys with his success might otherwise take time to rest, Ron then redoubles his efforts for his charitable causes, not just giving money, but raising funds and awareness and doing hard work on non-profit boards. I feel lucky to know Ron and to have the chance to work with him virtually every day as I am sure many of you do too.
So, there you have it. As fun as it has been to joke about you all voting for me, it would feel a little silly if I won. I consider everyone else on this list a mentor and a teacher and I light up every time they call or write. And, as accomplished as I would feel to have a big bone-wielding metal gorilla on my mantle (Note to self: find a mantle), I will be very glad when one of these folks wins the Crunchie tonight.
Thanks to all of them for making startups possible. And, most importantly, thanks to Mike Arrington and TechCrunch, as well as GigaOm and VentureBeat for giving us the best ever excuse to all get together for some drinks, laughs, and geeky debates on a Friday night. See you at the show!