Stepping back at Spark Capital

Seventeen years ago, my friend Santo told me he was going to start a new venture capital firm. It didn’t have a name just yet and he didn’t have a fund, but he had recruited Todd Dagres and Paul Conway and for some reason they asked me to join along.

My wife Lauren and I were living just outside of Boston with our two kids (with one more on the way!). I remember talking it over with her. At the time, We had moved back east after ten years in SF and I was missing the Bay Area. I had an offer from Apple that I was seriously contemplating. And, to be honest, I didn’t know if I would be a good investor or if I would even like the work. But, I loved the idea of helping start something from scratch with a group of friends and people I respected.

So in the fall of 2004, I said yes to Santo and Todd. A few weeks later we had our name and a few months after that our first fund. We were all working out of  a tiny space in Cambridge until we opened our office above a shoe store on Boston’s Newbury Street. And we have been there ever since (along with an expanded team with offices in NYC and SF).

We have done a lot together over these years. We raised six early stage funds and three growth funds and built a company that I adore. I cannot adequately describe the gratitude I feel towards the Spark team and entrepreneurs. Many have become dear friends. This nearly two-decade long journey has truly been something else.

But, it’s with a heavy heart that I say the one constant in life is change. Our current set of funds will be my last as a general partner at Spark. I will continue to be an active board member at several of our portfolio companies and a member of the Spark team.  But I’m stepping back nonetheless and will transition from being a Spark General Partner to a Spark Limited Partner in our future funds.

I’ve been thinking about what’s next. While I don’t have a fully baked set of plans, I do a few things on the list. Lauren and I are going to focus our philanthropy on economic inequality and education. I recently joined the Board of Trustees at Boston College (my alma mater). And I have been increasing my involvement in our nations politics and will continue to help the DNC where I can on the National Finance Committee and leaning into the DSCC’s work for the mid terms.

It also turns out I do love the work of an investor, so I will continue to do just that. But in this next phase, I plan to invest alongside Lauren with our own money. Initially we will invest in seed and Series A rounds with a focus on supporting founders pursuing the challenge of climate change.

And most of all, I want to spend more time with my wife and our three wonderful kids.

This all feels truly so bittersweet. I’m so excited about the future of Spark. Our team has never been stronger and it’s so hard to step back especially now when the opportunity is bigger and more interesting than ever.

I’m not sure how to end this post, but I did save the most important part for last, which is thank you! Thank you Lauren for supporting and believing in me. Thank you to Santo, Todd and the entire Spark team for bringing me on this epic journey. Thank you to the founders who allowed me to be a small part of their own mission, and thank you to our LPs, many of which have been with us since day one.

Each of you changed my life for the better and I am forever grateful.

The “Texas Leica” (aka the Fuji GW690ii)

A few months ago, I picked up the the Fuji GW690ii, affectionally called the “Texas Leica” by many. The nickname suits it quite well. Similar to a Leica, it is an all mechanical (no batteries!) true rangefinder camera — but way bigger because this camera makes massive 6×9 medium format exposures. This is the largest size you can get before you enter the land of large format photography.

Despite it’s potentially off-putting size, the Texas Leica is a joy to shoot. The fixed mount lens is a 90mm f/3.5 (which is roughly about a 50mm f/2 in full format). The lens creates a unique look to my eyes and it’s liberating not having to deal with additional lens options. Another meaningful constraint is only 8 shots per roll of 120mm film. This constraint really slows you down and I can feel myself relax when I’m out making photographs with this camera. Operating the camera (loading film, adjusting shutter, aperture and focusing) is super simple and straightforward. The rangefinder patch itself isn’t nearly as bright as the Mamiya 7ii or a Leica M but it’s totally functional.

The most significant drawback for me is the camera doesn’t have bulb mode. So long exposures (>1 second) requires the photographer to set the camera to T mode. Then after your desired exposure time, you have to turn the shutter dial to stop the film exposure. It works but it’s super odd.

I am still getting a feel for this camera and honestly not sure if it will replace my beloved Mamiya 7ii. But for now, I am having a lot of fun with it.

(All images made with the Fuji Gw690ii and Kodak Portra 400 film)

Heather Cox Richardson take on the Texas anti-abortion law

I highly encourage you to subscribe to Heather Cox Richardson’s daily newsletter, Letters from an American. Professor Richardson’s take on current events and then tying them to historical significance is unique, insightful and compelling. Yesterday she wrote about how the Texas anti-abortion law is not just about abortion.

This is the foundation for today’s “originalists” on the court. They are trying to erase the era of legislation and legal decisions that constructed our modern nation. If the government is as limited as they say, it cannot regulate business. It cannot provide a social safety net or promote infrastructure, both things that cost tax dollars and, in the case of infrastructure, take lucrative opportunities from private businesses. It cannot protect the rights of minorities or women.

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American

The Supreme Court allowed this Texas law to stand. It’s a step back for our nation and our women. And with a 5-4 decision it is tragic that the last US President, who lost the 2016 popular vote, can pack the highest court with 3 appointees. Yes, this is a broken system which leads to horrible outcomes.

There is a lot to do. The first thing I did is donate to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The DSCC is the best way to help get more Democrats in the United States Senate which is critical in so many ways, including Supreme Court appointments.

Please join me and spread the word.

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Going to our first concert since the pandemic

Last night, my wife and I went to see Jonathan Russell perform at the Dreamland Theatre here on Nantucket. We have seen Jonathan and his band, The Head and the Heart, play many times before.

But this show was different. It was our first time seeing an in person live performance (of any kind) since 2019. I suspect that was true for many/most of everyone else in attendance. Right away, you could feel the excitement and energy with the audience even before he took the stage. Everyone had a smile on but keenly aware of this moment.

And it was also Jonathan’s first in person live performance. He talked openly about coping with the pandemic as a musician and what it’s been like for him. I can’t imagine someone who has sold out large venues felt playing in front of a small audience in some small town after 20 months. You could feel his anxiety and nerves and he said as much over and over again. It was one of the most vulnerable, intense shows I’ve ever been to. So many emotions washing over us all — audience and artist alike. All the sorrow and pain we have shared collectively and alone in our thoughts.

The musical performance was beautiful. Jonathan is getting older. He wears glasses to read. He face has signs of aging. But his voice and art remains something truly special and I’m grateful we had the opportunity to catch his first gig since 2019.

Jonathan Russell, Dreamland Theatre // Nantucket July 25, 2021

Analog & digital journaling

I’ve never been someone who writes in a journal

But earlier this year, my therapist suggested I keep a journal and so I’ve been doing just that.

I started keeping everything in a field notes book but I felt too vulnerable — like I would lose it or someone would find it and read all about my innermost thoughts.

I still write in my paper based notebook every day but for notes during various meetings, scribbling down to do lists and jotting down ideas while they are still fresh.

But for daily journaling and keeping a diary of sorts, I switched to Day One. It’s super clean makes it super easy to write down thoughts during the day. It also makes sense of your unorganized and often overlooked mobile photographs. And it’s all secure with end to end encryption. Best of all (I think) the company behind Day One was recently acquired by Automatic.

And if there is one company I trust with this sort of product, it’s got to be Automatic.