Firebrand Ventures is the right culture fit at the right time, said serial entrepreneur Ryan Merket.
Joining the Kansas City-based venture firm as a partner alongside John Fein, Merket brings a wealth of experience from his time at Facebook, Reddit and Amazon, as well as five years as an angel investor, he said.
“Looking at the different opportunities in front of me, it really just came down to what was more aligned with my values and my culture and where I want to be for the next 10 to 15 years,” said Merket, who is based in the Austin market.
“With Firebrand, I think around 65 percent of the portfolio companies are led by a woman or a minority or an LGBTQ founder and for me, that’s in line completely with how I see the world and where I hope people continue to invest,” he added. “I think we can expand on that number.”
Merket’s and Fein’s philosophies dovetail with the overall mission for Firebrand, said Fein, managing partner of the local venture firm.
“We call ourselves founder-focused and a partner in the startup journey, and Ryan fits right in with that culture,” he said. “We have to earn that brand every day by helping our founders and just being the very best founder-focused investors we can, so that’s one of the reasons we’re so excited to bring Ryan on because he believes in that 100 percent and it’s just going to create success all around and most importantly for our founders.”
Click here to read more about Firebrand’s mission to drive the success of Midwestern startups.
The new partner and accompanying office are expected to better position the firm to support startups across the Midwest, said Fein.
“The way we feel about the Greater Midwest is probably how all the original [venture capitalists] of the ’70s and ’80s felt about Silicon Valley,” he said. “It’s extremely exciting what we’re seeing in these communities like Austin and Boulder and Chicago and other communities in the middle part of the country.”
“It’s making our territory that much more valuable to invest in and it’s going absolutely in the right direction that we hoped [it would],” he added. “Now we’re putting more of a well-rounded team around it to fully leverage that thesis.”
A transition period is to be expected for Merket, he said, as his investing experience focused primarily in the angel category rather than the venture world.
“I think there’s a lot to learn — I’m not going to be naive and come out and say that I know everything about venture — I definitely don’t,” he said. “I want to learn and I’m going to through John, and there’s not a better person to learn under.”With a significant portion of Firebrand’s portfolio already based in Austin, increased engagement in the area is all the more practical, added Fein.
“It can only benefit us by having someone on the ground there who’s already known really well in that community to continue to find and work with the best founders,” he said.
Additional hiring might follow as the firm transitions into its second fund — one expected to be at least twice as large as the previous $17.7 million fund, he added.
“We intend to fully leverage the successful approach that we’ve been [utilizing] with Fund 1 and essentially amplify that,” Fein said. “That’s going to be the next big milestone for us and then just doubling down on where we see this massive opportunity in the greater Midwest.”