To.be and My Pal Nick
Yesterday, we announced through Openbeta that [To.be](to.be), a recent betaworks seed investment, is opening up its doors for the first time. I’ve never before written an investment announcement for a company, mostly because I think they’re boring, but also because the story too often becomes about the investment itself or the VC that’s investing. So I’m going to try and write a different story. This is a story about an impressive person, a beautiful exploratory product, and above all else, friendship.
I met Nick Dangerfield a year ago. He came to us through John’s brother, Mark Borthwick, a well known artist and photographer. In former lives, Nick D. has played the role of world traveler, artist, and corporate lawyer. He is a multinational with Spanish and British heritage who’s married to a Japanese chef, he is a musician and an entrepreneur, and among many other fascinating things, Nick had most recently built a product called Playbutton. Part music, part art, part hardware, Playbutton continues to thrive as an independent company. Nick walked into betaworks with a vision for communication through the creation of digitally native art and we said “Wow, please show us!” Without a prototype, Nick walked out. I expected never to see him again.
But sure enough, several months later, he strolled right back in with a rough alpha and a smirk, and holy shit I’m happy he did. Nick had never built a web company, had never built an engineering team, had never raised venture capital money. In short, he didn’t come from the tech world. He had never heard of Y Combinator or demo days or lean product methodology or any of it. What he had was a unique perspective about art and communication and love and life. All the other stuff, that can be learned. So we discussed how betaworks might help with the other stuff, we shook hands shortly afterwards, and we’ve been on this journey ever since.
The road thus far, as with most startups, has been marked by jagged throws forward and backward and everywhere in between. But during this time, Nick has built a team, a company culture and a product that is every bit as unique as he is. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to be right in the thick of it with Nick, Kosta and the rest of their team while they’ve worked tirelessly to build this first version of [to.be](to.be). Take some time to explore the site, be patient with the product at first, savor it, and then please tell us what you think.
My relationship with Nick and his company have given new meaning to what it means for me to be an active investor / advisor. I know now that if you’re learning about it for the first time in a broadcasted investor email update, you have no idea what’s actually going on in the company. If you have to fight for more information rights in the investment docs, if you aren’t metaphorically (or literally) on speed dial, then you’ve failed your customer, the founder. This isn’t something you can write into a contract — this is something you earn over time with hard work (it’s called trust) — and it’s been one of the most important lessons of my career.
The best byproduct of my work with to.be this past year is the close friendship I’ve built with Nick D. I don’t sit on his board and betaworks doesn’t write follow-on checks, so he doesn’t have to posture with me. These are subtle, but important details that have an impact on the investor / founder relationship. More than anything, I’m thankful that Nick’s trusted me enough to let me into his bizarre and beautiful world. It’s been one of the great joys of my work and my life and I look forward to the journey yet to come.
So to my buddy Nick, thank you.