Growing up in India, watching NBA games at 5:30am in the morning, I would always stare in awe at the people sitting courtside on TV, wondering who they were, and what one had to do to sit there. I saw the celebs, the former players, the owners, and the kids who were staring at their phone instead of the action. I wanted nothing more in life than to just once, get to sit with my feet on the hardwood and watch the best players in the world up close. Courtside it seemed, was a dream.
That’s why, two years ago, I created a little special purpose vehicle called Courtside Ventures RG with the intention of investing in Rap Genius’ Series B round (now just Genius.com after some lucky sonofabitch made bank selling us that domain name). Fast forward 18 months, and thanks to some incredible LPs and partners that came together to take a chance on us, we announced a $35M early stage venture fund this week. I certainly hope it’s the first of many funds that we will be investing in passionate entrepreneurs from, under the Courtside name.
Our thesis for this fund is really quite simple. Between the LPs and GPs in this fund, we feel very confident that we’re one phone call away from anyone in the sports world. This means our portfolio companies have an unfair advantage when it comes to accelerating their businesses in this vertical. We also have the biggest advertising company in the world on our team – a firm that buys more than half of all ads in the world. Finally, we have real operators on our team. People that have built companies from $0 to multiple billions, people that have operated some of the the largest sports leagues and agencies in the world, and people that know what raising money for a seed stage company is like, because they were doing exactly that, not 3 years ago. We’re not a bunch of former bankers that realized they wanted to do something more exciting. We live and breathe startups, and we’ve walked in your shoes before.
As the name suggests, our goal with this first fund is to be as close to the action as possible, without meddling too much with the operations of the companies we invest in. This means we’re looking to co-invest with other great VCs that we trust and have a relationship with. It also means that more often than not, we’re not looking to take board seats. We want to be as helpful as possible from the sidelines by opening up our rolodex, and helping when you have a problem you need to solve.
The most important thing that I’ve learned in my short life time is that pretty much the only thing that really matters is your reputation (oh, and that revenue solves all problems). That’s when why it came time to find a partner to join Courtside, my search stopped with Deepen Parikh. There wasn’t one person I talked to who had a bad thing to say about the guy, and while it’s impossible for there to be anyone else who is as passionate about sports as me, he put in a valiant effort with his enthusiasm for the Maryland Terps. Also, given his Indian roots, we figured that if we ever needed to change the name of our fund, we could run with Samosa Ventures.
Deepen and I are incredibly excited about doing VC different. Not “right”, but different, because we don’t really know what the hell right means anymore. Here’s how we plan to run Courtside:
- We know how much of a time suck fund raising is. No dilly-dallying. We’re either interested or we’re not, and we plan to tell you within 2 weeks, one way or another.
- We plan to be brutally honest with entrepreneurs. None of this “you’re too early nonsense”. We’ll tell you why we don’t like it, so that you can either iterate on the idea, or tell us we’re idiots and go prove us wrong.
- As much as we love sports, we’re looking for ideas that transcend sports and can go after other markets if it turns out sports isn’t a fit, or it’s too small a market.
- We try to find the middle ground when negotiating terms. If we can’t meet in the middle, we’re going to tell you why we can’t by showing you the math.
- We’re investing as little as $250K, and as much as $2M, primarily across late seed, Series A, and a few select Series B deals. We want to do about 5-7 deals a year. That means we’re going to turn away a lot of great companies, but that’s just the nature of the business. We’ll still be rooting for each and every one of you, even if we don’t have skin in the game.
- As our website says, we invest in passion. Nothing is more important to us than who the entrepreneur is, and why he or she is trying to solve this problem.
Here’s what we’re really interested in right now (amongst many other things):
- e-Sports (teams, leagues, platforms, training, analytics, etc.)
- Innovative data and analytics platforms, not just to make teams better, but also to help brands and teams with fan engagement, marketing and ad sales
- Virtual reality
- Innovative solutions that go after the mass market of youth sports instead of the 120 pro sports teams in the U.S.
- Drone technology
- Systems that use computer vision and / or machine learning to do things that have previously been manual tasks
- Sports betting overseas, and here in the US when it becomes legal
We’ll update our thesis and our interests from time to time. We’re pretty excited to announce our first set of investments over the course of the next couple of week. Stay tuned, and stay passionate.