Announcing Hurt+Harbach

I'm very proud to announce Hurt+Harbach, a seed-stage venture capital firm focused primarily on Austin investments.

I've enjoyed working at Austin Ventures since November of last year. I've had a long partnership with the good people there, dating back to August of 2005, when the firm invested in our Series A at Bazaarvoice and Chris Pacitti joined our Board of Directors. My last day at Austin Ventures was August 15.

I'm an entrepreneur, after all. I discovered that I really enjoy being a VC. Helping entrepreneurs is the next phase of my career, and this is a natural evolution for me. Co-founding a new venture capital firm is the ideal way to express my passion for building extraordinary companies.

I've also been a very active angel investor in Austin. My experience as an angel got me even more "reps”, so to speak. I started a new workout program. I dove right in and I've met with around 300 entrepreneurs over the last ten months - over 95% of them right here in Austin.

In my most shared Lucky7 post to date, "The state of tech entrepreneurship in Austin", I argued that Austin needs more seed-stage investment firms. More "entrepreneurial experiments" will produce bigger outcomes. With this announcement, I'm putting my money where my mouth is.

The other half of Hurt+Harbach is Jeff Harbach, the former Executive Director of the Central Texas Angel Network (CTAN), one of the most active angel groups in the country. Jeff is also the co-founder of Texas Venture Labs (at the University of Texas at Austin), a serial entrepreneur, and a Kauffman Fellow.

Here is Jeff’s own blog post announcing Hurt+Harbach. You should read it too.

Teaming up with Jeff was natural. Jeff is sharp, humble, driven, community-focused, and family-oriented. It is an honor to be his co-founder.

I’d like to talk about the brand we’ve chosen for the new firm, and as part of that, some of the values that make us different -- ideas that represent a new line of thought in VC. I also want to encourage you to attend our first event, which is taking place next week.

I should first address our name. Why use our names?

Many of you know that I think deeply about company names, as I wrote about in my Lucky7 post "What's in a name?". The first company I started was Hurt Technology Consulting. Like Hurt+Harbach, it was a services firm and it was all about my ability to provide our clients with a great experience. Hurt+Harbach is the same.

Our reputation will entirely depend on how well we service the local entrepreneurial community. It will depend on how we can mentor and help entrepreneurs raise capital, hire their team, and think big. I imagine that Kleiner Perkins and Andreessen Horowitz were thinking similarly when they named their venture capital firms.

Putting our names on the door recognizes that Jeff and I are the product, and we embrace that responsibility.

Onto the logo:

First, credit where credit is due. I want to thank Patrick Barrett, co-founder of Greater Good Labs, a startup I'm honored to serve on the Advisory Board of. Before Greater Good Labs, Patrick was one of our best at Bazaarvoice. I don't know a better designer and UI expert in Austin than him, and he created this logo.

Second, I want to address the symbol of our firm: the humble but mighty hummingbird. Did you know that the hummingbird's heart is the largest in the animal kingdom, relative to its size? The hummingbird’s heart beats 250 times per minute at rest, and 1,260 beats per minutes while flying. Did you know the hummingbird's brain is the largest proportionally in the bird kingdom as well?

I've been fascinated by hummingbirds since I was a child, and I frequently see them outside of the window of our home. When I do I always stop to take notice, just like I do when I see a great startup.

Hummingbirds can remember every flower they have been to, and how long it will take a flower to refill. Did you know that the hummingbird's wings are unlike any other in the bird kingdom? They allow the hummingbird to fly forward, backward, hover, and even upside-down for a short period of time. Hummingbirds are the only birds in the world that can fly like this.

Hurt+Harbach is a seed-stage firm. The humble but mighty hummingbird is our symbol for the kind of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship that we champion.

I've started five companies now, and each time I experience anew the visceral frailty that defines your first steps. Books like The innovator’s Dilemma give entrepreneurs hope but founding and growing your own business is still very, very hard. It is much easier to hang out in the bosom of a big company. My five-step program for middle-aged entrepreneurs outlines how to get centered to break out on your own, but there is ultimately no replacement for a big brain and an even bigger heart.

Like hummingbirds, early-stage entrepreneurs need to be nimble and pivot quickly to seize opportunities. Have you heard the old saying that startups are speed boats while big companies are the Titanic? Hummingbirds versus ostriches. Is it any coincidence that both Andy Grove and Steve Jobs told friends that The Innovator's Dilemma is a must-read?

Jeff and I love the tension of the hummingbird, which can appear frail. Of course, great startups pollinate entirely new industries, disrupting others in the process. There is much more to hummingbirds than meets the eye.

Caterpillar is a brand and a symbol with great inherent tension, too. The squishy, vulnerable bug that transforms into a butterfly is the name of a heavy, construction equipment company that just happens to be #46 on the Fortune 500. We thought a lot about what’s obvious and what’s non-obvious when naming and branding Hurt+Harbach. I should say thanks to the good folks at Jones-Dilworth for educating us on this topic and more. They have been helping Jeff and I along the way, and we've been very impressed. I also want to thank Jeff’s brother-in-law, Gabriel Mease, for the idea that our firm needed a brand symbol and specifically he said he thought a hummingbird would be a great idea. It immediately resonated with us, and he deserves credit in pushing our creative thinking.

The hummingbird being placed in the middle of our logo was heavily debated. Jeff and I view it as standing for the plus “+” sign. Early-stage entrepreneurs are our focus and our role is all about how we can help them together.

Now, onto our first event.

We want your input on what Hurt+Harbach can and should be. We encourage you to join us next Tuesday, August 27, starting at 6pm at Lola Savannah off Bee Caves, just west of 360. Tweet #hurtharbach or email either Jeff [jeff (at) hurtharbach (dot) com] or me [brett (at) hurtharbach (dot) com] (or both of us) to register -- no Eventbrite, nothing complex, nothing fancy. Drinks and food are on the house.

If there is one thing we have learned as entrepreneurs, it is to really listen to your customers and clients. To that end, Jeff and I want to solicit your input on what Austin needs, and how we can best serve this community. Everything that Hurt+Harbach does will figure as a discussion, a dialogue. This is about you, not us. And we believe there is no better spot for this forum than Lola Savannah, as I wrote about in May.

Please come with your ideas. What do you think the seed-stage investing scene has been missing in Austin? If you were starting your own seed-stage investment firm, how would you stand out? What kind of services would you provide to entrepreneurs? What kind of reputation would you want to build?

I want to say thank you to Austin before signing off.

This is the community I was born and raised in, and the community that embraced me to become a successful entrepreneur. Hurt+Harbach is a very serious endeavor for me - a big milestone. I'm proud to team up with Jeff, and I hope that together – along with the small team we'll build -- that we can do just as good of a job helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams as I've done achieving mine.

We are no doubt stepping onto a bigger stage. It is clear to us that Austin both needs this and that Austin’s future is very bright. We hope to create many economic ripples and jobs for our community by helping others be the best entrepreneurs they can be. Austin, we'll do our very best to serve you well. Thank you for making Hurt+Harbach possible.