I usually reserve this space for helping arm hardware startups with the knowledge they need to be successful, but every once in awhile it’s helpful to break down this wall and reiterate that Bolt is a startup too and our journey is continually evolving just like yours. As we start writing a new chapter of Bolt with the addition of a new General Partner, Greg McAdoo (formerly of Sequoia Capital), and closing an $80M Fund III, I find myself appreciating a lesson that’s completely changed my life.
In 2011 I started seeing a pattern of small hardware companies (some of which were product design clients of mine) struggling to do things software companies seemed to breeze through: building prototypes, raising seed capital, hiring engineers, and shipping product. Like any founder thinking about a new problem, I dove into the customer development process with folks like Ben Rubin at Zeo, Paul Berberian at Sphero, and Brad Feld at Foundry Group. Two things became painfully obvious:
- There were a growing number of companies straddling the barrier between hardware and software
- Nearly all of these companies lacked the support their software counterparts seemed to be getting in spades
So, just like you all, I set out to build something to fix the problems uncovered by customer development. Those conversations were the first steps on a long and winding road to building Bolt. After two hard years of “why would anyone invest in hardware companies” I got a lucky break when a mechanical engineer turned VC, Axel Bichara, decided to roll up his sleeves and bring 20 years of venture investing experience to the table. Axel taught me so many fundamental things about the venture capital world, it’s frankly embarrassing to recite them all. Needless to say, without Axel joining Bolt in those early days, we would have never been able to raise our $3.8M experimental fund.
That first fund enabled us to test a new kind of investing model focused on deep support for hardware startups.
As all startups eventually figure out, doing anything different isn’t easy. Bolt’s thesis required breaking the traditional venture fund model, hiring a team of experienced hardware engineers, building a million dollar prototyping shop, and quickly figuring out how to simultaneously support a dozen companies. Something seemed to click and
fter 18 months we raised a $32M Fund II in 2015, largely because of the lessons Axel instilled in Bolt’s culture.
Of all those learnings, Axel’s most important contribution to Bolt is a life lesson that will stick with me until my last day:
The people you surround yourself with make the difference between motivation and complacency, between breaking the mold and following the well-worn path, between success and failure.
This life lesson is reinforced with our newest team addition: Greg McAdoo as General Partner. Greg joins us after more than a dozen years as a General Partner at Sequoia Capital, where he was the first investor in companies like Airbnb and Y Combinator. Bolt’s investing platform is structured around helping founders build. Whether it’s building a plastic part, building a fundraising deck, or building a management team, we all wake up every day to help build. Not once have I met someone who sits on the investing side of the table that embodies building more than Greg.
There is a lot more we want to build, especially around different ways to assemble boards and new knowledge sharing tools to accelerate growth within the greater hardware community; I can’t wait to begin rolling out those initiatives in the coming months and years.
Over time, small seed funds are incentivized to raise larger funds leading them to invest in later-stage companies and act more like traditional VCs. Axel, Greg, and myself reject this path and will stay true to the founding conviction of Bolt. Even though we closed an $80M Fund III last week, we’re doubling down on pre-seed investments and focusing where our value is highest: pre-product, pre-revenue companies that sit at the intersection of hardware and software. We believe $80M will be our steady-state fund size for funds IV, V and beyond.
As Bolt has grown from lonesome me to a team I’m humbled to work with everyday, I am reminded that we’re all here because of the people who have supported us in our weird, winding, messy journeys. To those people: my deepest heartfelt thank you.