Ned Desmond, a longtime publishing executive who spent more than half a dozen years at Time Inc. before becoming the chief operating officer of both TechCrunch and Engadget for more than eight years, has joined the investment firm SOSV as a senior operating partner.
It’s seemingly a good fit for both sides.
SOSV — which is currently managing a $277 million flagship fund alongside some smaller vehicles — has become known for its popular accelerator programs, including Hax, a program focused around nascent hardware startups, and IndieBio, SOSV’s life-sciences-focused accelerator.
In fact, the outfit, founded by serial entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan in 1995, has now funded so many startups — roughly 1,000 of them — that it recently sought out Desmond to work with them, connect them, shine a light on their work and help them raise follow-on funding.
It’s work that has become intuitive for Desmond, who among other things, was heavily involved in organizing TechCrunch’s multiple events around the world each year, along with its signature Battlefield competitions, which collectively feature dozens of nascent startups annually.
Indeed, soon after Desmond resigned from TechCrunch last summer in search of a new challenge (and some needed downtime), O’Sullivan reached out to him, asking if he might join SOSV to help with its marketing and sales efforts, as well as to provide coaching and connections to its startups.
By O’Sullivan’s telling, SOSV could use the help more than ever.
The outfit has had its share of successes. It was the lead investor in the electric bike company Jump Bikes, acquired by Uber in 2018 for an undisclosed amount. It’s an early investor in the 3D printing company FormLabs (valued at more than $1 billion during its last round in 2018). It also wrote an early check to the peer-to-peer car-sharing company GetAround, which was hard hit by the pandemic but whose business has since reportedly rebounded such that it was able to raise $140 million in Series E funding in October. (It has raised $600 million altogether.)
Still, SOSV is in the same boat as many seed-stage investment firms. It’s working with a lot of very new teams for whom the pandemic has been rough. According to Crunchbase, seed funding in the third quarter was down 32% percent year over year and down 11% quarter over quarter.
While the buzzier, more established companies have had no problems in fundraising — many are having to bat back overeager investors — newer, unproven teams without established connections have found it harder to land seed-stage and Series A checks.
“It’s a super tough market,” says O’Sullivan. “Angels have completely dropped out. Seed investing is down massively.” Except in life sciences, especially in the U.S., says O’Sullivan, “it’s tougher for every company because you can’t move quite as fast.”
What of Zoom and related talk by VCs of the extra time they now have to meet with new startups? O’Sullivan suggests with a laugh that there’s no shortage of posturing in the industry. “Everyone’s always doing ‘great.’ But I’m a Catholic guy. I have to be honest” and there’s “nothing quite like going to meet with a company and working with them across the table. When you’re working with them remotely, it’s just a slower process.”
With Desmond’s work ethic, his connections and his experience, O’ Sullivan thinks he can speed it up. He’s clear-eyed about the coming months. “The stock market is doing great, but the economy is not doing well, so there’s tremendous uncertainty about what happens next.”
O’Sullivan, is “cautiously optimistic,” he adds, but like a growing number other investors, he’s also wondering, “How long can the party continue?