Charlie O’Donnell: A New York VC Spotlight
When Charlie O’Donnell, Partner at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, a seed and early stage investment firm, isn’t competing in triathlons or biking to work, he is leveraging his vast connections in the startup community to help his portfolio companies with business development, public relations and recruiting.
The firm, founded by O’Donnell in January of 2012, typically invests $200,000-$300,000 in each of its companies. And while Brooklyn Bridge Ventures is based in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs are also included in the firm’s focus, as they look to invest in companies across different sectors of information technology. Current investments include ElectNext and Editorially.
With his departure from GM in 2005, O’Donnell spent 18 months as an analyst for Union Square Ventures. He was then a director of consumer products for Oddcast, a viral marketing company, for one year.
In February of 2008, he began a part-time teaching position as an entrepreneur-in-residence for ITAC, a nonprofit consulting and training organization for NYC-based manufacturing and technology companies, and worked with the organization until September of 2009.
He then began to work with First Round Capital as an entrepreneur-in-residence for 14 months, before transitioning into a principal at the firm. His investments included Refinery29, chloe + isabel, Backupify, SinglePlatform, Salescrunch and Docracy. As part of the investments, he was also a board member or board observer for each of the companies.
Outside of his work as a venture capitalist, O’Donnell created nextNY in 2006, a network that connects individuals who have a vested interest in the tech and new media scenes in New York City. People involved in nextNY typically have less than 10 years of experience in their fields, with a special interest in recent graduates who are just starting their careers. Gatherings are for both social and professional purposes and have included panels, bar outings, meetups, conferences, holiday parties and workshops, all focused on entrepreneurship, startup education and networking.
From 2008-2009, he was also CEO, and co-founder, of Path 101, which was designed to help college students with career planning and setting goals. Services included personality tests used to suggest specific career paths, and a resume analyzer, which compared resumes uploaded by users to ones made available on the Internet in order to breakdown which jobs would potentially be the best fit, based on the skills and experiences provided. It was also the first company to receive funding from NYC Seed and was a Business Insider Startup 2009 Conference Finalist. High profile investors included Roger Ehrenberg, Josh Stylman, Pete Hershberg and Fred Wilson.
Since 2005, he has been an adjunct professor for both undergraduate and graduate students at Fordham University, where he had received his BS in finance just 4 years prior. Courses have included “Management for the MySpace Generation,” “Innovation and the Entrepreneurial Mindset” and “Introduction to Business Blogging.”
O’Donnell’s own blog, This is Going to be BIG!, is ranked #6 among the top VC bloggers. He has been listed on Alley Insider’s 100 Most Influential People in NY Tech 5 times.
Besides being one of New York Tech Meetup’s first 100 members, he also served on its original board.
Currently, he is the co-founder and a board member of Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse, a free kayaking program on the East River.
Partner at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures (Founded in 2012)
SinglePlatform sold to Constant Contact for $100 million
GroupMe sold to Skype for an undisclosed amount
Early Stage Venture Capital, Media, Marketing, Consumer Businesses, Financial Services, General Private Equity, Social Networking, Facebook, Blogging, Interactive Advertising, Recruiting, Career Education, Public Speaking, Strategic Partnerships.
Blogs, Twitter & Websites:
On his decision to found his firm in Brooklyn: “I live in Brooklyn, and 50 percent of the people who work in venture-backed startups in New York City live in Brooklyn. I believe the borough will play a much bigger role in the startup ecosystem going forward. There’s a real opportunity to make an impact here.”
On how the right team can make or break a business: “For any company, the most important asset you have is your people. Building a great team is the most important ingredient for success.”
On how pivoting in startups doesn’t solve every problem: “The one thing that doesn’t change in a pivot is you. Maybe you didn’t have project management skills or sales skills. Maybe there’s something you should’ve learned in order to be a better executor. Maybe you couldn’t close a deal, and maybe you should get a job that would make you better at closing a deal.”
On the importance of using social media to showcase your skills, especially when you haven’t built up your resume yet: “If you’re a college student and you don’t have a blog, you need one. It’s 2009. If you were a photography major you’d have an online portfolio, right? It’d be a given; it’d be a no brainer. Well, you’re a knowledge worker. Where is your knowledge portfolio?”
On setting goals and having expectations for yourself: “If you aren’t passionate enough about what you’re doing to be one of the top 30 people by the time you’re 30, in your industry, then pick something else.”
On how to catch investors’ attention: “I think great businesses are funded by VCs and if you spend all your time building a great business, the VCs will come, as well as the outside investors and customers. So solving a problem in a unique way should definitely be the number one priority of startups.”
On New York City’s venture capital scene: “Deals and companies fall out of the sky in New York. The community is diverse. I think it’s very friendly to first-time entrepreneurs. It’s really built on a meet-up culture, because meetup.com is here.”
The myth that VCs are looking for a reason to turn you down: “Whenever I ask an entrepreneur to e-mail me, I can tell they’re feeling like I’m brushing them off. Trust me, I’m not… but I’m not going to write you a check right here in the hallway of this conference, so why don’t you give me a chance to read all the information you’ve put together as part of your story when I actually have time to focus on it?”
On the perks of not raising funding: “Not raising gives you flexibility about the market size you want to go after, speed of growth and de-risks your plan — once you start spending someone else’s money, the clock starts ticking on your ‘out of cash’ date. Slow and steady isn’t a bad thing.”
On an effective quick pitch: “If you absolutely must say something about your company, tell me an accomplishment, not a description. This way, I know what you do and how far you’ve gotten all in one sentence.”
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