When I spoke with Dubsmash founder Roland Grenke in January, he mentioned that his video lip-synching app had been in early talks with a few US investors — some in Boston, and some in New York and Silicon Valley.
This was an important point, because it allowed me to write a piece on Dubsmash for BetaBoston (the fact that he had talked to some local VCs and went to BC for a study abroad semester was the hook I used to get the first look at the, at the time, under-the-radar consumer startup through the archaic “It needs to be a Boston tech story” editorial process).
Wrapped in a cute little, “Here’s something to do during a blizzard” bow, the piece broke down the cool little German-built app that I was tipped off to by a local angel investor who was trying to get in early on funding the company.
Since January, more and more people (and celebrities) have been using the app to create the hilarious movie quote videos that are popping up in mainstream culture more and more.
Earlier this week, Dubsmash announced that it has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding from a group of investors that includes Index Ventures, Lowercase Capital, ENIAC Ventures, Sunstone Capital, Raine Ventures, as well as Riccardo Zacconi, the chief executive of King Digital Entertainment — you know, the makers of Candy Crush.
Sooooo, looks like no one from Boston got in on the action. Index, which led the round and will put Danny Rimer on Dubsmash’s board, is based in Silicon Valley and Europe. Micro-VC ENIAC is from New York. Raine is California-based with offices in LA and San Francisco (and, might I add, has been in on some quite interesting deals this year). And Sunstone is also a European VC, with its headquarters in Copenhagen.
Dubsmash even had some involvement from Truckee-based LOWERCASE Capital, Chris Sacca’s Lake Tahoe-area venture vehicle (I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing based on Sacca’s influence over Twitter recently).
And where were the Boston firms? Not sure.
The European firms involvement makes sense, especially Index, which has been a Euro startup kingmaker with investments in Skype, King, Supercell, and SoundCloud, among others.
Lowercase, ENIAC, and Raine to jumping in without any Boston VC involvement points to a little problem that no one has talked about locally in a bit: Boston, which is ideally located to be a US headquarters for European startups, isn’t
I know this is one example, but it is reflective of a larger trend.
Maybe it’s because Boston VCs are just lousy at funding, mentoring, and guiding consumer companies. Maybe the draw of Silicon Valley is so great that six additional hours of travel and and eight or nine hour time difference isn’t too much of a challenge.
Whatever is the cause, a company like Dubsmash should be a no brainer for the likes of Spark, Google Ventures, Matrix, General Catalyst, or CRV, among others.
I’m not saying that Dubsmash is going to definitely be a big win for anyone; how they can turn a fun little app into revenue is anyone’s guess. However, it is a good company to make a risky bet on, and not just because it could end up as the next Instagram.
Sending the signal that you have an interest in being a big VC player in Europe could make a Boston venture firm the pipeline between increasingly hot startup scenes like Lyon, Amsterdam, and Barcelona, as well as the engineer and R&D rich countries in Eastern Europe.
As of now, the incubators are the means to connect European entrepreneurs with Boston. Techstars had a large contingent of Europe-founded startups presenting at its Demo Day last night, including CartFresh and DoDOC. MassChallenge has also done an amazing job bringing international startups to Boston, and has built strong ties to Lyon and Berlin, as well as Latin American countries like Columbia and Mexico.
While Accomplice (Atlas/FKA) has expanded its grasp to Europe as of late (including recently bringing SaltDNA from Belfast to Cambridge), it primarily only does early stage investments which could make some startups looking for a support system in the US wary. (Due to the size of the Dubsmash funding, Accomplice wouldn’t be a likely VC partner.)
No matter how you look at it, Boston VCs are missing a huge opportunity to make an impact with European startups.
If Boston is looking for a true innovation community identity beyond being a good place to start an enterprise company and a nice place to learn entrepreneurship before heading to New York or San Francisco, the best place to turn may be east of Provincetown. Being the European gateway to the US market for startups isn’t a bad idea if you look at some of the companies that firms like Index have backed and then become successes.
But with more companies like Dubsmash getting funding elsewhere, that opportunity may be gone.