Jonathan Ebinger (MBA ’93) is a general partner at BlueRun Ventures, a leading, early-stage venture capital firm that has helped finance and grow some of the biggest names in mobile, such as PayPal, the ubiquitous e-commerce site; Waze, one of the world’s largest community-based traffic apps, which is now owned by Google and has gained international popularity; and Topsy, a social search and analytics company recently purchased by Apple.
What do you look for when evaluating an investment opportunity?
It used to be three things: strength of team, strength of market and strength of technology. But in the last couple of years, I’ve added another attribute: The company has to matter. It’s just not worth it for me to spend time on another “me too” company. I want to work with entrepreneurs who are looking to change the world. It sounds cliché, but if we are spending our time and resources, we want it to be on something that’s going to make a difference.
How would you define “making a difference” in your field?
I’m not talking about social investing. I’m talking about improving productivity for a workforce, reducing prices for consumers, driving efficiency and so on. For example, one of our companies, Kabbage, provides loans to small businesses — like power sellers on eBay. We assess risk and credit in a different way than banks do and give loans in real time to small businesses so they can really grow. That’s also helping to grow the economy.
What opportunities in mobile are you most interested in right now?
We’re very excited about mobile health and about small data around m-commerce. As much as e-commerce is doing a great job, it’s still a fraction of the commerce that’s happening in physical places. And m-commerce is ideally set up to fill that gap. I think we’re really on the platform for another big step up in innovation.
How do you navigate opportunities in a market as broad as mobile?
We focus on real-time data, [which measures] real-time site traffic, the advertising rotation and commerce. So if [we’ve pitched a product] that doesn’t operate in real time, it’s easy for us not to look at it. Innovation is important to our firm so we can stratify opportunities and hopefully point entrepreneurs toward investors that are right for their businesses.
Along with providing funding, how do you help entrepreneurs grow their businesses?
A lot of times, it’s really about growing the top line. In my experience, that’s often about distribution. Also, product pricing is key. As companies get more and more credibility in the market, they can raise their prices. So, for some companies, giving instruction to the management team about constantly raising prices when they have a strong value proposition is important.
When you’re not growing mobile companies, what are you up to?
I recently wrote a screenplay about two young Wall Street guys who get disenchanted with their line of work, and they want to do something that’s more worthwhile. So they have an idea and they go out to raise money for it, and the business ends up being really successful, and they help a lot of people. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek story. I have some friends in Los Angeles who are looking at it. And I’ve put it through some screenwriting competitions.
You’re a multitalented guy!
You have to keep yourself busy.