Martin Tobias | Managing Partner @ Incisive Ventures | Venture Capitalist

Martin Tobias


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Managing Partner @ Incisive Ventures | Venture Capitalist

Martin Tobias – Communication

“CEO’s want to find real partners not just people who write checks”


I have always been excited in the formation stage of things. The early stuff. Who is the customer? What is the product? and How do we sell it? That is the part I like. The early stages is where all the truly hard problems arise and you determine your approach to the solution, you make your bet. Not all bets pay off, but figuring out how to bet, with whom, and how it relates to the competition is the fun part for me. Over the years I have raised over $500M in equity, project finance and working capital for companies where I was CEO. I have also personally invested in over 70 startups and led about half a dozen through venture funds. Along the way, I have owned a handful of bars, restaurants and real estate including a VERY fun live music rock club. I do renewable energy and technology investing personally and with Element 8 and charitable work through Martin Tobias Family Foundation. As long as I keep finding interesting hard problems to solve, this life will stay interesting.

Specialties: Investment analysis, company building, recruiting, strategy definition, partnering, channel building, Renewable fuels, biodiesel



Martin Tobias

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery: Welcome to the supporters fund asking investor I’m your host Jeffrey Potvin and let’s please welcome Martin Tobias managing partner of incisive ventures as our investor today. Welcome, Martin. Pleasure having you join us.

Martin: Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to talk investing.

Jeffery: I love it. Well, we’re excited to have you here today because, one, you’ve got an incredible background into. I’ve listened to a lot of your content and there’s so much valuable things that you share just around how startup environment works, how startups should look at investing or getting investors. So there’s a lot of great material and there’s a bunch of things we want to dive into, which is some of the articles you’ve written over the past. And one in particular, which is the 59 things you’ve learned in 59 years. And so I’m excited to throw that out there too, because there’s a lot of startup excitement that we can dive into some of the pieces you talk about. So the way we like to start our show is we want to dive into your background so we can drive right back. We’ll unpack all of this. But if you could share a little bit about yourself all the way through, even the age groups that you’ve done a lot of great things. So you can talk about the Angel group, you created all of these things and then one thing about you that nobody would know.

Martin: Okay, super. Well, we can go all the way back. I’ve been a guy that’s been sort of an entrepreneur. My whole life. I remember my first entrepreneurial thing. I was six years old, and I was obsessing about buying this radio that looked like a satellite or something. And it was on a keychain and it costs like $36. My parents are like, We’re not buying you a $36 fucking radio. And I’m like, Well, how do I get this radio? And they’re like, Well, you have to earn some money. And I’m like, How do I earn money? And so they’re like, You could do a Kool-Aid stand. So I did a Kool-Aid stand out in front of my house when I was six years old because I wanted this fucking radio thing. I ended up making like $150. And then I had this extra money and I had to decide what to do with it. So I got the bug of, you know, wanting something, working hard to get it, and then, you know, figuring out capital allocation of excess profits at six years old. So I’ve been an entrepreneur interested in starting new things and making money, you know, sort of forever in college at Oregon State University, I was the CFO of the student government. And one of the things I did is change our treasury thing so that we got a better return on our investments. And I did a little a small micro VC fund where we funded a couple of student ventures, its first time they’d ever done it. So I’ve loved investing in people and doing ventures to support entrepreneurs. For a long time. I went out of college, I went to Microsoft and was there before the IPO and that was a really great venture funded story there. And I sort of understood or learned about the venture capital by talking to the people at Microsoft. Then when I left Microsoft, I started my first company called Cloud AI Technologies, and it was a streaming media service provider. It was kind of in the beginning of the whole dot com boom. And, you know, it was three years from starting to IPO. And we were in fact the last IPO of the dot com boom. We went public in March 17th of the dotcom boom. The end of the dot com boom was March 20th. What I learned about bubbles was it’s always better to be inside of one than outside of one. So we were able to get our IPO done before the bubble burst and that also taught me that, you know, a lot of this thing about starting companies is about timing and getting lucky about the time that you’re in and understanding the phase of the market that you’re in and, you know, making the right decisions based on the stage. After that, I started full time as an investor. I was a venture partner at Ignition Partners and that was we were the first investors in DocuSign and DocuSign is kind of the quintessential essential software company that I’m trying to find to invest in now, which I say is technology companies that reduce friction at scale. And if you think about what DocuSign did, being able to sign documents on your phone instead of printing something out and faxing it, millions of people sign documents every day. That’s the scale and the technology enabled you to do that thing that you would need to do, you know, an order of magnitude better. Ten next, better. And that’s kind of the promise of technology has been for a long time, is to make our lives better and more efficient. And, you know, DocuSign is an example of that. And I’ve been trying to find more of those kinds of companies. So I started investing really full time at ignition. I’ve kind of gone back and forth. I’ve been a limited partner in venture funds too. I’m currently a limited partner in 17 venture funds. The first venture fund I ever invested in when I was at Microsoft was Ron Conway’s Silicon Valley Angels. And, you know, he went around Silicon Valley in the late nineties with a shotgun, investing in everybody he could, and he invested in these two guys named Larry and Sergey that ended up being Google. And that venture fund distributed some Google shares at the IPO to limited partners, including me. Some of those IPO shares I still own. So my cost basis on Google is like $0.50 and I’m never selling those shares. First of all, I don’t want to pay the capital gains tax. But second of all, to remind myself of the power of getting in early on some of these potent