Paul English & Blade – Building the Foundation for Boston’s (soon-to-be) Thriving Consumer Tech Industry

Friday May 16, 2014 by Josh Boyle - Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz

Entrepreneurs are constantly exceeding expectations. Succeeding when and where they’ve been told they couldn’t. Surprising even their closest of friends and family.  But it’s not just the rookie entrepreneur that faces criticism and pushback. Even the most successful founders are told that their next venture will fail for one reason or another. 

One of Boston’s strongest criticisms is that it can’t succeed in building successful consumer companies and it’s this fuel that has lit a fire for Paul English and why he has created Blade – the new incubator that doubles as a private event space.  I had a chance to sit down with English and tour Blade, which officially opens today.  Let’s just say… I’m a believer. 

English is a highly visible entrepreneur in the Boston tech scene, who has seen success multiple times.  Most recently, he was the co-founder & CTO of Kayak, a consumer-focused travel site, which sold to Priceline for $1.8B in November of 2012.  His prior company, Boston Light Software, was sold to Intuit. 

While English was evangelizing the idea behind Blade, he journeyed to the west coast to meet with several close friends and contacts like Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn / Greylock), Michael Mortiz (Sequoia Capital), and others.  However, it was the feedback from one individual that is really driving him to ultimately prove him wrong. 

Who was this individual?  Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator – (here’s a fun fact: Graham actually used to work for English at Interleaf several years ago).  It’s well known that Y Combinator used to hold sessions on both coasts before Graham decided to withdraw the program from Cambridge.  When English asked Graham for feedback on his idea and why Blade might fail?  His reply was simple… you are in Boston.  

Thus, English is out to prove the cynics wrong and Blade is the perfect combination of the things that English loves:  entrepreneurship, technology, innovation, music, and the opportunity to throw killer parties.  The scene at Blade will help attract talent from outside the Boston area and diminish any perception that Boston might be dull compared to the parties in the Bay Area or NYC (more on the private event space / parties shortly). 

Blade is investing/co-founding strictly in consumer tech companies. The founding team at Blade includes English, Bill O’Donnell (Chief Architect & SVP of Mobile Products at Kayak), and Paul Schwenk (SVP of Engineering at Kayak).  They have raised a $20M fund, which includes General Catalyst and Accel Partners as the limited partners (both firms backed Kayak). 

Blade will provide seed capital of $250K - $2M to 2 - 3 companies at a time, ultimately helping them get to the point of raising a Series A round of funding.  Although General Catalyst & Accel Partners will have the opportunity to participate in the Series A round, it is not an exclusive deal, as English wants to be sure the entrepreneurs get the best investors that make the most sense for their respective venture. 

Blade will receive Preferred Stock for their investment and Common Stock for their role within each startup. The exact percentage wasn’t disclosed, but we were told it will be higher than the 7% Graham takes at Y Combinator as they will have a much more hands on approach and involvement due to the smaller number of investments. 

Three stealth investments have already been made by the team at Blade.  While English wouldn’t divulge too much information on the companies, we do know that one of them is a hardware company in the photo space; another is founded by UMass Boston students who are building out a classified ads product for universities; and the third is a social media venture focused on the university market founded by students at Holy Cross. 

Their approach for making investments is focused on looking at the founder first, market second, and idea third. When English is looking at a founder, he typically seeks confidence and aggression, but also humility.  Athletes and musicians particularly stand out to him for their competitiveness and ability to work in a team. 

So, why combine an incubator with a private event space?  “I wanted to make some noise in the process” said English.  He gave me a tour of the new space.  It’s ridiculously impressive and has a series of features unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, especially if you’re one of the few lucky enough to receive the VIP Bracelet (pictured below).

This bracelet will take the feeling and hospitality of being a VIP to a new level. Your bracelet will be preloaded with a discovery of you (favorite color, photo album, drink, etc.) will be picked up as you approach the back alley entrance at 250 Summer St.  The wall at the front door will feature revolving images from your favorite Instagram or Facebook photo album. Stand near one of the many columns in the clubs and it will change to your desired color. Head over to the bar, which will also light up in your color, and place your hand on an installed puck… it will light up the bottle for your drink of choice for the bartender.  Most of these cool features were the brainchild of English, who has had a blast creating the VIP treatment “tech-style” at Blade. 

Boston has come a very long way when it comes to creating consumer companies and now with English, O’Donnell & Schwenk advising and playing a hands-on role with new startups… it’s only a matter of time before we see some new consumer success stories in Boston.  Perhaps, they will be able to convince the next Mark Zuckerberg to stick around…

* Some snapshots of the Blade space and the team & performers getting ready for Friday's launch!

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter: @jb_sid

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