The New England Venture Capital Association is hosting its 5th Annual NEVY Awards this Wednesday at the House of Blues in Boston! Leading up to the festivities, we been profiling some of the investors who have been nominated.
Today, we are featuring our interview with Jeremy Hitchcock, co-founder and former CEO of Dyn and Angel of the Year nominee. Jeremy has been an active angel investor in the Boston tech scene for a while, going back to when he made his first investment in Objective Logistics. His recent investment include Talla, Adored, and Desktop Metal.
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Keith Cline: Tell Us about your background.
Jeremy Hitchcock: I was born in New York, but moved to New Hampshire when I was 3 years old. I grew up in Bedford and attended high school in Manchester, NH.
My dad was an electrical engineer for Sanders Associates (now BAE Systems) and my mom taught 3rd and 4th grade.
KC: Why did you decide to attend WPI and major in MIS?
JH: I looked at a couple of schools and to be honest, I didn’t really think too much about it at first. A The schools I was visiting didn’t have the right culture. Then, I visited WPI and it was obvious to me that the school took more of a team and project based approach to their studies.
It also helped that there was a trombone ensemble playing around campus that day which sounded amazing. I played the trombone while growing up and even after college for some professional and semi-professional bands.
I applied for early decision and was admitted a week later. Coming from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I majored in Chemistry. I ended up switching over to MIS, after working on some projects with people who were either Computer Science or MIS majors.
KC: How did the idea for Dyn come about?
JH: The idea originated from an issue on campus in terms of printing documents and how they were networked together. It didn’t make sense that a printer right next to you couldn’t connect with your computer even though it was on the same switch.
It wasn’t an easy problem to solve at the time, but we built an open source remote access solution for students to print documents from printers around campus.
This was the time when DSL and cable were coming into the fold for internet connectivity. We essentially built out a CDN or a directory service for items online that would connect to a piece of technology. Kind of like an Akamai without the content.
KC: Can you talk about the initial formation and growth of Dyn as a company?
JH: At first, we were four co-founders (myself, Tom Daly, Tim Wilde, and Chris Reinhardt) building out the product, which was an open source project called DynDNS, a free dynamic DNS (domain name system). Since it was open source, it was free, but we started accepting donations to keep the project going. Very quickly, over 25,000 people were using it. As more donations keep coming in, we started to mature our business by offering the ability to donate by credit card and then, we started offering a paid pro-version of the product.
KC: Why did you decide to locate the company in Manchester, NH?
JH: I knew Bob Baines, the former mayor of Manchester, because he was my high school principal. I grabbed lunch with him and he tried to convince me to build our company there.
At the time, the tech industry was pretty small in Manchester with a few companies like DEKA Research and Autodesk, but back in the dot-com era there was more activity.
He convinced me that it would be a good opportunity and we made the move. We were fortunate to hire some great initial core team members like Kyle York, Cory von Wallenstein, Gray Chynoweth, and others. This early foundation layer set the directives for the company for a long stretch of time and everything just built up after that.
For the first year in Manchester, there might have been some limitations in terms of candidate interest, but soon after, we were the big guys in town. The marketing for hiring has been competitive for not only Boston but Manchester too. For us, it was always about getting the right people together to solve problems for the customer. We were fortunate to hire a lot of great people here.
KC: Why did you decide to raise venture capital funding after bootstrapping the company for so long?
JH: By 2012, we were 100 people and at that point, we were running a significant portion of the internet and how people were using information every day. Our customers were the Alexa 1000 - companies like Twitter, Netflix, Zappos, Etsy, etc.
We started thinking longer term about the growth of our business and started to build a legitimate Board of Directors that could help us with members like Jason Calacanis.
By raising outside capital, we could continue to grow and scale the business. Plus, some of the founders were looking to take less of an operating role in the business, so this was a good way to segue the business to the next phase.
At the Nantucket Conference, I met Ric Fulop, a General Partner at North Bridge Venture Partners (now Founder & CEO at Desktop Metal) and we hit it off. We went on to raise $38M in funding from North Bridge.
KC: What prompted you to step down from Dyn in 2016?
JH: It was a good time for me to step down. It had been 15 years and I was just ready to do something new. Revenues were at $100M, so the next step would have been growing to $250M. I thought long and hard about it, but the company was well aligned and the transition was as seamless as possible.
We brought in Colin Doherty as Dyn’s new CEO and shortly after, the company was acquired by Oracle.
KC: When did you start making angel investments?
JH: My first angel investment was in Objective Logistics back in 2011. My angel investing was a way for me to stay current with technology and it allowed me to dedicate some time and energy towards helping entrepreneurs get from one step to the next. Since then, I’ve made between 30 - 40 investments.
KC: What does being nominated for the Angel of Year - NEVY award mean for you?
JH: Being nominated in the same category as Joe Caruso, Jean Hammond, Ty Danco, and Mike Volpe was a surprise and an honor. I feel like I’d be a better fit for the “Rookie of the Year” category instead, but I’m obviously humbled.
KC: What are you looking for when you are making investments into a company?
JH: If you boil it down, it is people first. I’m looking for people who know a particular space and how an operator is going to best use their talents, as I’m not a thesis-driven person.
If you look at the Boston tech scene, it plays well in terms of the innovation in the next decade, as the problems people are solving are hard stuff. Business models are a lot more complicated and required clever thinking. I find the really hard ones more interesting like machine learning, enterprise software, networking, etc.
I like it when a team has come together to solve a problem, that only the union of that team could solve that problem. For example, if you look at Ric Fulop and the team they have built at Desktop Metal (one of my investments), Ric’s entire professional experience has set him up to run that company.
KC: What companies in Boston, outside of your portfolio, do you find interesting?
JH: It’s hard to point to one or two. I’ve been rooting for companies like Rapid7 and Carbon Black, who are rapidly scaling in the security sector. Plus, I find some of the newer companies in storage interesting like ClearSky Data and Actifio. I also find Crayon interesting.
KC: Do you still play the trombone and what’s the last concert you’ve been to?
JH: I still play occasionally. The last time was at Christmas. I haven’t been to a jazz concert in a long time, but was at a Chick Corea/Bela Fleck duo and Diana Krall concert - it was awesome.
KC: Are you involved in any charitable organizations?
JH: A bunch - the ones most interesting for me center around workforce development, especially education. We started a weekend, college age-ed learning competition called Hackademy and helped pilot essentially a school within a school at Manchester West High called STEAM Ahead which is similar to IBM’s 9-14 P-Tech model. I’m also a trustee for Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Community College System of New Hampshire.
KC: Ok.. the big question… what’s next for Jeremy Hitchcock?
JH: My guess is that I’ll do something again. I’m not sure what form yet. I’m having fun learning new stuff and looking at different spaces. Im sure that I’ll stick with my engineering tech roots.
People have asked me if I’d want to be a Venture Capitalist, but that’s probably not the avenue that I will pursue. I have a lot of empathy for VCs, as they evaluate 25 companies in a 2 hour partner meeting - it takes a lot of mental dexterity and I can appreciate the use and power of pattern matching. That said, I prefer to be an operator - steeped in every detail of a market, the customers, and the team.