Dan Levitan on Maveron’s Bay Area Expansion, Its Latest Stealth Startup, and His First Starbucks

Seattle-based venture capital firm Maveron has been in the news a lot this month. There have been reports about its latest stealth startup, which is a new type of e-commerce play. Another report from VentureWire said Maveron will be selling its shares in Motley Fool—a deal that will generate cash for Maveron, which led a $26.5 million financing of the online investing website in 1999. And then, just yesterday, I got a press release about Maveron expanding to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

The VC firm, co-founded by Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame, is used to this sort of attention. But the San Francisco news was a bit confusing to me, because Maveron has been active in the Bay Area for a long time. As usual, the interesting stuff is in the follow-up. I had a chance to connect yesterday with Dan Levitan, a fellow co-founder of Maveron and the mastermind of the firm’s consumer-focused investment strategy. Besides the new San Francisco office, I also asked Levitan about the Seattle e-commerce startup his team is currently building; his outlook and themes in the consumer tech space; and his first fateful meeting with Schultz back in the early 1990s.

First, some basic stats. Maveron was founded in 1998 by Levitan and Schultz, and is best known for its early investments in eBay, drugstore.com, Shutterfly, and Cranium. Its current portfolio companies—there are 22 active around the U.S.—include Potbelly Sandwich Works, Pinkberry, LiveMocha, and Altius Education. The venture firm has about $750 million under management.

Levitan explained that opening Maveron’s San Francisco office has been a two-year process, but it doesn’t signify any shift in the firm’s geographic focus. “I don’t see this announcement as anything more than opening an office where we’ve already done business,” he said. “We’re one firm with two offices.”

The San Francisco office is headed by Amy Errett, a veteran of Olivia.com and E*Trade, who was announced as a Maveron partner last year. She is joined by new principal Ben Choi, who was previously with Storm Ventures, In-Q-Tel, and RRE Ventures. As Levitan puts it, instead of Errett flying up to Seattle four times a month, she’ll fly up three times a month (and the Seattle team will fly down the fourth week).

But Levitan emphasized that he’s looking in his own backyard for new investments as much as ever. “Seattle is an economy and region that’s very rich with groundbreaking, innovative consumer companies,” he said, pointing out obvious examples like Starbucks, Nordstrom, Amazon, and Costco. One less obvious company he mentioned was online real estate broker Redfin, which isn’t in … Next Page »

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One response to “Dan Levitan on Maveron’s Bay Area Expansion, Its Latest Stealth Startup, and His First Starbucks”

  1. Dan sounds like he has great consumer instincts…I particularly appreciate his nuanced understanding about what “value” means. Less sophisticated observers of the consumer zeitgeist think “value” only means a focus on cheap prices. Dan is right that it is more about approaching life/products/services in a thoughtful way. “How will this purchase support my values, relationships, my current goals, etc.” That’s where the big commerce shifts and opportunities lie.