Welcome to our Member Spotlight series where we give a profile overview of our many diverse members. For this deep dive, we spoke to Will Price, Founder and General Partner at Next Frontier Capital.
Tell us about your firm. What makes it different?
Next Frontier Capital’s mission is to find mission-driven, talented entrepreneurs to build Rocky Mountain technology companies of impact, utility, and value. Based in Bozeman and Missoula, MT, Next Frontier Capital manages two funds with $60m in total AUM. Fund I primarily focused on MT, while Fund II added Colorado and its vibrant ecosystem to our mandate. We are a team of three, Richard Harjes, Les Craig, and Will Price.
Across Fund I and Fund II, NFC has attracted over $120M of syndicated investment and a total of $141M capital invested in our portfolio companies, including NFC’s paid-in-capital. This represents a co-investment ratio of $5.71 for every dollar that NFC has invested in our region.
Before NFC started, MT attracted ~$4-5m per year, and we are proud to note that Pitchbook recently reported $83m in MT venture funding. As a result of our activities to date, the Fund, for the second year in a row, was recognized by CB Insights as the most active investor in Montana over the last five years.
Over the life of the Firm, we’ve seen True, Venrock, Amgen, BMW i Ventures, Toyota, Millenium, Summit, Bessemer Venture Partners, Steve Case’s The Rise of the Rest Fund, The Chernin Group, and Foundry Group, among others, invest in NFC companies. The influx of capital into our companies to date is making it possible for founders to build, fund, and scale industry leading companies in our market.
What is our strategy?
We are thrilled to see major national firms invest in MT and the Rocky Mountain West. In order to attract national capital, however, there appears to be a minimum traction threshold required to secure interest. With the average Series A now $9m in proceeds at $27.5m pre, startups looking to secure national capital are needing to provide quantitative metrics that allow for firms to normalize endogenous risk via business model analysis. For example, in SaaS, a mature model, we see that companies need to be ~$2m in ARR with well characterized LTV, CAC, Churn, etc metrics. If those metrics are met, national firms are interested. Why quantitative filters? It is hard to evaluate teams, products, and strategies from afar independent of material revenue and KPIs, while local firms are well positioned to do so.
Getting to the metrics above, moreover, takes healthy amounts of seed capital, and Pitchbook now sees the average firm raising two rounds of capital before the major VC round. We think that it takes $2-4m in seed capital to achieve the required minimum operating performance necessary to attract a national firm to a regional deal. This funding need is NFC’s opportunity – we aspire to be a leading seed capital firm in our target markets, whereby we can look to lead $2+m seed rounds and work with management and our co-investors to achieve the “magic numbers” that allow for a successful Series A.
The implication is that companies are going to run out of money before they reach the A round qualifications and that, often, the local market seed capital is either tapped out at that point and/or looking for independent validation that the company is on the right track.
Hence, the need for seed extension capital – where we like to play and where we see new firms being created to take advantage of the growing gap between seed capital and the trailing metrics that support a successful A round. This funding need is NFC’s opportunity – we aspire to be a leading seed capital firm in our target markets, whereby we can look to lead $2m+ seed rounds and work with management and our co-investors to achieve the “magic numbers” that allow for a successful Series A.
Where did your firm’s name come from?
MT is known as the Last Best Place and has long been associated with the frontier. Our name evokes the frontier spirit and the rise of the Rocky Mountain West as the next geography, the next frontier, to see major influxes of capital and people who, like the pioneers, are looking for economic opportunity and a better life.
Regarding our logo, the image below – what people think success looks like vs what it really looks like – is the inspiration for our logo and at the heart of our appreciation and respect for the start up journey.
Here is our logo,
The icon in our logo is a tribute to both the mountains that we call home and the challenged journey requiring grit and persistence that is the path to success. The summit is normally never achieved without a dip(s) that questions the character, strategy, and sanity of the climber.
What defines your portfolio?
Next Frontier Capital is the proud investor in eighteen companies, 13 are located in MT, with four in CO, and one in CA. Beyond geography, the portfolio is primarily defined by a focus on software, with other investments to date in LIDAR (photonics), bio-technology, and clean water.
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
We raised our first fund in 2015. At that time, MT had little to no track record in venture capital. The early LPs believed in the future promise of MT and the increasing economic activity, which, for example, recently led Bozeman to be named the strongest small city economy in the nation. Today, while still early, we feel that MT is now considered a viable place to invest capital and build companies. Moreover, the need for seed extension capital, across the Rockies, is increasing as Series A firms demand financial and customer metrics beyond the scope of most angel and seed financing plans.
Why is your firm a part of NVCA?
NVCA plays a vital role in America’s entrepreneurial economy. We are strong believers in need for a voice, both in D.C. and nationally, regarding favorable tax, immigration, patent reform, capital formation, pro-risk capital regulation, etc. Since joining the Association, we’ve also been pleased to focus on regional investing. More evenly distributed access to capital, and hence economic opportunity, will be vital to closing the income inequality gap and providing for a better future for America’s often ignored communities.
Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography/region.
The Rocky Mountain West is emerging as an economic and innovation force. We expect to see tier one funds continue to invest in our region. At the seed stage, given the size of most funds in our region, there is an old-school emphasis on collaboration and syndication. VC capital in our market remains underallocated relative to the quality investment opportunities that exist, therefore I expect to see more venture firms calling our companies and markets.
What’s ahead for your firm in 2019?
Currently, we are investing out of NFC II, a $38m fund. We expect to close another 4-5 deals this year.
Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less.
Focused, functional, thorough, and mission-driven.