At Ludlow Ventures, MVCA Venture Fellow Blake Robbins helps the firm identify new opportunities for investment, primarily looking at early-stage startups in the information technology, consumer, and mobility sectors (read the full profile on Ludlow Ventures in the 2017 Michigan Entrepreneurial and Investment Guide!). From his experience at the firm, he learned a unique lesson: the importance of collaborating, rather than competing, with other venture firms. In this Q&A, Blake shares what technologies are driving the future and his career plans in Michigan.
Tell us about your Fellow position – where are you, what have you been doing?
Over the past two years, I have been investing, sourcing, and conducting diligence on early-stage technology companies throughout the United States. I am currently the only associate for Ludlow Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Detroit. We focus primarily on seed and pre-seed stage companies. As an associate at Ludlow Ventures, my primary responsibilities include managing deal flow, sourcing new opportunities, conducting diligence, and assisting portfolio companies. We are focused on investing in the ‘best’ founders, so we evaluate opportunities in a wide variety of industries.
What favorite new technology or solution did you encounter during your time as a Fellow?
As a fellow, I spent a vast majority of my time evaluating and investing companies in the following industries: virtual reality, esports, gaming, blockchain, and autonomous vehicles. There are a lot of companies building in the virtual reality industry; however, one of my favorites is our portfolio company, Bigscreen. Bigscreen is an immersive, social computing experience that lets you use your computer in VR. I am personally very fascinated by Bigscreen because it is one of the first virtual-reality applications that provides ‘real’ utility to users. Another company that excites me in our portfolio is May Mobility. May Mobility is a Michigan-based startup that recently completed Y Combinator. May Mobility is focused on offering autonomous driving technology that companies with commercial fleets will be able to use in the near-term, not a decade from now. I believe both Bigscreen and May Mobility are playing a critical role in shaping the future of technology.
Is there something you’ve learned during your Fellowship that you didn’t know before you started in the industry?
Before joining the Fellowship program, I didn’t realize how important collaborations and connections were. Ludlow Ventures is a unique firm because we are not competitive with many venture capital firms. As a result, we often share deal flow and work with some of the best venture firms in the world. Over the past few years, I have seen first-hand how important it is to build strong relationships with emerging and established managers. Your job as an early-stage venture capitalist is to ‘see’ every company, and I believe developing genuine relationships with venture capitalists and founders is instrumental in trying to ‘see’ everything.
Have you learned anything surprising about yourself/your perspective on venture capital as a profession you didn’t know before you started?
One of the most surprising aspects of venture capital is how easy it is to be contrarian. At Ludlow, we are pitched hundreds of companies a year. Given that we are often pitched companies at the earliest stage, it is extremely easy to find ‘holes’ in companies. Jonathon and Brett, the two partners at Ludlow, do an incredible job of identifying, understanding, and combating biases towards specific industries. Another aspect that I underestimated prior to joining Ludlow Ventures is how difficult it is to pass on a company. We are pitched hundreds, if not thousands, of companies per year. The reality is that we will ‘pass’ on a 99.99% of these companies; however, I never quite understood how difficult it would be to pass on founders. My biggest advice to founders is to never take a pass personally and always push for constructive feedback.
What are your plans post-Fellowship? Do they include growing your career in Michigan?
I plan to continue to work as an Associate at Ludlow Ventures. I will continue to work closely with Jonathon and Brett, as we identify and invest in amazing founders throughout the United States. I am extremely thankful for the MVCA Fellowship program, as it gave me a unique opportunity to pursue my dream job in Michigan.
The Michigan Venture Fellows program is supported by MEDC.