Boston entrepreneur opens east coast outpost for California venture capital firm
The pandemic has forced many companies into a massive and unplanned experiment in remote working. Local tech startups found they could hire talented coders, marketers, and sales people from all over the country. Now a The question is whether this ability to attract talent from everywhere is hurting or helping Boston’s startup scene.
Lars Albright, who has launched several successful tech companies here, is betting on continued success. After selling his latest startup, SessionM, to Mastercard and working for the credit card giant for a few years, he turns to investing in startups and the opening of a Boston outpost for Silicon Valley firm Unusual Ventures.
“This access, where you can access talent pools that aren’t physically located in Boston, is a tailwind for companies trying to find the best possible talent,” Albright said in an interview over coffee. at Thinking Cup on Newbury Street. “They may still be headquartered in the region, but reach out and find that talent in other parts of the country.”
Like many VCs, Albright also points to the area’s strong college and university base, which produces a steady stream of talented graduates interested in starting new businesses. In the past, many of these graduates have been drawn to Silicon Valley – think Mark Zuckerberg. But Boston has grown its own top tech companies, such as DraftKings, Wayfair and HubSpot, as well as last year’s stock market newcomers Toast and Ginkgo Bioworks.
“They were significant and successful exits for investors and employees,” Albright said. “And that helps build momentum around the belief that Boston can build great, multi-billion dollar companies.”
Still, the new era of remote work could end up hurting tech hubs like Boston and San Francisco. “Does it do so fewer companies are starting up and becoming attached to a city? Albright asked. “With distributed work, does this ultimately change the need to be based in a city?”
A Harvard graduate with an MBA from Dartmouth, Albright started as a Boston tech co-founder in 2006 at mobile advertising company Quattro Wireless. Apple bought Quattro for $275 million a few years later. Albright soon left Apple to help found another Boston startup, SessionM, which helped run customer loyalty programs. Mastercard bought the company in 2019 and Albright stayed for a few years before deciding to join Unusual Ventures.
Menlo Park was founded in 2018 by longtime VC John Vrionis and repeat entrepreneur Jyoti Bansal. Unusual aimed to set itself apart by getting hold of the founders it backed and offering more coaching and advice than typical venture capital firms, which appealed to Albright.
“I’ve always loved those early days of starting a business where you’re trying to build critical momentum,” he said. From the new Boston office in the backcountry, Albright will focus on startups in consumer software, fintech and enterprise cloud software.
Albright is getting into venture capital at a difficult time for startups, with tech stock prices plummeting, COVID lingering and the economy struggling. But he’s looking for the silver lining. In previous boom years, many startups focused more on fundraising than building sustainable businesses, he said. Now the focus is on the business side.
“It created this abnormal movement around [fundraising] as a goal,” Albright said. “Are you building a business that makes sense, not for fundraising, not for hype, but does it make sense as a business?”