Introducing Primary Venture Partners

By Brad Svrluga, originally published June 11, 2015 on Brad’s blog, Can I Buy A Vowel?

This is a monumental day in the life of our firm – exciting and full of great promise. Today my partner Ben and I are announcing the re-launch of our firm with a new identity: Primary Venture Partners.

While the people at the firm today are the same as yesterday, and while we are still working tirelessly to support the same portfolio of talented and visionary entrepreneurs, this change in identity cements for us what has been a multi-year process of strategic change. Who we are and how we operate today as Primary has come a long way from where we were as High Peaks Venture Partners even just a few years ago. As we move forward on the next chapter of our journey, we wanted an identity that helped re-define that strategy and vision – an identity forged jointly by Ben and I as partners. And so Primary Venture Partners was born.

How did we get here? First, some history….

Eleven years ago I co-founded High Peaks Venture Partners with my friends and partners Russ Howard and Bela Musits. The three of us worked together as equal partners for seven years until Bela decided to step back from his day-to-day role to pursue a promising new opportunity as the Dean of the Graduate Business School at Union College. Then in 2012 Russ stepped back from his investing role in the firm, and is now our CFO and Administrative Partner, on a part-time basis.

On the back side of those changes I spent a good bit of time considering where to go from there. High Peaks was a franchise with a growing reputation, a terrific portfolio, a supportive LP base, and a fairly new fund that was only 1/3 invested. But I was an investor without a partnership. I ultimately decided that the right thing for me and for our LPs was to bring in a new partner to help me build the next chapters of High Peaks. And so, as I detailed two years ago, I persuaded Ben Sun to join me as a partner to build the next chapter of what High Peaks would become.

Ben and I have had a terrific run since then. We’ve formed an exceptionally productive and respectful partnership, completed building a portfolio of exciting companies in the second High Peaks fund, and now launched and made our first investments from a new fund – our first effort as Primary Venture Partners.

From the beginning of our partnership, Ben and I defined 3 particular principles that are important to us:

1) We doubled down on our principal focus on New York City’s tech community

2) We ceased any sense of being a ‘generalist’ early stage firm in favor of laser focus on two types of businesses we know, like and believe in – SaaS and ecommerce

3) We committed to building out a robust platform of resources that supports our portfolio companies and improves their outcomes in ways that scale far better than our individual abilities to support them. The first realizations of this strategy have been our Operating Partner Network and our Talent Program. Both have paid huge dividends already, and there is more to come.

Our clarified focus and strategy has over the past two years felt better than I would’ve dared hope when Ben and I joined together. But I’ve found that our legacy holds us back in a very important way: it doesn’t reflect the reality of a new partnership, vision and firm that Ben and I created together. So now, as we’ve begun investing out of a new fund and are looking more clearly forward than ever before, it is time to re-brand ourselves in a way that points more to the future. Importantly, this is not an exercise in departing from the past – Russ and Bela continue forward as members of the Primary team – Russ as CFO and Partner, and Bela as an active Advisor. But it is a symbol of the new way forward.

So how did we come up with the name “Primary”? In short, it is the result of a few bottles of wine at a team dinner one night, looking for a name that would have relevance to our new mission. We came up with a long list of decent options, and some more amusing ones. We toyed with using our shared initials and becoming ‘BS Ventures’. Then for some reason I couldn’t get Ben to go along with ‘Svrluga & Sun’. Ultimately, Primary was the clear winner because of how well it speaks to who we are and who we want to be.

Primary means many things. We are primary equity investors (vs. buying secondary equity positions). We generally invest in the first institutional financings of the companies we back. We often lead our investments. And most importantly, we always work to form true partnerships with entrepreneurs where we become their first call amongst their investor syndicate. We build service capabilities and do our work in an effort to make us, if entrepreneurs so choose, their Primary partner.

Finally, and not insignificantly, it’s short and we got a great url: So we’re going with it.

As for the logo, we think it looks really cool, but we also like the symbolism that paper airplanes represent. They are very much an act of making something out of nothing. Paper airplanes were, for many of us, one of the very first instances of engineering creativity and inventiveness in our lives. And as for what paper airplanes do, they take off, like the companies we back do. But they also have a way, like startups, of flying in not the straightest of lines. They get where they’re going usually, but they tend to loop back on themselves and take unexpected turns. This startup world is usually not one of straight lines and rocket ship trajectories, irrespective of what many will try to tell you. It’s a complex journey, and quite frankly, it doesn’t always work out. But when well designed and carefully executed, startups can get where they hoped to go. We think the paper airplane captures that story nicely.

So there you have it. Welcome to the new world that is Primary Venture Partners. It’s been a great journey getting here, and we can’t wait to see what the next chapters hold.