How do I know that Primary is the right investor for me?
If you’re a NYC-based founder looking to get your idea off the ground, or if you’ve already launched and you’re looking for an investor who brings much more than a check to the table, the Primary team may be right for you. Among Seed investors in the city, we are the only firm of scale that’s entirely focused on NYC-based startups. This commitment to a single stage in a single market enables us to operate more efficiently and impactfully than other investors. Our Portfolio Impact Team is the most robust of any locally focused Seed firm and can deliver far more impact to more companies by staying close to home. Founders who are looking for truly meaningful support in getting their business from Seed to Series A need look no further than Primary. Still not sure? We encourage you to do your own diligence to make sure we would be a great fit. We’d be more than happy to put you in touch with any of our portfolio companies so that you can learn about their experience working with us.
In which industries does Primary invest?
Think of us as less thesis-driven, more founder-driven, which means we’re looking to back great entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, regardless of industry. We have a long track record investing in a broad spectrum of consumer and B2B startups, and our network of operational experts spans virtually any industry you can think of.
All I have is an idea sketched on a greasy napkin. Is it too early to come to you?
For us, there is genuinely no such thing as too early! In fact, the earlier the better - even if you’re not entirely sure what you want to build, let alone ready to raise money yet. We love nothing more than getting to know founders over time, trying to be helpful well before they're raising money, and letting those relationships develop organically. In recent years we have backed everything from the proverbial guy with a napkin to the gal with a fully formed team in a market she’s competed in for years. We’ve also served as co-founders to great entrepreneurs, partnering at the most nascent stages, on occasion even bringing ideas to would-be founders who have been lacking the spark of an idea to get them to take the plunge. So if you’ve got a great idea, you know someone with a great idea, or you’re a talented operator who wants to build something but just doesn’t yet know what - don’t hesitate to reach out!
Is it ever too late to come to you?
We primarily invest in pre-Seed and Seed rounds, and we save a significant percentage of our investable capital for follow-on rounds for our most promising companies. If you’re already gunning for your Series B or Series C, we are probably not your guys. Feel free to reach out, however, and we may be able to help you find a fit with some of our later-stage VC colleagues in the community.
Do you invest in companies outside of New York?
In general, we focus exclusively on New York City-based startups. We’ve been longtime believers in the city’s growth and potential for huge exits, and we’ve concentrated our investments here over the last decade-plus. We’ve built our Portfolio Impact team with this hyper-local focus in mind, and we’ve been able to drive maximum impact for our companies in large part because we’re able to sit onsite with them and develop the deep partner relationships that ultimately help lead them to a successful Series A.
There have been a few exceptions to our hyper-local investment focus, including companies that got their start here but then moved away (Coupang, Ticketfly), or whose management team is located in New York but their operations are elsewhere (K Health). But for the most part, our New York-based Portfolio Impact Team and operator networks make us uniquely suited to drive results for New York-based startups.
What’s involved in your investment process, and how long does it take?
There are no hard and fast rules here, and the process will vary for each investment opportunity, but the overall structure of our investment process remains the same: We’ll do an initial review of the opportunity, followed by a first meeting with one or two members of our investment team. Then we’ll generally have a couple weeks of serious due diligence about the opportunity, including a couple follow-up meetings with you and other members of your leadership team. If we’re serious about the opportunity, we’ll bring you in to meet and present to our full team. After tying up any loose ends, we’ll make our final decision. Over our past dozen or so deals, this process has taken as little as a week and in another instance evolved over a nine-month-long process with someone whom we helped spitball dozens of ideas before he settled on the one he was passionate about. As a small firm, we take great pride in the diligence process we run for every founder we’re serious about. If we invest in you, we’re going to be pouring in the resources to make sure you have the best shot at getting to your Series A, so we make sure to do our homework upfront to make sure we’re a good match.
What materials should I prepare for our initial meeting?
We want to talk to you as early on in your founder journey as possible. Don’t worry about having the perfect deck or any formal marketing materials. We’re happy to look these over, of course, but what we really want to do is hear your personal story. We’ll want to hear about your background, the problem you’re looking to solve, how you’re doing that in a new and exciting way, and why you’re the right person to win.
What makes an idea stand out to you?
We’re always on the hunt for innovative approaches to problems we didn’t even know existed (for instance online ordering for independent pizzerias, AI-powered real-time tech support and human-grade dog food). Entrepreneurs who can figure out unique, untapped angles in large markets devoid of technological advancement will get our attention in a heartbeat. Founders who are solving not just the problems of today, but anticipating the problems of tomorrow and building solutions that will lead markets in new ways. Just ask Wayne Gretzky, he knows what we want to see.
What’s the biggest factor in your decision-making process?
As very early-stage investors, many of our investment opportunities are presented well before there’s a clear business plan or path to profitability. So about 80% of our investment decision is based on our belief in the entrepreneur. To get to yes, we ask ourselves three key questions. The first is, “Would I work for this person?” Great companies are built only if the founder can build a great team. The second question is, “Can this person sell stock?” Being able to raise money is a real skill. Talented fundraisers can save their companies months and months of distraction while simultaneously minimizing dilution for all shareholders . And finally, “Are you a cheetah or a lamb?” We’re looking for results-driven, Type A entrepreneurs with an unwavering eye on the prize; people who will do anything in their power - and more! - to get there.
How do I get in touch with you?
We’re not interested in making you jump through hoops to get to us - feel free to contact Ben or Brad directly. BUT… A direct referral will always be your best shot. You’re the primary salesperson of your own company, and having someone else vouch for you is an important way to stand out amongst the hundreds of opportunities we see each month. It’s no coincidence that it’s been over five years since we backed something that came in cold over the transom. Hustle and networking are essential to startup success, so show us what you’ve got from that very first touchpoint.
How much do you usually invest in a new company?
Our initial investment in a startup ranges from $500,000 to $2 million.
Do you have strict ownership targets?
We don’t have rigid rules around ownership stakes. The most important thing for us is having the opportunity to partner with the best founders who are building the most transformative companies. That said, we are a relatively low volume, concentrated shop. As our model is based around deploying significant hands-on resources to get our companies from Seed to series A, we need to make sure that our ownership warrants the amount of time and energy we’re going to pour into each company.
Does Primary take board seats?
We don’t have set rules around this, and when it comes down to it, this is your company, not ours. We do like to take board seats if we can add value and if you’d like us there. Typically, we will take a board seat along with each investment we lead. In deals where we co-lead, we will often take a board observer right. Our goal is to be helpful and add value to our portfolio companies, so regardless of whether we hold a board seat or not, we will apply our holistic approach of partnering closely with each entrepreneur we back, building deep relationships as mentors and advisors.
Do you contribute follow-on capital to your portfolio companies?
Yes, aggressively! Last year, we invested half of our capital in follow-on investments for companies we had previously seeded. We believe that investment performance is optimized when a firm maximizes engagement with its portfolio companies and leans into its winners with substantial follow-on investments. We reserve the majority of our fund’s capital for the express purpose of deploying follow-on capital across our most promising investments, helping to usher them to a successful Series A and continuing to support them as they grow.
What is Primary's Diversity and Inclusion Policy?
At Primary, we believe that all people deserve to work in respectful, inclusive environments that are free of harassment. We strive to live those ideals in all of our interactions - with founders, partners, vendors and, of course, inside our own team.
We believe that a diverse, inclusive team makes us at Primary stronger, and we think the same is true for the companies we support. That's why we've included language in our term sheets requiring any founder who accepts our capital to also adopt their own code of conduct. We're grateful to all the CEOs in the Primary family who have generously shared their own culture, mission, and values statements with one another in an effort to build a more cohesive culture of diversity and inclusion.
What is Primary’s Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy?
We are an equal opportunity employer and comply with all applicable federal, state and local fair employment practices laws. We strictly prohibit and do not tolerate unlawful harassment because of race, religion, national origin, sex, gender identification, age, physical or mental disability, citizenship or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal, state or local law. To ensure a comfortable and productive work environment for all individuals who work with our team, we will promptly take appropriate action to address any form of harassment or discrimination that is brought to our attention. To confidentially report any incident involving a Primary employee, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORKING WITH PRIMARY
How does Primary’s Talent Program work?
Our Talent Program is focused on helping our companies build strong foundational teams and develop the skills necessary to maintain a long-term sustainable talent infrastructure. We work onsite with our portfolio companies to really get to know the interpersonal dynamics of each individual company and their vision for the future growth. In addition to sourcing critical hires and helping founders build successful foundational teams, we are focused on educating them on how to think about company culture, compensation, org development and more, all of which will help accelerate their growth. The net result? Over the past two years, our Talent Program has directly placed over 100 critical hires and saved our companies over $4 million in external recruiting fees.
How does Primary help its companies acquire early customers?
Early customer acquisition and product-market fit are the lifeblood of any startup, but they’re very hard to come by. To help our B2B companies establish early momentum, our dedicated Market Development function builds relationships with large enterprise players to access early customers and partner relationships, which in turn helps to inform our companies’ go-to-market strategies and explore new markets.
How does Primary help its companies raise money?
As a team whose primary mission is to usher our companies to a successful Series A, we dedicate significant resources to helping our founders lay the foundation for sound financial management. This means not just closing the books, but rather managing the entire business by metrics, understanding unit economics and having a strategic view toward future capital raises. Establishing discipline around these details early on makes a big difference in a company’s preparedness to talk to Series A investors. Our CFO & Operating Partner works onsite with our portfolio companies to help them build core finance and reporting infrastructure, develop optimal forecasting models and build metrics-driven cultures. On top of that, our entire investment team is actively engaged in supporting our portfolio companies in follow-on financings, which includes deck and pitch preparation, and identification and engagement with interested Series A investors.
What is the Primary100?
The Primary100 is an invite-only community made up of the top engineering talent in New York City. It's the city’s only community created specifically for principal and senior engineers - to drive unique networking and problem-solving opportunities among the best of the best in Silicon Alley. Members actively support and create engineering-led companies, leverage the power of community to promote healthy engineering teams and environments, and share best practices and approaches for complex technical decisions.
How can the Primary Expert Network help me?
We built the Primary Expert Network (PEN) as a direct response to seeing founders make the critical mistake of wasting time and money trying to reinvent the tactical wheel, and tackling the same set of operational problems that their peers have already encountered and successfully resolved multiple times over. Early-stage startups don’t have the luxury of wasting time. The PEN is designed to accelerate learning and capability creation for growing teams. It consists of 200-plus senior operators and functional experts who are deeply experienced in the full gamut of key functional areas - e.g., inside sales, customer success, social media marketing, devops, product management and channel partnerships - and who are eager to provide fellow early-stage operators with strategic and actionable advice. The PEN has been hugely valuable to our portfolio companies; we hold frequent 3-on-1 advisory sessions between portfolio companies and PEN members focused on very specific pain points, and many of our PEN members have gone on to serve as formal mentors, advisors, and even board members to companies through the relationships they’ve built through this network.
How does Primary help its companies with PR?
Most early-stage companies aren’t quite ready to engage a PR firm, but they still have newsworthy milestones that they should be trumpeting to the media! Our Content Marketing function was designed to help them do so, specifically by guiding them through the development of strategic communications plans, and helping them garner press coverage when needed. For companies getting ready to announce big product launches or financings, for instance, we’ll help them develop a media pitch and reach out on their behalf to relevant journalists and media contacts. We’ll also spread the word via our own blog and newsletter to raise awareness of our companies’ achievements in the broader NYC Tech community.