Featured on Feb 01, 2011
Started in the commodities business while in high school. Hacked my way into the software industry with no discernible skills and soon after ended up selling enterprise software in San Francisco and NY. I got bored with soulless corporates, so my love of technology led me to advise and invest in NYC start-ups. I also write a blog 'Strong Opinions' for investors and entrepreneurs.
You recently became an investor in Postling, which is a startup located in the new office space, General Assembly. What are some of the determining factors that you use to decide on which companies to invest in?
I look at three things; location, market and team.
I only fund start-ups in the NYC area. There are a lot of great companies elsewhere that I might miss out on, but I believe in supporting the NYC tech scene and helping it to flourish. I also like to be hands on, so being nearby to meet in person helps.
I prefer tech that is built to help small businesses. The most exciting opportunities are in the small business market, which is underserved yet has the most upside. So much energy has been put into helping large companies become more efficient, but these tools are simply unsuitable for the small business owner. Technologies that leverage the ease of use of consumer web interfaces yet provide the power of enterprise tools are going to be more prevalent over the coming decade.
I have to believe in the team’s ability and guts to execute. There are a lot of smart folks with great ideas, but only a small fraction that have the type of persistence and passion to turn an idea into a successful business for themselves and their investors. Underlying this belief is the need to establish a relationship of trust between the founders and investor. Without trust, the relationship will quickly become contentious and a distraction to building the business.
You and wife just had a baby last month. Congratulations again! How did you guys end up on deciding on the name Emma?
It is great to be a dad two times over! As for the name Emma, it was pure serendipity. My wife and I were brainstorming names and Emma just came to me. It means “universal” and we liked the fact that it had a feminine, English sound that worked well next to our last name. However, it wasn’t until she was born that we finally decided that Emma was going to be her name. I also liked Victoria, Audrey and Melody, which ended up being Emma’s middle name. I really wanted something that related to music in her name.
Of all of the blogposts, Tweets, Tumblr posts, etc., what do you think are some of the topics relating to the New York Tech community that are not being adequately addressed?
I hear a lot of carping about the same three “challenges” for start-ups in NYC; lack of tech talent, high cost of living and limited later stage funding options. However, we are doing a disservice to our community by not squarely debunking these myths. NYC is an excellent place for tech companies to start and grow into the next Google or Facebook. We need more commentary coming directly from tech founders speaking of their own stories on how they thrived and succeeded because of the great resources that NYC provides.
You mention on LinkedIn that you hit the open-mic circuit playing your guitar. What are some of the Mark Birch greatest hits?
I started a band in NYC after college called Grep playing heavy metal tunes in bars around the Lower East Side. Our big “hits” were covers of King Contrary Man by the Cult and Man in a Box by Alice in Chains though we also had a decent selection of originals. Nowadays, I do not get much playing time in, but I pull out the acoustic guitar once in awhile playing everything from Christian hymns to metal to my own material. At some point, I might get the initiative to get another band together, clean up all of my recordings and put out an album. If anyone is interested in getting together, let me know.
Who do you think is the one person in the New York tech scene that everyone should be watching in 2011 and why?
To name just one is simply too difficult as there are so many incredibly talented people in the NYC tech community building and funding and supporting start-ups. All I will say is that NYC is the place to be right now for start-ups and it has to do with the incredibly talented people here. This is why I believe We Are NY Tech is so important to NYC because it is profiling the diversity of fascinating people involved in our community. Any one of these people would be worth watching!