Transcripts

Washingtonians In Startup-Land: In The Trenches At The Fort

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So basically, today on "Metro Connection," we're bringing to life that old adage, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And the people we'll meet first truly take that expression to heart. In fact, you could say they're betting their bottom dollar on it. Jonathon Perrelli is a founding partner of D.C.'s new venture capital fund Fortify.vc. And if you chat with the guy, it won't take you long to figure out his favorite word.

MR. JONATHON PERRELLI

00:00:25
Awesome.

SHEIR

00:00:26
You'll hear him say it again...

PERRELLI

00:00:27
That's awesome.

SHEIR

00:00:28
...and again...

PERRELLI

00:00:28
Like, it's awesome.

SHEIR

00:00:29
...and again.

PERRELLI

00:00:30
It's just -- it's awesome.

SHEIR

00:00:32
But what the Virginia Tech alum finds especially awesome is the burgeoning industry he and his fund hope to nurture in this government town, technology.

PERRELLI

00:00:40
We found a real void for early stage capital that's writing small checks for startups. And that's why in May of last year, we started writing checks. And people were like who are these people writing, you know, six figure checks? Like, why are they doing this? This is a Silicon Valley thing.

SHEIR

00:00:57
So Fortify dreamed up a way to introduce D.C.'s tech startups to their angel investors by launching what it hopes will be an annual pitch competition called Distilled Intelligence. This past fall, winners received $25,000 and a handful were invited to setup camp in Fortify's new office which opened off Farragut Square in January. Fortify calls the sleek modern K Street space, the Fort.

PERRELLI

00:01:20
As a student of military history and coming from a military family and traveled with military contracts, you know, doing defense work, I think why we call it the Fort is that it's about being in the trenches together and helping one another.

SHEIR

00:01:32
Because here's the thing, as a so-called tech accelerator, sure the Fort gets startups off the ground with seed money and cubical areas.

PERRELLI

00:01:39
Or bunkers.

SHEIR

00:01:39
Okay, with seed money and bunkers of which there are five, by the way.

PERRELLI

00:01:43
And three companies per. So we have room for 15, we currently have 13.

SHEIR

00:01:48
But the Fort also provides more intangible amenities like a sense of community. Because not only can these companies interact with one another, they can turn to the Fortify team for advice or as Perrelli calls it...

PERRELLI

00:01:59
TLC, I mean, that's one of the main things we spend our time on is with the companies.

SHEIR

00:02:04
Helping them interview candidates, tagging along on sales calls.

PERRELLI

00:02:07
So we're really like founders in their company.

SHEIR

00:02:10
Hence the Fortify motto.

PERRELLI

00:02:12
Founders funding Founders.

SHEIR

00:02:13
And one of the founders being funded by Fortify, wow, try saying that five times fast. Anyway one of Fortify's beneficiaries, Winston Lord, truly appreciates the TLC especially since, like so many others at the Fort, the native Washingtonian went out on a limb to co-found his company, Venga, a guest management system for eateries and bars.

MR. WINSTON LORD

00:02:33
So we capture all the items that are on a bill and are creating customer profiles for restaurants. So they know they're customers a lot better.

SHEIR

00:02:41
Lord says, after college he enjoyed nearly two decades of steady and cushy paychecks.

LORD

00:02:47
I worked in politics for eight years, worked in sports for seven years. I had my own PR firm for three and worked with companies like Microsoft, Creative Artist Agency and Audi.

SHEIR

00:02:58
And then he left it all behind for Venga, which incidentally is Italian for let's go.

LORD

00:03:03
So haven't pulled a salary in two years, so, yeah, huge risk. But there's going to be huge rewards. So it's worth it.

SHEIR

00:03:10
One bunker over, Stephen Candelmo is kind of in the same boat as Winston Lord. Candelmo used to work here on K Street doing something else entirely.

MR. STEPHEN CANDELMO

00:03:19
I was living the big law firm life.

SHEIR

00:03:21
And nowadays?

CANDELMO

00:03:22
I'm the CEO and Founder of Klaggle.

SHEIR

00:03:24
A service that helps web users write, share and utilize online reviews which is important Candelmo says since 80 percent of users sift through reviews before making a purchase.

CANDELMO

00:03:34
And our secret sauce is that we actually analyze what people are writing in real time and we can score or a written review or an opinion. So it's allowing us to really attack the problem of opinion and data overload.

SHEIR

00:03:50
As to how he feels about giving up that big law firm life, well, he says he's thrilled to have found support now that he's taking the plunge and gone out on his own.

CANDELMO

00:03:58
I mean, it's one thing to be doing it for your clients which is great but when you're doing it for yourself and it's that, just, natural high of creating something out of nothing, that offsets the risk, you know.

SHEIR

00:04:10
And Fortify's Jonathon Perrelli certainly does know.

PERRELLI

00:04:13
We applaud when people say I just left X consulting firm. I just left this government contracting gig because they're taking that risk. I mean, that's what it's all about.

SHEIR

00:04:21
But he says, it's not just about taking that risk and succeeding.

PERRELLI

00:04:25
Our investment thesis is, invest on the way up. So companies are doing well continue to support them. And then companies that are failing, let them fail fast. In fact, help them to fail. And have them move on. And so those will die a happy death because they'll go on to start another company, hopefully.

SHEIR

00:04:42
Whatever happens though, Perrelli's excited about this new tech breeding ground on K Street and says Washington's more conservative venture capitalists are excited too.

PERRELLI

00:04:50
I think the later stage VC's all appreciate what we're doing because, I think, they believe that we'll create some great companies. Hopefully the next Living Social or Facebook comes out of a Fortify company that's in the Fort.

SHEIR

00:05:02
And if that happens, he says, well, it would be nothing short of awesome.

SHEIR

00:05:18
To learn more about the Fort and those tech startups in the trenches, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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