Hable moved from San Francisco back to Minnesota in 2016 after being recruited by then emerging startup When I Work as their Vice President of Growth. He spent two years there before joining Rally Ventures this fall as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR), where he is now aligned with the expertise, network, and capital to get into something entrepreneurial of his own.
Rally invests almost exclusively in early-stage B2B technology companies, focusing on big data, cloud technologies, infrastructure software, SaaS, security, and storage. Partners Jeff Hinck (Minnesota) and Charles Beeler (California) have been co-investing since 1997 under the likes of Vesbridge and El Dorado. Some of their more recent local winning bets include Enstratius (exit 2013), Rapid Engines (exit 2014), and SportsEngine (exit 2016).
In 2013, Rally Ventures opened a $100m fund (originally under the ICON name) and have since made dozens of investments. SportsEngine is one and only Minnesota tech exit from that fund to date, though they are in deep right now with Foodsby, Total Expert, and Atavium — three big swings to be sure.
Rally has also put a little money into Doug Berg’s newest venture, ZapInfo, and as of April the firm was seeking to raised $150m for a second fund. Let’s hear more from Jason Hable about his new role at Rally:
When and why did you decide to join Rally Ventures as EIR?
I decided to join Rally Ventures as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence shortly after leaving When I Work in August. The role is a great opportunity for me to explore some start-up ideas that have been bubbling up over the past couple of years while getting support and feedback from the Rally Partners and their extended network.
How did the relationship form? Did they approach you or what’s the history there?
Jeff Hinck and I worked together at Crescendo Ventures 15 years ago. We’ve kept in touch and the EIR role was a natural extension of some of the discussions we’ve had over the years.
What is your objective as EIR, what is Rally’s objective, and is there a timeline?
My primary goal is to start a company and while it’s hard to put a timeline on that process, I expect it to take 6-9 months. For Rally, the benefit of having an EIR is that they get to collaborate on a project from the earliest stage. It gives them extended time to get to know me as an entrepreneur and the problems that I am trying to solve. The best case scenario is that I start a company in which Rally invests. That happens roughly 50% of the time in these scenarios across the VC industry. Other common outcomes are an EIR joining an existing portfolio company or going on to start a company in a market in which the VC doesn’t invest.
What is your background in tech, particularly your own startups and early stage execution?
I’ve been drawn to tech start-ups my entire career. After finishing my MBA at the Carlson School in 2001, I joined Crescendo Ventures in Palo Alto. While I really enjoyed investing, I was fascinated by the challenges that entrepreneurs faced. So in 2006, I helped start a gaming company called Metaplace.
Metaplace was full of the challenges that I was seeking and though we struggled for many years, we eventually made more right decisions than wrong and successfully sold the company to Playdom. Playdom was a different beast all together – a prototypical Silicon Valley rocket ship. The challenges were entirely different than those we faced at Metaplace. Instead of struggling to make payroll and find product-market fit, our issues were hiring fast enough and getting product to market quick enough to meet demand and outmaneuver our competition.
We sold the Playdom to Disney 2010 and I stayed on at Disney as VP Product Development for two years before I got the entrepreneurial itch again. In 2012, I left to start a mobile app company called Spotly, which we sold to TuneIn in 2014.
Finally, after 15 years in California, my wife and I decided to move our family back to Minnesota. Shortly after we got back, I joined When I Work and was SVP of Growth and Marketing until earlier this year.
What areas of technology/industry are you most excited about?
There are a couple of marketplace and commerce ideas that I am currently investigating, but I am keeping my focus intentionally broad at this stage to make sure I find the right intersection of market opportunity and my areas of interests.
Is there anything else pertinent that you would like to add?
It’s worth calling out how much progress has been made within the MN start-up technology ecosystem since I left in 2001. There are so many great entrepreneurs, an abundance of high-quality talent and a strong supporting community. It’s evolved into a great place to build a tech start-up.