Early accelerator program Tandem reincarnates as a seed fund
The Tandem Capital Accelerator was started in 2007 by Oracle veterans Sunil Bhargava and Doug Renert. It was created to invest in seed stage companies, help them find the right product-market fit, and, sometimes, to take part in follow on rounds in startups coming out of its in-house program.
Like many accelerators -- Techstars and Y-Combinator come to mind -- Tandem offered space, early funding — usually about $200,000 — and access to experienced mentors from Silicon Valley and beyond. Tandem also has something else in common with those other programs: it took equity — usually 10 percent — in the companies it helped to move beyond the kernel idea stage into a full-fledged business.
It’s the equity aspect that has made programs like Techstars, 500 Startups, and others the target of criticism from some --- including, of course, from venture capitalists, many of whom are fighting with accelerator programs for early stakes in young startups.
There is often a grey-area between the fund side of accelerator programs and the mentorship and service providing components of the programs. Unless you do a little digging, it can be tough to figure out where the line of demarcation between fund and accelerator is for some, such as 500 Startups whose fund and accelerator have the same name. To solve this little problem, David Cohen and others involved in Techstars created a fund, Techstars Ventures, as a separate entity to co-invest in companies taking part in the program.
But Tandem, which is best-known for portfolio companies Tile and Bash Gaming, is taking has taken a different approach altogether. For the past few months, it has been distancing itself from its accelerator identity by quietly rebranding as “Tandem” — dropping the word “accelerator” from its website and other materials over the past few months. In a blog post on Monday, Tandem officially announced the name change and that it will identify as a “seed fund” moving forward.
Explaining the rebrand, the firm says it operates more like a seed fund; albeit, it claims, with a more hands on approach than the typical accelerator programs. “We simply felt that the typical accelerator (and close relative, the incubator) had evolved a long way from our original investment approach,” the firm said in its blog post. Specifically, Tandem believes that both the larger size of its usual investment — sometimes $10 million in follow-on rounds — and the more hands-on approach it takes with its portfolio companies differentiates it from the growing number of accelerators and incubators throughout the country.
Further solidifying the transition, Tandem announced today that it has added two partners with some serious Silicon Valley pedigree in Shashi Seth and Daniel Hoffer.
Seth served in numerous executive roles at Google, Yahoo, eBay, and YouTube. He played a key role in reinvigorating Yahoo Search in 2010, and was a prominent part of figuring out how to monetize YouTube. While Hoffer is best known for co-founding and running online travel community CouchSurfing.com, and had previously held prominent positions at TripIt and Symantec.
With $100 million that it recently to support its re-focus as a seed fund, Tandem will be a great test case in the strange new venture capital/accelerator paradigm where accelerator programs become seed funds and seed funds start mentorship programs — like Atlas Venture and its Hack/Reduce incubator.
It’s a brave new world for startups to navigate. Hopefully, all the accelerator and VC go-between will benefit who they are supposed to help: That would be the startups...right?