Behind the Money: Rick Heitzmann Sees a Bright Future for Online Video

/ Sep 10, 2013


A lot of FirstMark Capital’s investments are startups you have either already heard of or will be hearing about soon. For example, former investments include the likes of Riot Games, StubHub, and Netgear, while current investments include Lumosity and Aereo. Founder and managing director Rick Heitzmann also has Pinterest, Dashlane, Tapad, and Tubular under his belt, to name a few. But when it comes to the last two — or when you consider his FirstMark Capital bio, which reveals that “friends claim he has seen every movie on Netflix” — it goes without saying that Heitzmann is more than familiar with online video.

Heitzmann has been involved with venture capitalism since 1998, what he calls “the dawn of the internet.” His area of expertise involves all sorts of online tech, but he categorizes what he is looking for a little more specifically than that. “You have to have someone that has passion, someone who has a personal problem to solve,” he says, but they also can’t be “so ingrained in the market that they’re blinded by existing framework.” It’s a pretty broad definition, but when he talks about his search for these entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of freedom there, too: “We don’t have to do as many deals as other companies. We only do about half a dozen deals a year. We’ll see thousands every year and only invest in one of every 500 or 1,000. There’s a big funnel to get to the other side.”

Online Video Investments

Consider Heitzmann’s work with Tubular Labs founder and CEO Rob Gabel. Heizmann had seen him working for Matt Coffin at and then Allen DeBevoise at Machinima. But when Gabel started looking to set out on his own, Heitzmann’s interest was piqued because “I liked what he was doing and thought he had great domain knowledge.”

Gabel found something YouTube users desperately want, but don’t have, and built it. Tubular’s marketing and analytics platform YouTube is “helping content to grow,” according to Heitzmann explained. “[Tubular] understands the issues creators have. From that perspective, I think they have a different play in the video space.” It’s a kind of disruption that actually makes the YouTube system better for everyone.

Investing in Tapad and its cross-platform ad tech starts at a similar place: “I had known [founder and CEO] Are Traasdahl for years,” says Heitzmann. Both Traasdahl and Heitzmann had noticed “a lot of opportunity for growth in ad delivery across the online video platform.” Which is why when Trasdahl outlined his plans to create a multi-platform ad delivery system, Heitzmann provided the seed money to help Tapad get on its feet.

Down the Road

Of course, Heitzmann is a man who has made a career of investing in the future of the internet, so he is quite bullish on what he sees. In general, he says it’s time for a lot of development, but stresses that “the shift in video is happening faster than many people expect, multi-screen consumption is expanding faster than anyone would guess.” Hearing him reflect on the space kind of feels like watching a newly minted astrophysicist walk into a room with the world’s largest telescope: “The ecosystem is going to be bigger than anyone can guess.”

Or, in more VC-centric terms, “expect a lot more investments in the space.”

This profile is part of a weeklong series from VideoInk covering the venture capital environment as it relates to online video, and the men and women behind the money. Check out our feature from yesterday, which analyzed what VCs look for when investing in online video, and come back throughout the week to see more profiles on the major VCs and firms in the space.

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