How the new Flying Fish venture fund aims to change the game for Seattle startups

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Heather Redman, co-founder of the new Flying Fish Partners venture capital firm, wearing her unicorn blouse.

Investor and technology executive Heather Redman has a bold plan for Flying Fish Partners, the new venture fund that she has launched with two other industry vets.

“I often joke that the Flying Fish business plan is basically to sit on the steps of one or more Amazon buildings, trip people and hand them checks,” she said. “It’s sort of that simple, in a way.”

Redman may joke, but she takes the business of making Seattle an entrepreneurial haven very seriously. She and the other co-founders of Flying Fish Partners, Geoff Harris and Frank Chang, are trying to change the game for Seattle entrepreneurs by taking on what they see as the biggest bottleneck for companies: home-grown capital.

Flying Fish is talking publicly about its plans for the first time this week. The fund has been operating in stealth mode, although the existence of Flying Fish first surfaced last month. Redman sat down with GeekWire editors Todd Bishop and John Cook to dive into the details of Seattle’s investment scene and the vision for Flying Fish on this episode of the GeekWire Podcast.

Redman said she and her co-founders — Harris, a former Microsoft exec and machine learning researcher; and Chang, a former Microsoft project manager and Amazon exec — have been mulling the idea of starting their own firm for a while.

They are all involved investors who love the Seattle scene but were “continually frustrated with what we saw as a lack of organized, aggressive capital that was accessible to the startup companies in our ecosystem,” Redman said. 

She echoed the frustrations of many in the tech community who have seen promising startups going to Silicon Valley for their early funding. To keep talent and funds in Seattle, she said, local VCs need to invest in local companies.

The trio decided to take the plunge and found Flying Fish late last year. Redman said they plan to raise $80 million to put into early-stage Seattle companies, with an eye towards several pain points they have seen in the funding process.

From left to right: Geoff Harris, Heather Redman, and Frank Chang, co-founders and managing partners of Flying Fish Venture Partners. (Flying Fish Photo)

“What we would like to do is create some of that dynamic of having entrepreneurs or possible entrepreneurs … feel that raising money is not hard in Seattle. Imagine that, just for a moment: if people in Seattle felt that raising money was not hard, how that would change our entrepreneurial ecosystem. I think that would be quite dramatic,” she said.

One way Flying Fish is approaching that goal, she said, is through building a diverse investment team. The firm has one female founder and one founder of color, but importantly the three founders also come from very different backgrounds.

While Redman’s expertise leans towards finance and business, Harris and Chang are both technologists who have spent many decades working at a high level in Seattle’s tech giants. Their background includes work on machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud computing. Harris has even hard-coded the company’s website and is building their internal database.

“We think we can relate to engineer founders in a more robust way than many of the VCs in town, who [have] much more of a finance background. Which is me, too, so frankly we’re not losing that, but we want to augment it with the tech background as well,” Redman said

The company will also work against some of the biases they’ve noticed in Seattle’s investing trends, including a bias towards older and more seasoned founders.

“There’s also a tendency in town — notwithstanding Maveron — to really look more at the B2B enterprise. And if you look in those worlds, it’s much more about: How do you fit into an existing ecosystem? How do you fit into an existing customer base?” Redman said.

“And we want to look at: How do you reinvent industries? So those could be consumer businesses or businesses — like, say, a Convoy — that I know had difficulty getting funded here in town because they were trying to build something from scratch and build new industry instead of fitting into an existing one,” she said. (Convoy, the on-demand trucking startup that was recently named GeekWire Startup of the Year, is backed by big-name investors including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.)

In a meta-startup moment, Redman also said Flying Fish will embrace some of the traits traditional to startups, including embracing and experimenting with new technology and putting an emphasis on diversity of all kinds.

“VC is still much more of a craft than a science, so one of the things that we’re interested in doing is applying ML and AI to the world of investment as well,” she said. “That’s obviously going to be a walk-before-you-run process, but it’s something that we feel is important.”

Listen to the full podcast of our conversation with Redman above or download it as an MP3. Be sure to subscribe to the GeekWire podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to shows. 

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