The Story Behind My Investment In Burner

It’s been a while since I’ve written up the investments I’ve been fortunate to do. That’s mainly because I haven’t had the time, working with Swell and adjusting to a little critter at home who is just on the verge of walking. The increased mobility of kid seems to inversely correlate with pressure on the limited time I do have, but it’s all worth it….Which brings me to Burner, the 9th investment by Haystack — these are now out of order, but hey, it’s more fun.

While I was exploring the trend around ephemeral and anonymous mobile applications, I found it all fascinating, more than I would’ve expected to. Since I’m not an avid Facebook user (but I like using the site) and since tweets seem to slip into the ether over time, I didn’t really appreciate just how permanent Facebook could feel to others. It was basically the web to so many, so while there is a wall around the garden itself, inside the garden, it’s hard to find the appropriate walls.

Naturally, it’s hard to write a post about this topic without discussing Snapchat. I’m not a frequent Snapchat user, but like many others, I find them truly fascinating. It was this fascination which drew me to discover Burner, out of Los Angeles. I looked up the founder, saw that a friend (Scott Rafer) had invested, and asked Scott for an intro. (As an aside, Rafer is not like most other people in the startup ecosystem. Somehow, he likes me, and I like him, but he has been around the block, is an entrepreneur himself, and provides words of caution that come from raw experience. Whenever he has made an intro, the loop closes fast.) Rafer was kind enough to introduce me to Greg, one of the the founders of Burner.

I had a few phone calls with Greg, him being in L.A. I told him I found this whole space fascinating,and also got this take on a column angle. After my post, we stayed in touch and I started to think about investing in the company. I’m not sure, but I think from those discussions around my posts and phone calls, I’d like to think Greg came to think of me as genuinely interested in the space.

Over the next few weeks, we traded tons of emails and phone calls about how the round would come together. Even with great timing, good traction, and a working revenue model, it wasn’t an easy ride but Greg and his co-founder, Will, emerged as very calm, steady executives. I shouldn’t have been surprised, as he’s been around the startup block, too — like Rafer. I was thankful Greg thought enough of me to include me on these discussions, seeking out my advice.

Ultimately, the round was done last year (2013), giving Burner even more runway to build across platforms and explore more product and growth features. At its core, Burner uses software to help liberate mobile consumers from the phone numbers assigned to them by carriers. This may seem trivial, but it’s potentially quite valuable and disruptive — think of the unbundling of email accounts from ISP’s. On top of this, Burner figured out a clever way to sell packets of disposable phone numbers where users could actually subscribe to the service. Since then, we’ve seen the mobile address book become its own social graph, with startups getting more aggressive about asking for device permissions and the most recent buzz-worthy app — Secret — building itself entirely on the back of address books, or phone numbers.

It’s early days, and Greg knows how to run a lean machine, so it’s an easy choice to work with him. Since the round last year, Burner has clearly resonated with multiple core segments of users who are attracted to Burner as a way to partition their lives in various ways. The company doesn’t broadcast its user stats, but it has been consistently a Top-3 grossing utility on the iTunes App Store for the last year, and they’ve also had good traction on Android.

It’s comforting to know someone as experienced as Greg grew comfortable with me quickly. I take that as a compliment and also a responsibility — one I do not take lightly. And, it’s nice to know Rafer, who I don’t keep in touch with but keep bumping into in random places, is always willing to throw in a good word for me. I don’t know why he does, but it’s nice to know. Without his vote of confidence, I wouldn’t get a chance to work with Burner, and for that, I am grateful.