Last year, Dom Leca received an unexpected message. The French software developer was contacted by an investor from San Francisco who was eager to share his cash and ideas to improve Leca’s e-mail application, Sparrow. “I didn’t know Dave at all or his background,” Leca says. “I was just curious about his input, and he won me over with his enthusiasm.”
Sending e-mails or instant messages to strangers is the modus operandi for Dave Morin, who runs the social network Path. Morin, who made his fortune working at Facebook, is a prominent angel investor. He’s also one of a growing number of former and current employees of the social-networking giant looking to put money into young technology businesses, as reported by my colleague Ari Levy.
When Morin, 31, finds an application he really likes, he typically sends an e-mail to its creator with ideas and a suggestion that he would like to invest. “I try to be more active,” Morin says. “I’m not just taking meetings.”
That technique and Morin’s expertise have gained him entry to dozens of startups, including Tumblr, Bit.ly, Foodspotting, Formspring.me, Pair, TaskRabbit and Circa 1605. At Facebook, Morin led the formation of the social network’s platform for third-party developers, which build games and other apps that run on the site. Before that, he worked at Apple in product planning and marketing. The Montana-born investor recently took his first board seat at Eventbrite, a ticketing service.
“He’s one of the smartest product guys around,” says Matt Galligan, who co-founded Circa, a news reader. “Sometimes it’s coming up with a brand-new idea. Sometimes it’s refining something you’ve already got in a way you didn’t think about.”
Not all of Morin’s bets have panned out. He invested in Everyme shortly after it was formed in the Y Combinator business incubator. Everyme started out as a personal address book and social network that automatically groups people by crunching data from the user’s various online profiles. When Oliver Cameron, the startup’s chief executive officer, briefed Morin earlier this year on changes to the product that would spawn a social network similar to Path, the two men agreed to part ways, and Cameron returned Morin’s money, they said.
“You want to try to avoid conflicts in your portfolio,” Morin says. “Path is my No. 1 focus, and if they want to compete, that’s fine. I’m an angel investor on the side.”
Cameron says in a statement, “We’re very thankful Dave believed in us, and we respect his tremendous work.”
Some of Morin’s investments have caught the attention of established technology companies. Milk, whose team of mobile-app developers was led by Digg founder Kevin Rose, was acquired by Google in March, and Rupture was bought by Electronic Arts. for $15 million in cash in 2008. Two of Morin’s other investments, Hot Potato and Karma, were bought by Facebook, his former employer. Morin wouldn’t disclose how much money he made on those investments. “He sees the world in a much different way than most people,” says Matt Schlicht, co-founder of TracksBy, a maker of online promotional tools for the music industry that counts Morin as an investor. “This is what happens when you are able to look at the level of data he was able to monitor when he was at Facebook.”
Morin acknowledged the benefits of that experience, which gave him a behind-the-scenes view of what people wanted from the world’s biggest social network. “I’ve had this fortunate opportunity to be at the center of the Facebook ecosystem,” he says.