Transwestern Startup Stories: Bob Spinner and Greg Gretsch – Jackson Square Ventures

Transwestern, Jackson Square Ventures, Bay Area, San Francisco, Sigma Partners, Menlo Park, Regus, Salesforce, Twitter, BART
Photo/Design Credit: Kendall Wilkinson Design

By Jack Seymour

This series profiles innovative companies and The Bay Area neighborhoods they call home. 

Jackson Square Ventures (JSV) is an all-partner venture capital firm focused on Series A financing for SaaS and marketplace startups from their offices in the heart of the innovation ecosystem in San Francisco at Jackson Square. At JSV, all partners are former founders or tech executives. 

Founding partners Bob Spinner and Greg Gretsch share their thoughts on Jackson Square as a VC hotspot, what originally attracted them to the neighborhood, and neighbors they couldn’t live without.

Seymour. How did Jackson Square come to be Jackson Square Ventures’ hood?

Spinner. Greg [Gretsch], Pete Solvik and I have been partners for over 15 years. We started at Sigma Partners, which was a bi-coastal firm in Boston and Menlo Park. We broke out to found Jackson Square Ventures in 2011. There was much we leveraged form our prior firm but there were also some new things we wanted to implement. I was living in the East Bay, Greg and Pete were in San Francisco, and it was just silly that we were down in Menlo Park. In 2011, it was perfect timing in that our move to Jackson Square coincided with a large tech migration back to the City. 

Gretsch. When I got into the Venture business with Pete and Bob, most of the startups we looked at were based down on the Peninsula. 

When we first moved to the City we didn’t pick a neighborhood. We got temp space at a Regus over on Broadway. Jackson Square is a really nice place to be. You’re not in the Financial District, but you are right on the edge of it. We looked at the Presidio, which is wonderful, but you’re 30 minutes away from downtown, so that was a no-go. 

Seymour. What were founders telling VCs about the reasons for the resurgence of the San Francisco startup scene?

Gretsch. They weren’t telling us that we needed to be here, it just happened to line up really nicely that a number of us lived here. At that point, founders were used to making the pilgrimage down to Sandhill Road. We definitely saw the opportunity to be one of the first firms to establish a primary presence here. There were plenty of firms that had outposts up here, but there were very few that had set up their primary presence here in the City. We saw this as a big opportunity. 

Over the ensuing eight years, we have seen a real shift with companies wanting a San Francisco headquarters. There is the obvious need to tap into the talent pool that is San Francisco, but I really believe that most of the South Bay has been completely taken over by “Big Tech,” and they have squeezed everything else out. As hard as it is in San Francisco to start a new company, it’s even harder down south.

Spinner. The other thing I’d add to that is that several very successful, big tech companies have been founded and grown here in the City. For example, Salesforce and Twitter. When these large companies have early employees that inevitably peel off and start their own companies, they are already used to working here. This really kicked off a startup community that didn’t exist prior [to that].

Seymour. What do you love most about your office?

Spinner. The office here is a little bit of an oasis out of the chaos of downtown. I’ll take zero credit on the design of our office, but it turned out really great, and it helps bring a sense of calmness for the entrepreneurs that are coming in each day. One thing that hasn’t changed in the neighborhood is the architecture. These old buildings just get restored, and it helps maintain a semblance of character. 

Seymour. Who are some of your neighbors? 

Gretsch.1 Maritime used to be the unofficial line that financial services firms didn’t cross beyond. Now we are seeing a lot more private equity and hedge funds infiltrating Jackson Square.

As far as Venture Capital firms, Jackson Square and South Park have been the two hotbeds for some time now. With South Park’s access to the freeway, all the venture firms on Sandhill Road said, “Hey, I want an outpost in the city. What’s the easiest place I can get on and off the freeway?” Jackson Square seems to be the neighborhood for Venture firms headquartered in the City.

The nice thing about the concentration of venture firms being in one area is that it becomes a place where entrepreneurs cycle through. 

The Battery wasn’t here when we first moved in. It’s a nice neighborhood amenity to have close by. While a lot of people meet at The Battery for lunch, we are also lucky to have Cotogna, Quince, Kokkari, Roka and Bix right around the corner. 

Seymour. How would you pitch Jackson Square to companies looking to find a new neighborhood to call home?

Gretsch. This is a great place for startups to get started, but I’d say it’s not the best place to grow. It’s a fantastic place for small, boutique, financial services firms. Outside Levi’s Plaza, there really just isn’t a ton of office space or new office space development. If you have 10-50 employees, and you want to be in a place that’s very community oriented and feels like a true neighborhood with awesome food, easy walking with easy access to BART and the ferry, this is your place.

Spinner. I take BART each day and one thing that I love about coming to work in Jackson Square is I can take a short walk (½ mile) and I’m out of the craziness of downtown without being super isolated. 

6 Quick Picks.

  • Favorite Coffee Spot? 
  • Gretsch. Coffee Movement on Washington near Powell. 

    Spinner. Peet’s on Sansome 

  • Favorite Quick Bite? 
  • Gretsch. Yoyo’s (Japanese noodles)

    Spinner. Sai’s Vietnamese

  • Favorite after hours watering hole?
  • Gretsch. Bix

    Spinner. The Battery & The Old Ship

  • Favorite Secret spot?
  • Gretsch. Jackson Place Café

    Spinner. The Battery

  • An interesting Jackson Square fact not widely known?
  • Gretsch. This was the Barbary Coast – the home of saloons, dance halls, and brothels.

    Spinner. The district contains almost all of the surviving commercial buildings from the 1850’s and 1860’s.

  • One thing in your hood you and your team couldn’t live without?
  • Gretsch. Cotogna

    Spinner. Access to BART.

    Jack Seymour is a leasing associate at Transwestern’s San Francisco office, Jack’s primary role is to serve as a real estate advisor on major projects working alongside the established office leasing team of Jeff Moeller, Peter Conte and Zac Monsees. He is also responsible for developing relationships with and serving the needs of local and/or national prospective clients as well as providing diverse marketing support for leasing services.

    • Transwestern, Jackson Square Ventures, Bay Area, San Francisco, Sigma Partners, Menlo Park, Regus, Salesforce, Twitter, BART
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