VC Peter Relan helped launched Discord; now he’s ‘brewing’ two new incubators

Peter Relan may not be a household name, but he has seen a lot and had a lot of success throughout the course of his career. Relan, a Stanford graduate who worked at Hewlett-Packard and Oracle before becoming the CTO of the doomed Webvan during the dot-com bubble, is most known in startup circles for founding three “low-volume, high-touch incubators” that have outperformed their peers.

Founder Jason Citron, who was in the first class in 2007, was working on a social mobile gaming startup called OpenFeint, which he later sold for $104 million to the Japanese social gaming platform Gree.

Relan, who served as an operating partner, owned half of the company, and when Citron wanted to create a second company, which he would later call Discord, he returned to Relan to assist in its development. (Other “graduates” from Relan include Crowdstar, a social gaming firm that was acquired by Glu Mobile in 2016, and Agawi, an early game streaming company that was acquired by Google in 2015.) Relan has moved away from gaming and is now focused on climate change, equality, and “technology ethics,” but he recently spoke with us about his relationship with Citron.

(Until last year, Relan was a member of Discord’s board of directors.) He also mentioned that he had “two big things percolate,” one in AI and the other in climate change, so stay tuned for additional details. In the meantime, you can listen to or read lightly edited extracts from our talk below. PR: Every year, we said, “Let’s just [work with] a few businesses here, and instead of the customary three months, we’ll give them a year, and we’ll co-create.” As a result, we don’t have hundreds of businesses. We’ve incubated around 30 businesses over the last 15 years.

PR: It’s all been mentioned by others. As an example, I met Jason when he was 22 years old. He was my nephew’s roommate at Berkeley, where he had graduated. I was a Stanford alumnus, and after asking a few people at Stanford, we were able to locate the founders. It was a fairly low-key affair. We had no intention of creating such a large application process. We were just seeking for founders with specific tendencies; as an engineer, I was looking for really technological, developer founders.

PR: I started with my own money, but we built a network for the founders that included seven or eight CEOs as investors and other successful entrepreneurs from Yahoo, Google, Oracle, and Microsoft. That first class cost around $2.5 million, and we funded eight founders. Jason is a fundamental gamer at heart, and when he first arrived, he said, “I just want something in gaming.” There was no idea, no specific game, no specific product, and OpenFeint, which is a social chat network, started as a game called “Aurora Feint,” which was a really beautiful game that was extremely well-received, but it was doing okay in terms of financial success.