Maples Investments becomes Floodgate, looks to fund ‘Thunder Lizard’ startups

Maples Investments, whose founder Mike Maples, Jr. has backed high-profile web startups like Twitter and Digg, announced today that it’s renaming itself Floodgate and transforming itself from an angel investment firm into a “Super Angel.”

That sounds cool, but what does it mean? Not necessarily a whole lot, at least initially. As Maples put it, “This probably means more in the long-term than in the short-term.” He said changing the name is a signal of his decision to go “all in,” i.e., to fully commit himself to angel investing, starting with a new name that reflects his plans to build a long-term franchise. It’s not a sign that he’s raising a new fund, or that he’s changing his investment strategy.

Floodgate’s other partner, Ann Miura-Ko, said she and Maples have been honing their current strategy over the past two years (Maples has been angel investing since 2005, but he didn’t raise his first fund until 2008, which is also when Miura-Ko joined), and that they are now ready to “take it out of beta” testing. They invest between $250,000 and $1 million (larger than a standard angel investment) in companies that they believe can become “Thunder Lizards.” These are companies that take a tiny amount of funding and grow into tremendous, world-changing successes. For more details about Maples’ Thunder Lizard idea, you can read my recap of his speech at last month’s Future of Funding event.

Even though Miura-Ko doesn’t have as high a profile as her partner, Maples said she’s well-situated to find the next hit company, since she’s getting a Ph.D. in management science and engineering at Stanford, and she also teaches classes there on entrepreneurship. So Miura-Ko may be able to spot big ideas as they’re emerging from Stanford’s classrooms and labs.

I also wondered if the firm’s big vision might hit some hurdles with the weak market for IPOs and acquisition. Maples replied that the VC market is driven by “exceptionalism,” and even if average numbers are down, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for the top tier.

“Asking, ‘Is VC broken?’ is like asking, ‘Is startup broken?'” he said.

Miura-Ko said that since 2003, 1,500 startups outside of bio and cleantech have gotten funding each year, and on average eight of them see exits of more than $750 million.

“It’s those top 10 companies a year that we’re interested in,” she said.

The firm’s portfolio includes Chegg, ReputationDefender, Bazaarvoice, Kongregate, Smule, Modcloth, Weebly, and others.