Peter Kafka

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AOL’s Venture Founder Mike Brown Leaves to Open His Own Fund

mike brown jrMike Brown Jr., who co-founded AOL’s venture arm three years ago, has left to start his own investment company, Bowery Capital.

Brown’s new fund has raised $33 million, and says it will concentrate on business-to-business startups. At AOL, Brown helped place the company in a wide range of investments, so he’ll be a bit more focused here. Brown is bringing AOL vets Nic Poulos and Keegan Forte along with him.

Dan Primack at Fortune has most of Brown’s story and pitch. The only thing that’s not in there is the fact that Brown has been itching to do this for at least a year, and has gone back and forth with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong about whether or not he would be doing it with AOL’s participation.

(Update: Brown says AOL has invested in his new fund; he’ll also help manage the AOL investments he made over the last three years.)

(Update 2: Here’s comment from AOL Ventures President Jon Brod: “AOL Ventures, which Mike and I started in 2010, has a high performing portfolio of 27 tech start-ups and remains an important part of AOL. We wish Mike well in his new position and are pleased he will continue to help manage the AOL Ventures fund.”)

The question for Armstrong is whether it makes sense for the company to have a venture arm at all, since the work it does doesn’t seem core to AOL’s mission, and having AOL as a corporate backer seems to be a double-edged sword for a venture fund: Sometimes AOL’s brand helps open doors to pitch meetings, other times it has seemed like an encumbrance.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik