The heart and soul of New York's startup scene

@CNNMoneyTech September 26, 2011: 7:53 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (CNNMoney) -- The New York startup scene got a shakeup Friday as word trickled out that Andy Weissman is leaving Betaworks, the influential "realtime Web" investment fund he co-founded, for a partnership spot at the city's premier venture capital firm, Union Square Ventures.

Here's the thing about Andy: He's never been the public face of Betaworks. You'll rarely see him doing interviews or sitting on panels, but he's been a godfather to almost every successful venture to come out of New York City. Speak to anyone in the startup scene about him, and many will call him a mentor and a friend -- everyone has an Andy anecdote.

He's an unlikely investor. Andy's got a mop of crazy hair and a love of music. On his Tumblr -- stocked with quotes, song lyrics , and random thoughts -- he goes by the handle "newspeedwayboogie."

"I don't want to be Andy Weissman over there," he recently wrote on his blog. "I want to be someone else, the part of me that is obsessive compulsive and ridiculous about another subject matter."

That lighthearted obsessiveness crosses over into the investments Andy makes, the relationships he builds, and the guidance he provides.

"Andy has a unique way of making startups feel comfortable, whether it's good news, bad news, hard advice, or just being a friend and being supportive," says David Tisch, director of the TechStars incubator program. "He has a unique touch, and it really attracts people to want to work with it."

In a recent blog post, Andy wrote: "Paul Westerberg (in perhaps his greatest song) wrote that 'Everybody wants to be special here' - which has always struck me as the most astute observation about human nature. The best online services are the ones that allow us to be special there, and name ourselves whatever we want in the process of expressing how special we are."

That's the philosophy Andy -- through Betaworks -- has invested in. The company's portfolio of seed investments includes sites like Tumblr, Kickstarter and DailyBooth -- all companies built on the premise of "special." Tumblr gives people a narrative outlet, Kickstarter lets them live out an idea, and DailyBooth lets you have a running conversation through photo snapshots.

"He holds no pretense whatsoever," says Jordan Cooper of Lerer Ventures, an investor in Betaworks. "It's very easy when you are doling out millions of dollars to let that go to your head. In the venture business everyone wants something from you, but Andy has this magic way of exposing himself as a regular guy. That's refreshing to entrepreneurs who are used to pitching 'master of the universe' personalities. He's fundamentally humble and approachable."

It's a sentiment Tony Haile -- the CEO of Chartbeat, a Betaworks company -- agrees with.

"There's not a single person in the entire tech world that dislikes Andy Weissman -- that's a fact," Haile says. "The guy has the biggest heart of anyone in the tech industry."

I first met Andy (who declined to speak with CNNMoney for this story) last winter, on a day when a series of tweets revealing that we were in the same neighborhood led to an impromptu coffee meeting.

Less than 10 minutes in, Andy knew about my writing, my favorite authors, and things I don't often share with people I don't know. But somehow, he pulled it out of me -- and he's not even the journalist.

It's that quality, the ability to invite people to open up and reveal themselves, that sets him apart in the industry.

Haile says he loves that Andy is "always accessible, always your cheerleader," but also really appreciates "his ability to understand markets, to see what we don't see because we're focused on what we're doing. He's amazing at seeing the broader perspective."

Andy will now be bringing that perspective to Union Square Ventures, a power player in the online content and community space. They'll benefit from his investment eye and his skill at guiding fledgling ventures -- but most of all, they'll get the advantage of his low-key, high-impact role as New York City's little-known "startup whisperer."

And as one industry observer put it: "This is such a great move. USV finally has someone with good hair." To top of page

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