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3 posts from August 2011

August 23, 2011

Summer Reading

One of my favorite parts of summer is having the opportunity to catch up on pleasure reading.  Like many, I read so much work-related material that it is refreshing to have the luxury to broaden my thinking and information intake by reading non-work related books.

Inspired in part by the Wall Street Journal's recent piece on VC Summer Reading, here are a few of the books that have been capturing my imagination lately, organized by topic.

Life Management/Happiness/Health

Despite being a computer scientist/technology wonk/business type, I am fascinated with books on the philosophy of life and seeking happiness.

Family/Kids

My three kids remain one of my most passionate obsessions, so I'm a sucker for any recommended books about child-rearing and family management.  A few of my recent favorites:

Fiction/Fun

When you don't feel like serious non-fiction, a little light fiction hits the spot.  For example:

  •  The Strangler by William Landay.  Full disclosure:  Billy is my brother-in-law, but as a former prosecutor in the DA's office, he's got a great angle on crime mysteries.  His third book, Defending Jacob, comes out next winter and is also outstanding.
  • Delirious by Daniel Palmer.  This is a very fun and a bit freaky fictional work about a start-up CEO who goes insane.  Murder, drama and software all play heavily.  Palmer used to be a start-up executive and gives a great view into this world. 
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson.  A hedge fund buddy of mine recommended this to me.  Wry and somewhat bizarre depiction of a philo-Semitic (as opposed to anti-Semitic) world view. 
  • Cityboys:  Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile by Geraint Anderson.  A buyside equity analyst buddy of mine recommended this one to me.  Anderson is a London-based trader who provides a laugh out loud fictional (but based on fact) inside look at the hypocrisy and idiocy on the trading floor. 

So those are a few of my top suggestions - many are a bit off the beaten track but very enjoyable.  Happy reading!

August 08, 2011

Catch the Wave 8.0 - Live From Kennebunkport

Every summer we invite our portfolio company executives and their families along with friends of the firm to Kennebunkport, Maine for some fun and sun.  The event is all about having fun and community building - no conferences or panels allowed.  On Saturday night, we have a costume bash and in past years, people get really into it.  

This year's theme was Saturday Night Live and my (very creative) partner David Aronoff produces a video each year to show at the party.  You can see this year's video here, with numerous guest stars and a brilliant "Mr. Bill raises VC money" skit:

David promises me this is the last year he'll make fun of me for writing a book.  I'm not holding my breath.  Here's a picture of the Flybridge team in full regala:

 FCP Team

August 05, 2011

Arranged Marriages

My wife and I have picked out the perfect spouse for my son.  They have developed a wonderful relationship together over the years, with great chemistry and warmth.  She comes from a family that has identical values and priorities to ours and would make wonderful in-laws.

They are both 9 years old.

This example - admittedly absurd (although we still do talk about it!) - got me thinking about the challenge of arranged marriages in the world of entrepreneurship.

Many entrepreneurs come to us and say "I have this great idea, all I need is a technical co-founder" or "I have a killer technology that I'm developing, all I need is a business co-founder."  They look to us to help make the match in the hopes that they will complete their team and live happily ever after.  

Unfortunately, arranged marriages are hard to execute.  You can't force a partnership.  It has to come naturally and evolve organically.  When two partners have worked together already and come to us, we know that "team risk" has been meaningfully mitigated.  But even when a founding team has a long personal history, if they don't have a professional history together it can be hard to predict whether things will work out harmoniously.

We have had a few examples in the Flybridge portfolio where we have been able to make matches between business builders and technical founders that have really worked.  In particular:

  • Virtual Computer, where we were able to match the late Alex Vasilevsky (RIP) with CEO Dan McCall to build a successful desktop virtualization company.
  • Cartera Commerce, where we were able to match technical founder Dave Andre with CEO Tom Beecher to build a successful e-commerce and performance marketing company.
  • Digital Lumens, where we paired a data communications veteran, CEO Tom Pincine, with a lighting guru, Brian Chemel, to start the leading LED-based solid-state lighting company.

But we have also seen plenty of examples where it has not worked - where putting two strong personalities together to build a venture leads to disaster.  Here are a few tips based on lessons learned in trying to make arranged marriages work:

  1. Sign a pre-nup.  Two founding team members may think they have a clear agreement as to how they are going to divide up responsibilities, but unfortunately humans have a tendency to listen to what they want to hear.  To avoid misunderstanding, write it down.  Write down the roles and responsibilities, the mechanisms by which you will resolve disputes, and what the financial deal is (equity split, deferred compensation, etc.)  between the two of you.  HBS Professor Noam Wasserman wrote a good blog post on how to think through the initial equity split that I highly recommend.
  2. Celebrate diversity.  I have found that it's best to have two founders who are really different - different skills, backgrounds, different perspectives on the world.  Otherwise, there is a risk that they step on each other's toes by inserting themselves into the same set of issues.  Which founder will be Ms. Outside vs. Ms. Inside?  Which founder will handle fundraising vs. product development?  These questions should have obvious answers based on skill set and experience, rather than coin-flipping.
  3. Don't rush it.  Having a year long engagement period is a good practice in marriages - it allows the newlweds to "try on" the whole marriage concept over a long period of time.  Similarly, allowing a founding team to have some hang time together and not rush into a relationship is an important practice.  With a fast-moving industry, a year is typically not practical, but take a few months to "try it on" before you jump in to a founding partnership.
  4. Talk it out - in private.  I believe it was President Bill Clinton who began the practice of weekly lunches with his Vice President, Al Gore (cute joke on that here).  That cadence of private 1 on 1 sessions is a valuable mechanism to set up between two founders to make sure they remain in synch.  If employees sense even slight disagreements between founders, it can lead to confusion and misalignment.
  5. Seek a counselor.  I am a big fan of busines coaches and would advise founding teams to consider hiring a professional coach or nominating an advisor to help them resolve disputes - before any disputes arise.  There's a good reason complex business contacts have a built in agreement on the dispute resolution process.  In the heat of the moment, that's the last thing you want to negotiate.  Similarly, founders should setup a neutral party and process to assist them in resolving issues so that when they inevitably arise, it's an orderly, rational process.

My wife and I will keep a close eye on my son's evolving relationship with his nine year old girlfriend.  In the meantime, I'll keep looking to make more great entrepreneurial matches.