In this post Dea Wilson, Lifograph founder, is doing a quick-fire interview with Ron Weissman, investor at the Band of Angels (150+ members) and VC at Apex Partners.
Ron has invested in or advised more than 60 companies and has served on more than 25 Boards.
He currently is Chairman of the Software Special Interest Group of the Band of Angels and also manages their Mentorship programs.
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What sparks your immediate interest when listening to a pitch? Why?
-Customers! Having customers or real partnerships communicates to me that someone besides the CEO's mom cares about what the company is doing and this is evidence that they're creating real value for someone. Once you have customers, you're no longer an idea, but a real company.
-What also excites me is genuine market understanding: when I learn something new from the CEO that I didn't know before. I really respect someone who communicates a business insight that teaches me something fundamental about a market or a technology.
List 3 things people don’t know about you
- I am an expert in European history, with a specialty in the Italian Renaissance
- I have been mistaken, twice, for Francis Ford Coppola
- I am an avid photographer
Perhaps my love of things Italian, coupled with photography helped make the Francis Ford Coppola connection.
What was your first job? What did you learn from it?
My first job was a European historian at the University of Maryland.
I learned how to translate and communicate complex ideas for a broad audience. And given an inherent multidisciplinary bent - my grad school work was in history, anthropology and quantitative methods - I learned how to learn new domains relatively quickly and I learned to work both with folks with a scientific and with a more humanistic bent.
That's one reason why I was attracted to Steve Jobs' vision that next generation computing could live at the intersection of the sciences and the humanities.
Who were your mentors? How did they help you become who you are?
- My father, Arthur Weissman, (one of Kaiser's early executives and a thought leader in health economics), was a wonderful role model (and an ideal father). He taught by example how to deal with the world compassionately and how to manage tough business and 'people' decisions creatively. He was the most humane, caring and intelligent person I have ever met. And I find it ironic that many years after my father's death, I am returning to the field he pioneered - health economics - as a primary investment focus.
- Hannah Holborn Gray - who recently retired as President of the University of Chicago, was a role model and fueled my interest in becoming an historian when she was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley. Working with her changed the direction of my life. Brilliant and eloquent and having take-no-prisoners standards.
- Steve Jobs - was an extremely important mentor and boss for me; was an extremely important mentor and boss; he taught me much about motivation, but even more, about having a no-compromise view of individual, product, team and company excellence.
- Paul Vais - my colleague at NeXT and, years later, my recruiting partner (since retired to become a wine maker) at my VC firm. Paul worked hard to attempt to instill practical wisdom about investing and tried (without much success) to overcome my worst instincts. A great colleague and friend and a really good mentor.
I am sure I have disappointed each of my mentors, but my failings are not their fault.
What do you like to do for fun?
Invest. Mentor. Read. Listen to Opera. Meet interesting people and shoot them (with a camera).
If you were not a VC, what would you have been?
I've had seven careers and could do lots of things. I could, obviously, have stayed in high tech or the university. But for something radically different, I might also have gone into AI or computer graphics or have become a political pundit, as I have been passionate about politics since high school.
What is an immediate turnoff in a pitch? Why?
- Not understanding the VC world
- Belief that their company or product is completely unique or lacks competition
- General cluelessness about the business world
- Focusing on where the CEO went to college
- Idealistic attachment to theoretical models- "This will succeed because it has to succeed; it is just so logical that it has to work." Why do I discount idealists? The real world has a nasty way of confounding theory. Models are fine as starting points, but to rigidly adhere to them invites failure. One example of this is techno-idealism. ("This product is so great that it will sell itself. Once seen, it is irresistible!") Why? Products rarely sell themselves without awesome sales, marketing and business development.
- Any 'me-too' deal, particularly anything social/local/mobile. Why? Overcrowded sectors -- game over. Too little market share, too much buyer confusion, too little chance of success. And in most cases, these are companies that simply don't matter. They aren't solving an important problem.
- Hipster CEOs. Why? Their arrogance is only matched by their real-world cluelessness. Great CEOs are often self-effacing rather than self-aggrandizing. And hipsters care too much about fads and 'what's hot' to focus on things of real substance. The only folks worse than hipster CEOs are hipster VCs and hipster angels.
- Confusing a product plan with a business plan. Why? We invest in businesses; we buy products. Investing and buying are different spheres.