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 tips would you give an entrepreneur looking for funding?
- Know your market 'in your bones'
- Be pragmatic and have a realistic business plan
- Have a great partnership DNA and a passion for customer success
- Be yourself: let investors get to know the person you really are. We're going to have to work closely over many years with you, not with your public persona.
What are the most important traits an entrepreneur needs to have?
Intelligence, domain depth, decency, honesty, tolerance for risk, great sense of people, common sense, pragmatism.
What is the craziest idea someone pitched to you?
Nancy Reagan's astrologer pitched a plan for a best of breed astrology website.
A PC system designed to promote eco-awareness, with a CPU shaped like a whale and a mouse shaped like a dolphin.
What would you consider the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
There are so many, that it is too hard to single out just one. But I'll try.
At NeXT, we were getting ready for a product launch. And in a 'Steve Jobs company', a product launch is the closest thing imaginable to a religious event. "Product Intros" at NeXT were as special to us as Witchcraft Trials were to Salem. One of my teammates begged me to spend time with a guy in the lobby waiting to meet me. My colleague, David, said that he'd just seen something revolutionary. I was highly distracted, since "Intro" was tomorrow.
I met a shy, soft-spoken bespectacled guy, from the Swiss lab, CERN, who demoed a hypertext system running on NeXT. When you clicked on a proper noun, it took you to another document elsewhere on the network. I thought it was cool, but needed to get back to Intro planning.
I had failed to recognize the genius of Tim Berners-Lee, who was at NeXT to offer us the keys to what would become the World Wide Web.
Moral: Never be too distracted to consider a great idea.
What non-profits do you support and why?
I love excellence and the arts. So I gravitate towards organizations with those ends:
- San Franciso Opera - one of the world's best opera companies in a very complex, inherently multi-varied (poetry, music, dance, drama) art form
- San Francisco Classical Voice - the go-to community website for serious music in Northern California
- The University of Pennsylvania (where I did not go to school) Library - a center for excellence in all things related to the serious exploration of information, online and offline
What is something people will find surprising about you?
My politics. Most people would be surprised at my politics, thinking that I must be from the East Coast and from a Left-Progressive tradition. In fact, my roots are in California (my family was here before the 1906 earthquake)--and my politics couldn't be further from those of a New England progressive.
I remain an optimistic believer in the power of free people, free markets and free minds.
I champion limited government, individual autonomy and personal freedom in as many aspects of life (political, social, interpersonal, moral) as possible. I really have no interest in running your life, and expect the same courtesy from you. (And, no, I don't care who you sleep with or whom you marry).
What would you consider to be your most significant accomplishment?
My most significant accomplishment? No question: my daughter, Julia. Nothing I've done comes close. A brilliant, funny, well rounded person---and a gifted poet turned corporate lawyer. But, then again, I'm not sure how much of this I can take any credit for. She's pretty much done it all herself. Maybe, at least, I contributed a small bit to her self-confidence or her sense of humor.
What is your investment philosophy?
I care about two things, above all else, assuming the basics are also there (like a great team, blah, blah, big market, blah, and the rest of the VC catechism):
A) Is this a company that matters? Are they solving a worthwhile problem? Do they do something important? Would the world be a lesser place if this company did not succeed?
B) If this IS a company that matters, does this team have and can it execute a world domination strategy? Do I believe this team and this company can become number one, two or three in their market? Only the Gold, Silver or Bronze companies get to IPO or have a big M&A outcome, or partner with market makers. Everyone else can go home. If you're not backing a company with world domination DNA, why bother?
What advice would you give to a first time entrepreneur?
Surround yourself with great people; build your first company by getting close to customers and really satisfying their needs; be flexible and pragmatic- avoid grand academic theories or faith-based theories of how the world or your business "must" work.
What is the hardest thing about being an angel investor/VC?
The temptation for newly minted angels is to fall in love with a company's story or product. One has to remember not to confuse a great story with a great product, or a great product with a great business or a great business with a great investment. Too many angels, particularly those from a technical or product background 'go native' and lose perspective, once they become captivated by the story. It is the boring stuff - the go to market plan, the unfair business advantages, the financials, the returns analysis - that often separate a good idea from a good investment.