Going to California
After more than a decade in Boston, I am thrilled to announce that I am moving to Silicon Valley to join Highland’s west coast team. I could not be more excited for this transition, which comes at an interesting time both for me and for Highland.
The three years I have spent in Boston as a venture capitalist have been incredibly formative. I owe much of this personal development to my good friend and mentor Paul Maeder. Paul is one of Highland’s co-founders and, after investing in startups for 30 years, has a talent for cutting directly to the heart of the matter. One story I like to tell occurred my first week at Highland, when I presented Paul with a very HBS-like powerpoint slide showing my deal sourcing strategy. He replied matter-of-factly:
Look, just take the smartest 5 people you know out for breakfast. Ask each of them to introduce you to the 5 smartest people they know. Then you’ll know 25 smart people. Go on from there. And, never eat alone.
I am happy to say that I now know way more than 25 smart people and rarely eat without an entrepreneur or technologist across the table. I have been privileged to work with experienced executives like Chip Paucek (2tor), Patrick Morley (Bit9), Omar Hussain (Imprivata), Jason Carlson (QD Vision), Scott Eckert (Heartland Robotics), and Chris Lynch (Vertica). Each has taught me far more than they know about how to run a company. I hope to impart some of this wisdom to first-time founders that Highland backs in the future, as I move out to California.
The other big change for me over the last few years is what parts of technology excite me. I have always been interested in fundamental technological discovery and began my career exploring areas like optical computing, photovoltaics, computer vision, and gene sequencing. I unintentionally stumbled upon another side of technology, however, when Facebook was started at Harvard in 2003, where I was user #1,821.
How could something so simple (at least compared to the other stuff I worked on) have any meaningful impact on the world? See, I had missed something that internet journalist Clay Shirky put so elegantly several years later in a TED talk:
These tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn’t when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society. It’s when everyone is able to take them for granted.
Services like Google, Facebook, Digg, Twitter, Dropbox, and Instagram all showed me that the most impactful consumer technologies start from humble beginnings and, even when they become highly sophisticated behind closed doors, the consumer rarely notices or cares. I have become obsessed with these types of companies, which are totally unpretentious to their users, presenting compelling experiences that “just work” and, consequently, become hard to live without.
And that brings me to my upcoming move. Venture capital is a service business, and in any service business you have to be close to your customer. The companies I mentioned above have one thing in common: they are all located in the Bay Area. To be near my customers, I need to be there as well. I hope to grow Highland’s consumer internet portfolio in California and work with some outstanding entrepreneurs along the way.
It does sadden me that I will be leaving behind a blossoming startup Renaissance in Boston. When I started at Highland, SCVNGR was the company that ran diamond dashes. Gemvara was operating from our basement with a very different business model. Others like Kyruus and SessionM hadn’t yet been formed. Over the last 3 years, Boston has reinvented itself, and I have high hopes that some significant companies will be built here over the next few years.
I will see many of you in Boston on my trips back east, and hope the rest of you will come visit me out west. In closing, I am grateful to all of you who helped me over the years in Boston (too many to name here) and hope you won’t hesitate to let me return the favor down the road.