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It’s All About the Team March 5, 2007

Posted by John Vrionis in advertising, browsers, Consumer internet, Digital Media, Ecommerce, Entrepreneur, Infrastructure, Internet, Security, Semiconductor, social networks, start-up, startups, Storage, Uncategorized.
4 comments

As a venture capitalist, I often get the question, ‘Is it people or market?’

My answer is ‘Yes.’

There’s no doubt that great markets facilitate the building of great companies. But as we saw during the bubble, great markets can facilitate the development of some not-so-great companies as well. When talking with aspiring entrepreneurs I try to emphasize that finding the big idea or the big market shouldn’t be their first priority.

Building the right founding team should be.

In a recent Fortune interview with Jim Collins, author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great,” he commented:

“Our research shows a somewhat negative correlation between pioneering a great idea and building a great company. Many of the greatest [companies] started with either no great idea or even failed ideas. Sony started with a failed rice cooker. Marriott started as a single root beer stand. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s great idea was simply to work together – two best friends who trusted each other – while their first four product failed to get the company out of the garage. They followed the ‘first who’ approach to entrepreneurship: First figure out your partners, then figure out what ideas to pursue. The most important thing isn’t the market you target, the product you develop, or the financing, but the founding team. Starting a company is like scaling an unclimbed face – you don’t know what the mountain will throw at you, so you must pick the right partners, who share your values, on whom you can depend, and who can adapt.”

A great team in a bad market can still build a successful company, perhaps at small scale. More often, like Sony, Marriott and HP, a great team will change course as they learn that their initial market is a difficult one, and they will find their way to a bigger and better opportunity.

A second rate team can also build a successful company in a great market. But they will find themselves facing increasing competition and the company may not stay successful for long.

There’s no substitute for being part of a great team. Resist the temptation to settle for second rate co-founders or employees, or for divergent visions. The extra time to find the right people to work with is always worthwhile. I firmly believe that teams of great people, firmly bound together by shared ethics, vision and values, will always find a way to be successful.

Pitching a VC: Focus on these FOUR things January 25, 2007

Posted by John Vrionis in Consumer internet, Digital Media, Ecommerce, Infrastructure, Security, startups, Uncategorized, Venture Capital, web 2.0, WiMax.
6 comments

The best part of being a ‘VC’ is meeting passionate entrepreneurs and listening to pitches about how their idea is going to change the world. Since I joined Lightspeed, I’ve found myself meeting amazing people and debating revolutionary ideas on a daily basis.

I’ve had the opportunity to listen to hundreds of pitches and as a former entrepreneur I did my share of pitching. I firmly believe that all great plans highlight the four key areas that are at the heart of every good VCs decision process.

1. Demonstrate you are addressing a Billion dollar plus market. This is the most important thing. If you can’t convince the VC you’re solving a problem in a huge market, you’re dead in the water. Big markets make big companies. Big markets can also hide mistakes. Do the bottoms up analysis. Talk to your assumptions.

2. What is your unfair advantage? Describe this in 30 words or less. Repeat it as many times as you can in the presentation.

3. Does the team have a visionary? VC’s are NOT visionaries. The team has to have someone on it that sees where the opportunity is going to be and can pick the right products to take advantage of that market.

4. What are the capital requirements for the major milestones? VCs want to back capital efficient businesses. They want to understand what the major risks are in the busines, when they can be mitigated and how much money it takes to do it. A simple timeline with milestones compared to cash needs is one of the best slides an entrepreneur can provide.

My final comment. Have fun. Remember — your job is to inspire and compel!

As always, all comments are welcome. Or send email direct to jvrionis@lightspeedvp.com

2007 Enterprise Technology Predictions January 5, 2007

Posted by John Vrionis in Digital Media, Infrastructure, Security, startups, Storage, Venture Capital, WiMax.
1 comment so far

First – Happy New Year! The Lightspeed Team is very excited about the prospects for 2007. We’re just getting rolling with our blog here and hopeful it can be a positive resource to let you know how and why we approach things the way we do.

I wanted to follow up on Jeremy’s post earlier this week 2007 Consumer Internet Predictions and share some of my thoughts regarding areas we’ll be watching closely this year. Full disclosure – I didn’t fully realize how hard blogging is. I’m really nervous! I have a lot more respect for all of you who routinely put yourself out there for the world to read about. But I do think there needs to be a lot more transparency from the VC community, so here goes…

1. Where are the NEW IDEAS in security? Despite the venture community pouring hundreds of millions into best-of-breed, segmented security solutions, it turns out customers want to buy and manage one complete, layered suite. The problem is that with 200,000 pieces of malicious code officially logged (100,000 of those appearing in the past 18 months according to McAfee’s AVERT Labs), the model for traditional anit-virus programs looks less and less exciting. The good news is that most experts finally agree that ridding software of vulnerabilities at the code level is the best defense. It would seem to me that companies such as Fortify Software and Mu Security are on the right track. So what’s next then? Mobile security is a relatively untapped (huge) opportunity. Two of the of the fastest growing things I can think of – social networking websites (Facebook and MySpace) and the proliferation of intelligent mobile devices serve as great mediums to spread malicious code – even if enterprises are well prepared!

2. Intelligent storage solutions. Talking with CIO’s from Lightspeed’s CIO Forum, I get a lot of great feedback about what the priorities are for 2007. One consistent message (complaint) I hear is regarding the explosive growth in unstructured data and the associated storage costs. Despite the continued decline in disk costs, overall storage costs as a result of needed capacity and performance, not to mention space and power, continues to be a major concern for CIOs. I’m hopeful 2007 is a year where we see more exciting new ideas about how to manage data intelligently over pure performance or blind capacity.

3. WiMax – Why not? I’m really excited about WiMax. As mentioned in a recent post by Katie on GigaOM, the mutiplayer chess match is just starting to heat up as massive players such as Sprint and Clearwire manage the infrastructure buildouts and work with the likes of Nokia and Motorola. I have this grand vision where some day there will be super cheap WiMax (only) enabled devices that are perfect for SMS, IM, sharing pictures and video, and VoIP calls. They’ll be available in vending machines and a quick password entry (or biometric signature) will instantly customize the device for your personal use (as all your information will inevitably be in the cloud). Ok – I know it’s a bit out there and I don’t think that happens in 2007 (probably not in 2008 either) but as I said, I’m excited about the possibilities that come with ubiquitous, ultra-high bandwidth.

4. Innovation for international markets. Is 2007 a watershed year in the sense US based companies start thinking about developing technologies primarily for international markets? The $100 laptop? Clearly there has complete acceptance of the idea of leveraging international talent and labor to build products for the US market (first), it will be interesting to see how global market demands influence innovation here in the US.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to drop me a note anytime (john@lightspeedvp.com)