OK.. So this is waaaaaaay overdue and its not even done, but I've been so busy the last two weeks. I'll write more this week, and catch everyone up on baseball, GM softball's first game, and the rest of my life... for now, here's the first half of the California trip... I'm such a bad blogger.
So I’m writing this blog on a plane coming back to New York from San Francisco. I definitely need to recap what has been an exciting and productive trip to the West Coast. In fact, I was so busy, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write about it and I had been there since Sunday.
I left Sunday afternoon after doing the MS Walk and going out to lunch for Deirg’s birthday. Probably the most amusing part of this story has to do with the rental car that I got while out there. First off, let me give you a little background surrounding the car. Charles (my boss) and I had meetings to go to on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we planned on sharing the car while out there because we would be travelling together. I went a day early to hang out with some friends from high school, so it was up to me to get the car. Upon realizing last week that I would be out there first, and that he would have to travel in whatever I was going to rent, Charles says to me, “Oh… wait. You’re probably going to rent some kind of guido car aren’t you?” Admittedly, I did rent a Mustang convertible (in spite of the GM only policy) when I went to ILPA last year. “Oh no, we’re not having any of that. Get a Caddy.” So Maddy makes the reservation and I’m all signed up to get a DeVille, which has its own Pimp My Ride quality to it, so I didn’t entirely mind. (especially when you drive around blasting some of the XM techno stations.)
So I get to the rental place at 7:45 (10:45 NY time) and I’m pretty tired. They tell me to go to spot K-9 to get a white DeVille. I go to the spot, throw my stuff in the car and drive out, but not before stopping at the get so the guy can check my car and my contract. So I’m driving along and the whole time I’m thinking, “Wow, this is pretty chintzy interior for a Caddilac. I can’t believe anyone pays fifty grand for this thing.” So I get to the hotel and the valet parks it in the garage downstairs. PS… I really hate the whole valet concept, as well as the coat check concept. Maybe my tastes and service expectations having grown up in Brooklyn are too low brow, but the idea that I have to give someone two bucks for something that I can very easily do myself is ridiculous. Its like a little tax for having a car or a coat. Plus, with the car and the hotel, I’m someone who finds themselves coming in and out several times in a day, making the valet proposition pretty expensive. Anyway… upon getting a second wind, I called up Pastore, who I went to Regis with and is now at Stanford Law, to see if he wanted to hang out. He invited me over to the campus and so I went downstairs to get the car. The valet pulls up in a big white Buick. Amused at how he could easily confuse the two cars, I pretty smugly laugh and say, “Umm.. wrong car. I have a Caddy.” The valet looks at me like I have three heads and says, “Sir… this is definitely the car you drove up in.” So I look and there’s the little Avis keychain and the newspaper that was on the front seat. It was definitely the car I drove in. I couldn’t believe it.
What makes this so unbelievable is the sequence of events that made this possible. One, is the fact that it was on my mind that I was getting a Caddy, and so how I ever walked up to that spot and didn’t notice that there was a Buick Park Avenue sitting in the spot is beyond me. And its not like I don’t know cars. I just went to the car show last week, and I’m a GM employee for crying out loud. Ok, so maybe I can chalk that up to jet lag. The real surprise is how I even got out of the parking lot with the car. I definitely had a contract for a Caddy, and my contract definitely didn’t match the car I was driving. So what exactly did that guy in the little booth check? I mean… he looked at the contract, and looked at the car, but that’s all he did was look. There was definitely no reading and certainly no cognition on his part. (Nice.. we’re landing in a half hour. Jeff Barman is also on the plane with me, btw… he’s out like a light.) Then, on top of that, not once when I was ripping on the crappy interior did it occur to me that I wasn’t actually in a Caddy. Amazing and extrordinarily embarrassing. I must have looked like a complete idiot to that valet.
So, Monday morning, I head back to the airport to switch the cars. Problem solved. Interior: Much nicer. J After calling in to my group’s Monday morning meeting, I went for a run on the Stanford campus. I don’t think I’ve seen so many people biking around in one place. It was kind of nice—definitely very different than I’m used to. Lately, I’ve had the growing sense that I should be going somewhere that is different—that I should mix it up a little bit from what I’m used to, which is why I’m leaning towards Stanford over a Northwestern or Harvard. Granted I haven’t even taken the GMATs yet, but, well, failure is not an option.
For lunch, I went out with Valarie Cooper and Alissa Douglas from CM Capital. I met Valarie at ILPA in Toronto. She’s one of the many great people I’ve met through ILPA. I don’t know if its buy side people, private equity people, or maybe just my own discerning aura, but I seem to meet a lot of really nice people in this industry. Even some, albeit some, of the investment bankers I’ve met have been somewhat reasonable human beings. She’s been icredibly helpful, and she introduced me to Alissa, who is an analyst at CM that just graduated from Stanford. We talked on the phone previously and she told me all about her decision process and the application. Both were highly amused by the Buick Story.
That night, I went to the Giants-Padres game at SBC park with Pastore and Christ Cutul. It was a bit drizzly, but otherwise, it was great. We got tix six rows up from the field down the left field like—about 90 feet from Barry Bonds. Barry also lauched a homer off David Wells to top it off. Its so funny how, when you’re watching two teams you don’t really care about, your main interest becomes padding your fantasy baseball stats. I was happy that Bonds hit another home run, but not so happy that it came off of Boomer. At the end of the game, it was 4-1 going into the 9th and Matt Herges get totally screwed out of a save. He gets two outs and puts a guy on. All of the sudden, there’s activity in the bullpen. What?? This guy is your closer, why is anyone warming? Where’s the confidence? Marquis Grissom boots a shallow fly ball that would have ended the inning. Two more hits and Herges is gone, all with two outs. How's he supposed to gain any confidence if he looks out onto the OF grass (which is where bullpen is) and sees two guys up throwing. Once you put your closer in, you leave him in. He should be the last man out of the bullpen. Case closed. I was pissed.
Anyway, Tuesday was extremely hectic. We had five meetings set up, and I ran Charles ragged. He said he didn’t get much sleep the night before, and Tuesday nearly killed him. First, we went to breakfast at Il Forniao, which I suppose is the center of all activity in Palo Alto. It was at that point that I realized that I was grossly overdressed. I don’t think anyone has a tie within a 50 mile radius of that place. Oh well. Our first meeting was at Mayfield Partners, a top tier firm that we would definitely like to work with in some capacity, whether we are doing deals with them or as an LP in their fund. One of our other GPs made an introduction for us, so we were lucky to meet one of the main guys there, Kevin Fong as well as their CFO. These are the guys that backed 3Com, Citrix, Amgen, etc. It looks like they have a good core there, as two of the main guys are still there, and a partner at Focus said that there’s a third that is a great up and comer. I thought the meeting went well. Charles did most of the speaking, obviously. In fact, I was pretty lucky to be at the meeting at all, as private equity analysts go. At 24, GM gets me into a lot of things that not a lot of other analysts my age get exposed to. Kevin was a lot more like I conceptualized VCs to be than most of the people I’ve met. He had trendy spiked up hair and an electronic notepad on the back of his laptop. You could just tell he was all about the technology. I think if you’re investing in this stuff, you have to be playing with it on your own time as well, which is why I think Steve Jobs has such a great handle on what consumers will go for at this point in time.
Mayfield had a couple of deals that they suggested we take a look at, because of our connection to GM. In fact, we’ve seen a lot of deals over the past few years from people wanting inroads into the corporation. Because of that, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make those connections, not just for companies we invest in, but for ourselves, so we can get a window on how a huge enterprise spends its technology dollar.
After Mayfield, we went to visit DotEdu, a seed stage fund recommended to us by David Hornick from August. That was a very different experience—no marble floors at this place. This was a bare bones office with dry erase boards full of ideas. Now I felt even more out of place in a suit. Their story was an interesting one and Charles finally got his Google question answered. The partners of this fund had great inroads into west coast university technologies, and one of the parters even taught the Google guys when they were grad students. Charles wanted to know who really drove the success of that company and how much of factor the two VC’s, Kleiner and Sequioa, were, and how they got into the company. I don’t want to give the answer here, but let’s just say this team’s insights made us think that we really discovered an opportunity going forward. One notable quote from the meeting came from Naval Ravikant, who used to work with David at August. He said that it has become so much less expensive to fund a great technology partner—between acquiring talent, outsourcing programming, manufacturing, etc—that he said that most funds are too large based on what companies really need in terms of financing.
For lunch, I finally got to meet up with David Hornick. David and I had exchanged a few comments on the blog that he writes along with a few other VCs: www.ventureblog.com, and he was nice enough to agree to come out to lunch with me and Charles. Should you ever meet him, you need to get him to recite scenes from The Princess Bride. I don’t know how that’s useful in the VC world, but who cares. Anyway, he’s a very down to earth guy and should prove to be a reasonable voice in this bizzare little world VCs have put together. I hope he succeeds in finding his blowout deal.
To be continued…