43: Top Venture Capitalist Harry Weller Talks Tech
We’re living in a digital sharing economy where anyone can see an idea turn into a million dollar start-up. For example, Knocki hit Kickstarter aiming for $35,000 and in 24 hours raised $300,000. But what about the venture capitalists who are looking for those best ideas to invest in? How do you get your idea in front of them?
New Enterprise Associates is a global venture capital firm helping entrepreneurs build transformational business across multiple stages and sectors. So I invited their general partner Harry Weller onto the show. He’s one of America’s top venture capitalists with honors, including being named in Forbes Midas list nine years running.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I do what’s called venture capital. In general, that means investing in people and ideas from a very early stage. It can be two or three people or smaller companies. A lot of people don’t know what venture capital is or have a negative connotation (you sometimes hear the term“vulture” capitalist) The truth of the matter is I really like to see where technology interfaces and collides with human beings and the cool things that can come from that.
My background was deploying large scale software systems into larger enterprises so I got to see in the trenches where technology was interfacing with human beings. And today what I do is really look and see and work with those wonderful teams who are using technology to create absolutely new things in the world that never existed before. And that’s my passion, that’s what I love to do and to be honest it’s really less about the technology and more about the people you work with and helping them bloom into what they can become and making their dreams real.
For anyone listening who isn’t familiar with New Enterprise Associates or the world of venture capital firms can you explain briefly what it’s about and what sectors you concentrate on?
At the end of the day, it sounds like a lot of money but the truth is what we do is we back entrepreneurs who are trying to build something new. The thing about that is there are actually three variables that really drive the kinds of investing we do:
- One is sector, which can be in our cases very broad (biotech, internet, health care services, life sciences).
- The other is geography. We invest in East Coast United States, West Coast United States, China and India.
- The last one is stage. We go from a couple people and an idea all the way through companies that might be going public soon. When you divide that three billion over those sectors and geography and stages you realize the size of the fund is really not big that is dedicated to that.
What areas of technology interest you when you’re looking to invest in something new?
I tend to try to look around corners as much as I can. I’m a venture capitalist, not an innovator, and what happens is I do enough studying and I have enough interest in technology that it leads me to interesting people. What happens is one of these interesting people will come in and present some idea and it will completely blow away everything that I thought of before. What I have is golden curiosity that leads me to people who have the golden touch.
Which deal are you most proud of? And which is the one you missed that still haunts you today?
The company I’m most proud of is one that wasn’t ultimately a massive success. It was a solar panel company called Suniva. Why I’m proud of it is that we started the company from scratch and ended up building a solar manufacturer and selling millions of dollars worth of solar panels.
As far as the company I missed it was a company in Atlanta Georgia called J Boss. It didn’t end up being a giant success. It was an open source web server piece of software that was bought by Red Hat. I loved it and knew I should do it but I was younger and intimidated by the fact that I was a junior. I didn’t hold my ground and I learned a lesson from that. Anytime you are an investor of any kind you have to hold your ground if you believe in something.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to stand out to an investor such as yourself?
All you have to do is email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t respond to every email but I do look at each one. Is it impressive and cool to you? I think most people have a pretty good idea if they have done something impressive. I just ask that when you do something you do enough on it to know it’s impressive. Test your ideas before coming to me to see if they are right. Then tell me, are you getting the response you think you will? Consumers are incredibly hard to predict.
What’s next for you?
If I were to do anything other than what I’m doing now I would go back and get my physics degree that I never finished.
If you were to pull out your smartphone now what apps have made it to that first page on your phone?
Duolingo is one of them, I’m addicted to it. I still love Twitter and Snapchat; those are probably my two favorites. We use what’s called Rocket Chat, which is an open source chat solution. And of course Amazon and then New York Times and Economist.
If there is anyone listening who wants to reach out to you or NEA what’s the best way?
You can reach me at email@example.com
Kate Barrett is our head of marketing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org