When I first started talking to my now-partners about joining August Capital, I was stunned at the slow pace of the conversation. I couldn't imagine how it could take months to make a decision about whether or not to invite me to join the partnership. Admittedly, I wasn't coming from the most conventional background to enter the venture industry. But over the course of months, the August partners had more than enough time to talk with pretty much everyone I'd ever met in my professional life (plus a few choice grade school teachers while they were at it). In the end, after four months of grilling, I was invited to join August Capital.
At the time, I remember thinking to myself "how could it possibly take four months to decide?" It seemed like an absurdly long process. Yet, having now been in the venture business for some time, and having been on the other side of that process, it is amazing to me that it didn't take longer. Why is that? Two things in particular strike me.
The first is that partnerships are small, delicate creatures. At August, there were only four partners when I joined. That's not very many people. And partners spend a lot of time together. We make collective decisions about nearly all things in the partnership -- from investment decisions, to personnel decisions, to culinary decisions. And we each serve as a reality check for the rest of our partners. So keeping a partnership functional, let alone collegial, is tricky business. Rest assured, adding a new partner can throw off that balance really easily.
The second challenge is that adding a partner is a much bigger economic decision than making an investment in a company. I don't mean it is an economic decision in the sense of sharing the economics of the partnership. But rather, it is an economic decision because each new partner will be responsible for making a set of investments out of the partnership. If you make the right decision, your new partner will make investment choices that accrete large returns back to the partnership. But if you make the wrong decision, your new partner could easily invest tens of millions of dollars in companies that ultimately fail, hamstringing the overall fund returns. So adding a partner is a bit like making an indirect bet on a bunch of companies -- getting it wrong will have a widespread impact on your fund performance.
Given all that, the decks are stacked against anyone joining a venture capital partnership. It is just too easy to find reasons to say "no." Which is why it absolutely thrills me to welcome Howard Hartenbaum to the August Capital partnership. Howard has successfully run the gauntlet and come out the other side, and we are already enjoying the benefits of Howard's perspective and approach. Howard is simply a fantastic guy, and we are lucky to have him join us.
For those of you who don't know Howard, here are a few quick thoughts on why he's such a great fit for us at August.
First and foremost, Howard is a geek. After graduating from MIT, Howard didn't join an investment bank; he joined Honda Motor Company where he served as an ergonomics engineer. He got to build awesome products like the NSX. If there is one thing we like to do at partners meetings while eating lunch, it is talk about cars. Cars and email. Cars, email and digital photography. Cars, email, digital photography and high speed wireless. Cars, email, digital photography, high speed wireless and smart phones. Cars, email, digital photography . . . you get the point. Howard is a welcomed addition to the conversation.
Second, Howard firmly believes that the most important thing in a start-up are the founders. Howard has a great track record of working with entrepreneurs to help them bring their vision to fruition. As a result, entrepreneurs love Howard because he is helpful without being overbearing. What's more, Howard was an entrepreneur before becoming an investor. So he's been on both sides of the table and can bring that perspective not only to his portfolio companies, but also to our investment decisions.
And third, Howard is a great investor. Prior to joining us at August Capital, Howard was a General Partner with Draper Richards. He has invested in dozens of interesting technology companies. Notably, Howard was the very first investor in Skype and got involved in the business on the company building side (Howard was active in Skype's global business development efforts and served as the GM of Skype's US business). Howard was also an investor in Photobucket and Bebo, among many others. Howard's track record is impressive and it hasn't gone unnoticed -- he was named to the Forbes Midas List in 2007.
Given all that, it only took us a few months to invite Howard to join us at August. After all, we had to find time to talk with Howard's EE professors and his chess team coach :) We consider ourselves very lucky to have Howard as part of August Capital. He is a fantastic investor, a geek at heart, and a great guy to hang out with. What more could one ask for?