Posts from Jordan Levy

50/50 Cofounders

Mark Suster has been writing and speaking out about the challenges of a 50/50 partnership between two cofounders. He makes a ton of great points. I would like to provide the counterpoint.

I've started two venture capital firms. The first with Jerry Colonna. The second one with Brad Burnham. Both were 50/50 partnerships. Both have been fantastic experiences. I knew Jerry for a few months before I partnered with him. I knew Brad for a decade but had never worked in the same organization as him. I recognize that venture capital firms are different than companies and that a partnership model works better in VC firms than it does in companies. But these two experiences have taught me that a 50/50 partnership, like a marriage, forces the two founders to come together on all the key decisions and can lead to better decision making.

When I look through the USV portfolio, I don't see a lot of 50/50 partnerships. Of the 38 companies listed on our website, only seven started out as 50/50 partnerships. But some of our best teams were formed that way. Paul and Rony, the founders and leaders of Indeed, are the iconic version of a partnership at the top of a company. They have built possibly the best all around company in our portfolio and they have done it via a partnership model.

Two other partnership driven startups come to mind as I think back over my investment history. Gian Fulgoni and Magid Abraham at ComScore has always been a partnership and they have built a fantastic company. And Jordan Levy and Ron Schrieber, the first entrepreneurs that I worked with as a board member, introduced me to the partnership model. They were even co-CEOs.

So while Mark is right that you don't need to be 50/50 partners with your co-founder, I would say that if you feel comfortable in a 50/50 partnership, it can be a terrific way to operate and build a business. It has worked very well for me over the years and when I see a true 50/50 team show up in our office, I am always more inclined to say yes. I have a great history and pattern recognition with this model.

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Rolling Up Your Sleeves and Getting Your Hands Dirty

Charlie O'Donnell asked me last week about lessons I learned on my first venture capital investment. I'm not entirely sure what my first investment was but I know what my first board seat was. It was a company called Upgrade Corporation of America (UCA), founded by Jordan Levy and Ron Schreiber and located in Buffalo, NY.

 UCA was in the business of providing outsourced sales, fulfillment and tech support services to the desktop software business. Ron and Jordy had previously built the largest software distribution business and had sold it to Ingram. They saw their former customers like Lotus and Microsoft starting to offer upgrades to new versions of their software programs directly via telesales. And since those upgrade campaigns happened once a year, it was ideal to outsource the upgrade sales and fulfillment to a third party. That third party was UCA. It became a large business and was eventually sold to SOFTBANK Corporation of Japan. It was a very good investment.

I was in my early 30s at the time and the classic "wet behind the ears" VC. Ron and Jordy were concerned that I was going to give them all kinds of worthless advice because I didn't really understand the business like they did. I told this story a long time ago on this blog, so I'll just cut and paste the rest of it from the original post.

I went to the first board meeting. It was in Buffalo, NY and the two entrepreneurs were Ron Schreiber and Jordan Levy, both of whom have become good friends and great VCs.

After the meeting, Jordan took me aside and said "Freddy (he still calls me that), if you want us to listen to anything you say in these meetings, you are going to have to spend some serious time getting to know our business".

I guess Jordan and Ron didn't like the idea of some wet behind the ear VC trying to tell them how to run their business.

I quickly recognized that I had to earn the right to tell them what I thought they should do.

So a couple weeks later, I cleared my calendar for 2-3 days and flew to Buffalo.

Jordan had arranged for me to spend time in every part of the business, from help desk to finance to sales and everything else.

I rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty.

I met almost every employee and learned what each job entailed. I even did some of the jobs.

By the end of my stay in Buffalo that week, I had a much better idea of what the business was all about.

And it made me a much better Board member.

I have Jordan Levy to thank for that lesson. He forced me to really understand the business. And I've taken that lesson to heart in my career. I don't like to invest in businesses unless I really understand them. And when I invest in a business that I do understand, I like to "roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty." I like to engage with the management team and help them build the business.

There is a fine line between "getting your hands dirty" and meddling. You have to let the entrepreneurs and management team operate the business and make all the key decisions. But that doesn't mean you can't help them. And to help them you need to understand the business. So roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty and you'll be a better investor.

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