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Guest Post from Brian J. Hayes

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

The best and worst of Columbia's Cluster D, respectively: Brian Hayes and me

Note: Brian’s text is indented below in grey.

Several weeks ago, Columbia Business School hosted a series of auctions to support the school’s Social Enterprise Program.  Some students donated ethnic cooking lessons, others offered tee times at exclusive golf courses, and a few even invited winning bidders to their beach homes or ski cabins.  However, lacking anything of real value to donate, I was pressured to jokingly add a “guest blog post” on MikeKatz.com to the list of auction items.

Whoa, that was a mistake.

By the time the dust settled, the right to embarrass me on my own website was the highest selling item, and Brian Hayes, the person with the most dirt on me in the entire room, had won the auction.  Oh crap.

Brian is one of the smartest people I know and I actually lost some sleep recently fretting over how he would skewer me with his 250 words.  However, somewhere in my worry I lost sight of the fact that Brian is the classiest of class acts.  Below is his unedited guest blog post, and I am very appreciative of his friendship and camaraderie over the past two years.  I’m also thrilled he’s moving to the West Coast after graduation.  Brian, I’ll save you a spot in line at the DMV to get our California driver’s licenses.

What New York loses on May 31st, by Brian J. Hayes

 

One of its most eligible bachelors. A Hoya Hoops Hysteric. Cluster D’s social glue. Business school’s funniest Wadhwa impression. The middleman in the picnic table triumvirate. Sarah McCue’s biggest competition. The instigator of all nights that go past 4am. The popularizer of the bow tie down look. A cluster cup representative with the right level of urgency and competitiveness for his constituency. One of the only non-bandwagon San Francisco Giants fans. A guy with a brilliant knack for having a video camera out at the right time. The President of the Boozy Book Club. A guy who can pull off seersucker in March. A non-rugby-playing Rugby Happy Hour devotee. Half of the Katzaghan beer pong team. One of the few guys who left Oktoberfest with his dignity. A “Step Brothers” aficionado. A wine class veteran. The creator of the “Dudes’ Baby Shower” concept. A self-proclaimed dance floor dominator. A man secure enough in his masculinity to rock pink pants. A brilliant venture capital mind. A proud wearer of all three D-shirts. A runner, cyclist, and swimmer. The leader of the “Blocked Out” PLS quartet. A founding member of the Steak Club. A future member of the Columbia Business School Board of Trustees. The most gracious party host ever. A Social Enterprise auction all-star. The holder of an inordinate number of reservations to top-notch restaurants. The inventor and most enthusiastic participant of Dude’s Night.

A true friend.

Good luck Mike Katz! Stay in touch!

By the way, Brian was elected by the members of the Class of 2011 to give the final speech at graduation.  The video of his remarks aren’t yet available online, but I will post them as soon as possible.  No hyperbole: it was the best commencement speech I have ever heard.

Columbia’s Private Equity & Venture Capital Conference

Saturday, February 26th, 2011
MBK and SJE

My nervous intro followed by Stuart Ellman's solid keynote (fun fact: this was the first time I've worn a tie at Columbia)

Yesterday was the 17th Annual Columbia Business School Private Equity & Venture Capital Club Conference.  We had a slew of fantastic speakers, a plethora of outstanding panelists, and the 750+ attendees were a who’s-who of the industry.  Part of my role as co-President of the club is getting credit for things I actually had very little to do with, and the PEVC Conference is certainly an example of this.  The event was great and Laura D’Antonio, Sean Karamchandani, Kunal Shah, Matt Wiener, and their army of AVPs and volunteers deserve all of the praise.

Our afternoon keynote speaker was Stuart Ellman, co-founder of RRE Ventures and a member of Columbia’s adjunct faculty (I’m also the teaching assistant for his course which he teaches with Will Porteous).  While Stuart was writing his speech in the weeks leading up to the conference, I was privy to the drafts he produced as well as several conversations he had with colleagues about key sections.

I won’t share the details here, but one thing I was previously oblivious to was how time-consuming the preparations are for these sorts of speeches.  Apparently, most speechwriters guess it takes one hour of writing, revising, and rehearsing for every minute of speech-giving.  Stuart spoke for about 30 minutes which is roughly in-line with the 25 hours he estimates it took to produce the final work.  I would highly recommend checking out his full speech (warning: my shaky intro is up first), but I transposed the last minute or so below.  His major theme was about challenging all players in the VC industry to be unconventional in their thinking in order to find the next big idea.  Here’s my favorite part:

So, what does all this mean for venture capitalists and limited partners, and what relevance, if any, does it have for entrepreneurs?

First, for Venture Capitalists, recognize that an overwhelming number of people and firms in our industry are trying to succeed conventionally and that an enormous amount of capital will flow to companies that represent what has recently come into fashion. If you are doing a deal, do you really KNOW that it is the best company in a given market space? Do you really understand the sheer number of competitors that already exist? What do your best entrepreneurs, particularly the young ones, think about this deal? Above all, do not fear the unconventional.

Secondly, for Limited Partners, recognize that success in the future will not necessarily look like success in the past. Outsized returns come from unusual risks. You want your general partners to invest in and build the next generation of great companies; recognize that those opportunities aren’t necessarily going to be in “hot” spaces when they do the deals. Instead, listen for the tension, listen for the controversy, listen for how your GP’s expect value to be created in non-standard ways.

Finally, for entrepreneurs: Be bold! Be original! See where the crowd is going. Understand the “new” conventional wisdom and the extraordinary flows of capital that gravitate toward it and do something different. Be determined and, most of all, do not fear failure.

In the end, it all comes down to how you think about failure. I tell my companies not to fear failure. I tell my students not to fear failure. I tell my children and myself not to fear failure. I would rather fund someone who has failed for the right reasons and is hungry than someone who was successful and either complacent or lucky. For venture capitalists, failing conventionally is not really taking a risk. It is just doing what the rest of the industry is doing and dying a slow death. The only way to really fail or succeed is to take big, unconventional risks. To do less is to condemn yourself to mediocrity.

A Little Press & Lessons Learned

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Andy Warhol, "Marilyn Monroe", 1962

If Andy Warhol was right in asserting “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” my time is officially up.  About a week and a half ago, I traded emails with Henry Blodget and before I knew it, Business Insider had re-blogged my analysis of NYC entrepreneurship.  The last time I was in any sort of publication was at least a decade ago in The Country Almanac, my tiny home town newspaper (which incidentally doesn’t even exist in the same format I grew up with).  Needless to say, I was pretty surprised and somewhat encouraged that this whole blogging experiment might be worthwhile.

Then, The New York Times linked to this blog, and provided their own summary of my thesis (see the third paragraph from the bottom).  Unfortunately, I disagree with their distillation of my original post, but I was pleased that anyone – let alone the NYT – was reading this website so I chalked it up as a net win.

From there, however, it was basically all downhill.  I didn’t appreciate two major elements of online publishing, and quickly found myself in a very foreign place.

The first is that comments, not the articles themselves, are everything for news-oriented sites.  Gawker learned this early on and has cultivated a fantastically clever – and awesomely snarky – community that’s consistent with the content their editors create (some of the contributors are so active and loyal that the company offers them full-time jobs).  In my case, thoughtful remarks started flowing in a few hours after being posted on Business Insider and they were provocative enough that I felt compelled to generate comments of my own in response.   I am confident in defending my point of view (especially when broadcasting it in as public a forum as the Internet), but I didn’t previously understand how time-consuming written rebuttals would be.

That gets me to the second factor of online publishing I didn’t appreciate: cogent concision.   Fred Wilson was the first person to comment on the post, and his note centered on a specific detail which I covered in the original version on this blog, but didn’t get copied to Business Insider.   Ultimately, we were able to get on the same page, but had I been more concise, I likely could have avoided needing to defend myself altogether.

Anyway, getting some press for this website was fun and there was a 10x uptick in traffic versus the historical average for several days.  However, since then traffic has leveled off again so I suppose Warhol was right after all.

Mike B. & Me

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Mayor Mike

I’m in a very cool Venture Capital Seminar class taught by Stu Ellman and Will Porteous of RRE Ventures. As part of this course, all students write a meaty final paper and mine is centered on the current entrepreneurial environment in New York City. As part of the research for this paper, I’ve been pestering City Hall for data on new businesses and what the Bloomberg Administration has done to attract and keep technology companies in the Big Apple.

While a magician never reveals his tricks, the punch line is that I scored 30 minutes with the Mayor in his office this morning. I was part of a small group of about a dozen people, and although Mike B. really likes to talk, meeting with him was a unique and interesting experience.

He began by fielding questions about the differences between managing corporations and managing metropolises, and then I steered him into start-ups. Specifically, I asked where entrepreneurship fits within his Administration’s priorities, and how he feels about the venture community being small in number, but having a dramatic impact in terms of job creation and the overall health of the local economy. Although he gave a pretty standard “non-answers” I was able to somewhat tweeze out which of the limitations to innovation and start-up growth he’s focused on.

Mayor Mike and Citizen Mike in the middle of each row

Specifically, he’s working on weakening non-compete agreements to make it easier for smart people to hang their own shingles, mechanisms to pool small businesses such as restaurant owners and dry-cleaners in order to provide healthcare to their employees, and zone certain parts of the city with commercial rent caps for start-ups. I know enough about politics to not believe this until I see it, but it certainly appears that we’re moving in a promising direction.

N.B. This is off topic, but my two personal highlights were when he referred to my neighborhood as the “Independent Republic of the Upper West Side” because of some exceedingly liberal citizens, and then claimed that “you can go anywhere in the world and ask someone to name two elected officials in the United States and they’ll name Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg.” Sorry Mr. Mayor, I like you, but I’d put Arnold Schwarzenegger higher up that list than you.

Hey Young Start-Ups!

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I’ve been interning for DFJ Gotham since September and worked for Pequot Ventures (now FirstMark Capital) for two years before school so I feel somewhat entitled to gripe about this: START-UPS SHOULD PUT WHERE THEY’RE BASED ON THEIR WEBSITES.

I know what they’re thinking, “my website has a slick ‘contact us’ form so I don’t need to post my snail mail address – who mails letters anyway?” Or maybe they’re saying, “I wish I could reveal my address, but it’s just me and another guy/gal working out of my apartment/garage/attic/whatever.” This is okay, I’m not suggesting companies should always include every detail, but at least put the city.  This bothers me so much because VCs, customers, and partners are bound to stumble across your site and you can significantly advance a discussion if someone knows where you are.

While we’re on the topic of pet-peeves, I’ve also been seeing companies list financial statements using “Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, etc.” This is confusing and opaque. I’d like to see companies have some confidence and attribute the information in real years like “2010, 2011, 2012, etc.” It’s more transparent and MUCH easier to follow.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Hello Again

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Columbia Business SchoolSo it’s been awhile…

Since my last post ages ago, I committed to Columbia Business School, quit my awesome job at Conductor, traveled the world for five months, and then somehow transitioned to student life again. And yeah, somewhere in there I obviously dropped the ball on blogging. I’d like to think I stopped because it was hard for me to justify spending hours in internet cafes when there was much cooler things to do on my travels. ☺ (yes, that really is a smiley face on my blog – I promise it won’t be a habit). Anyway, I’m now going to recommit myself to getting back into this – watch out blogosphere.

Going forward, I would like to say that these posts will be laser-focused around some important theme, but that’s unlikely to happen. For now, this is just going to be a place for me to write about things that interest me. Who knows? Maybe someone other than my mom and a few random spammers will actually visit the site…