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Succeeding without “Remaking Ourselves”

December 2, 2007


Scott Kirsner is, in my view, one of the better tech journalists our there, and in addition to writing for the Boston Globe has a couple really good blogs: Innovation Economy and CinemaTech.

In a post on an entirely different topic, Scott gave us what I think was intended as a compliment by calling as an “old line” VCs who was “remaking” itself to remain current and in touch with contemporary entrepreneurs. I just left a comment (really more of a rant) to this post, taking poor Scott to task for suggesting we had to “remake” ourselves to accomplish this. As I mentioned in the comment, this topic is something I feel really strongly about, so much so that I have decided to reprint my comment in its entirety here:

“Scott: I am going to assume your reference to Polaris was meant as a hat tip that unlike some of our “old school” peers sitting high abovethe reservoir on Winter St, we are doing lots of things, like blogging and getting out and about in the entrepreneurial community, that break downthe perceived walls between entprepreneurs and the guys with the gold. And I certainly won’t argue with that observation. However, I WILL argue with your choice of the phrase “remaking ourselves.”

Having been a partner at Polaris over an 8 year period which has seen tremendous upheaval in the venture business, both in terms of investing strategy, culture and personnel, I actually take a whole lot of pride in the fact that Polaris has stayed true to the very same strategic, cultural and organizational principles that have guided our approach to venture capital since the day the firm was founded. In fact, I will go so far as to say our strategic and organizational stability is one of Polaris’s great distinctions and strengths in the venture business.

For example, unlike a number of our peers who have only recently come around to a strategy of “stage and sector diversification,” we have ALWAYS partnered both with entrepreneurs at the very earliest stages of company formation as well as with owners of more mature profitable businesses looking for growth capital; and we have ALWAYS backed entrepreneurs in broadly diverse sectors ranging from biopharma to digital media to computing infrastructure.

And, while we have enjoyed substantial growth in the partnership since our founding in 1995, we have also enjoyed one of the most stable partnerships in the business. Nine active Polaris partners have been with the firm for seven years or more, and EVERY General Partner has been with Polaris for at least 5 years. Compare this to the number of “top tier” VCs who established great track records in the ’90s but have only been able to remain current by recently hiring brand new “consumer Internet” “life science” or “energy” partners.

Finally, and more to the point of your post, if you ask people who know us well (and, to be honest, I had assumed you yourself did!), Polaris has always put a huge emphasis on human capital, and we have always put a ton of time and energy into getting to know the most promising up and coming entrepreneurs, often years before they are looking to raise capital, whether it be in the biotech labs at MIT, dinners and drinks at Nantucket, salons at the Metcalfe home, our annual Digital Media Summit, or any other of the dozens of opportunities each and every partner seeks to get to know the founders of the next Akamai or Momenta.

The way I was taught venture capital — and this literally was something the Polaris founders expressly emphasized from my first week on the job –getting out to find and get to know the best emerging entrepreneurs is the bread and butter of our business, and in my view if you don’t enjoy this you shouldn’t be a VC. In fact, I would go so far as to say this not only is something each and every Polaris partner considers part of our job, but it is our favorite part of the job.

So there you have my one issue with your post! Apologies for what ended up being a bit of a rant, but, as you might sense, my firm’s ability to succeed over the course of five funds without ever having to “remake” the partnership actually is a huge asset for us, and something I feel strongly about.

But, that small, tiny, eensy quibble aside, appreciated your post!”

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