In our latest installment of Elevator Pitch, we talk to Roger Lee, who’s been a Silicon Valley tech investor since 2001. Before that, he spent a decade co-founding companies like Corio and NetMarket. (And before that, Lee and I were college classmates, though we didn’t know each other then. His post-graduation career moves were obviously savvier than mine.)
Q: HOW’D YOU GET INTO THIS RACKET?
A: I was an entrepreneur for 10 years and realized that I was a better coach than a player.
Q: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT VENTURE CAPITAL?
A: Helping entrepreneurs avoid all of the dumb mistakes I made when I was building my companies.
Q: WHAT KINDS OF PITCHES ARE YOU LOOKING FOR NOW?
A: We have a very broad investment mandate across enterprise software and consumer services. Ultimately, we are looking for companies that are led by passionate entrepreneurs defining new markets.
Q: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE ENTREPRENEURS MAKE?
A: Bad hiring. They either hire the wrong people, and/or they don’t remove them quickly enough. This will sound like motherhood and apple pie, but great companies are built by great people.
One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Most entrepreneurs have a bold vision, but they need to complement that with great execution. If they don’t hire the right people, great execution is nearly impossible.
Q: WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG THING GOING TO BE?
A: I think the entire enterprise software stack will get rebuilt over the next 10 years. Enterprise software will look much more like Google/Apple/etc. and much less like Microsoft/Oracle/Salesforce/etc. It will be beautifully designed; be ‘bought’ (not ‘sold’) through freemium models; will incorporate ‘Big Data’ to make end-users more productive; and will factor in mobility from day one.
Q: YOU INVESTED IN GROUPON, WHICH HAS HAD A PRETTY TOUGH TIME. CAN THEY MAKE IT?
A: Absolutely. I am bullish on Groupon. Local commerce is an unbounded market, most of the competitors have disappeared and they have a huge footprint of users and merchants around the world.
People forget that they are less than 5 years old and, despite their challenges, still have a market cap of nearly $6 billion. How many companies have accomplished that in such a short period of time?
Q: YOU’VE CO-FOUNDED AND RUN SEVERAL COMPANIES THAT WERE LATER ACQUIRED. DOES THAT GIVE YOU A LEG UP WHEN IT COMES TO WOOING ENTREPRENEURS?
A: No, I don’t think so. That’s ancient history, and you always need to hustle.