Elevator Pitch: IVP's Steve Harrick

Time once more for Elevator Pitch, where top tech investors talk about the kinds of deals they’re looking for — and the kinds of mistakes entrepreneurs should avoid. This week, we’ve got Steve Harrick, who joined Institutional Venture Partners back in 2001.

The Yale and Harvard graduate has become a repeat visitor on the Forbes Midas List of top VCs thanks to investments in companies like Aerohive Networks, CafePress, eHealth and MySQL — the last of which was bought by Sun Microsystems for $1 billion.

Q: HOW’D YOU GET INTO THIS RACKET?

A: I worked at Netscape during the summer of 1996, between years in business school. That experience served as my introduction to California and to the technology community on the West Coast. I loved it — and planned to return to Netscape as a product manager, when a well known venture firm in Boston pulled my resume from the HBS resume book and asked me to interview with them.

I interviewed with every member of the firm, and when I asked them why they were interested in me, they responded: ‘Because of your Internet experience.’ To which I replied sheepishly, ‘It was only four months’. Their quick response — ‘that’s four months more than anyone else has.’ I accepted the job as an associate and began my venture career in 1997.

Q: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT VC?

A: I enjoy helping entrepreneurs create businesses of sustainable value. When this is done right, the result is a wonderful, innovative place to work — and several thousand jobs supporting families.

Q: WHAT KINDS OF PITCHES ARE YOU LOOKING FOR NOW?

A: Rapidly growing, differentiated, high-margin businesses, competing in large markets. I recognize that I am not the only one looking for these.

Q: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE ENTREPRENEURS MAKE? A: Putting any objective ahead of hiring great people. Technology companies are defined not only by their IP but by the people who work together to assemble a great business to deliver, sell and position that intellectual property.

Attracting great people during each phase of a company’s development is fundamental to success.

Q: WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG THING GOING TO BE?

A: Utilizing the decade’s worth of technological advancement in low-cost, efficient computing power to extract actionable information from large data sets.

Q: IVP IS A LATE-STAGE FIRM, SO YOU’RE PROBABLY NOT GETTING COLD CALLS FROM INVESTORS. HOW DO YOU SOURCE MOST OF YOUR DEALS?

A: We take a proactive approach to identifying the companies that are executing most effectively in the marketplace and show the most promise. We then approach management of those companies directly and work with their existing investors to create a financing that benefits all involved.

Q: IVP WAS FOUNDED BY REID DENNIS BACK IN 1980. IN THE DOT-COM ERA, A GROUP OF PARTNERS SPUN OUT TO FORM REDPOINT. HOW HAS YOUR FIRM THRIVED OVER THE YEARS AMID CHANGES?

A: We selected a strategy that addressed a need in the venture landscape and complemented our aggregate skill set as a partnership, then stuck to it. We work diligently for our companies after we invest and view ourselves as consistently constructive partners with each other and with the entrepreneurs we finance.

Peter Delevett Peter Delevett (184 Posts)

Peter Delevett covers startups and venture capital for the San Jose Mercury News. He's been a journalist in Silicon Valley since the dot-com daze.