The illustrious panel – all seven of them, kicked off by introducing themselves. The panel includes the outspoken Kim Polese, the very outspoken Patrick Chung, Pete Flint, Deepak Jayaraman, Elena Taggart Medo, Allen Morgan, and Kulveer Taggar. They are all pictured below. Not in that order.
Polese said her curse was being too early but perseverance and determination are required to bring a product to market. She worked at Sun Microsystems as a product manager with total responsibility for getting a technology out into the market. The poor woman worked on C++ but then got involved in the now famous Java. Polese got involved in Marimba and took the company to an IPO and a successful exit. She’s rich then.
And so on to Allan Morgan, a man who tries to identify opportunities in very very very new companies. Morgan said he was a lawyer in Silicon Valley, spent 12 years as a VC and now he has turned into an angel, rather than a VC devil.
Pete Flint looks for drivers and disruption. Not much chance of him encountering that in car unfriendly Oxford. He likes being passionate about stuff. If you’re not passionate, you’re quickly going to quit. After he graduated from Magdalen he became one of the founders of lastminute.com. He saw the internet pretty early on – he looked at travel and stock broking. In the mid 1990s both were going to be transformed by the wibbly web.
Deepak Jayaram said he felt a little bit left out of it because he started off in private equity but he found out how entrepreneurs dealt with having a tough time. Deepak said the comments about disruption are interesting but now there’s more talent on the street than any time in his lifetime. Capital is out there. It’s only at times things are falling apart that there are opportunities out there.
A token entrepreneur said he started a web site but then went onto Deutsche Bank. In 2006 it was horrible to start things up. There were no investors, no angels but stumbled upon an incubator. He’s started a second company now after managing to sell his other one. Now he’s into mobile. Nearfield communication is the name of the game. He knew it existed in Asia. Start up ideas should be framed as questions. Now they are trying to bring nearfield communications to the USA.
Elena Medo described herself as a serial entrepreneur and she set up her first company in 1975.
In the 1980s she started her first medical company but she was having her family. Ultrasound was very new and she started that company but she was up against an international monopoly. She sold that company but things went tits up and she remembered her husband beating his head against the desk. Milk is the key to infant health worldwide. In 1999 she started a company taking breast milk from donors and tailoring it to pre-term babies. No one wanted to invest in it. In August 2001, she had $5 million lined up but after 9/11 everyone held out. You have to learn how to extend your world. Now she has started another company which changes the milk donor model. In her business the supply side is quite important. She’s starting the world’s first mothers’ milk cooperative.
And now for the Q&A. How do the angels and VCs whiff an opportunity? Morgan said that if you do early stage investing the hardest thing to do is trying to figure out what the market is they’re after. Building a cheaper product is not that interesting. You have to decide whether a startup is going to be disruptive or something that starts a new market. He relies on 32 years of experience working in the consumer internet area, he doesn’t like semiconductors or biotech because he doesn’t understand either of those fields. You have to rely on who the person is and you can’t draw a straight line between A and B.
Chung said that people are starting businesses in a market that doesn’t really exist. He has backed six or seven college dropouts. Any ideas they have should not disobey the laws of physics. The persistent thing is the person who usually hasn’t done anything before, so it comes down to the person. You can take a view based on gusto, and he says we will back a person from failure to failure to failure to success. That is nothing to do with the person at all.