Throughout November, in honor of Veteran’s Day, on the Kauffman Fellows Podcast, guest host Wayne Moore (KF Class 25) leads a mini-series called “Vet to Venture,” sitting down with other vets to discuss how the values, skills, and training instilled in the military are transferable to the civilian world, especially in entrepreneurial or capital formation roles.
Wayne’s entire mini-series is filled with stories of focus, discipline, and perseverance. To ALL our veterans: thank you for your sacrifice, your bravery, and the example you set for us all.
In each episode, you’ll hear conversations about their transition from military to managing partner, how they found success via untraditional paths, and why many vets are interested in pursuing venture. Click the links below to tune into each episode and catch a summary of Renana’s mini-series below by flipping through an eBook summarizing some of the key findings from her conversations.
- Todd Connor, Founder of Bunker Labs, details how he’s helping veterans embrace entrepreneurship and venture capital. > PLAY NOW
- Tyson Clark (KF Class 21), Partner at Google Ventures, shares his incremental path from attack submarine officer to venture capitalist. > PLAY NOW
- Sherman Williams (KF Class 26), Managing Partner at Academy Investor Network, explains how AIN offers a platform for U.S. Service Academy Graduates to invest in venture-backed startups. > PLAY NOW
- Zachary Ellis, Managing Partner at HTX Fund, discusses how to develop a robust ecosystem that fosters innovation. > PLAY NOW
- Brad Harrison, General Partner at Scout Ventures, shares how to stand out in a competitive market where there’s more money than companies. > PLAY NOW
- Larsen Jensen, Co-Founder and General Partner of Harpoon Ventures, discusses his experience connecting VCs with federal government buyers. > PLAY NOW
Wayne’s first two guests include Tyson Clark of GV and Todd Connor of Bunker Labs — both Navy Officers turned investors. As you tune in, you’ll hear them explore the value of spending time in the military, how veterans can embrace VC and entrepreneurship, and how to navigate the transition from military to civilian life.
This season of the Kauffman Fellows Podcast is produced in partnership with Mighty Capital. Together, we unravel what truly makes a great VC investor. Catch each episode below or on iTunes, Spotify, and Anchor.fm.
GV’s Tyson Clark on His Incremental Path to VC
In the first episode of Wayne Moore’s “Vet to Venture” podcast series, Wayne speaks with Tyson Clark, who is currently a Partner at GV. Tyson is also a Kauffman Fellow (KF Class 21) and a former Navy Officer. Together, they dive into Tyson’s first forays with VC, how he chose the path of investing after completing business school, and how the lessons learned in the military have translated into his work as a VC.
Tune in and catch some of our favorite soundbites below!
On choosing a path in VC
Coming out of business school, Tyson said he was interested in getting into VC but at that time didn’t see a direct path.
“It felt like there was no way for me to compete for a coveted spot at a venture capital fund coming out of an MBA program. And so what I decided to do is what I think most vets do, coming out of business school, they do consulting, banking, or they do a leadership program, like Pepsi.
I chose investment banking, and that was probably one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life. I went to Morgan Stanley; they have a tech group that is based in Menlo Park on Sand Hill Road. I was right in the midst of all the folks you want to meet on the VC side. And I was there for about two and a half years, mostly focused on IPOs and M&A.”
On his first forays into VC
From Morgan Stanley, Tyson made a series of moves, including operating roles at Oracle and Andreesen, before connecting with GV.
“The folks at GV were looking for someone who came from the corporate debt world, who knew corporate debt people, and who knew enterprise. So much of this is serendipity, right? You need the right fund at the right time. And you have the right skill set to complement the existing partnership. And that’s what happened. It’s been a six-year ride since I’ve been at GV focusing mostly on enterprise technology, everything from SaaS to infrastructure, and all things in between.”
On creating serendipity
Tyson credits many opportunities to serendipity and considers serendipity to be different from luck.
“When we talk about the path, so much of this is serendipity. Because it’s different from luck. It’s this notion that you build your network, you’re on people’s radar, as much as you can be, you’ve impressed the right people along the way. So when the opportunity comes up, your name is on the list, right? And then you compete, but there’s no really hardcore path to break into VC. It’s more so that you’re on their radar.”
On incremental progress and choosing your own path
In contrast to the “wunderkind” who managed to launch straight from B-school into VC, Tyson put himself on a more incremental path to VC.
“Each step in retrospect seems like a logical next step. But at the time, I had some plan, just taking the next gig that seemed like it made a sensible story. The takeaway from my experience is there are multiple ways to get in. Don’t take any one person’s advice. And if you really want to break into VC right now, you should go that path, just recognize that it’s always tough.”
On the value of his time in the military
Tyson worked for more than two years on a nuclear submarine and learned technical skills, but other facets were valuable as well, including relationships and a growth mindset.
“There’s something about the folks that you meet in the military, the friends that you make there that just endure.”
In addition, being an officer on a ship is essentially running an organization, and there’s a lot to learn as a newcomer. “You have some seasoned people on your team who have experience and you’re supposed to lead them.
You can show up on day one acting like you know everything, giving people orders and directions — or you can sit back and learn. Focus on taking care of people, think of your troops, and make sure they’re okay.
Or you can be that person who thinks they’re in charge. This person spends all their time in this space, if it’s life insurance, or if it’s computer chips, or if it’s cybersecurity — they’re gonna know more than you.
Their knowledge base will be more up-to-date than your knowledge base, no matter what your background is. That doesn’t mean you can’t give advice but you have to be aware that you’re working with founders who know more than you about the space that they’re offering, and your goal is really to take care of them, to advise them to make sure they succeed — make sure they have what they need.”
Bunker Labs Founder, Todd Connor, On How He’s Helping Veterans Embrace Entrepreneurship and VC
In the second episode of Wayne Moore’s “Vet to Venture” series, he chats with Todd Connor, former Navy Officer and Founder of Bunker Labs. Todd works with military veterans and military spouses who want to start their own businesses. He and Wayne discuss Todd’s entrepreneurial journey and the framework that Bunker Labs uses to help veterans make the transition into entrepreneurship.
Tune in and catch some of our favorite soundbites below!
On transitioning from military service to civilian life
Upon leaving the Navy, Todd realized he had taken working in a mission-aligned place for granted. He missed the sense of service and got busy finding and creating that for himself.
“I think you take a dip and then you go to work to get yourself back to what you think was parity with your perceived peer set. At least that’s how it was for me. I transitioned. I went to business school. I got on my feet, smoothed out, life was okay.
Then I started to look around and think, ‘I’m not sure that this is what I want to be doing.’ I had a few dreams and desires and I didn’t have a sophisticated plan. I didn’t actually know how to go from working as a management consultant to having my own leadership development business into exploring things in the public sector. But I DID know that where I was wasn’t going to get me to where I wanted to go. So I left my job and, and started pursuing things in ways that were sometimes unstrategic, sometimes strategic, usually fulfilling, not always financially rewarding. And in that jumbled kind of state, I figured out a few things I wanted to be doing and then found success and alignment (personally as well as with the businesses that I was starting).”
On developing his process for becoming an entrepreneur
While Todd’s journey from military service to civilian service in entrepreneurship was not orderly, he found great value in developing a framework that allows other vets to follow a smoother path.
“Looking back on it, my great desire is to help codify a process for that. What for me felt messy, and what for a lot of people feels messy, I’ve actually come to believe that there’s a process by which that happens. And that’s why I wrote Third Shift Entrepreneur: Keep Your Day Job, Build Your Dream Job, because there is actually a method to that madness, an alchemy that is predictable, in some ways, for orienting yourself to your highest and best use towards becoming an entrepreneur.”
How Bunker Labs helps veterans make the transition into entrepreneurship
The ultimate goal of Bunker Labs is to get more people to start businesses. How do you do that? Todd believes it’s by creating network density and giving entrepreneurs a space to meet.
“To date, we’ve got chapters in about 42 cities, so it’s working. If we believe that participation in Bunker Labs means something and entrepreneurs and investors and other people that could be relevant show up to that place, then it will, in fact, be that relevant place for everybody.”
On advising veterans turned entrepreneurs about VC involvement
Only a small percentage of these new companies will be venture backable, so how does Todd advise them on VC potential?
“I tell founders something counterintuitive, which is if you’re building something and doing something that is of value, a couple of things: Number one, investors will find you because they have their own mechanisms for understanding that. Number two, you may not need investors. So I just share that at the outset, I try to encourage people to train their sights elsewhere.
Where do I tell them to train their attention? Solve a problem and get customers. That’s the crux of it. If you’re going to need outside capital, you’ll get to a point where that’s apparent and relevant.
If you have demonstrated that you’ve created something of value (because you solve a problem), and it’s a problem that people need solved (and you know this because they’re willing to pay you to solve it), then you have the complete story to bring to an investor.”