How to Build an Enduring Firm
It’s extremely challenging to launch a fund; it’s harder still to build a franchise with staying power. Top firms not only produce exceptional returns for investors but also create enviable reputations within the broader investment community by serving their entrepreneurs well.
Our guest host, Mistral Venture Partners’ Founding Partner with over 25 years of experience, Code Cubitt (KF Class 25), explores what separates enduring legacy firms from the hundreds of firms that raise only one or two funds. Looking beyond the obvious and necessary economic results, Code and his guests on the Kauffman Fellows Podcast investigate the other critically important components of building a lasting firm.
Click the links below to tune into each episode and catch a summary of Code’s mini-series below by flipping through an eBook summarizing some of the key findings from his conversations.
- Mike Maples (Floodgate) on Investing in Lean Startups
- Brent Belzberg (TorQuest Partners) on Building a Long-Term Investing Team
- Susan Mason (Aligned Partners) on the Evolution of Venture Capital
- Phil Wickham (Sozo Ventures) on Building an Enduring VC Culture
- Chuck Newhall (NEA) on Building a 100-Year Firm
- Harry Gruner (JMI Equity) on Advice for Building a Long-Term Firm
To kick off his miniseries, Code Cubitt (KF Class 25) welcomes Mike Maples, Co-Founder and Partner at Floodgate, and Brent Belzberg, Senior Managing Partner at TorQuest Partners. In their conversations, they discuss how to establish a foundation with long-term views, how to prepare the next generation of investors and founders, and how investing in the top 1 percent pays off.
This season of the Kauffman Fellows Podcast is produced in partnership with Mighty Capital. Together, we unravel what truly makes a great VC investor.
Floodgate Co-Founder and Partner, Mike Maples, on Investing in Lean Startups
In Code’s first episode, he hosts Floodgate Co-Founder and Partner, Mike Maples. Floodgate invests early in the extraordinary, top 1 percent and offers high levels of support to help startups achieve extraordinary outcomes. Throughout their conversation, Mike shares how his entrepreneurial background makes him a stronger investor at Floodgate, how and why he structured his firm, and why he wants Floodgate to endure long past him.
On transitioning from being an entrepreneur to starting a fund
Maples went from being a player to becoming a coach.
“I’d been involved with two companies that had gone public in Austin. One as part of the startup team and one as part of the founding team. I was a little bit tired. I helped start Motive Inc. in 1997. Then it was 2004, and we had just gone public. I needed some time off.
Then John Thornton at Austin Ventures asked if I ever thought about being a venture capitalist. I didn’t think I’d be good at it, nor did I understand what the job was in the first place. As I was thinking about it, I told him we should look at some deals together and to just humor me — after I looked at some deals and spent time with him, I have to confess I got pretty darn interested.
“I was at a wedding, and Scott Sandell from NEA was there. He told me if I was looking at venture capital, I owed it to myself to check out what’s happening in California. I immediately got hooked on California. I ended up moving there. My kids were still in grade school, so I’d fly to California for Sunday night, stay till Thursday, only to come back when the kids got out of school. Then we all moved to Silicon Valley. At the time, Web 2.0 was starting to form, and you could tell that there would be a spectacular set of outcomes on the horizon. It was time to get the party started again on the Internet, and ground zero for it was San Francisco.”
On his original thesis
You don’t know what you don’t know until someone else points it out to you.
“It’s funny because I originally thought I would join a venture firm. I panic at how naive I was now. I went to Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital and told them I’d like to interview for a partner job. I’m amazed they even talked to me. They weren’t saying no, but they told me that’s not how it works. Venture firms tend to like to bring people on board who they’ve worked with before.
I was spending time in Silicon Valley. As I was doing that, I saw what’s now called lean startups. There was this emergence of companies, where I used to say, $500,000 is the new $5 million. Eventually, I decided to start a fund that kind of emphasizes that point of view.”
On structuring a firm
Maples structured his firm in a way that could both be fair and endure over time.
“I don’t think there’s one canonical answer. There should be a trend over time to the key partners having equal economics. In the early days, would it have been fair for [my partner] Ann Miura-Ko and I to have equal economics? I’m not sure. I raised the fund, and I’ve put the firm in business. We did the agreement we came to, and I don’t know why more firms don’t do this. I said we should agree that if this works out, fund by fund, this is how we’ll get to equal someday, so there won’t be any surprise. If we raise a bigger fund, let’s do it in relative terms. A relative management fee, relative carry. If we bring on a new partner, then that’s still a robust, durable model.
We do that with everybody now. Anybody who gets part of the carry can see their path to becoming an equal carry GP. On one level, that’s good because they have clear expectations. On the other hand, if you get to a point where you don’t think that they should be equal GPs, you have a decision to make. The reason I like it to trend to equal over time is it forces you to be objective and honest about who’s contributing and who’s not contributing.”
On building Floodgate to transcend him
“I don’t care about my legacy. Some people say they want a thing to last forever because it’s got their handprints on it. That’s not why I want it to persist. I want to persist because building a world-class, high-performance firm that embraces the new types of intellectual, gender, and ethnic diversity would matter.
If it persists, it will be because that matters to the rest of the team and me. I think that would be meaningful if we showed people that that was possible.”
TorQuest Partners’ Sr. Managing Partner on Building a Long-Term Investing Team
Kicking off his second episode on the Kauffman Fellows Podcast, Code Cubitt, welcomes Brent Belzberg, Senior Managing Partner at TorQuest Partners. As a Canadian-based manager of private equity funds with a proven track record in identifying and building value in a diversified portfolio of companies, Brent offers an insightful look into how TorQuest Partners builds out its team, trains the next generations, and establishes a solid foundation with a long-term view.
On establishing the foundation for TorQuest Partners with long-term views
Some Belzberg’s founding ideals have endured, but he and his partners also had to learn a lot through time and experience.
“This sounds a little corny, but we wanted to prove to the world that you could partner with people, be good people, treat them with respect, and still get returns that were adequate for our investors. It’s a bit like people doing ESG funds today or other funds that have a specific differentiator. Ours was that you could partner with founders and build a business off the back of that. The principles around that drive your behavior. It means you don’t try and get the last dollar, because you’re going to live with that person you’re giving the money to forever. Treat them with respect and know the value they add and the value you add.
You wouldn’t do that if you were only going to do one fund. You would only do that if you thought that was a way of building a differentiator so that when the marketplace recognized your name and your brand, they would know that’s what you represent. That was our plan. Now we’re on our fifth fund, and it appears to have worked. I won’t say we understood all of the things you had to do when we first started. The kinds of people that we had to hire, how we compensated them, or how we shared our equity with them. Those things were all developed over the last 20 years.”
On how TorQuest Partners built out their team
Belzberg and his partners knew they needed individuals who could empathize with the type of entrepreneurs they were seeking to invest in.
“We were looking for people who had great emotional intelligence in addition to their financial acumen. The only people who didn’t stay with us over the years are people who weren’t comfortable dealing with the father in Kingston, Ontario, or in Red Deer, Alberta, who had built a business that had sold a product throughout North America and who needed a solution for his family transition. That was our marketplace. If someone had emotional intelligence, they stayed with us forever. If they didn’t, but they had a higher financial argument, they went to a different place.”
On grooming the next generation
For Belzberg, it’s about elevating and delegating.
“You develop your hiring process over a very long period of time because you share decision making, and you have to know what decisions to retain at the top and which to delegate. You have to match authority and responsibility. If you don’t do that, you can’t expect people to take responsibility.
Just this morning we had a management meeting. There was a very significant argument because one of the young guys wanted to sell a certain business we have. I think there is lots of potential in it. I will ultimately do what he wants to do. He has the responsibility. Because of that, more and more decision-making ends up being in the next generation of people over time. It becomes a metamorphosis. It’s in the DNA, and it builds from within. More and more of the decisions are being made by people other than me over time.”
On tolerance for growing pains on the team
Understanding a team member’s needs and mindset is key.
“All of us make lots of mistakes. The difficulty is that when you start with nothing and build it from nothing, you’re taking big risks. You have no choice but to take them.
When you come to work with somebody, and your negotiations are generally around the size of your salary and the size of your bonus, the hardest thing is to get those people to understand that they’re investors. They’re not employees. They have to act that way, and they have to fight for the big prize. That’s a transition.
To some extent, it comes from financial security. It’s Maslow’s Theory. If you’re at an early stage, and your kids are in school, and you can’t afford a house, it’s hard for you to take the big risks. If you have a level of financial security, then it’s easier for you to take some risks.”