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Help Wanted: High Peaks Recruiting General Partner

April 9, 2012

Brad Svrluga

Last week was a very fun week here at High Peaks. It always feels good (…really damn good…) when you get to send a nice chunk of change home to your LPs. It’s what we get paid to do, after all. And we had the chance to do that last week thanks to TxVia’s sale to Google.

Getting to the other side of a momentum-building event like that has a way of getting one thinking about the future. For me, that leads to kicking off a concerted effort to add a new partner to the High Peaks team.

Bringing new partners into venture firms is an interesting process. And usually, for some reason, it’s very secretive. Like most people who’ve been an investing partner in this business for awhile, I’ve gotten a bunch of calls about GP searches over the past several years. Those conversations have always had a strange cloak of secrecy about them. They come from some fancy recruiter, not an actual partner at the VC shop, and the firm in question is often not named in an initial conversation.

I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I know that approach is not for us. As we work to grow our team and take our next big steps into the future, there will be no secrets about what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. I’d much rather throw my strategy out there and have people pick it apart. I know we’ll learn a lot from the process.

I’ve already had a bunch of interesting conversations with folks, and they’ve led to a ton of new ideas. Inspired by those early conversations, I want to double down and have as many more of them as I can.

So with this post, I’m saying broadly to the venture community:

“I’m looking to add a new General Partner to the first class team we’re assembling.  If you’re interested or have ideas about who we should speak to let’s talk.”

I’ll share some specifics on what we’re looking for, but first, some thoughts on what we’re up to.

High Peaks has gradually transitioned over the past five years from our roots in the hinterlands to a base and focus of activity in the booming NYC technology scene. We started doing early stage deals in NYC in 2005, and in the last 15 months alone have made 11 new seed and early stage investments in the heart of New York City.

We added a rock star Associate (recently promoted to Principal), Rahul Gandhi, to our NYC office in late 2010, and brought on Mark Peter Davis as a part-time Venture Partner in early 2011. When my co-founding partner Bela Musits retired last fall to return to academia, it left a hole in our organization that, while painful at first, we now view as unique opportunity to solidify the next era for the firm.

So I’m excited now to take the next step and complete our transition with the addition of a NYC-based full partner this year. I think this is a pretty unique opportunity for someone who wants to become a critical contributor to building something exciting. On the one hand, we’ve built a great foundation already. We’ve got a first fund under our belt that is a very strong performer, and a second fund that is off to an awesome start.

On the other hand, there’s infinite room for creativity and new ideas. This is decidedly NOT the kind of gig where you slot yourself into an established firm that has a set way of doing things. This is more like “come join us and add your brain to ours as we work to build one of the best early-stage firms in the country.” Everything is on the table.

So what are we looking for? A few thoughts on the ideal:

  • Alignment with Our Mission:  Success and Respect are the two foundational principles on which we’re building this firm. I want someone who has succeeded at most of the things they’ve touched, and who has done that in a way that leaves 100% of those they touch feeling like they were treated with true respect. Said differently, I want a star, but no assholes, please.
  • A Peer:  I want a true partner. Some firms call themselves partnerships, but are effectively hierarchical in their structure – with one partner who is effectively CEO and then one or more lieutenants underneath him. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to build a firm, but it’s not my thing. I’d much prefer to build a true partnership.
  • A Rock Star:  I don’t want anyone to ever question whether or not I’m the smartest/most talented guy around our partner table. I want them to be damn sure that I’m NOT. Being successful in this business takes a lot of things, but very high on that list is raw horsepower. I hope I find an intellectual five tool player that makes me feel like I need to show up every day with my A game just to keep from being left in the dust.
  • Drive: I want a take-no-prisoners, ambitious son-of-a-bitch. I’m not in this to play it safe and stay the course. I’m in this to build a firm that is important, that lasts, and that seizes a true leadership position in the New York early-stage marketplace. That takes a real motor.
  • Operational Experience:  I’d love to have an operator-turned-investor. There’s nothing better than this combination. I got my (admittedly limited) operational experience only mid-stream in my venture career, and there is no doubt that I emerged from it a radically better investor and advisor. While I’m not dogmatic in believing that you have to have ops experience to be a good investor, I do think it’s a major plus.
  • VC Experience:  I want someone who knows the business. Training a new VC, even if you’re a brilliant, proven, successful entrepreneur, is a high beta exercise. I’ve seen it work spectacularly well, and I’ve seen it fail miserably. With only one bullet to shoot here, I know I don’t want to take that risk. That said, the investing experience I want needn’t come from inside a proper venture firm. Someone who’s proven herself as an investor in and/or advisor to a number of startup success stories as an individual or angel could fit the bill well.
  • Gray Hair Not Required: I’m happy to have someone whose track record is just emerging or someone who is a proven veteran. I don’t need decades of experience here, and I’m wide open to bringing on someone whose reputation and track record are super promising, but perhaps mostly on the come. As long as I find someone who has proven an ability to find great opportunities and work effectively with CEOs to support the growth of those business, I’m open to a whole range of levels of experience.
  • Humility:  If you’re lacking in this, please don’t call. VCs get way too much misplaced attention and glory for the work that entrepreneurs do. And too many VCs actually accept that glory as their own. The ideal partner will walk into the office everyday knowing that they’re a mere mortal amidst entrepreneur gods. This perspective is the foundational to our core values and the underpinnings of being respectful within the partnership, to other investors and to entrepreneurs.
  • Sense of Humor: Because life’s too short, this business is too damned hard, and we like to have fun.

That’s where our collective heads are at for the time being. Please criticize my thinking, challenge me, and give me ideas. I don’t have any need to get this right in precisely the way we’ve started to think about it. I just need to get it right.

Thanks in advance for the help, and if you’d like to talk about the opportunity, you know where to find me…

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