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The world of venture financing abounds in colorful characters. Madison, Wisconsin
If youve been reading this series to learn more about tech start-ups and finance, be warned that todays lessons are purely anecdotal and experiential. Quaerendo invenietis
. There may be lessons here, but remember that my work with start-ups and financing is limited to the last five years. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew so well.Adams Adventure in Consulting-land
I entered the business world by accident, when it turned out that my degree in aero/astro engineering wasnt going to get me a job. The solitary offer from what was then Lockheeds Space Sciences Division
was clearly a dead-end, and grad school held limited appeal. My friends were applying into strange fields: management consulting and investment banking. I was assured that these companies really did want engineers, so I interviewed blindly, submitting my resume to every such firm that interviewed on campus. The interviews were strange logic puzzles, storytelling, quantitative analysis, and sometimes drinking and dining in fancy restaurants and bars. Offers came in, and I ended up at Monitor Company
in Los Angeles .
Monitor was an amazing place. The spirit of Michael Porter
hovered over our heads while we preached competitive strategy to clients. I worked in utilities, computer hardware, transportation, beverages, telecommunications (is there a consultant out there who hasnt worked for AT&T at some point?), office furniture, and even helped manage Monitors own IT infrastructures. I performed competitive analysis, market research, monte carlo simulation, acquisition analysis, new market entry analysis, long-term strategic planning, cost analysis, channel strategy planning, and other projects. It was the most challenging and intellectually stimulating corporate experience Ive known. I learned more at Monitor from consultants, clients, and on my own, than I have in any other business environment, including business school. But the work burned me out; once I put in two consecutive 100-hour weeks. I wasnt convinced consulting would be my long-term career. After nearly four years with Monitor, I left (technically, I took a six-month leave of absence), figuring Id never work that hard again.
I was wrong. I ran off and joined the circus. They Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease
Not immediately, of course. I signed up to work at Club Med
as a sports instructor, and was sent to St. Lucia , just north of Venezuela (that club has since been closed). I spent six months as a G.O. ( Gentil Organisateur) leading activities like rollerblading, soccer, volleyball, and other sports. Dont be fooled spending all day outside in the tropics playing games sounds great, but after two weeks of being on from 7am until 11pm, it becomes a job. Dancing in the disco until the wee hours is fun when youre on vacation, but when its required
, you realize you just want to go to sleep so youll be awake to teach water aerobics in the morning. Somehow, in the midst of all this, I took up trapeze. Circus
at Club Med is a world unto itself. With only a month of training at St. Lucia, I was accepted to be circus staff at La Caravelle
, on Guadeloupe. At any Club Med Circus site, three to four staff teach guests, from small children to adults, how to perform trampoline, floor acrobatics, circus bicycle, single trapeze, and, of course, the flying trapeze. The injury rates are high something like one in four circus staff are sent home during a six-month season with a serious injury. The physical toll is extraordinary: one member of the team told me that being in circus meant that Id wake up every morning in pain. He was right. During the first difficult weeks, I tore most of the skin off the palms of my hands I couldnt shampoo my hair until my hands calloused. Once I dropped a 22-foot aluminum pole on my foot. Once I was knocked unconscious for an instant by a steel bar to the forehead while I was hanging upside down by my knees 16 feet above a concrete floor. And once, Vincent, the guy who would catch me during our most dangerous trapeze act, said to me, Adam, if I cant hold onto your legs, look for the net and when you see it, tuck your head in. You probably wont be killed.
One season of circus was enough. Id reached far beyond anything I thought Id ever do (including The Passing Leap), but I was ready to re-enter the real world. So I applied to business school. Postcards from Hell, or Wisconsin Anyway
In reality, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I figured business school would give me an opportunity to learn about lots of industries and businesses. I also wanted to return to Wisconsin it had been 10 years since I left Milwaukee to go to college in California. Id always liked Madison
Id be lying if I said business school was as hard as either Club Med or Monitor. But the WAVE Program
gave me a unique opportunity to learn about small business, venture finance, and technology transfer. Professor Bob Pricer
was, and remains an inspiration to me. Not just for the strength of the courses he taught or for his wit. (A partnership is just like a marriage, but without the sex to relieve the tension, or You need a businessperson who can add credibility to your company. You know, someone with gray hair and hemorrhoids.) Bob genuinely cared about his students, about the community, and about the University (even when he disagreed vehemently with its policies). There were many things about venture finance that he didnt teach us but because of the wisdom he provided, Ive never felt unprepared. Surprised, yes, but not unprepared. Entering the Whirlwind
While in b-school, Id been consulting to some small businesses in Madison. When I graduated, I wanted to work with a start-up company. I signed on with about a half-dozen different start-ups, helping with everything from business plan writing to business development. Only one of them was paying me on a part-time basis. I helped initiate one biotech company, but the IP negotiations fell through, and we didnt even take investor money. A second biotech company was spun out of the UW, and we did raise angel funds. I was operations manager for 12 months, and the company went on to raise additional money and obtain SBIR grants. But that company outgrew my areas of expertise, and I left to join Early Stage Research
, which had just been started by Tom Terry and Larry Landweber
To be 100% honest, this probably wouldnt have happened if Larry hadnt recognized me. He was friends with my parents when they lived in Madison when I was 3 years old. He hadnt seen them in 25 years, but I look (now) like my father did 25 years ago. When I was introduced to Larry at a Chicago Venture Fair in 99, he made the connection. Of course, it would have been nice if Larry hadnt acknowledged this connection in front of all sorts of well-dressed business people at the fancy reception by stating, loudly, I recognize you. I think I still have 8mm video of you running around in your underwear in my backyard.
Most of you can pick up the story from here. ESR hired me to evaluate angel investment opportunities, primarily in the IT space. Since then ESR has expanded to serve other angel networks, helping private investors research and evaluate private equity deals across nearly every industry. Happily Ever After
Im not sure if there are lessons in all this. Maybe Fortune favors the prepared? No, too self-aggrandizing. Perhaps Try, try, and try again? No, too obvious. Lessons are tough because they suggest completion or resolution . Ive heard some people say things like, Theres more to life than business. I think the lesson for me has been, Theres more to life. Period.
So keep this in mind when you submit your next financing request to Early Stage Research. And please dont insult me by telling me it doesnt take a rocket scientist to understand the opportunity. I am a rocket scientist.
Adam Bock is married to Lynn Hyland; they are expecting their first child in July. Hes a founding member of the Wolf Pack, a lapsed rock climber, an amateur gardener, and a wannabe writer. Adam is Treasurer of the UW-Madison Hoofer Sailing Club, an avid reader of literature and science fiction, and an addicted windsurfer. Adam is on the Council of Advisors of The SEED Foundation
, founded by Rajiv Vinnakota, who was Adams best man. Adam and Lynn live in Sun Prairie, which is almost Madison, and they hope to live in Madison one day.
Adam J. Bock is the research manager for Early Stage Research, an angel network, and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network.