TechStar Interview: Alan Patricof
Alan Patricof is known as a legendary investor in startups and developing companies. Having helped finance and grow Apple, AOL, Office Depot, Cadence, New York Magazine, Village Voice, Details and many others, Patricof also helped found the giant Apax Partners, Inc., a mostly European private-equity firm. Though tending toward the media, then digital-media investments, Patricof was also involved in Cellular Communications, NTL and Audible.
Patricof was a second-round investor in Apple in 1979 and one of the earlier investors for Steve Case at AOL (which Patricof pointed out was Quantum Computer before it changed its name to AOL.)
Since his early big-brand investment successes, Patricof has stuck to his knitting with media, including investing in The Huffington Post. (Full Disclosure.) Some of his most recent investments are Klout, Local Response, Buddy Media and Collective Media.
Now Managing Partner at his own NYC-based venture firm, Greycroft Partners, Patricof is about as approachable a guy as one could imagine. He welcomed me to his office recently for a sit-down interview.
1) How did you get your start?
"I got my first job the old-fashioned way: I took an elevator to the top floor of many buildings and walked down floor by floor on the stairs going into every firm and asking the receptionist if she knew of any jobs available."
The "old- fashioned way" indeed; can you imagine a kid today looking for a job this way? They'd have immediate and incredible success because everybody else is looking for jobs online on Monster.com, Hot Jobs or some other overcrowded Internet monstrosity.
"I got my first job at a firm called Naess & Thomas," Patricof recollected.
2) What was your goal? Money, power, to prove something or something else?
"No goal. Just to get a job on Wall Street in 1955."
3) What obstacles stood in your way?
"I wouldn't know where to start; there's a hurdle every step of the way."
4) My mentor was/is ...
5) How do you react to pressure and stress?
"I thrive on it." When pressed, Patricof offers up that he "rollerblades and goes on bike rides."
6) How many employees do you manage?
"I don't know if I 'manage' them, but 11," he said, chuckling.
7) What's the 'Next Big Thing' for your organization?
"Media, Internet or Mobile related, Patricof started. The Huffington Post was an early success in this incarnation of my life ... these kinds of investments really get our juices flowing."
8) Name one thing you're looking to change?
9) If I weren't a CEO, I would be a ...
"Every venture capitalist says at some point, 'I wish I could run this company myself' -- to be the entrepreneur instead of the investor."
10) My lessons learned have been:
"Your initial instincts about investments and people are usually correct. We do a lot of due diligence in this business and most of the time it comes out where we started."
11) The career accomplishment I'm proudest of:
"Apax. I was very early on in taking venture capital abroad, to Europe first, then Asia."
12) Have you ever treated somebody badly and what did you do to make amends?
"At this stage of my life, there isn't a day when somebody doesn't come up to me and say, 'You won't remember me... ' you know, that they once met me, heard me speak at a conference or that I once looked at investing in their company. Every time, when someone does that, I have angst. Real angst that they're going to say, 'you were rude to me' or 'you didn't get back to me in a timely fashion' or 'you told me no.' How you say 'no' to people is important. You must be sensitive."
Did Patricof ever tell someone "no" which he later regretted?
"Oh, so many times," Patricof offered up, quickly.
What was the most famously bad "no" he ever gave? "Starbucks," he didn't hesitate for an instant. You turned down Howard Schultz? "Yes, I did because I didn't have the 'West Coast perspective.'"
13) Hobbies or leisure activities?
The aforementioned rollerblading and biking to which Patricof added, "I love art, I collect mostly modern art."
14) What is your favorite word?
"Net positive cash flow."
15) What is your least favorite word?
16) What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
17) What turns you off?
"People who don't have a positive attitude."
18) What is your favorite curse word?
Patricof at first says he doesn't ever curse. Then Mary, his assistant, pops into his office and he says to Mary, "You know how to answer these questions better than I do." Mary immediately offers up that "Mr. P never curses" then that "the words I think are so nice are when he says, 'Gee whiz.'"
19) What sound or noise do you love?
20) What sound or noise do you hate?
"Can't be done." (Though this isn't officially a 'noise or sound,' we accepted the spirit of his response.)
21) What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
22) What profession would you not like to do?
23) If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Oh, for Pete's sake," Patricof said, pointing out he knows James Lipton of Inside the Actor's Studio from whom these questions were borrowed (and Lipton originally borrowed them from a French TV program.)
24) What devices do you use?
"PCs at work, a Mac at home, a Blackberry phone and a Sony audio recorder."
25) Final Quote: "This is a great time to be in the venture business but an even better time to be in Mobile and the Internet."