Friends of Evergreen Newt Folwer and Frank Bonsal recently sat down for a conversation published in www.Citybizlist.com . Here is an excerpt of the article….
Frank Bonsal By: Newt Fowler
I enjoy talking with Frank Bonsal. He has invested in more companies and seen the launch of more technologies and new market sectors than I can fathom. And each time I see him, as much as I try to coax from him promising leads, he more subtly works me for what I know is going on. I always leave wondering who got the better end of the conversation. Spending time with Frank is like playing poker with that guy who always fumbles with his cards, keeps asking which hand trumps another, and yet ineffably either folds fast or wins a large pot… So we sat down recently over lunch to figure out how Frank succeeds in investing at the earliest and most volatile stage of business growth and what insight there might be for entrepreneurs seeking funding from such an archetypal angel investor.
The Skinny. Frank Bonsal helped found New Enterprise Associates at the dawn of the venture capital era. The venture capital industry was born in the early ‘80s, when a change in the tax laws supported as a sound investment practice diversifying pension and other investment portfolios to include a slice of risk capital. Frank and NEA raised successive funds and earned a stellar track record of making the right bets at the right time across a number of industries. As NEA matured and increasingly focused on growth capital for later stage companies, Frank continued to invest in the earliest of opportunities. Most recently, Frank formed Red Abbey Ventures, to focus on early stage biotech investments. But his interests (and successes) are industry agnostic, which leads directly into our conversation.
Not what You’re Thinking. Let’s start with what our conversation didn’t explore. We didn’t talk about emerging market trends, or about targeting “hot” sectors. Frank waived off my efforts to discern what market Frank liked next. Frank is the first to admit that technology isn’t what he turns to. So we talked about the only thing Frank really cares about – the people.
The Little Black Book. For Frank, “it’s all about management.” It’s about the people who will drive the business. So I asked Frank to list what he looks for in a team. His answer was a shopping list in the following order:
• Able to listen
• Easy to work with
• A good people person
• Not a control “freak”
• And has a proven track record – simply put “has made some money”
Frank quickly admitted that “such a person is hard to find.” Frank realizes that not all these skills “come together in one person.” So when I pressed him as to which skills he would bend his rules on over others, he simply smiled. It’s Frank playing poker.
Frank’s world is built on the people he has met and the connections among them he sees. He was a network theorist long before it was in vogue. Everyone who has spent time with Frank has seen it – the metaphor for how Frank functions. It’s that dog-eared, luddite, acrostic little black book that is inseparable from Frank. In that book lies a path to other investors, to business partners, to management teams and advisors – it is the proto-social network 1.0. Continue reading this article at: