Most of the reading I have done regarding angel investing suggests that finding the right “match” is a critical part of the process. This process is not just about a business plan and a product, it is also about people and personalities.
Let me attempt to give some insight into my entrepreneurial personality. I have been working (and continue to work) in a corporate environment for 15 years. Over that time I have received a lot of feedback. Two common themes emerge from that feedback. 1) I tend to be a bit too “technical”. 2) I tend to invest more effort on work that I like.
Long Story about my Tech Career
Since I work in the tech industry, being too technical at first didn’t sound like something I should work on. I eventually came to understand that this wasn’t feedback from my peers, but from managers. Tech moves so fast that many managers simply do not keep up with these changes except in the most superficial ways. (Please note I say many, not most). While being technical is my natural tendency, I have learned to adjust the technical content to suite the composition of the meeting room.
The second theme has been a harder personal challenge. Two general areas I love are technical challenges and collaboration. I love when there is no “smartest person in the room” because everybody is the best at at least one thing, if not many. When a team like that faces a new critical issue — never before seen — magic often occurs. To me this is not work; it is much closer to play.
I have seen my industry, VLSI and microprocessor design, evolve and mature. While everyone is still the “smartest person in the room”, the arrival of novel challenges is increasingly rare. We are increasingly challenged to become masters of execution rather than masters of innovation.
Backing up a bit, when I started at Hewlett-Packard, straight out of college, I had the best job in the world, or darn near. For 3-4 months I “drank from a fire hose” of knowledge from my mentor. After just 6 months I was given what, even in retrospect, was tremendous responsibilities (and a nice raise). I was put in charge of integrating “logic synthesis” software into the lab’s compute infrastructure. When I started, about 10% of the lab’s silicon area was created via synthesis; when I left 8 years later about 90% of the lab’s silicon was created via logic synthesis. I was part of that transformation, but I wasn’t the cause — logic synthesis was simply the next disruptive technology in the industry.
So why did change companies? I was developing software to build advanced “ASICs”. First the company moved ASIC manufacturing overseas, then increasingly ASIC hardware design. The writing was on the wall… ASIC software development would eventually move. So I made a very difficult choice and moved into microprocessor software development. Looking back now, this was the likely the best career choice I have ever made.
Practically overnight I was again “drinking from a fire hose.” Rather than working with software, my former teammates and I had built from scratch, I was knee-deep in poorly-commented code that been abandoned by all but one of the original developers. In about 9 months my co-developer and I had transformed this code into something that resembled properly-architected software.
Again, I saw the winds of change transforming my career environment: this time, microprocessor design. Software development was moving from locally-integrated hardware/software design labs to a centralized software-design organization. Seeing this shift, I moved within the company, to microprocessor hardware design. Three and a half years later I see the pros and cons of this choice. The largest pro is having about 5 times more opportunities in the industry — both within the company, and without. The largest con, for me, is dramatically less software development work. Hardware design still requires some software work, perhaps, 20-25%. Much of this software design, however, is very task-specific. When the task is complete — perhaps after a week or a month — it is obsolete.
A Passion for Software and Finance
While I was working, I spent some time in grad school. I took all the EE classes that related to VLSI and microprocessor design. The most interesting class was an open-ended research project. The project I chose, while related directly to microprocessor design, had a 50/50 mix of software design and circuit/device-physics research. I took over the software design work, and my partner took on most of the other work. The resulting paper was shortened and revised (with the help of our professor and third grad student) and accepted for presentation at the 2005 Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Unfortunately, none of us where able to attend due to conflicting professional commitments.
Having exhausted all “interesting” EE/ECE courses, I started taking grad school courses in finance. CSU did not yet have a full-fledged MSBA in Financial Risk Management program, but it did offer a Graduate Certificate in Finance, which I earned. Some research papers of note include “Above Board Methods of Hedging Company Stock Option Grants” and “Building an ‘Optimal’ Bond Portfolio including TIPS.”
Software development has been an interest of mine since I took a LOGO summer class in 5th grade. It has been a passion of mine since I taught myself “C” in high school. During my undergrad in EE, I took enough CS electives to earn a Minor in Computer Science along with my BSEE. Almost all of my elective CS courses centered around algorithms and AI. Unlike EE, which at times I found very challenging, I found CS courses easy and fun. That said, I earned straight A’s in college, grad and undergrad, with one exception: I got a B- in International Marketing. Go figure.
My interest in finance started early as well. I had a paper route at the age of 12, and a bank account. I learned about compound interest and was hooked. With help from my Dad, and still 12 years old, I soon had a money market account and long-maturity zero-coupon bond. My full-fledged passion for finance developed when I was issued my first big grant of company stock options. I realized I knew quite a bit about stocks, bonds, CD’s and money market funds, but I knew practically nothing about options. Learning about options was the primary reason I started studying Finance in grad school. I was, however, soon to learn about CAPM and MPT, and portfolio construction and optimization. Since then, trying to build the “perfect” portfolio has been a lingering fascination.
Gradually, I began to see flaws in MPT and the efficient-markets hypothesis (EMH). Flaws that Markowitz acknowledged from the beginning! [Amazing what you can learn from going beyond textbooks, and back to original sources.] I read in some depth about the rise and demise of Long-Term Capital Management. I read about high-frequency trading methods and algorithms. I looked into how options can be integrated into long-term portfolio-building strategies. And finally, I started researching the ever-evolving field of Post-Modern Portfolio Theory (PMPT.)
When I finally realized how I could integrate my software development skills, my computer science (AI) background, my graduate EE/ECE work and my financial background into a revolutionary software product, I was thunderstruck. I can and did build the alpha version of this product, HAL0, and it works even better than I expected. If I can turn this product into a robust business, I can work on what I like, even what I love. And that passion will be a strength rather than a “flaw”. Send me an angel!