Interview with Tom Meyer, Managing Partner of Alumni Ventures Group
Hi, I’m Tom Meyer, Managing Partner of Alumni Ventures Group, Nassau Street Ventures. We invest in all types of companies, all stages, sectors and geographies.
Tell Us About Your Journey
I’m lucky. I had a lot of opportunities growing up. Before I got here, I was in consulting. I did operations and startups sales, marketing, business development. I worked in venture capital, I worked at a bank. I did corporate development, mergers & acquisitions. That’s when I first met Gesmer, on the other side of the table, working in a deal with them. And then I was CEO of three different venture-backed companies including Alumni Ventures Group. And now I’m back being a venture capitalist again. And it’s great because when I talk to CEOs, I can empathize with the struggles that they go through. And I hear about a new business, I can think about what might be the bigger obstacles and issues for them.
What Is The History Of Alumni Ventures?
Alumni Ventures started in 2014. The founder organized a bunch of alumni to band together and invest in companies and realized it was a great idea in this asset class in venture capital to get individual people together and organized around going to groups of alumni from different schools and having them invest together.
In 2018, we started the fund for Princeton, which I manage, Nassau Street Ventures. And now we’ve got about 20 funds, funds for a lot of the top schools. So the fund pulls in money from alumni and then invests in a variety of stuff. And it’s the first way that individual people can easily get a diverse basket of high quality venture capital deals. And so it’s taken off. And now we have over a billion in assets under management. We’ve invested in over a thousand companies. We’re one of the most active venture capital firms in the world, doing one or two deals a day. So I’m very lucky to be a part of this exciting growth story. And I feel lucky to support fascinating companies and give individuals an opportunity to get access to this asset class.
What Inspires And Motivates You?
I’m inspired every day to get up and do my job because I like working with smart people on big ideas. And I’m lucky in my position, I’m getting to see the next big idea every day. There’s so many interesting companies that are coming. We’re not done in the tech world.
It’s not just the next app and the next app. There’s big changes coming in Healthcare and AI and technology, clean tech. I invested in a hydrogen powered airplane. I’ve invested in new climate tech technologies. There’s fascinating healthcare companies being developed, new biotech advancements. And I’m getting to see the forefront of these things that we’re not going to see for another ten years. And I’m getting to talk to these companies today.
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What Attributes Lead To Success?
I think a good entrepreneur has three traits that help them out. Number one, be smart, obviously, but that’s sort of a prerequisite. Number two, I think more importantly, you got to be hard working. It’s not enough to be smart, you’ve got to be hard working, diligent. There’s nothing but obstacles all day long. Every week something new coming up and you got to persevere and you can’t give up.
And I think the third thing to help you get through that is you’ve got to be focused. I meet entrepreneurs who are better at one piece of the business than another. Better at fundraising than running the business or better at talking to customers than they are talking to their employees. You’ve got to be recruiting, you’ve got to be focused on your customer. You have to be working with your board and your investors. There’s something different every day. So that ability to focus and understand what’s the most important thing that week, that day, that moment, and not get distracted by the bright shiny objects, I think that differentiates the great entrepreneurs.
What Are Your “Must Haves” Before You Make An Investment?
When I look at investing in a company, I look at three things. I look at the management, the market, and the product. And really in that order, especially in an early-stage company. The management is the most important thing. I’m investing in people at earlier stages. I also do late-stage investments, but at the early stage they may pivot, they may come with a different product. So I’m really backing the people. We’ve got to be good entrepreneurs.
Secondly, it’s got to be a good market. You can have the best idea, but if it’s not a big market, it’s not going to be big enough to be worth investing venture capital in. You can still make a company, but it’s going to be big enough where we can get some good returns. And then lastly, sort of the prerequisite the product. It’s going to be a good product that’s sort of table stakes. It’s got to be competitively, differentiated, priced right. And it’s got to be something that customers want.
What Advice Do You Have For Entrepreneurs?
I think the number one thing that entrepreneurs can do is to stay focused on the customer. Too often they get distracted by building their website for a month. Talk to customers, get out and meet with customers. Especially when you’re starting your company, the CEO and the entrepreneurs are often the salesperson. They’re the ones that got to sell the product. So take that opportunity to understand your customers. What are their pain points, what are their requirements? How can you see to solve that better and then keep them satisfied and service them? I think if you can keep your customers happy and you can sell, then the rest will fall if you’ve got the revenue coming in.
What Value Has Gesmer Updegrove Provided to Alumni Ventures?
I think there’s a number of things they do. Number one, sort of tactically. They know how to do their job, help with contracts, negotiations. Very good, very efficient, smart, work well. Number two, I think is more important sort of strategically, not just doing the work, but asking why this work needs to be done, what should be getting done that’s not getting done. A real strategic partner to my companies (Alumni Ventures Group).
And then lastly, I’ve been super impressed with the network and the community that Gesmer pulls together. When you’re building a company and growing it there’s so many things you need from outside that you need help with, or recruiting, or instructions to customers or other service providers. And Gesmer has been doing this in this area at this stage for a long time, and they just have a network like no other and able to get the right resources in place for the entrepreneurs when they need them.
Why Go With Gesmer?
Their focus is the early-stage and helping companies grow. And their structural model is different than most in that it’s a very flat organization. So when you’re a young startup company, you’re not dealing with some young associate who doesn’t know what they’re doing. You can work directly with some experienced lawyers who have done this before. Get this, know where you’re at, know what you need, and help you think about the business and they’re more focused on what you need to do at this stage.