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Venture Capital Stories – Companyon Ventures

Interview with Tom Lazay, Co-Founder and General Partner

Hi I’m Tom Lazay Co-Founder and General Partner at Companyon Ventures. We’re a venture capital firm based in Boston, investing in B2B software companies at the post-seed pre-A stage.

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Tell Us About Your Journey

I got into entrepreneurship starting in undergrad with a classmate of mine. We founded a company called Voice Signal Technologies. We were bringing voice control technology to the mass market by licensing that software to manufacturers of mobile phones. Back in the days of clamshell phones, if you remember that, there was a little voice button and it would allow you to create text messages and do hands free dialing and that sort of thing. And that was a great success. But it took ten to twelve years, got our technology into the hands of hundreds of millions of consumers around the world and I never looked back once I went down that path.

What Inspires And Motivates You?

I get inspired by working with entrepreneurs who are coming up with bold new ideas. They have a big vision for the future and they really need some help thinking about how to execute on a plan to bring that to reality. So that’s what really gets me excited is that daily interaction with old and bright founders.

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What Is The History of Companyon Ventures?

The history of Companyon is kind of interesting. It draws on my experience as both an entrepreneur and an angel investor and venture fund investor. What I saw over and over again was a lot of really great founders and great companies would get to a certain stage and then when it became time for the company to start scaling and get out of that founder-led sales and founder-led go-to-market, it was a big challenge for a lot of companies. So the idea for Companion came from the inspiration to provide capital and resources to actually go in and work with the companies and for the CEOs to get stuff done, specifically around sales, marketing, data analytics.

What Attributes Lead To Success?

Some of the attributes I’ve seen that have led to great successes with entrepreneurs have been first and foremost just a passion and a perseverance to press forward in the face of adversity. Because the startup journey is not easy; it’s not easy for anyone.

Secondly, I think there’s a humility in successful founders when they acknowledge what they don’t know. They know when they need to change course and that balance of having a clear vision, but also being open to advice and new ideas from others.

What Are Your “Must Haves” Before You Make An Investment?

For us at Companyon, the first one always revolves around the founder and the leadership team. We look for big visions, innovative solutions and a CEO who we think can really inspire not only customers, but investors and employees. Those are sort of the three most important success factors for building a great company.

So the second thing we look for is a product that’s in the market that customers love and can’t live without. And I think that’s maybe the hardest part of the entrepreneurial journey is finding that magic with the product and the customer.

And lastly, and this is very specific to Companyon, we look for companies that have found that product market fit and are at the stage where that go-to-market execution is really the thing that stands between them and a large, successful company. And that’s where we like to help our companies.

What Advice Do You Have For Entrepreneurs?

Some advice I have for entrepreneurs, first and foremost, is you get a lot of advice from advisors, from investors, from peers. And I think you need to have a strong vision and know when to push back and when to sort of absorb the advice. And I think successful founders don’t tailor their business strategy depending on what they hear from investors. And as a VC, we see that a lot. Founders want to sort of say the magic words to get an investment and almost it’s like the tail wagging the dog.

The second thing is don’t compromise on the team that you’re going to build. The team that you build as a founder in that initial stage of your company is going to, I think, have more of an impact on your success than any other factor.

What Value Has Gesmer Updegrove Provided to Companyon Ventures?

At Companyon, we use Gesmer for most of our transactional deals in new companies that we’re investing in, as well as looking out for our interests in follow on rounds with our companies.

Gesmer has been great because you get access to very senior attorneys. The legal work is outstanding. But most importantly for us, the attorneys are just easy and great to work with and just make the whole experience a pleasure. And that’s a value to us.

Also, as a VC, our culture is to be a partner to our companies, to support them and be there as really a driving force behind them. We don’t ever want to have an adversarial relationship with them, especially at the very beginning of our relationship. So when we use Gesmer for our financing legal work, it’s always a pleasant experience for the entrepreneurs. And Gesmer attorneys are able to keep our business goals first and foremost. There’s never a sort of pure legal theory approach to attacking some of the challenges we might find in a transaction.

Why Go With Gesmer?

So I’ve worked with Gesmer not only as a VC, at Companyon, but also on the company side. I’ve been on a board where Gesmer was the corporate counsel and I’ve also been through an M&A transaction where Gesmer represented the startup being acquired. In all cases, Gesmer has delivered top notch legal services. The experience has been a pleasure not only for me personally, but for the company and those stakeholders who depended on Gesmer’s work. And the desired results were just amazing in all cases. And Gesmer continues to just get accolades from everyone I know who has worked with them.

If I were a founder looking for legal work, I would not hesitate to recommend Gesmer to that founder because I think they have not only the great legal expertise, but the advice. And that sort of lends on the business objectives of the startup to make things seamless and protect the interest of that company.