Benchmark Capital is bringing Symantec’s Michael Wolfe on-board as an entrepreneur in residence — and for a second time. [Updated: Wolfe talks about what he’s learned as a serial entrepreneur and what he wants to work on at Benchmark below.]
Wolfe co-founded Vontu, a company that makes software to prevent data loss, while an entrepreneur in residence at Benchmark the first time and sold it to security company Symantec for $350 million in 2007. He stayed on as chief technology officer for Symantec’s enterprise product group.
He was first connected with the venture capital firm back in 1990s while at Kana, Inc., a Benchmark-backed company that he helped take public in 1999.
VentureBeat: So what kind of company ideas are you interested in working on?
Michael Wolfe: If you go into this with a very narrow idea, it doesn’t usually work out. Most opportunities come out of nowhere. I’m trying to cast a pretty wide net. There’s a huge amount of opportunity in software-as-a-service and IT. IT is one of those industries that gets totally torn up and reinvented every 10 years. My point of view is that software is not a mature industry. There’s still a huge opportunity and great entrepreneurs. I’m a big believer in doing things for companies that make things simpler, cheaper and faster.
VB: Is there anything you’d say is different about Benchmark this time from the first time around?
Wolfe: It’s hard for me to kind of speak about the firm. The only thing I might add is that Benchmark was just funded right before the bubble so they definitely benefited from that. And they ended up funding big hits like eBay. I would say the difference now is that they’ve seen long-term success. They’ve lived through a few market cycles. If you look at their exits and who makes up their portfolios, now you have a sense of success and staying power. Benchmark is one of the top-tier firms that has consistently has been a believer in software and IT.
VB: So we’ve talked about why you’ve come to Benchmark, now what’s making you leave Symantec?
Wolfe: I stayed at Symantec for two years after Vontu. The first year was really about integration and making sure Vontu ended up being a stable, long-term business. Then this fiscal year, I went into a completely new role as CTO of the enterprise group. I had a very good two years. But with small companies, I like being in a situation where you’re doing something new and there’s a lot of excitement and optimism. The sky’s no limit. Once you’ve been in a small company, that’s very addictive.
Plus, given where the economy is right now, it’s a good time to start a company. By the time you get funded, the economy will start growing again. I’m a big believer in starting a company in a downturn. The first time I started at Benchmark, it was the day after Sept. 11.
VB: How has your experience at Symantec colored what you might work on at Benchmark?
Wolfe: I wouldn’t necessarily say I would want to start another security company. It’s always good to do something different. It’s also me insight into how larger companies acquire and integrate. It gives me confidence that you really should almost always be more paranoid about smaller startups, than bigger companies.
I’m also not a believer that there’s big company people and small company people. It has more to do with what you’re passionate about. I’m also a big believer in serial entrepreneurship. Even though every company in every market is different, I think there’s certain principles in execution that apply in every time, like bringing in great people. I also think entrepreneurship can be sustainable and that you don’t have to get burnt out after your first company or work so hard that you get divorced and never see your kids.
I see it as a career. I don’t see it as a do-it-once-or-twice sort of path.