The day you decide to start a new VC firm, one of the first questions you’ll ask yourself (and others will ask of you) is whether you plan to work with a Partner. In the beginning of Commerce Ventures, I chose to start the journey as a solo General Partner (GP), because I wasn’t sure how much we would be able to raise (and thus the salaries we could sustain)…and I kind of wanted to see how far I could get on my own. It was an amazing personal challenge, both extremely rewarding and — at times — pretty lonely.
In the nearly five years since launching Commerce Ventures, I have often revisited the topic of bringing in a Partner. Thanks to a lot of reflection and many discussions with close friends, advisors and industry colleagues, I was able to paint the mental picture of what I would want in a partner, if/when we were to bring one on board.
What Is a Partner?
Like any other nerd, when I originally asked myself this question, I looked up the meaning and etymology of the word itself. It turns out that Partner is derived originally from the Latin word Partire, which means ‘to divide’. This caught my attention because, in so many respects, it signifies exactly the OPPOSITE of how I wanted to think about this new person I might recruit. Sure, bringing in a Partner at this point of the firm’s life meant I would have to share — share our resources, share our economics, share the solemn responsibility to our investors, share the joy of good times, share the stress of our challenges, etc… But sharing doesn’t have to be synonymous with division.
When I think about what I want in a Partner, I think about camaraderie, brainstorming, mutual reliance, synergies, elation, shared vision, healthy debate, continuous improvement and, most importantly…expansion. It is this mindset that led me to pursue bringing a Partner to Commerce Ventures. And today, I am excited and so very proud to announce our new Partner, Matt Nichols.
Who is Matt Nichols?
About 11 years ago, I graduated from business school and joined an early-stage VC firm called Highland Capital Partners as a Senior Associate. At the same time I joined, 5 others also joined the firm in the same role. They would go on to be some of my favorite people; both great friends and trusted colleagues. When I thought about bringing in a Partner whose judgement I respected, character I trusted and prowess I could rely on, it was natural to look to this group for potential candidates.
Matt Nichols joined Highland just a few days after I did back in 2006. His focus was primarily Internet and Digital Media investments (as we naively referred to the category back then), but he had joined to work closely with the legendary Bob Davis (an early Internet pioneer & former CEO of Lycos), and together they seemed to find pretty much every interesting E-commerce, AdTech, Digital Media and Consumer tech startup east of the Rockies.
Matt Joined Highland out of Dartmouth, where he had completed his MBA at the Tuck School. In between his years at Tuck, Matt interned in Corp Dev at Google, which made sense because he had worked on their IPO many years earlier as a tech banker on Morgan Stanley’s West Coast team. Somewhere in the middle he spent a couple of years in Morgan Stanley’s Venture Partner group, completing several winning investments in growth-stage IT and infrastructure startups. Matt is a proven investor.
Matt and my paths diverged back in late 2010, when I moved from Boston to San Francisco to be part of Highland’s bay area team. Around that time, Matt parachuted into his portfolio company, Gemvara (online custom jewelry) to run Finance and Operations. Not long after, Matt received a ‘battlefield promotion’ to CEO when the position was vacated abruptly, and he managed to steer the company successfully through some turbulent waters. In the end, Matt led the company to an acquisition by the Richline Group (a jewelry division of Berkshire Hathaway), where he stayed on to run all of their digital business. Matt is a gifted operator.
Over the years, Matt and I had many ‘what if’ discussions about working together again. Some of the most impressive leaders I’ve met echo the advice of recruiting people better than you — this is what inspired me to try to recruit Matt. In him I saw the opportunity to bring in a Partner from whom I could learn, in whom I could trust and with whom I could win…and win bigger than I could on my own. Matt is that Partner.
Matt literally JUST started full-time, but we’re already hard at work on all fronts: planning our annual meeting and summit; strategizing about the type of firm we want to build over time; and we’ve even closed our first new investment together in Socure! I know the road ahead will be full of uncertainty and adversity, but I look forward to facing those challenges in partnership with Matt, and I’m excited to see what we can build together.
So, for those of you we are lucky enough to count as friends of CV, please don’t hesitate to connect with Matt and get to know him. I’m sure you will see what I see and want to work with him as much as I do.