Periodically, we feature a member from our Team to provide a behind the scenes look at the people that make it all happen at the firm.
Featured This Month:
Jim Doehrman – Operating Partner
What is your focus at Sierra Ventures?
While I participate in deal sourcing and company diligence/evaluation activities, my main focus is managing firm operations. This includes internal functions like Finance, Legal, HR, and Investor Relations plus external operational and financial support for our portfolio companies. I also supervise our firm marketing efforts and business development which is primarily focused on our CXO Advisory Network. We have a great team running all of these functions, which allows me to wear “many hats” while letting the Managing Partners and Investment team stay focused on deal sourcing and managing portfolio company execution.
How did you get into Venture Capital?
As someone with Finance and Operations training, I spent years in public accounting, then with large global companies, and was CFO for two smaller public companies before joining my first startup in 2000. For the next 15 years, I interacted extensively with VCs while I was working with startups. Sierra Managing Partner Tim Guleri was the former CEO of my first startup. He had joined Sierra Ventures in 2001 and reached out to me in 2015, and, ultimately, offered me my current role. It has been a great ride over the past six years and has provided me a chance to use my existing experience while learning the many new and complex aspects of the VC world.
What operations and/or finance tools do you recommend for startup teams?
I advise startups to focus on product, sales, and hiring. Any finance and operations systems you implement initially should be lightweight and usable by most of the team. There are many point solutions to solve your initial problems and a host of companies that can provide outsourced services as well. Ask your investors for advice. Some tips and tools we recommend to our companies include:
- Use outsourced accounting help (from a reputable firm like Zeni, a Sierra company) or other firm that specializes in helping startups.
- Get a cap table solution (like Carta) early in your company history.
- Build a financial model (excel is fine). Your investors will have examples / templates of formats they like.
What are the top three pieces of advice you have for entrepreneurs?
There is lots of advice available for entrepreneurs, but everybody has to figure out what works for them. I have found success with the following:
- Be Persistent, curious, and paranoid. (I love Intel founder Andy Grove’s mantra: “Only the Paranoid Survive.”)
- Treat people like you want to be treated, but remember that you are running a business and have the ultimate responsibility for success. Mentors can help you manage your conflicting roles as a founder.
- When you are responding (verbal or written) based on anger or frustration, if possible, think about or write what you want to say, then revisit it before saying it or sending it.
If you had to recommend one book to an entrepreneur what would it be?
There are always “trendy” books available about building great companies, and I have read many, but one book that is timeless is Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It was written almost 15 years ago but is a great primer to help spot truly great entrepreneurs and see how they fit into his equation. Early-stage investing is mostly focused on finding and investing in great founders. Also, I love to read about companies that are incredibly successful or that failed spectacularly to learn what drove their outcomes.
What is your best “life-hack”?
I keep lists – lots of them. I make lists of things to do – work and personal, things to read, or things to think about. The form does not matter (paper, electronic, etc.) as long as you make them. Making lists allows me to organize ideas for referral later and open my mind to new things. When I follow this practice I find that I rarely have the “did I forget something” moment.
Anything else you want to share?
I am a history buff and continue to focus most of my reading in this area, including the history of where I live. Couple that with my love of wine, and it was fascinating to learn that the first wineries were actually started in Southern California when Mexico owned California. The Napa region was developed by German settlers and others who had primarily migrated to California during the Gold Rush, which also created a huge population increase and demand for wine in the region. Later, during Prohibition, Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Napa region (there were not a lot as Zinfandel and Petite Sirah were the main wines at the time) were allowed to die. So new vines had to be imported, after Prohibition, from the Livermore Valley in the SF Bay Area, (but note that their vines came from the French Bordeaux region cuttings in the late 1800s). Finally, the mass production of Cabernet Sauvignon that Napa is known for did not really occur until the mid 1980s. Would love to know your favorite Cabernet?