BOSTON — Don’t violate Anthony Marino’s 20-minute rule.
“In the first 15 or 20 minutes of a presentation, I figure out if I
can trust the CEO,” said Marino, a principal at Venrock Associates, and one of
four investors on a venture capital panel at the VON trade show here.
“If not, I don’t even do the work; life’s too short. This is really
a people business.”
His fellow panelists nodded in agreement.
According to Rod Randall, senior managing
director for Vesbridge Partners, assessment of the team is crucial. It should have executives with
experience, as well as contacts in the specific sector it’s addressing with its plan.
The plan itself must be “therapeutic, not diagnostic,” he added,
meaning that it must not only identify a customer’s problems, but also be able to solve them.
Provided a company’s management team and concept pass muster, there
are plenty of areas that VCs are interested in.
At Venrock, Marino is looking at WLAN
convergence plays, public safety offices that handle 911 calls and
VoIP scaling technology.
“One of the things that scares me about VoIP is that there are so many
companies in a category, like security” Marino said.
That’s not to say a security firm can’t be a good investment, but VCs
must be sure that an industry giant like Cisco
isn’t already dominating the space.
And when it comes to offerings aimed at carriers, companies must
decide whether dealing with telecom’s capital expense cycles and
bureaucracy is worth it.
At Vesbridge, Marino said he’s scouting companies that will have
appealing VoIP applications.
In the current crop of VoIP players, few are as well known as Vonage,
which has amassed a war chest of venture capital. The panel was asked
if they thought the investment in the consumer and small-business VoIP
service provider will pay off for investors.
Several thought it would, but added caveats.
“Some of these companies
will be bought for a lot of money, but I’m not sure it’s a sustainable
business model, because companies coming in today have an
established brand,” said Gary Rubinoff, president and managing
director of BCE Capital, the venture arm of Bell Canada.
“Vonage will make money [for its investors] — if they sell quickly,”
said Jamie Robertson-Lavalle, director of communications
infrastructure for Intel Capital.