When I first met Lara Druyan in 2000, she had just started as an associate at Allegis Capital (http://www.allegiscapital.com). At the time, I was advising a great entrepreneur, Ismael Ghalimi, the founder/CEO of Intalio (http://www.intalio.com), and we tested the company’s new pitch on her. The concept of a “Business Process Management Platform” was still somewhat cryptic for most people back then, but she got it almost instantly. Although we wanted to think that it was because we were good, Ismael and I came to the conclusion that it was because she was especially sharp and quick-witted. A former business product manager at Silicon Graphics (http://www.sgi.com) and investment banker at Merrill Lynch, this young Harvard MBA was probably the person who grilled us the most relevantly about our technology that summer! My most striking first impression of Lara was her knack for setting the stage: she was not going to take any crap from entrepreneurs, but clearly also, she was not going to serve us any VC crap, either.
From the standpoint of entrepreneurs, the notion of a “creative” or “entrepreneurial” VC tends to sound like an oxymoron. Not so, though, when you look at the overall VC landscape. The ones who operate within the top ten VC firms basically see the 100 or so companies that suddenly pop up around a domain, acquire some smattering of knowledge by hearing their respective pitches, and are able to pick the one or two that are most likely to make it. For all the other VC firms, the game is different. They are faced with two options: follow the trend identified by the top ten VC firms and find the pearls they missed, or look for something special, off the beaten track. Lara consistently goes for the latter. And that’s why, as a VC, she has to be imaginative and entrepreneurial. The start-ups she considers often require deeper upfront investigation and are usually more technology intensive, as is the case with her current deals, companies such as Apprion (http://www.apprion.com), Autonomic Networks (http://www.autonomic-networks.com), Rosum Corporation (http://www.rosum.com), and Packet Design (http://www.packetdesign.com). They are also equally exciting, and she obviously loves them. They don’t sell cool “ad network” or “digital media” stories, yet they still offer solutions to real-life problems and anticipate new needs. “I certainly feel closer to their entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. It is this entrepreneurial spirit that made her want to become a VC: “I love entrepreneurs and I really wanted to help people build businesses. And I like being an investor. There is no better job in the world, because you’ve got to figure out where the technology is going. You meet terrific people and if you are lucky enough work with them, you can try to build terrific companies with them.” As a VC, Lara is definitely part of an extremely small club: a survey of the National Venture Capital Association shows that women in partner level roles in venture funds represent only 5% or 6% of VCs! And given that there are more women in life sciences than in tech, the tech club might be narrowed down to 3% or 4%. Incidentally, while Lara is, unsurprisingly, regularly invited to speak at major universities, she has never been invited to do so (yet) by any of the female colleges in this country! Go and figure out why! Are they waiting for her first to go through two or three face lifts…?
Lara is 41 years old. Just as any entrepreneur, she works about 10 hours per day. She is the smart workaholic type, but she remains today the omnivorous and voracious reader and learner that she was as an undergrad in Economics in Chicago, where she also took as many classes in history, literature, or advanced biology as she could. As we were chatting recently, she was telling me with enthusiasm about Anand Mahindra’s remarks at the Harvard Centennial Business Summit last October, on the need for always expanding out of one’s field to be able to really see things with which you believe you are familiar from a new or fresh perspective. Lara does not only talk the talk, but walks the walk, and tells you in the same breath about her love of liberal arts, the value of culture, Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters, and of a scary article by Michael Pollan in the New York Times Magazine on how much oil it takes to produce a calorie of food in the United States! At no time, however, is she pontificating. She has a lot of humor, even when she posts chilling reminders on her Facebook at 9:44 PM in the Peter Russell’s World Clock. (Before you get to bed, look at it: http://www.peterrussell.com/Odds/WorldClock.php)
You could call Lara a bright, straightforward, free-spoken, unguarded, and considerate “Renaissance woman,” if you like formulaic summaries. Does she know it all? No, because she is also the caring mother of three-year-old twins, who have minds of their own and the negotiating skills to say “no” until things come their way. Any guesses where they got those traits?
– To listen to the debated on Leadership for the 21st Century at the Harvard Centennial Business Summit: http://www.hbs.edu/centennial/businesssummit/charlie-rose.html
– Farmer in Chief by Michael Pollan:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12policy-t.html?_r=1