A Revolutionary Approach to VC for Princeton Alumni
November 26, 2018 | Abree Murch
Tom Meyer (Princeton ’87) is used to building companies. Prior to becoming Managing Partner of Nassau Street Ventures and Senior Partner at Alumni Ventures Group, Tom was the CEO of three venture backed companies, worked in venture capital and banking, and was a corporate development consultant to over thirty companies. He is also a world traveler, having lived in Europe and Asia and worked in forty countries.
Needless to say, Tom’s perspective on business has been shaped by a diverse and global set of experiences. We talked to him about how he plans to use that perspective to make smart, strategic investments in the Princeton community.
What attracted you to working at Nassau Street Ventures?
It’s a unique opportunity to combine my skills in venture capital with my admiration of fellow Tigers. We’re actively building out a great community of Princeton alumni investors that support our fellow entrepreneurs, and that’s an exciting space to be a part of.
How did your time at Princeton and the connections you’ve made there influence your career?
Princeton was such a great experience for me, both for its educational value and its supportive community. I have also gotten a number of key roles through the Tiger network. When I was organizing a Princeton Entrepreneurs’ Network event a few years ago, I sparked up a conversation with an alumni attendee. We met again later and he eventually asked me to come on as the CEO of his startup. I spent two years growing the company before we sold it. That’s just one example, but I’m sure others have had the same experience. If it hadn’t been for the Princeton community, I never would have connected with him. I want to continue to help others in the same way at Nassau Street.
How would you describe your approach to venture investment?
Each investment requires careful due diligence, understanding of the market, and consideration of who we are co-investing with. I continue to apply the same investment philosophy I was taught by our fellow alum, Paul Maeder (‘75), when I was at Highland Capital. He told me that when evaluating new deals, you need to look at three things, in this order: the management, the market, and the product. It all starts with the right management. Without that, even the best idea isn’t enough.
What’s one piece of advice you have for people interested in venture capital, especially potential first-time investors?
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Adding venture capital to your portfolio increases your risk-adjusted returns by adding a new asset class. And, if you’re just starting out, you benefit by adding a diversified selection of venture capital, not making concentrated bets on one or two venture backed companies. What we’re providing with Nassau Street Ventures is unique, in that it is a diversified portfolio of investments in 25–35 companies, all privately held and venture backed, and spread across industry sector, investment stage and geography. With one fund, you can get that diversified access to this previously difficult to access asset class.
You’ve been CEO of three different tech companies. What are the biggest lessons you learned from those experiences?
In real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. But when you’re growing a company, it’s people, people, people. If you get the right people, and you get them engaged and aligned, miracles can happen. I would rather interview an extra twenty people than manage one poor hire. Then, once you have the right team, you have to get everyone aligned and moving in the right direction. Set a “North Star” goal and make that objective cascade down to every level. At that point, everyone, in every position, with every action, is working in concert towards that shared goal. This is how companies perform to their highest potential.
What’s unique about the Nassau Street model?
Our model of gathering pools of individual accredited investors to make direct venture capital investments is a historic change in the capital markets. It’s going to have an effect on the private equity market just like mutual funds did. It’s exciting because now we can all benefit from the diversification and returns.
Nassau Street Ventures is private, for-profit, and not affiliated with or sanctioned by Princeton University. To learn more about investing with Princeton alums, join the Nassau Street community.