Investors at the Gate
February 28, 2020 | Mike Collins
I grew up in Madison, WI, the eldest son of two teachers. Curious and ambitious at 18, I wanted “out of Dodge,” despite Madison being a fantastic city. I headed east to Dartmouth College—a school I absolutely fell in love with from my very first visit.
I started as an engineering student who played basketball (remind me to tell you my Michael Jordan story). But I eventually found that I was really drawn to Tuck’s business classes and professors—and started to sneak into lectures. My senior year, I took the GMATs and, loving Hanover, I decided that a couple of more years there might be the way to go. So I applied and got accepted to Tuck; I think I was the only college senior accepted that year. I’d later realize that nobody should ever think about going to business school right out of college.
A Tuck professor stopped me one day and asked, “Hey, idiot, why don’t you get some work experience. And by the way, I got this call from Andy McClane at a VC shop in Boston. They’re looking for someone.” I still remember asking, “What is VC, again?”
So I did four years at TA Associates, learning from the absolute best. And instead of Tuck, I ended up getting my MBA at Harvard. What an amazing experience that was. It was there I met Clayton Christensen (and Anton Simunovic, AVG’s Chief Investment Officer).
I remember my first impression of Clay: Wow, this guy is tall! The other impression was more powerful. The word genius is overused, but Clay is probably the only person I’ve spent real time with that I’d label a genius. His impact on me—and thousands of entrepreneurs and VCs—can’t be overstated.
So I got the entrepreneurial bug early. It was clear to me that this is where all the “juice” in business was—and everything else would either bore or disappoint me. Over the next 30 years, I took every seat at the table: VC, entrepreneur, Board member, angel investor, etc. Through many successes and some failures, I learned tons of valuable lessons.
Bringing a Unique Perspective to Venture Capital
Jump to 2014, and to the personal frustrations that led to AVG:
- Regardless of what else I was doing, I always wanted to be investing in venture. I knew how important the asset class was. I also had a talent for it and, by then, significant experience and pattern recognition.
- But when I wasn’t directly in VC, my options REALLY sucked.
- Evaluating deals was hugely time consuming. To do good deals, you need to be seeing lots of deals, and that takes time.
- Despite a really good Rolodex, I wasn’t able to get in the deals I liked—the really good deals don’t want to hassle with individual investors in their A round.
- The entry commitment for a fund was $5M. Too much.
- Transparency and investor updates were nonexistent. You know what it’s like chasing down 20 K-1s from venture deals?
- Finally, all of my peers were in the same boat, and I participated in legendary rant sessions around some entrepreneurial poker tables.
But to an entrepreneur, every rant is a business opportunity. I thought my experiences as a Clay disciple, VC, angel investor, and entrepreneur meant that I could bring a unique perspective to the opportunity. And in my late 40s at the time, I was in was in a sweet spot for starting a big venture.
So I got to work—first writing a white paper laying out what a good retail venture investing experience would be like. Within weeks, I’d seeded a new company that became AVG. Within six months, I’d cleared out my life to chase what I felt from the beginning was the biggest opportunity I’d ever been a part of.
One of the Most Active VC Investors in America
AVG raised our first fund in the spring of 2015 after nine months of grueling pitches and tons of skepticism to downright hostility. That first fund was $800k.
As one of the most active VC investors in America, AVG is now a unique success—we’ve innovated in an industry almost devoid of it. Like most truly great things, it was accomplished after years of grinding to make every aspect of our business better. But throughout, what Clay would call our “job to be done”—to bring a disruptive approach to a clubby industry—has remained the essence of AVG’s mission and DNA.
Every one of the 400 companies we’ve invested in has a founder’s story. It almost invariably starts with someone seeing a problem or an opportunity, bringing something unique to the table, and committing (often for decade or more) to build something better. This is our story.
I’ll leave you with one other (perhaps apocryphal) story—this one about Picasso but that also applies to me and AVG. One day Picasso was dining at a restaurant. A woman approached and begged him to draw a sketch on her napkin. She promised to pay whatever he asked. Picasso complied and asked for $10,000. The flabbergasted woman protested that it had taken him just 30 seconds to complete the sketch.
Picasso replied, “No, it has taken me my whole life to do that.”
About Mike Collins
Mike has been involved in almost every facet of venturing, from angel investing to venture capital, new business and product launches, and innovation consulting. He is currently CEO of Alumni Ventures Group, the managing company for our fund, and launched AVG’s first alumni fund, Green D Ventures, where he oversaw the portfolio as Managing Partner and is now Managing Partner Emeritus. Mike is a serial entrepreneur who has started multiple companies, including Kid Galaxy, Big Idea Group (partially owned by WPP), and RDM. He began his career at VC firm TA Associates firm. He holds an undergraduate degree in Engineering Science from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Top (L-R): Mike speaking with a member of the AVG community at Spirits & Startups in NYC. (Source: AVG)
Middle: Clayton Christensen speaking at Harvard Business School. (Source: Betsy Weber)
Bottom (L-R): Mike speaking at a Lido Advisors Investment Symposium with Andre de Baubigny, Managing Partner of AVG’s Spike Ventures fund for Stanford alums. (Source: AVG)