Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tight-Lipped Tango Looks to McKinsey as a Model

I had a conversation earlier this week with Jo Tango, founder of the early-stage venture firm Kepha Partners and an alumnus of Highland Capital Partners. The entire conversation was off-the-record, though. Tango says he wants to let the companies in which he invests do the talking. The comparison he used was McKinsey & Company, which never even divulges the names of clients it serves.

I acknowledge that VCs can often hog the spotlight, subtly trying to make themselves look like the geniuses, rather than the entrepreneurs they choose to back.

But Boston needs a new generation of high-profile VCs, and I had been hoping that Tango would be part of that group.

VCs ought to be a presence at public events (Tango usually turns down speaking invites, and doesn’t go to gatherings like Web Innovators Group or OpenCoffee), and they ought to blog/write/podcast/vlog about what’s on their minds and what they’re seeing.

That sends a message that:

    A. They’re approachable, even if you’re not a done-it-before entrepreneur, and
    B. It communicates that there is a vibrant, plugged-in VC community here that’s interested in new stuff, and brainstorming about it in public.

Unlike McKinsey, Tango does at least have a Web site listing the investments he has made so far. (He also lists a number of investments he made while at Highland.) Kepha’s two investments so far, AutoVirt and Peermeta, have both been made alongside Sigma Partners, another ultra-quiet local firm. Peermeta was a $6 million first round; AutoVirt’s wasn’t disclosed. Peermeta was founded by Cheng Wu, the successful serial entrepreneur who has been with Cisco, ArrowPoint, and Cascade.

The same day I spoke with Tango, CEO Evan Schumacher asked who I thought were the next-gen VC firms in Boston… the firms that are worth watching because of their new approach to investing. Off the cuff, I listed Spark Capital, IDG Ventures, .406 Ventures, Longworth, and General Catalyst. (Old school firms trying to reinvent themselves include Prism VentureWorks and Polaris.) While some of them don’t have dazzling track records yet, they are communicating with -- and presumably working with -- entrepreneurs in new ways.

Tango, I worry, is doing things the old “Waltham way."

(Am I being too cranky on the day before Thanksgiving? Maybe. So I'll note that Tango gets very high marks on, mostly for his work while at Highland. Also, I compare Kepha with other new early-stage venture firms here.)

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