R-Zero just celebrated its first birthday and looking back we had an incredible year.
In the 12-months, we have stood up a company, hired a world-class team, released an industry-leading piece of hardware, and signed a term sheet to fully fund our business plan. That’s the result of many factors, including extraordinarily hard work by every member of our team, but there’s no way we could have come anywhere close to that result without our board of directors.
For entrepreneurs, assembling a board is incredibly important. In an era where there’s nearly limitless capital for strong teams and good ideas, board assembly decisions are of far greater importance than the actual capital you raise. You must have honest, hardworking professionals with highly relevant experience — and contacts — to share, who are fully committed to the success of your business.
In our case, besides founders, we have three extraordinary board members.
Our founding team was highly technical and scientific. None of us were marketers. I knew that was a big hole, and Jennifer Nuckles is someone I had loved working with at Doctor on Demand. I came into this venture with a ton of respect for Jennifer, and she’s lived up to it. She did an incredible job helping us to evaluate and recruit our head of sales and marketing. Jennifer conducted countless interviews and put each candidate through extensive exams that she had used in her previous hires.
Jennifer’s domain experience is amazing, but just as vital is her willingness to work with us nights and weekends even though she has a very high-powered job at SoFi.
Ira Ehrenpreis is the Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Partners; he led our Series A round. Ira has incredible hardware experience and has invested in a wide range of category-defining companies, including SpaceX and Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) where he still serves on the board of directors.
I am always talking with Ira. Always. He is constantly coming up with ideas and making introductions; to date, he has made more than 50 and we now track Ira’s introductions as a separate lead source in Salesforce. He has pushed us to do things that no enterprise company has done in their first year and — guess what — we did them.
Ira is also a great human being and he has dedicated his venture capital career to investments that not only deliver top-tier venture capital returns but also enable social, environmental, and economic improvement in the regions in which they operate. He has greatly influenced our own ESG efforts and our commitment as a company to have a positive impact on our community and society at large.
Previous to R-Zero, I had a strong working relationship with Ira and knew he was incredibly hard-working and extremely committed to his companies but those adjectives grossly understate the impact he’s had on R-Zero.
Duncan Turner is General Partner at SOSV and Managing Director of HAX Shenzhen, where he oversees HAX, the world’s first and largest VC-backed program for hardware. Previously, he amassed a wealth of enterprise-level design and consumer engagement strategy experience working for global design and innovation firm IDEO.
We were the first investment HAX made that didn’t go through their incubator program. For nearly nine months, Duncan dedicated an entire engineering team, including the incredible, Ji Ke, to us as a virtual extension of our internal resources. He’s made a number of introductions to portfolio companies that can be helpful with white labeling and partnerships, and even went as far as getting one of his portfolio companies to do custom development for us.
Duncan always picks up the phone when we call, despite being on the opposite side of the world, and he’s our best sounding board for product and supply chain issues.
These three individuals have been an incredible resource for R-Zero across a year in which there seemed to be no time to sleep, eat or rest. Coming into this venture, I already knew there would be no path to success without people of this caliber behind us.
From the earliest days of my venture capital career, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to see many examples of what it means to be a good board member. I started in the industry in 2000 working underneath many of the people I now get to call my partners at Tenaya Capital. I’ve known Tom Banahan and Brian Melton since 2000 and Brian Paul and Stewart Gollmer since 1998 (yes, I’m old). Outside of my family, I’ve spent more time with these four individuals than anyone else. They are people I not only trust and respect but also like — if not love — like family.
When I returned to LBVP (the predecessor fund to Tenaya), after getting my MBA at Stanford, Tom led an investment in a company called GameFly, which was building the Netflix of video games. Upon closing, Tom did something incredibly impactful for my future career as an investor: he invited me to attend the board meetings. At that time, the board was made up of Tom Banahan (LBVP), Mike Moritz (Sequoia Capital), Toby Lenk (then President of eCommerce for Gap), and Dave Hodess (CEO of GameFly). This was an incredibly experienced group of investors and industry experts and it was there that I earned my real MBA.
Over the years, GameFly had both ups and downs, but the board consistently put the business first and worked hard to help the organization optimize its strategic options. Although GameFly never became the fund returner that everyone hoped for, the board continued to be engaged and support the team in optimizing the exit, which finally came in 2020.
For nearly 20 years, Mike Moritz and Tom Banahan continued to work on GameFly and do everything in their power to optimize that exit. During that time, Mike led investments in companies such as Stripe, Klarna, and Instacart; Tom led Tenaya’s investments in Palo Alto Networks, Armis, and Fireblox.
While there may have been more profitable uses of Tom and Mike’s time, they had made a pact with the team that they backed to support them in their efforts to create value… and they held firm to that pact.
This is the mark of a real board member, and sadly, it’s fairly rare across the investment industry. Too often, a VC puts his or her own interest ahead of the company’s, and more than once, I’ve seen this derail a promising startup.
Early into our second year, still running as fast as humanly possible, I thought it was important to stop and say thank you to Duncan, Jennifer, and Ira, my partners at Tenaya… as well as to the others I named here, who have helped us to learn, grow and execute. Without them, there would be no R-Zero.