May 1, 2008

Interview with Monitor Ventures’ Fern Mandelbaum

Fern Mandelbaum is a partner at Monitor Ventures where she specializes in venture funding for technology-focused businesses.

In addition to investing, she works closely with companies in her portfolio to refine their business concepts and to recruit management teams, key advisors and board members.

Her portfolio includes: Limelife, Greystripe, Buzzd, and the Experience Project.

Fern was co-founder and CEO of Skyline Products, which she grew and then sold to IDEO Product Development. Prior to co-founding Skyline,

Fern worked at SRI International, HP, the Kyoto Bank and Bain and Company.

Fern received her MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and her BA in Economics from Brown University.

I met Fern recently at a fundraising event and we found that we had a similar outlook on collaboration and building teams. She graciously agreed to let me interview her on these topics.

Matt: What’s the most critical factor for the success of a startup?
Fern: It’s all about the team, how well the team executes and works together. Good ideas are of course a given requirement, but the team is what makes or breaks the business.
Matt: When looking at a new team, what are you looking for in a CEO?
Fern: Generally, the CEO and her team need the perseverance and commitment to see it through and attract great team members. Specifically, the CEO needs to have these characteristics:

  • Great listener. This is critically important. None of us know everything, so a CEO needs to listen well to make good decisions.
  • Coachable.
  • Drive.
  • Motivation. Making money is not the only factor.
  • Passion. A love and sense of excitement for what he works on every day.

Matt: Is there a formula for finding the right people?
Fern: No. Intuition about people is important.
Matt: How do you find the rest of the team?
Fern: It’s important not to rush. Remember, it’s easy to hire people, but much harder and more damaging to the business to fire them. Working with the right team members is a lot like a marriage. You don’t rush into a marriage and setting up the management team is the same. Let it take it’s time. Spend lots of time getting to know them. Work your network looking for the right people. Get recommendations, do lots of talking and listening to the people you think you’d like to work with.
Matt: What about working with people on the outside of the company?
Fern: It’s important to use the best talent available. Sometimes they are contractors, or outsourced. It’s important to be flexible and nimble.