#vtjtalks| Version One's Boris Wertz on VC's Past, Present, And Future



In Acorn Interactive Inc's recap of VC's Past, Present, And Future, hosted by the Vancouver Tech Journal, we are going to cover our major takeaways from the conversation and not necessarily the specifics outlined from the dialogue on venture capital itself. With that, it's important to acknowledge the keynote Boris Wertz.

Boris Wertz | twitter @bwertz

Portrait of Boris Wertz | sourced from versionone.vc

excerpt from versionone.vc 

Boris is a founding partner of Version One and one of the top tech early-stage investors in North America. Born in Germany and based in Vancouver, Boris takes a wide-angle view to find great companies all across North America: from New York and Toronto to Seattle and LA. He is a former board partner with Andreessen Horowitz and is well-respected for his uncanny ability to find the next generation of leaders.

Today, Boris is focused on crypto/web 3, climate/energy, marketplaces and SaaS, looking for the best teams who solve big problems in a unique way. As an investor and former entrepreneur, Boris knows when to push and when to ease off, while always remembering that he is an advisor, not a player.
Before becoming an investor, Boris built an online marketplace for used and out-of-print books in 1999, selling the business to AbeBooks.com where he became COO and led a team of 60 people. After AbeBooks.com was sold to Amazon, he moved into investing, first as an angel and now with Version One.Boris finished his PhD at the Graduate School of Management (WHU), Koblenz, majoring in Business Economics & Business Management.
In 2005, he was named the Pacific Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year. Boris is passionate about science, technology, and entrepreneurship and sits on the board of Canada Learning Code. He is also involved as a mentor with the Creative Destruction Lab in Toronto and Vancouver.



Acorn's Takeaways

It was very interesting to hear from companies who had to navigate an early internet ecosystem. In 2022, there is a lot to take for granted in terms of available, out of the box solutions with regards to front-end interface libraries for design patterns, back-end automation to connect services together, well trained subject matter experts to assist technical workflows, and the internet itself as a support hub for knowledge based resources.

Boris and his team started in 1999.

For younger readers it's difficult to articulate some of the technical hurdles they may have faced.

  1. dial-up internet
  2. limited availability of configurable database models
  3. limited access to online databases
  4. shoddy support document to integrate with existing services
  5. recovering for the dot com bubble

So - navigating technical hurdles is a very important consideration in the backstory here. From a technical outfit to the pioneers:

👏👏👏

More details on the backstory:

Boris was fascinated with finding uses for out of print books using the internet to locate buyers. In his opinion this used book market was completely underlooked by the marketplace at the time. This set up an opportunity for his early business. In his words, and something we think needs to be said more, AbeBooks was

"Something that wasn't possible that needed to be done"
-Boris Wertz

Then there were some logistical details

At the time AbeBooks had to buy their own servers, buy their own database licences (likely factoring in international compliance when nobody had a clue what the internet was) and one can only speculate on the capabilities of Transport Layer Security (SSL) in this era. Yikes.

Thoughts:

The idea of "finding what isn't done yet" and "going with it" is such a valuable part of this field. In Boris's era, it would be the establishment of quasi mainstream internet protocols and, speculatively, database infrastructure to support metadata storage for necessary data points like:

  1. titles
  2. prices
  3. quantities of books
  4. locations
  5. and more!

The impetus itself remains the same:

Find what isn't done yet, make it great.

Go Boris and team. Navigating early internet technology during, and post, dot com bubble sounds hectic. Having a clear purpose for what needs to be built, as in, determining new marketplaces for undervalued literature - makes a ton of sense.

The next chapter of the evening moved into

venture capital related discussion which Twitter did a better job of summarizing than a dev shop like Acorn so:

Internet Takeaways from the night!

Here are our notes:

  1. As an investor you need to get out of the entrepreneurial mindset and be the coach, not the player
  2. Really think about portfolio construction

Then I had my time to ask a question 👀

Me about to ask a question | photos by Kai Jacobson tantaluscreative.com, ig @kaijacobson
Me using my hands to do the lions share of the talking | photos by Kai Jacobson tantaluscreative.com, ig @kaijacobson
How do venture capital investors work with technical teams to maximize the value of a given initiative while reducing the technical debt associated with fulfillment to promote long term operational success?

-Mitch Budreski | Acorn Interactive Inc.

In short, technical teams need to adhere to a principle of operational/engineering excellence. Investors need to make sure returns are maximized, sales are up, and market share works for the operational model.

It's kind of a healthy arm wrestle in the industry.

Investors need to use historical analysis to inform questions of technical debt but they're not directly involved in it

-Boris Wertz

Technical debt definition

The strategic lens of market capture is an important consideration which may require assumed risk in implementation complexity in order to win market share.

 -Boris Wertz

This kind of blew my mind because it shed new light onto the situation. If investors are primarily engaged in winning market share, and technical teams are primarily invested fulfillment of technical deliverables, the overlap would be "assumed risk in implementation" which itself is vague (but important!). And yet, the framework each party could use to evaluate success is fundamentally different. Not much different from, say, manufacturing operations vs sales: both need to happen, but alignment is tricky.

Perhaps in the future we would benefit from looking at these divergences from a lens of Game Theory?

Or perhaps we're embarking towards better conversations about making higher quality work.

In any case, it was a great evening and certainly informative. There are a lot of moving pieces in this work, and it's helpful to learn from others with different sets of experiences.

The evening also spoke about crypto, centralized vs decentralized organizations, and more! We're just not going to get into that.

"The best outcomes for entrepreneurs and investors is getting the timing of a big wave right"

- Boris Wertz

As a surfer myself I will say theory and practice are two fundamentally different things in this kind of metaphor.

Boris Wertz - VC's Past, Present, And Future | photos by Kai Jacobson tantaluscreative.com, ig @kaijacobson