When the Philadelphia Business Journal noted the Greater Philadelphia Metro’s net gain of just 412 small businesses (defined as having one to 99 employees) ranked the region “a depressing” 54th nationally, the journal’s editor noted the area’s lack of venture capital infrastructure as one of several elements restraining Philadelphia Metro’s small business growth.
Venture capitalist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and author and Montgomery County resident Wayne Kimmel wants to change that!
Kimmel is the Managing Partner of SeventySix Capital, the venture capital firm he founded in 1999. He has invested in over 40 startup technology and healthcare companies, including SeamlessWeb (now public as GrubHub), Take Care Health Systems and NutriSystem.
Kimmel spoke with MONTCO Today last week about growing up in Chadds Ford and going to grade school and high school at the Tatnall School in Delaware, becoming the play-by-play radio broadcaster for the University of Maryland’s basketball and football program, tossing aside a life-long dream to follow in his father’s footsteps and chase the Internet craze in 1995, how Pete Musser at Safeguard Scientific challenged him to raise $9M and coming back 6 months later with $19M and the advice West Chester University grad and one-time 76’ers president Pat Croche gave him to “stay in play” if he wanted to be successful.
Where did you grow up, Wayne?
I was born the oldest of three children in Wilmington, Delaware and grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. My dad, Morton Kimmel, was a lawyer in Wilmington and, with my mom, Marcia, are very involved in the Delaware legal, business and nonprofit community.
We lived in Chadds Ford, making us Delaware County people, but my real hometown is Wilmington. We always went south on Route 52 toward Wilmington. I went to the Tatnall School in Delaware from kindergarten all the way through my senior year.
What memories do you have growing up in Chadds Ford?
I played a lot of baseball games in and around Chadds Ford.
Did you play either sport beyond high school?
I stopped playing both sports at the end of high school, but not for the lack of trying and working very hard at it. I believe that my current work ethic and drive comes from competing in sports. I had dreams of becoming an NBA or Major League baseball player, but it didn’t work out.
Instead, I got into broadcasting when I went to college and ended up doing the play-by-play for the University of Maryland’s football and basketball games.
What was your first job?
My first job was working at a ticket agency in Wilmington called TicketTown during the Michael Jackson Thriller Tour in 1984.
What did you learn from that job that still stays with you today?
The thing I learned at my first job and has held true to everything this I do at SeventySix Capital is that life is all about relationships, doing the right thing for people, and helping people out – asking the question, “What can I do for you?” I noticed that all the people I was working with were friends with their customers, knew what their clients liked and treated their clients with respect.
Selling tickets was a business transaction, but every exchange was cordial, and customers were made to feel like they were part of the TicketTown family.
You mentioned the Tatnall School. What impact did the school have on your life?
Tatnall was a defining force in my life. It was a small place where everyone knew each other. I had good relationships with my classmates, teachers, and administrators. The most important thing I took from Tatnall was confidence. Because the course work was harder than most other high schools, I knew if I performed well at Tatnall, I knew I would do well anywhere.
What drew you to the University of Maryland?
It was a couple of things. First coming from a small school with 70 kids in my graduating class, I wanted to go to a big college. I wanted to go to a school with a D-I sports program so I could try my hand at sports broadcasting, but I wanted to be close to home as well. Maryland with 35,000 students and big time Division I Football and Basketball programs, fit the bill.
Aside from Maryland, did you look at other colleges?
I looked at other schools, like the University of Miami (where my wife, Kimby, is an alum from – but we did not know each other back then – we met when I was in law school), but Maryland had everything that I wanted; it was an amazing place right next to DC!
Why was being close to home important?
We had just gone through a terrible tragedy in my family. On New Year’s Eve in 1987, in the middle of my senior year in high school, my aunt and uncle and my three cousins were in a terrible plane crash that killed all but their middle son, Larry.
After the crash, my parents adopted Larry and he became my brother. I wanted to go away, but be close enough to be near my parents, my two sisters (Michelle and Karen) and my new brother just in case I was needed.
What kind of music were you listening to in high school and college?
Music wasn’t that big for me when I was in school. Sports was my thing! When I did listen to music, I was more a Billy Joel or James Taylor kind of guy. However, thanks to Steve Jobs and being able to carry so much music around in my pocket, music has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older.
How did you find your way into broadcasting at Maryland?
My dad always told me to try to, ‘go for it and try to make things happen.’ My first full day on Maryland’s campus, I found out where the radio station was, walked in the door and told the people running the station, “I want to do sports here.”
Within a couple of weeks, I was in the broadcast box at football games with a pair of binoculars spotting the ball and telling the two seniors broadcasting the game who had carried the ball or who had made the tackle. By the following year, I had taken the place of one of the seniors and was doing the play-by-play and color commentating for both Maryland’s football and basketball games.
Were you doing games during the Len Bias era at Maryland?
I arrived two years after Len Bias’ tragic death. Gary Williams, a Maryland Alumni, and someone who had played basketball at Maryland, was named Maryland’s head basketball coach. Gary took on a tough situation with a school that was not only dealing with the aftermath of Lenny’s death but a school that was put on a two-year NCAA suspension as a result of the investigation into Bias’s death. Gary loved the school and eventually turned the program around and won a National Championship!
That must have been a great time for you?
It was! We were all so young but were allowed to mingle in the press box with our own press passes with the likes of sportswriters like Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, who at the time were with The Washington Post. Now they are big TV and ESPN guys. I loved talking and learning from the “real reporters” and also eating the free food, especially the signature Maryland crab soup!
What did you do after graduation?
I went to law school.
Why law school?
From day one I was going to follow in my father’s footsteps and be a lawyer.
You held your father in that high esteem?
I still do! I wanted to be like him, work with him, spend a lot of time with him. Becoming a lawyer just like him was always my plan.
So you went to law school, then what?
I went to Delaware Law School (then named the Widener School of Law) and worked for my dad while I was going to school. The plan was for my dad to teach me the ropes and eventually I would take over the firm. That was the plan.
It was the mid-1990’s, and the Internet was happening! I was fascinated by the Internet. In law school, I had a friend who shared my fascination with the Internet who left law school a year early to work in New York City for an Internet company. He kept telling me about what he was seeing and saying the Internet gave young people a chance to rule the world.
I had to go for it! I told my dad I was not going to follow in his footsteps after all but was going to follow my friend to New York and try my luck in this new Internet thing. My dad understood and became my number one supporter! I know he didn’t want me to leave, but he gave me the confidence, and like everything else, he told me to go make it happen.
My father’s advice is the force that guides my life to this day. I tell aspiring entrepreneurs I talk with, to get up off the couch and make things happen. You cannot even win the lottery by sitting on the couch, you’ve got to at least go out buy a ticket. My kids know never to use the word ‘fail’ around our house. We call it the “f-word!” You have to give it a shot and try your best!
Who gave you your big shot Wayne?
My biggest break didn’t come from any specific person rather from me going out and making it happen. If there was a single person who gave me a big break it would be Pete Musser, founder of Safeguard Scientifics.
I met Pete for the first time at a New Year’s Eve party on a family vacation with my in-laws in the Caribbean. In the summer of 1999, I went into Pete’s office and told him I wanted to start a venture capital fund to invest in startup internet businesses.
He immediately told me, ‘no you’re not!’ I thought to myself, I didn’t come here for his approval, why is he telling me I can’t do what I want to do? I didn’t need his permission!
Then he told me what I was going to do. First, Musser said he wanted me to move onto his campus in Wayne, which at the time was like moving into the Disneyworld of venture capital. Next, said he wanted me to start a startup venture capital fund that would be synergistic with everything Safeguard had going on with their already established early-stage funds and their work with the Eastern Technology Council. Then, Musser challenged me to raise nine million dollars saying if I raised that much, he would put in a million, giving me a $10 million dollar fund to work with. Then he kicked me out of his office and told me to go get it done!
A few months later I walked back into his office and said, ‘Mr. Musser, I’ve raised $19 million dollars.’ That was my start seventeen years ago at 29 years-old.
So what are the big challenges and opportunities in front of you as 2016 ends?
When I look forward into 2017, I see incredible opportunity. I see young people who are carrying incredible computers (e.g. iPhones) in their pockets and 16-year-old girls versed in entrepreneurship and startup lingo as a result of watching Shark Tank. ‘Entrepreneur’ isn’t just a French word that no one can spell. Young people not only know how to spell it, they know they can create something special and do it!
That attitude creates opportunities for me to invest in and partner with a new generation of entrepreneurs who are trying to achieve their dreams and change the world in the process.
What, besides cash, do you bring to those leaders entrepreneurs?
I bring my network – it’s all about relationships! It’s the reason I named my book Six Degrees
of Wayne Kimmel. I tell the CEOs of companies I invest in that my network is their network.
All my contacts are their contacts. Anything I can do to help them be successful, I’ll do. Many times, they’ll call on me for more than just business advice. Sometimes it’s something personal, and I try to help them out whether their issue is a relationship issue with their spouse or child, or if someone is sick; whatever it is, more than money, I’m there to help them be successful in their business and in life.
Do you have a favorite company in your portfolio?
That’s like asking me which one of my children I love the most! I think there are a number of companies in my portfolio at SeventySix Capital that are further along in changing the game, including our investments in Whistle Sports, Indiegogo, ReverbNation and StartUp Health, just to name a few. I’m excited about the possibilities each one of these companies offers.
Finally, Wayne, what’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
As I mentioned earlier, my dad’s advice to “go make it happen” has been a huge influence in my life.
The other advice I always hear in my head is something Pat Croce, a West Chester grad and one-time president of the Philadelphia 76ers, said to me once. He would always say, ‘stay in play.’ What he meant by that is you have to find and be in the middle of the action because the action isn’t going to find you.