Tell us about your background Jeff.
I went to law school and practiced law for three years at a local, large firm. I was hired by a client of that firm, (a small public hotel company), as the General Counsel. Through a series of events, I eventually became the CEO of that company, and that company eventually became Starwood Hotels. I was the first President of Starwood. After Starwood, I ran development and growth at a chain of restaurants and music venues call the House of Blues. I then went on to be CEO and/or President of three more public companies all in the video game business – THQ, Take-Two (the publisher of Grand Theft Auto) and Atari. I also ran a few private companies for venture capitalists. Most of my positions involved turn around or high growth opportunities. I have served and continue to serve on many Boards, and today, I am an angel investor with many diverse investments in start-up companies, most of which are in technology.
How did you become involved in business and running companies?
My father was a serial entrepreneur and business man. Even as a child, I was eager to spend time with my father at his office to learn as much as I could about business. I was involved in a series of small businesses throughout my youth, and always wanted to end up running a company. I really enjoyed being a lawyer, and my legal education has always been a great asset in my business career, but when I was offered a senior position at a company, I jumped at the opportunity.
You are now president of TCA. Can you explain what that is, how you became involved and what you do please?
Tech Coast Angels (or TCA) is a group of approximately 300 members in five chapters in the Southern California area. I am President of the Los Angeles chapter, which has around 100 members. TCA is the largest angel investing group in the country. The members of TCA are interested in learning about and investing in start-up companies. We do not invest as a an affiliated group, but rather we invest as individuals. Our power is in the collective knowledge, experience and asset bases of our members. TCA receives a substantial amount of applications for funding from start-up companies each month. We have a variety of screening processes in place, and each month approximately 15-20 companies make live presentations to the various TCA chapters. The Los Angeles chapter sees eight or more live presentations each month. The companies are usually technology based, but there are a variety of exceptions. For example, we often see consumer product companies. When companies present, there is usually a TCA member who has some expertise in that company’s product. That collective knowledge helps all members make better investment choices. Not only do we provide the startup companies with money, but, just as important, we mentor and guide the startup companies we fund. Last year we funded around 45 companies with approximately $14.5 million in member investments. Start-up companies seeking funding should visit the TCA website at techcoastangels.com.
Can anyone become a member and what are the privileges of membership?
There is a membership application and screening process, but membership is generally open to people who demonstrate a desire and capacity to invest in start-up companies. We also look for members who want to be active in TCA (regularly attend meetings, lead deals, become involved with the due diligence process, etc.). Members get the benefit of seeing a wide variety of start-up companies, tapping the collective knowledge and experience base of the TCA members, keeping up with, and learning about the latest trends in technology, learning about the start-up investment process, and having access to the robust TCA website which not only chronicles all potential start-up investment opportunities, but is a great educational resource. Anyone interested in discovering more information about TCA membership should visit our website at techcoastangels.com.
What are you views on the LA startup scene?
The LA startup scene is extremely active and robust. In addition to TCA, there are other angel groups, several startup accelerators – where startup companies generally receive a small amount of funds and are provided with office space and mentoring for several months – and a variety of organized groups devoted to the startup community. There are several events every week in LA which are part of the startup community. There are even several buildings all around LA that specialize in having startup companies as tenants. There are hundreds of startup companies located in Venice and Santa Monica (now referred to a Silicon Beach). A person interested in learning about the startup scene in LA could spend his or her full time looking at companies and attending events. It is a very exciting time, and as investors, we are always looking for the next Facebook, Twitter, etc.
How do you spend your days? Are you still involved in business and startup companies?
I am extremely busy these days. I am helping a good friend run a consumer products company and I serve as a mentor, advisor or Board member for several other companies. I am also the President of a charitable agency called the Maple Center which is the largest provider of low cost psychological services in LA. I am very involved with my WPO chapter as the co-Chapter chair. Finally, and most importantly, I spend as much time with my wife and two boys as I possibly can.