Chess moves and other impressions at the NVCA Leadership Gala


venture capital, National Venture Capital Association, Adm. Eric Olson

After last Wednesday’s NVCA Leadership Gala, I want to ask the more than 300 people who attended at the Rosewood Sand Hill whether they went home and downloaded a chess app.

That’s because of something that keynote speaker Adm. Eric T. Olson, U.S. Navy (Ret.), said about chess.

Olson, who was interviewed on stage in a fireside chat by NVCA Chair Venky Ganesan, said he wasn’t accustomed to speaking to the venture capital community. But his speech and lessons learned were applicable to the crowd of GPs, who regularly face investment decisions and the potential to fail.

Olson was the first Navy SEAL to reach three- and four-star rank, and he recalled his initial Navy SEAL training. It started with a class of 54, but only four graduated. What was the secret to success?

He said it was mental over the physical aspect. It was the fear of failure that made people quit, he said. In looking at the training program and success rate over the years, the Navy leadership found that most quit in the morning or at lunchtime. His point was that the candidates tend to quit before they face the full day of training exercises.

“They quit not because they failed the training but because they removed themselves from the opportunity to succeed,” he said. “I’m an average guy who didn’t quit.”

He also said ascribed one other component to those who made it through the arduous Navy SEAL training. He said chess players are three times more likely to succeed.

“That’s because they’re strategic thinkers and problem solvers and know how to achieve any task,” he said. “Chess players don’t quit over breakfast.”

Here are my other impressions from last night’s event:

  • The NVCA event was to hand out awards, including several new ones. The NVCA will hold its annual meeting in May in Washington.
  • Emergence Capital, on the strength of such recent exits as Veeva Systems and Yammer, won the Venture Firm of the Year Award. In case anyone is wondering, NVCA board members were not eligible for this award, which was a newly created category.
  • Annie Lamont, co-founder and managing partner at Oak HC/FT, received the Excellence in Healthcare Innovation Award. “Hey, it is International Women’s Day,” she said in accepting the honor. She was not wearing red, as many people nationwide did in support of the day. But several people in the audience were donned in red and the reddest table was #18, which included Renata Quintini of Lux Capital and Stephanie Palmeri from SoftTech VC, as well as SoftTech founder Jeff Clavier, who was sporting a red tie and pocket square.
  • The Rising Star award went to Kristina Shen, a vice president at Bessemer Venture Partners. Much like the Oscars, she gave a heartfelt thank you to her team at the firm and to her husband.
  • Ray Leach, chief executive at JumpStart Inc, a Cleveland nonprofit venture-development organization, received the American Spirit Award. I was sitting at a table with a heavy contingent of Ohioans, including folks from NCT Ventures in Columbus. So I heard them whistle loudly and I heard a great rundown on all things new in the Buckeye State.
  • The Outstanding Service Award went to life-sciences investor Ross Jaffe, MD, managing director at Versant Ventures, who has worked closely with the FDA on policies, including the impact of the medical-device tax on medtech startups.
  • The evening started with a memorial tribute to those the venture community lost in the past year: Bill Bowes from U.S. Venture Partners; Bill Edwards from Bryan & Edwards; Brenda Gavin from Quaker Partners; David Morgenthaler from Morgenthaler Ventures; Harry Weller from New Enterprise Associates, and Tom Perkins from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
  • Bill Draper, general partner at Draper Richards, received the Lifetime Achievement in Venture Capital Award — and two standing ovations from the crowd. Draper also had the line of the night when he referenced the VCs who passed away in the past year and said he was sad to see them go. “But we’re all here,” he gestured to the crowd. “And I’d rather go to their funeral than them go to mine.”

Action Item: The NVCA said that Eric T. Olson waived his fee to speak at the event. If you’d like to donate to the nonprofit he’s involved in, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, you can do so here: http://specialops.org/

Photo of businessman hand moving the king in a chess game courtesy of baona/iStock/Getty Images.

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