Category Archives: Entrepreneurs

Gary Swart, Polaris Partner

My Polaris Partners and I am stoked to announce that Gary Swart will be joining us as our Partner.

He’ll  join our Tech Investment Team as Venture Partner, based out of our San Francisco office.

Gary was most recently the CEO of oDesk — the world’s largest online workplace — and chose to become part of the Polaris partnership among many opportunities presented to him from top Silicon Valley firms.

He’s  proven himself to be a respected and well-known entrepreneur, operating executive, and thought leader in SaaS technology, marketplace-building, and the evolving workplace.

He’ll apply his knowledge to help our portfolio companies, source and lead investments and further build out our tech investing practice in Silicon Valley.


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I’ve been fortunate to have known Gary for nearly 20 years, since he worked on my team at Pure Atria/Rational and led our Corporate Sales efforts.  Gary was an integral part of Rational’s success, and was always one of those guys that one knew was destined for big things — and one that I knew I wanted to someday work with again.

Since that time, he’s gone on to build an incredible career and an incredible company at oDesk.  He led a team that has not only built exceptional shareholder value — including through its recent merger with Elance  — but importantly, a company culture that known for its collaborative teamwork and quality of work environment.

He’s proven it possible to thoughtfully build and lead a company with billions of dollars of value — and build it in a manner that inspires special people to love working with each other.

oDesk is known not only as the world’s largest workplace marketplace, but also a truly special company composed of truly special people.

Gary, as I did 14 years ago, is embarking on his “second career” as an investor, after having spent the first part of his career as an entrepreneur and operating executive.

I know Gary will be super-successful with Polaris.

He’s is passionate about many of the things we and our Polaris Repeat Entrepreneurs are passionate about. He and my partners share many of the same fundamental values and beliefs.

Gary, at his core, is a Coach, Mentor and Builder.

He is a “people person” who has great talents for recruiting, selecting, guiding and developing special talent.

Beyond his work at oDesk, he’s a prolific speaker, widely-followed blogger, and superb people collector who has given much of his time to the entrepreneurial ecosystem around the Silicon Valley, San Francisco and the Stanford communities.

Gary is a mentor to entrepreneurs and students alike, and frequently speaks to groups about the challenges growing businesses face. As an example, in 2013 alone, he gave more than 40 talks to universities, incubators and other organizations fostering entrepreneurship.

Gary’s built a reputation as a thought leader on the future of work, how best to hire and manage teams, and on the rise of the “freelance economy.” He has spoken at the Inc. Leadership Conference, The Economist’s Ideas Economy Panel, SXSW , TechCrunch 50, GigaOM Net:Work, and at HBS — which teaches a case study on oDesk.

His commentary has appeared in a variety of publications including LinkedIn, Forbes, and TechCrunch.  And he’s appeared on TV and radio outlets, including CNBC, BBC, Bloomberg Television, NPR, and the Fox Business Network.

He’ll be a great partner to our companies, to his Polaris partners, and to special entrepreneurs he works with and invests in.

He’ll help extend our California technology footprint — beyond our current 16 tech portfolio companies — add to our super-strong SaaS footprint of 37 companies nationally.  And, very importantly, lead our expertise around marketplace businesses.

He’ll work closely with us as we continue to seek out,  invest in and support transformative business models, technologies and teams alike.

He’ll be a great Partner to us all.

Why We Led The Investment in InsideSales.com

Today our investment in InsideSales.com was made public.

SaaS is the prevailing theme in Polaris’ technology portfolio, and the world that I personally work in on a daily basis.

The Consumerization of IT — and with it, re-innovation of the sales and marketing industry demands that the next generation of great, transformative sales & marketing automation companies be built.

This next generation will arm the high-velocity, low-touch selling models — and the data-driven, growth-hacking, customer acquisition marketing models which are disrupting the industry.

We’re big believers that business model disruption can be as compelling as technology disruption.

The explosion of Inside Selling has disrupted the Sales industry. It’s transformed the way companies sell their products to enterprises. 

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It’s the new enterprise sales model.

But this new model has exploded without a purpose-built platform to optimize productivity and accelerate the time to close business.

InsideSales.com’s platform not only manages this process, but its learning engine and algorithmic approaches bring intelligence that dramatically increases the ability to close customers.

They exhibit the rare combination of enabling business model transformation by means of truly disruptive technology.

Two years ago, “the lines crossed” with regard to worldwide Inside Sales headcount, as compared to Outside Sales headcount.

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InsideSales.com’s sales acceleration platform brings visibility, automation, and intelligence to the inside sales process — for which time, productivity and measurability are of  the essence.

The science of predictive analytics stands to be one of the most impactful technology trends of the next decade. InsideSales.com differentiates itself from other sales & marketing technologies by combining

  • industry-leading predictive analytics, with
  • inside sales individual and management best practices, with
  • advanced and patented approaches to machine learning and cognition.

Having led large sales organizations early in my career, I can say first-hand that never-ending challenges with Inside Sales Teams center around shortening productivity ramps, managing personnel retention and churn, and providing guided selling coaching and processes that are consistent, transferable and above all — measurable.

Within our own portfolio of  40 SaaS companies, those that have adopted InsideSales’ platform have  averaged 3X improvements in funnel optimization, 60%+ improvement in new rep productivity, and 30%+ increases in sales close rates.

All of this summarizes the underlying context behind our enthusiasm for InsideSales.com’s opportunity to build a multi-billion dollar company.

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As outlined in the WSJ  and TechCrunch articles which appeared todayonce in a while, a company has an opportunity to truly transform an entire industry.

We believe InsideSales.com is that kind of company.

Our funding round validates the groundbreaking 2014 Sales Acceleration Technology Market Size Study, which indicates that North American companies already spend $12.8 billion annually on sales acceleration technology — with a heavy emphasis on sales communications and intelligence. And the market is growing. SaaS is a nearly $40B addressable market, compounding nearly 30%. The study estimates that North American businesses could spend in excess of $30 billion on sales acceleration technology by 2017.

Dave Elkington, ISDC’s co-founder and CEO, outlined their “unfair advantage”:

Customers, partners and investors frequently ask us what our secret sauce is. Our secret sauce is our scientific approach to sales. We use data as a strategic weapon to systematically improve sales performance and drive sales growth for our own company and for customers who want to maximize revenue growth. is acceleration InsideSales.com is analyzing millions of anonymized sales transactions and leveraging this data in ways no other company has ever imagined. This additional $100 million in financing, which brings our total funding to $140 million, will enable InsideSales.com to continue improving and expanding its patented sales acceleration technology to better serve its valued customers and partners.

In a nutshell, like any investment, there are several basic factors which guide our conviction as investors. Included in the basics here :

  • Market Size & Timing: as noted above, this a special moment to transform a gigantic industry.
  • People: Dave and his co-Founder and President, Ken Krogue, are truly complementary visionaries and thought leaders. Dave’s thought leadership centers on Data Science, Ken’s on the practices of all things Sales. They’ve attracted a truly world-class management team with been-there, done-that entrepreneurial and management experience in scaling companies like salesforce.com, VMware, Citrix and Infor to industry leadership. Beyond strong investment, they’ve attracted a world-class and special team of Advisors.
  • Technology: As is the case with most truly-special SaaS companies, their key asset centers around data, predictive analytics, and workflow solutions.  They use data as a strategic weapon to systematically improve sales performance and drive growth. It’s hard to find a more compelling value proposition. Incredibly-innovative algorithms, machine learning and predictive analytics, paired with cognitive learning technology, amplified by a truly-unique level of domain expertise. So, it’s also hard to find stronger long-view differentiation.
  • Execution: Beyond top-line growth, the company’s sales operating metrics and economics are among the very best I have ever seen in the software industry.
  • Philosophy:  The day I met Dave, I instinctively aligned with how he views his opportunity, how he’s building both his company and a very special culture, his commitment to giving back to community, and how he partners.  It’s safe to say we both found a partner with shared core values and beliefs, complementary experiences, and shared enthusiasm for the vision as well as the journey.

My Polaris Partners and I could not be more stoked to help Dave, Ken and their team achieve their goals.

Pat Kinsel, Venture Partner

My Polaris Partners and I am are stoked to announce Pat Kinsel’s elevation from Entrepreneur–in-Residence to Venture Partner.

Pat’s been part of our Technology Team since joining us as Entrepreneur-in-Residence last year.  During that time, he’d been thinking through ideas for his next thing, while also actively involved in sourcing, vetting, and helping to lead prospective investments.

As importantly, he’s been expanding the network he brought to the firm — and building  new relationships with super-talented entrepreneurs.

Building the kind of close partnerships which are the keystone of how @polarisvc works.

As EIR, Pat’s passion for creating and developing technologies and ideas became increasingly-augmented by his active involvement in mentoring young entrepreneurs.  And by his interest in becoming an investor.  He’s made several personal investments and has been part of a number of our most recent projects and decisions.

His forward-looking focus as a Venture Partner will primarily be around SaaS, Data Analytics, Social, and emerging businesses focused at the intersection of consumer and business utility.   As I mentioned in TechCrunch today, he’s got serious chops around identifying and building disruptors to search and data mining technologies – and bringing them to market.

Pat joined us as EIR after Twitter acquired his Polaris-backed company, Spindle, last June. I worked closely with Pat as he co-founded Spindle along with Simon Yun and Alex Lambert, and got a great sense for his intellect, street smarts — and knack for really listening.

And for coaching from the perspective of somebody who’s been through many of the same challenges as the entrepreneurs he helps to guide and support.  For networking and collecting talent.

All integral skills to a successful early stage investor.

Most importantly to us, we saw how entrepreneurs in the Boston & Silicon Valley/SF communities responded to Pat.  How much they respected his input.  And how effective he was at getting them rallied around their ideas.

Since joining us, Pat’s been highly-involved in the Boston/Cambridge entrepreneurial community as a mentor and visiting practitioner at the Harvard innovation Lab and a mentor to Techstars Boston. He’s earned an incredible reputation with entrepreneurs in both Boston and Silicon Valley.

Prior to Spindle, Pat led teams at both Microsoft FUSE Labs and Microsoft Startup Labs, reporting into Ray Ozzie, then Microsoft’s Chief Technical Officer and Software Architect.  Pat was a co-inventor of several issued and pending patents in the areas of social search and collaboration.

We’re all looking forward to the contributions he’ll make to @polarisvc.

To identify transformative innovations and innovators.  And to help Polaris build more great partnerships.

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The Importance of Special

I was having a conversation the other day with one of our portfolio CEOs, shortly after having had a very similar one with another with whom I’ve just begun working.

The discussion was about hiring, building culture and setting organizational tone.

Even more to the point, the importance of establishing and driving high team standards into every function and operation of a company.

To put a target on the point, the criticality of discipline in sticking to those high standards when recruiting and selecting teams.

People are the most important asset of a company, in case you’ve not heard.

In plowing through the J-Curve of a startup’s growth, it can become all too-easy to compromise on a tough hire.

A few scenarios:

  • Thinking, for example, that it’s taking too long to find the “perfect” CMO, so “let’s back off a bit” on expectations. After all, the thinking goes, there’s an urgent organizational need to get things done. Urgency is a key cultural value of this company.
  • Thinking that a particular candidate may not be is a “slam dunk” chemical fit with the rest of the team, but can be an absolute rockstar individual contributor.
  • Thinking that hiring a “name” talent from a big company is what’s needed to help bring the company attention.
  • Thinking that a candidate may not have ALL of the skill sets & experiences necessary to be extraordinarily successful, but “perfect is the enemy of good enough”.

Deadly risks, all.

The key ingredient to building a great team is having an uncompromising company principle — central to the cultural backbone of a company — to not hire ANYONE who’s not special.

  • Hiring someone who may be on the upswing of her or his career and lacks some of the experience for a role can be great.

As long as they are truly special.

  • Hiring someone who’s a “name” from a successful company that’s successfully plowed through the J-Curve can be great.

As long as that individual helped contribute to the plowing.  Has the chops to roll up her/his sleeves and get things done as a contributor and leader. No matter what the role.

As long as an exec has proven to be a leader who leads by contribution, collaboration and iteration. Not by hierarchy.

Young companies can’t be managed and led by heirarchy. It’s the toxic killer of early stage culture.

Heirarchy’s not collaborative.  It feeds personal agendas & ego. It discourages learning through risk-taking & mistakes. It’s antithetical to a culture of rapid, iterative decision-making & team growth.

Special sounds like hyperbole and subjective buzz jive, but it’s not.

Special means superior in as many dimensions as possible. It’s more than intellect.

Many CEOs and BoDs equate intelligence with leadership. And live to regret it.

Special = Deep, proven knowledge in an area critical to the success of the company + Work ethic + Integrity + Teamsmanship + Passion + Ability to manage, lead and contribute by influence, energy, and passion – (ego + individual agenda)

Special can be that proven Growth Hacker, having all of the above, who may only have 3, 4 or 5 yrs of total experience. But those 3, 4 or 5 yrs featured adaptive, iterative learning.  And real impact on her/his last company.

It’s also Attitude. Make-it-happen-as-a-world-class-TEAM attitude.

I in team

So how to find special?

Through connecting with special people and people-collecting. Always. Networking even when a specific hiring need is down the road.

By finding the mentors and protégées of special people.

By doing deep diligence on each and every person brought into a company.

By making certain that candidates have truly-superior abilities.

And desire to both yearn — as well as to learn.

To find special, CEOs and BoD members need to be architects of team composition.

They need to encourage each and every team member to hold their teammates up to the highest standards. And they need to drive that ethos into the keystone of a company’s culture.

Special loves special.

Special people want to work with special people. And are driven away when they feel that leadership has compromised.

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Passion. Character. Commitment. Excellence in an applied area.  Words that describe what “special” is all about.  Whether building a young company team —  a football team.

If the “perfect” candidate for a given phase of a  company’s growth not found —  if a candidate surfaces who is slightly more junior, or lacks one or two of the skills outlined in the aspirational description of the “perfect’ candidate, it might still be OK.

As long as that person is really, truly special.