The Executive Series: An Interview with Mr. Bruce Taragin
About ‘The Executive Series’
Through ‘The Executive Series’, The Commentator provides its readership with access to the thoughts and experiences of highly accomplished individuals in the business world. The column has a conversational style and expresses the unique story of each business leader, including their motivations, struggles, successes and failures. ‘The Executive Series’ also serves as a forum for a broader conversation about leadership in business and in life.
About Mr. Bruce Taragin (Adapted from Blumbergcapital.com)
Mr. Bruce Taragin currently serves as a Managing Director for Blumberg Capital, a San Francisco based early-stage venture capital firm. Bruce has 23 years of experience as a venture capital investor, entrepreneur, technology investment banker and corporate attorney. Prior to joining Blumberg Capital in 1998, Bruce co-founded and held several senior management positions within technology companies including Charles River Computers. Bruce also structured and managed early-stage technology transactions at Hambrecht & Quist, Mayer Brown & Platt and Bankers Trust Company. A native of New York, Bruce earned his BA in Finance and Communications, cum laude, from Yeshiva University, and his MBA and JD from Fordham University.
Bruce serves as a member or observer on the Board of Directors of Appboy, Arcadia Data, Bee, BioCatch, Coverhound, Lenddo, Mariana, Revionics, Roam and Sealights. He also serves on the board and the investment monitoring committee of the Jewish Community Foundation of Northern California.
This interview was conducted by Raymond Cohen.
Raymond Cohen: When was the first time you considered yourself a leader? How did that experience shape your leadership style as you advanced in your career?
Bruce Taragin: It’s an interesting question, and the words “leader” and “leadership” take on different meanings and different shapes and forms over the course of one’s life and career. I reflect back to when I was in High School, I was enrolled in the honors program at YU High School where they had some leadership courses and seminars. That sparked my appetite for leadership and as I moved on to YU undergrad, I served as Junior class president, Vice President of the Liberal Arts Club at Yeshiva College and President of the Sy Syms School of Business Student Council. I was actually the first student president of Sy Syms. I graduated 1989, the first graduating class of the business school, and so I was the ‘George Washington’ of Sy Syms. It was interesting to be a trailblazer in that capacity. I learned a lot about what it’s like to lead something from the ground up.
RC: Who were your early influences? How did they impact you as an emerging leader?
BT: Definitely my parents and my siblings. The bar was set really high for me. My dad was a tremendous athlete and was recruited to play professionally, yet managed to balance interests and career and became a dentist who started his own practice. My mom also launched her own business in advertising. So I saw an entrepreneurial spirit in both of them. And all three of my older brothers were all amazingly accomplished – they attended great institutions, graduated at the top of their programs, were captains of sports teams - two of my brothers were Editor-in-Chiefs of The Commentator. All of them inspired me to strive to accomplish my goals and to avoid settling for mediocrity.
[caption id="attachment_4875" align="aligncenter" width="193"] (Blumbergcapital.com)[/caption]
RC: What is one of the biggest challenges young professionals will face on the way to a successful career?
BT: I think one of the greatest challenges in life is finding that work-life balance. I've personally been a big advocate of Maimonides’ approach of balance. Obviously everyone will have their own definition of what that practically means but the concept of seeking out a balance is extremely important. And probably one of the greatest lessons I've learned that I try to transmit to people who are starting out in their careers is to find a mentor - someone that you can really see as a role model. Find someone that understands your priorities and can guide you in a real way.
RC: Who, would you say, has filled that role for you?
BT: My wife, Michelle, who also went to YU for college and is a doctor. Having her as a partner has enabled me to pursue my dreams. I had this inflection point in my career when I left law. I was working at a big law firm on Park Ave. and I wasn't very happy - I wasn't fulfilled, it wasn't my passion. Her perspective was: 'quit - you'll figure it out.' She was in advertising and I was in law. We both quit our jobs and went backpacking across Asia for a couple of months and then moved to Israel where I got a job working for Hambrecht & Quist - a leading San Francisco based technology investment banking firm. My wife inspired me to overcome the constraints and fears that so many of us face in our day jobs. We're always afraid to go out there on a limb and take a chance.
RC: How do you compare your experience in law to being in venture capital?
BT: When I was working in law, I would rue Sunday evenings thinking about going into the office on Monday and, in contrast to that, in venture capital, I work 24/6 and love every second of it. It’s inspiring to meet with young entrepreneurs who aspire to build the next Google, the next Facebook, the next Twitter. I have the opportunity to meet with between 3000-5000 companies a year and invest in around 10-15 of them. Working with entrepreneurs and investing in their companies is truly a privilege and I pinch myself every day.
...one of the greatest lessons I've learned that I try to transmit to people who are starting out in their careers is to find a mentor - someone that you can really see as a role model.
RC: Why did you decide to come to Yeshiva University for your undergraduate degree?
BT: My dad was a dentist, my mom was an entrepreneur, my two older brothers were doctors, my other brother was an MBA and a CPA who worked on Wall Street and actually all of us went to Yeshiva University. My wife went to Yeshiva University as did her father. So, for us, YU was always considered to be the 'Harvard' of religious institutions and something that spoke to us. Although I had opportunities to go to Ivy schools and some other prestigious programs, to me the 'Torah U'Madda' approach was really important to carry forward.
Another thing that I’ve come to love about YU is the strength of its alumni network. So many alumni have gone on to amazing careers and their first reaction when hearing you’re from YU is ‘How can I help?’ which is really amazing.
RC: What is one of the biggest mistakes you’ll see in a pitch?
BT: Insufficient market research. Since we invest pre-product and pre-revenue, often times an entrepreneur will say 'I haven't had any customers, so I don't yet know what the market will think.’ That's the wrong answer. Before we invest in a company, we have a network of Chief Information Officers and Chief Marketing Officers from companies like Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson who review the product. The question we're after is 'How big is the problem that this is solving?' In other words, is this product a 'nice to have' or is it a 'must have'?
For example, one of our companies, Hootsuite, is a social media aggregator platform now valued at approximately a billion dollars, making it a unicorn. I would say that the CEO and founder Ryan Holmes was incredibly successful at perfecting Hootsuite’s product/market fit.
RC: Tell me about an ethical dilemma that you once faced. How did you approach the situation?
BT: In around 2003-2004 we went to Dubai to raise money for one of our funds. Some of the groups that we spoke to were very interested in us and were offering us hundreds of millions of dollars in investments. But considering that we were in Dubai, we had to downplay our involvement with Israel. I was sitting over breakfast with my partner and I said ‘Who are we? we are a U.S./Israel fund, we're both Zionists, we are fiduciaries. Some of our current investors come from families who built the State of Israel and part of the reason why they invested with us is because of the value we are creating in Israel and abroad.’ Needless to say, we used the situation as an opportunity to reassert ourselves and our values as an organization.
RC: What are some of Blumberg Capital’s core values, and how do they shape the company’s decision making?
BT: We have integrity. We're transparent. We're entrepreneur friendly, those are the mantras that we live by, that is our ethos. That's what has enabled us to be successful; because people really appreciate the way we interact with them. In life, it’s not so much what you say as much as it is how you say it. I try to make sure that as a firm we over-deliver on our promises. Entrepreneurs appreciate that we have a sense of integrity, that my word is my bond. Sadly, most people don't do that. Integrity and a good work ethic will go a long way in your career.