Peter van Oppen is a member of Trilogy’s investing team. He served as Chairman and CEO of Advanced Digital Information Corporation (ADIC) and its predecessor companies from 1989 to 2006. Previously, he worked in the medical electronics industry and as a consultant at Price Waterhouse LLP and Bain & Company in New York, Boston, and London. A data storage company, ADIC grew from sales and valuation levels of below $10 million to annual revenue of nearly $500 million and a cash sale price of about $800 million in 2006. He was an initial investor in companies that became Voicestream and Western Wireless and served as a director of related entities at various times between 1992 and the sale of Western Wireless in 2005. In addition to ADIC and Western Wireless, he has served on numerous public company boards including Isilon Systems through its sale to EMC as well as many private entities.
Peter served as Chair of the Whitman College Board of Trustees and as Chair of its Investment Committee. He was formerly an Advisory Board member and director of the Seattle Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, As a public company director, he has participated in panels related to effective Corporate Governance. Peter holds a BA in Political Science from Whitman College and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar. In addition to his active board roles with Trilogy portfolio companies, Peter currently serves on the board of Impinj (NASDAQ: PI) and previously served on the board of Level 3 Communications.
People look at many different attributes and evaluating entrepreneurs, and I think the partners at Trilogy look at different things. Some people will look at a business, and they’ll think in terms of the total available market, or they’ll think in terms of the moat and how you defend it.
For me, those issues are more about the energy, enthusiasm, and excellence demonstrated by the entrepreneur. And as they say, it depends a little bit on the experience of the partner and you probably get different views, which I think is healthy. But I tend personally to be biased toward the question of the passion that the people bring, not knowing in any entrepreneurial business, not knowing what to expect, where it’s going. What you really need is the vitality and the commitment of the dynamism and the grit to get wherever the path leads.
I think the critical elements are work with people who you trust and who are smart. It’s very difficult to predict the roadmap, the path that the business will go down. I once worked with someone who said “never run out of money and have smart people around you”. And I think that’s the most important advice I can give somebody.
So if you are an entrepreneur, look for a culture you like, people you get along with. People who are smart, who you think you’ll understand to work with and look for an available market or an opportunity that has some scale and an ability to grow, and then it just takes work, and more importantly, imagination.
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