Sipping his morning coffee at the offices of Enterprise Partners in Brentwood, James Gauer glances over the day's itinerary, which is scribbled on a yellow note pad.
There are job interviews for a chief financial officer and a vice president of sales at a young Santa Monica-based software company that Brentwood is funding. He has also scheduled interviews with search firms to find a chief executive.
For a San Diego software company, Gauer will look for a joint partnership deal with another company. Later, he and another Enterprise partner will discuss taking public a Mountain View computer graphics company. And then there are negotiations to conduct with two more high-technology companies they hope to woo from rival venture capital offers.
In short, a busy day and much of it involves not just investing money, for which the firm gets an equity stake, but in making sure the companies getting the money have the right management and a sound business plan.
"People say, 'you sit there with a pile of money, people come to you with their ideas and you pass judgment,'" Gauer said. "The fact is, it's a highly competitive business, one where if you are not going hard at it, there are 150 other venture funds out there that are going to get the best deals."
Gauer is one of five general partners at Enterprise Partners, which has $415 million under management, most of it in health care and information technology businesses it has helped since their early stages.
To do his job effectively, Gauer said he must play three general roles.
First, he must be a technologist keeping pace with the industries in which Enterprise invests. Second, he must be a talent scout, looking for good managers. And finally, he must be a psychotherapist, offering support to executives who wrench through their first few years at Enterprise's companies.
This typically means a work day that starts before 7 a.m. and ends hours after dark. Gauer said his life is divided into two areas: raising his 12-year-old daughter Bryn, and his work with Enterprise, one of L.A.'s five largest venture capital funds.
"There's not time for much else," said Gauer, 46, a divorced father who is raising his daughter by himself.
Up at 6 a.m. or a little after, Gauer goes jogging and is soon reading through journals relevant to his field like Computer World and CIO magazine.
"I read those to keep up with advances in information technology and to get my brain started," he said.
Gauer arrives at Enterprise's Brentwood office a few minutes from his home around 9 a.m unless he has a breakfast meeting, which ends up being the case many mornings.
"A lot of deals we enter into involve people with the product but without a management team, so I quite often meet for breakfast with prospective CEOs for one of our companies or maybe an entrepreneur with an idea," Gauer said. "I am also on nine boards of directors for companies we have invested in, so I have a lot of those meetings."
Enterprise, he said, usually takes on projects in their early stages and aims to conclude them through an initial public offering or other closure in three and a half to four years.
The firm's five partners each specialize on finding certain types of investments. Given his experience with computers (his parents were both computer programmers), Gauer keeps his eye out for news on information technology.
Gauer said he focuses on companies with products that could play a role in the infrastructure of Fortune 500 companies, meaning "software and networking products out of which the companies build their information systems," he said.
That's the case with the Santa Monica software company, tentatively being called Mindworks, that he is interviewing job candidates for.
"They've got a great product in this case a suite of products having to do with data mining an extremely bright group of people well attuned to customer needs but no management team," Gauer said. "So I've been working day by day with them lately to help refine the business plan and strategy and find people for everything from marketing to technical writing.
"At any one time I probably have five to 10 management slots to fill, so a third of my time is spent interviewing candidates for the existing openings or maybe candidates for future management teams," he said.
On another project to which Enterprise is not quite committed San Diego-based Expersoft Gauer will spend time looking for joint marketing arrangements with other companies.
Gauer and another partner will discuss the pre-IPO stage of still another investment, Mountain View-based Rendition Inc., which makes 3-D graphics accelerator computer software. The company might to go public next year and is a likely "home run" for Enterprise. He said Rendition will probably return 10 to 15 times what the firm originally sunk in.
"Often, a home run is a matter of helping them with strategy and carving out a niche that they can protect and work to build once it goes public it can keep growing," he said.
Altogether, Gauer goes over five situations he must deal with that day, the most time-consuming being about two hours worth of interviews for prospective executives at Mindworks. The other talks and meetings will last about a half an hour each.
As he explains this, Gauer realizes he forgot another appointment that will mean a couple more hours. It's a Dallas software company that he declines to name but whose products are in a computer market niche that Enterprise looks upon as having considerable potential.
Conference calls are set later with the Dallas company's technical team to consider how much of a threat is posed by a similar and possibly competing Microsoft product.
Another conference call will be held with contacts that Enterprise has within Microsoft to look over the same questions.
Gauer explained that his upbringing and career path have prepared him for the multifarious demands of his work.
As a youth in the 1960s, Gauer was a "bit shifter," essentially a computer geek fascinated with his parents' work as computer programmers.
By the time he attended UCLA he was hired out as a computer consultant, later moving up into executive sales and marketing positions for technical product and service companies and eventually came into CEO roles.
Before being recruited to Enterprise in 1993, Gauer was CEO of a Belgium-based venture fund called Technicom that specialized in software and other information companies.
At that time, he was heavy into managing the affairs of a troubled software company the fund had invested in. Gauer said the Enterprise partners had him on a list of several hundred candidates in their effort to bring on a new partner. It took nine months and some 15 interviews, he said, before he was asked on board.
After dinner at home with his daughter at around 7 p.m., Gauer's workday continues. Each partner heads two to three venture deals a year, which stem from the 1,500 to 2,000 business proposals submitted each year. So his evenings are spent reading through the details of three to four deals and deciding whether they make the cut.
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