This month we are privileged to hear from Sean Dalton, General Partner at Highland Capital Partners, who focuses on leveraging disruptive technologies in the mobile, enterprise and media markets. He currently represents Highland on the boards of Calxeda, CENX, Movik Networks, QD Vision and Zoove and also actively works with Picochip and MokaFive. Sean is a former director of AccessLan Communications (acquired by Advanced Fibre Communications), Altiga Networks (acquired by Cisco), Casero (acquired by Radialpoint), CCTV Wireless (acquired by TerreStar), CHiL Semiconductor (acquired by International Rectifier), Covergence (acquired by Acme Packet), Envoy Networks (acquired by Texas Instruments), Ocular Networks (acquired by Tellabs), Optasite (acquired by SBA Communications), P.A. Semi (acquired by Apple), Starent Networks (NASDAQ:STAR; acquired by Cisco), Telcobuy.com (merged with World Wide Technology) and Telica (acquired by Alcatel/Lucent). Sean serves as a Director of the New England Venture Capital Association.
Sean Dalton, General Partner, Highland Capital Partners
Q. From which industry sector do you think we will see the most innovation in the next 2 years?
A. We all are enjoying a massive renaissance in innovation, particularly given that it wasn’t so long ago that it appeared the world economic order was about to be up-ended. How far we have come! Among my favorite trends are ubiquitous mobility, cloud computing and “over-the-top” content distribution. It’s also interesting to see how large industries like healthcare and critical issues like conservation are being addressed with new vigor by technology.
Q. 2011 is the year of...
A. ... the young entrepreneur. Of course, young (let’s say under 30) entrepreneurs have seemingly always been at the heart of the greatest companies: Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook just to name a few. But there are two trends that seem to be adding jet fuel to the fire. First, the barriers to build a company and launch a product have never been lower, due largely to technology innovations. But an equally important trend for college and graduate students is that choosing an entrepreneurial path is now viewed as the goal – the desired path -- as opposed to joining IBM, Merck, McKinsey or Goldman Sachs (with all due respect to these great companies). Being an entrepreneur is the long-term “safer” path.
Q. The biggest threat to the US venture capital industry is...
A. ... forgetting what it was like in January 2000, when very few asked “what could possibly happen?” While I’m not saying we are there yet, I can see the harbormaster going out to change the flags…
Q. What is your favorite book of the last year?
A. Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. Earlier this winter I took a few days off to spend time in a monastery. My first night there I randomly chose a book off the shelf. It’s the self-biographical story of Sheldon and his wife Davy as they meet, fall in love and marry. A desire to experience the world and fate brings them to Oxford where they befriend C.S. Lewis. It is with Lewis that their intellect is challenged by examining Christian doctrine to figure out whether there is a Trinity. So they do that and reach a conclusion (you’ll have to read it to find out), only then to be given a tragic circumstance that once again challenges both to their core. What really comes alive is how powerful a bond can be between people.
Q. Name a venture-backed company you are not invested in but wish you were.
A. This is a trick question on many levels! But I’m going to have to say Facebook. If for no other reason than my kids would actually think I’m cool. No one outside of our universe has any idea of what a “Starent Networks” is.
Q. Name a practicing VC from another firm who you admire and why?
A. Doug Leone of Sequoia. Early in my career we were on a board together. Doug was, and still is, great at cutting through the inconsequential to get to the core of the situation. One moment it might look as though he were sleeping as another board member and I debated the application of an IETF protocol. A moment later Doug would be all over the head of sales. “OK, enough stories. What was the number, did you hit it and why or why not? Let’s walk through the pipeline line-by-line…” Doug seems to consistently get to the heart of why a business is being successful, or why not. If I were to create a personal board of directors, I would ask Doug to be on mine.