Get To Know the VC – Tim Wilson

As part of our “Get To Know the VC” blog series, Artiman partner, Tim Wilson, answered a few questions. Here’s what he had to say:

1. Did you ever start a company yourself? If so, what is the most important thing you’ve learned from this experience?

Starting a company from scratch is one of the hardest things you can do. My first one was a chain of frozen yogurt stores in Texas in 1983. We worked 90 hours a week. Now I’m involved in an Artiman investment that was started with me, the founder and his dog. I’m involved in two angel investments that are getting off the ground. The most important thing I’ve learned from these experiences is that you need to be expecting the unexpected. To name just a few examples: A 17-year-old employee was shot during robbery at our anchor yogurt store. We were in a great location in a nice strip mall and adjacent to a college campus. Kids from the college and surrounding neighborhood would cycle over and cool down over a yogurt. The day following the shooting, sales dropped 50%. I have had key hires accept a position only to resign before showing up. I have had suppliers steal consigned inventory. What do you learn from all of that? It takes energy to deal with the unexpected. It takes energy to ensure you continue to sell a prospective employee after they sign on and before they show up and it takes energy to pick your partners wisely. It takes energy to get your first sale without a known brand, presence and cash in the bank. I have a lot of respect for what it takes to stand up a company. 

2. What company would you start today?

If I started a company today it would be somewhere in the intersection of AI/robotics/drones and 3D printing manufacturing things “in situ.”  

The first wave of robotics hit in factory automation. The next wave will be “in situ” factories where you show up with AI/Robotics/drones/3d Printers and make stuff on site. Interesting examples of startups include “printing” continuous pipelines to making wind turbine blades in the field vs. making one at a factory and shipping a blade via a truck to get it on site.

3. Why are white space investments so interesting in your eyes?

Because they are not easy to do which makes white space investments a blessing and a curse. The blessing being the barrier of entry is higher if you get it right because you have to use multiple disciples to solve problems. The curse is that these are hard problems that require multiple disciplines to pull off. Somedays it feels easier to distribute scooters throughout San Francisco and fight for market share.

4. What has been the most interesting acquisition in the past year?

The Time Warner Cable acquisition by AT&T is staggering to my mind. My first job was at Ma Bell, which was a split up as it was too big, and a monopoly. Not only is humpty dumpty put back together again but now has assets, scale and political influence far beyond what I saw in the early 1980s. The power that’s being gained by those large players is simply unprecedented ranging from the ability to get net neutrality revoked to the control over content that rides on the wires.  

5. What columns/blogs do you read?

I’m religious reader of the MIT Technology Review Blog, visit BBC/Wash Post/NY Times for a quick snapshot of inter/national news, and read the Sunday SF Chronicle cover to cover. After that it varies depending on the topic du jour I am interested in or know little about such as cryptocurrency. 

6. Most challenging professional experience?

Most challenging professional experience is laying people off when a company is in trouble. 

Sometimes things don’t work as we hope and you have to take really hard decisions that affect people’s lives and protects those that stay on. That doesn’t mean I don’t lose sleep over that decision. 

7. What have you personally invested in?

We have industrialized food production, eat too much, overmedicate ourselves and live in increasingly polluted regions, which collectively adds stress. GDP spend on healthcare is not coming down without addressing these macro issues no matter which party you belong to. My latest personal investments have been in nutraceuticals  that trace back to what was in our diet when we were emerging as a species from Africa. I’m spending more time in studying biochemistry than a physicist ever should. We’re working to understand the roles of certain molecules in human health and longevity. “Fixing” ourselves after we are sick is not sustainable.  I am spending time looking at how to make/extract valuable molecules we or animals we eat need in our diets in order to stay healthier longer. 

8. Do you think bitcoin or other cryptocurrency has a chance to become a substantial piece in the world’s capital reserves? 

Perhaps not Bitcoin but a cryptocurrency has the appeal of removing the ability of any government’s ability to print more or less of that currency. Governments with valuable fiat currencies will not want to cede their power to print and track money flows. I think there will be cryptocurrency approaches that build enough trust that can earn a seat at the table in time. 

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