Jim Smith came to Mohr Davidow in 1999 after a successful career developing computer systems. “A startup is like a puzzle,” Jim says. “It’s a beautiful thing to see when those pieces come together.” Jim invests in software and services startups that provide cloud infrastructure and solve big data problems.
Mohr Davidow has long had an interest in companies that make better use of the mountains of data collected and stored during the course of doing business. Mining for usable data in those vast repositories has been a Holy Grail of computing. The Internet has only amplified available data and made the potential opportunities more tantalizing.
“The first five years of the Internet was all about connecting people,” Jim says. “Now everyone is connected and is offering tons of information about what calls them to action.”
Mohr Davidow resists what venture capitalists call a “drive-by” strategy of making token investments in areas deemed “hot” according to conventional wisdom. The firm prefers to take a higher-risk, but greater reward approach to investing. It prefers investing in early-stage startups offering a unique technological solution to long-standing problems. Jim often enlists potential customers to help entrepreneurs better understand their needs. “We can get large customers to talk to our companies because we have credibility with them,” he says. “These customers have seen the benefit of working closely with our companies.”
Mohr Davidow also defines its investment areas as opposed to taking a more general approach. “A lot of firms claim to have focus, but few live up to it,” Jim says. “It can be hard to stay away from me-too investments. They seem like a safer bet. Of course, the greater rewards go to those who take the greatest risks.
“We love to dig in early on technology-heavy problems,” he continues. “This is a firm that really loves technology and has always looked toward solving big data problems.”
Facts & Stats
- Received a doctorate in electrical engineering and a master's degree in industrial management from Stanford University. He also earned a bachelor's degree in computer systems engineering and a master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford.