Once upon a time there were five co-founders of LinkedIn. They each had a different job in building out the company. One ran engineering, another served as CTO. A third headed up marketing, a fourth product, and the fifth was CEO. They worked together to build out the platform and turn LinkedIn into a company that was cash flow positive three years after launching.
Little did they know that the success and notoriety of the startup was just beginning. With the company stabilized and early scaling challenges underhand, the founders began peeling off. Eric Ly went to start conference networking and social calendar company Presdo. Jean-Luc Vaillant headed out on a “well deserved break” according to his LinkedIn profile. And the third, German native Konstantin Guericke, accepted a CEO offer from a telephony company called Jaxtr.
These companies — and people — would not go on to near the prominence of LinkedIn and its perennial executive Reid Hoffman (the fifth founder, lesser-known Allen Blue, still serves as VP of Product Management at the company).
But eight quiet years after leaving, one such forgotten founder — Konstantin Guericke — has surfaced in the tech press limelight once again. He’s announced that he will be joining the German venture capital firm Earlybird as one of five general partners. Pando chatted with him about why he’s not sad he left LinkedIn when he did, even though the company has grown far bigger in the public’s eye since.
“I would have made more money staying at LinkedIn, but I never looked back,” Guericke says.
When he left in December 2006, Guericke felt that LinkedIn’s most exciting challenges were behind it, he recalls. The professional networking startup had taken the lead among its competitors and figured out a viable business model. The obstacles the company faces today are far different: Hiring a salesforce, advertising on mobile, and other public-company problems.
“To me they’re not as creatively interesting as getting this thing going in the first place,” Guericke says. “I don’t think I would enjoy or be particularly good at the kinds of challenges LinkedIn faces today.”
When telephony company Jaxtr approached him with the CEO offer, he was excited to try the new role in the early-stage company tackling an emerging field. Jaxtr tried to combine social media with mobile phone technology, essentially making it easier for people to call each other from their Myspace pages. Tried being the operative word.
Jaxtr wound up being a bit of a bust, although a small one on the Richter scale of startup failure. Guericke and his team struggled to monetize it and eventually accepted a humble exit for an undisclosed amount, getting acquired by Sabse Technologies in 2009. Guericke stepped down before that happened.
“That’s not how you hope it ends right?” Guericke says. “I thought maybe CEO isn’t the right role for me.”
This is the moment when many serial entrepreneurs dig in and pick their third venture, or decide to leave their founding days behind them and join an investment firm. But for Guericke, it was time to see his family. He took a break, living in Germany awhile with his wife and children. Upon returning to Silicon Valley, he joined a few boards — WhitePages and Doximity — and began mentoring entrepreneurship students at Stanford.
He was content with his comparably quiet life when German venture capital firm Earlybird asked him to become a part-time partner in April 2012. “When Earlybird first contacted me I was not impressed,” Guericke admits. His German founder friends told him the firm only wanted to invest in proven models or companies backed by prestigious Valley investors. “If you think that way you’ll never be a leader in this world,” Guericke says.
But the firm soon convinced him it had changed its copycat ways. Earlybird had decided to veer from the classic German conundrum of conservative venture capital investing (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and take bigger risks. Recruiting him to represent them in the US was one step in the process, Fortunately, for Earlybird, the challenge appealed to Guericke.
“For an entrepreneurial person, it’s nice to create something that hasn’t been done before rather than to be just another partner at another SV firm whose reputation has already been established,” he says.
It helped that as a German native, Guericke naturally wants to try to foster a healthier European startup ecosystem. Venture capitalists willing to take risks are a crucial part of that. He spent the last two years testing the Earlybird waters. But with today’s announcement of his promotion to general partner, he’s locked in.
“[As a venture partner,] if I had a startup idea and I wanted to do it I could have said, ‘Ok bye,’” Guericke explains. “But as a general partner you have to close some doors to open others.”
In a sense, that’s the theme of his recent professional life.