Mike Wolf is a mentor of mine, and a role model for many technology entrepreneurs and investors in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. He is a 26-year software veteran who has survived both startups and big companies. More recently, he has invested in numerous local startups, while mentoring and advising hundreds of young entrepreneurs. He was recently nominated for this year’s Arizona Governor's Celebration of Innovation Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors an individual who has greatly impacted the technology industry in Arizona (vote for him here).
Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us what you really do these days.
Mike: In general, I help young companies with their execution strategies. This usually involves some level of CEO advising/mentoring, business plan development, market definition, money raising, team building, etc. I am active on a number of Boards of organizations that support entrepreneurship. I chair the Selection Committee of the Arizona Angels, and have been an active Angel investor as General Partner of Lobodos Ventures over the last thirteen years.
Marty: How many different entrepreneurial roles have you experienced in your career?
Mike: My first job out of school was with Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS). Although it grew to be a very large and successful company, at the time, the culture was extremely entrepreneurial. At Capex, the company was in a post startup phase, but growing rapidly in the independent system software marketplace. We eventually sold the company to Computer Associates, beginning the consolidation phase in the enterprise software space.
At Viasoft, we started with a unique product idea, raised venture capital from world class VC’s, sold into a virgin market, created a world-wide operation, completed a successful IPO, and generated a $1 billion market cap. Vitrix was started in an old tanning salon. We eventually raised money by taking it public, and after several M&A transactions, still exists as several entities today.
Andigilog was bootstrapped by a close friend, developed some initial products, had to resort back to contracting to pay the bills, raised significant outside venture capital, and then was eventually sold off. AttachSoft started with a novel idea, raised $7M in venture funding, but then closed its doors within months of the financing, returning much of the capital raised.
My knowledge and experience is clearly the result of both successes and failures.
Marty: When did you know that you were first destined to be an entrepreneur?
Mike: I’m not sure I ever thought about being “destined” to be an entrepreneur. You just make the leap when you have the chance. At the same time, I believe the environment and the culture that you’re exposed to can dramatically affect when and if you decide to “go for it”.
Marty: Are you willing to share any personal challenges you were able to overcome to get to this point?
Mike: I didn’t grow up in an entrepreneurial family or an entrepreneurial environment. I had to seek out entrepreneurial companies and build relationships with key entrepreneurs, especially here in the Silicon Desert (pun intended).
Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur these days from your perspective?
Mike: Absolutely no question, raising outside capital for your venture. With the IPO market virtually dead, the Venture Capital industry shrinking dramatically, Angel investors reeling from losses in real estate and the economy, and lending institutions doing anything but lending, it’s very difficult to raise money, even for quality deals.
Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being an investor?
Mike: With initial startup funds so difficult to obtain, and with no assurance of follow-on financing, the risk to early investors is overwhelming.
Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?
Mike: Be honest about the quality of your idea and your own personal strengths. Surround yourself with high quality people. Learn how to be a great salesman. Be persistent.
Marty: Mike, thank you very much for your insights and your continuing role-model leadership for all of us, and best of luck in all your investments! You can contact Mike directly via email or his personal website.