As a general partner in one of Canada's larger venture capitalists, Janoska acts as a wise man for the companies in his portfolio. He relishes his ability to drive an entire cluster of companies. "I call it painting with a larger brush," he says, comparing the role with his start-up days.
One afternoon this spring, Janoska looked back at that crazy, intense period. He spent much of the year ricocheting across North America, meeting with clients and vendors. "Building a company can be brutal," he says. "The sleepless nights and the anxiety, and the constant travel-flying through thunderstorms and plane delays and missing flights, and then maybe a customer kicks your ass for being late for a meeting." He used to dream of his exit strategy and the sorts of things he might do if he was able to cash out; being a venture capitalist seemed just about right. But now that he's actually doing it, Janoska finds he's nostalgic for his start-up.
He's not alone. Anyone who has lived through the maelstrom of a successful start-up will tell you there is nothing more backbreaking. And then they'll tell you it was the best time of their lives. They find themselves pining for the adrenaline, the intensity, the camaraderie and the strategic challenge of founding something. They wonder whether they'll ever again feel the sort of purpose that their life had during the tech boom.
It's why so many entrepreneurs fail at retiring. Take Sandra Wear, the DocSpace co-founder, who left the company figuring she wouldn't have to work that hard for the rest of her life. She started
up a consultancy, Tykra Inc.; she's a vocal advocate for women in technology; and she's been producing a Spanish cooking show, Quixote's Kitchen. But within a year, she hopes to join a start-up. Her change of heart stems from something she's realized since becoming financially independent. "Ultimately, you have to do what makes you happy. And I get the most satisfaction from executing deals," says Wear. "Starting something from scratch and building that up-that's where I find the excitement."
Canada's classic example of serial entrepreneurship is Vancouver's Adam Lorant, John Seminerio and Paul Terry, the trio of engineers who created one of this country's most lucrative start-ups. They founded Abatis Systems Inc. in 1998 and sold it in July, 2000, to California's Redback Networks Inc. for shares then worth $1 billion. By that autumn, they had begun preparations to found OctigaBay Systems Corp., which closed a $24-million round of VC funding earlier this year. "There's a tremendous amount of satisfaction walking into a place that you're helping to build," says Lorant. "It's just a lot of fun. It's like a roller-coaster ride."
"Look," says Janoska, "there's nothing more satisfying than building a company. Nothing. You conceive a rough business plan and then convince somebody to give you millions of dollars of investment? And then you sell your product to customers? And if you're lucky enough to have an exit? That's tremendously rewarding."
Janoska compares the experience of living through a start-up to university. "The all-nighters, the stress and the celebration-once you've left it, you look back and you say, man, we had a hell of a good time. There is nothing more stressful, and there is nothing more rewarding."
Venture capital is great, says Janoska. But..."It's just
not the same. It's a tradeoff. I enjoy helping the smaller companies, and the ability to step back, see the larger
picture. But you don't get the huge adrenaline rush. And I miss that."
(5)I had no clue why I did it
More than anyone, former Janna Systems CEO Bill Tatham demonstrates the peculiar problem of the tech millionaire. Tatham is 44, and it's been two years since he got out. In his former life at Janna Systems-where he was Boswell the helicopter pilot's boss-Tatham used to get invited by business schools to impart his wisdom to students. He developed a routine for these performances. He'd laser-point his way through a few slides, and before too long he'd present his audience with a question. "Why do we work?" he'd ask. He'd stop and survey the audience's eager, wrinkle-free faces, watching the ambitious young men and women process the question. Then he'd toss out some possible answers: "Is it because I like the challenge? Is it for the intellectual stimulation?" Some nods. "Because I like to associate with a quality peer group?" Some shrugs, as the room wonders where Tatham is going with this.