The End Of The Road – One Year Later

It dawned on me this weekend that exactly one year ago we announced that Highway 12 Ventures (the venture capital firm I co-founded over a decade earlier), would not be raising a third fund and that we would be winding down the firm. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I made that most difficult decision of my career.

Being more reflective that outward-looking the last year, I haven’t felt particularly inspired to keep this blog very active. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I know in my heart it was the right decision for me and today I find myself at the most exciting and rewarding period of my professional life. Everywhere I go, friends ask me “what have you been up to?” and “so what’s next?” so I decided to put pen to paper (figuratively) and answer those two questions.

What have I been up to? Well, contrary to popular belief, I haven’t retired. More than anything, I’ve been working closely with Phil and Derek at Highway 12 Ventures. We still have close to twenty portfolio companies (though that number is waning as two have signed LOI’s to be acquired in the last month and a third is in discussions with multiple potential partners) and there’s a mountain of work to be done over the coming years to harvest our portfolio. We’re fortunate to be investors in a handful of companies that have scaled dramatically and while there’s an awful lot of wood to chop, we are well positioned to create very handsome returns for our investors. There are also some very exciting earlier-stage companies we’re involved with which could amplify those returns.

Over the last year, I’ve also committed more time to family, fitness and photography. I’m lucky to be the dad of two amazing young teenagers that I’m marveling at watching turn into young adults. It’s been very rewarding to engage deeper with them than I ever have. It was also very gratifying to watch and support Pam chair the levy campaign for the Boise School District this year (landslide victory!), and fade into the background of cooking the meals and driving our kids to their various events while she committed close to a year of her life to ensuring that our nationally-ranked schools maintain the budgets necessary to remain so.

I’ve also stepped up my commitment to exercise and nutrition – determined to model for my kids that there are choices you can make about what you put in your body and how you maintain it into middle age. I’ve also been inspired by Pam’s new-found love for running and the amazing endurance efforts of friends like Brad Feld, Jim Franklin, Decker Rolph, Seth Levine, Ian Rogers and so many others – so I’ve stepped up my efforts in this area to see what I’m made of.

Lastly, I’m devoting more time to photography, the first artistic passion I’ve discovered in my life and it’s been deeply rewarding to learn and pursue an art. I find it both terrifically stimulating and very relaxing. I now try and carry my camera with me most of the time and use my business travel as an excuse to get out and see the world through my viewfinder.

On to the second question – What’s next? In a nutshell, it’s still too early to tell but things are getting clearer. I have a huge responsibility to our investors and our latest fund is only 5 ½ years into a 10-year life cycle so I’ll still be primarily focused on that for the foreseeable future. In the year leading up to my decision, I felt my career in venture capital was likely over after we wound down the firm. When this fund runs its course, I’ll have spent 20 years investing in and working with startups and I’ll be fifty years old. It was during my sabbatical two years ago where I started contemplating a new career and I’ve kept a journal for the last year of things that excite me. I’ve filled dozens of pages in a journal with ideas (both big and small) about pursuits like minor league baseball (ownership, not playing – I’m no Michael Jordan), film school, a local bike shop, and a host of other ideas that have been circling around my head. I grab them when they appear and wrestle with them for weeks.

However, one thing that has remained constant is my zeal for working with startups. Once you’ve spent time working with young, eager entrepreneurs, there are few things that can replace that energy. Given that we’re no longer making any new investments at Highway 12 Ventures, I’ve been looking for ways to share what I’ve learned over the last 17 years with young entrepreneurs that might benefit from my experiences.

One of the ways I’ve been able to do that that is to engage deeper with my friends at TechStars. If you’ve followed me over the last five years, you know by now how special I think TechStars is and I’ve had the good fortune to be involved almost since its inception. We’ve invested in a handful of terrific TechStars companies over the years and I continue to be a huge fan of David Cohen and the amazing phenomenon he’s fostered. I’ve been working closely with David on a strategy to offer alumni companies more resources for success once they graduate from the program. I’ve also been assisting a bunch of alumni companies from around the country with their financing strategies as they mature. It’s been some of the most gratifying work I’ve done in my career and I feel lucky to be in a position to work with such bright, passionate entrepreneurs. I’m having more fun than ever.

I’m also working with a small handful of exciting local Boise startups as they navigate the early-stage waters. While there’s still a lot of work to be done to create a sustainable startup ecosystem here in my hometown, it seems to me that there’s more interesting startups on the scene today than at any other time since I moved here in 2000 and I’ll continue to work with my friends here to move that needle.

So that’s what I’ve been up to and how I’m thinking about the future. I’m incredibly grateful to have such a wonderful and supporting family, a partner like Phil, outstanding friends at TechStars and to live in this beautiful state of Idaho, the place that feels more like home than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream and bought a 30 year-old Jeep CJ7 and I’m intent on getting onto more back roads, taking the top off and seeing even more of it with my family.

I’m looking forward to adding some velocity to this blog as the future slowly comes into more focus. Thanks for sharing the journey.

Showing 6 comments
  • Reply

    I’m really glad to hear things are going well. I’m also excited to hear that you’re still working with startups and continue to have a passion to do so.

  • Clare

    Your help and expertise inside TechStars has been invaluable, Mark.

    • Mark Solon

      Thank you Clare, that’s really kind to say. Looking forward to spending the week with you guys next week!

  • Jim Franklin

    Careful with that CJ 7 and the family… they’ve made some improvements in the last 30 years 🙂
    (I had a 73 FJ40 once upon a time)

  • David Stearns

    Mark, this is a great blog. Maybe you should put down that camera and pick up a pen. Best of luck to you and Pam as you embark on your next adventure. I’m in the same boat. Having played a major role in my company for the last 16 years, I’m starting to look for a new adventure. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but they say it’s not the destination that counts, but the fun you had getting there.

    • Mark Solon

      Highway 12 Ventures was the most gratifying thing I’ve done in my career David. Thanks for the thoughts and I wish you the best as you figure out your next chapter!

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