Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA)
Since 1985 the Los Angeles Venture Association has been providing forums where entrepreneurs and executives of start-up, emerging growth and late stage venture funded companies actively meet and learn from fellow executives, investors, bankers, financial advisors and other providers of professional services.
In becoming the first full-time employee of the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA) in 2007, Executive Director Len Lanzi began collaborating with LAVA’s board to direct strategic plans and organize educational/informational programs for the venture-funded business ecosystem in the greater Los Angeles area. These days, one of those people is Bryant Stibel Managing Partner/LAVA executive board member, Pete Delgrosso, who along with Jeff Stibel has lead the charge in Bryant Stibel becoming an Institutional Venture Capital partner in support of LAVA’s mission. From thought leadership to participating in programs, Bryant Stibel has since become an “invaluable asset to the organization” according to Lanzi, who looks to continue extending LAVA’s brand into the community by raising awareness, building membership and doing whatever it takes to improve their service to the startup ecosystem along the way.
Executive Director, LAVA
Q: Could you give some background on your role with the Los Angeles Venture Association?
A: My name is Leonard Lanzi and I’m the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Ventura Association. I’ve been in that role for about 12 and a half years. I came to this volunteer non-profit community board as the first full time executive director with the mission of extending the brand into the community, raising awareness, building membership, and improving our service to the startup ecosystem.
Q: Can you speak broadly about the members of LAVA?
A: From a broad stroke, we have 17 board members that come from the startup ecosystem. We have six VC funds involved with us on the board. We have several different types of service providers and connectors on the board and entrepreneurs on the board. We have a membership of just over 300 right now, half of which are entrepreneurs. We really focus on first time founders and startups that have never raised venture capital before and help them Find who their targets are going to be to raise money from locally first. We help them get ready for those capital raisings. We do about 35 events a year. We have a little overhead, I’m the only full-time employee of the organization. I manage all the soup and nuts and bolts all at once. I couldn’t do that without the volunteers that are involved with us from the board level and then the volunteer committees we have that help put on our programs. The organization was formulated as the Los Angeles Venture Group in 1984 and it was the trusted advisors to high net worth individuals who were looking to make investments into companies. It wasn’t really venture capital. It was, “how do I as a high net worth individual find good deals to put my money into?” That’s what the Venture Group started as. They were asked to do that by their clients and then they felt, “wow this is kind of fun, we should do this for the broader community.” Then in about 1995 the organization was incorporated as a 501c fixed trade association. That’s how it has operated since, primarily with a volunteer board and up until 2007 without a full-time executive director. When I took over the organization, they were doing about 12 programs a year and we service somewhere between two thousand people a year through our programs.
Q: How did your relationship with Bryant Stibel begin?
A: I first met Jeff when he did the deal with Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. I want to say that has got to be about five or six years ago when he did that acquisition. As with any of our successful serial entrepreneurs in the community, my relationship was just to engage with them. We wanted to make sure that they were recognized for the deals that they were doing and for the successes they were having as we highlight the successes in this ecosystem, which 10 years ago weren’t as prominent and prevalent as they are today. They were still happening, they just weren’t getting the attention. The role of LAVA to highlight those things that are happening within the context of the startup ecosystem through many channels, such as our awards dinners. So that’s when I met Jeff. In 2017 we went out to Jeff and asked him if he would be willing to be our honoree at our awards dinner and he graciously accepted. That’s when I met most of his team, including Peter Delgrosso. This was just as the Bryant Stibel fund was being publicly launched, so we saw it as an opportunity as an organization to involve them in a deeper level. Peter Delgrosso then came onto our board two years ago.
Q: How has Peter Delgrosso helped contribute to LAVA in that board member role?
A: We have consistently had Institutional Venture Capital firms on our board for the venture organization, realizing that they don’t need a lot of deal flow, but that there’s an opportunity for them to give advice, to be part of programs, to bring thought leadership, and to give back to the ecosystem. There are a lot of ways of giving back to the ecosystem. Number one is that monetarily you can carry interest and reinvestment in startups and in the community. Number two would be showing themselves as a leader within the venture capital ecosystem, and I think that’s a position that Bryant wanted to be in. Even though they’re not doing a lot of early stage stuff, they are still a very good sized fund with two high profile names attached to it. So, it was good branding for us and I think it was good branding for them.
Peter specifically as a venture capital board member has been very much engaged with us and giving back through helping us develop membership plans and helping us develop revenue plans to help our bottom line. Bryant Stibel was also one of the first venture capital firms to step up and actually join as a “firm membership,” which is a category we recently started a couple of years ago. They were one of the inaugural people to write a check to the organization and be part of it. Peter is part of our board and part of our executive committee. He’s smart, he’s engaged, and he opens doors. He makes introductions to other firms, to other entrepreneurs, and he’s an invaluable asset to the organization.
Q: What do you think defines a LAVA Hall of Fame nominee?
A: Investment back into the community. I think you know one of Jeff’s big things is how do we give back to global ecosystem. That’s very important to them. Jeff’s a humble guy. He’s not one that likes to get up in the crowd and put the focus and spotlight on himself. Yeah, he’s good at it and he’s very natural at it, but I don’t think that’s innate to him. But his willingness to do that is really important. I think that’s probably true of many of the people that we’ve honored in the past – most of these folks are very humble. They’re not doing it for recognition. They’re doing it first and foremost to make money and in many cases to improve our communities through the types of companies they’re investing in.
Q: Is there anything specific that Bryant Stibel has helped influence within LAVA?
A: Bryant Stibel really led the charge by bringing themselves on as an Institutional Venture Partner with LAVA. We have three or four others that have followed their lead, so we just needed that gateway to be opened. Their leadership is certainly felt by example. Another peripheral thing that they did is LAVA needed some help just in terms of manpower. Bryant Stibel has been engaged with Pepperdine University and have interns as part of their group. Pete introduced me to the folks that he was working with at Pepperdine and consequently I’m working on my third class of interns with the Los Angeles Venture Association through Pepperdine. And that was all based on an introduction that Pete brought to the table.
Q: What kind of work are the interns doing with LAVA?
A: One of the big projects that the interns just completed was analyzing data over the past 10 years of companies that have participated with us and where they are in their lifecycle. We took a snapshot of specific programs and did a year to year analysis of how many of those companies are still in business, how many have gone out of business, how much money they raised, and what has been their success matrix. Looking at this data, the interns have put that report together for us.
Q: Is there anything Bryant Stibel understands about non-profits that maybe others do not?
A: I’ll talk about Jeff specifically because I think he has a long view of how to increase the economic viability of the places that he lives in and wants to give back to the community. LAVA is a business trade association, so it’s not a charitable nonprofit, but it’s just one part of their plan in keeping this engine going knowing that the things that we do reflect back to the community ultimately help everybody.
Q: What do you enjoy about working with Peter Delgrosso on your board at LAVA?
A: Well what I love about Pete is he just doesn’t give lip service. He is a person that if he says he’s going to do something, not only does he do it, he does it 100 percent. I’ll give you an example of that. We were trying to figure out ways to increase our membership and Pete said okay I’m going to host the meetings at my office and we’re going to sit and pull a whiteboard out and take notes. He really set up an accountability system that both measures our effectiveness and also keeps people feet to the fire. So. He also acts himself – so it’s not just giving advice or telling people what to do, but he’s willing to sit and do the hard work, roll up his sleeves, and lead by example. I think that’s his style. That works well with me because I like people that understand accountability. I like people that understand that it’s not about just giving “looks” at things, but it’s about being engaged in being part of the solution. That’s Pete style.
Q: As someone who has sort of an overarching view of the startup culture in Los Angeles Southern California, what would you say is unique here unorthodox about the Bryant Stibel approach?
A: To have Kobe Bryant’s name attached to a fund is unique in that sense because it’s a high-profile name. It’s a household name here in Los Angeles. I think that’s unique to itself because I don’t think there’s another venture capital fund that has that kind of marquee brand name recognition. That being said, they don’t capitalize on it in the sense of using that as a catalyst. I think it’s just very subtle and they’re kind of working in the background, silent. They don’t make a lot of noise about the things that they do; they’re very humble and very content with just making good investments and watching them grow and then having some type of exit. And any organization that Jeff is part of, he pulls people in because he is smart, he is interesting, he tells good stories, he’s a good speaker, and he’s someone you can relate to.
Q: What differentiates Bryant Stibel culturally from other venture capital firms?
A: One of the things I like about their office is it’s representative of the things that they’ve invested in and of the things that they’re interested in. They have this one room in the library where there’s just bottles of wine, which means that they like wine. That’s just something that stood out to me. It also reflects the fact that they are in Malibu and the spectacular view of the ocean and the beach and it just makes you feel like you’re really in Southern California.
Q: Was there any unexpected value found working with Bryant Stibel?
A: I think having a friendly ear and having a place if I need in Malibu to park my car and do some work. I’m always welcome there and that’s always nice to have a place to go to. The thing I find about Jeff and Pete and the rest of the team there is that “no” does not exist in their vocabulary. It’s always: “how can we help?” I think that is a great example of how businesses can help nonprofits, how businesses can help their respective ecosystems, and just how to be a friendly ear to folks.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next three years while Pete is on your board?
A: Well it depends on his time and interest; it’s always a matter of time. I see him being a future president of LAVA, quite frankly if that’s something he chooses to do. That would be great. When it’s time for him to go off the board, I’m hoping he goes off for a year and then he’s eligible to come back on. So as long as I’m around, I’d like to keep him by my side. He’s a cheerleader for me, he’s helpful to me, he’s interested in my success, and I think the way he treats me is probably indicative of how he works with the partners that they invest in from a company standpoint and from a CEO standpoint. I think when he speaks, he asks how we can support LAVA and help as board members. Also how can we support Glenn in his job. He’s just willing to speak up. He also answers hard questions and keeps my feet to the fire. Again, I like that feeling of accountability that means he’s engaged and interested.
Q: What would say makes Bryant Stibel well-suited for the future?
A: They have a very large fund. They’re making investments to bring returns back to their limited partners, like all VC funds are doing. They’re not just doing it here in Los Angeles, they’re not just making bets here in Los Angeles, they’re looking whatever good deal flow is coming from. I think you know they’re able to recognize good talent to invest in and I think they set the bar high for that. I think they’re positioned well. I think they’ll raise another fund and I think that they understand what they’re doing is important work.
Q: Would you want to work with the team on future endeavors?
A: I would do any project with them. If Jeff or Pete came to me and said, “we’d like you to work on this,” I would give that really good consideration. I think it’s really important. They’re good people. I trust them. They have heart and those are the type of people I like to work with. I just feel like they make me feel like I’m part of the family.
Jeff is the type of guy that once he knows who you are, if he sees you in a room, he’s the person that will make the effort to come and say, “how are you?” I like that he’s proactive.
We have a six-year term limit on our board. Pete’s into his third year with us now and I’m looking forward to the next three years with him. He continues to be a leader. He’s one that people look to for solutions and opinions. I find him as a very relevant and important partner as far as the success of the organization.