Matt McCall '92 always assumed his career would take him to Wall Street. Strong in numbers and finance, he was fourth generation Wall Street. His great-grandfather, for example, was one of J.P. Morgan’s partners and served as president of New York Life Insurance Company. His grandfather and father followed suit. McCall was primed to continue in the family tradition, but instead, after a stint on Wall Street and consulting, ended up practicing venture capital in the Midwest and California. Over his 20 years in the business, he has backed Dollar Shave Club, Honest Company, Facebook, Casper, SMS Assist, Performics, TicketsNow/Ticketmaster and 70 other businesses.
“Life never goes as planned but does flow as it should,” he says, recalling the unexpected turns his career has taken. “In every part of our lives we lay out this game plan of what we think success is, or what happiness is, and then life shows up and events and people come in orthogonally and the universe routes us to where we are supposed to be. Water always finds its own level.”
As he was completing his education at Kellogg and expecting to launch a career in private equity, McCall was given affecting advice: A lot of people know how to work numbers, but very few know what the numbers mean. Instead of returning to Wall Street, he stayed on a third year to add the MMM degree and then worked at the Boston Consulting Group to get closer to business operations vs pure financials.
His goal was to eventually return to buyouts, focusing on manufacturing and industrial businesses. However, he soon found himself helping a friend raise his next venture fund. “It allowed me to combine my love of technology and innovation with my financial & operational background. I loved the raw creative elements of it…like making a movie but with computer code.”
It turns out McCall was good for the industry, too, especially in the Midwest. During the first internet wave of the mid-90s, he joined Portage Venture Partners and later Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a West Coast firm that had already seeded promising startups such as Baidu, Tesla, SpaceX, Skype and Hotmail. This created the first Midwest office for a major west coast venture firm and became a primary gateway for Midwest firms to access Silicon Valley.
McCall could see that the world was changing in 2008. “I thought it made sense to be aligned with a permanent source of capital versus continually being in the world of fundraising,” he explains. Fund investors pull back during down drafts, just when they should be investing more heavily. Most of the great tech firms arise during these periods.
McCall had successfully co-invested in a handful of deals with J.B. Pritzker and Chris Gergenti, so joining their team at Pritzker Group Venture Capital felt like the natural next step. With over $8 billion of evergreen capital, it has become the largest firm and pool of capital in the Midwest. As the firm expanded its West Coast presence, McCall was well appointed to launch a Los Angeles office.
“In four years we did 25 deals, including being an early investor in Dollar Shave Club, Honest Company which have become defining next-gen commerce companies. A whole host of other successful companies followed,” says McCall.
As impressive as McCall’s portfolio is, he says the technology industry is just getting started.
“It's almost overwhelming right now,” he says of the numerous opportunities for venture capitalists. “In the old days, we had one or two revolutions going on at a given time – like the advent of the browser or the PC. But at this juncture, we have seven or eight revolutions going on in big data or cloud computing or AI or Internet of Things or blockchain. The list just goes on and on. I like to say that this is the venture capitalists’ Employment Act because you can miss a wave of companies and pick up the next wave in about 18 months.”
With so many opportunities available these days, McCall says it’s especially crucial to consider what’s important in a career and life. He often recalls how his own trajectory has evolved and what advice he has gained from fellow Kellogg grads and mentors because it’s advice he’s now able to share with entrepreneurs.
“A lot of millennials are struggling to find career paths that are energizing and rewarding. The answer is inside, not outside. If you appreciate and identify your true strengths and core values, life has a crazy way of eventually surfacing amazing opportunities. I think it's really important to spend time thinking through your value system and what energizes you and where you have dissonance in your life and use that as a compass to determine what you want to do,” says McCall. “You also have to be clear on what talents and skills you bring (or will bring) to the world. Mastering these (sales or financial or analytical or…) become your currency to negotiate or gain what you want. Lots of people will try to tell you what path you should go down. This is usually their path, not yours. You have to ask yourself what your narrative (Hollywood movie) is distinctly you based on your values and skills. Be clear on these and the world will respond in kind.”