Voyager Capital Hires Former Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen, Strengthens Digital Media Expertise

Seattle-based Voyager Capital is announcing today it has added a new venture partner—Bruce Chizen, the former chief executive of Adobe Systems (2000-2007). Chizen started in his new role this month, and he’s based in Silicon Valley, but he’s already making an impact on Northwest companies in Voyager’s portfolio.

First things first, I had to ask Chizen an obvious question: what does he think of Adobe’s $1.8 billion bid to acquire Omniture, the Web analytics firm, which was announced this week?

“It’s strategic and bold,” Chizen replied. “Now it’s all about execution. If [Adobe] can incorporate metadata into the flow, it’ll give them a competitive advantage.” He added, speaking from experience (he led Adobe’s $3.4 billion purchase of Macromedia in 2005), “Acquisitions are funny in that they’re hard to do. If an acquisition is successful, no one talks about how much they paid.”

OK, more about the actual VC news here. The addition of Chizen as a venture partner clearly strengthens Voyager Capital’s expertise and connections in the digital media industry. It’s the latest strategic hire at the venture firm, which in the past year and a half has recruited a new talent stable that includes Daniel Ahn in Silicon Valley, Diane Fraiman in Portland, and Geoff Entress in Seattle. “Voyager is increasingly a West Coast firm, with its roots in Seattle,” says Voyager co-founder and managing director Bill McAleer.

But that doesn’t mean we should expect to see more investments in California at the expense of the Northwest, McAleer says. “We’re going to stay consistent with what we’re doing,” he says. (About two-thirds of Voyager’s investments are in the Northwest, and one-third are in California.) “We’re helping our companies up here with partnering strategies and talent in the Valley. Part of what we look at is how to interconnect companies,” McAleer says.

Chizen stepped down as the CEO of Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) in December 2007, and stayed affiliated with the company through April 2008. He has been an adviser to Voyager since July of last year. He also serves on several boards, including Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), Synopsys, and Portland, OR-based Elemental Technologies, and is senior adviser to the private equity firm Permira Advisers. “What was missing for me was in the area of really working with and looking at young, cool startups with great technological differentiators. Fundamentally, what excited me about Adobe was its technology and reaching new, different, and exciting markets,” Chizen says.

He calls Voyager Capital a perfect fit—culturally, technically, and intellectually. “They really care about their companies,” Chizen says. “I think I can help them a lot. There’s a lot of deal flow in the Valley I have exposure to. I can help their portfolio companies better connect with large corporate guys down here.” For starters, he points to his deep relationships with companies like Nvidia, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard.

Chizen and McAleer go back a good 15-plus years, dating back to when Chizen joined Seattle-based Aldus, where McAleer was chief financial officer. Chizen then started at Adobe, as vice president and general manager of consumer products, after the company acquired Aldus in 1994. Previously, Chizen had worked at Mattel, Microsoft, and Claris.

It is a challenging time to get into the venture business, yet this isn’t the only case we’ve seen of a local VC firm taking the opportunity to bolster its talent from the corporate world. Just last month, Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group announced it had hired Brian McAndrews, the former CEO of aQuantive and senior vice president at Microsoft, as a new managing director.

Chizen provided some extensive thoughts on where the venture industry is headed, and where Voyager fits in. “At Adobe, I had this view of the VC world, maybe it wasn’t fair,” Chizen says. “That especially in recent years, it was pretty easy, there was a lot of money, and getting investors to invest was not that difficult. There were a lot of startups who got funded. It was really a game of luck—you invest in companies and hope to get a home run.” Now, he says, things have changed a lot.

“It’s back to basics. IPOs are no longer easy. Getting large valuations, I don’t believe is going to happen for the most part,” he says. “It means putting a smaller amount of money into deals is going to be critical. It’s hard to take $30-60 million and get a return back to your investors, whereas smaller firms like Voyager, who can put $1 or $2 million to work, will be able to get the return they need through an IPO or, more likely, through a strategic acquisition. VCs will have to work harder, move downstream, and have differentiation—in Voyager’s case, its strategy around go-to-market—so there’s real value-add to the portfolio team. And getting money from investors is going to be more difficult. Going forward, they’re going to pick and choose more carefully. Hopefully, for firms like Voyager, it allows for differentiation to shine through.”

Lastly, I had to ask Chizen to compare the startup scene in the Northwest with Silicon Valley. “The number of opportunities, of individuals looking to start something new, is significantly less than the Valley,” he says. “But when you find one, it’s a group of really dedicated people who care less about getting rich, and more about the passion for what they’re doing. Many people down here [Silicon Valley], it’s about making money. While someone should be rewarded for being successful, it’s a lot more fun to work with someone who’s passionate about what they’re doing. And they tend to stick around.”

McAleer adds, “If you compare this downturn to 2001, there are better deals. The quality is better, and quantity is more. The talent level is better. Many of these people have been through at least one downturn, and that helps. This region is really well positioned. In some ways, you can argue it’s stronger than the Valley. We’re still very bullish on the Seattle area.”

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