Q&A: Why this former Microsoft exec wanted to become a venture capitalist

Madrona’s Ted Kummert

Ted Kummert is a Seattle homer. He attended Roosevelt High School, and still bleeds University of Washington “purple and gold” where his father served as a law professor and he studied electrical engineering.

“I practically grew up on campus,” said Kummert.

Now, the former Microsoft executive will be able to impact the Seattle region in an entirely new way. As we reported earlier today, Kummert announced that he’s left Microsoft after 23 years to join Seattle venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group.

As a venture partner, Kummert plans to use his skills and expertise to discover up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the burgeoning fields of enterprise software and cloud computing.

We chatted Tuesday with Kummert to learn more about the opportunities he sees in venture capital, why he’s excited about investing in Seattle and more.

Why did you want to jump into the venture capital game? “I’ve had the privilege of a great and long career at Microsoft. I was very fortunate to be a part of everything that happened in the industry, and work on many great things at Microsoft. It was really about me wanting to do something different, and that something different was really to learn about early-stage companies and what really goes into building them, and making great companies out of them. I’d say being a Seattle kid and that passion made Madrona a clear choice to come do that.”

Given your long run at Microsoft, what is it about the early-stage process that intrigues you? “I’ve got a deep passion for technology, and a lot of passion for leadership and management on the business side of things as well. I am interested in that phase of the innovation cycle, and really what it takes at that level to go from an initial idea to a commercial success, and taking the experience that I’ve had building a lot of products, and building in the last eight years enterprise products to bear, and helping entrepreneurs work through that process.”

You have a lot of experience in big data, cloud computing and enterprise software, big trends that are filtering into the startup world. What do you make of those trends and how can startups play in that arena? “Every once in a while, if you’ve been in this industry for a while, you see these  innovations come along that fundamentally change things, whether it’s the PC era or the Internet or the shift to client-server computing. And now we are talking about the cloud. The cloud is really one of those things that is going to change things for the enterprise, in terms of the work they do. And it is going to unlock new scenarios, and any time there is an opportunity like this, it creates new opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes and create new value. And I think this is one of those moments in time for the industry where there is fantastic new set of scenarios that are going to be enabled for customers.”

How do you think startups can maneuver in that new world? “As history has shown and it will continue going forward, there is opportunity for innovation at all levels, and all sizes of organizations. At any time there are these types of sea changes in the industry that creates opportunities for companies to come in and imagine new scenarios that have not been imagined before, and do things that haven’t been done before. And I think that is good for everyone.”

What are you most excited about in terms of new investment opportunities? “Over the last eight years or so, I have mostly been focused on the enterprise space, so I have spent time on that side. But I also look forward to spending time, more broadly, across the Madrona portfolio of companies. I don’t tend to single out. I see so much opportunity, whether we are talking about consumer or we are talking about B2B — I think there is significant opportunity across all of that space. I do have some passion around the enterprise application space, so the opportunities you might see there. I look at the Madrona portfolio and a company like Apptio that is really creating this new category of technology business management. And it is one of those examples of just seeing a need, and then providing a set of innovations and a new application around it. I think there will be more and more opportunities that look like that.”

On the Seattle ecosystem: “There’s just so much going on in the Pacific Northwest and in the Seattle area. There are so many connections, whether it is between the University of Washington and the great technology companies, small and large, and the flourishing ecosystem of startups and smaller ventures that are going to grow up to be the next great companies of the future. It is just a fantastic thing to be a part of.”

On whether his departure and the resignation of top execs signals a bigger trend at Microsoft: “I don’t take anything away from that. I had a fantastic time at Microsoft, and I can really only speak to my personal decision. It was just time for me to do something different.”

  • Abidesman

    Great news. Here’s hoping Madrona can be more of a gathering point for great engineers looking to think big. There are so many great people inside of the big companies that are dying to get out but have a hard time finding a path (especially the ones with kids, which tend to be the hard core experienced engineers).

  • davenoise

    Here’s yet another connected corporate guy, with family and perspective rooted and immersed in Big Academia, who thinks he can pick winners and losers in the startup space. Break open the champagne, this cat is going “long”! Nice hire, Madrona.