Know Your Network: Alan Kelley 99EvMBA

Goizueta alumni hold more than a coveted degree from Emory; they also boast a wealth of life experiences and business know-how. In this ongoing series, EmoryBusiness.com will share their sage advice, which you can add to your own toolkit.


Alan Kelley 99EvMBA
Managing Director
SJF Ventures

What influence from childhood still resonates with you?
I remember my 10th-grade English teacher helping our class to develop a richer appreciation of the humanity of other individuals. When I get caught up in a competitive business situation these days, it can be easy to become insensitive towards others.  Thinking back on that 10th-grade class helps a bit in keeping me grounded.

Who inspires you?
People who are resilient. I am frequently amazed by entrepreneurs who hear “no” one day and then wake up the next day trying to figure out a different path to “yes.”

What’s on your music playlist?
I have more U2 on my playlist than my wife can tolerate. From time to time, I try to game personalized music services like Pandora to feed me songs that younger people listen to, but I keep receiving a lot of songs from decades ago. I am sort of stuck in the 80s and 90s.

What’s the best career or life advice you’ve ever received?
At an Emory orientation, I remember a speaker saying something along the lines that opportunity is what happens when luck meets preparation. I think that’s a derivative of a similar concept that was expressed by a Roman philosopher. As an investor, I appreciate that so much of success has to do with being at the right place at the right time with the right product and right people. Some of that is beyond our control, but preparation increases the chances that good opportunities unfold.

What type of hobbies or activities do you enjoy outside of work?
During the last two or three years, I have read or watched way too much news. Like others, I am getting burnt out from the volume of news stories and the divided political perspectives in our country. So, I am looking to return to more relaxing activities.

Share the way you work through a complex problem.
I do my best work by thinking through complex problems in my mind over and over again and continuously second-guessing various assumptions. Repeated second guessing is an inefficient way to work through complex problems for some people, but I don’t feel satisfied with my own work unless I do this. I also bounce things off others to try to keep myself honest.

What is your favorite app on your phone or digital tool? 
I love listening to The Daily, which is a podcast by The New York Times. When I listen to it, I often pick up more nuance behind current events than I do when reading news stories.

What is your best GBS memory?
I remember Professor Konsynski encouraging us in 1998 to broaden our perspective on the various ways that the Internet and digital commerce would reshape business practices. That inspired me to create an internet and technology mutual fund that invested in more than pure-play internet companies.

What is your biggest challenge? (Personal or Professional)
My biggest professional challenge is managing my emotions in an industry that inherently creates a lot of performance volatility. The relatively young companies in which we invest can get hurt by something out of left field, and they can thrive for reasons that are not always predictable. It can be easy to get caught up in that volatility.  So, I need to try to force myself to take the long view and remember that my job means that some companies will end up performing well and some will not. I am humbled by the fact that entrepreneurs deal with a lot more volatility than I do since success for them is often concentrated in one company with which they are passionately involved for years.

What’s one of the most important traits you look for in entrepreneurs or owners of small companies?
Having invested in companies for more than 20 years, I see that successful entrepreneurs have many different types of personality traits. It’s hard to nail down one recipe for success. But if I had to choose, I would say that I look for entrepreneurs who know their industries really well. I have heard another venture capitalist say that he looks for entrepreneurs who know their industry so well that they have developed “secrets” to unlocking value in their industry. I see a lot of merit in that.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *