Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Harry Weller, RIP

A member of CCP's board of directors, Harry Weller, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep Saturday night at the age of 46. A married father of two sons, Mr. Weller is a former Navy FA-18 pilot and Duke University graduate who obtained an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1998. Weller headed up the East Coast practice for New Enterprise Associates, one of the largest venture capitalist companies in the world. According to The Wall Street Journal, Weller was an incredibly successful investor who had appeared on Forbes magazine's "Midas List" nine times, including last year's.
According to NEA, Mr. Weller at the time of his death was a board member on at least 13 of the firm’s portfolio companies. Those included software-building platform Appian, enterprise security firm Barkly and foreign language education app Duolingo.

Among past investments by Mr. Weller were an early bet on daily-deals provider Groupon and on software specialists Add This and Eloqua, both of which were acquired by Oracle Corp.; and Cvent, now owned by Vista Equity Partners.

He is listed as a co-founder of eeGeo, a 3-D mapping software company based in Scotland, according to PitchBook Data Inc. He served as president of FabricLock Inc., an NEA-backed startup in Chevy Chase, Md.
Weller appeared on the radar of EVE Online players last November when CCP announced a $30 million investment led by NEA into CCP for the development of virtual games. I think at the time people wondered what interested a large outfit like NEA in a relatively small game developer in Iceland. An article on Weller's death that appeared on Washington Business Journal might shed some light:
When Appian Inc. CEO Matt Calkins first met Harry Weller, he left behind a copy of the board game he made, Sekigahara, about the unification of Japan — not expecting it to do any more than make a great bookend on a shelf.

But to his surprise Weller, general partner for New Enterprise Associates, played it that following weekend and called Calkins back that Monday to talk about it. A techie and a gamer, Weller couldn't help but be interested in military history, having flown jets in the Navy before becoming a venture capitalist — and, as Weller had told Calkins, he wanted to design his own game.

“He used to predict that we'd write a game together someday,” Calkins wrote in a LinkedIn post after Weller’s unexpected death Saturday night. "He wanted my advice on a design he was writing this summer, WWII in the Pacific, I think. I never saw it."
Most of the articles that dive into Weller's death reference a Facebook post by TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett. I'll focus on a part of the post that the business writers pass over but may explain some things to long time players familiar with CCP and its CEO, Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson:
I first met Harry when I was 21. A mutual friend had suggested we meet as we were starting to think about raising our Series A.

As a young, gay CEO, institutional investors were intimidating as a concept. I didn’t look like the enterprise software CEOs I read about. My hair wasn’t gray. My hobbies definitely did not include golf. To make it worse, this was not any institutional investor, this was THE Harry Weller. The guy who ran the east coast for the largest venture fund in the world. To say I overprepared would be putting it mildly.

When Harry met me in our conference room, I was a nervous mess. All I wanted to do was impress him. Which metrics should I talk about? Should I jump into a demo? I plugged my computer into the television, and, in a oh-so-cruel twist of fate, the song 22 by Taylor Swift came blasting through the TV speakers.

Blood rushed to my face. I am terrible at raising money.

Anxious that I had just embarrassed my way out of any chance of raising a Series A, I avoided any eye contact. How could I have left that on Spotify? Why do I even listen to this stuff?

Then, I heard a laugh.

Harry thought it was funny. I hadn’t known the guy for more than five minutes, but this was my first peak into what Harry was truly like. It wasn’t what you looked like, talked like, or did in your free time. He was all about ideas. He was all about execution.

Harry was eager for me to continue.

I maybe got four minutes into the demo at which point Harry cut me off.

Slightly startled, Harry started to pitch me on all the reasons why we had to work together.

This pitch meeting I had prepared so much for quickly turned into Harry pitching me. Within a matter of minutes, Harry had decided that we were going to work together. He was going to will it into the universe.
I don't think that a staid venture capitalist would invest in what one might describe as a "unique" game company located on an island in the North Atlantic run by a bunch of internet space Vikings. The picture of Weller emerging after his death is of someone who is anything but staid.

What Weller's death will mean for CCP is anyone's guess. But apparently Weller's faith in CCP was warranted, as Hilmar announced at DICE Europe that CCP was on pace to recover the initial $30 million it had invested in virtual reality games by the end of 2016 or early 2017. CCP is still using the funds obtained from NEA and others to continue development of other games like Project Arena.

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