New Venrock Vice President Aaron White is a man who believes in education. Not the “local school committee” or “university president” kind of education, but more the Henry Adams, perpetual learning about self and life type of education.
To that end, White has carved a path from teenage developer to serial innovator to founder at edtech startup Boundless to entrepreneurial consultant to venture capitalist. Along the way, White keeps aspiring to learn more from others' knowledge and experience. When finding himself at a career crossroad (as he did when deciding what to do after Boundless), White asks, “Where am I going to learn the most.”
Additionally, White seems to always be seeking learning experiences that pose greater and greater challenges. As he explained, “If you don’t set the bar above you, you never get higher.”
Starting Out in Nashua
New Hampshire-native White has been setting the bar higher and higher since the day he walked into Nashua’s Nu-Mega Technologies looking for a job. The then fourteen-year-old White had been prodded by his mother to find work, so, as he says, “I walked into this software company in a suit, and I asked for an application to apply. They were like, this is not McDonalds, you need a resumé.”
“So I brought them my resumé the next day.” White explained, “ and I don’t know if they hired me on a lark, but they brought me in, did the interview, and I got a job programming for them over the summer.”
White worked for Nu-Mega and the company’s founders’ next project, a developer tool company Mindreef, for a few summers and fell in love with coding. While finishing up a computer science degree at Carnegie Mellon, he was offered positions at Google and Microsoft. However, Mindreef presented White an opportunity that would benefit both company and graduate, telling him he could lead his own team if he recruited some fellow Carnegie Mellon grads to join him.
As he said, “I wanted to lead a team, work with friends, and they [Mindreef] got five CM guys out of the deal.” “I got into that and I loved building product,” White added.
During his years at Mindreef, White started to get exposure to the idea of a startup and venture capitalists, which piqued his interest.
“It was clear that I had done as much as I could with Mindreef,” he explained, “I wanted to do something more consumer facing.”
Software, Bootstrapping, and Startups
Next, White connected with Dick Fryling and Karen Miller, who had started medical imaging hardware company DOME Imaging. While working for DOME, White found a piece of software that the company was using that he fell in love with. The software, an easy interface that allowed people to make vector animations, evolved into bootstrapped company DoInk.
As White said, “They [Fryling/Miller] pulled me in and I fell into co-founder/CTO status. DoInk was my first total ground level experience, shaping the business in its entirety.”
“I was over my head,” he explained, “but I was learning.”
The need to learn the ins-and-outs of startups led White to start connecting with the Boston tech/innovation ecosystem. “I started integrating with the startup community here through things like Betahouse, WebInno, and I started building a name for myself with DoInk and some side projects."
DoInk eventually pivoted to a more education-focused, iOS software project and White moved on to contract work for local startups like Goby and RunKeeper. Expanding his startup education, he worked on site scalability, analytics, marketing, and product features.
White decided to take a year off after DoInk; however, midway through 2010, White met Ariel Diaz and realized a kindred spirit. On a trip to Costa Rica with a whole crew of guys “working of various projects,” Diaz introduced White to the kernel idea for Boundless. At the time, White was busy creating a Twitter “noise” blocker, Proxlet, but decided he wanted “in” on Boundless.
Boundless began fundraising in 2011, and both White’s and Diaz’s prior experiences helped the process immensely. “We both tried to raise financing for our respective companies and sort of failed at it. So we knew what not to do,” White said. “We knew Boundless was going to need capital, and, through six months of hard work, we got Seed funding, and then Venrock got involved in the series A.”
Boundless has been a huge success. However, White’s urge to continue his 'education' got the best of him, and he eventually moved on from a day-to-day role at the company. As he explained, “[It] got to a point where we had some really smart people working there, and I ran out of levers to pull, so I stayed on as a board member and advisor.”
Aaron White's Continuing Education
Considering what to do next, White was approached by Mike Tyrell from Venrock. “Mike came up to me and said, ‘Hey Aaron, we’re looking to add someone to the Boston investment team who is entrepreneurial, technical and social, you fit the bill, we’d like you to consider this,’” White explained. “I could do a company from idea to Seed through Series A, but I kept coming back to Mike’s offer, which, for a technical guy, was really rare.”
Eventually, White joined Venrock as a Vice President, mainly because it offered the best opportunity to learn and try to keep aspiring to higher heights.
“I would get to see hundreds of companies each year and really learn the ins-and-outs of Seed, Series A, Series B, as well as be able to see the challenges that portfolio companies have, be able to help out in any way, observe on boards, give my own feedback, and potentially lead an investment at some point.”
White added, “[Joining Venrock] is going to be the highest bandwidth way to learn.”
He has been on the job for almost two months now, and although the new job is quite a challenge, working as a VC has been just what White has been looking for.
“I’ve been a maker traditionally,” he said, “and this is a complete 180º.”
“The job is fun, because on some level, part of what you’re supposed to do is go out and meet smart people and hear their big ideas,” White said.
As far as raising the bar and continuing to learn, working at Venrock provides just that for White. “You are always meeting people smarter than yourself, because they are experts in their particular domain.” he explained.
“You always emerge smarter, but you always feel behind.”
No doubt White will “catch up”. Meanwhile, we will wait to see how his education evolves and what great innovations he brings us next.