Investor Profile: Jack Klinck, Managing Partner at Hyperplane Venture Capital
Jack Klinck has been a longtime employee of several financial services companies, including State Street in Boston. About a year-and-a-half ago, Klick joined the team at Hyperplane Venture Capital as the Managing Partner. Klinck has a growing interest in several technology sectors, including AI and IoT.
I recently had the chance to connect and chat with Jack about his time spent with the firm, and how their unique investment process works.
Nina Stepanov: Tell me about your background - where did you grow up?
Jack Klinck: I grew up in Concord and went to Concord Carlisle High School. So, I’m a local Boston guy but then I was away from Boston for 25 years. I joked it was because I wanted to avoid “the Big Dig.” I went to Middlebury in Vermont for four years then off to New York for three years where I started an advertising agency. I thought I’d go the banking route but I didn’t really like the banks back then and thought finance wasn’t for me so I worked for a big Madison Ave agency for three years instead. It was really hard work but a lot of fun. I decided I really wanted to be a client-side, so I went to graduate school for my MBA in Durham, North Carolina then came back to New York to work for American Express. The credit card industry was booming which made it a lot of fun. I was there for four years, which was a great training ground for marketing, sales, strategy, and so on.
NS: Why did you end up attending Middlebury and then Duke?
JK: I chose Middlebury because I had spent a lot of time in Vermont growing up. My mother’s family is from Vermont and I went to a summer camp up in Middlebury. We grew up as big skiers and spent a lot of time outdoors. Middlebury was small and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, so it was a great fit. As for Duke, I chose it for all the opposite reasons. I wanted to go somewhere different and uproot myself. I went with the safe choice for undergrad and then something more out of my comfort zone for grad school.
NS: You had two long stints at both BNY Mellon and State Street; can you tell me about those roles?
JK: While at American Express, I had gotten married and my wife and I had become less fascinated with New York and wanted to move and start a family. I was recruited to run the credit card business at Mellon out in Pittsburgh. The business was very troubled for numerous reasons and I had to triage it to get it back on its two feet. On my one year anniversary I told my boss that we were at a point where we’d have to either get out of the business or make a major investment to compete with the likes of Citibank and Bank of America and so on. At that time we decided to sell the business, which went really well and my boss had been promoted to CEO. Upon the completion of the sale of the business, he promoted me to be head of corporate strategy and M&A for Mellon Corporation. The CEO wanted to change the company drastically from what it had been up until then to be more like State Street. Over the next three years, we sold 10 of the traditional, “balance sheet” businesses and did a real strategic overhaul of the company. We changed 40% of the company, which was a very daring move. After all of that I realized I really missed running my own business, so the CEO promoted me and sent me to London with my family where I became the CEO of Mellon’s European operations, which was a series of businesses in 14 countries. After building up Mellon around the world, beyond Europe too, I took a role at State Street at the same level where I was building a new business that had a few years of rocket growth. After four years, I picked up more M&A work and ultimately founded the the data and analytics company known as State Street Global Exchange where I drove State Street in the direction of a software orientation.
NS: What lead you to Hyperplane and as such, VC?
JK: I’ve really enjoyed the experience of starting and growing businesses throughout my career at corporate companies as opposed to out of my garage. While at State Street, I started to notice what was going on in the fintech industry outside the banks, and after some time I left State Street and immediately landed in the other spectrum of the industry, where I was angel investing and meeting new companies from the network I’d amassed over the years. In many cases I started to advise the companies and help their CEOs with large contracts and implementations. I really tried to position myself as the bridge, connecting the big global banks and money managers with the startups. My own thesis is that B2B business is about partnerships, as in, how do you get the big guys to work with the little guys? They both need each other and have distinctive aspects that they bring to the table. If I can find small companies where I can invest my own capital and open doors for them then I’m doing what I like. Over the course of doing that I kept bumping into a group of guys that had a similar thesis and interest in B2B, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence, which is really where many of these fintech companies are orienting themselves. Those people were Vivjan Myrto and John Murphy and we ultimately began Hyperplane.
Over the course of a year-and-a-half, I’d characterized our relationship as “dating.” We spent more and more time together and then I became an investor in Hyperplane and then an advisory board member. I started to do a bit of work for them and about a year-and-a-half ago I joined as Managing Partner. The three of us bring unique skills to the table and we want to build the next top tier, high-quality venture firm in Boston. Now I’m doing much of what I was doing in the large corporate world, but with a Hyperplane t-shirt on.
NS: Let’s talk about Hyperplane. What stage of investments do you primarily target?
JK: We target seed stage investments in companies working on complex problems. We position ourselves to be the first institutional money into a company. Our strategy is to be early; help them put their financing strategy together, build a syndicate, and really help them grow from their early days and beyond.
NS: What are the top traits you look for in terms of investing into a company or founder?
JK: There are a few things. First, a deep tech orientation is paramount. Then we’re looking at the problem they’re trying to solve. It’s critical because all too often many companies start with a solution and then try to reengineer and back their way into a problem. What is broken in whatever market they’re looking at? If they can’t articulate crisply what the problem is then it’s a red flag for me. And then there’s the team of course. The credentials and track record of the team are important but also how well they can work with us. I spend a lot of time working with these companies once we invest in them. Out of the 16 companies that are now part of Hyperplane, I speak to three to four of them a day and provide a lot of support on pricing strategy, distribution, meeting new customers, negotiating a contract, you name it. We want to partner with people who want to partner with us. Some people don’t want to listen and just want a paycheck and send you a monthly check-in.
We want a company that fits our thesis, a tough problem to solve, groundbreaking tech and a great team.
NS: What sectors of technology, industries, or trends are of interest to you?
JK: We have a very deep tech focus, that’s our investment thesis. We don’t have an industry focus, so we’re not just interested in one industry. Our thesis revolves around technology, particularly new and emerging technology with a focus on AI, ML, IoT and other data and analytics companies that are primarily software driven but not exclusively.
We break up the technology stack into three levels. The bottom level is where the data is gathered, of which there is currently explosive growth in the amount of data being captured from a variety of sources. Then the data flows up to the second layer of the stack, where the data gets integrated, cleansed, and scrubbed and put into a format that’s usable. Which leads to the ultimate layer, the third who put the data into a useable format. We’re interested in companies that are in all three levels though most companies are in just one. This takes us to companies that focus on finance, healthcare, and many others. There’s a lot of activity particularly coming out of universities.
NS: What is the current fund that you are investing from?
JK: Hyperplane is currently investing in new companies out of our second fund. But we continue to make follow in investments from our first fund as over half of those companies have had subsequent rounds so far.
NS: What excites you about the current market in Boston?
JK: There’s a lot that excites me. Boston has all of the right ingredients to really excel and be a global leader in some of these new forms of technology. We have the universities that are pumping out great ideas and tons of scholarly research. We have the big, global companies including GE, Putnam,Liberty Mutual, Fidelity; they are these deep-rooted, strong companies. We’ve got venture firms who are willing to write checks. We’ve got a government that’s very pro business and entrepreneurship. Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh are very supportive of what we’re doing. We’ve got all the right ingredients to be highly successful in Boston. It’s just a question of how do we put the ingredients together to create the right recipe. Boston has a deep, rich heritage but the race is on between Silicon Valley, New York, London, Toronto but I think Boston has that advantage of resources.
NS: What do we need to do more of or be better at?
JK: The one thing we are not doing a good enough job on is celebrating our successes. Boston is a city that doesn’t do a lot of bragging. When it comes to politics, people jump right up front to protest and take leadership positions but when it comes to major economic successes and victories in the startup space, we tend to be understated. We need to raise our profile around the world to label Boston as a place to come to and stay in. We need to do a bit more marketing and chest beating and victory dances so others want to be a part of that.
NS: Who do you admire or who has been the greatest mentor for you?
JK: The former CEO of Mellon for sure, in terms of what I learned from him about being bold and making big strategic decisions. He’s always someone who would fall in that category. Now some of my mentors, or I’d call my reverse mentors, are people like our intern Blake, who’s taught me a lot about new technology. People always assume that a mentor is older and wiser and that’s certainly true but for me, coming out of the big corporate world, I had to learn a lot about new tech, the venture community, and the startup industry.
NS: Outside of your day-to-day work, what are your personal interests or activities?
JK: Skiing, sailing and pilates believe it or not.. We spend a lot of time in Rhode Island, relaxing, working out, and swimming. I also love to travel and spending time with my 3 kids.
NS: Are you involved in any charitable organizations?
JK: Yes, deeply. I’m an Eagle Scout, one of my boys is an Eagle Scout and another is almost there. I chair the board of the Eastern Massachusetts Boy Scouts, which I’ve been on the board for eight years and I’ve been Chair now for two-and-a-half. It’s a huge job, at least an hour a day. We have a big council and board and serve 15,000 kids in 78 towns and cities unique to Massachusetts. We’re trailblazing a lot of new programs for the boy scouts such as inclusion of including girls and mothers. I’m also on the board of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I’m a big music lover, grew up playing instruments and so do my children.
I’m on the board of a small trade school in Newport, the International Yacht Restoration School. It’s a really unique school that teaches students about both old-fashioned wooden boat making, which is a lost craft, and on the other end of the spectrum it’s a very high tech composites program learning how to build out of the latest and greatest materials.
Finally, the fourth board I’m involved with is National Association of Corporate Directors, which is interesting because it’s a board that focuses on boards. It’s a great group of people from all around Boston’s ecosystem that promotes good governance in public and private companies.
Images courtesy of Jack Klinck and Hyperplane.