What is “The Highland Way?”

By Freddie Martignetti, Principal at Highland Capital Partners

I love what I do. Every day I spend time with fascinating, enterprising entrepreneurs building businesses, changing industries, and creating social value. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Like many people, my path into venture capital was untraditional, and I would not have it any other way.

Growing up and attending school in the Boston area, I was fortunate to be exposed to many kinds of innovation. It is one of the things I love about this city—from Boston’s founding, the people who live here have chosen to make the impossible, possible. Inspired by the ubiquity of the entrepreneurial spirit, I started a small seed fund after graduating from Harvard Business School. This was a tremendous way to cut my teeth in the industry, hustling around, meeting outstanding young founders, and doing everything I could to secure allocations in high growth companies. I quickly learned that this was all about help: How could I help founders? What complementary value could I bring to their team? While this was a thrilling experience, I found myself wondering how I might become a more closely integrated partner to these entrepreneurs. When I made the move to Highland in late 2016, I quickly found the connectivity I was looking for. Here at Highland, we spend every day doing two things: thinking about how we can help our current portfolio companies and looking for the next promising young company to get involved with. That’s it!

Network, Patterns, and Commitment

Taking capital from Highland represents much more than buttressing your balance sheet. It’s about entering into a partnership, where all parties involved are laser-focused on your success. I typically describe our value add as falling into three different buckets: network, pattern recognition, and dedicated commitment.

One of the great thrills of being at Highland is exposing our portfolio companies to our network. We love our companies, so it’s a delight to be able to introduce them to the world. We are never bashful about helping our companies meet new advisors, find their perfect hire, or develop partnerships that mutually benefit both groups.

Second, our expertise in identifying patterns and recognizing what successful founding teams and companies look like is unparalleled. Together with talented entrepreneurs and their teams, we have built more than 18 companies worth more than $1 billion. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely … you are your own boss. I find there is great comfort in being able to tell CEOs, “when Harry’s faced this issue…” or “when Rent the Runway dealt with a similar question, they...” When you become a Highland CEO, you become part of a family within which there is tremendous sharing of knowledge.

Finally, Highland’s commitment to focusing on a controlled number of startups at any given time allows our team to dedicate meaningful time to each portfolio company. This family is small, and stays small for a reason. Each one of us here at Highland works with five to seven companies at most. We do not spread ourselves too thin—we focus on giving each company and team the attention they deserve. Developing what we call a “first call relationship” is central to our model’s success. When we attend board meetings, there is no “bring me up to speed” section. We know what is happening, we know the status, and we maximize our time together by focusing on broader strategic decisions.

Respect Is the Name of the Game

Part of a venture capitalist’s job is to meet with countless companies. Sometimes, this can be exhausting. Here at Highland, we don’t allow our pace to yield, and we never forget that each pitch is an important moment in an entrepreneur’s life. When I first started at Highland, I remember one of our Co-Founders, Paul Maeder, encouraging me to always keep the perspective of the entrepreneur sitting across the table in mind. Not every deal will be for us, and not every founder will be a perfect fit, but we work hard to give each founder and each company the respect they deserve. We do this because it’s simply the right thing to do. To me, that’s one of the most important parts of the Highland way, and it informs everything we do.