When we list the attributes most associated with successful founders, investors, billionaires, and industry leaders, we often think of things like determination, grit, fortitude and even obsessiveness. The winners are the most relentless, the ones who work the hardest, know the most, start the earliest in the morning on four hours of sleep and won’t accept no for an answer.
While discussing the venture capital world, and his upcoming technology conference in Santa Monica, The Montgomery Summit 2022, March Capital co-founder and Managing Partner Jamie Montgomery doesn’t necessarily contradict this formula for success, but adds a new attribute to the mix that’s sometimes left out: curiosity.
Montgomery’s a believer that there’s no one right way to go about things, and no surefire process for success. Sometimes, the best company emerges from not just the best data and team but the most creative approach. “If something isn’t clear, invert,” Montgomery explained. “Then invert again. Soon the subject becomes clear.”
The best investors and leaders have an innate inquisitiveness about the world around them, and seek out opportunities not just based on market trends but genuine observations about problems in desperate need of solutions.
“You sort of have to be a very heuristical thinker,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes I find some people I talk to are very smart and interesting, and I think, “That person’s very thoughtful. They’re going to be a good investor.’ Sometimes you meet people and you think ‘Well, they come across smart, but they’re always preparing what they’re going to say in response to what you have to say, they’re not really listening.’ Being a good investor, you’ve got to be a good listener. You’ve got to figure out, what’s the signal and what’s the noise? Filter out the noise and say ‘What’s real?’”
Thoughtfulness, attentiveness and curiosity are typically the sort of attributes that we think of as innate, as opposed to skills you can improve via on-the-job training. Montgomery noted, “I always ask entrepreneurs why rather than what. You get a more interesting answer.” Reading and research and investigation can help, but innate curiosity remains an essential ingredient in business success.
“I think, to be an investor, not just a VC but an overall investor, one benefits from an incredible amount of reading and knowledge,” Montgomery explained. “You have to have a voracious appetite, so it’s really a high-level curiosity. Some people have it, some don’t.”
March Capital Founder Jamie Montgomery.
Illustration by Dilara Mundy
One subject that’s on Montgomery’s mind these days is quantum computing, and its potential impact on cybersecurity, a major area of focus for March. His process starts by asking core questions about the next 5-10 years and what they’ll look like, before even considering potential solutions.
“If you’re investing, you have to look at something that’s inevitable,” Montgomery explained. “Is it gonna happen or not. If it’s inevitable, then the question is, is it imminent? And is it investible? Start with inevitable. Eventually you’re going to have quantum computing, and that’s gonna create an existential threat to cybersecurity. Is that imminent?… What is the post-quantum cyber world like, with all this information that’s been siphoned out of America by China… what do they have and how do we prepare for a post-quantum cybersecurity? It’s almost existential.”
This holistic question-based approach also drives Montgomery as he plans and organizes the annual Montgomery Summit, the largest such event of the L.A. tech calendar year (Montgomery refers to it as the “Rose Bowl of Conferences.”)
He expects around 1,200 people to attend this year – the event’s big return post-pandemic – for panels and sessions that don’t just cover areas in which March Capital specializes, but a vast and diverse variety of subjects and topics, designed to intrigue and inspire curious minds.
Over 175 speakers in total have signed on for the 19th annual Montgomery Summit, to be held on May 24 and 25, from the worlds of technology, economics, geopolitics, public policy, the sciences and beyond. Montgomery gets animated as he tells me about the voluminous range of topics being covered, from the Federal Reserve’s response to inflation to the war in Ukraine to the stories behind companies like Bill.com and CrowdStrike. One session will feature Chapman University Presidential Fellow Jack Horner, one of the world’s leading paleontologists and a key inspiration for the “Jurassic Park” character Dr. Alan Grant.
“It’s the interaction, the entrepreneurs with the investors and the executives,” Montgomery told me. “It’s fantastic, it’s enjoyable, it’s fun, and it’s candid. There are no big egos. The speakers will actually come and talk to you, they don’t come in the back door and leave through the back door. You actually can go to any one of seven sessions, and it’s going to be interesting, and they’re all short. 25-45 minutes each.”
The shorter 25-45 minute sessions help to stave off boredom and mean that attendees can sample a wider range of subjects and sessions than they might at other conferences. It helps keep things moving and makes them fun, a theme Montgomery returned to a few times in our discussion.
“There’s a lot of conferences that are very professionally run or research-driven or they’re very commercial. People come here and they’re gonna have a blast, right?”
The Montgomery Summit runs May 24th-25th at Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. Find out more information on their website.
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