From EiR Buzz to a Defining Role with Poka

by on June 5, 2015

The very first thing on my calendar, after leaving Return Path last October, was a Monday morning coffee with Chris Arsenault. That’s when the offer to spend a couple months with iNovia as their Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) came in. It sounded like a pretty good way to kick-off life, after the sale of Context.IO and the two years following, working for our acquirer. Six months later, it turned out that this work defined it more than I thought it would.

To be honest, although I had heard about that role before, what the EiR job actually entailed was pretty unclear and I quickly realized most people also have no idea what an EiR does. At its simplest (blunt) expression, it’s a lot like two people telling each other: “I like you and I trust you, let’s hang out more and see where it goes”. More seriously, those six months with iNovia were about exploration and transition:  the exploration of new technologies, products, and business opportunities coming in from the deal flow, strategic initiatives of portfolio companies or simply from personal interest. This exploration is meant to lead the EiR to start a new venture, join a portfolio company, or even join the firm full time. The two previous iNovia EiR’s were Patrick Lor and David Nault:  Patrick launched Dissolve and David joined iNovia full time as a Principal. For me, it led to joining the amazing founders behind Poka, one of the newest iNovia portfolio companies.

It’s a lot like two people telling each other:
“I like you and I trust you, let’s hang out more
and see where it goes”. That’s an EiR

When Antoine Bisson and Alexandre Leclerc came in to talk about their business, a social platform that focuses on efficient training, knowledge retention and real-time troubleshooting in the manufacturing world, everyone seemed pretty impressed with their progress. The excitement about what could happen next was even greater. Antoine, Alexandre and I clicked immediately. While completing some work and due-diligence with the iNovia team, further researching the space and getting to know the founders and what motivated them, it suddenly became obvious. This role provided me with unique launchpad into a new market where I could better appreciate the huge opportunity ahead, as much as its challenges. And it naturally led me to joining the team full time as Poka’s Head of Operations. I could hardly be more excited about the opportunity!

The relationship between founders and venture capitalists is, to say the least, an interesting one. Insightful stories have been written about how it can serve as a catalyst, spawning entire industries and creating immense wealth for those involved. Yet, it’s not very hard to find darker tales about that same relationship taking promising companies down to an outcome where the ‘entertainment value’ of the story is much greater than the financial returns.

But when it comes down to building more industry-defining successes and category leaders, I think VCs with entrepreneurial backgrounds have an edge over those who don’t. They are the type of investors who can truly be a catalyst for growth. Does that mean that entrepreneurs, with a better understanding of how a VC firm operate, have an edge when building a high growth tech out-performer? Short of being completely seduced by the ‘dark side’, spending the last few months with iNovia as an Entrepreneur in Residence was the closest thing I could have done to walking the proverbial mile in the shoes of a Venture Capitalist. There’s no doubt in my mind that this experience will have a positive impact on my ability to help build the hugely successful company we all believe Poka can become.