Patricia Nakache: One-time science geek now successful venture capitalist
Since joining Trinity Ventures in 1999, general partner Patricia Nakache has focused on funding companies launching innovative online consumer and business services. She is particularly interested in the impact of social media and mobile on the next generation of Internet services. Local companies Kixeye, My New Place, and Uptake are among those in her current investment portfolio. Prior to Trinity, the Menlo Park resident and mother of three worked at McKinsey & Company. She graduated from Harvard University with degrees in chemistry and physics and has an MBA from Stanford University. We sat down with her recently at the Trinity offices on Sand Hill Road.
InMenlo: What brought you to Menlo Park — and what makes you stay?
Patricia: I was introduced to the area when I was attending Stanford business school. We first lived in the City, but when I was about to have my first child I realized that our parking space in San Francisco was too narrow to get the car seat in and out of the car, so maybe the City wasn’t going to be an easy place to raise kids! That’s when we moved to Menlo Park.
I like Menlo’s mix of cosmopolitan environment and small town. I get joy out of seeing people I recognize everyone were I go. And we couldn’t be happier with our experiences with the public schools. Staying here gives my three children the stability of staying in one place.
InMenlo: Given your undergraduate degrees in chemistry and physics, what led you to business school rather pursuing a doctorate?
Patricia: Growing up, my father, who had a PhD in nuclear engineering, was a major influence and there was a great appreciation of science and technology in my household.
One of the highlights of my high school experience was the science fair. I did a project involving triboluminescence where you bite into a lifesaver and see sparks in your mouth. I was so engrossed in the project that I was staying at school and missing dinner. I really loved it.
I did contemplate seriously pursuing a PhD in science. As an undergraduate at Harvard, I spent a lot of time working in the labs. But I discovered I was fundamentally a people person, not a lab person. I appreciated the great work that was being done but didn’t enjoy the day-to-day process.
InMenlo: You’ve been at Trinity for 12 years, through two significant downturns. What is in your make up that makes it possible to ride the ups and downs, both for you personally and for your companies?
Patricia: I joined Trinity during the height of the first bubble. Because I didn’t have a lot investments, I could watch and learn, which was a wonderful opportunity.
One key takeaway is to never lose sight of the fundamentals. Successful startups are ones that offer a product or service that provides real value to people. You can major that value in a number of ways, revenue being one, but you must continue to demonstrate you can build real value. The market can distort the signals for you, hence the importance of staying focused on the fundamentals.
InMenlo: What would people who don’t know you well find the most surprising about you?
Patricia: Maybe that my life is a little bit like extreme sports, raising three kids and working full time.
I do have a passion around writing and literature. I’ve written some articles for Fortune magazine and manage to find time to read fiction, most recently Room and Faultlines. I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb is a favorite.
Photo by Scott R. Kline