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Conference LiveBlog: Panel with David Simms, Promod Haque and Deborah Farrington

By Opportunity International

Saturday morning at the Opportunity International Conference opens with a panel featuring David Simms, Board Chair of Opportunity’s Global Microfinance Operations; Promod Haque, Managing Partner of Norwest Venture Partners (NVP); and Debby Farrington, founder and general partner of StarVest Partners, L.P.

Highlights from the Session

Discussion Questions:

Debby Farrington and Promod Haque.1. With your philanthropy you have “invested” in Opportunity. What are your key criteria for selecting the organizations in which you invest? Could you use a case example to explain this from the business world?

Farrington: As a venture capitalist I look for several criteria. One of the investment criteria for our firm is to provide liquidity for organizations. The analogy for Opportunity International is that it has a very strong value proposition. First, it provides financial services along with transformational training. It’s a leader in the market and has a sustainable business model. This excited me. Our donations provide the equity in banks, and each dollar that we donate creates two or three dollars. And the Trust Groups help train entrepreneurs, and Opportunity has scale. So it met all my criteria for investing venture capital.

Haque: Our key criteria are that we are looking for companies that are solving a unique problem in the marketplace and doing it in a unique way. We’re not interested in somethign that only a small segment of the population are concerned with. At the same time, the problem has to be large enough that the company can grow. We want to be the early pioneer in targeting and solving that problem. Also, we look at the management team and examine if they have the relevant experience. We’re also looking for synergistic relationships with entrepreneurs.

2. Promod, do your charitable investment opportunities get evaluated in the same way as your business investment opportunities? Do you apply the same standards–leadership, scalability, sustainability, etc.–in your philanthropic choices?

Haque: In some ways, the best that you can. My wife and I are looking for ways to get back into God’s Kingdom. God has been gracious to us, and so we want to give back to his Kingdom. There are a variety of ministries that we’re involved with. The other thing that we look for is that all these ministries are not reinventing the wheel and work in synergy with other ministries. That’s why the work that Opportunity does is so important, partnering with other organizations and working to empower people in other countries with microfinance to give them a fresh start.

3. Debby, what makes ventures great and what can Opportunity learn from them?

There are several things. First, vision. Do they articulate that organizational vision. Second, effective strategy. Define what you do but more importantly define what you don’t do to protect against mission drift. Thirdly, listen to your customers and continually strive to improve business lives of your customers. They focus on continuous improvements in their service delivery. That’s something that successful entrepreneurs can do well, and they continually analyze the market and adapt to it. They also foster a sense of teamwork and excellence. That’s something we foster on the Opportunity Board–how can be best meet our clients’ needs and create growth.

4. Promod, when things don’t go according to plan, how do we learn from failure? Can you share something you learned the hard way? What could Opportunity learn from your experience?

Haque: Well, things rarely go according to plan. But we want to always evaluate companies to be sure that they’re able to achieve their goals. But startups are very uncertain, so you may need to repivot. You might start out with a certain assumption that the market has a niche for a product and you might find that doesn’t exist and you have to revisit it. And that happens often that things may not go as planned. But there is a Biblical analogy. Failure is not a person, failure is an event in a person’s life. When we look to hire CEOs into my companies, we look at their background. For instance, the dot-com bust was a very difficult time. When I look for CEOs, I’m looking for individuals who were not only successful during the boom times, but during the bust times too. They need to know how to deal with adversity and failure. Those are the people we want to hire into our companies. Failure is a very important piece in people’s lives, the important thing is what do you learn from it.

Farrington: I’ll tell you as a venture capitalist, I appreciate people who have failed on someone else’s nickel.

About Promod Haque

Promod Haque has more than 20 years of experience in the venture capital industry and currently serves as managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners (NVP). Promod joined NVP in 1990, and has invested in more than 60 companies since he began his venture career, producing nearly $30B in exit values to date. More than 20 of his portfolio companies have gone public and nearly 35 have been acquired (or have gone public and been acquired). Promod was ranked as a top investor on the annual Forbes Midas List for nine years, and in 2004, Forbes named him as the #1 venture capitalist based on performance over the last decade. In 2006, Promod was presented with a Global Leadership award from NASSCOM. A member of the Opportunity Board of Governors since 1998, he has visited Opportunity’s work in Costa Rica, Uganda and India.

About Debby Farrington

Debby Farrington, a member of the Opportunity International board of directors, is a founder and general partner of StarVest Partners, L.P., a New York City-based venture capital firm founded in 1998. StarVest invests in technology-enabled business services companies with a focus on software-as-a-service, ecommerce and internet marketing. StarVest was an early investor in the software-as-a-service trend: in 2000, it was the only venture firm to invest in NetSuite (NYSE: N), whose December 2007 IPO was the highest market capitalization for a venture-backed company since Google. Ms. Farrington has also served as president and CEO of Victory Ventures, LLC; managing director of Asian Oceanic Group; and an investment banker and securities analyst with Merrill Lynch in New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

About David Simms

David Simms is board chair of opportunity International’s Global Microfinance Operations, and is responsible for leading opportunity’s global strategy. David’s career spans executive roles in financial services, management consulting, government and nonprofits. most recently, he was a partner with the bridgespan group, where he led an initiative to recruit and develop talented senior leaders for nonprofit organizations. previously, david served as a senior executive VP in financial services at MNBA america, was a White House Fellow, and started his career as a management consultant at Bain & Company. David has served on Opportunity’s boards for more than 20 years. He and his family have traveled to more than 60 countries and spent a sabbatical volunteering for opportunity in Chennai, India. David is as an elder at Church of the Saviour in Wayne, Penn. He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School. He earned a B.S. in Economics and a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Pennsylvania, graduating summa cum laude, phi beta kappa.

This session was streamed live at opportunity.org/live. Visit opportunity.org/live throughout the conference to watch the sessions live.

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