What’s your story?
I was a Long Island kid who answered the call to serve in the Army by attending West Point. After leading high performance teams – yes I’m biased – in Iraq and Afghanistan and parachuting out of planes as an Army Ranger, I jumped into the business world via Harvard Business School. There, I found myself deeply inspired by founders who rejected the status quo and built massive businesses against all odds…so I signed up to launch markets and lead business units for Uber when it wasn’t quite so big. I also spent time with early stage startups, but Uber really became a sort of formative experience. Throughout each phase, my wife Patti and, more recently, my son Aidan are my driving force.
Why is mobility such a big theme for you?
I think mobility is a big theme in everyone’s lives, but the first time I stepped inside a tank, I was hooked. Anytime I can hop inside a machine that will move me across terrain, airspace, or open water, I just light up. And after studying systems engineering, I gained a deep appreciation for how machines, humans, and the environment interact to produce discrete outcomes. Years ago, when I searched for a technology company with an inspiring leadership team, top-notch product market fit, and a very real chance to change how the world moved, Uber catapulted me toward insanely fulfilling experiences. It is a true privilege to share any lessons from those experiences running $10B+ businesses while also learning from the next generation of founders amid a seismic market shift in mobility.
What makes a great investment?
It’s hard to answer this succinctly, but it always comes down to teams, market selection, and execution. Great teams have a unifying, distinct vision – often one that sits at the intersection of optimism, realism, and a bit of controversy. Personally, I am most attracted to teams that aren’t afraid of tackling really hairy problems by systematically breaking them into component parts and addressing each in great detail. In terms of market selection, when this type of team is in mobility tech, they often already have an unfair advantage by going after a large market with significant unmet needs among customers. But you still need to pick the right segment of customers in terms of profile and scalability and then actually provide them with magical experiences through product excellence. The best investments not only pick the right opportunities but also embrace the delicate balance of speed, quality, and creativity to drive great economics.
What moves you?
High performance teams are my deepest passion. I love being around them, on them & helping build them. I’ve seen the immense power of cohesive teams and believe there are defining aspects of team culture, atmosphere and interoperability which determine the success of teams.
What was your path into mobility?
Vehicles and machines as a youngster, any type, as long as they had potential to move. Then, as a Blackhawk Helicopter Pilot, I discovered another dimension of mobility and an innate love of machines and advanced tech. This afforded me the opportunity to pour myself into the fascinating applications of advanced control systems, encrypted/secure communication systems, and the extraordinary power one could yield from the engineering accomplishments which enable sophisticated rotary wing operations.
And the draw to innovation-based businesses, how did that intersect with mobility?
The convergence of innovation, transportation and the construction of multi-billion dollar P&Ls is my life’s work. Prior to founding Integrity, I built Exponential VC (an early stage Southern California venture firm), wherein I was able to deploy the investment thesis of deep domain expertise applied to high-performing teams. I constructed a portfolio of investments in high-performing companies in mobility and infrastructure tech. With investments ranging from $2m to $45m, the capital was an important part of what we brought to the companies, but what I view as infinitely more important was the role I took with portfolio companies, offering extensive operational and strategic support, leveraging decades of experience I amassed in high growth operating roles. After my years in aviation, I spent the ensuring 15 years conceiving and creating high growth divisions of companies focused on big data, cloud, IoT and emerging classes of compute infrastructure, I’ve had the opportunity to develop and productize enabling technologies to build multi-billion dollars of enterprise value.
The “bridge” for me into high growth tech was by way of working in the Technology Investment Banking Division of Lehman Brothers/Barclays, leading M&A and IPOs for a wide range of technology companies. That was a phenomenal opportunity for an Army person to go deep into the tech capital markets and really understand the fundamentals of tech companies at all stages.
What do you view as more important in early stage investing…investment acumen or company-building operational acumen?
Can I answer with “both?” Knowing the markets, knowing the founders and their teams, all help form an investment decision. There is a precious opportunity in the early stages of a company where meaningfully helping the team and company outperform will improve success rates for the company. That is a unique value we aspire to bring to our companies — at the desired pace/intensity of the company. I love doing that in capital-constrained environments, which makes you think a bit harder and work a lot harder.
And when not with your companies…
My family is priority #1. An amazing wife of 2 decades, 4 children in their school years, creates a thrilling and rewarding atmosphere in the Wilkison house. Our favorite outings are in the Eastern Sierra, skiing the steep and fast stuff, and chasing waves along the Orange County coastline.