Two weeks ago the world lost Harry Weller. I was fortunate enough to work alongside and learn from Harry for three years at NEA. I met him in August 2013 shortly after I started at NEA and he immediately put me to work. I got pulled into a meeting with a company in a new space and didn’t even know the name of the company until the meeting was over. It was a whirlwind — the first of many that would only start to make sense much later. Early on, he threw me into the deep end and let me swim. In my first year working with him, he sent me into all sorts of situations and let me join him in several others. It felt crazy to be in many of these situations with my experience and age, but he made it seem normal. I watched how he used his talents to the fullest, and I looked for ways to identify my own talents and do the same; only later did I realize that he was doing this for me. Harry was not the type of mentor who told you what you wanted to hear — he told you what you needed to hear — good, bad or nothing. I developed trust early that everything he told me had a purpose and that if it didn’t make sense to me in the moment, it was my job to figure it out. When I felt like I was lacking something — feedback, direction, information — it was not because he didn’t care, but because he saw the value in me figuring it out for myself. He pushed me to grow, but also to learn how to grow on my own. The saying goes: teach a man to fish. Harry took that to another level: he showed people how to teach themselves and how to teach others, creating a massive network effect. He didn’t want people to rely on him. He never asked for credit, only a thank you. And the thank you was not for him, rather it completed the circle: when you recognized what he had done for you, it was clear that you needed to do the same for others. His silence was as powerful as his voice as he weaned his mentees off the Harry Weller fountain of insight and instruction. I am sad to know that now I only have his silence, but trust that the values he instilled in me will carry me into the future. He never played the short game and always had his eyes way down the road. He saw that the only way to make a difference was through relationships with people. He was a force multiplier to the nth degree because he empowered those around him and inspired them to do the same for others. Harry proved that life, even in the world of investing, is not a zero-sum game. He gave to his family, his companies, to his partners, to his mentees, and to his friends in any way that he could. In a world where competition can kill an outcome, Harry stood above it all claiming collaboration and cooperation as king. He showed us all that you must believe in what you’re doing deep down to create long term value — personally and professionally. To do this, you needed to be in touch with your true self, which required self-awareness and confidence with no room for insecurity or self-consciousness. To Harry, self-confidence and clarity were time savers — get in touch with your instincts to get your point across more smoothly and clearly. There was no time to sugarcoat or play games, and even in challenging situations, his positive energy and genius radiated from him and put people at ease in the boardroom. The beauty of it all was that he set us up to carry on without him — true humility and selflessness embodied. We will never be as fast or as sharp as he was, but we will be our best selves, which is all he ever asked for.
In first meetings, he would let the entrepreneur start their presentation, but never finish it. In part because he got bored and in part because it didn’t matter. Harry was the quickest, deepest person I have ever interacted with. He could put the pieces together so quickly, and even with complex stories he didn’t need a whole hour to understand what the company was about. There was a distinct moment that he would clearly get it and then immediately flip into sell mode, explaining to the entrepreneur what he and the firm had to offer, sometimes pointing at me and saying, “you’ll get him.” And I felt happy and proud to be part of the mission. I got to learn, the company got work done, and he got better insight — a virtuous circle. He sent me to struggling companies, he had me spend time with the rising stars and at questionable nascent opportunities, he put me at a portfolio company full time, and ultimately he even sent me to yeshiva in Israel before welcoming me back to the team. It was never about him or me or the company, but about everyone together moving forwards towards a common goal: innovation. He showed me that there are optimized solutions in the world, and that if you take in all the information and fully engage then even the hardest problems are solvable. He was a genius in true form and he applied it to the whole world. He taught me to use as little time as possible and to learn to focus on the highest impact opportunities. Why? Because you will only get busier. Why else? Because you need time just to think, process and understand the world better. He showed me that being an investor can be incredibly meaningful and stimulating and if done right, will never become monotonous, and that you can be deterministic as long as you respect the reality in which you are working. Most important of all, he passed it all down; paid it forward. As I look at my colleagues who had the chance to work with Harry, it is so clear that he instilled in each of them a collaborative attitude, a thirst for knowledge, and a fundamental belief that everyone can win. That we are better together and it is our job to identify our strengths and share them with the world. He created an army of people driven to develop strong relationships and develop people as individuals and as part of teams. I know that his legacy will live on so strongly in all of us, but that does not make this any easier. His job here was not finished. He was on the path to infinity with the vigor and energy to support him all the way there. We will never know what could have been, but I am grateful for what we got.
Harry was an expert at navigating work-life balance. Anyone who has worked in venture capital or any sort of investing knows that it is nearly impossible to do it well. The hours are random, the travel is crazy, and it is emotionally taxing. Harry found his balance. He took his time away and focused on it, letting it inspire him. He reported back after every trip with a novel idea he came up with simply by observing another part of the world or watching his boys interact. When his wife was ill, it took 100% precedence. There was no question in his mind or in ours.
Harry’s ability to recognize potential and then strap it to a jetpack was unparalleled. Companies, people, partners — he saw quickly what they brought to the table and figured out how to make the most of it, providing with them with the tools and situations they needed to continue to develop. In June of 2015 I stopped by Harry’s office on my way to an event and had one of the most important conversations of my life. I asked for a six month leave to go study in Israel — a personal development opportunity. He gave an inquisitive look, I said a bit more and he said he was into it. Just like in so many meetings with companies, he just got it. He talked to Peter about it, and it was in motion. When we got down to details I got uneasy — I wasn’t sure how things would play out when I got back, and my insecurities were showing clearly. I will never forget in September 2015 when Harry Weller came into my office on his way out and cut me off to say, “just go, don’t talk to me about again until you book a flight.” Someone who usually liked me figuring things out on my own saw that I needed the push and gave it to me. He saw the value clearly, and he knew that it was going to be best for me — regardless of the immediate impact on him. He had a deep belief that developing people was the most important thing, and this was yet another embodiment of that value. Harry saw the future and could instantly put together four dimensional puzzles in his head — a rare talent I don’t expect to see again in my life. With Harry, 1 plus 1 could equal 5 or 10. People like this are hard to come by in life and they are the people who create the world. They give and give and give and show others that giving works through their actions; that sharing in knowledge and skills and opportunity is the only way to succeed; that recognizing your talents and then helping others do the same can create something from nothing.
I came back from Israel in April 2016 and rejoined Harry and the rest of the team in Maryland. I had a new outlook and a new look (now wearing a kippa) and Harry was completely supportive and inquisitive. I was trying hard to integrate the things I learned in my time in Israel into work and one day Harry told me exactly what I needed to hear: that he saw the difference; I was acting differently — looking at things more objectively and deeply and in turn was adding more to our conversations as a team. I felt validated but also felt like Harry really knew where he was sending me back in September. Without ever having heard of a yeshiva, he somehow knew what I would get out of it. We had a great lunch after I got back where I walked him through what my day was like in Israel and what I learned in my various classes. He was genuinely interested and saw it as an opportunity to learn about a perspective, a culture, and a method which was new to him. He had no fear of knowledge: no concern that it might upset his view of the world. He was confident and open minded enough to allow information to flow freely into his brain, which had a seemingly limitless ability to process it.
At the annual meeting in May we all saw it come together. The liquidity awards dinner presented CEOs and founders with awards on behalf of NEA and the limited partners for their exits. 2016 was the Harry show. The speeches given by CEOs were about partnership and friendship; about adding value and making tough decisions through ups and downs. Harry gave each of these companies everything he had, and none were easy or obvious. He stuck with them and was brought to tears during the ceremony as founders recounted the stories of their companies and how Harry was elemental to each one. Everyone in the room felt the emotion and saw that with Harry, it was not just about the money. The next day I told him, “this is what venture capital is all about — you are the epitome of what we are trying to do.” It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but if you focus on the people and you give them everything you’ve got, it can work out and everyone can win. In the tough world of high finance, there is rarely a case where everyone wins, but with Harry it was the stated goal. And to see it come to fruition was the greatest thing of all.
When I emailed Harry in late July to tell him I received an offer to take a job in Israel, it was so clear to him that it was the right thing at the right time for me. His vision for my future was in his mind as if it were his own. We went to lunch the next day and he mapped out where I could go and what I could do in the future as if it were his own life plan. He saw the nuances of what I was doing from all the angles — something that had taken me weeks — in just minutes. He was excited for me and I felt the true Harry — a giver with a long-term vision that included everyone. He knew that the best for me would be the best for him in the long run, even if the short term wasn’t as obvious. It takes a giant to do that with everyone and Harry was a giant.
Whether he was sending me to Atlanta or Boston for work or even to yeshiva in Israel, he helped me and so many others see their potential and begin to actualize it. It is not a gift I could have ever have repaid him for, but I sure would have liked the opportunity to try. The only thing I can think to do now is live by his values: Live every moment to the fullest. Use your brain. Be confident in yourself. Take the time you need to stay productive. Observe the world around you closely. And people are the most valuable thing in the world — empower them with everything you have. He became a legend young and he’ll stay a legend forever.
The pace of the world has slowed down these last couple weeks. It’s incredibly sad to know that someone who cared so deeply about using technology to make the world a better place is no longer here. Harry gave everything he had — which was a lot — to the world and his mind and his legs never stopped. There is less energy in the world today, fewer ideas and less excitement, and that is a harsh reality. For someone who was a beacon of light and taught others to engage their brains this reality is just too hard to swallow. I had so much more to learn from him and so did the world. Goodbye Harry. You were loved and revered for the best reason possible: you made the people around you better.