Pat McGovern, founder and chairman of IDG, passed away last Thursday at the age of 76. Much has already been written about his remarkable accomplishments as a businessman and philanthropist. Instead of adding to that outpouring, I want to write a few words about my personal experience with Pat.
To say that I knew Pat McGovern well would be an overstatement. My partner, Pat Kenealy, and my China colleagues, Quan Zhou and Hugo Shong, knew him substantially better. But I was fortunate to know McGovern for 15 years, starting in the late 1990s, when he and other IDG Ventures partners were kind enough to invite me to join IDG Ventures. In a youthful mistake, I declined initially but eventually made the right decision by co-founding our current firm, IDG Ventures USA, in 2007, with strategic backing from IDG.
Over the past seven years, I interacted with Pat McGovern every couple of months, as he reviewed the performance of our fund, helped with introductions to various parts of IDG, reached out to multiple founders on our behalf, and committed increasing amounts of capital to our funds. Before too much time passes and I forget, I want to write down the distinguishing characteristics of Pat’s personality, which I believe hold important lessons for all of us, and particularly to anyone who is a founder of his/her own firm.
1. Personal attention. For many years, Pat delivered personally-signed holiday cards to every employee and even to us at IDG Ventures, even though we are not IDG employees but part of the extended IDG family.
2. Responsiveness. Pat replied to every e-mail and phone call from me, typically in under 24 hours. I may not have always liked the response, but I always got one.
3. Professionalism. I never heard Pat raise his voice. He wore a coat and tie to every meeting. In Silicon Valley, we may see this as old-fashioned, but when someone shows up to a meeting on a Saturday morning in a coat and tie when he could be wearing a bathrobe and slippers, you feel he is taking the meeting seriously, you feel respected, and you cannot help but raise your own game.
4. Family. I was always struck by Pat’s remarkable interactions with his wife, Lore Harp McGovern, herself an accomplished entrepreneur. She joined us on many occasions, including IDG Ventures’ annual meetings, and her contributions were always valuable and unique from Pat’s. Pat treated Lore with a combination of tenderness and respect that I rarely see in couples.
5. Frugality. Pat traveled economy class frequently, though fortunately not on international flights. Despite a personal fortune estimated in the billions, he lived in a nice but relatively modest house, eschewing any potential trappings of excessive wealth like planes, boats, chauffeurs, etc.
6. Attention to numbers. As a true MIT grad, Pat focused on the underlying data and knew detailed revenue and profitability figures for every business unit and in our case, the returns on each one of our portfolio companies.
7. Boundless energy. Until his last months, Pat traveled extensively throughout the US and China. I distinctly recall walking with him to our hotel from the annual IDG Top Leadership dinner in Boston in the middle of December. Despite the frigid temperatures, he dismissed the idea of taking a taxi and preferred to walk. I have a small suspicion this was due in part to his desire to not spend money.
8. Business on a handshake. Our last substantial business interaction was at the end of 2013. My partners and I talked to Pat about our next fund; we wanted to know how much money IDG was going to invest. We met at Pat’s house, had tea and sandwiches in his living room with his wife, discussed some of the underlying market and performance data, and received a commitment of tens of millions of dollars in one conversation, along with unequivocal personal support. He is the best LP we have ever had, the best LP venture capitalists can hope to have, and the best investor any founder can hope to have.
9. Judicious use of capital. Pat never raised outside capital for IDG, thus retaining majority control until the end. The company rarely borrowed money from the banks, and only in small amounts. This combination of self-reliance, lack of leverage, and private company status allowed IDG to weather the digital media revolution significantly better than any of its peers and thrive to this day.
10. Clear mission statement. Pat believed that “information about information technology” has the power to make the world a better place, and he single-mindedly focused all his businesses on this. There is great power that comes with clear moral context for your business decisions.
11. Health. But a lot of this came with a price. No one will disagree that Pat passed away too early, in an age when life expectancy continues to rise. There is little doubt, though I have no tangible proof, that the constant global travel took its toll on Pat. I do not know the right balance for me, but in admiring so many of the things Pat accomplished and how he lived his life, I will try to learn from him.
Farewell to a great man. Thank you for all that you did, Pat McGovern.