"It was a land-grab - we were moving so quickly and I made tons of mistakes - our saving grace was decent core cash flow and the risk-seeking attitude of a 23 year-old," recalls David Frankel. He is discussing Internet Solutions (IS), the company that he co-founded as it made its way to becoming the largest private Internet Service Provider in Africa. His early errors have made him humble and respectful of successful entrepreneurs: "Who ever said building a company is easy?" he says, "it takes extraordinary focus, passion and alignment."
Frankel and his partners took no external capital: "there's no better funding source than well-served, paying customers." "As the first bandwidth provider, we saw Internet opportunities early and grew good businesses in access, security, hosting & web development." Our early forays into media & healthcare taught me poignantly that we're better served betting on great people than themes and momentum." That early experience seeded huge enthusiasm for smart, scrappy entrepreneurs and sales led organizations.
IS became profitable within its first year, and Frankel, its then CEO turned down an acquisition offer from Sprint in 1995 before selling 100% of the company to Dimension Data plc in 1997.
Frankel soon found himself lead investing or seeding peers whom he considered to be extraordinarily promising. "We are privileged to either have provided the first term sheets or most of the early stage capital to terrific companies like Brontes (sold to 3M), SiteAdvisor (sold to McAfee), Getmein (sold to Ticketmaster) and Magazine Radar."
In thinking about lessons learned in early stage investing, Frankel comments, "I'm hopefully offering some pattern recognition - we try to walk in the entrepreneur's shoes. As investors, if we haven't helped to develop the business and make a bunch of decent introductions, we're not doing our jobs."
"Our role is to deploy the first capital to help an entrepreneur articulate and reach a crisply defined set of milestones. Once we've hit those milestones, try to go get additional funding at a higher valuation, minimizing dilution for all shareholders. That's our obligation to our founders."
In 2000, David was voted the South African Technology Achiever of the Century and selected by the World Economic Forum for the GLT program in Davos, Switzerland. He holds an Honors degree in Electrical Engineering (Wits) and, post selection for the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Program, an MBA with distinction from the Harvard Business School. He has climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, cycled in numerous races and ran in the 2009 New York Marathon.