Larry Warnock's Entrepreneurial Journey
Ring Ventures' Managing Partner shares his journey into venture
Larry Warnock, Managing Partner of Ring Ventures (Alumni Ventures fund for the Texas A&M community) shares his venture journey, including his first job, lessons learned, exciting investments, and more.
Larry WarnockManaging Partner, Ring Ventures
Larry Warnock is a seasoned venture-backed tech executive with multiple exits via acquisition or IPO. After moving to Austin from Silicon Valley, Larry was a Venture Partner at AVLabs, the incubator fund of Austin Ventures. His career has allowed him to work with numerous VCs and companies across California, Colorado, and Texas. Austin is now his home with his wife of 35 years. Larry is a graduate of Texas A&M and is a frequent speaker at Texas A&M’s Mays School of Business.
1. What was your first job in venture and how did you get it?
Most of my career has been in operating roles at enterprise software companies — from sales to CMO to CEO of several startups. All the companies were venture-backed with good exits.
My first experience with venture capital was actually from the startup side, raising funds from VC firms. My first job at a VC firm was when I relocated from Silicon Valley to Austin over 20 years ago. I was a Venture Partner for Austin Ventures, which was the largest venture investor in Texas at the time. I worked on a team that was focused on our incubator, helping a range of companies define go-to-market strategies and dealing with growth issues. I was recruited by a VC that I had met several years earlier, who had asked me to join a startup and later had looked at a company I worked for. So I’ll tell you that networking matters — sometimes years later.
Austin Ventures was a valuable introduction to being “on the other side of the table” and getting the perspective of the VC vs. the operating team. I then bounced back and forth between operation roles and assisting venture firms to invest in and guide young companies. After the successful exit of the last company I managed as CEO, I took my current role at Alumni Ventures as the Managing Partner of a new fund for the Texas A&M community, Ring Ventures.
It’s been a great experience building this fund from the ground up with my awesome team.
2. Share with us a story about how someone, especially a fellow alum, helped you along the way.
I have many examples of Aggies helping me in my career through mentorship, introduction, and general guidance. I will make note of just two here — one from many decades ago and one from much more recently.
The first is Kelly Castleberry, whom I met at A&M. He was one class ahead of me, and I served on his staff in the Corps of Cadets (ROTC). Kelly was the Corps Commander, and I watched his leadership style. He earned respect from all around him, which let him effectively inspire and lead.
I had never been exposed to a leader like that before. My leadership style is anchored in what I learned from Kelly.
He unfortunately was later killed in a military accident in a fighter jet. I still often think of him.
The other Aggie I want to mention is Blake Petty, the Director of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at the Mays School of Business, TAMU. He was the first Aggie with whom I shared my opportunity of working with Alumni Ventures to start a Fund for Texas A&M Former Students. He gave me great feedback — including guidance on how to interact with the departments and administration at the University. Blake has been extremely supportive every step of the way and a positive force in the creation of Ring Ventures.
3. Share one of the top lessons you’ve learned over the years in working with founders.
Being a founder is difficult. In fact, if you haven’t done it, it is almost impossible to truly “grok” the highs, the lows, the twists and turns. Having experienced it firsthand several times helps me relate to founders and CEOs.
When I do investments, I look for founders with three things, regardless of the industry or solution they’re bringing to market.
- Grit. Do they have the emotional and intellectual stamina to power through?
- Passion for the mission at hand. Do they strongly believe that they can make a difference in their market, and do they have a deep passion to pull it off?
- Knowledge of the market space. Do they have any experience and working knowledge of the market they are attacking? Have they “lived it”?
When I find a thumbs up on those three, I will then dive deeper on the solution and market size.
But without those three traits, the other research really doesn’t matter.
4. Give an example of one recent investment that you’re particularly excited about.
I’m excited about all of our investments because if I can’t get “excited,” I’m probably a pass. The reason is that I believe that venture investing is a blend of objective and subjective analysis and decision-making. I rely on my team to provide a balance of both of those when we consider deals.
Just to give one example: I’m really excited about Numerade, an innovative platform that provides tutoring for STEM subjects to middle school through college students. It’s designed for the TikTok generation, with short format examples, and it requires students to practice and actually do math problems. Research has shown that this is the best way to learn: by doing.
Numerade’s growth has been absolutely explosive, and they are bringing tutoring services to ALL. Since I believe that STEM education is critically important for the continued success of this country, I’m excited about what Numerade is doing. They are already a success, and I expect even bigger things from them going forward.
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