Takeaways from an Interview with Vista Equity’s Robert Smith

I watched an interview Robert Smith gave recently. He’s a billionaire and founder of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm focused on software companies. Robert was very open, sharing details of his childhood, his journey from engineer to investor, and his perspective on a variety of topics. He did a great job of explaining private equity, venture capital, and capitalization at different growth stages in a company’s life cycle in a way that many people can understand.

I’ve spent time thinking about the impact of knowledge gaps on a founder’s velocity. Robert shared his thinking about knowledge gaps and how filling them is core to his strategy at Vista. Here are a couple of things he said that stuck with me:

“You’re accelerating the corporate maturity of that business. It might take you 10 years to figure out what we’ve done 45 times already. Now I bring that intellectual property into the company.”
“You may not have figured out or may not figure out because you may not be in an environment or circle of people who have dealt with that before. That’s why the expertise we bring is often more valuable than the capital.”

Even though he’s a private equity investor, Robert is also a founder. He founded Vista over twenty years ago and built it to almost six hundred employees and almost $100 billion in assets under management. He was speaking from the unique perspective of both a founder and investor who’s had outsize success. I think it says a lot that he’s built an organization whose success is largely based on creating value by filling the knowledge and capital gaps of people running later-stage companies.