My investor just died

One of the largest investors in my previous company just died.

In mourning Murray Hogarth I realized I’ve never fully mourned Skymeter, or deeply understood and shared the lessons of its passing.

Let me start with the man, and what I learned from him. The company will follow.

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Murray was my first family office investor

You may have read some of the good things that I have written about family offices as investors previously. Many of my favorable impressions of family offices come from personal experience with his family office. Murray was the entrepreneur who created his company, and the wealth that required a family office to manage. He was an entrepreneur foremost, who invested in entrepreneurs.

He invested in people first

Murray had one of the most penetrating stares I’ve ever experienced in an investor. When you were speaking to him, he was focused fully on you. Yet it felt like he was only half listening to your words; that the other half was examining and evaluating you. It seemed like he was continually considering your motivations, and looking at your emotional language. Always hearing your words second, and reading you as a person first.

I like to think that one of the reasons he invested in Skymeter is he judged me as a CEO, and found that – for all my flaws – I was straight and honest, and worthy of trust, as he was himself. That if I failed (as I did) it would be through hard work and honest errors. That I would be honest and transparent with him, as an investor, throughout, and that I would always work for what I felt was the good of the company (as I was, and did).

He may not have been perfect in this area, as subsequent events would show. But he did seem to realize that it was his most important task as an investor. That if he made a mistake it would be a mistake in judging people as worthy of his trust … so this should be his primary focus.

This leads me to integrity

I didn’t know Murray well personally: he was a wealthy and busy man, with a large family, a very large core business, tens of private investments through his holding company, who was also retired and spending significant time out of the city with his wife. Yet even in the few interactions we had, it was obvious that Murray as a man of very deep integrity.

It’s funny how some people think of business as a place where lying, cheating and backstabbing helps you get ahead. When you see a man like Murray, or hear him speak, you realize that deep integrity and honesty will get you much further … especially when combined with the wisdom and ability to perceive who is being deceptive, and who is exactly who they say they are.

Murray was one of the toughest investors I’ve ever had

In shareholder meetings he broke the choreographed script, by standing up and asking the tough questions, in a room where all the investors could hear the challenge, and the answer.

Before investing, he didn’t just decide if he liked our business himself, and then get the approval of his board. He invited one of his board members to meet me as well, and (I believe) insisted that the family office would only invest if the board member was willing to put his own personal money at risk in backing the investment he had approved (which he did).

Murray was also a solid, reliable investor

Once he had decided that the company was worth investing in, and he convinced himself that we were continuing to operate with integrity, he kept backing us. Things did not go as planned with Skymeter. We needed more funds. His firm provided them.

He never invested alone: always with co-investors, both new and existing. But he went to the extent, in the last round he did when I was CEO, of putting his and his wife’s own personal money into the company when the board of his family office turned down the proposal.

He wanted to help humanity

Skymeter was a firm with a vision and a mission. To transform our use of the automobile, by changing how we paid for its use (hence reducing or eliminating many of the unpleasant side-effects: unintentional parking tickets, parking shortages, traffic jams, unfairly high insurance bills and high urban pollution and greenhouse gas emissions).

I believe that one of the reasons that Murray invested in our firm was because of the vision. That this wasn’t just a technology that would make a lot of money. That it was also a technology that would make a difference in the world.

There was also a striking contradiction at the core. Murray’s core business sold gasoline to drivers. Our technology would cause drivers to drive smarter, spend less time in their cars, and use less gasoline.

I spoke with many automotive investors, including some of the biggest around the world. None of the others invested. A couple made comments that led me to believe that self-interest played at least a small part. That they preferred today’s high and inefficient car use – with resultant traffic jams and high greenhouse gas emissions – because our vision of the future was threatening, or at least, not something they wished to support.

Murray didn’t seem to care. He never mentioned it once. His core business had caused him to think deeply about automobiles, an asset to us in an investor. And we were an independent investment. He seemed to wish us both the best. If driving changed maybe he’d make sure his business still did well, or maybe we were a hedging investment, or maybe he thought the benefit to humanity outweighed his personal self-interest. We never discussed it. And it was a remarkable decision.

He is missed

Skymeter is gone. And now Murray is as well. One consumed my life. The other only touched it. And yet I find I miss both of them powerfully. That is a strong tribute to Murray Hogarth.