Victor Thorne was bit by the entrepreneur bug early. In his mid 20s, he started his first company — a Chicago-based firm that created software for the food service industry — with his older brother.
“I was thrust into the world of entrepreneurship and loved it,” he says. “I was young and I was willing to risk everything I had, sleep on a buddy’s couch, whatever it took, to make it a success.”
Thorne moved from role to role and went through some interesting economic cycles, but the business thrived and reached a valuation of mid-nine digits. After attracting investment from national private equity firms and achieving a liquidity event, he was on top of the world.
“I felt like I could accomplish anything I ever put my energy toward, after that,” Thorne says.
Today, the partner at Origin Malt is still enthusiastic about investing and entrepreneurship. He shared at the Smart Business Dealmakers Conference in September how his focus has changed.
In the beginning of Thorne’s entrepreneurial journey, his risk profile — and energy level — were very high. It’s not the same today.
“Being in my 20s, when the liquidity event happened, I had very little thought in my head about, ‘Well, maybe I should put some away and think about educating my future kids and things like that,’” he says. “It didn’t cross my mind. It was, ‘What’s the next thing we’re going to do?’”
Thorne created an investment firm and stared investing and creating new business. He had some ups and downs, and in his early 30s, he moved back to Columbus.
He bought a couple of portfolio companies, started raising money and getting involved with angel investor networks. However, he admits that he probably spread himself — and his capital — too thinly.
Once he married and had kids, however, his perspective really started to change.
“My next liquidity events will be handled differently than my first,” Thorne says. “But in terms of the goals and the values of my efforts, I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror at the end of a journey, whether it’s helping another entrepreneur or my own venture, and be proud of what I did.”
While monetary gains come with a successful execution of the plan, Thorne wants to make a positive impact, as well. He’s also taking a more disciplined approach, pulling back on the number of activities he’s involved in and drilling down on how to work toward the next liquidity event.
From success to significance
Thorne looks back and sees the differences in his perspective over five-year increments. When he was 25, he was living in Chicago and single. In the years between 30 and 35, he got married, had his first child and started thinking through what settling down meant. Between 35 and 40, Thorne built another portfolio of investments and got involved with new businesses. The last five years, ages 40 to 45, he had a second child and began to make sure he wasn’t missing important things like a dance recital or soccer game.
“It totally changes the view of what success looks like — what the goals are and the discipline level,” he says. “I’m not sunsetting, and I think I’m probably going to have something going on to keep me busy for the rest of my life, because I don’t know what I would become and I’m not sure what being idle really feels like. But I do know that my retirement right now is mainly in illiquid investments and holdings in companies that I control and companies that I don’t.”
Thorne would like to transfer some of that wealth into liquidity, so there’s more control over where it’s placed. That way, he can make sure his family is taken care of.
While he expects to always be involved in something entrepreneurial, whether that’s starting something fresh or working with entrepreneurs to help them grow, at mid-career, Thorne is more mindful of how he spends his time.
“I’ve been in a lot of really exhilarating and thrilling and some really devastating transactions and experiences,” he says.
He’s using that past, while keeping in mind his family and legacy.
“It’s made me more cognizant, when I get into a new project, of how I want to manage it and control it and build a team around it and have more measurement of what the outcome is going to be,” Thorne says.
A network around you
Another change is that he is putting more emphasis on having the right team around him.
Thorne has always focused on building a network of mentors and advisers, a matrix of subject matter experts that he keeps close who have similar values and principles.
“I’ve thought more recently about building a similar web of service providers that I can tap into when the time comes, when there are liquidity events and things like that,” he says. “So, it’s not just a one-off transaction, trying to figure it out on the fly.”
Having the right support system also enables Thorne to make sure he doesn’t ignore his family, because he knows if he does, they may not always be there.
Thorne says, your mentors and advisers not only help you get through the rough patches, they can help you think about the future and consider opportunities from different perspectives, which is so valuable.
“And not all those mentors and advisers are older than me,” he says. “A lot of times it’s people 10 years younger who did things differently, or are doing things differently, that I admire as well and learn from.”