Venture capitalist shares insights at Alpha Kappa Psi speaker event


David Pakman told students to become 'comfortable with failure'


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Venrock partner and 1991 Engineering graduate David Pakman speaks about his journey from tech and music enthusiast to star venture capitalist.

Photo by Aaron Campbell


With big risk comes big reward. Students who ventured through the torrential downpour last night to hear venture capitalist David Pakman speak understood that.

The entrepreneur and current partner at venture capital firm Venrock spoke to a packed room in Huntsman Hall at Alpha Kappa Psi’s first installment of their “Aspire to Excellence Speaker Series.”

After graduating from the Engineering School in 1991, Pakman worked at companies like Apple and eMusic before he made a name as one of the most prominent technology venture capitalists on the East Coast.

The entire “Aspire to Excellence” series, spearheaded by the business fraternity’s marketing chair and Wharton junior Chadwick Prichard, is designed to “encourage students to pursue their own passions.” The Wharton Hedge Fund, Private Equity and Venture Capital and Undergraduate Entrepreneurship clubs all co-sponsored last night’s event.

“The usual path of a Wharton student is in either finance or consulting,” Prichard said, so a venture capitalist was fitting for a speaker series designed to encourage individualism and the pursuit of personal passions.

The entrepreneurship theme drew many Penn students to the event. “I think the spirit of entrepreneurship is really starting to come to Penn and [Pakman] embodies that,” Wharton freshman Karan Parekh said. “I’m personally interested in entrepreneurship and Pakman provided a lot of insight for me.”

The speaker encouraged students to become “comfortable with failure,” for failure is key to eventual success.

For example, Pakman said a partner might only invest in one or two of the 1,000 or so companies that present to a Venrock partner every year. And of the companies that Venrock does invest in, only about two or three in ten become huge successes.

Pakman believes firmly that technology is the future.

Early in his career, he sought to innovate in the up-and-coming mp3 market at MyPlay, now a division of Sony Music Entertainment. He asked himself, “why download music and store it on [just] one computer?”

Pakman and his colleagues at MyPlay answered this question by creating one of the first ever cloud storage systems for music. “We didn’t call it ‘cloud’ back then, we called it ‘sky,’” he said.

He currently invests in several technology startups including Boundless, Media6degrees, Gazelle and Klout.

Pakman didn’t always know he would end up a venture capitalist. “I love technology and I love music, and when I graduated there really wasn’t a career path that combined those two,” Pakman said.

For that very reason, Pakman took the route of entrepreneurship to construct his own path.

“Students have to do something they’re passionate about or they’re just going to be miserable,” he said. “They have to dig deep and find what it is that they love.”

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