Alan Patricof, NO RED LIGHTS

Alan Patricof, NO RED LIGHTS

Zibby is joined by investor, innovator, and founder of a number of companies Alan Patricof to talk about his memoir, No Red Lights. Alan tells Zibby about his plans to live until 114 and how his desire to continue trying new things regardless of his age has led him to found Primetime Partner which invests in companies that target the over sixty population. The two also discuss what inspired Alan to write about his wife’s battle with Alzheimer’s, the role women play in venture capitalism, and the two new things he’s trying this year at 87.


Zibby Owens: Welcome. I want to call this next guest Mr. Patricof because I have known him since I was a little girl, and that is what I used to call him. His name is actually Alan, but I feel uncomfortable even changing how I think of him. Anyway, whoever, whatever, welcome. Thanks for coming on.

Alan J. Patricof: Thank you for inviting me.

Zibby: Of course.

Alan: I’ve heard a lot of great things about this podcast, so I’ve been looking forward to it.

Zibby: I hope I don’t disappoint you.

Alan: Vice versa.

Zibby: I found your book absolutely fascinating, No Red Lights. You talked about everything from the things you did invest in, the things you didn’t invest in, how you even started investing, and shared intimate details about your late wife’s descent into Alzheimer’s and aphasia, all of the stages, your family life. This was comprehensive, thought-provoking, emotional, and ultimately, inspiring. Thank you for writing it.

Alan: Thank you. If it’s appropriate, I’d like to tell you why I wrote it.

Zibby: I was going to ask, so go ahead.

Alan: And why I chose the title. Clearly, the title, No Red Lights — your podcasters can’t see the cover, but it’s got three green stoplights on it. It was because of the way I’ve lived my life, which has been a multifaceted life in which I’ve tried to taste every opportunity that’s come my way. I wanted to really write it, first, for two different constituencies. One is for younger people who are at some early point and stage in their life and to say, don’t get unidimensional. If you’re in the finance business, don’t get stuck in finance. If you’re in law or real estate or anything else, be open to all the opportunities that come your way. Seek them out. Be curious. Live a life as I have, which has been not just in the world of venture capital, which I’m probably most well-known for, but I’ve worked in the field of international development. I’ve been involved in politics and theater and art, classic cars. Everything that I could, I’ve tried to explore. That’s why, as you know, I’m going into Burning Man this year, a big step forward. It’s there. Why am I doing it? Because it’s there, just like people climb Mount Everest. That was one.

The other constituency, which is probably not your main audience, is for older people who are retiring or are being forced into retirement at sixty or whatever age and are packing it in and going to Florida or playing golf or dropping out, is to say, life is just beginning. I have said for many, many years, I’m going to live to 114. I really believe it. I’m eighty-seven. I started my third firm two years ago at age eighty-five. I believe I’m going to live until 114. If I’m eighty-seven, it means I have twenty-seven years left. That’s a long time. I could do a lot of things in that period. If you think people who are sixty who are being forced out or decided to sell their business, if they subscribe to what I’m saying, they have fifty-four years to go. I have these bookended constituencies. I hope to inspire both ends of it. I risk my own stature by becoming a poster child for someone at eighty-seven now, but I can live with it since I’m going to, as you probably also know, I’m determined to walk/jog the marathon this year, which will be the sixth time I’ve done it. I hope I can finish. Jamie, my son who’s a friend of yours, says that if I get close enough, he’s going to carry me across the finish line.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I know. As the book was going on, you kept talking about all these goals and all these — I was like, okay, he’s just never going to stop. You’re just one goal after another. In fact, one part that particularly struck me, which I feel like is very in line with what you’re saying, is when you were talking about how APA/Apax, the company you had founded, and how successful it was, how it had more than sixty million dollars , and then after this whole paragraph where you were saying all the things, you said, I was bored. I totally get it. Here you are. Most people would be thrilled. They have this fabulous firm and all this stuff. No, you need a new challenge. Then you say, “I was bored. I remember calling Susan from the office one hot summer Friday in 2001. I was feeling very low about something, and I said, ‘We should go to a funny movie.'” You see a funny movie. Then you say, “After thirty years, the time had come to try something new. My sons have pointed out that the decision I made shortly thereafter to transition from Apax left a lot of money on the table. Money alone, however, wasn’t enough to keep me. I was ready to try a new route.”

Alan: I then spent three or four years traveling all around the world. Probably one of my most exciting times, I was an advisor to the president of Nigeria. I spent time there. I was an advisor to the World Bank, all pro bono. Involved with the IFC. I worked on a couple of nonprofits, all involved in taking my experience, which frankly, was my wife Susan’s idea — she said, “Use your experience in entrepreneurial development and startups, and try to apply that in a different place in the developing world.” I traveled from Bangladesh to Bolivia to the headwaters of the Amazon to all over Africa. I must have visited at least ten or more countries in Africa. Then I decided it was time to go back in the venture capital business. The reason I left Apax — bored was part of it. I was bored because it had become a private equity firm. I really love the idea of startups and entrepreneurs and working from the ground up. For me, that’s an exciting area.

Now, as you know, at age eighty-five, I started my third firm, Primetime Partners, which I think is a great name, focused entirely to serve the aging population. By 2030, there will be more people over sixty than there will be kids under eighteen. They have the most money to spend, fastest-growing segment. No one was paying real attention to it. I started a firm with a partner who you may know, Abby Levy, who’s, let’s say, in her late forties. I don’t want to give her age away, who’s a fabulous partner. We invest in products, services, experiences, technologies that do anything to help people live to 114. It’s been an exciting two years. I think there’s a good probability there’ll be Primetime Two. Then the question will be whether I have a fourth chapter. Maybe I’ll start the fourth chapter at a hundred. That’ll really shock everybody. In the meantime, I expect to be the oldest person at Burning Man this year and the oldest person who finishes the marathon, even though I’ll be walking and jogging. I’m not running it.

Zibby: I do know Abby Levy. I’ve known her for twenty years or something. I’m thrilled you two are partnering. I think that this idea of yours is so spot on. I love how you share that if you follow these certain steps — I know it’s not rocket science. It’s what you do to stay healthy and fit and mentally totally on your game and everything. There aren’t these huge secrets. There are ways to extend the longevity of your life. You plan to do them. Intellectual curiosity really ups the ante and makes the time more fun. Then, of course, you can pursue all these interesting businesses. It’s not only inspiring — I know you said part of your market was for older people for that book. I, at age forty-five, which I’m happy disclose, find it very inspiring because I’ve already felt the ticking of the clock. To have the clock extend into overtime, essentially, is a huge relief to me at this point of my life. I think you should expand the target audience a little bit younger.

Alan: The truth is a surprisingly thing. I would say most of the companies we backed have been started by people who are, honestly, under forty-five. They have been in thirties, who are people who have a parent or a grandparent or maybe a brother or someone who has had something that they recognize there’s something missing in taking care of people who are getting older. It’s really interesting. One of the things we wanted to do, which we have not yet — it’s not that we haven’t succeeded. We also want to back older people who want to go back into a business and do the same thing and attract people from their former business and build a second or third round. You don’t go into a venture capitalist office and see a lot of people over fifty sitting in the waiting room to present their deals. It’s usually younger people who are starting. We want to serve the older generation. We’d like to back some people who want to go into a second or third round. I decided to become a poster child for this and encourage people. Remember, I started Greycroft at seventy-two and Primetime at eighty-five. Nothing has defeated me. Who knows what the future’s going to bring?

Zibby: Actually, Dana Settle was in my business school class, so I know her too.

Alan: Interesting you mention that. I started my first firm with a woman who joined me very shortly thereafter by the name of Patricia Cloherty who became the first woman in the venture business and the first woman who became head of the National Venture Capital Association and has invested in every fund I’ve ever done and is still a very close friend. The second fund, I did Greycroft with Dana, and my third fund with Abby Levy. I work well with women. We’ve hired a lot of women and have backed a lot of women businesses. Frankly, it’s wherever the dust settles, whoever happens to come in with the right team, right idea, and has got the talent. I certainly am someone who’s been very open-minded about it. When I started, believe me, a woman in venture capital was an anomaly. As I say in the book, early on, I remember one particular person who wouldn’t deal with Patricia because she was a woman. You don’t have that happen anymore today. I do believe the venture business is very open to women today. I know there’s been a lot of controversy about what percentage in this business are women, but I don’t think that should stand in any woman’s way who wants to get into the financial world or venture in particular. It’s very open, and also from the standpoint of startup. It does help to happen to have a woman partner.

Zibby: Yes, that’s amazing. You talk throughout the book about all these different things you, again, have and haven’t invested in, most famously, which I think many know you for, was one of the first investors in Apple. You said that had you not sold it when you did, your investment would be worth $7.5 billion, which is crazy amazing. Oh, my gosh.

Alan: I wrote that book on and off over two years. I had someone in the office create a formula for the computation based on what the price was. I have no idea what it is this week. It was changing all throughout the two years of which I did — I wrote this book, interestingly, on a yellow pad, I’m sorry to say, not on a computer, a yellow lined pad, then had it transcribed and then re-transcribed. It went through several iterations to get where it was. It was a fun experience. I’m saying a lot more than I would normally say. I wrote it not to be too long. It’s actually about 230 pages. I designed it so that someone could take it with them on a plane to California and finish it by the time they got there. They could leave it in their hotel room or in their seat in the airplane and not have to lug around a five-hundred-page book with them wherever they went.

Zibby: I actually read it on a very traffic-filled drive from the Hamptons, so there you go, the whole thing.

Alan: That proves it. You did it. You’re a fast reader.

Zibby: I’m a fast reader.

Alan: Unless you had a four-hour trip from the Hamptons.

Zibby: We actually did have a four-hour trip last weekend. I won’t get into that. Yes, I read really quickly, but it also goes really quickly. It’s really interesting. You want to just keep turning the pages. One of the things that’s unique, or consistent, rather, about all of your investments is these new ways of reaching people and communication and doing things. I found it really interesting when you started investing more lately in the podcast space, which you talk about towards the end of the book. Tell me and even maybe where you see this whole thing playing. As a podcaster, I’m very interested in your thoughts on this.

Alan: I have been an active investor in the media business since day one going back to when I was a founder at New York Magazine. I was not the creative genius behind it. That was Clay Felker. I was not the publisher. It was a guy named George Hirsch, by the way, who’s chairman of the New York Road Runners, who’s my key, I hope, to getting into the race this year. We’re still friends. I invested in Texas Monthly and Scientific American. Then in Greycroft, I went into The Huffington — I’m sorry, before that, I went into Audible. I was the first investor in Audible. I was actually at a PEN America dinner two nights ago to honor Don Katz, who was the founder.

Zibby: I was there for that. I was there.

Alan: I didn’t see you, but I was there. Don, I must say, greeted me in a very friendly fashion because we go way back. He’s just as determined an entrepreneur today as he was the day I met him in 1996 or something. I did The Huffington Post. I’ve gone recently into Axios and The Skimm. As part of that, I actually got in touch with a fellow named Hernan Lopez who had started Wondery. He had gone to our California office and gotten turned down the year before because it was too early. He came to see me because he was in New York one day. He’s from LA. I got intrigued with him from a creative content basis and where I saw it was going and got very much behind Wondery, which is, to this day, probably the most successful podcast investment or podcast company. Gimlet looked like it was going to be, but I think Wondery even surpassed them. We sold that just a year ago to Amazon. That started my interest in it. I invested in about eight or ten technology-related companies and recently have invested in two content companies. In fact, I went to a board meeting of one just yesterday called Sonoro, which is focused on the Spanish and Spanglish, major focus on . Then I invested in another company which I think you must know called Lemonada. I don’t know if you know it, Jennifer and what they’re doing.

Zibby: Yes.

Alan: They’re building, I’d say, a more women-related content company. I’ve gone into several companies that have been already sold because people are looking for technology. We’ve got a lot more buyers now in this area. You’ve got Apple. You’ve got Spotify. You’ve got Amazon. You’ve got iHeart. Everybody has recognized that voice is a very strong new media. I have to say, honestly, though, at the same time, it is not on the top list of investors as an area where they’re going to make their next billion-dollar company. We haven’t seen too many exits in that level. Everyone thought radio was out of date. All of a sudden, podcasting came in. Audible is booming. Podcasting is — you’re a perfect evidence. I had heard so much about your podcast before I came on. The major marketing for my book is through podcasting. It’s not book tours. I’ve done all kinds of podcasts for different markets, different audiences, not just the financial. I’ve done Anthony Scaramucci, but I also did Aliza Waksal’s podcast, which is for parents. There’s interest in lots of areas for new content. Creating content is a big opportunity. You’re a perfect example of that.

Zibby: Maybe you should invest in whatever I’m doing, whatever that is.

Alan: You’re probably going to have another chapter in your life, at least one, maybe a couple.

Zibby: Oh, yeah, I’ve got a lot of plans. That’s why I need those 114 — I need to move the goalpost out to that. That will make me feel better.

Alan: Just say it. All you have to do is say it. I heard a gerontologist give this speech about ten or fifteen years ago. I liked what he said. He gave you all the reasons why you don’t live to 114, many of which I fit. If you had prostate cancer, if you had a hip replacement, if you had pneumonia, all those subtract. Forget about getting hit by a bicycle. That ends it. I said to myself, even though I have a lot of things to subtract, I like the idea of 114. I decided I’d go for it.

Zibby: Maybe I should go further. I like the number twenty-two. Maybe I’ll head for 122. We’ll see what happens.

Alan: Honestly, I think if — I’m being serious now. If that gerontologist gave the speech today, I think he would say 120. That was ten or fifteen years ago. I just heard the other day, which I think is interesting, that the oldest person that they have record of who’s lived is 123. I think it was from Japan. The oldest person living today is 119. It’s the United States, maybe Virginia or some place, North Carolina. We’re going to have a lot more people over a hundred by 2030. I can guarantee you that. Someone’s got to figure out things to avoid loneliness, to increase longevity, to live healthfully, and not to be bent over on walkers.

Zibby: Yes. Through this podcast, I’ve met so many people who have started writing later in life. They start, and they feel like they’ve missed the boat, like they’re doing it too late. I’m like, actually, this is the perfect time. I’ve had people who are in their seventies, eighties. You, but you wrote this to reflect more on your life. I mean even novelists, people who have always wanted to write a book. I think writing is the perfect thing to do as people get older.

Alan: Absolutely. There’s a fellow named Mike Clinton — I think he was the publisher of Hearst Media, but definitely in the media business — who’s just written a book called Roar, R-O-A-R, which is all about the opportunities for people who are getting older and things they can do. People who have been in finance and all their life wanted to be a writer, write. They wanted to fly an airplane, learn how to fly an airplane. People are going back to medical school at age fifty. We’re in a different lifecycle today. I think it gives lots of hope to people. There are people who are bored and have been doing something for a long time. They’d love to do something different. I say go do it.

Zibby: You better come up with a lot of companies to service this market because they’ll be ready, especially after this podcast.

Alan: I hope so.

Zibby: I mentioned this earlier, but you also wrote beautifully about the decline of your wife’s health and how you fell in love with her to begin with. You spoke with such respect for who she was and your relationship and really detailed all the decline and all the steps you took and trials and everything to try to prevent losing her. It was beautiful and poignant. Did you ever consider not including that? How did it feel to relive it and write about it?

Alan: Honestly, you don’t know, you really hit a very, very, not soft point, but originally, I didn’t think of including it. A friend of mine by the name of Margaret Carlson, who’s a leading writer of The Daily Beast now and used to be on Firing Line and New York Times, she said, “You can’t write a book without writing about Susan and your relationship with her and the whole Alzheimer’s.” I said, “What has it got to with the book?” She said, “It has to do with your life and how it fit into everything else. It would be helpful for people to understand it.” I honestly give Margaret Carlson the credit for encouraging me. I am very happy that I did it. It was great to write it. I was afraid it would be too distracting. The whole book, as you know, does not follow a sequence of, from nineteen such-and-such to two thousand such-and-such. It goes from politics to classic cars to starting a company.

The Alzheimer’s, I got to know a lot about Alzheimer’s and people with chronic diseases. Sadly, I honestly still believe that there is no solution on the horizon. There are a lot of false hopes that are offered by drugs such as the Biogen drug, which does nothing for you. I do think that exercise, keeping your mind stimulated — I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, but not going to crazy excesses, I think it all contributes to it. All of us will have some decline in memory and some decline in capability. I think that Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease, just like Parkinson’s and lots of others. I honestly believe — I have no basis for it — that cancer will be cured, to a large extent, in my lifetime. Alzheimer’s is such a hard challenge, to get to the blood-brain barrier. A lot of smart people have tried. I try to support some projects. We’ve got to encourage the researchers. Sooner or later, maybe something is going to happen, but nothing at the moment.

Zibby: That’s depressing because from the media, it seems like it’s around the corner.

Alan: It’s not around the corner. It’s false hopes.

Zibby: Is there anything on that front? I know a number of people. I’m sure lots of people listening are dealing with this in their lives in some way, shape, or form, perhaps not with a spouse, perhaps with a parent or a grandparent or someone they love.

Alan: We see a lot of companies at Primetime who are trying to tell you they have ideas of how to prevent it or how to slow it down or how to deal with it or how to take care of people with it. They’re all well-meaning. I’m not a technical or medical authority. I just don’t see anything today. All I think you can do is give loving care and attention. You probably can slow it down by the things I’ve said. I don’t think you can prevent it, but you see the first signs of it when someone — we all forget names. We all forget numbers. You can see a persistency that’s developing. You can see the early signs. The things I mentioned are about all you can do at the moment. There are a couple of drugs, Namenda and Aricept. It’s the first thing they give to everybody. It really hasn’t done very much. Take vitamins. A very, very, very well-known Nobel Prize-winner in the field of brain and problems with the brain has said to me the best thing to take — I’m not promoting this, but I take it, and everyone that I talk to — is a pill that’s made by Mars, of all the people, the chocolate bar company. It’s called CocoaVia. I take three of those a day. Susan did also. I don’t know, maybe it gave her an extra month to live. I have no idea. Since these friends of mine are taking it, I decided I’d take it. I can’t prove anything. That’s the one thing I do every day to keep, hopefully, my brain active. I’m not recommending it. They’re these ugly, big pills. That’s the only thing I’ve got.

Zibby: Maybe I’ll check them out. I’ll check them out. I’m very glad personally as a reader that you included, and as someone who knew your wife for many years, not super well — obviously, we’ve all known each other for a long time. Just to hear you talk about it so personally and even things that I haven’t read in other places, like how important it was to have her dressing fashionably the whole time and bringing her out to dinner parties and just not letting people forget her or write her away — you kept her out in the mainstream and never gave up. That’s all we can hope for from a spouse. This is everyone’s dream, that you’ll be treated with respect and like you are no matter what happens with you. I found it very inspiring.

Alan: Also, Zibby, I didn’t want my kids and grandchildren to be afraid of this, not to hide it from them, but to make them aware that they’re a real person. When she passed away, everybody in the family was there. I hope that will rub off a little bit in terms of how they deal with people who have these kind of problems and not shun them, but understand that it’s part of life. Let me add one thing. I wrote this book like you and I are having this conversation. I hope you caught that. I’m not a writer. There’s not going to be a follow-up novel. I wrote this like talking to someone and just stream of consciousness, somewhat, which is how I like to give speeches or talk to people or write in general. I’m glad you caught a lot of the essence that I was trying to get across.

Zibby: Oh, good. I’m so glad. I’m delighted that Jaime thought to send me your book and do all the good stuff and that he is back in my life now because of his involvement with Kyle on Wildflower and everything. It’s all these things. Then you learn something from a book. It makes me feel very warm and fuzzy that this circle continues.

Alan: I see your mother all the time. I actually went to hear your father — I don’t even know if he knew I was there. I went to hear him give his reading at BookHampton when he was there a couple of years ago. I ran into Christine the other day. We all somehow keep in contact one way or another.

Zibby: Yes. I’ll see you around. Thank you so much. Thanks for taking the time. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Alan: Thank you for inviting me.

Zibby: My pleasure. Buh-bye. Thanks.

Alan: Bye.

Alan Patricof, NO RED LIGHTS

NO RED LIGHTS by Alan Patricof

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