Weiss PeckPALO ALTO, Calif. – After an 11-month stint as a managing director at Internet incubator idealab!, Jonathan Axelrad returned to Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR) in January as chairman of the Palo Alto-based law firm’s fund services group. The fund services group provides legal services and legal counsel to venture capital and other private equity funds.
After having practiced venture law for 10 years at WSGR before leaving the firm last year to join idealab!, which had been one of his clients, Axelrad said he was simply interested in trying his hand at something else. “After years of doing one thing, you say to yourself what is it like to do something else’,” he noted. “Then you do something else and you find out you liked the first thing better…so I’m back because this is what I like best and what I am good at,” he said.
Idealab!’s less than stellar 2000, which included scrapping a planned initial public offering, played some role in his decision to leave the incubator, Axelrad acknowledged. “If I was sitting on an immense pile of extremely valuable stock just subject to vesting, then I probably would not have left,” he said, adding “this was a factor, but it doesn’t describe the whole path of recognizing what I really should be doing.” Despite the current marketplace opinion of incubators as a flawed, if not failed, model, idealab! will evolve with the market and continue to create value, he added.
Axelrad, who received a number of offers for a variety of positions in Silicon Valley, said he decided to return to WSGR because the firm put together the best job package he received. The offer included his running the group and a commitment by the firm to make it the best fund services group in the country, he said. “Right now there are a lot of good firms practicing this kind of law, but no one can claim dominance in this area. That is our goal,” he added.
Axelrad’s responsibilities in leading and managing the venture group include working with VCs and building relationships with them, as well as maintaining a high level of service to his clients, said Donna Petkanics, managing director of operations at WSGR. In order to achieve his goal of making WSGR the premier fund services law firm in the country, Axelrad has been given a $1 million information technology budget to upgrade the way the way the firm services private equity funds and interacts with its clients. “We will use a lot of Web-based tools to improve client service,” he commented. The law firm also gave him the power to recruit other senior people into the firm’s fund services practice, he said.
Axelrad has not severed ties with idealab! completely. The incubator is once again and will continue to be a valued client of his, he said.