Jerry Colonna is tired of the droning board meetings, out-of-town trips and the endless stack of needy business plans. Not even the generous compensation associated with such tasks could convince him to stay just one more day in the venture capital game.
In December Colonna gave up his job at JPMorgan Partners (JPMP), along with its fast-paced lifestyle, to focus on the stuff that really matters to him: family and social service organizations, particularly the outfit that is trying to lure the Olympics to New York City in 2012.
“It’s more than merely wanting to spend more time with all my non-profits,” he says. “It’s more the realization of a long-held dream to kick back a little and focus only on those things that matter most to me. So, it’s more the coming out of an existential crisis than anything else. For example, tonight, I’m making chicken soup for the family with the fresh, homemade noodles my kids love. Do ya get it?”
Colonna had been thinking about walking away from the venture lifestyle for some time, but he tried to juggle his corporate responsibilities with the demands from the many non-profits he’s involved with. Finally, it got to be too much. “In some ways this was a long time coming,” he says. “For four or five years I have wanted to be doing something different all together. My wife and I planned for this. I turned 39 in December and it was the right time. When you are 21 and 22 you have a vision, you get wrapped up in what you are doing and you are on a rapid ride. This is the first time since I was 13 that I haven’t had a job, and it’s nice.”
And he’s wealthy enough (he won’t say how wealthy) that he can choose not to work. He made a bundle off Geocities: He invested $5 million in the company and it was later sold for $5 billion. The Geocities deal was one of several he did when he was at Flatiron, an Internet-focused firm that he founded in 1996 and sold to JPMorgan in 2001. He even made money by getting out early from some Flatiron investments that turned out to be duds-like TheStreet.com, failed Industry Standard magazine and failed Kosmo.com
But that’s all in the past. Colonna is now focusing on his family and sitting on the boards of six non-profits and three for-profit companies. “I have a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 5-year-old and a wife. I want to make sure I have good relationships with them,” he says. “Since I made this change I have not been home after 7 p.m., and that is nice.”
And a very big difference from the same time a year earlier, when the New Yorker was sitting on the boards of 16 companies, five of them based in San Francisco. “There’s only 20 working days in the month and it took about one day just to get there and one day to get back,” he says. “So, how much was I home? You do the math. I don’t want to live like that and I don’t have to.”
Apart from his family, Colonna is enjoying giving more time to his passion of working with non-profits. One, in particular, holds a special place in his heart: NYC 2012, the committee whose goal is to bring the Olympic Games to New York City in 2012. He was reared in Brooklyn and lives in a suburb of New York City. “After Sept. 11, I realized that New York really meant something to me and I wanted to help,” he says.
Colonna is even thinking about writing a book-somewhere between spending more time with his family and his non-profits. The book is in its infancy, and Colonna isn’t even sure if it’s going to be fiction or non-fiction. One thing it won’t be is another how-the-Internet-made-me-rich story.
Writing a book takes Colonna back to where his career began. His first job out of school in 1985 was as a journalist with Information Week magazine. He stayed at CMP Media, parent of I Week, for the next 10 years. At that time he thought he would be a lifelong journalist/social activist. “I never thought this is where I would end up,” he says of JPMorgan. “But I am blessed that I can step back and say I don’t want to do that anymore.”
Despite rumors that Colonna was pushed out of JPMorgan, he says he left on his own accord. “I really left on my own,” he says. “It was two or three weeks before Thanksgiving and I went out to dinner with [JPMorgan Managing Partner] Jeff Walker. It was like deciding if you should break up with your girlfriend before the meal or after. But before dinner even started I had to get it out.”
He has no hard feelings about his former place of work. “I developed some nice relationships, but this just isn’t what I want-no bullshit,” he says. “I continue to consult for JPMorgan and I sit on three boards for them. They pay me for it and I like doing it. They wanted me to stay.”
Before Colonna left JPMorgan he sent an email to his colleagues saying his decision shouldn’t come as a surprise. “It is a huge relief to me,” he wrote. “After the business world collapsed and we shut Flatiron, I chose to join JPMorgan in part with the intent of spending the next two or three years there. I thought if I waited long enough, the next big thing would happen and I could move into that. This fall I realized I ought not to replace Flatiron with anything. Or, more specifically, not any one thing. A dear friend pointed out that I’d always sported an eclectic set of interests. In fact, when I joined JPMP, it was with the intention of spending some 25% of my time doing these other eclectic things-public service, politics, policy work, etc. Now I realize that I would be much happier if I reversed that ratio, spending 25% of my time or so making and managing investments. And the rest, well, who knows?”
For now, Colonna says, “I’m taking a step into the great unknown. I’m going to have a business card that says merely Jerry Colonna and no company or title. With each transition, I’ve grown as a human. And this time, I expect to grow under my own power. So my life should be as busy as ever. But the prioritization and allocation among activities should be entirely self-directed.”