Serial entrepreneur Josh Berman MBA ’97 knows how to put together a winning team: He partners with fellow Trojans.
Right out of graduate school, he and Chris DeWolfe MBA ’97 partnered on three successful internet companies, including ResponseBase and Xdrive Technologies. Their third venture, in 2003, was MySpace. Two years later, it was the largest site on the Web and was acquired by News Corp for $580 million.
“It was a very fast, pretty wild ride for a couple years there,” Berman said. “We saw social networking and the market shifting, we saw a huge interest in people expressing themselves online. We were in the right place with the right team at the right time. Having our team in place and understanding user dynamics and how markets were shifting online — that’s really what propelled us to grow so quickly.”
With six entrepreneurial ventures under his belt, Berman said success comes down to teams.
“We like to leverage the power of Southern California and USC."—Josh Berman MBA '97, Troy Capital
“I can’t emphasize enough that you have to have the right partners,” Berman said. “You also have to have cash and funding in place to allow you to iterate and execute on your business plan. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you run out of money or fuel, it’s going to be hard to be successful.”
That notion informs his most recent startup—Troy Capital.
Launched in 2016, Troy Capital is a new venture and strategic opportunities fund investing in emerging companies in Southern California and worldwide, many of them Trojan-owned.
“I’m an L.A. native, and I thought, as an operator, there are amazing entrepreneurs in and around Southern California, yet a lot of entrepreneurs, including myself, always looked to Silicon Valley for funding,” Berman said. “I felt like the market opportunity was right, geographically, to launch in L.A.”
Berman brought in a Trojan from his grad school days: Brian Sullivan MBA ’97. One of his mentors, James G. Ellis, former dean of USC Marshall, became an advisor to the firm. “Dean Ellis has been incredible,” Berman said. “He helped us in early strategy meetings and gave us great advice.”
Being new to the VC field, Berman knew his team needed a veteran. He found longtime L.A. venture capitalist Samit Varma MBA ’05, another USC alumnus, who had 15 years’ experience. Troy Capital’s fourth general partner is Anthony Tucker, a Harvard MBA who was named to Forbes’ 2019 list of 30 Under 30 in venture capital. The firm’s top analyst, Landon Gyulay ’17, started as an intern from USC.
With offices in Santa Monica and USC’s downtown L.A. building, Troy Capital is integrally connected to the campus.
“We like to leverage the power of Southern California and USC,” Berman said. Clients outside the Trojan community are often only one or two degrees of separation. For example, of the 20-plus companies Troy Capital has invested in, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is its biggest client.
“It has employed a lot of talented, smart Trojans, especially on the engineering side, and the CFO is an alumnus, Bret Johnsen ( Leventhal ’91).” he said.
While Troy Capital usually bets on entrepreneurs with a track record of success, some newcomers made a big impression.
Mira Labs, an augmented reality company, came out of the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young (Dr. Dre) Academy. “It came to our attention that these talented entrepreneurs were right on campus,” Berman said. “Those students impressed us so much we were the first round that invested, and we co-led a deal with Sequoia Capital.”
The Power of the Team
The power of having the right team is an insight Berman shares with USC Marshall students as a guest speaker in classes for the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. It’s also something he learned as a Marshall MBA student.
“The partners I have found in all my entrepreneurial ventures, in the past and today, many have come from USC."—Josh Berman
“Doing group projects with my classmates and learning how to work with different groups has helped me to launch my own companies,” Berman said. “That experience at Marshall, the foundation it created, was extraordinarily helpful.”
Then there’s USC itself: The Trojan Family is the ultimate team.
“The partners I have found in all my entrepreneurial ventures, in the past and today, many have come from USC, and understand that special ability and how fortunate we are with our alumni network,” said Berman.
Keeping It in the Family
While Berman is a frequent guest lecturer for the Greif Center, his partner Sullivan teaches as an adjunct. Both are involved in coaching, judging and mentoring its students.
Berman encourages his 17-year-old triplets to work hard in school and aspire to be Trojans. He and his kids, two sons and a daughter, also catch as many football games as possible. “They are going to have work as hard as I worked as an entrepreneur to get into USC,” he said.
Incidentally, those triplets were born in 2003. “It’s funny, the year I started MySpace, the most exciting thing to happen to me wasn’t the company, it was that I had triplets!
“To manage three babies and work the hours we all worked—I was definitely sleep deprived—took an amazing wife and parents. You need to really rely on family and your foundation. That’s another great thing, USC has such a great sense of community, and relying on your community and family you can do it.”
Berman invites fellow Trojans to stay connected to their USC family.
“Southern California is an incredible place with great entrepreneurs and great companies, many led by fellow Trojans,” Berman said, “so reach out to the alumni at these great companies because we all like to keep it in the family. It’s becoming stronger and stronger.”