5 questions with Susan Mason

Susan Mason has seen a fair share of networking and telecommunications deals since she joined Onset Ventures in 1996. One of her portfolio companies, Obopay, recently closed a $27 million round, attracting the interest of mega-fund manager AllianceBernstein. Obopay is trying to become the PayPal of the mobile phone world. Senior Writer Alexander Haislip had five questions for Mason.

Q: Obopay took money from AllianceBernstein in its last round. What was it like to work with an $800 billion fund manager?


They were very involved for a late stage investor. I was surprised at how much they worked with the company. I’m used to the later stage guys doing very little work in helping the company make introductions or build out their Rolodex. I haven’t seen anything negative on them.

To get into this round, they produced an analysis booklet for us on what they thought Obopay could be, what it needed to do and how they could add value. They really pitched themselves.

Q: Does it make you nervous to see hedge funds and mega money managers coming into deals?


No. You have to make sure you don’t get overbalanced in the hedge fund/later stage guys. The venture guys probably have more experience dealing with the growth issues and the people issues involved with getting it off the ground. The hedge fund guys are more concerned with numbers. Even if the numbers are great, you still can run into growth issues.

Q: How did you come to do the Obopay deal?

A: I knew founder Carol Realini for years. We looked at her last company, Chordiant, in 1996, but for a variety of reasons we didn’t do the deal. In 2000, when she cashed out of Chordiant and retired, I tried to talk her into something new, but she said she was more interested in learning to fly jets. So finally she came to us with something she was really interested in. So we looked at her PowerPoint and loaned her $500,000 to explore the space.

It wasn’t until 2005, when we looked at it, that there were enough mobile devices out there so that it hit ubiquity that it was becoming a mobile computing platform. We also thought the financial services market was ripe for innovation. Just as PayPal had ridden up the auction area, there was an opportunity to do the same with mobile.

Q: What made you think that would happen?


The demographics of the consumer were such that they were so attached to their mobile phone all the time. Young people are sleeping with their phones. This demographic wants their lives to revolve around this device. It’s become an extension of who you are much more so than your PC at home or at your office or even your notebook.

And location-based advertising is absolutely where people are going to go. Consumers are going to get tired of the general blast and they’re going to want things that are much more targeted on their location.

Q: Can you tell us anything about Onset’s holiday card this year? How will the firm top “Santa vs. the Liquidator”?


Whoa, you are jumping the gun here, but I can tell you its going to be another great one. I saw the mock up and know you’re going to like it.