Interview With Jonathan Aberman: Investing, Mobility And The Economy


Jonathan Aberman, Amplifier Ventures

Meet Jonathan Aberman, the founder of and Managing Director of Amplifier. Aberman possesses substantial venture capital, financial and managerial expertise, gained over a career spanning venture capital, law and investment banking.

“In many ways, the best time to invest for the long term is when people are uncertain”

WashingtonExec recently had the opportunity to interview Aberman about Amplifier. He spoke to us openly about investing, the economy and social media/mobility. Aberman offers a positive outlook for the upcoming years and argues that the US is about to enter a new industrial cycle with technologies.

WashingtonExec: Is this a good time to be investing when the economy is so unstable?

Jonathan Aberman: It really depends upon what you are investing in and what you are seeking to achieve.  As someone who invests at the earliest stages of a business’ history I am looking out to what the world will be like 5 to 7 years from now.  In many ways, the best time to invest for the long term is when people are uncertain.  You find that the entrepreneurs who start businesses during uncertain times are often better able to handle ambiguity, and are clearly in for the long term.  It is not a surprise that many of the best known companies in our nation were started during times of economic uncertainty.  I look for companies that are ahead of social, demographic, technology and economic trends, not behind.  I think that the US is about to enter a new industrial cycle with technologies that are currently in the lab leading the way.  We are at the beginning of a wave, not the end.

WashingtonExec: What do you think will be Amplifier’s biggest challenge within the next couple years?

Jonathan Aberman: The challenge for every investor, and every entrepreneur, is obtaining sufficient risk capital to grow a business.  With the current uncertainty there are many individuals and institutional investors who are looking for safety rather than return — in other words, for many current investors not losing money is better than taking the risk necessary to make money.  We are also seeing a large scale contraction and concentration of institutional venture capital funds, and that will adversely affect the ability of many startups to scale.  The interesting thing is that the economy is actually much better than people perceive, and with the exception of a potential oil price rise shock, there really is nothing out there right now that will meaningfully disrupt the upward trend.  You can look at my recent blog post on Outlook 2012 for why I think that.  In any event, brave investors are going to get into some wonderful opportunities. As they make money, and the economy improves, money will flow back into risk based investments from the less brave.

WashingtonExec: How do you think the new technology (such as mobility solutions) will impact the government contracting industry.

Jonathan Aberman: I believe that we at the cusp of a major revolution in how people interact with data.  Siri is the thin edge of a wedge.  I expect that within a short time, people will all have electronic personal assistants that manage their interactions with information in sophisticated ways.  This fusing of what we know, and what we can find out, will have profound effect on our society and the importance of the Web will be multiplied exponentially.  There will be tremendous opportunities from these changes, but also huge social and technology risks.  The government contracting industry will likely be the place where many of the risks are dealt with, and solutions are found.  Additionally, as the line blurs between existing expertise and expertise that can be acquired through a mediated search, the nature of billable hour based work will also change.  But, the biggest issue facing the government contracting industry is going to be how it deals with a shrinking government budget — many existing companies will need to find new sources of revenue, or act to maintain market share in a declining market.  I expect that many of them will become product oriented companies in at least some way, and attempt to diversify.  If I was starting a company in this region today, I would be looking to be a position to take advantage of that trend.

WashingtonExec: Do you use social media to advance your career and business? If so, why or why not? What advise can you give other leaders about social media’s potential?

Jonathan Aberman: Social media creates a large echo chamber, which can be very useful for a business leader.  It can allow you to reach out into the community and to get feedback for your ideas and thinking.  But, it can also allow you to become a shameless self-promoter.  In other words, social media can be a feedback loop or a megaphone. Unfortunately, I think that too many people use it as a megaphone.  My best advice is that when you approach social media as a business or leadership tool (compared to a tool to keep in touch with friends) you should always seek to add value for others.  I try to provide blog posts that educate and inform, so that readers get something of value by reading my blog or my Twitter feed. That’s my viewpoint whether my post is read by ten or a thousand people.  I also believe that you should approach social media with authenticity.  As people get more sophisticated about the use of social media, they are also getting better at sensing self-promotion and punditry.  I would therefore only use social media to advance a career or business if you have something meaningful or tangible to add to your reader’s knowledge base.  If you don’t think you can do that, then I would stay away from social media — other than for sharing holiday pictures, of course.

WashingtonExec: Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the next couple business years for you and your clients?

Jonathan Aberman: Amplifier is positioned at the center of some really interesting technology trends in our region.  I continue to see great entrepreneurs and wonderful opportunities.  We recently helped seed Sypdrsafe, an Android data integrity startup that will take advantage of the trend I described above.  The company will let employees use their own Android devices in the work place, without modification or software add ins.  We’re also doing a greater amount of things around government funded technology and commercialization.  We think that there are some really interesting opportunities in our backyard.  We also think that the local market is an underappreciated from and M&A perspective, and that as government contractors change their business models there will be a boom in local technology startups and exits.

WashingtonExec: What are you most proud of?

Jonathan Aberman: As someone who grew up in two family businesses, and whose parents were raised in two other family businesses, I have always wanted to be involved in entrepreneurship.  Whether its Amplifier, FounderCorps, my work with Mason through the Mason Enterprise Initiative, teaching at the Smith School, or the other things I am involved in, I spend each day and every day working with entrepreneurs and doing what I want to do.  That is a great feeling. But, the thing that I am most proud of is the quality of my relationship with my family and friends.  I think that we are most accurately measured by those relationships.  I am also pretty proud of how well I play guitar, but that’s probably a bit further afield.

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