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Tracey Miles

So much of what is discussed in the pages of PEI Manager concerns how private equity and venture firms are defining and refining their administrative roles, from who tackles HR, to who chooses the IT provider. For many VC firms, these tasks still land on the plate of the office manager. Tracey Miles was one such manager who felt that she and her peers at other firms would benefit from sharing best practices. So she founded the Venture Capital Office Managers Association (VCOMA), a trade group that gives these office managers a place to exchange ideas, commiserate and pool purchasing power to win discounts from vendors. Rob Kotecki recently spoke with Miles about the association, its roots and its agenda.

HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THE IDEA FOR VCOMA?
It really grew out of the need for a centralized resource for managers, like myself, looking for best-in-class service providers. I started in venture capital in 2000 with the firm Woodside Fund, and what struck me was that this industry had some unique demands. These small firms still needed best-in-class resources, whether that was outsourced IT or an event coordinator. For a venture firm, finding a new service provider is not as easy as opening a phone book. In this industry, referrals are everything. I found myself knee-deep in due diligence, chasing down information on vendors, and calling other firms for recommendations and references. This whole process could take weeks, when it needed to take days. I started to wonder, how efficient could I be if there was a list of vendors that were already vetted?

YOU WERE WORKING FOR DALI HOOK PARTNERS, NOW NAMED KEYNOTE VENTURES, WHEN YOU LAUNCHED THE GROUP. HOW DID YOU FIND THE TIME TO GET VCOMA OFF THE GROUND?
[Laughs] I honestly don't know. Thankfully, the partners at Dali Hook were very supportive. Paul Dali, in particular, understood the value of such a collaborative organization. From there, it really grew organically from my conversations with other office managers. I'd ask them what vendor they used, or how they addressed a given problem, all in the course of meeting my own firm's needs. After a while, it became clear that interacting with other managers was an incredibly vital resource. Not being one to miss a chance to solve a problem, I launched the Association website in 2005, and the response was overwhelming. Thanks to, primarily, word of mouth and a fruitful partnership with the NVCA, We've grown to nearly 600 members nationwide in just two years.

WHAT EXACTLY DOES VCOMA PROVIDE ITS MEMBERS?
Much of what we offer appears on the members' only website. There are articles and white papers posted on the site concerning our five areas of focus. Given that every venture firm defines the role of the office manager differently, we divide our efforts into five core disciplines; facilities, HR, event planning, travel and technology. Members are able to log in to our password-protected site and sift through commentary and analysis on the best practices in each of these areas.

The other value of VCOMA is our collective bargaining power. Most firms are too small to have the volume that would prompt discounts with vendors. It might not be cost effective to choose that top notch benefits administrator if you have only 20 employees. But if you approach a vendor as a trade group representing dozens of firms, providers start to see the value proposition of lowering their prices. We've already won great deals on office supplies, worldwide travel and transportation services, phone service, and even firms that conduct background checks.

HOW HAS THE GROUP EVOLVED SINCE ITS INCEPTION?
They're collaborating quite a bit these days. The site at www.vcoma. com allows members to contact each other directly by email. The site acts as a sort of a virtual ?water cooler? where members can meet and discuss how to best solve a problem. We now also have job postings there, a recommended vendor list, and an ongoing compensation survey which members can access.