Fondly Remembering Tom Alberg

Tom was my friend.  Many others have commented on his impact on the Seattle ecosystem – as a lawyer, a VC, and a valued board member.  Behind this was his passion for the Pacific Northwest and his vision of how to make it better.

I’m not sure that Tom fully understood the broad impact that he had on the direction of my life.  And, if he did, in his usual low-key manner, he would have minimized his impact.

Tom and I got to know each other while I was part of the AT&T team that acquired McCaw Cellular.  While most of the focus was on voice cellular, both Tom and I were focused on the data implication of the deal.  We both wanted to ensure that McCaw’s lead on using the cell network for data would not get lost in the AT&T acquisition.  We both realized early that wireless data could change the world.

My relationship with Tom indirectly led to me leaving AT&T in New Jersey to join Microsoft in Redmond (another, much longer story).  During my move to the Seattle area, I counted on Tom to help integrate me into the Seattle community.

Tom and Bill Gates, Sr. decided that Seattle needed a better source of funding for angel-backed startups.  Prior to 1997, the process was mostly ad-hoc.  So they invited 87 of their “friends” to form the Alliance of Angels (AoA); I was one of them.  I still vividly remember the first meeting of the AoA at the Bellevue Club.  I sat next to Tom, and he asked if I had looked at a deal he was considering – Amazon.  Unfortunately, I told him that I was conflicted, since at the time I was running Microsoft’s eCommerce group.  Tom said he really liked the founder and was going to invest in Amazon.

Tom asked if I would chair the AoA.  I said no.  In a typical Tom way, he tried to find a way to get me to say yes.  I agreed to do it if he would be co-chair.  We had a deal, but he knew that once I said yes, I would step up even as he backed away.  Tom had a keen understanding of people and somehow knew what would be best for them.  I enjoyed chairing the AoA for the next 24 years!

Over the years, Tom’s support for the AoA was steadfast.  He was often a speaker at our events, the recipient of our Founders Award at our 20th anniversary, referred companies and members, and was always there for strategic guidance.  His unwavering support will be missed.

Tom supported angels in many indirect ways.  His knowledge and legal acumen helped the AoA, and angel groups nationally, create a public policy framework that drove legislation changes to encourage angel investment and new startups.  In this picture, the two of us were at the White House for President Obama’s signing of the JOBS Act.

White House
Signing the JOBS Act

Whenever I would call to get some of Tom’s valuable time, he always fit me into his calendar.  I enjoyed our many conversations that ranged for government policy to investing climate to sailing to wine to family.  As I think back on these low-key talks, I realize that they were meant to give gentle guidance to me, while Tom also used them as an opportunity to gain insights through someone else’s eyes.


Tom and Judi were guests at our house and invited us to attend his daughter, Kate’s, wedding. Denise and I invited them to our wedding at Novelty Hill Winery and they told us that it was the first time that they had been guests (rather than hosts) at an event at their own winery.

AoA 20th
Tom receiving the Founders’ Award at the AoA 20th

I remember talking with Tom about investing as an angel and VC.  Given his success, I asked if he would just walk away.  He said that he wouldn’t even think about it till his and Judi’s children were fully grown.  After they were fully grown, I reminded him, and he said that he just enjoyed working with the energy that young entrepreneurs brought.  He said he could see himself doing this for the rest of his life.

Well, my friend, that you did!  You contributed to the Seattle ecosystem of startups that left our community in a much better place.  Among so many other things, your legacy includes the AoA that funds over 20 companies a year, with a 25-year track record of consistent investment.  I’ll miss your counsel, our talks, and your inspiration.  Surely your memory will be a lasting one of colleague, mentor, and, fondly, that of a dear friend.