Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene, fresh off a temporary gig overhauling the HealthCare.gov website, has joined Madrona Venture Group.
DelBene, who started his new job last week, is now a venture partner at the Seattle venture-capital firm, which focuses on funding early-stage technology companies, primarily in the Northwest. Some of its biggest-profile investments include Amazon.com, Isilon, Farecast, Redfin and Apptio.
DelBene will help identify new investments and work with companies already in Madrona’s portfolio on their strategic and operational initiatives.
As such, he’ll talk with key leaders of companies Madrona has invested in about their issues. He’ll also look at companies Madrona could potentially invest in, perhaps offering suggestions on how their products can be tweaked to be more compelling.
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“I’m excited,” DelBene said. “I’d done the big company thing for quite a while. With the burgeoning of the tech-startup space in Seattle, it got more and more interesting to me. I thought I had a bunch of things I could contribute based on skills I’d developed at Microsoft.”
In his new job, DelBene has the freedom to explore areas he finds interesting. He says he has a “predisposition toward enterprise [corporations] and cloud, with an interest in the consumer side as well.”
Matt McIlwain, a managing director at Madrona, said: “Kurt’s wealth of experience in leading mission-critical product launches and successfully scaling businesses are incredibly valuable to our companies. … We are excited to have someone of his caliber on board to help our companies maximize their success.”
DelBene, 54, was a 21-year veteran of Microsoft, most recently serving as head of the Office division until July 2013, when he stepped down as part of a larger companywide reorganization. He remained an adviser in the company through mid-December.
Through his years at Microsoft, DelBene gained experience creating new businesses and products, developing product and market strategies, dealing with leadership and team-building, and digging deep into technical and operational issues — experiences he thought could be valuable to startups, he said.
He began talking with Madrona as he was leaving Microsoft. But when the opportunity came to fix the troubled federal health-insurance website, HealthCare.gov, “I felt compelled to help,” he said.
DelBene’s appointment to the job had come after he volunteered his services last October as officials were looking for private-sector rescuers. DelBene’s wife, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, had relayed her husband’s offer to the White House.
DelBene, who gave his six months’ worth of salary back to the federal government, considers his work there “mission accomplished in terms of what we accomplished for the first enrollment period.
“When I went in, the site was still in pretty tough shape,” he said. “It was all about righting the ship.”
He focused on expanding the capacity of the site and on getting through a backlog of software that still needed to be developed.
“We went from a site that was pretty dysfunctional to a site that we tripled the capacity on,” he said. “We signed up 8 million against a forecast of 7 million.”
There’s still work needed on the site, he said, but that’s to be expected.
“Software is an evolving thing,” he said. “We got the core working well but there’s still remaining work to be done.”
His time on HealthCare.gov, he said, helped him see that IT departments that run software for an organization can’t also be the ones tasked with building new ones.
“There’s a distinct competency that’s all about building large-scale Web services,” he said. “It gave me a new appreciation for the complexities of being an IT shop and doing this new work.”
DelBene has an MBA from the University of Chicago, an M.S. from Stanford and a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Arizona. He serves on the boards of Reed College and the nonprofit Global Partnerships.