Kevin Warnock

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Venture Capitalist Brad Feld wrote on his blog a nice tribute to Hansoo Lee

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Screen capture of http://www.feld.dot com, March 21, 2013. Article "Dying Much Too Early" by Brad Feld.

On March 18, 2013 I wrote a tribute to Hansoo Lee, who died March 4, 2013 at age 35 from cancer.

Prominent venture capitalist Brad Feld wrote yesterday, March 21, 2013, a touching tribute to Hansoo Lee on his blog. Feld’s blog post was republished on Business Insider.

Here is Feld’s post, in its entirety, for posterity in case the above links ever disappear. Please read this version only if the links above don’t work, so as to not take traffic away from those sites. I generally only copy entire posts like this when I want to be sure some important text is readable for decades, like these lovely words from Brad Feld:

“I woke up to an email today from Aaron Schwartz, founder of Modify. I don’t know Aaron other than our email exchanges but he thanked me for Venture Deals which he said has been very helpful to him.  His note went on to say:

A close friend of mine, and one of my best friend’s co-founders just passed away after a 15-month battle with non-smoker’s lung cancer. I thought the below article was incredibly revealing about how meaningful a partner and leader can be for a start-up. If you think it would be useful to other entrepreneurs, I hope you’ll take a moment and share it.

I went on to read Farewell Hansoo, We’ll Miss You, a beautiful tribute by Bhavin Parikh, the CEO and co-founder of Magoosh. At the end, I had tears in my eyes. Hansoo is 35 and just died of cancer, which was discovered a year ago. I have several friends fighting cancer right now and had one die last year and this story really touched me – of the intimacy of the relationship between co-founders, the beauty of spirit of Hansoo, and how rapidly loved ones and partners can be taken from us.

I just made a donation to the The Hansoo Lee Fellowship to support entrepreneurs. The fellowship will provide  a stipend and mentorship to help Berkeley-Haas MBA students pursue their venture full-time for their summer internship, as Hansoo did. MBA students will receive a summer stipend of $5 – $10K, Mentorship from Haas alums focused on entrepreneurship, and office space.

At the minimum, I encourage you to read Farewell Hansoo, We’ll Miss You. And if you are inspired, make a contribution to the Hansoo Lee Fellowship.”

Photo of Brad Feld from his blog downloaded March 22 2013

Brad Feld

Here is the heartfelt tribute that Bhavin Parikh wrote and that Feld noted above. Again, I generally only copy complete posts like this when I think there is a chance the original won’t be on the Internet for decades and decades, and when I think the likelihood of irritating the original author is low. Please read this text below from Parikh only if this link does not work:

“Hansoo Lee was a visionary, a close friend, and my co-founder at Magoosh. On March 4, 2013, at the age of 35, he lost his 15-month battle with lung cancer. Hansoo changed my life, and I will be forever grateful.

The beginning

Hansoo and I were classmates in the full-time MBA program at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He came to Berkeley-Haas fully aware that he wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. In fact, he wrote the following in his MBA application:

“I believe in the power of a well-operated, sophisticated organization that generates social and economic value. My career goal is to found and lead this type of organization.”

In our first semester at Haas, Hansoo and I joined Pejman, another Haas classmate, and his friend Vikram in creating Magoosh, an online education product initially focused on test preparation. Hansoo quickly emerged as a leader among the group. He was deeply passionate about changing the world through education. He served on the Board of World Savvy, an education non-profit, for several years prior to Haas and continued to do so during and after. Unlike the rest of us, Hansoo had worked at a startup before and knew what it took. He acted with conviction and focused on getting things done instead of trying to make the perfect decision. He had a bias towards action, a value we hold dear at Magoosh today.

Hansoo and I pursued Magoosh full-time during the summer, foregoing traditional paid internships. We worked out of the basement of his apartment for 10+ hours a day. That summer, we released Magoosh in small iterations, from just one page with a question, video explanations, and a text box for email addresses, to over 200 GMAT math questions with full-on video explanations. Early into the first semester of our 2nd year, Hansoo and I were the only remaining full-time members of Magoosh. We were at a crossroads: Should we go back to corporate America or continue to work on Magoosh full-time after graduation?

Hansoo, the visionary

Hansoo was fearless. The decision to pursue Magoosh full-time was a no-brainer for him despite Magoosh having very modest revenue and no funding. His confidence was unparalleled and often led to tension between us. But I later realized that while I could only see what was right in front of us, Hansoo could see through the fog. He had a vision for Magoosh of making high quality educational material accessible to all, and he had confidence in us to see that vision through.

He dragged me, often kicking and screaming, through many of Magoosh’s milestones. In October 2010, Hansoo spent weeks convincing me that we should raise a seed round. I still recall a three hour walk we took around Berkeley’s campus debating the merits of fundraising that ultimately he won out. And the process was easier than I expected, thanks to the previous 12 months that Hansoo spent building relationships with potential investors. I could always come up with thousands of reasons to defer a decision, but he would usually get his way, and we would take action. His way was the right way — make decisions and move forward — it’s why Magoosh is successful today.

Hansoo’s cancer

In late December of 2011, I received a crushing email from Hansoo. “Hey Bhavin. I’ve been diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer…” I could barely read on. I was 3,000 miles away visiting my wife’s family in Massachusetts, but my heart was with Hansoo in California. I didn’t understand. He was fit, active, and a non-smoker. He did everything right. How could this happen to him?

He stepped away from Magoosh operations as of January 2012, but he remained fearless about his prognosis and the company’s future. His positive attitude was infectious. I still can’t believe that during this time he provided me with support because he knew running the company as a sole founder would be difficult.

Unfortunately, his condition worsened throughout the year. Despite going through various advanced treatments, he faced complication after complication. Our weekly walks turned into monthly phone calls and then just the occasional email. I couldn’t imagine what he was going through, and I wanted to do more for him. But whenever we spoke, he told me to focus on Magoosh. He was watching from a distance and loved seeing the team’s progress.

On Monday March 4, 2013, Hansoo passed away due to complications from his cancer. We had spoken for nearly an hour just two weeks prior, and I’m grateful that we were able to chat then. I was able to tell him about his impact on Magoosh.

Hansoo’s impact on Magoosh

Hansoo left a lasting impact on our daily lives at Magoosh. He was the impetus behind our daily standup meetings and the weekly one on ones between managers and employees. He cared so deeply about crafting an amazing culture and brand that he led us through an exercise to define our core values when we had only 4 full-time team members — we still hold those values dear today. He was transparent with our vision and finances because he believed in providing everyone with purpose and autonomy in their work.

I’m reminded of him everyday when I walk into the Magoosh office. Magoosh would not be what it is today without him. We’ve grown into a successful business and have helped thousands of students improve their GRE and GMAT scores thanks to Hansoo. He was our leader, and we’ll miss him.

How you can help

To honor Hansoo’s memory, we have created the Hansoo Lee Fellowship. The Fellowship will provide a stipend and mentorship to help Berkeley-Haas MBA students pursue their venture full-time for their summer internship, as Hansoo did. Students will receive:

  • A summer stipend of $5 – $10K
  • Mentorship from Haas alums focused on entrepreneurship
  • Office space donated by Magoosh

This fellowship is a realization of Hansoo’s vision. He always looked for opportunities to give back, and this is our way of celebrating him. To donate to the Fellowship, click here.”

Written by Kevin Warnock

March 22nd, 2013 at 4:18 pm