The Second Life of Boris Wertz

What former AbeBooks COO ?Boris Wertz can teach the kids ?about making money online. At 36, Boris Wertz is the old man on the block. Navigating the hallway inside a heritage Yaletown building toward his fifth-floor offices, you pass nameplates for a handful of young startups: Zefr Media, Idelix Inc., Techvibes Media Inc. Open the door to Wertz’s W Media Ventures and you first see a rented cubicle bearing the name TeamPages.

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What former AbeBooks COO 
Boris Wertz can teach the kids 
about making money online.

At 36, Boris Wertz is the old man on the block. Navigating the hallway inside a heritage Yaletown building toward his fifth-floor offices, you pass nameplates for a handful of young startups: Zefr Media, Idelix Inc., Techvibes Media Inc. Open the door to Wertz’s W Media Ventures and you first see a rented cubicle bearing the name TeamPages.

Inside, a couple of 20-somethings in jeans and T-shirts are staring intently at a monitor, plotting strategy for the upstart web developer. But if he’s a senior citizen in the web space, Wertz is one old man the kids might want to listen to. Before hitting 35 he managed to do what Facebook, Twitter and thousands of other popular websites have yet to accomplish: turn a profit. And since founding his own venture capital company in 2008, he has sought out a handful of startups that are doing the same.


Wertz, of course, is half of the duo that brought global attention to local startup AbeBooks, building it to $35 million in revenue and 130 employees before it was snapped up by Amazon.com in 2008 for an undisclosed sum. He and former college roommate Hannes Blum had taken the reins at AbeBooks in 2001, after the Victoria company bought JustBooks, a similar online book retailer that Wertz and Blum had founded in their native Germany in 1999.


The TeamPages cubicle at the entrance to his office and the nameplates by the doors lining the hallway represent just a few of the 15 web startups that Wertz has invested his own money in through W Media Ventures. In addition to his own portfolio, Wertz acts as a partner for Acton Capital Partners, seeking North American investments for the venture arm of family-owned German magazine publisher Hubert Burda Media. (The German connection dates back to Burda’s early investment in JustBooks.)


Wertz is right at home among the web entrepreneurs with whom he shares space: in jeans and an open-collar blue Oxford cloth shirt, he looks fit and trim, and his electric-blue eyes fix you with a riveting energy. He appears relaxed and cheerful; it’s obvious the transition from entrepreneur to investor agrees with him.


“As an investor, you’re always one step removed from the headaches,” Wertz says, describing the turn his career has taken in recent years. “As an investor, you have a little more relaxed life,” he adds with a laugh.


That’s not to say Wertz spends his days sipping lattes and surfing the web. Describing himself as an “active investor,” he meets with each of his portfolio companies weekly, in addition to regular quarterly meetings, and he investigates between 50 and 100 companies a year in the hope of finding two or three suitable candidates for investment.


Although he doesn’t expect to hit a home run with each investment, Wertz has been remarkably lucky – or astute – so far in his short career as an angel investor. Not one of his investments has gone under, and several – including TeamPages Inc., Suite101.com Media Inc., Indochino​.com and Nexopia Software Corp. – are actually in the black.


If the Internet has compressed the traditional business cycle from decades to years or even months, the life of a web-preneur moves equally fast. When he was tapped to co-run AbeBooks in 2001, Wertz was 29 and single; he simply packed his suitcases and boarded a plane to start a new life in Vancouver. Eight years later, he’s what passes for establishment in the web community: married with a two-year-old son and a daughter expected within days of our December interview.


While he’s obviously enjoying his second career, Wertz has no illusions that it’ll be his last. “There’s a theory that you usually do something for seven to eight years,” he says. “I did AbeBooks for eight years. I’ve been into this one for two now, so there’s a little time left.”