Since I learned of the passing of my partner, colleague, and friend Tyson Clark, I’ve struggled to find the right words to convey my thoughts. So I’m writing some down now because this is what I do. Write down thoughts to help me work through what I’m feeling. It’s selfish, in a way. Indulge me, if you will. That would be enough.
“There are moments that the words don’t reach.”
These are the opening lines from the song “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the musical Hamilton. The situation is different. In some ways, the opposite. Alexander Hamilton had lost his child. Here, children have lost their father. But a wife has also lost her husband. A sister, her brother. A mother, her son. These are the words in my head. And they still resonate.
I cannot believe Tyson Clark is gone. I’ve written here over the years a few times about the passing of a musical artist or some famous person. But Tyson was my colleague. More importantly, he was my friend. I feel lucky to have known him, even in the small way that I did. As the outpouring of emotion around him on channels both private and public makes clear, this is a person who touched the lives of a lot of people. He was here doing that at the beginning of this week. But he’s not here as we end it. This is hard.
And shocking. Tyson was an athlete. A former Naval submarine officer. A physical specimen. A young father just past 40 — something which he and I also shared in common. If he can be struck down out of the blue, none of us are safe. This is unfair.
I knew I would like Tyson the moment I met him. There’s something about him that led to a sense of instant familiarity. So much so that you were okay ribbing him upon meeting, knowing that he would be cool giving it right back to you. For me, this surfaced in the form of his Lenovo laptop. It looked like a piece of technology you might use in the early 1990s. It constantly messed up our video calls. But Tyson rocked it proudly, as a former Excel jockey would. A lesser man would have broken down and gotten a Mac — as I had clearly done, he noted. A half dozen years later, pandemic and all, he never stopped rocking that beast.
During the lockdowns, I didn’t see Tyson nearly as much as I would have liked. Because none of us saw anyone as much as we would have liked. But as luck would have it, I randomly ran into him not once, but twice at various pumpkin patches with our families. It felt as if someone was trying to get me to see Tyson more, coronavirus be damned, and I should have listened more fully.
As it turns out, I did see him more fully in recent weeks, as we attended a conference together down in Southern California. If I think back to my own most memorable times with Tyson, it was getting drinks, one-on-one, often at a conference or offsite. And this time was no different. It was a great catch up with a friend as if no time had passed since our last encounter. Tyson had the magic to make those interactions happen in such a way.
He excelled at honest conversations. The kind most of us can perhaps only have after a drink or two. He had a way of cutting through the cruft and the crap. The defenses we all naturally accrue with time. “Give it to me straight,” he might say. And you would. Because you know that he would give it to you straight right back. No chaser.
This is part of what made him a great VC as well. I dislike almost all VCs. I know this is weird given what I do. I’m not trying to be a jerk here, I’m just being honest as Tyson might have me be. But Tyson was different than all VCs. He was an exceptional listener. Most VCs say they are, but they’re not. They tolerate hearing other people talk while they wait their turn to talk. Tyson listened. He really, truly listened.
This is why everyone who worked with him valued his input so highly. While he largely roamed in the enterprise space, his opinions and insightfulness translated so well into anything we were looking into. This job has a tendency to wear down strong opinions into consensus. It’s necessary in some ways for partnerships to function, but dangerous in many other ways. But Tyson over the years held on to what he called the “Believe Button” and hit it often.
The last time I saw Tyson in person, we were flying back to the Bay Area together from the conference I mentioned. We were actually sitting in the same row on the airplane, but there was a person in between us who didn’t want to swap seats. So we both ordered a drink on the flight and cheers’d around the person. It will be something I will always remember.
The next time I saw him was on video, listening — truly listening — to a pitch from an entrepreneur, who, like Tyson, had served in the military. This person immediately started trading barbs about who was crazier, the Marine sniper or the Naval submarine officer. Just two guys going at it as if they were the best of friends. They had never met before.
That was Tyson. Disarming. Impressive. Humble. Insightful. Funny. Charismatic. Thoughtful. Kind. Smart. Just an amazing human being.
He had the most incredible LinkedIn bio you’ve ever seen, so much so that it almost seems like a fake profile. Stanford, Harvard, Naval Nuclear Power School (!), Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, the Navy (!), Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Andreessen Horowitz… But I know it’s very real as the past six and a half years have been alongside all of us at GV. And he was so much more than his awe-inspiring CV.
He was an oak tree with far too few rings when it was chopped down. I feel as if I only knew a few outer rings, and my heart goes out to those lucky enough to know the inner rings of the man. I’m happy for the time we spent together, but I’m angry as this is someone I thought I was going to know and meet up with to have those honest conversations for another forty years, at least. This truth is brutal.
I’m going to miss him so much. I know so many are. The outpouring of messages, support, and admiration for Tyson in the past 24-hours has been nothing short of incredible. He leaves behind a family that needs to know and remember what he meant to all of us. His last lesson was perhaps his most important one: time is short. We’re all worse for him no longer being here. But we’re all better for the time he was here. We all have to live with the unimaginable now. Rest In Peace, my friend.