It was 6:45 on a Monday night last month, and Chris Lynch was warming up the crowd.
The 5-foot-6-inch partner at Atlas Venture had just grabbed the microphone and leapt on stage at Blazing Paddles, the subterranean Fenway bar where he had gathered a host of the startup community’s biggest players to raise funds for children’s cancer charities. Miss Massachusetts, Polikseni Manxhari, stood alongside him, dressed in a red peplum leotard and with a grapefruit-size bun on her head.
It was a relatively demure presentation, by Lynchian standards. A few nights prior, a cybersecurity dinner at Del Frisco’s had devolved into a fracas. “Scotch is drunk, shirts come off, fists were flying,” Lynch recalled. “I ended up on the floor listening to Pink Floyd at 4 a.m.”
That bad-boy persona would resurface a few days after the fund-raiser, when Lynch got in a shouting match with Dave McClure, the San Francisco-based founder of 500 Startups, while he was on stage at MIT’s annual venture capital conference. The altercation started after Lynch suggested startup accelerators are a “worn-out fad.” But this evening was Lynch’s night, and so for the moment at least, the enfant terrible of Boston’s venture set was on his best behavior.
Lynch is a bruiser, a maverick, a bawdy, boisterous type whose favorite catchphrase is “I love trouble.” He’s also a big data savant who parlayed his savvy with massive data sets into a string of successful business moves: He led global sales and marketing for Arrowpoint Communications through its $5.7 billion acquisition by Cisco, then served as the CEO of database software giant Vertica Systems until HP bought it for $340 million. After a short stint as an angel investor, he spent the past two years with Atlas Venture, and spearheaded the launch of the hack/reduce hackerspace in Kendall Square in an effort to make Boston the nation’s center for big data.
“There wasn’t a lot in common philosophically,” Lynch said of the schism, noting that “the level of aggression” was higher within the tech group, with regards to both in the amount of money they were willing to spend and the number of companies they invested in. But he wasn’t interested in splitting hairs about it: Tonight he was here to shave them.
Lynch reminded the room the fund-raiser was for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, and that several local companies at the event had raised thousands of dollars for children’s cancer research. To lure people into giving cash, several entrepreneurs and VCs had agreed to go bald in solidarity with those undergoing chemotherapy. All of which meant that Lynch was about to shave some heads.
Lynch’s own dome has resembled a cue-ball since he first hosted the event three years prior. So he was all about trash-talking and wielding the clippers.
“How much for Smith Anderson’s fro?” he cajoled, pointing his finger toward the director of operations and business management at Terrible Labs. Anderson ponied up a $4,000 bounty in order to keep his locks.
Aaron Botsis, an engineer at Threat Stack, took a seat on stage next to Lynch and smirked as a smock was clamped around his neck. Miss Massachusetts helped to expose his scalp, then handed the clippers off to one of the hair stylists on hand, who teetered in their heels and leggings as they worked to remove Botsis’s eyebrows (he’d raised a bit more in exchange for them). Lynch then spotted Botsis’s big, bushy beard and declared war. “I’ll give an additional $5,000 if you shave half your beard,” he said. “Without those eyebrows, you’re not going to get lucky anyway.”
Botsis looked inquisitive, but skeptical.
“I’ll let you pick the half,” said Lynch. An intense negotiation ensued.
“I don’t know any of these people,” Manxhari said as the men squabbled. The 24-year-old was just two weeks into her statewide reign, but had been on the pageant circuit for several years and said she was impressed with Lynch’s ability to work the room.
“He’s awesome,” she said. “Really professional and very passionate.”
By the end of the night, Lynch had raised more than $200,000 and shaved 36 heads. Botsis’s beard, however, remained intact.
Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.
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