By Christopher Zinsli
Dan Burstein is both a writer and an investor. As an author, he has created a series of books that pick apart pop-cultural phenomena like “The Da Vinci Code.” His books build upon the earlier works of others, becoming companions to the originals.
Go figure that as an investor, Burstein does secondary deals.
In the office of Millennium Technology value Partners, at one end of a mazelike suite shared with a pair of other investment firms, Burstein and his fellow investors figure out ways to get inside the technology companies that other venture capitalists have already decided will be winners — think Facebook, Twitter, Chegg. They do this by any means they can: direct secondaries, stock tender programs, convertible debt, you name it.
The Millennium team, led by Burstein and fellow Managing Partner Sam Schwerin, prides itself on its exhaustive due diligence. Their process could involve 100 calls and meetings with executives, investors, customers, analysts, technologists – anyone close enough to have an opinion.
That approach mirrors the one Burstein takes in his other career. In more than half a dozen books, he and his co-authors – chiefly Arne de Keijzer – bring together dozens of essays and interviews examining every conceivable aspect of, say, Dan Brown’s novels or the TV series 24. The results are like textbooks for pop-culture college courses.
“The kinds of books I’ve done in recent years have been highly informed by our methodology at Millennium on the investing side,” Burstein says. “The questions are very different. these are two different sides of the brain to look at – writing a book versus making an investment. But they utilize the same…tools.”
The latest book in what has come to be called the Secrets series – named for the originator, 2004’s “Secrets of the Code” – comes out this week. “The Tattooed Girl” is billed as an “unauthorized guide” to the books of Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, the massively popular trilogy that began with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Following the lead of the other Secrets books, “The Tattooed Girl” examines the big ideas behind a piece of popular fiction – in this case, abuse of women, extremist politics, cultural identity, technology and the mysteries surrounding the unexpected death of Larsson himself.
Burstein pens a few of the pieces himself, but he mostly acts as curator. this format makes them a “low intensity” endeavor, so he can focus on deal-making for Millennium.
But Burstein brings the inquisitive nature of a journalist – he actually was one before turning to investing – to both pursuits.
In addition to the Secrets books, Burstein has compiled several technology-focused books, including an exploration of the power of blogs and a collection of quotes about the dot-com boom and bust. A new tech-focused book has been percolating for more than a year.
More Secrets projects are also in early development, but Burstein won’t let on as to what they’re about. After all, he has to keep some secrets to himself.