As an undergraduate at Yale, Roger Lee ’94 played on the varsity soccer team, studied political science and spent much of his senior year co-founding his first company: NetMarket, a music CD retail website.
Lee, a venture capitalist who is running for one of six alumni fellow positions on the Yale Corporation in an election that runs from April 7 to May 21, has spent his years after graduation working for nonprofits and investment companies and serving on the boards of two schools. When polls opened, Yale released short biographies of Lee and his opponent Kate Walsh ’77 SPH ’79, but beyond these blurbs, many alumni know little about the candidates. Last week, the University — which has a policy prohibiting candidates from campaigning in the alumni fellow election — intervened and prevented Walsh and Lee from holding endorsement interviews with the News.
Lee is currently a general partner at Battery Ventures, a venture capital firm that specializes in the development of technology companies worldwide. After graduation, Lee served on various Yale committees, including the Yale Development Council, the Yale Tomorrow Campaign Committees and the University Council Committee on Technology and Learning. In interviews with the News, Lee’s friends and family praised his entrepreneurial skills, dedication to his alma mater and passion for education.
“He loves Yale, and he feels very strongly that the friends he made and the connections he made were informative and formative to his life,” said Lauren Stone ’86, Lee’s sister. “He wants to do what he can to make [Yale] even better.”
If elected, Lee will follow in the footsteps of his father, John J. Lee ’58 GRD ’59, the namesake of the John J. Lee Amphitheater in Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Roger Lee’s father became a trustee in 1993 and chaired the Corporation’s Committee on Development and Alumni Affairs. A son of Irish immigrants, Lee’s father attended Yale on an athletic scholarship and became a businessman after graduation. As an alumnus and trustee, he often expressed his strong support for Yale’s need-blind admissions policy.
Stone said that her father’s sentiments toward Yale “trickled down” to his children.
“[My father] always said that he owes everything to Yale,” she said. “It’s really just a very, very important part of our family.”
Stone added that her brother shares their father’s desire to make Yale a more inclusive and diverse place for students.
In 1997, Lee co-founded “Schools, Mentoring and Resource Team,” a San Francisco-based nonprofit that helps low-income students gain access to academically rigorous middle and high schools and get into college. Jennifer Wright, one of the program’s co-founders, said that while there were similar initiatives at the time, these programs did not hold after-school activities in students’ neighborhoods as SMART did. Unlike his co-founders, Lee continues to be a member of the program’s board.
“He always knew that he was lucky and that he was fortunate, and there were probably many people like him that deserved the same exact opportunities but that weren’t born into the situation into which he was born,” Wright said. “He has been uniquely aware of privilege, which is a really important thing.”
Stone, who lived in Calhoun College as an undergraduate, said she has discussed issues of renaming and free speech with Lee and noted that they both were frustrated with the initial decision to keep the name Calhoun.
“I think and he thinks too … that there should have been more transparency and more involvement with the students because, really, this is about the students, not about the Corporation,” she said.
Lee’s experience in education also includes working as a trustee on the board of the Taft School, a private boarding school in Watertown, Connecticut, of which he is a graduate. He also serves on the board of Keys School, a K-8 school in Palo Alto, California.
“From the get-go, it was clear that he has a deep understanding of governance and development of nonprofit organizations and an amazing passion for educating all kinds of students,” said Alona Scott, the Keys School’s head. “He also happens to be very fluent in the world of finance and deeply regarded by other parents in this community.”
Stone said that as a trustee, Lee would also work on strengthening Yale’s engineering program. She noted that he has already been working on an initiative that would pair promising college students with mentors on the West Coast for the summer.
“Pretty much, out west, if you’re not in Caltech or Stanford, you don’t get your foot in the door in any way,” she said. “He wants to see the kids from Yale doing the same things that he sees all of the kids from Caltech and all the kids from Stanford doing, so he wants to open those doors.”
Although Lee was a political science major at Yale, he decided to pursue a career in technology and entrepreneurship even before graduating college.
In 1993, Dan Kohn, then a junior at Swarthmore College studying abroad at the London School of Economics, approached Lee with a startup idea: an online retail company. The two decided to sell music CDs and called the company NetMarket, which in 1994 became the first online retailer to provide secure commercial transactions for its users, according to The New York Times.
Lee’s college friend, Reade Frank ’94, said that Lee’s friends thought Lee was “totally insane” for founding NetMarket as a senior. He added that he remembers not seeing as much of Lee during their senior year, as Lee “obviously took the job very seriously” and became deeply involved.
In 2001, Lee moved from being an entrepreneur to being an investor, joining Battery Ventures where he became a general partner in 2005. Lee’s colleagues at Battery Ventures praised him for his intelligence, analytical skills and drive.
Russell Fleischer, a partner at the company, said Lee “actively seeks” to cooperate with his colleagues and, if elected to the Yale Corporation, would bring a lot of outside business experience to the University’s highest governing body.
“He’s a consensus-builder, but, at the same time, if he has a strong conviction, he’s never afraid to follow [it],” Fleischer said.
Chelsea Stoner, also a general partner at Battery Ventures, said that Lee’s humility and sincerity attract entrepreneurs to him and that he is always on top of technology trends before others see them. She added that Lee has been supportive of her career and the careers of other women “trying to climb up the ranks” at the company.
“I think that if you are creating a board of directors in one of the best universities, not in the country, but in the world, you want to have people on that who have a good network and access to the money, but also a really big heart and who are looking … for ways to make the university better,” Wright said. “I like about 3 percent of the population because no one does enough good in the world, and I like him … I would say that Yale couldn’t do any better.”
The 16-member Yale Corporation typically meets five times a year.