Minimum Viable Failure


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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Everyone talks about building minimum viable products (MVP) but a culture of minimum viable failure (MVF)is much more valuable. Identifying failure quickly and stopping is the key for founders at the earliest stages. Instead of wondering how you will know if a product feature or growth tactic is good enough, ask yourself, “What will it take for me to kill this idea?” and define the answer in measurable, objective metrics.

The purpose of an MVP is to test a hypothesis, to validate, de-risk or disprove your current mental model. When you build something that people want, you can tell. But how do you know if you built the thing that they want the most? How do you know if you have done enough? Defining success in something that has never been done before is really hard and full of mental traps and bias.

If you search to find the right

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What does success look like?


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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I would love to say, “look in the mirror” but for most of us, we look to someone else. This is doubly true in these amazing times in The Silicon Valley with a series of very public success unfolding all around us.

Watching other people achieve amazing things is very motivating and a healthy reminder of why we all “play this game.” At the same time there is real danger in measuring the value of your work as a founder relative to the outcomes of others.

It is easy to forget the years, the struggles, the dark days and mistakes that forged the results we read about. You forget that every startup that grows up was once 5 people in a room trying to figure it out and then 50 people in a room trying to figure it out and then 500 people in a room…and that along the way, the

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Are you my next Chief of Staff?


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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I believe in this opportunity because this role was the start of my own path at First Round.

(The job description is available here. Please Apply now by going here.)

I want to add some more context around this role and hope that it helps you decide to bring your talent to the First Round team.

I have a ton of respect for this role because I did this job for Josh before we called it Chief of Staff. I went to board meetings and working sessions and then worked with the founders who were already in our community. I did what I could to help them achieve their goals and learned how the best startups operate.

Although this job is not an investing role, it is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the startup industry. The two or three years you spend at First Round will serve as a spring board

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Chasing the feeling of knowing


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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Many of the founders I partner with are leading a company for the first time and all of them are doing something unique that has never been done before. This means I spend a lot of time with people who have to make decisions without knowing the right answer.

This is hard. It can be overwhelming.

“Comfort with uncertainty” is a term I hear a lot but I have never found real comfort in the moment of not knowing. When I have to make decisions where the best answer is unknown, my belief that I know is often the only thing that allows me to function and move forward. Sometimes, as evidence builds that I am wrong, I hold on to the belief that I am right and continue to feel certain, in a very irrational way. It can feel like a matter of survival. I have done this as a

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SneakerheadVC on 20 MinuteVC


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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I got to hang out with Harry Stebbings on his podcast, The 20 Minute VC, It was fun to do and I figured I would share it here. We covered a bunch of stuff including what I learned following Josh around early in my VC career to the way I think about building partnerships with founders and how I think about success in my work First Round.

Thanks to Harry for the great questions and conversation.

Let me know what you think.


SneakerheadVC on 20 MinuteVC was originally published in sneakerheadVC on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

We’re looking for the next CEO of Dorm Room Fund


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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I’m excited to announce that we’re kicking off a search for the next leader of Dorm Room Fund (DRF)and celebrating our newest #DRF4Life alumni, Rei Wang, as she gets set to shift her leadership focus from the DRF community to her own startup.

In the summer of 2015, DRF was two years old, had teams in four cities and felt like the start of something powerful. Then, I got an email in response to a post like this, and Rei joined us. Since then, everything’s changed.

Under Rei’s leadership, DRF evolved from an operationally efficient group of student investors to an incredibly vibrant community of entrepreneurial students. DRF members are empowered to create, own and launch — and the results have been outstanding, from innovative products (VCWiz) to community events (AllDRF and Female Founders Track) to new funds (Graduate Fund).

As the leader of DRF, Rei

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VC/Founder partnerships and the cycle of destructive deduction and creative induction


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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I recently read Boyd (h/t and thanks to rands) and it got me thinking about the role of the founder and the VC in a successful partnership. There is a stark difference in the mindset and approach required for founders and VC’s to maximize their contribution to a company. Winning depends on each knowing their role and respecting the role of the other.

The founders I work with know that a critical part of my working style is knowing when to be quiet. I prefer to create silence, even awkward, uncomfortable pauses after a question or a reframing of a challenge because when founders step in and fill the gap in conversation, the quality of the discussion goes up. Every. Single. Time.

My job is to help take a mental model apart. I push founders to pull at the building blocks of the model in an effort to topple the

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The one startup debt you can’t pay back


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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There are a few lines in the Silicon Valley that have shaped how we build products and companies. They all encourage founders to take on “debt” and find the fastest path to market.

“Move fast and break things”

“If you’re not embarrassed by your first product, you launched too late”

“Do things that don’t scale.”

This focus on speed is successful. For the chance to increase velocity, compromises are made around product quality and technical scalability. We delay marketing efficiency and ignore unit economics. Initial pricing in the enterprise space is optimized for adoption rather than margin. In the early days, partnership terms with suppliers may be far from ideal and often a blind eye is the best tool to navigate regulatory hurdles. And, when it comes to hiring, founders take on diversity debt. We fill seats with those we know or at least those we know are capable and accessible. We move

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Different symptom. Same disease.


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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Reading about how some men treat women in this industry — and hearing about similar, crazy experiences from female friends —reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment — when people feel like there is no recourse for those they attack, they do deeply irresponsible things. I believe men are in for a surprise as this subject moves from hidden whispers to full throated roar. Allies will be found. Change is inevitable. The only question is how fast it will happen. Over a year ago Jessi Hempel lit up gender in tech and how we talk about it. The conversation fizzled. Now we are talking about it again.

Different symptom. Same disease.

Women have long been overlooked despite incredible talent, intelligence, and hard work. But, as society becomes more transparent and inherently networked, everything we do becomes more relationship driven. Talent is harder to ignore, intellectual horsepower gets highlighted, credit more naturally flows to those responsible,

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Stock options vs career options


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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When someone decides to join your startup, they are betting on the future. Belief in the potential value of their options is one driver of the decision.

Most CEOs I work with are very good at explaining the value of options when it comes to equity incentive plans. But options are not just contractual rights to buy stock in the future — people also care about the career options available if they make meaningful contributions at a startup. They want to know where they can go inside the company and how their experience will make them more attractive if and when it is time to move on from the company. As an industry, we forget this and I don’t see enough focus on planning and explaining career paths for employees or describing the career options that are uniquely available to great people who work at startups.

This is a mistake. Just like

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A length of rope


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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One of the most limited and important resources founders have is emotional energy. I think of this emotional energy as a rope. The longer the line can stretch, the further you and your company can go.

Imagine you are given a length of rope and asked to stretch it as far as it will go. What would that look like? You would secure one end, smooth out any ups and downs, kinks or knots that shorten the rope and then pull it tight. A straight line allows the rope reach the furthest.

The job of a founder is to take the emotional rope you have, tie a group of talented people to a vision — and then pull like crazy. When the best leaders begin to pull, the rope gets tight — it rises from the murky depths and creates a straight line between the team and the vision. It may strain and creak, ringing

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Great cultures are legible, not transparent


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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At lunch with a good friend (and leader) talking about company culture and the rise of transparency as a cultural imperative. He was very clear that transparency is not the point. He said, “Great cultures are legible, not transparent.”

It struck me that the cultural transparency meme is based on the assumption that if everyone can see what is going on, everyone will understand why/how it is going down. But, seeing is not always believing and it is almost never the same as understanding.

A simple search offers tons of resources explaining why and how to create a culture of transparency. Being open about decisions and data is taken as a measure of care and respect for members of the team. Access to information is conflated with everyone understanding the process that was wrapped around the information and resulted in decisions and actions. In my experience, what the team

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Ode to the VC who passed


This post is by Phin Barnes from sneakerheadVC - Medium


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Monday, you made a mistake.

Today your ignorance is dissolved in confidence. Cocktail goes down easy, hangs over like a bitch.

In 3 years, my success will catch in your throat. Unscratchable itch.

In 10 years you’ll know what you lost but not why. Broken switch.

No relief. No sleep. On repeat.

Choking on desiccated birthday cake left out over night. No milk. Can’t eat.

Privately peering through fog for meaning in the shadows of your career. Out of time. Obsolete.

So close to greatness but out of tune.

Your past is bright.

Your future is not immune.

This one is going to be hell.

You “wouldacouldashoulda.”

I’ll never tell.


Ode to the VC who passed was originally published in sneakerheadVC on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.