Benchmark just hired Sarah Tavel, the first female general partner in the firm’s history

 Benchmark’s small partnership has added a new general partner, Sarah Tavel, the venture firm announced this morning, saying that her “career-long desire and commitment to be one of the world’s great venture capitalists” make her an “ideal addition” to the Benchmark team. Tavel joins the firm from Greylock Partners, where she was hired roughly… Read More

Exploring opportunities in smartphone minutes

Times have changed — going after dollars vs minutes

Just finished the first month back in the VC saddle at Greylock. After three and a half years away from the VC scene, I feel like I finally understand the description of “drinking from the firehose”. It’s amazing how much has changed in this short time.

To help get my footing, one of the first things I did when I got started was go through the top 100 US rankings in AppAnnie to see what I’d “missed” while I’d been heads down at Pinterest. I defined “missed” as independent companies that had their Series A from Jan 2012 to the present.

I counted seven companies that have managed to break through the top 100: Snapchat, Seriously, Ibotta, Draftkings, Dubsmash, Wish, and OfferUp.

To compare, I did the same analysis for when I joined Pinterest 3.5 years ago, and looked at companies that had raised a Series A since July

Continue reading “Times have changed — going after dollars vs minutes”

The Daily Startup: CarLister Joins Race for Car-Sales Tech With Seed Funding

dailystartup_D_20090806101628.jpgArt by Mike Lucas

CarLister, which was built by the company DreamWare Inc., has raised $6.5 million in seed funding from individuals and added former Morgan Stanley President Bob Scott as its chairman, Lizette Chapman reports for Dow Jones VentureWire. The startup will join TrueCar and, and newer efforts by Beepi and Shift Technologies, as tech companies are providing platforms to enable easier and more-complete vehicle searchers, increased pricing transparency and speedier service for both buyers and sellers. CarLister’s service is designed to help dealers and individuals list cars for sale by providing VIN numbers and answering a series of questions.

ALSO IN TODAY’S VENTUREWIRE (subscription required):

Unum Therapeutics has raised $65 million in Series B financing to expand its pipeline of immuno-therapeutics for cancer. New investor New Leaf Venture Partners led the round, which also included new investors Brace Pharma Capital, Continue reading “The Daily Startup: CarLister Joins Race for Car-Sales Tech With Seed Funding”

"Did you learn anything useful in VC?"

It’s been more than a year and a half since I left Bessemer to join Pinterest (not to mention blogged!). Since then, I’ve taken quite a few meetings and phone calls from junior VCs or MBAs asking about my transition from VC to operating. By far, the most common question I get from this bunch is something along the lines of “Did you learn anything actually useful in VC?”


1. You learn how to ask the right questions. Anyone can ask questions. But learning how to ask the right questions — to use questions as a mechanism to uncover the hidden truth in a company’s business model, or the trade-off’s in an engineer’s architecture, that comes with training. VCs spend a huge amount of their time asking questions, and thus learn the craft of asking the right questions. This skill has been enormously valuable to me as I transitioned to Pinterest.

2. You learn how to read people. In my first performance review at Bessemer, people judgment was one of my weaknesses. I’d now say it’s one of my strengths. As a VC, you’re constantly meeting founders and building your pattern recognition for reading people. This skillset is particularly useful when you’re in a business or corporate development role, but as with asking the right questions, it’s one of those horizontal skills that will serve you anywhere.

3. You learn how to learn. In VC, you’re constantly ramping up in a new area. Each company you evaluate brings with it its own ecosystem that you need to understand. Similarly, trends in the tech ecosystem turnover so quickly, that if you ever stop adapting and learning, you’ll quickly become a dinosaur and won’t know a Snapchat when you meet one. That drive to constantly learn will help you adapt to new environments and challenges.

There’s a flipside to these three though:

1. In startups, you’ve got to answer the questions. One thing I learned early on at Pinterest is that my muscle for asking questions was a lot stronger than my muscle for answering them. As with asking questions, there’s an art to answering questions well. It’s been good to exercise this skill.

2. You don’t learn how to read an organization. VC firms tend to be smaller partnerships. Although Bessemer was about 45 people when I left, I was never in an office with more than ten people. As Pinterest has grown from 30-odd people when I joined to more than 200, I’ve had to learn how to navigate a company. People who have come from larger companies definitely have a leg up in this regard.

3. You’re not specialized. VCs rarely specialize. Sure – I knew the e-commerce ecosystem cold, met with countless consumer companies, and quite a few adtech companies, but that doesn’t compare to spending several years working at Google. But you’ve got to start somewhere…

Good luck!

Hiring an Associate at Bessemer

We are looking to hire an Associate to join me and my colleague Jeremy Levine at Bessemer.  This is a Silicon Valley-based opportunity, though we anticipate that it will involve frequent and extended travel to New York, at least initially.

As an Associate you will actively participate in all stages of identifying and evaluating investment opportunities while supporting Jeremy and me in our ongoing involvement with portfolio companies. We spend most of our time looking at opportunities in the cloud computing, internet, e-commerce and consumer web space.

Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • Smart and Curious: You must have superior intellectual horsepower with a track record of good judgment and curiosity. As an Associate, you’ll be prosecuting all stages of due diligence from financial analysis to customer references. You’ll be writing investment recommendations for the partnership. You’ll be gathering and synthesizing data and analysis. You will be developing deep industry knowledge and contacts while creatively constructing new investment strategies. You’ll be doing all these things without a formal training program and limited supervision. 
  • Hungry and Driven: You must be hungry and driven but also a pleasure to be around. Most often, people who have always been hungry and driven attend elite colleges or accomplish unique and extraordinary things. But graduate degrees are purely optional; neither of us have an MBA, so you certainly don’t need one. In fact, our target is someone with as few as two years of experience after college or as much as six years (including a graduate degree).
  • Passionate, Humble, and Helpful: A lot of people want to work in VC for the wrong reasons. I regret to inform you that Bessemer does not have a corporate jet. Instead, a big part of this job is about getting out there in the community and networking to develop relationships with entrepreneurs and talented individuals. You must be passionate about start-ups to do this authentically. If you are excited about this opportunity because you love working with and helping entrepreneurs, analyzing businesses, or experimenting with the newest gadget, then let’s talk. 

Think this describes you? Here’s how to apply:

We’ve noticed that people who are successful in VC have already formed relationships with people in technology and are incredibly resourceful. Therefore, if you can manage a personal introduction to Jeremy or me from someone we know, we would strongly encourage it. Please include a resume with the introduction.

The Developer Renaissance

What an exciting time to be in this business.  The “post PC era” and cloud computing are colliding to create a perfect storm. First, thanks to the post PC era, demand for software is exploding. Second, thanks to cloud computing, software development is becoming increasingly accessible.

There’s an interesting positive externality to these trends: The developer “citizenship” is exploding.  Consequently, developers are finally a large enough community with enough purchasing power that you can actually build a company just by selling to developers.  I’d love to invest in companies doing just that.

In this post, I’ll provide a little color on the two trends, and then, in the interest of feedback or thoughts, I’ll outline three areas in which I’m particularly interested.  This is an investment road map in progress, so would  truly welcome any feedback.

Exploding Demand

In the late Mainframe Era, developing an application was a real team effort, access to mainframes was restricted, and given the expense to purchase a mainframe, not to mention maintain it, the number of computers for every person was exceedingly low. Then the PC era came upon us — computers got cheap enough that suddenly households could purchase them and the number of computers per person, while probably less than 1 computer:3 people, started to rise. With that increase in the number of computers, demand for applications started to tick up. People needed a word processing application, a browser, some games… you get the picture. But because there was a very small number of application platforms (Windows, Apple), and a small number of computers relative to the number of people, demand was capped.

Now we’ve entered a new, fascinating era in software development: the alleged “post-pc” era. Computers are now a fraction of the cost for a multiple of the power. Even the computers we hold in our hands (smartphones) are more powerful than the computers we once had on our desks ten years ago. Consequently, the ratio of computers to people is inversing. Whereas multiple people used to share a single computer, now it’s not uncommon for a single person to have multiple computers. Compounding this trend, applications are no longer limited to just Windows or Apple’s OS. Everywhere you look there is a new application platform. iOS. Android. Blackberry. Facebook. WordPress. Twitter. Drupal. Box. Shopify. Samsung. Heck – even automobiles like BMW are trying to get in the game!

Each platform requires its own suite of applications.  Consequently, the demand for applications has exploded.

“Democratization” of Software Development

Increasing demand by itself will always create an increase in supply. But there is another trend that is making this process happen even faster: software development is getting democratized. It used to take a team of developers to build an application, and software development was a highly specialized skill. Now, self-taught programmers abound, and developers can launch new applications after just a weekend’s worth of work. As my colleague David Cowan outlined back in 2008 his Internet Law:

“The Continue reading “The Developer Renaissance”

Holding your hand to the fire

Several months ago, I wrote a post about the four stages of learning.  Implicit in the transition out of stage 1, the “enthusiastic beginner”, is the fact that to really learn something, you need to try to do it, and inevitably, do it wrong.  

Given the wealth of fantastic content out there in the blogosphere, especially when it comes to starting a company, raising capital, building a product, etc., it can be tempting to try to read blogs and hope that they’ll help you navigate potential road mines. But if you are brand new to any one of these domains, most of what you read won’t really “catch” in your brain. Instead, I find the best time to learn something is after I just messed up on that thing.

So if you’re starting something for the first time, and find yourself making rookie mistakes like building too many features into the first version of your product, or not having your “elevator pitch” ready when you pitch a VC, don’t worry.  To really learn, you need to hold your hand to the fire.

As Rob May of Backupify once tweeted, “Everything I learned about doing a startup came from doing a startup… not reading blogs about it.”

Can product "disruption" become a new paradigm?

Facebook is an incredible company, and it’s incredible for many, many reasons. But one of the things that most impresses and amazes me is Facebook’s relentless reinvention. The company has disrupted its product, and therefore its users, on multiple occasions. I’m sure everyone remembers the backlash Facebook weathered when it launched its newsfeed. And of course, we’re still less than a month into Facebook’s newest disruption, this time to its profile page.

Facebook is in rare company. Microsoft, to its credit, disrupted its Office product suite by introducing the ribbon (which was probably a great change for my mom, but drives me a bit crazy), and more recently disrupted its Windows suite. But I’m having trouble thinking of other companies that have taken their core product and fundamentally changed it in a way that is both disruptive to its end users and unavoidable.

Recently, I’ve started to use’s CRM. Although Salesforce is a huge step up from the other CRM I was using, it’s clear that the application was designed several years ago and has since evolved but hasn’t fundamentally gone through any disruptions. While the UI/UX must have been a dramatic, disruptive improvement upon other legacy CRMs when it launched, as it continues to evolve, it might one day find itself surprised by a new, shiny startup that takes advantage of the last five years of technology innovation (both technically and UI/UX-wise).

Obviously, there’s a reason why you don’t see a lot of disruption. It’s incredibly difficult to execute, and unbelievably risky. Large companies aren’t known for pursuing risky strategies.  But could a Marc Benioff look to Mark Zuckerberg as a disruptive role model?  Crazier things have happened. Facebook is leading the way not only by example, but by lowering the riskiness of disruption by forcing its 800m+ users to better embrace change.

We’ve gotten used to hearing about struggling startups “pivoting”. It would be pretty incredible if we soon found ourselves getting used to hearing about companies with market dominance “disrupt” their products and leap from the past to the future.  

Are you a vitamin, a painkiller… or a drug?

It’s become commonplace to describe products as either painkillers (“need to have”) or vitamins (“nice to have”). Painkillers are products that address existing needs/pain points. Companies selling painkillers harvest customer demand; the prospects are already searching for someone to fix their problem and take their money. Vitamins on the other hand don’t really address an immediately apparent need. Instead, the vitamin company must sell a prospect on how their solution will make the prospect’s life better. The problem with vitamins is that it’s hard to get people to pay for them and once you have them as customers, hard to keep them paying. Painkillers on the other hand are sticky. Once you start using it, you’re hooked. For this reason, investors have preferred investing in painkillers over vitamins.  While the vitamin vs. painkiller dichotomy is helpful, I don’t think it properly describes an important small-but-growing group of products: the drug.

While painkillers kill existing pain, drugs kill pain consumers never knew they had.  Like vitamins, drugs must sell a prospect on how their solution will make the prospect’s life better. However, unlike vitamins, drugs become as addictive as painkillers.

I think there are three qualities that distinguish drugs from vitamins:

  • Accruing benefit. The more you use the product, the better it gets. I think this is largely because a consumer adds data to the product, either passively or actively. 
  • Mounting loss. The flipside of the accruing benefit is that the longer you stay with the product, the more you rely on the product and therefore have to lose by leaving the product. Going cold turkey is hard. 
  • Product-market fit. At the core, drugs are vitamins with product-market fit. Drugs pass Sean Ellis’s product-market fit question, “how disappointed would you feel if you could no longer use this product?” with flying colors. 

For example, for me, Evernote is a drug. Sure, it’s a productivity tool (the quintessential definition of a “vitamin”) but I’ve become an addict. Essentially, Evernote’s freemium model was like a drug dealer offering a little “taste”. Now it’s become such an ingrained part of my life; my lifetime value for Evernote is going to be very, very high. Products like Dropbox, Pivotal Tracker, and Sanebox also resemble drugs to me, and I think Bessemer portfolio company BillGuard might have the potential to become one.

Because drugs can’t harvest demand in the same way painkillers can, but also because it becomes harder and harder to let go of a drug the longer you use it, drug-like products are perfect for a usage-based freemium model. The barrier to getting a customer hooked on the drug goes down significantly (though not completely) when the initial “taste” is free.  Vitamin-like products, meanwhile, need to extract as much value as possible while the customer is active because their churn rate will be much higher.

(hat tip to greg duffy at dropcam for inspiring this post.)

2011 is the year entrepreneurship went global

Entrepreneurship is flourishing everywhere. Not just in the US, not just Israel, not just China. Everywhere. The world wide web always held the promise of a flat world, but the startup world is finally flat. An idea is seeded in Chicago, and it very quickly blooms across the world.

The result of this new generation of entrepreneurs is that local companies must race to be global. Groupon couldn’t just launch in the US, hone its product, and then launch internationally in a measured roll-out (much like Yelp has been doing). It has had to race to plant a flag in countless countries around the world if it has any chance of becoming a global brand. AirBnB just started running the same sprint, and they are rumored to be raising a giant warchest to help them get there.

It didn’t used to be like this. Startups could focus on the US and launch internationally when they got there. The competitive race was here, not abroad.  But now, things have changed.  Entrepreneurship has finally gone global, and many US companies hoping to expand internationally are facing stiff competition.  

Accomplishment Arbitrage

I’ve noticed there is a fair amount of what I’ll call “accomplishment arbitrage” taking place regularly in the tech world right now.  “Accomplishment arbitrage” occurs if someone refers to an accomplishment that occurred in the past when the value of that accomplishment was different than it is now.  For example, if the accomplishment was easier to achieve in the past, the speaker can take advantage of that spread in value, make claim to an accomplishment that happened in the past with perceived value that is higher than the true value of their accomplishment, and in doing so, essentially arbitrage the accomplishment.  On the flipside, if it was harder to achieve in the past but newly easy, the speaker can once again take advantage of the lag in understanding. The key is that there is a disconnect between the perceived value of an accomplishment, and the true value.

Evolution in accomplishment value happens a lot outside the tech world.  Take sports, as an example. People keep on getting faster and stronger. But this consistency makes it hard to arbitrage the accomplishment.  If a swimmer who swam in the 2008 Summer Olympics told their 100m freestyle time to someone who swam in the 1932 Summer Olympics, the old timer would look the youngin’ up and down and quickly say, “so what? It’s easier now!”

The problem with accomplishments in the tech world is that they’re not consistently changing in one direction, and it’s not as obvious that you’re talking to the equivalent of the 2008 Olympian.   Take the statements, “I sold my company for $500m” or “I invested in a company that was acquired for $500m.”  I wasn’t in high school yet so I don’t have a good sense, but I would guess that a negative arbitrage occurs if the acquisition happened before 1995.  But a big positive arbitrage occurs if the acquisition was in cash and took place in the late 90’s / early 00’s.  An even bigger positive arbitrage takes place if the acquisition took place in the late 90’s / early 00’s in an all-stock transaction with a public company (that probably no longer exists). Of course, the speaker best takes advantage of this value arbitrage by providing none of this context.  The same phenomena is true for when it comes to taking a company public.  Sometimes it’s been easy, sometimes it’s been hard. But we interpret the value of the accomplishment based on how easy or hard it is to accomplish now.

The bubble is a great source of accomplishment arbitrage value.  I think we’re currently creating a new breed of accomplishment arbitrage.  As an example, take what it means to “be an investor” in a particular company.  The vibrant secondary markets for companies like Facebook, Zynga, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, not to mention large seed syndicates, has altered the value of what it means to “be an investor”.  Nonetheless, we’re still holding on to the traditional definition of what it means to “be Continue reading “Accomplishment Arbitrage”

Stop calling Groupon “social commerce”.

There is a lot of enthusiasm and attention around “social commerce” right now. People point to companies like Groupon, Living Social, ShoeDazzle and others as examples of the promise of a new generation of social commerce companies. The explosive growth of these companies has certainly been incredible, and I have no doubt that many new, fantastically successful e-commerce concepts will emerge that will leverage social in some way. Nonetheless, I think people have been giving social too much credit when it comes to the “social commerce” examples we have thus far, and have been misplacing our emphasis on “social” in e-commerce.

In e-commerce, there are two truths: Customers will always want lower prices, and once they’ve spent their money, they’ll always want as close to immediate gratification as possible. (A third principle, that customers will always want more selection, though I think probably true, is up for debate. It might asymptote given the paradox of choice.) If an e-commerce company forgets either of these two maxims, they’ll soon find that their customers have gone elsewhere.

With “social” however, the same is not true. It’s not the case that a customer will always want their e-commerce experience to be more social. Will customers want and enjoy some social features? Sure. There absolutely is utility in social features (more on that later) not to mention fun/entertainment, but it’s just not the case that consumers will always ask for more social features in the same way that they’ll always ask for cheaper prices and faster delivery (or even, more SKUs). In the customer’s hierarchy of e-commerce needs, social must surely be #3 at best (and frankly, I think breadth of SKU selection would be #3).

What does this have to do with “social commerce” darling Groupon?

Imagine a world in which Groupon had no social elements that form part of the user experience (i.e., no “tipping” once a certain number of people bought a deal). Would the company be the same one it is today? It might not have grown as fast, but with its brilliant and disruptive product offering, I have no doubt it would still be a fantastic business. Now imagine if Groupon had all the social features and more, but no discounts. It might still be around today, but Groupon would have been a shadow of its current form.

Groupon’s current success is not because of the social elements on the site. Consequently, I think it’s incredibly generous to “social commerce” to call Groupon a social commerce site. Its success has always been because of Groupon’s ridiculously low prices and immediate gratification. The same can be said for other “social commerce” examples like ShoeDazzle (fantastic deals on knock-off designer shoes thanks to their vertically integrated business model), and Woot (probably the first e-commerce experience with social elements). The social features integrated into these sites enhance the user experience, but they play second (or even third) fiddle to the real value proposition of these sites: lower prices Continue reading “Stop calling Groupon “social commerce”.”

A big thank you to the Cornerstone OnDemand team!

Four and a half years ago, I started digging into the software as a service space, pursuing an investment roadmap that Bessemer was very excited about.  Early on, I came across Cornerstone OnDemand.  Talent management seemed like an interesting and large market, and the website had some nice customer logos on the site, so I reached out to Adam, Cornerstone’s CEO, to learn more about the business.  I started with a voicemail, and when I didn’t hear back, an email, and then another voicemail, and another voicemail… four more voicemails and one more email later, I finally tracked Adam down.  Let me tell you, Adam was worth the hunt!

Adam was a guy who loved to learn.  A former investment banker (don’t hold it against him), Adam racked up a JD (another thing you shouldn’t hold against him), a MBA (another thing…), a BS and a CPA.  He is also, perhaps, the most goal-oriented guy I’ve ever met.  Adam, along with his co-founders Perry Wallack and Steven Seymour founded Cornerstone in 1999.  I would be willing to bet that the day Adam, Perry and Steven incorporated Cornerstone, Adam set his mind on building a public company.

1999, I don’t need to tell you, was a crazy time.  Despite everything happening around them, Adam and his team put their heads down, built a fantastic product that their customers needed, and didn’t raise a dollar from institutional investors.  That is, until I introduced Adam to my colleague Byron Deeter (who can resist?).  The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Cornerstone went public on the Nasdaq at a $13.00 price per share and closed 47% up at $19.07, a $885m market cap.  What an amazing ride.

Joel Cutler of General Catalyst, whom I had the pleasure of seeing in action on the Board of Bessemer/General Catalyst portfolio company OLX (acq by Naspers), likes to say that investors are “invited guests” at a company.  We try to be helpful where we can, but at the end of the day, it’s the team that lives and breathes their company 24/7 and determines the ultimate success of a company.  So a big thank you to the Cornerstone gang for letting us join them for this ride, and a big congratulations to my colleague Byron on such a fantastic investment.

Prediction: Facebook won’t be a viable marketing strategy for startups

The makings of an overnight success

Almost a year ago to the day, I mentioned on my blog that I would be hosting a Pitch Deck Study Hall.  My offer was for people to send me their Pitch Decks, and I would try to provide some feedback.  Many entrepreneurs took me up on the offer, including NYC’s Mike LaValle

Mike, bless his heart, sent me one ugly deck, whose cover I’ll post here.  (Don’t worry – he’s given me the okay to post about him!)

His deck inspired a follow up post of mine, where I instructed entrepreneurs that their pitch decks should strive to be like a perfect date:  they need to have a great personality, and be good looking. 

Despite Mike’s less than overwhelming powerpoint skills (wink) there was some great content there and Mike and I started to check in with each other every few months.  Each and every time I caught up with Mike, the progress he was making at Gojee exceeded my increasingly high expectations.  First it was the technical team he recruited when so many entrepreneurs in NYC struggle to recruit one developer, let alone a team.  Then it was closing a large supermarket chain.  Then it was recruiting the uber talented “interface slayer” KC and designer Adam Meisel.  Each time we spoke, I asked how Mike did it all, hoping to learn some new trick, but it always came down to plain ole’ hustle and hard work.

When I check out Gojee now, it’s awesome to see how far the company has come from that first pitch deck.  So often in my job, I have the privilege of working with entrepreneurs as their business start to hit an inflection curve and take off.  From where I sit, very often these companies look like they are overnight successes.  But the truth is that behind every overnight success is an entrepreneur like Mike who has been working his/her butt off for several months before it finally starts to work.

The other day, Mike sent me an email mentioning yet another impressive milestone.  I won’t steal Mike’s thunder here but suffice to say, I have a good feeling that Gojee will one day be an overnight success as well.  It’s been pretty inspiring to watch.

The makings of an overnight success

Almost a year ago to the day, I mentioned on my blog that I would be hosting a Pitch Deck Study Hall.  My offer was for people to send me their Pitch Decks, and I would try to provide some feedback.  Many entrepreneurs took me up on the offer, including NYC’s Mike LaValle

Mike, bless his heart, sent me one ugly deck, whose cover I’ll post here.  (Don’t worry – he’s given me the okay to post about him!)

His deck inspired a follow up post of mine, where I instructed entrepreneurs that their pitch decks should strive to be like a perfect date:  they need to have a great personality, and be good looking. 

Despite Mike’s less than overwhelming powerpoint skills (wink) there was some great content there and Mike and I started to check in with each other every few months.  Each Continue reading “The makings of an overnight success”

Being coachable

The other day, a very talented NYC-based entrepreneur asked me if I could grab lunch with him. He’s the CEO of a company whose user growth is the quintessential “hockey stick” ramp (so much so, that when he sent me the graph of his user growth, I actually photoshopped a picture of a hockey stick on to the graph of his user growth and sent it to him – it was an exact match!). Needless to say, I was happy to catch-up. At lunch, it turned out he wanted to discuss some ideas he had around his business model before his board meeting the next day. As we chatted, I remembered a 2×2 I had learned in my brief stint as a consultant: 

The basic premise is that everyone goes through four stages of learning. First, a person starts in stage 1, the “enthusiastic beginner.” We’ve all been there…. You think you have all the answers but really, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. For example, I remember the first term sheet I ever drafted; I thought it was a piece of cake. It probably took me 30 minutes to complete a draft. Then I got redline back from the Partner with whom I was working. Clearly, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing!

To learn and progress as a person and leader, you must have this moment of humility.  This “learning moment” is when a person opens themselves up to learn and progresses to stage 2. Stage 2 is the “struggling learner.” You suck, and you realize it. Nonetheless, gradually, you push through, learn, and move to stage 3, the “cautious contributor.” Some positive feedback later, and you start to realize your own competence and you become a “peak performer.”

All people start in Stage 1, but some never leave. I think this is what is meant when people describe someone as not “coachable.” They never let themselves have that moment of humility and self reflection when they realize their own lack of competence, and therefore mistake Stage 1 for Stage 4. Unfortunately, that person will never grow as a leader.

My lunch date on the other hand was clearly a cautious contributor and well on his way to being a peak performer. All the ideas he had around the business model were great; he just wasn’t yet completely confident in his own business model savvy.

Inevitably, any new CEO will find him or herself trying to tackle something that he’s never learned before.  I think great VCs and mentors often double as a coach in these instances, and help coax the CEO all the way from stage 1 to stage 4.

Speaking of which, I emailed the CEO after his board meeting and asked how the meeting went. “Great!” was the response. Sounds like someone made it to stage 4.

California Dreamin’

In late February, I’m going to be moving to San Francisco to work in Bessemer’s Menlo Park office.

Having lived in NYC for most of my life, the move is really bittersweet. On the bitter (read: sad) side, my life is in NYC. I love my friends here, my family, the people I’ve gotten to know in the tech community these past four+ years… And, of course, I love NYC. I’m such a freakin’ New Yorker. I’m impatient, snarky, optimistic yet cynical… if they gave tickets for speed walking on sidewalks, I would have had my sidewalk-walking license revoked.  Lets see whether SF mellows me out…

But of course, there’s the sweet side. I’ve always wanted to give San Francisco a try — it has so much to offer. The tech scene, the weather (how can you not think about that on a week like this one?), Sonoma, Yosemite, avocados, hanging out with my BVP colleagues in Menlo Park… And did I mention it’s legal to drive a Segway on the sidewalks in SF? Just sayin’.

But man oh man…. it’s going to be a huge change.

What this means:

Am I leaving NYC’s tech scene? Hell no! When Jeremy first broached the idea of moving to San Francisco, one of the first things out of my mouth was that I wanted to be able to visit NYC as frequently as I’d like. I’m a NYC tech community groupie and a huge fan of the many exciting companies growing up in NYC. So sorry, but you ain’t getting rid of me!

Is this permanent? Your guess is as good as mine.

Anything you can do to help? Gosh – thanks for asking. Honestly you guys, excluding the Bessemer folks, I can count all my friends and close contacts in San Francisco with two hands…. Maybe one. In the late nights when reality of the move hits, one of the things that always re-energizes me is the thought that my wonderful friends in NYC will have wonderful friends in San Francisco and help us connect. So from the bottom of my New Yorker heart, I would welcome any and all introductions to friends and contacts in the Bay area. If anyone comes to mind, you can reach me via email at [sarah] at bvp dot com. I will love you forever. And of course, if you are a SF-based reader of my blog (thank you!) please reach out! I’ve met a lot of great people in NYC thanks to my blog, and hope SF will be no different. 

Post soundtrack:

Apprenticeship, BVP and Thanksgiving

A couple weeks ago, Ben Siscovick over at IA Ventures wrote a really wonderful post on the importance of being mentored as a young VC. As Ben wrote,

“In fact, it’s a complete wonder to me that young venture investors find a place in the eco-system at all …And yet, not only are there young VCs, but many in this new breed are excelling in the industry. In some ways I think of a firm ‘betting’ on a young VC as analogous to investing in a first-time entrepreneur – you know there will be mistakes along the way, but you hope that the big successes will outweigh the inevitable mistakes and that overtime the individual will grow into a seasoned, mature and experienced pro. ” 

On this Thanksgiving day, I wanted to pick up Ben’s thread with a long overdue post.

When I joined Bessemer as an Analyst back in May 2006, I was very young, new to both the investment world and the technology world, and quite a bit shy. If the job had required any internal politicking to get ahead, I would have floundered. Instead, the job was incredibly merit oriented, and the measure of merit extremely objective. I worked hard, listened a ton, and somehow, someway, I excelled.

Midway through my second year, as I started thinking about applying to business school, Jeremy Levine asked me if I would be interested in becoming his Associate. For those of you who don’t know Jeremy, that’s a little like being asked to dance by the winner of the national dancing contest. I still remember how elated I was on my train ride home from Larchmont that day.

It’s been almost three years since that day, and I realize more and more how much I’ve learned working with Jeremy and the rest of the Bessemer team. Bessemer is one of the few firms that have successfully transitioned from one generation of great investors to the next, several times over (dating back to 1911). With this tradition, comes an ingrained commitment to nurturing and recognizing the talents of its younger investors. I’m incredibly lucky for that. Venture investing really is a craft that one learns best through apprenticeship and mentorship. The feedback cycles are too long otherwise.  But getting apprenticed doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. There is first a question of the quality of the apprentice and whether he or she will be able to absorb all the lessons (and bring his or her own perspective), and then there is the question of the quality of the lessons that apprentice learns.

Although I can’t speak to the former, on the latter, I believe Bessemer’s incredible track record and longevity speaks for itself. For a youngin’ like me, it’s a pretty phenomenal place to be.  I have no idea where the road ahead lies, but I feel lucky and grateful for the road I’ve traveled thus far. So thank you BVP, and happy Thanksgiving to everyone!