I wrote this post about a year ago (Oct 2012) but came up again in conversation, so wanted to share it here…one of the few I write which is kind of evergreen.
The topic of this week’s column is time-honored when it comes to business, perhaps even overused in many cases, and in the startup world, sometimes mocked, and at others, romanticized, but usually only in hindsight: The Pivot. This is a loaded word, so I should be clear that its more to describe a business decision on a spectrum, with “slight shift” on one end and “complete reinvention” on the other.
If a startup company matures and is able to achieve some level of success, we sometimes begin to hear from the founders about how they changed course along the way, either through a slight tweak, massive reset, or something inbetween. Fab, which now drives one of the fastest-growing e-commerce properties, originally started as a gay social network called Fabulis. Before entering the daily deals space as Groupon, the founders started The Point, trying to catalyze action by using the crowd to reach a certain “tipping point.” More recently, the small team behind Instagram initially began with Burbn, a location-based mobile application which struggled to find its way.
As founders know all too well, things change between the creation of fundraising slide decks and a diminishing runway, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It is simply part of the struggle in creating something new, big, lasting, and meaningful. In fact, considering the stodginess in many traditional, larger workplaces, it is a luxury to re-roll the dice, the creative license to continually question direction paired with the nimbleness to optimize for a bigger opportunity.
Most of us don’t hear about all the slight tweaks or bold pivots early-stage startups make, partly because there are too many, aren’t of consequence (yet), and usually are only relayed once the move can be linked to a good outcome, in the same way that failure is discussed often only after success is in hand. In hindsight, the changes made by Fabulis, The Point, and Burbn look like strokes of genius (and they probably are), but what about all of the pivots and transformations currently unfolding, the shifts that are not too far removed from re-incubation, those gut-check moments when founders elect to rewrite their plans or come to the conclusion that while today’s opportunity looks rosy, they set their sets to change in order to address the larger markets tomorrow’s brings?
In 2012, there have been some “pivots” that, while early, show just how powerful (and risky) these moves can be. I’ll share a few recent examples, but of course cannot begin to list them all, though if you’ve encountered similar decision points, please do share in the comments.
Two years ago, a small team formed Greplin to power a new kind of search engine for people, places, and things. The service worked reasonably well, and I even used the iPhone app as a way to check up on people before meeting them in person, as sort of a quick, lightweight piece of context. At some point since 2010, Greplin’s team elected to pull back, reset, and rebuild, this time focusing on mobile with a web tie-in. The team came back reincarnated with Cue, which on the surface looks like a basic calendar utility application, but is in fact a bold attempt to collect and harmonize data between email, social networks, and your personal and professional networks, tied to your calendar and location, and all rolled into one service. While the app’s performance isn’t quite ready for prime time, it’s one that I certainly use and can see the future value in. Eventually, Cue could provide an intelligent background service that helps prepare us what we stuff our calendars with. (There is another service I’ve seen in this space is Sunrise, which emails a daily digest of your calendar, but it isn’t as deep.)
Almost four years ago, thredUp launched to be a “Netflix for used clothes.” The idea was to help facilitate peer-to-peer transactions, where customers would pay small fees to swap out the clothes in their closets that were never worn. The founders changed tack a few times, focusing on men’s shirts and women’s blouses, only to find that the real demand was in kids’ clothing. So, they brought their model to kids’ clothing, trying to facilitate those swaps. Through these iterations, the founders realized that in order to reach any meaningful revenue scale, they needed to power an extremely high number of transactions. Winding down this path, albeit one that was working and making money, wasn’t big enough. Luckily, their years of experience focusing on their market enabled them to have their potentiallybreakthrough idea — to actually physically handle used clothing, centralize operations in a warehouse, and attempt to create the largest online brand for “certified, pre-owned” clothes, which is a much larger market. Investors liked the idea, as well, recently helping the company raise a Series C financing round.
Perhaps the most notable pivot of 2012 is when Zimride launched Lyft. Originally designed to help facilitate ridesharing, mainly at college campuses and corporate partners, Zimride was founded and is run by folks who are obsessed about making transportation efficient, so it’s not all that surprising that their newest creation, Lyft, is taking San Francisco by storm. While the original Zimride is up and running, we perhaps don’t have a sense of its potential to scale, but for Lyft, it’s becoming evident in the Bay Area. While Uber certainly deserves credit for opening up the “on-the-demand” transportation market, Lyft entered the market byleveraging the team’s experience with Zimride and adding a slight twist to the model — and so far, it’s working.
Sometimes, pivots can be disorienting. Launched almost three years ago by a talented team, Blippy received significant hype (and money) for a big idea: to make credit card purchases social. No harm in taking a big swing, and while their approach may have either been off or too early, the team recently pivoted to the curated daily deals space with Heartsy, which helped the well-capitalized team with revenues, but was ultimately shut down. More recently, the folks behind Blippy tried their hand with Tophattr, a virtual auction house that unfortunately resembles the offspring of eBay, Etsy, Groupon, Zaarly and Turntable.fm. I hear that the team may be on to another idea, and while it’s easy to mock the changes and turns, it’s worth keeping in mind that they still have more shots on goals. It’s all a function of their talent retention and will power at this point, to keep stacking the deck and resetting the plans. I don’t know if they’ll shut the company down and return money to investors, or keep grinding.
Not enough time has passed for us to assess whether these were all good transitions or not. In hindsight, we’ll know, hopefully. In looking at these few examples above, what strikes me is that in most cases, it involved a close-knit team that had accumulated experience and expertise in their respective domains, accumulating knowledge by doing constantly. Making these changes are often very difficult decisions among founders and their teams, thinking through all the risks against the opportunities, reflecting on their learnings to date, and communicating those new decisions to existing users or customers, colleagues, investors, and even family and friends. I am not advocating for gambling blind, but if the experiences founders build up is truly unique, it may lead to new insights that could transform the business, if the dice is rolled properly. As a friend and former venture capitalist recently remarked, “if you’re a founder whose business doesn’t have a chance to be #1 in its market, pivot. The risk/reward question doesn’t make sense for you.” And economic incentives aside, isn’t that why we’re all here playing this beautiful game, to take big risks and constantly reinvent?
In hindsight, we marvel at the evolutions, pivots, and slight flashes of genius successful founders make. It is quintessentially American in nature, the ability for a person or business to constantly evolve and reinvent. Whether its individuals trying to pick up new programming languages or business model techniques between jobs or companies that rely on markets, platforms, or customer bases that shift, change is inevitable. But what about those business moves that are happening right now? How do we know if we’re witnessing something routine or something transformative? How could we know if Cue is going to help us to prepare for each meeting, or if Blippy can change again, or if thredUp can actually become the leader in the second-hand clothing space, or if Lyft and ridesharing takes the country by storm? The truth is, of course, we will only know in hindsight, so for a moment, let us pause and admire the changes these and scores of other founders take, often in the dark of night, setting their sights on the largest opportunities for the chance to look brilliant — in hindsight.
This weekend, Dave Lerner wrote an outstanding post on how the venture capital industry has undergone changes over the past 10-15 years. If you are interested in private technology investing, it’s a must-read — it’s not that Lerner uncovers any new angle, but he presents the changes within a narrative that captures the essence of the shift. At the end of his post, he posed the following questions (see below), and I felt compelled to log my own two cents, so here goes:
Lerner’s Questions (my answers in regular text):
What are the best investors doing to reinvent themselves right now? At the institutional level, the best firms are doing a mix of “getting smaller” and smartly attaching various sidecars to their anchor funds. Take Foundry Group, for instance. Each fund they raise is about $225M (small, relative to how big VC fattened up), and their latest was the same, but also included an “opportunity” fund (presumably with lower management fees) to be reserved for winners from the anchor fund, and paired it with FG Syndicates, their AngelList sidecar. Union Square Ventures just announced their latest fund size, a bit smaller than before, as well as their own opportunity fund, and I’d suspect a firm like USV will smartly experiment with an AngelList sidecar or syndication in 2014. At the individual level…for starters, there aren’t many true angel investors out there (investing their own money), but one example of someone who I think is outstanding as an angel is Scott Belsky. If you talk to any founder he’s backed, he has a clear filter, he takes a product approach, and he has taste. When he makes a move, people notice because he moves so rarely; rather than taking a portfolio approach, he takes the opposite approach, gliding through his network with his product sense and letting that guide him. It doesn’t scale, and that’s why it works in investing.
Who is generating the best process/manual for judging early stage investment prospects and how? I’m not sure one process will work for every investor, but one that sticks out is Nextview’s Rob Go, who earlier this year blogged “A Seed VC’s Decision Tree” and created a graphic to go along with it — click here to see it.
What will be the key to being able to form and build a great syndicate on AngelList? Right now, it appears to be social proof (as Hunter Walk blogged on this, and presented some alternatives he’d like to see). Eventually, whatever I think could matter most probably won’t matter in a few years, when people can start scoring investors on a number of dimensions. If that’s true, then there’s a window right now, for a period of time, to build up a syndicate base — though people should be aware those backers aren’t 100% committed until those first deals happen. I can only imagine some backers rushed to sign up but will have second thoughts when a deadline hits their inbox. The other path which could be powerful (but requires some real work) is for an enterprising new investor with a killer network to create a syndicate and hand-hold his/her network to get onto AngelList and publicly back him/her, to give a founder an access to a network that’s powerful yet not from central casting.
How to identify the new breed of low-life investor who uses these platforms?What’s the new camouflage they wear? I don’t know how this will work, but I’d imagine AngelList will be able to record individual accounts which ask to be referred but don’t follow up, or ask to invest but don’t wire, and so forth. It will take time for more reputation metrics to come online and standardize, but I would bet it happens.
On the other side- quality investors who didn’t have a knack for social media and blogs but were good with entrepreneurs and added massive value are now obscured from view and can only be found through the old ways, ie. practitioners who respect them “bigging-them-up” and making warm intros to them. How to find and identify them? A platform like AngelList makes it a bit easier to see cohort patterns of how investors can both pick and be helpful. For instance, asking for a referral will be commonplace, where it will just be weird if a founder doesn’t write some kind of endorsement or review for one of his/her investors.
I have speculated about two subsequent tech/software led waves (four and five above) that may further disrupt the VC industry. Where do you see it going? This won’t be a popular statement, but I don’t think the answer lies in fancy data analysis or predictive algorithms. Those sorts of tools help with some higher-level findings, but let’s be honest, the tools are in place today and all the firms rushing to find the next big thing in the fickle consumer category didn’t find Snapchat. In fact, the one firm which found it early and really put wood into the company is one of the smallest firms, in terms of partners and employees overall.
Will there be a new breed of super-angel that sucks up all the air in the room due to their huge social profiles? Will they emerge from AngelList Syndicates or elsewhere? The bottom-end of the market (I don’t mean bottom in a bad way, but meaning the angel/seed level) will remain crowded and more capital (and therefore investors) will come into the category. Crowdfunding, on the whole, is a mega-wave.
Will most funds get raised on AngelList in the future? “Most” implies at least or over 51% of total angel/seed funding and venture capital. In the “future,” perhaps we will get there, but it will take at least a few years, if not more. For now, most deals will happen the old-fashioned way, but there will be outliers and also deal leads who take deals to AngelList for syndication, which will get the flywheel going.
With SEC rules loosening how will this transform the fundraising landscape for funds? One dynamic many founders don’t pick up on with respect to investors is that investors, too, are always raising money. Always be raising.
As Thiel would put it, where are the remaining hard problems to solve in this space? Are convertible notes on their deathbed? What will the newer structures and instruments look like? My two cents…I think we’ll see more notes early-stage, but fewer and fewer companies taking money from traditional institutions — only until they reach certain milestones. In terms of instruments, the one area I’m curious about is the expansion of secondary markets to include startups who aren’t that big yet. That would be disruptive in many good and not so good ways, to provide true liquidity in such a high-risk area of finance.
Lately, again, I’ve been thinking a lot about “risk.” Earlier this summer, I wrote a post here about the life of Ayrton Senna. I’m really proud of that post. You can read it here. In the Valley, stories of “risk” grow into legend. Yet as technology becomes more mainstream, and as the Valley and its companies seem to be the only parts of the global economy that are actually experiencing real growth, the line between startup risk and lifestyle gets blurred. I started thinking about this again because I tend to help move a lot of friends and ex-colleagues in and out of jobs. It’s something I enjoy doing, and as a result of many of these instances, I have come to better understand the hopes — and the fears — of what drives people here to do what they do.
One of the striking observations — and perhaps this is naive of me — is realizing the delta between the type of risk actors here “say” they are willing to take versus the actual risk they end up taking. In a nutshell, that delta is huge, much bigger than I would have expected it to be. And, it got me thinking about a more fundamental question: “Why is it that makes others afraid to take on real risk in startups?”
This question lingered in my head all week. Here are the answers I could come up with (so far):
Fear of not having money. You know the common concerns — student loans, maintaining a certain lifestyle, wanting to life in the city and not have to move to Oakland to start something new or commute down to the Valley to rent cheaper office space. Startups can turn into a lifestyle, a choice not to enter into traditional corporate structures. The risk folks often do not want to take involve the fear of going into debt, or not having reliable cash flow, or simply not being able to live in a nice place or part of town. Yet, for every 100 folks who fear this, there is someone who quits their stable job, moves out of the city to a not-so-great part of Oakland, grows a beard, and starts a company by living with his cofounders, and tries to build a prototype with his savings before thinking about more elaborate plans.
Fear of finding out you may not be that good. Taking on a professional risk always carries the (likely) possibility that one will fail. Usually, these outcomes are binary. In the Valley, the “acquisition” is an example of a failure that is respected by the community, either because others do the math and justify it on those means, or because starting out to begin with is hard enough. No one wants to find out that they can’t do something. In that way, the Valley can be a brutal place. Most things most people do are somewhat interchangeable when you step back and think about it.
A fear of leading (credit: Tom Eisenmann, see below).A founder must set direction in the fog, make tough hiring/firing calls, rally the troops after a setback, etc. Not everyone is wired up to do this, and folks who know their limitations may instinctively and appropriately avoid the founder role. Fear of leading is, I think, different than your fear of failure. Great leaders are often afraid of failing. And it’s different than fear of having your judgments called into question by friends/family/former coworkers, which relates to reputational risks.
Fear of being perceived in a different light. This comes down to professional reputation. There are many folks who have tried to start company after company and failed, yet they likely could have spent time inside a bigger technology company and made big contributions. We all have free will, so those choices should be applauded but also put in perspective. People may say nice things about these folks on Twitter or in public, but in back channels, the crowd feels a mix of emotions — part respect, part concern, part empathy, part confusion. It is a complicated thing. What if someone is a late bloomer? No one truly knows. So, what stops some from taking on a deeper risk is this fear of being perceived differently, which leads into my final point…
Fear of having one’s judgment called into question. So much of what seems to drive reputation and success here are the choices people make in their careers. Work at the right companies, go to the right schools, have the right friends — in a way, some of it is reminiscent of parts of the east coast (where I grew up), just with different inputs. The fear in this regard is nuanced. The fear is about having others you respect wonder about your judgment. You may never hear about this, but the chatter may exist. And, it has longer-term career repercussions. Now, I think the Valley is a more dynamic, malleable, forgiving place than others, but I do hear how many different people talk about the same repeat founders chasing that elusive goal. Maybe it’s a startup that has been a “startup” for too long. Maybe it’s a founder starting his third company and not being able to get the flywheel going — again — because at some point, if and when this person stops, they may not be able to re-assimilate. Of course, they may not want to anyway, but this fear of having your judgment called into question strikes me as a deep motivator, or rather, blocker in taking on risk.
I should be clear and re-state that I don’t think everyone needs to be heroic and take outsized risks. Everyone has their own unique risk profile. What I do think is important is to always remind each other that there are people who — for whatever reason — undertake great professional risk, the kind of risk that may help them go broke or into debt, the kind of risk which may raise doubts about them in our minds, or the kind of risk that makes other wonder about their fitness. I hold those people in deep respect. I may not be able to help them or may not like the products their startups produce, or may not want to work directly with them, but I do think it’s important to stop every now and then and appreciate the risk some are willing to (repeatedly) take.
Welcome to the sixth “Sunday Conversation,” this week featuring Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz. Many of you reading this will already know of Chris and have read his blog many times. Dixon was the first “tech writer” I followed when I began to get interested in this stuff back at the end of 2009. Since then, Dixon has started a seed fund, built and sold a company, written some of the most influential blog posts on the investing climate and venture capital, and recently made the big move to the west coast to become a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When the news went down, I pinged Chris and suggested we do something, and the timing finally worked out for us to catch up and have this conversation. For those of you interested in Dixon’s writing and the transition from seed investing to venture capital, these videos are a must-watch. ♦
Part I, The Step From Angel To Institutional VC (4:15) — Dixon explains the key differences between angel investing versus institutional investing as a venture capitalist. ♦
Part II, Lessons Through Angel Investing & AngelList (5:29) — After investing for over seven years, Dixon explains how he developed a pattern recognition for companies as an angel. Separately, on AngelList, Dixon offers his views of the platform. ♦
Part III, On The Future Of AngelList (2:38) — Dixon suggest VC firms could soon bringing A-round institutional deals to AngelList to syndicate a part of the round to the marketplace for investors and other directions the platform could go. ♦
Part IV, On How VCs Approach Markets (5:31) — Dixon explains his thought-process around market analysis in the context of a venture capital investment, especially investing in markets which don’t exist today. (Looking back, this answer references this old post.) ♦
Part V, On An Old Blog Post, “Climbing The Wrong Hill” (4:06) — This is my personal favorite blog post in Dixon’s archives, so I asked him to explain his application of hill climbing to one’s career path. I’m going to write more about this topic next year. ♦
Part VI, On Twitter Conversations and New Discussion Forums (5:17) — Dixon uses Twitter less than before and argues the medium has changed, and has become more promotional and less conversational. ♦
Part VII, How Dixon Began Angel Investing (5:17). ♦
Part VIII, On The Level Of VC Engagement (3:30) — Dixon articulates his views and expectations on how he, as an investor, interacts with his portfolio, particularly through the lens as a former entrepreneur. ♦
Audio Recording, Full Conversation via SoundCloud
A special thanks to the team at Scaffold Labs for sponsoring the Sunday Conversation series on Haywire. Scaffold Labs is a boutique technology advisory firm based in Silicon Valley which designs and builds scientific and predictable talent acquisition programs that helps technology startups hire great people. Scaffold Labs has previously partnered with companies such as Cloudera, Appirio, and Nimble Storage, among others. For more information, please visit www.scaffoldlabs.com
I started this fund with the idea of investing in four areas: marketplaces, online-to-offline, all things mobile, and core infrastructure. This last category is a bit off the beaten path for me, yet I found over the years I had lots of friends who worked on enterprise-facing products and infrastructure. It all came to a head when I met the founder of Hashicorp, thought the space was out of reach, and then began talking to friends in and around the VMware community and realized something important — I didn’t need to be an expert on infrastructure in order to invest in the space.
That may seem counterintuitive, but what I found is that I had a small network of 3-4 close friends who could help me learn and evaluate investments. I had my own sense that Mitchell was a star technical talent, so I made a few calls and tried to learn more about Vagrant. After three conversations, it was clear Vagrant was great. Mitchell is great. Decision made. There is such a thing as trying to be too smart, so I went on my instincts.
From this process, I learned more about VMware and the ecosystem of technologies (and people) within and around it. So, when a good friend introduced me to the Vnera folks, I already had a good idea of the value they could create. It was a different investment for me but also one I saw as opportunistic given the caliber of the team. Now, as I’ve been writing the stories behind my investments, I wrote to the team to ask them if it’s OK. Often in core enterprise tech startups, folks have to remain quiet because initial development cycles are so long, startups can’t afford competitive leaks. As a result, the founder shared this with me, so hopefully this briefly explains what they’re up to:
In order to achieve true business agility, enterprises must be able to deploy new business critical apps quickly and eliminate any downtimes associated with them. To reach this utopia state, the underlying datacenter infrastructure, hosting those applications, needs to become more agile, efficient and predictable. A software-defined datacenter promises to deliver those benefits. At Vnera, our vision is datacenters that are software-defined and always-on. We are building a technology that will accelerate the movement towards software-defined datacenters and ensure they stay always-on. We want to make datacenter downtime a thing of the past.
For Sunday Conversation #6, Haywire will host Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz on Sunday evening, November 10. Most readers here will already know of Dixon, have read his blog often, and seen him speak at events. For this conversation, I wanted to make sure we touched on very specific topics, such as the shift from angel investing to venture capital (including what his style of engagement is), thoughts on AngelList as a platform for individuals and venture firms, how he builds themes around markets (specifically drones, as an example), a discussion of what motivated him to write one specific blog post, why he spends less time conversing on Twitter than years ago, and career advice he’d give himself if he was starting to invest today. The conversation we had is broken into eight short segments, and I’ll post the videos this Sunday evening, and the audio will be available on Swell through SoundCloud, as always.
Congrats to friend Sam Pullara on completing one year as an investor with Sutter Hill. Sam is a great guy, technical whiz, and quietly doing interesting things over his neck of the woods. Earlier in the year, I had Sam on TCTV with me…it’s a long interview, but he has an interesting career that could be a guidepost for many technical folks out there.
On November 13 of 2012, before I started any of this investing stuff, a friend asked if he could intro me to one of his colleagues. He was making a small announcement and asked if I could help. Since I am not a reporter, I gave the kid some advice and moved on. A few days later, I decided to Google him a bit more and realized — hold on — this kid is no kid, he’s a machine.
Once his news settled, I met up with him in San Francisco. Over the course of the next few months, we would meet periodically. To be perfectly honest, I only had a loose idea of what he created, but I was absolutely sure of one thing — he was very smart on the left brain and right brain. In multiple meetings, he was both technically sound, organized, and personable — he listened, but said “no” when he disagreed. He carried himself much older than his age would suggest.
I tried to dig deeper into what he was building, but I could only get so far as larger themes. He’d authored one of the most popular open source frameworks used in machine virtualization — as a teenager. He maintained the project on the side and built a global community naturally around it. Eventually, after working for two years for a friend of mine (who made this great introduction for me), he was ready to focus full-time on his main love.
The framework he built is called Vagrant. The company he started to build a product and service around it is called “HashiCorp,” a sort of eponymous nod to his name: Mitchell Hashimoto. The idea behind Vagrant and other open source projects in this family is that it makes the act of creating development environments a bit easier. I knew this was a pain point from researching the “B2D” space (where the comments were very revealing), as well as helping my friends at Nitrous.IO. In just less than an year, Mitchell has grown his team carefully with only the very best from the open source community, been invited to speak on Vagrant all over the world (I haven’t seen him in months), and is on a mission to slowly build a lasting, durable company. The authenticity of his motivation is pure.
I knew very quickly that I wanted to be a part of whatever company Mitchell was going to build. And here, I go back to my interview with Mike Maples for wisdom around investing. Not only was it Mitchell who was gracious to invite me to participate (he doesn’t need me), I recall this quote from Maples:
In the early days, I decided this is a people-flow business and not a deal-flow business. I’ve always had this leap of faith that if you just spend all your time with smart awesome people, that the dots will forward connect. The deals will reveal themselves, and somehow you’ll get into some good ones.
Mitchell is a good one, and I was introduced to him by another good one. Maples, yet again, is right.
Over a year and half ago, I was transitioning out of a startup job and unsure of my next move. Uncertainty used to bother me a lot, but then all of a sudden, it didn’t. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s understanding the world is bigger than you. Who knows. Yet at every uncertain turn, around the corner is someone really interesting.
In May 2012, I went to a Big Data conference at Stanford. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but I ran into my friend Alex (that’s @alex_gurevich on the twitters). We’d met a few times before. I think he’d emailed me a few times. He watched a few videos I’d done. “What are you up to these days?” he asked. “Well, I don’t know. Transitioning out of my current job,” I replied. “Why don’t you come and hang out with us at Javelin for the year, until you figure out what’s next?”
(Sweet.) So, I did. And over that time, as I’ve written about before, it was a windy path into venture and investing for me, and it simply wouldn’t have happened without Alex’s generous offer and the team’s near-immediate acceptance of me. Now, I wasn’t surprised Javelin was able to raise their third fund, which was announced this week — the founders of the firm have real entrepreneurial track records with multiple hits as founders/operators (and not bolstered through social media promotion), and with some sleeper hits waiting in vintages I and II, doing III is a no-brainer.
What’s most exciting for me — on a personal level — is that Alex is now a full partner in the fund alongside Jed and Noah. Alex got there the hard way. He worked at a startup, sure…then he had some VC exposure, yeah, no big deal…and then when he got to Javelin, I think Jed and Noah realized how passionate yet steady Alex was at all facets of the game that is venture, specifically his ability to find and attract great people, his ability to sort through information to find signal, and his desire to help build company value once the ink begins to dry on a check. Even though he was leading investments at Javelin before this announcement, now he’s official in the community, and what’s great about Alex’s rise is how he’s gotten there — using scrappiness to find great founders and products that don’t seek out the bright lights of Twitter PR, companies that I was excited to get to work with like Thumbtack, Engrade, theHunt, and many more. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s always able to find signal in the noise of information and pitches, and then focus in on what he wants to do as an investor. Folks on Sand Hill have remarked to me that they don’t know who Alex is, but they were surprised to see what companies he was working with. That’s probably just how Alex wants it.
Anyway, I’m writing all of this because I’m excited for my friend, because I’m excited about what he’s done as well as “how” he’s done it, and that Jed and Noah created an opportunity for someone to mentor and grow in their own new business. I also wanted to encourage readers of this blog follow him and get to know him as you’re building your companies or thinking about the next one. He’s not going to grab your attention through the blogs or by tweeting witty things, and that should be music to the right founders’ ears.
For Sunday Conversation #5, Haywire will host Matt Ocko of Data Collective on Sunday evening, October 13 (the video series has taken a little break, but we’re back!). Ocko’s name is legendary among certain circles in the Valley — mention him and you’ll undoubted hear someone remark, “Ah, yes, Ocko…” as if the sound itself triggers good memories. I don’t know Ocko well, but from following him on Twitter and, more importantly, talking to founders and early-stage investors, he seems to be one of the most-respected, highly-technical technology investors out there. From afar, his LinkedIn profile takes forever to scroll through, but if you stop and dig for a bit, you realize that even before DCVC, Ocko helped found and lead a technology company and has managed several complex technology investment funds across continents. As you will see in this video, he is truly an orthogonal thinker. For this discussion, turns out I live just a few blocks from the DCVC office, so I took a lazy walk over, and then we had a blast hanging out and just shooting the shit. In the videos, which I’ll post next week, we covered a range of topics such as discussing why the climate is so adversarial between founders and investors, the pieces of advice founders and investors need to hear (but don’t), the formation of and future of Data Collective, looking at opportunities in big data (DCVC is a big data fund), and much more. I can’t wait to share these videos. Ocko is the perfect type of guest for this video series — he’s been doing this a very long time, he’s not very loud on social media or hungry for attention, and he’s got the attitude and experience to say what needs to be said.