I have been fortunate enough to spend my entire career in startups, from an engineer and designer to a Founder and CEO. I’m now a General Partner at Spark Capital, an early stage venture firm that does things a little different, and has invested in some great companies.
I currently serve on the board of (alphabetical order):
Nabeel and I recorded episode 20th of our podcast, Hallway Chat yesterday. Stuff we talked about (not necessarily in this order):
-Apple Watch, iPad Pro
-Are we overdue for a hot new mobile app, Peach, Snapchat
-VC blogs, why we haven’t been writing more and new years resolutions
-our tech habits while traveling on vacation
-As our firm grows, we chat a bit about internal changes and evolution
Please let us know if you have feedback, topic suggestions or questions that we should address in future shows. We would love to hear from you. Leave us your thoughts in the comments or tweet us. Thanks!
At the age of 13 I was a geeky outsider, and online life (BBSes in that pre-Internet age) allowed me to find the first tribe of people that I really related to. It was that little band of outsiders that got me into coding, hacking, design, and startups. In my first experiences with the online world no one knew your race, age, gender, or really anything except for your ability to make words, code, or art.
Silicon Valley thrives and survives because it is a meritocracy, perhaps the most inclusive place in the world. Years ago Paul Graham wrote a piece on “Cities and Ambition” that still resonates with me. His premise was that every major city has a culture with a prevailing value: Cambridge, MA values how smart you are above all else, LA values fame, NY values money, etc. For me the best version of silicon valley has been the embodiment of that early online community; valuing what you could make above all else.
But that’s not the only silicon valley.
Chamath wrote a provocative piece this week (“Bros Funding Bros”) that underneath its sensationalism resonated strongly. The worst version of silicon valley is a Hollywood-like club of insiders where you are on the career track from Stanford to high-growth-startup-of-the-month to Y-Combinator and beyond. It’s hard not to think of VC dinners I’ve been at where I had the oddest name in the room, and there wasn’t a single woman there.
So now we’ve started trying to measure diversity, to chart it out and rank it. I think it’s valuable in one sense, to illuminate where we are really underrepresented. But I also worry that staring at one or two imprecise KPIs is not going to get us any closer to the world we want. The issue lies much deeper than simply watching a male/female % chart and declaring victory if it ticks up.
For instance in the rankings attached to Chamath’s piece, why do Asians count as an ethnic group but Arabs do not (perhaps surveyors were making the common mistake of confusing ethnicity with race?). Similarly, Erica Joy wrote yesterday about her experience at a Google event on diversity where “there was no mention of any other forms of diversity besides ‘women’”
Once we are talking about women, and African Americans, shouldn’t we also be talking about socio-economic diversity as well? Ultimately, we should also hire more LBGT, Arabs, Turks, Asians, Kenyans, rural Kentuckians, etc.
I have now made some personal rules now about investments I will make, events I am willing to attend or promote, but I want to be able to do more. And in order for us all to do better, we need to enlist one of our best traits, our culture of learning.
We have been teaching each other about the craft of startups every day, from LTV calculations, to K rates, to how to manage people. Now let’s talk through the mechanics of how to build a startup culture that is still a tribe, but one that self-organizes around valuing differing backgrounds.
We should do these things not to make a diversity ranking chart go up, and not even as a moral imperative (although that’s a good enough reason). We should do it because seeking out differing views and maintaining the outsider mentality has allowed so many wonderful things to be created here.
From Apple to eBay, and more recently from Lynda.com to Postmates, there are stories again and again of immigrants and outsiders pushing through and finding a way to make their dent in the world in this town.
It’s why I’m here, to help us all build the largest group of outsiders ever assembled.
Thanks to Andrew Parker, Kevin Thau, Lo Toney, Maureen Fan, Sara Mauskopf, and Siqi Chen for reading drafts of this post.
Charles Eames is a hero of mine, as you may have noticed the quote on the top of this blog is from him. He and his wife Ray were amazing designers, but they were also hugely influential in how everyone from a graphic design student to startups to Apple thinks about the process of designing today.
It’s his birthday today, so I wanted to share notes from a 1949 talk he gave at UCLA called “Advice to Students.” It’s masterful, and I think of the last line often.
Make a list of books
Develop a curiosity
Look at things as though for the first time
Think of things in relation to each other
Always think of the next larger thing
Avoid the “pat” answer — the formula
Avoid the preconceived idea
Study well objects made past recent and ancient but never without the technological and social conditions responsible
Prepare yourself to search out the true need — physical, psychological
Prepare yourself to intelligently fill that need
The art is not something you apply to your work
The art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude toward it
Design is a full time job
It is the way you look at politics, funny papers, listen to music, raise children
Art is not a thing in a vacuum —
No personal signature
Economy of material
Avoid the contrived
Apprentice system and why it is impractical for them
No office wants to add another prima donna to its staff
No office is looking for a great creative genius
No office — or at least very few — can train employees from scratch
There is always a need for anyone that can do a simple job thoroughly
There are things you can do to prepare yourself — to be desirable
orderly work habits
ability to bring any job to a conclusion
a presentation that “reads” well
willingness to do outside work and study on a problem…
the primitive spear is not the work of an individual, nor is it a good tool or utensil.
To be a good designer you must be a good engineer in every sense: curious, inquisitive
Today we are announcing Kevin Thau is joining us as a General Partner based in our new office in San Francisco. My partners and I have known Kevin for nearly 10 years, having served on a board of directors at one of Kevin’s companies for pretty much the entire time we have been in business at Spark. In many ways we grew up together in this business. We know each other, work well together and have the highest regard for his character.
Yesterday bijan and I took live video for a test drive with Periscope, and since they are still in private beta we recorded it for posterity. Here’s a dropbox link to the video or you can listen to it in podcast form above.
We talked about Periscope & Meerkat, the Apple Watch, and the state of seed and late stage valuations in startups.
The very first meeting I had with Bastian, the Co-Founder and CEO of Postmates, was in their old dingy office in the Mission. It was a multi-hour deep dive into the business, on everything from pricing models, to courier earnings, to user experience. But the moment that has stuck out the most since then was when I asked why Postmates was focused on food.
Postmates since the very beginning has described themselves not just as a food delivery business, but a logistics platform. When I asked Bastian “why food as a focus then?” he immediately got animated, in that way he often does, and started talking a lot about liquidity.
He drew on the whiteboard an x/y graph that charted out everything that Postmates could possibly deliver. It was a pretty exhaustive list. On the Y axis he put the size of each market, and then quite insightfully on the X axis he put frequency of use.
His assertion was that you were teaching consumers a new behavior: that you could get anything from your city to your door in minutes. If he converted a single person to love the service, he wanted to focus on a category that would be purchased frequently, so that merchants and couriers (Postmates) could see the most benefit from one converted customer.
Of course he wanted to be a logistics platform eventually, but restaurants were the thing in that upper right quadrant, the only thing that consumers would buy multiple times a week. Basically, what Beanie Babies and other collectibles were to eBay, restaurants were going to be for Postmates. Only in this case the frequency was even more important because unlike eBay, Uber, and other two-sided marketplaces he was building a three sided marketplace: between couriers, merchants and consumers.
That bet paid off. A focus on local merchant food delivery allowed Postmates to build the largest on-demand delivery network, with nearly 10k Postmates. They built a network large enough that by late last year they were ready to roll out their logistics platform and API. And after a few months beta period, today they announced their first major partnership with Starbucks.
Obviously Starbucks is a pretty amazing partnership on its own. They have over 21,500 locations across the country, and are the #1 mobile commerce app in the U.S. That will of course mean higher growth for the company, but as with any marketplace it’s also a big benefit for the other participants, namely for a Postmate delivering goods, and for a merchant listing their goods on the service.
Higher volumes will allow a Postmate to do more deliveries per hour, increasing their earnings. That will in turn cause the network of Postmates to grow even faster. More Postmates doing deliveries will mean faster service for consumers. And more consumers and Postmates will create a better experience for local merchants trying to compete with the big guys.
Today is certainly a congrats for establishing a long term partnership with Starbucks, starting in Seattle and then rolling out across the country. But it’s also the fruition of a long-layed plan to building a pretty magical service, everything in your city at the touch of a button.
This is a video from a talk I gave from a few months back on adapting OKRs to the realities of startup life, with a brief write-up on the Spark blog for those not video inclined. There is a part 2 of this that Jon Tien did that is pretty awesome, hopefully we get to post that in the future.
“Founders who raise money should act as if it’s the last they’ll ever get. Because the self-reinforcing nature of this situation works the other way too: the less you need further investment, the easier it is to get.”