The Twenty Minute VC takes you inside the world of Venture Capital, Startup Funding and The Pitch. Join host Harry Stebbings and discover how you can attain funding for your business by listening to what the most prominent investors are directly looking for in startups, providing easily actionable tips and tricks that can be put in place to increase your chances of getting funded.
Santi Subotovsky is a General Partner @ Emergence Capital, one of the valley’s leading venture firms of the last decade focusing on enterprise & SaaS applications. Within their incredible portfolio is the likes of Salesforce, Zoom, Box, Veeva Systems, SuccessFactors and many more. As for Santi, he has led deals in the likes of Zoom, Crunchbase, Clearbanc, Top Hat and Chorus.ai to name a few. Before Emergence, Santi founded AXG Tecnonexo, a SaaS e-learning company in Argentina which he expanded to 150+ employees across Latin America and the U.S. Santi is also a founding board member of Puente Labs, an organization that helps founders of Latin American high-potential growth companies scale their businesses globally.
1.) How Santi made his way from founding a Latin American EdTech business to being one of the valley’s most successful investors of 2019 with Zoom’s IPO? What was the biggest barrier he faced when getting into VC? How did he overcome it?
2.) What does Santi believe his superpower as an investor is? What did Santi see in Eric Yuan and the 30 person team at the time that made him believe they would be successful? What made how Eric thinks about presents product so special? What did the relationship building process look like between Eric and Santi in the early days?
3.) How does Santi like to work with his portfolio companies? How does Santi think about time allocation across the portfolio? Why does Santi believe it is crucial to not just spend time with the CEO but the exec team also? Where does Santi most like to provide value and leverage to the CEO? Why does Santi believe all VCs are just sales reps?
4.) Why does Santi believe that a vertically focused fund is the optimal strategy to pursue today? What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks? How does Santi think about the obvious overlap between consumer and enterprise today? With the thematic focus, how does Santi think about loss ratio and batting average? How does Emergence approach the element of both ownership and price? Where do they optimise?
5.) With larger and larger funds, how does Santi see the future of venture? Why does he believe that we will see vertically focused capital-as-a-service? What does this look like in reality? Is Santi concerned by the extended window of privatisation that is now present in today’s capital markets? How concerned is Santi by the compression of fundraising timelines and what does that to investor <> founder relationships?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the Founder @ HitRecord, the startup that allows you to be creative, together, encouraging less self-promotion and more collaboration, so you can create things you couldn’t have made on your own. To date, Joe has raised funding from some personal favourites of mine in the form of Alex @ Javelin, Masterclass Founder David Rogier, Twitch Founder Kevin Lin and CrossLink Capital just to name a few. Alongside his role with HitRecord, Joe is also an A-List Hollywood Actor and filmmaker starring in some of my favourite films of all time including The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, 10 Things I Hate About You and many many more.
1.) How Joseph made his way into the world of technology and startups with the founding of HitRecord? How did much of Joe’s early acting career inform much of the HitRecord product today?
2.) Having had such success in the acting world, what caused Joe to really push forward with HitRecord? Question from David @ Masterclass: who has been Joe’s biggest mentors in his transition to tech? What have been his biggest takeaways from them? How does Joe balance both being an actor and entrepreneur at the same time? What are the challenges?
3.) Why did Joe decide now was the time to raise VC funds for HitRecord this late into the company life? How does Joe approach the element of investor selection? What specific value add did Joe want to see in his potential investor? How did the pitch process go? How does it compare to presenting for a role in the acting world? What was Joe’s biggest lesson about what successful technology pitches do?
4.) When Joe thinks about the HitRecord community, what has surprised him the most with the growth of the community? Why have they purposefully decide to never spend on user acquisition or traffic? What is the strategy behind this? What is Joe’s biggest advice to individuals wanting to scale their community and the essentials?
5.) How does Joe assess both the content and social media landscape today? Why is the creative spirit of the world being killed by the current ad model of social platforms? How does Joe think this can be countered and where does HitRecord fit into this evolving landscape?
Byron Deeter is a Partner @ Bessemer Venture Partners where he has established himself as one of the leading investors in SaaS and Cloud authoring the iconic laws on the state of cloud computing. In terms of track record, fourteen of Byron’s investments are valued above one $1 billion, including eight IPOs and counting. Byron’s investments include the likes of Twilio, Intercom, SendGrid, Gainsight, Box, DocuSign and many more. Prior to the world of venture, Byron was a Bessemer Founder raising his Series A from them back in 2000 with Trigo Technologies. The company rapidly scaled to profitability and was acquired by IBM.
1.) How Byron made his way into the world of venture from founding Trigo Technologies and selling to IBM in 2005? How have seeing multiple booms and busts impacted Byron’s investment mentality today?
2.) What the heck is going on in cloud today? Is Byron concerned by the very rich multiples being paid in the ecosystem today? How does Byron think about how public market performance impacts his day to day role investing? Why does Byron believe that the floodgate for cloud IPOs is about to burst open?
3.) Having seen so many cloud IPOs, what should founders take from the lessons of those that have already been so successful? With 14 $Bn companies, what does Byron attribute his investing success to today? How does Byron think about what he wants to invest in today? Are we in an entirely new wave of cloud?
4.) As a former founder, how does Byron think that he engages differently with founders than more financial backgrounded VCs? What can board members really do to build that trusted relationship with the founder in the early days? Is it good for founders and board members to be friends? Is there a line of professionalism that has to be drawn?
5.) How has Byron seen his style of board membership change over the last decade? What would his advice be to someone who has just gained their first institutional board seat? What does Byron believe makes the best board members? What founder he has worked with most excels when it comes to board management? What made them so extraordinary?
Alex Rodrigues is the Founder & CEO @ Embark, the world’s leading developer of self-driving trucks. Embark operates the longest automated freight route in the world. To date, Alex has raised over $47m in funding for Embark from some of my favourites in the form of Pat Grady @ Sequoia, Matt Ocko @ Data Collective, SV Angel and Y Combinator, just to name a few. As for Alex, it started early with his winning a World Robotics Championship while he was in Middle School (the championship was for adults). Post that incredible achievement he dropped out of Waterloo, became a Thiel Fellow, worked as a software engineer @ Nuance Communications, before joining Khan Academy as a software engineer and also teaching robotics @ Khan Lab School.
1.) How Alex made his way from winning World Robotics Championships while he was in Middle School to founding the leader developer of autonomous trucks in Embark?
2.) Why does Alex believe in the medium to long term, self-driving is still under-hyped? What is the market analysis to support this? How did his meetings with the world’s best public markets investors impact his thinking here? How does Alex think about adoption timelines for self-driving? How do investors think about this when investing?
3.) Does Alex believe that when it comes to self-driving vehicles, they will largely be a public utility? What ownership mechanism does Alex expect to see? What are the pros and cons associated with each? How does Alex think about ownership of the data generated through self-driving? How do we balance privacy and public safety?
4.) With such large milestones and proof points in self-driving, how does Alex think about effective goal setting? What are the core KPIs to be driving for? How can they be broken into more meaningful and achievable wins for the team to get around? What is the core challenge to morale maintenance when the challenge is so long term?
5.) Where does Alex see the commonalities in the biggest mistakes that young founders make? What does Alex know now that he wishes he had known at the start? What have been Alex’s biggest lessons on hiring the world’s best in their respective fields? What have been Alex’s biggest takeaways when it comes to successful board management?
Pat Grady is a Partner @ Sequoia, one of the world’s leading and most renowned venture firms with a portfolio including WhatsApp, Zoom, Stripe, Airbnb, Github and many more incredible companies. As for Pat, at Sequoia he co-leads the firms growth investment team and has been involved with some of the true greats, Hubspot, Zoom, Okta, Qualtrics, the list goes on. Prior to Sequoia Pat spent three years with Summit Partners.
1.) How Pat made his way from Summit Partners to co-leading Sequoia’s growth investment team? Was it intimidating for Pat entering a partnership with Jim Goetz, Don Valentine, Roelof Botha? How did he manage those nerves?
2.) So many different funds and activities, so what is Sequoia focused on today? Where does Sequoia think about their ideal insertion point today? How do they see the deployment of their blended capital across rounds? Does Pat believe in ownership on first check or building ownership over time? How does Pat think about the extended window of privatisation with IPOs being continuously delayed?
3.) Does Pat believe that VC really is a team sport today? Does Pat agree with Josh Kopelman’s statement, “I would rather be a better picker of partners than investments”? What are the core requirements, skills and traits that Sequoia looks for when adding to their partnership?
4.) What is the investment decision-making process at Sequoia? How do they feel about unanimity vs conviction based investment decisions? What are the pros and cons of each? What does Pat believe is the most non-obvious investment decision that Sequoia have made? Sequoia run an incredibly rigorous process when investing, how does Pat balance between that level of rigour with the speed to win the deal?
5.) What advice would Pat give to someone that has just gained their first institutional board? What does Pat know now that he wishes he had known when he started in VC? How does Pat think about time allocation across the portfolio? Concentrate on winners or the strugglers are where your reputation is built? Leading Sequoia Growth and with a beautiful family, how does Pat approach work/life balance?
Steven Galanis is the Founder & CEO @ Cameo, the startup that allows you to book personalised shoutouts from your favourite people. To date, Steven has raised over $65m in VC funding for Cameo from some of the very best in the business including Bedrock, Nicole Quinn @ Lightspeed, Kleiner Perkins and Spark Capital, just to name a few. Prior to founding cameo, Steven was a Senior AE @ LinkedIn and before that was an options trader in Chicago. With their immense success, they have been featured in all major publications including The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Cameo has also been voted as “The Best Place To Work In Chicago” by GlassDoor.
1.) How Steven made his way from AE @ LinkedIn to revolutionising what an autograph means today with his founding of Cameo?
2.) What does Steven believe is the No 1 reason that startup founders fail with their startup today? Why does Steven believe that you have to give up your job to pursue your startup, even in the earliest of days? What advice does Steven give to founders and young graduates who approach him for advice in the earliest of days?
3.) As the company scales, how does Steven think about and approach role allocation internally? How does he prioritise hiring for them? How does he think about internal upscaling? How has he dealt with letting go of responsibilities and delegating to the team? What are the core challenges here? What does he advise founders facing this?
4.) Steven has said before, “don’t let good get in the way of great”, what did he mean by this? How does he determine between good enough and a stretch too far? How does Steven think about the statement of hiring for 6 months ahead of where you are? What have been his biggest lessons from scaling internationally so fast?
5.) How does Steven think about and approach investor selection? What can founders really do to leverage their investor base and get the most value from them? How does Steven think about the incredibly high CACs of the core channels today? What must founders in the world of consumer do to acquire customers more efficiently?
Bill Gurley is a General Partner @ Benchmark Capital, one of the most successful funds of the last decade with a portfolio including the likes of Uber, Twitter, Dropbox, WeWork, Snapchat, StitchFix, eBay and many many more. As for Bill, widely recognised as one of the greats of our time having worked with the likes of GrubHub, NextDoor, Uber, OpenTable, Stitch Fix and Zillow. Prior to Benchmark, Bill was a partner with Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. Before entering venture, Bill spent four years on Wall Street as a top-ranked research analyst, including three years at CS First Boston where his research coverage included such companies as Dell, Compaq, and Microsoft, and he was the lead analyst on the Amazon IPO.
1.) How did Bill make his way into the world of VC from Credit Suisse and come to be GP at one of the world’s leading funds in the form of Benchmark? What were Bill’s biggest takeaways from seeing the boom and bust of the dot com? How did that impact Bill’s investment mentality today?
2.) Why does Bill believe that one of the biggest challenges today is the abundance of capital? Subsequently, does Bill agree with Peter Fenton statement, “never turn down a deal based on the valuation it is a mental trap”? How does Bill assess his own price sensitivity? What was his learning here in meeting Larry and Serge early on with Google?
3.) How does Bill think about and approach market sizing today? How important is it to him when analysing an investment? Where does Bill believe a lot of managers make mistakes when assessing market sizing today? What was his big lesson here with Uber? How does Bill think about and evaluate market creation and market expansion plays?
4.) Bill has spent over 3,000 hours on some of the most famed boards of the last decade, how has Bill seen his style of board membership change over the last 10 years? What advice would you give to someone who has just joined their first board? How does Bill think about time allocation across the portfolio? What is the right ratio?
5.) How does Bill and Benchmark approach the element of partner selection today? What are the 5 core things that Bill looks for when adding to the partnership? What have Benchmark done that have allowed them to be so successful in generational transition? Why is an equal partnership so transformative when it comes to generational transition?
Justin Kan is the Founder and CEO @ Atrium, the startup providing a full-service corporate law firm that uses modern technology to give startups a legal experience that is fast, transparent, and price-predictable. To date, Justin has raised over $75m in funding from some of the best in the business including Founders Fund, a16z, First Round, General Catalyst, Thrive, Initialized and more. Prior to founding Atrium, Justin was a Partner @ Y Combinator, the globally renowned accelerator and the birthplace of some of today’s largest startups. Before that Justin was the Co-Founder @ Twitch, the world’s leading video platform and community for gamers which was acquired by Amazon for $970m. If that was not enough, Justin is also a prolific angel investor with investments in the likes of Cruise Automation, Rippling, Zenefits, Triplebyte and more.
1.) How Justin made his way into the world of startups and YC? How that led to the founding of Justin.TV, later Twitch? What was that a-ha moment for Atrium?
2.) Why did Justin feel that being an investor full time was not for him? How does Justin think about and approach the learning process as a founder? What advice does Justin give to those who want to quit? What was it that made Justin embrace the series of self-improvement habits he now practices?
3.) What does Justin mean when he says, “attaching yourself to outcomes will only cause your own suffering”? How does Justin think about and advise founders when it comes to burnout? How does Justin feel about the “crushing it” culture in tech? What can we do to normalise vulnerability? What were Justin’s biggest takeaways from “The Score takes Care of Itself”?
4.) What have been Justin’s experiences with therapy? How does he advise founders thinking of engaging with therapists? What have been his biggest lessons that drive success in therapy? How does Justin look to show authenticity through positivity? What does that really mean?
5.) What have been Justin’s biggest takeaways from “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership”? What are the core principles? What is required to roll out these values and principles within an organisation? What are the fundamental challenges to successfully roll this out on a large scale within your company?
Jonathan Hsu is Co-Founder & General Partner @ Tribe Capital, one of Silicon Valley’s newest funds on the block being founded by Jonathan, Arjun Sethi and Ted Maidenberg. To date, Tribe has invested in the likes of Carta, Cover, Mode Analytics, Prodigy and SFOX. As for Jonathan, before founding Tribe he was a Partner @ Social Capital where he utilized data and technology to augment sourcing, evaluation of investment opportunities and the management and value add for portfolio companies. Before that he led the creation of the analytics and data science team at Facebook, including leading the hiring of 200 of the world’s leading data scientists and analysts.
1.) How Jonathan made his way from leading 200 data scientists at Facebook to the world of venture and founding his own firm in the form of Tribe Capital today?
2.) If we structure VC simplistically, there are 4 core components:
Sourcing: How does Jonathan think about the role of data in actively surfacing the best opportunities? that are the leading data fields that Jonathan would track? Why does Jonathan believe most early-stage firms are just using Linkedin Sales Navigator intelligently?
Evaluating: How does Jonathan think about the potential for data to really aid in the picking process? At what stage does this really become possible? How much data is required for data to evaluate opportunities?
Winning: Winning deals is seemingly a case of human relationships but how does Jonathan think intelligent data usage and benchmarking can actually help firms win the most competitive deals?
Value Add: How does Jonathan think about portfolio management with data? How does this differ from the more traditional “value add” that other VCs provide? Where are the common pitfalls Series A companies you work with face in not achieving product-market fit?
3.) Given the data-driven nature of the approach, does Jonathan think that there is an optimal portfolio construction? Why does Jonathan strongly believe that historical loss ratios are too high? Does data allow firms to really intelligently price these assets at the Series A and B? What are the challenges in pricing these assets so early?
4.) How does Jonathan think about reserve allocation? Why is data more critical than ever in the decision to re-invest or not? What are the leading data signals that Jonathan looks for when determining reserve allocation? Why does Jonathan think that so many firms go wrong in how they approach reserve management and distribution?
5.) Question from Henry Ward @ Carta: What does N of 1 markets mean to you Jonathan? Why are they so inherently attractive? How do pricing dynamics play out in markets that are N of 1? How does Jonathan think about defensibility when analysing opportunities today? Is anything truly defensible anymore?
Brad Bao is the Co-Founder & CEO @ Lime, the startup that provides distribution of shared scooters, bikes and transit vehicles, with the aim to reduce dependence on personal automobiles for short distance transportation. To date, they have raised over $775m in funding from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, GV, IVP, Uber, Fifth Wall, GGV, Atomico and Bain Capital Ventures just to name a few. As for Brad, prior to founding Lime he was Managing Partner @ Kinzon Capital for close to 6 years and before that spent an incredible 8 years at Tencent in numerous different roles including VP of Business Development for Tencent Games and General manager for Tencent’s US branch where he was responsible for Tencent’s US operations.
1.) How Brad made his way into the world of technology with Tencent, how that led to the world of investing and then what was that a-ha moment for the founding of Lime? How did Brad’s time with Tencent impact his operating mentality today with Lime?
2.) With significant levels of competition, how does Brad assess the competitive landscape today for micro mobility? Does Brad believe customer loyalty comes into play in the segment? Is capital itself a defensible moat in this market? Why is Brad adamant that it is important to spend $0 on marketing? What does this say about the product?
3.) How does Brad think about technological innovation within the space? Does it subscribe to Moore’s law in the advancement of the core components? How does Brad think about inherent trade-offs that have to be made in product decisions? How does Brad think about prioritising for unit cost vs product superiority? Why can you not have it all?
4.) How does Brad think about launching new cities? What does it take to win in those geographies? What are all the necessary parts to setup when entering a new location? What is the biggest determinant of a location success? Density? Maturity?
5.) Brad has assembled a truly world-class exec team, what does Brad think it takes to attract truly A* talent? When should founders really start to think about building out their own exec team? What does Brad believe it is that makes his partnership with Toby Sun work so well? What have been his learnings from the development of that relationship?