Homebrew Funding Announcement: Primary, Brilliant Kids Clothes/Basics Under $25

It’s always a blast to help founders celebrate their startups. Today we couldn’t be more thrilled to share the launch of Primary. Premise is simple: There’s a gap in baby/toddler/kid clothing around high quality but affordable basics – you know, the stuff they wear, and wear-out, from 0-10 years old. Galyn and Christina, Primary’s founders, are thoughtful talented leaders who are no strangers to this market segment, having previously held leadership roles at Diapers.com.

As we note on the Homebrew blog:

Kids apparel brands are typically at two far ends of the spectrum – either high fashion and expensive or ordinary and of poor quality. There is no kids apparel brand that delivers the combination of quality, value and delight. Say hello to Primary.

Proud to not just be an investor In Primary, but with a little girl in our house, a customer as well!

Couple sidenotes:

1. We have four core investments in NYC (Primary, Managed by Q, The Skimm and one other to be announced). 50% of our NYC founders are female. Across the rest of the portfolio (SF, Salt Lake City) that number is regrettably zero. Looking forward to changing that ratio but great to see NYC leading the way.

2. This is our first co-lead with Michael Dearing (Harrison Metal). Satya and I have lots of respect for Michael and his background in commerce, marketing/branding, pricing is a huge win here for the team.

3. If you want one year of free shipping on Primary use promo code “HUNTER”

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Midas List 2020: Forerunner’s Eurie Kim (and Why Company Names Matter to Her)

Forerunner Ventures is one of Homebrew’s favorite co-investors for consumer commerce/retail startups. Firm founder Kirsten Green has an amazing analytical mind combined with empathy for the consumer. Since talent attracts talent, it’s not surprising Kirsten built a small community around her that also shines, notably Eurie Kim. We got to know Eurie over the last two years via our work together and I asked her to share some of her stories here…

Hunter Walk: What was your path to VC and more specifically, to Forerunner?

Eurie Kim: My path to VC was a very serendipitous one. After spending most of my career in some form of investing and entrepreneurship related to the consumer / retail sector, it all came together when I met Kirsten Green (founder of Forerunner Ventures) through a Wharton classmate and close friend (Mitchell Green, founder of Lead Edge Capital). Kirsten and I immediately hit it off and we both realized that we shared many similar career experiences and certainly shared a passion for investing in the consumer space.

At the time, no one was investing in early stage consumer companies — it wasn’t a “thing” yet. So when Kirsten described her vision for Forerunner, I was hooked. Forerunner represented the best of both worlds to me – an opportunity to invest in new and innovative consumer businesses combined with an opportunity to build a new and innovative venture capital firm.

HW: Is venture still an “apprenticeship” business? 

EK: Absolutely. I find it incredibly valuable (and fun) to work closely with Kirsten, who has been investing in the consumer space for her entire career. I would echo common thinking that much of venture investing relies heavily on pattern recognition, domain expertise, and intuition — all of which takes time to amass. A key benefit of working closely with trusted partners who have experienced business and investing cycles ebb and flow is that you can leverage their perspectives to hone your own thinking and move up the curve faster than doing it on your own.

HW: Forerunner focuses on commerce and brands. Why is this such a great time for innovation in those areas?

EK: It is such an exciting time to be a consumer. Every aspect of our lives are being disrupted with technology (specifically the mobile phone) and not one category will go untouched. Ambitious entrepreneurs are setting out to disrupt formidable incumbents across every product, service and experience. Consumers now value authentic brands that connect with them on a more personal level, which is creating opportunities for up-starts to gain momentum and loyalty from consumers. In today’s world where product and access are largely ubiquitous, and price is a terrible thing to compete on, we stand by our motto that customer experience is the last frontier to differentiate on to become a leading brand and a lasting company. We’re excited to be on the forefront of this wave as the next generation of consumer brands come to life.

HW: Both you and Kirsten have deep strategy/investment experience but less operational experience, at a time when some might claim early stage VC is tilting towards the hands-on model. How do you convey to founders why your backgrounds are valuable to them?

EK: It’s a great question. We value operational experience greatly and we spend a lot of time expanding our network to include industry leaders and experts both in traditional consumer/retail companies as well as leaders of top growth stage brands to support our founders. That said, we also benefit from having begun investing in this iteration of the consumer cycle at arguably its inception with investments in companies like Warby Parker, Bonobos, Birchbox, and we’ve found that collaborating closely with the great founders in our portfolio has given us unique insights into the challenges and best practices of leading early stage commerce companies.

We also have a very active investment model that allows us to work closely with our companies on everything from strategic planning, operations, marketing / customer acquisition, and team building, which we are able to leverage across most of our portfolio companies given they all share similar sector focus and brand orientation. Also not to be overlooked is the benefit that founders find in being a part of a very focused portfolio, where many of our founders have partnered together on campaigns or shared best practices that are extremely relevant and timely across the community.

HW: What’s a favorite question you ask founders during your “get to know you/due diligence” process?

EK: How did you come up with your company name? Seriously, it’s fascinating to learn how a founder gave life to their company’s identity — and since we tend to connect more with really authentic brand voices, the story behind a name quite often sets the tone.

Second to that is – why are you uniquely qualified to solve THIS problem. Ideally the founder has experiences that allow them to have a differentiated viewpoint on the challenges and solutions that are relevant to the problem they are seeking to solve.

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Foursquare’s Noah Weiss on The App Split and Becoming a Product VP That Founders Can Trust

Foursquare’s VP of Product Noah Weiss is a friend from my Google days. They made a bold choice last year to split the Foursquare experience into two apps, one focused on local discovery and the other on social check-in. It was – and continues to be – debated widely. Foursquare’s been an easy company to root for but one which is working its way through the evolution from darling startup to larger company. I asked Noah to reflect a bit on the role of product management and the app split…

Hunter Walk: How would you compare Foursquare’s style of product management vs Google?

Noah Weiss: I think the type of product managers we hire are very similar: technical, data-driven, strong product insights/strategy. People who are productivity nuts, great writers, and team-builders.

The biggest differences comes from scope and time horizon. At Google, a typical project at this point is something like the visualizations in AdWords’ reporting interface. At Foursquare, PMs have end-to-end use cases like our entire push recommendations effort or the whole local search experience. You trade scale of users for scope of project. This means PMs at Foursquare have a whole slew of responsibilities that PMs at Google rarely touch like product-level roadmap planning, owning and driving company-level growth metrics, and working directly with marketing on user acquisition. It’s much more transferrable to founding and running your own company one day than growing great at getting layers of exec buy-in at Google.

On time horizon, Google is one of the few companies who can have a 10+ year runway for a project. I’m jealous of that now. At most other firms, Foursquare included, long-term thinking is usually 6-12 months out. You are building on a much wobblier foundation, which means you have to constantly reopen the most painful of existential questions for a PM: “Are we investing in the biggest impact projects given our limited resources these next 3-6 months?”

HW: The app split into 4Sq and Swarm. Pretty controversial among some of your users. Was it equally debated internally or did everyone just say “yeah, we need to try this?”

NW: Internally we still debate whether we figured out the perfect plan! It’s hard to ever know whether we made the right decision on what service got the Foursquare brand. We decided to give the bigger addressable audience service — personalized local recommendations — the existing Foursquare brand since the brand had (relatively) huge consumer awareness, even though we knew we would have to adjust people’s expectations. We debate whether social or search should have been split out into a second app, though the logic of giving local search a jump start and moving our stickiest check-in users to a separate app still makes sense. There are counterfactuals you can never answer everywhere you look.

So yeah, it was controversial then and the tactics are still interesting to debate now. I wrote a post on the “Lego Block Exercise” we did when we were in the throes of figuring this all out. The decision to split the app was the least contentious part of the plan. There was a smoking gun stat that only 5% of sessions had both social and search actions. Two dedicated apps for these very different use cases seemed obvious.

HW: Dennis [Crowley, 4Sq founder/CEO] has been working on location products for a very long time. As product lead, how do you introduce new ideas that maybe run counter to his POV?

NW: Dens came up with and owns our product vision. As he often says: “Someday, hundreds of millions of people will carry a piece of software in their pocket that will tell them all the great things to do around them, help them find their friends, and save money.” Everyone in the company has rallied around this and it guides all the features we work on.

Product strategy is how we get from where we are today to that future. Dens is really focused on the vision and the little big details of the features we ship. The spectrum of product work in between is something I take a more active role in leading, along with our other eng/product/design leads. Our job is to devise a route for the features we need to build get us to his north star.

Because we all buy into the vision and because Dens trusts me guiding the roadmap after 4+ years, we rarely disagree on the big things. We often disagree about the little things — does that button really need a label, or are these the right default search filters — but these matter very little in the end. We are both usually happy to concede to whoever has a stronger (and more informed, hopefully) conviction in a direction.

HW: You guys have a pretty amazing Board of Directors. Any advice you recall that particularly stands out?

NW: I think just one of our investors puts us in the 90th percentile of startup boards. All of our investors combined — Albert, Barry, Ben, Bijan, Bryce — must put us in the 99.9th percentile. We are lucky to have them, their advice, and their patient capital.

One of the most memorable pieces of advice was back when we first started monetizing the service in 2012. Ben said something to the effect of, “You are one of the rare companies where the ways you’ll make money don’t need to hurt the consumer experience, and should often help it.” This has guided a lot of revenue efforts, where we have invested a ton of people and technology into making in-app ads relevant by powering it with the same signals as our organic recommendation engine. Our vision is to build tools to connect businesses with people who would love them and drive real foot traffic. The board’s advice has also led us to focus on ways to monetize the service outside of our app, such as through our rapidly growing off-network advertising efforts and our data licensing business.

HW: How does someone fresh out of undergrad break into product management as a career?

NW: Start by taking a wide-range of classes, not just computer science. Get technical, but know being the best engineer won’t necessarily make you the best PM. I’d recommend classes in design, economics, stats, cognitive psychology, and strategy/operations. Learn to write. Seriously. Especially after your first few years, the difference between good and great PMs often comes down to how succinctly and convincingly you can communicate in writing. I took two fiction writing classes at Stanford, which grew my writing in ways no other classes did.

Avoid PM internships. Good ones are very hard to find, and you’re better off getting your hands dirty as an engineer or UX designer.

For your first job, I think more established companies with strong PM functions provide a great paid form of grad school. PMs aren’t born; they aren’t even really taught at university. They are grown. Find a place that will invest in training you. Avoid early stage startups where you’d be the first product person. You will have a ton of responsibility, but will be immediately underwater with no one to mentor you. If you have an idea you are passionate about and would work on for the next 5-7 years, then by all means try starting your own company. But you have your whole career to take that plunge, so keep a high bar and bias toward making your early and often mistakes at a company where you have much less on the line and much more support.

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How This Young, Female and Latina Investor Broke Into a Middle-Aged, Male and White Industry

Ana Diaz-Hernandez is part of the investing team at Kapor Capital. Mitch Kapor and Freada Klein have been substantial influences in my career and that of my wife’s as well (Mitch was an original investor and Board chair of Linden Lab, where I worked, and my wife was ED of Level Playing Field Institute which Freada founded). Kapor Capital has some double bottom line principles they apply to investing and more generally, have been meaningful supporters of diversity in technology. Ana has been someone I’ve gotten to know better during the past two years and thought it would be fun to share her story.

Hunter Walk: Ok, a bit of backstory first. How’d you get involved with Kapor Capital?

Ana Diaz-Hernandez: I got into Kapor Capital the way many people get into venture – through my network. I grew up in southern Georgia and had no connection to Silicon Valley prior to undergrad at Stanford, so it was all new for me.

I fostered a personal connection with partners at the firm. I met Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein through mutual interests in advancing diversity in tech and began to learn about the great work they did through Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact. As a Latina in the startup world, the diversity work of the Kapor Center was very resonant. I had been interested in venture capital for a while, but it was our relationship, our values alignment, and the desire to work together on advancing social impact in technology startups that got me to join the team.

HW: Kapor Capital invests for social impact (in addition to financial returns) but that ‘social impact’ can mean different things to different people. How do you decide if a startup clears that bar?

ADH: Things that fit in our impact thesis* involve problems relating to addressing people’s most urgent hierarchy of needs: How do apps today get into the top 7 spot on a person’s iPhone? By addressing a need someone literally can’t live without.

We think tech has the opportunity to serve big markets of people that mainstream tech isn’t necessarily building products for: some of these markets include people of color, lower income folks, veterans.

We have 2 big principles:

a) You should aim to solve a problem that addresses people’s hierarchy of needs and serve a large, often underserved market. Our most frequent sectors are in Health, Edtech, Fintech, Labor platforms/Human Capital, and Urban Tech.

b) If lower income people can’t afford your product, there’s usually creative ways to think about reducing that cost to the end user. We look for entrepreneurs being creative on this front.

HW: You’re young, female and Latina in a venture world that’s largely middle aged, white and male. Do you see this industry changing over time?

ADH: I do see this phenomenon changing. Venture capital looks the way it does because the nature of the business is relationship driven. Increasingly, VC’s are realizing that addressing the needs of higher income people in urban areas won’t be enough to build many billion dollar businesses: that’s why they’ll eventually be drawn to recruit folks from more diverse perspectives to their teams to find deals that fit a different profile: that includes more women, people of color, and people who have personal experiences with social mobility.

I think a strong investor has good people skills, empathy, has strong product sense, has the ability to see problems from unconventional perspectives and suspend judgment, and has a good systemic view of the larger problems, not just following trends. Given these assumptions, there’s a whole lot of people who would be great investors and aren’t yet getting a shot.

HW: One sidenote on the Ellen Pao suit has been the debate around whether venture is still an “apprenticeship” business. Do you think so?

ADH: I actually attended the Pao trial earlier this week: it was a fantastic educational opportunity.

A big part of the testimony was around this issue of apprenticeship: Yes, I think pattern matching is a learned skill: we’re not born with this raw talent without tailoring it to the observations of the market. I think apprenticeship is one way to gain those skills. However, women (particularly women of color) can attest to how hard it is to get mentors.

In Pao’s case, she’s being slammed for being “too aggressive”, “back-channelling on deals”, or trying to lead on deals as a junior member of a team instead of paying her time as a “board buddy”: I find it hard to believe that a man doing those same things would have received the same response. Venture is a business where “aggressive” people (men) typically thrive, why would Pao not aim to do the same?

HW: Best career advice for people who want to try venture in their 20s?

ADH: The most valuable thing you have in your 20’s is your network. Build an amazing network of high value people, from many sectors, and you’ll be an invaluable member of a venture team. Nothing gets you ahead faster in venture than sourcing amazing deals because of your strong network.

I take my relationships very seriously: I believe deep, systemic issues require multi-disciplinary minds coming together. I work hard to bring together people who are taking radically different paths to address similar problems. It’s in those unconventional settings that amazing innovation happens. If you’re a driver of meaningful connections, people will want to work with you and you’ll be sure to have a place at the venture table.

* Kapor Capital invests in companies that close gaps in access to resources and opportunities for underserved communities, or otherwise engage in disruptive democratization of entire sectors. For more information on our investment criteria please visit our website: http://www.kaporcapital.com/criteria/

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Writing When You Might Be Wrong

I get asked for blogging tips a lot by other investors or entrepreneurs, most of whom aren’t writing consistently and imagine they should be. “Time” is usually the blocker that everyone identifies but when you press on what exactly that means, it’s less about nothing having a spare 30 minutes and more so about the ridiculously long time it takes them to write something. What’s the culprit behind this cumbersome burden? Not dislike of writing, not desire for perfect grammar, not even lack of topics. No, the issue is often the need to be right. To feel 100% confident in what you’re putting out there and aggrandize the post to encompass the whole history, theory and current state of some topic. Wow, what a mindfuck. My advice is to not worry so much. Instead of writing the definitive post, just pick one aspect and riff a bit. Share what you know, what you think and see what happens.

So what does happen? Sometimes nothing. But other times something awesome: people bring you knowledge in return. They’ll tell you why you’re right or wrong. Add their data to you hypothesis. Like when we put Homebrew’s WhatIfs out there (list of ideas we’d like to discuss startups around), it’s not because we’re telling everyone that we’ve figured it but instead hoping to attract people who just might have. Take for example, a post I wrote interviewing a local art studio owner.

It caught the eye of an awesome artist/technologist/founder who met me for coffee this morning and got me a whole lot smarter about the problems she sees in the art market. And how she’s working to solve them. Great 30 minute chat that made me think more/differently about a topic I had briefly considered. Love it.

So don’t write only because you know you’re right and have it all figured it out. Write because it attracts other people who can help test your arguments, augment your data or teach you something new.

Meerkat & The Value of ‘Slow Graphs’

Bootstrapping off another social network is “fast graph” -> you get quick set of connections but they aren’t specific to your use case

“Fast graph” also can lead to less commitment from users bec they put no time into actually permissioning, etc

“Slow graph” uses find friends, contact list, etc but makes user choose who to follow. Slower growth but a graph native to the service.

Snapchat is great example of Slow Graph. WhatsApp too. Meerkat can focus on Slow Graph — doesn’t mean slow growth, means native connections

Basically, w/o twitter, meerkat has smaller chance of going 10x in a week but IMO better chance of being 100x in a year.

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Klout Founder Joe Fernandez on Hype Cycles, Lessons Learned & Rapping to His Dog

Klout’s start and finish are both stories of perseverance. CEO Joe Fernandez conceived of the idea while recovering from recovering from jaw surgery – very Kanye. He probably didn’t expect it would be as controversial – some people had very strong negative reactions to the idea of a third party rating their influence – given that the original intent was aimed helping identify what you know about and connecting you to other people with similar interests and expertise. I got to know Joe while Klout was heating up because it turns out we share a love of not just social products but hip hop, pinball and magic. After watching my friend remain a committed leader when others might have abandoned hope, it was awesome to see Joe land Klout with a $200 million exit to Lithium in March 2014. I’ve always appreciated Joe’s honesty and he agreed to share some lessons learned with me.

Hunter Walk: Within social media echo chamber, Klout rode a hype cycle up and down prior to a successful exit. Emotionally must have been a difficult journey?
Joe Fernandez: It was intense. The biggest thing I learned is that you can’t get too high or too low. Things are never as good as the press makes it out to be and are rarely as bad. As a team I believe we did a relatively good job staying focused on the big picture. We were able to do this through our commitment to the mission we set out to achieve. We knew we were doing something controversial and we did our best to own it (Klout employees refer to themselves as Kloutlaws). We also knew that what we were doing – helping people be recognized for the power of their voices – was important and it was worth whatever shots we might take to accomplish that goal.
HW: With 20/20 hindsight, any strategic or tactical decisions that you would have done differently at Klout?
JF: I now believe there are two ways to build a company. You can flawlessly execute your way to a good outcome or you can nail product market fit in such a major way that most of your mistakes are forgiven and you likely see a massive outcome. So with 20/20 hindsight, I would go back and really nail product market fit on at least one thing rather than always experimenting across multiple initiatives. The success that might have been driven out of this could have given us the air cover to live and learn through a lot more strategic and tactical errors.
HW: Some Klout alums have gone on to big time jobs (eg Emil at Uber). Were there consistent attributes you look for among your early hires?
JF: There is nothing I am more proud of than seeing all the cool companies that Kloutlaws are joining in key roles or starting themselves. Besides the fact that I worked with these people and know how talented they are, I am not surprised by their successes. The consistent attribute that bonds all of these people is the desire to take on nearly impossible challenges. You need a certain pioneering mindset to sign up to build something like Klout. We set out to analyze data at a Google type scale to create a standard around what had previously been an unquantifiable emotion. The technical, product, marketing and PR challenges to accomplish this attracted the bold and strong willed. Obviously I am biased but I think you would be hard pressed to find a more battle tested crew in the valley.
HW: Homebrew wasn’t around when Klout started, but what would I need to do to back your next company – what do you look for in a seed investor?
JF: My seed investor expectations are pretty straightforward: Talk about how awesome my company is every chance you get. Give me insights into what you are seeing get traction in the market. Be a reality check on the metrics I need to show for my next round. Give good product and strategy feedback. And finally, be comfortable having difficult and intense conversations in sketchy taquerias.
HW: You’ve admitted to changing hip hop lyrics to be “dog-relevant” when singing to your pet – such as “bones will make her dance” – do you know how weird that is?
JF: It’s funny how bummed my dog gets when I do this. I do think it’s important to have a Plan B if this whole startup thing doesn’t work out. My fallback is to be the Weird Al of novelty dog hip hop songs. Might drop a Drake inspired mixtape at Petsmart.
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