God bless Gené Teare for now I have something which explains what I do all day in a format my parents can grok. As part of Seed Series for Crunchbase News, Gené wrote up an extended interview with me and Satya. She told us we were the first time in the series that two partners were interviewed together. That’s really emblematic of what Homebrew is – not one of us plus the other, but the combination of us both – and hopefully in a “sum greater than its parts” type of way.
So much capital is coming into the seed stage. There’s no capital gap structurally at the seed stage. Maybe there was 15 years ago. That doesn’t mean that fundraising is equitable or easy. That’s a whole other discussion. But there’s lots of capital.
All companies at this stage really have to do three things well. They have to build a product, distribute that product, and build a team. So that’s where we spent a lot of time.
We always co-invest. We’re big believers that syndicates of real value at the seed stage to get various skills, experiences, and relationships.
I hope when we turn off the lights, years and years from now, one of the things we can say is we were the best version of who we wanted to be. We don’t want to be a junior version of Andreessen Horowitz, we don’t want to be First Round 2.0. We don’t want to be an incubator, accelerator, crypto, or whatever flavor of the month is.
Coffee brings me joy. I’m not overly precious about it – if Starbucks is the best available choice so be it – but living in a great coffee city like San Francisco, I don’t see much need to consume just an average cup, whether at home, Homebrew HQ, or working from a cafe. Accordingly here’s my 2019 State of Caffeine
I generally prefer lighter and medium roasts. And will err towards exploration of smaller roasters versus sticking to a single brand/region. That said, here are two recs:
TRADE COFFEE: a startup offering both subscription and a la carte selection of beans. You can complete a simple set of questions to get recommendations or just search/browse. A lot of wonderful regional roasters and some smaller brands I’d never heard of before. Working my way through a bunch of bags. In particular give Onyx (Arkansas) and Passenger (Lancaster, PA).
YESPLZ Coffee: Another coffee startup but one with a long heritage of commitment to beans. Cofounder Tony Konecny (aka Tonx) worked at some of the earliest third wave roasters before starting a subscription coffee site that exited to Blue Bottle. Once that noncompete expired, he went back at it, and with YESPLZ is focused on high quality affordable blends. It’s definitely coffee with love, and a cool zine is included in each order celebrating things unrelated to coffee. I’m on the monthly subscription plan which gives me a chance to include YESPLZ frequently in our office rotation.
I LOVED D&D as a kid and occasionally get excited about the idea of casually picking it back up in some form. A few weeks back I streamed Eye of the Beholder, a lovingly interview-driven nerdy documentary about the art of Dungeons and Dragons. Lots of fun and definitely sent me down some Google and Reddit rabbit holes to learn more about the original pieces. Apparently the Players Handbook cover is like the Mona Lisa – universal adoration.
Hunter Walk: Wait, I thought LinkedIn was a resume and recruiting site. What does a Daily News Managing Editor do there?
Katie Carroll: LinkedIn is definitely a destination to find a job, but it’s also the world’s largest professional network — and that means we have a lot of people talking to each other about their industries, careers and more. We’ve been building up our editorial team to support and grow those conversations, and now we have more than sixty editors across the globe.
One of the main things we focus on is daily news, whether that’s through the Daily Rundown — a digest of news for professionals, which now has 13 editions in eight languages — or our trending topics, which are editorially curated conversations from members. One of the biggest facets of my role is overseeing that news coverage for the UK and North America.
HW: So does the definition of what’s News skew specifically towards career, business and the like? How do you think about politically charged topics or business-related stories that are really provoking potentially polarizing societal questions?
KC: Absolutely, we focus on stories that affect the professional world. Even with political or potentially polarizing topics, our lens is always how the news impacts business. Brexit is a great example: We don’t focus on the party politics, but we will talk about what it means for the economy, jobs or various industries. And when we write about these stories, we stay neutral — but our goal with the curated trending topics is to showcase different perspectives around a certain issue. Earlier this year, for example, we put together a collection of posts from furloughed workers during the government shutdown.
HW: Do people pitch you company PR that’s dressed up as news? How do you decide what to promote and what happens to that content once you feature it? Where does it appear?
KC: We do get pitched stories, and we consider those pitches the same way any team of journalists would — namely, is there news value? What does this mean for the wider industry or professional landscape? If we think there is news value, we’ll cover it in one of our trending topics or the Daily Rundown. But the nice thing about LinkedIn is that people and companies can post directly on the platform themselves; it doesn’t need to reach an editor to take off, if the content is insightful and sparking great discussions.
HW: What are some examples of stories that “went viral” on LinkedIn above and beyond the mainstream coverage? ie Does LinkedIn have its version of “The Dress?”
KC: One recent example was a post about companies “infantilizing” the workplace — that people feel they need to explain why they can’t be accessible 24/7. It went blew up both on and off the platform and generated some amazing conversations about the state of our connected world and what that means for workers today.
HW: You’ve spent a lot of time in SF but are now based out of London. How do attitudes about technology company and startups compare across the two regions?
KC: I spent the formative years of my career in the Bay Area, so one of the things I’ve found most fascinating about being in London is observing a different tech scene. On one hand, there’s nothing like the education you get (often through osmosis) about startups and tech when you’re in San Francisco. You’re surrounded by it, which has its pros and cons.
On the other hand, London has a diversity — of background, thinking, industry — that gives it a different atmosphere as a tech hub. I think we’ve entered a phase in which, as the Center for American Entrepreneurship says, “the rise of the rest is global” — which means we’re going to get different kinds of products and ideas than we would if the resources and talent were still solely concentrated in California. And as much as I love the Bay Area, I think it’s valuable for anyone in that tech space to spend some time outside of it; it’s eye-opening and inspiring to be exposed to fresh perspectives.
“And this slide is where I’ll talk about Go To Market, and….” “STOP” I say. “We’re going to do this in real time.”
When pitch practicing there’s value in taking it s..l..o..w.. and going through it all in the same style you’re going to use when talking with new investors. Yeah the casual flip through the slides feels like an efficient use of time – and should be used as a way to test overall flow – but founders shouldn’t be shy about asking their investors, advisors, friends for the time to do a full practice pitch.
Somewhere around the fifth rehearsal you’ll start to find your stride. Have your test audience vary their interaction: hold questions for the end; interrupt mid-slide; expert pushing on assumptions; less informed observer who needs background on the industry. Goal is to get to the point where you’re consistently able to deliver the important key messages, while reading the room and creating + using the organic energy. Don’t try to be someone else, just the most awesome version of yourself. But if the first time you’re doing a realtime runthrough of your deck is in a live pitch, it’s unlikely to be your best.
While this hasn’t happened to any of our portfolio CEOs in a while, there’s one reason for a VC passing on a funding round that just sets me off: “I wanted to do the deal but couldn’t convince my partners.” This isn’t an explanation, it’s an excuse.
If you are a check-writing partner at a venture fund and you offer up this sentence to a startup CEO it means one of three things:
a) You blew the process by not enrolling your partnership
b) You didn’t want to put your neck on the line in the face of some resistance
c) You never believed in the first place, and are blaming your partners versus just passing
When I’m on the cap table I can help a founder navigate this to try and avoid going the distance with a potential investor. And if you’re a GP with tough firm dynamics, I can maybe help you navigate those. But if you put founding team through a full diligence and take them to a partner meeting, only to come back with this, RIP. [note: based on some feedback, I wanted to emphasize that I’m NOT saying all deals that go to a partner meeting should get approved. I’m saying that if it goes to a partner meeting and gets rejected, the sponsoring GP should own that rejection and give specific feedback to the CEO why they’re not going to do the deal. Not just apologize and pin it on the partnership.]
On the flip side, I do think it’s is fine for a VC to honestly say things like “we’ve got a lot of institutional scarring around your vertical so I’m going to need a little more time and help to get my partners comfortable.” Or, “I’m not going to be able to move as quickly as you need because of some firm dynamics, so unless you can stretch your timeline a bit, it might not make sense for us to take this forward.”
That’s all part of building trust and visibility for a CEO into the way you operate. And a founder working in an industry that has some hair on it, or is otherwise less understood by the generalist investor, is of course going to need to help their sponsor and her partners. Maybe I’ll write a separate post at some point about the process with investors who have a “prepared mind” for your startup versus those who are still developing their own thesis.
There’s a tiny hole on my resume. Now, 20+ years later you need to squint to see it, but it’s still there. I took the gig because I needed the money while in grad school, and, honestly, because maybe the startup could get public before it and the Web 1.0 bubble popped. And that combination of necessity and greed overwhelmed my better judgment.
It was a B2B Enterprise Software shop that really looked more like a dev team trying to turn services revenue into a scalable product. The employee base was a Venn diagram of (a) folks who knew something was off about the place – mostly in its leadership, but wanted to be part of fixing it, (b) grifters and (c) earnest professionals at the beginning of their careers who probably thought this was just what business was like.
When you’re young you hold every job on your resume so tightly – listing the month you started and the month you finished. “No gaps!” was what I recall the career center telling me. As if a seamless path was the dental equivalent of a glorious white smile and a few awkward career transitions became a boxer’s glove punching into your jaw and leaving bloody teeth in your hand, a pitted grin on your face. So I stayed a little longer at the job than I should have. Negative net worth meet negative self worth.
I don’t recall when I first removed the company from my resume. Did a length of time pass after I stepped away? Or did I just feel confident enough in my trajectory a few years later that no one was asking me about a couple month period between graduation and starting at Linden Lab? Reminds me of this tweet:
Regardless, after I became more understanding when interviewing candidates if there was a pause or a decision that didn’t work out the way they wanted. And perhaps they even had to take a step backwards before moving forward. Gap-toothed resumes have their own beautiful stories to tell.
14 for 14. Homebrew’s first fund (2013-2015) has 20 core investments of which 14 went market for a Series A. All 14 successfully completed this fundraise. The six who didn’t go out for a Series A either (a) shutdown/acquihired prior to this milestone [founder disagreement; lack of product traction], (b) exited due to an early M&A opportunity or (c) in one case, is currently an ongoing concern that hasn’t needed to raise additional capital.
I was thinking about this stat last month while preparing a slide deck for our annual LP meeting. As an industry we often say a startup “failed to raise” when a funding round doesn’t come together and while it’s factually correct, in some ways it strikes me as a downstream implication of a core issue: they didn’t fail to raise, they failed to execute. The company most likely did not accomplish the milestones required to move their business forward. The lack of a funding event was merely the endcap, not the cause.
Why do I raise this distinction? Because as an early stage lead investor one of our responsibilities is to help a company think through its strategy and provide feedback on the pace and quality of execution. If you’re executing well against the right strategy, funding will follow. Yes there’s a funding process and helping founders navigate that successfully is a key part of a venture investor’s value, but a CEO shouldn’t rely on “failing to execute but successfully raising” (even though this happens too).
So it makes me happy to look back and see so many Fund I companies who successfully executed in their early years. On the flip side, we had one team which “successfully executed but failed to raise” during a post-Series A fundraise. I still think about this one a lot because they did their job and the market just turned on them in ways they couldn’t fully control. While their execution wasn’t flawless it felt more than sufficient to get a round done. They “failed to raise” but we’d back that CEO again and again and again.
If you’re worried about fundraising, first worry about executing – and feedback on whether you’re executing on the right things. For the most part that’s under your control and it’s, in my experience, rare for a company that’s executing well to fail to raise a Series A.
I’ve lived in San Francisco long enough to consider myself a Local, if not a Native. But no number of elapsed years or distance can dull my strong attachment to New York City, my birth city. A combination of family and work obligations pull me back at least a half-dozen times annually. That frequency, plus some serendipity, has allowed me to inhabit my hometown during some interesting 21st century moments despite lacking residency. I was walking Manhattan’s streets a few days post-9/11 and the homemade “missing” flyers taped to any surface to which an adhesive would stick, still stands out vividly in my brain. Election nights where the streets were filled with celebration or with quiet resignation. Spontaneous celebrations following sports championships. The memories span all emotions.
In autumn I’m an especially frequent visitor – it’s my birth season, my favorite climate-wise, and the chance to get some last meetings done before the holiday months. So in September 2011 the pull of weather, family and work gave me enough reason to jump on a plane but those were all excuses. What I really wanted to see was Occupy Wall Street.
II. Occupy Wall Street
There hasn’t been much sustained IRL protest movement in America recently. Marches that last a few hours, sure – we’ve attended several since the Trump inauguration. Important displays of anger and resistance in the face of police brutality (St Louis, Baltimore, others). But these are episodic and then everyone returns to their normal day-to-day, often with very little having changed. Occupy Wall Street gripped me for a few reasons – its location was familiar to me, the grievances were varied (at first a feature, then a bug) and the tent city seemed to create actual consternation among public officials on how to proceed.
To refresh/remind folks about the Occupy movement:
Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, 2011, in Zuccotti Park, New York City.
The sentiment of uprising that led to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US has sometimes been attributed to the Tahrir Square revolution that happened in Egypt earlier in 2011.
So about my visit…. while I was suspect that this coalition of randoms – it started to attract anyone who had a progressive-leaning cause – could make a policy impact, I was impressed by the resourcefulness and dedication of those who disrupted their lives to tent up Wall Street. And started me wondering what type of outrage or frustration could catalyze an ongoing Occupy community, one that might even be 10x larger or more durable.
III. Occupy White House
I’m not a fan of the guy at 1600 right now. I’ve written more checks and spent more time on political issues since 2016 but it has all stayed within a box of “nights and weekends.” Funded out of appreciating assets rather than dollars which would impact my daily routine. But I carry a fear that one day I’ll wake up wishing I’d done more to push back against the destructive behavior this administration perpetrates on our institutions, norms and vulnerable peoples.
There are other citizens who share my alarm – some I know personally, some are just talking heads on TV and in the newspapers, some are Twitter accounts that might be real. Or not. But yet no real physical protest of durability has resulted. Day long marches, sure. But no Occupy White House. And certainly nothing at the scale we’ve seen recently in South Korea, where millions of people continued protesting corruption until they saw results.
I don’t have an answer for why there isn’t any meaningful Occupy White House movement that has the potential to minimally display ongoing resistance to this administration and, more hopefully, snowball into a call to action, at least by those who believe impeachment is the right answer. But I’ve ended up with three potential explanations – one Optimistic, one Realistic, one Pessimistic. Note, I’m not advocating for any of these or assuming a POV. Just trying to conceive of why something I’d expect to happen isn’t happening.
Optimistic – the ballot box works and the system isn’t broken (hold aside gerrymandering, voter suppression, $$$ influence and so on)! While the majority of Americans polled disapprove of Trump, the population as a whole haven’t lost trust in democracy, and will express this at the polls in 2020. This explanation gives a lot of importance to the 2018 midterms, when decisive victories by the Democratic party sent a message. Respect the wisdom of the crowd, and the crowd says we’re going to get through this.
Realistic – the average person’s life hasn’t been impacted that much. It is absolutely horrific that there are vulnerable populations put in harms way by this administration. But there’s always some degree of suffering and unfortunately unless it impacts you personally, we’re all just focused on our lives. All politics is local and Trump creates a lot of sound and fury, but it’s superficial and our lives stay the same.
Pessimistic – No one is willing disrupt their own lives to create change any longer. Consumerism, social media and complacency have turned us into apathetic complainers who are willing to tweet but not to cancel our brunch plans, let alone stop showing up for work or SoulCycle to camp outside the White House. And even if we were, what good would it do? Nothing changes anyway. The frog is being boiled because no one has created a red line for themselves to say NO MORE.
Will we see a more enduring movement before the 2020 elections? Something which isn’t *just* about mobilizing people to town halls and the election booths but a growing group of citizens who are willing to disrupt their lives to send a signal? What should I reading, following or listening to, to understand why there seems to be a more decentralized (and virtual) protest movement right now?