20VC: Mercury Founder Immad Akhund on Why Angel Investing Makes Founders Better Operators, The Right Way For Founders To Discuss and Present Competition To Investors & How To Think About Your Initial Wedge Into The Market and How It Expands Over Time

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Immad Akhund is the Founder & CEO @ Mercury, the startup that makes bank accounts that help tech companies scale. To date, Immad has raised funding from some of the best in the business including a16z and CRV on the fund side and then individuals including Elad Gil, Airtable’s Howie Liu, Plaid’s Zach Perret, Naval Ravikant, Justin Kan and OpenDoor’s Eric Wu. Prior to founding Mercury, Immad held enjoyed numerous different roles including being a part-time partner at Y Combinator and then also founding HeyZap, building developer tools for mobile game developers, ultimately acquired in 2016.

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In Today’s Episode You Will Learn:

1.) How Immad made his way from studying in the UK to being a YC Partner in 2017 and building one of the valley’s hottest startups today in the form of Mercury?

2.) What does Immad want to do differently this time around with Mercury vs his time with HeyZap? What 1-2 mistakes that he made the first time round is Immad looking to avoid? How does being a serial founder impact one’s ability to acquire the best talent? What does Immad think is harder the second time around? How has becoming a parent changed the way that Immad thinks about founding and building companies?

3.) How does Immad approach the process of picking the idea? What was the specific process with Mercury, step by step? Why does Immad believe it is an advantage to not have a background or prior career in the space you are looking to innovate in? What advice does Immad have for founders looking to move into highly regulated industries?

4.) How does Immad approach and assess the element of competition? What is the right way for founders to present competition when pitching to investors? Why is a 2×2 matrix the wrong approach? What does Immad advise portfolio founders he has invested in with regards to competition and the landscape in front of them?

5.) What have been some of Immad’s biggest learnings from making over 120 angel investments? How has angel investing speciifcally helped certain parts of how he thinks about operating and being a founder today? What advice does Immad give with regards to investor updates? What makes the best ones? What makes the worst? How often should they be?

Items Mentioned In Today’s Show:

Immad’s Fave Book: The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disaster

As always you can follow HarryThe Twenty Minute VC and Immad on Twitter here!

Likewise, you can follow Harry on Instagram here for mojito madness and all things 20VC.

20VC: Haystack’s Semil Shah on Whether Founders Are Bypassing Seed Funds in Favour Of Less Dilutive Multi-Stage Funds, How Fund Strategy Changes With Fund Scaling & Why The Hardest Challenge is Price Discipline

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Semil Shah is the Founder & General Partner @ Haystack, one of the valley’s leading seed funds of the last 5 years with a portfolio including the likes of Instacart, DoorDash, Carta, OpenDoor, Hashicorp and more $Bn companies. Alongside his role at Haystack, Semil is also a Venture Partner @ Lightspeed Venture Partners. Prior to founding Swell, Semil was on the operating side as an early advisor and employee at Concept.io (Swell), acquired by Apple in August 2014.

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In Today’s Episode You Will Learn:

1.) How did Semil make his way into the world of venture from his start writing about startups and financing rounds? How did that also lead to his role as Venture Partner @ Lightspeed today?

2.) What does Semil mean when he says, “the most talented founders are bypassing seed firms and seed rounds”? How does this mean that seed funds need to respond? For founders, what are the pros and cons of taking a multi-stage fund at seed? Will they really get GP time with such a small check? How should they also think about potential signalling risk?

3.) Does Semil share Harry’s concern with regards to pricing today? What do multi-stage funds investing at seed do to pricing? Why is staying disciplined on price the biggest challenge for Semil? How does Semil assess his own price sensitivity and when to stretch? Does Semil believe that ownership is built on first check or overtime?

4.) How does the strategy for Semil change moving from a $25m fund to a $50m fund? Why does Semil think that temporal diversification is such an important element to bake into a portfolio? What are the benefits? How does Semil think about effective reserve allocation today? What does that investment decision-making process look like the 2nd time?

5.) How has Semil seen the ecosystem for VC fundraises change over the last 5 years? What would Semil like to change about the ecosystem of LPs? What blanket rule does Semil believe that LPs should introduce for new managers to ensure discipline? For Semil, how did the fundraise differ for the latest $50m fund compared to the prior $25m fund?

Items Mentioned In Today’s Show:

Semil’s Fave Book: Reboot by Jerry Colonna

As always you can follow HarryThe Twenty Minute VC and Semil on Twitter here!

20VC: Clearbit Founder Alex MacCaw on How To Successfully Negotiate with Investors, What Value-Add Do VCs Really Bring & Why You Should Only Have Operators on Your Board

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Alex MacCaw is the Founder & CEO @ Clearbit, the marketing data engine for all of your customer interactions, from customer understanding to prospect identification to personalising every sales and marketing interaction. To date, Alex has raised $17m in financing from some incredible people including Geoff Lewis @ Bedrock, Ash Fontana @ Zetta Venture Partners, First Round Capital, Battery Ventures and then former guest Ilya Sukhar, Naval Ravikant and Josh Buckley. Prior to founding Clearbit, Alex spent time in the engineering teams at both Twitter and Stripe.

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In Today’s Episode You Will Learn:

1.) How Alex made his way from the UK to becoming one of the hottest founders in the valley with the rise of Clearbit? What does Alex believe is more important mission and vision or organisational discipline? What does Alex mean when he says he started the company as a “vehicle for growth thinking and self-actualisation”?

2.) What did Alex mean when he said, “when you hit product-market-fit, it is time to move into company making”? What does company making mean to Alex? What would Alex like to fundamentally change about the way we manage companies today? When is the right time to make this transition? What needs to be in place to do it successfully?

3.) What does Alex mean when he says, “The 6 Pillars Behind Clearbit”? What elements does Alex think the team should not have full transparency on? How does Alex approach transparency when it comes to fundraising and M&A opportunities? What have been some of Alex’s biggest learnings on both delivering and absorbing feedback? What can one do to create an environment of radical candor and rich feedback?

4.) Why does Alex believe that health has to be the #1 priority for every founder? What does that look like in practice? What can one provide the team to encourage this? How does Alex respond to those that might say, “fine but we cannot afford it”? How does Alex suggest there are 3 ways you can become more self-aware as an individual?

5.) What advice does Alex give to founders on successfully negotiating with investors? What value has Alex found that VCs really do bring? What does Alex optimise for when selecting his investor base? What value do most think that VCs bring but they actually do not? When does Alex think one should establish a board? Why does Alex think your board should only have operators and no investors on it?

Items Mentioned In Today’s Show:

Alex’s Fave Book: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

As always you can follow HarryThe Twenty Minute VC and Alex on Twitter here!

Likewise, you can follow Harry on Instagram here for mojito madness and all things 20VC.

20VC: Matrix’s Ilya Sukhar on How The Seed Ecosystem Could Be Optimised, Why The Bar For The Break-Out Series A Has Risen & The Art of Effective Referencing

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Ilya Sukhar is a General Partner @ Matrix Partners, the firm steeped in 40 years of history with over $4Bn invested enjoying 110 acquisitions and 65 IPOs. As for Ilya, at Matrix he has led deals in the likes of FiveTran, Flock Safety, Slab and Height just to name a few. Prior to Matrix, Ilya was a part-time investing partner @ Y Combinator and before that was Head of Developer Products at Facebook. His time at Facebook came about as a result of his former company, Parse, being acquired by them for close to $100m in April 2013. If that was not enough, Ilya also has one of the best angel tracks in the business with a portfolio including the likes of former guest Scale, Checkr, Algolia, Airtable, Gitlab the list goes on.

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In Today’s Episode You Will Learn:

1.) How Ilya made his way into the world of technology and startups having moved to SF from the Soviet Union? How did his growing up in the Soviet Union and moving to the US shape his thinking, operating and investing mentality today?

2.) How did Ilya’s mindset change with the shift from angel investing to institutional investing? How does Ilya assess how his operating experience has impacted the way he works and engages with founders today? What are the pros? What are the cons? Why does Ilya believe the engineering CEO is so crucial?

3.) How does Ilya feel the seed ecosystem is serving startups today? What are the core ways that Ilya believes it is not optimised? How does Ila think about advising founders on the right amount to raise and the appropriate amount of runway? How does Ilya feel on the subject of bridge rounds? How does Ilya approach price and price sensitivity? What have been his learnings on price from observing his angel portfolio?

4.) Why does Ilya believe that “referencing is one of the most important skills for founders and investors”? How should founders structure their referencing? Who should they speak to? How many people is an appropriate dataset? What are the core questions to ask? How can references lead one astray? What must you watch out for?

5.) How has becoming a father changed Ilya’s investing mentality today? How has it affected how he selects the projects he wishes to work on? How has it changed his relationship to time and productivity? Why in many ways does Ilya wish he had had kids earlier?

Items Mentioned In Today’s Show:

Ilya’s Fave Book: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital ManagementThe Stranger

Ilya’s Most Recent Investment: FiveTran

As always you can follow HarryThe Twenty Minute VC and Ilya on Twitter here!

Likewise, you can follow Harry on Instagram here for mojito madness and all things 20VC.

20VC: Scale Founder Alex Wang on How To Hire Incredible Talent Before You Are A Hot Company, Why Beating Competition Is Not As Clear Cut As Investors Believe & Why AI Is Under-Hyped Today In Terms of Total Impact

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Alex Wang is the Founder & CEO @ Scale, the data platform for AI providing high-quality training and validation data for AI applications. To date, they have raised over $123m in financing from some of the best investors in the business including Daniel Levine @ Accel, Founders Fund, Index Ventures, Thrive, Spark and Coatue and then also some of the world’s best operators and founders of Dropbox, Instagram, Quora, Github and Twitch to name a few. Prior to founding Scale, Alexandr was a Tech Lead at Quora, directly responsible for all speed projects and before that a software engineer at Addepar responsible for building and maintaining financial models.

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In Today’s Episode You Will Learn:

1.) How Alex made his way from growing up in Los Alamos to being one of the hottest founders in the valley with Scale’s new round giving them a unicorn valuation? How did growing up outside the ether of the valley shape Alex’s operating mindset today?

2.) Why does Alex believe that AI is under-hyped relative to the state of technology today? Would Alex agree that most projects claiming to be AI are merely rebrandings from actuarial science, data science etc etc? What questions does Alex ask to determine true AI or BS?

3.) How does Alex think about how AI can deal better with ambiguity of data? What other core areas would Alex like to see meaningful step-function improvements in? How does Alex think about the value of data-set size? How does he think about the utility value of data reducing with every incremental data point? How does Alex think about the rise of synthetic data? How does this change the landscape?

4.) What are Alex’s biggest lessons on what it takes to hire incredible people before you are a hot company? How does Alex determine whether someone has the right risk profile and desire to work in a startup? What questions reveal that? Where does Alex believe that many go wrong in the early days of hiring? What would he do differently now?

5.) For the $100m Series C, how did the round come together? What did the process look like? How did this round compare to the other rounds? How does Alex think about and approach the element of investor selection? How can founders build relationships with investors in these hyper-compressed fundraising timelines? What have been Alex’s biggest lessons when it comes to CEO growth and then also board management?

Items Mentioned In Today’s Show:

Alex’s Fave Book: 7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy

As always you can follow HarryThe Twenty Minute VC and Alex on Twitter here!

Likewise, you can follow Harry on Instagram here for mojito madness and all things 20VC.

 

20VC: How Founders Can Gain Leverage in Fundraising Negotiations, The Metrics You Need To Raise Your Series A in Consumer & What We Have To Change About Cap Table Construction with Jana Messerschmidt, Partner @ Lightspeed Venture Partners

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Jana Messerschmidt is an investor @ Lightspeed Venture Partners, one of the best performing funds of the last decade with a portfolio including Snapchat, Mulesoft, Max Levchin’s Affirm, Cameo, StitchFix and many many more incredible companies. Prior to LSVP, Jana co-founded #Angels in 2015, a first of its kind investment collective specifically designed to get more women on the cap tables of successful companies. Her portfolio includes the likes of Carta, Lambda School, Bird, Forward and Cameo to name a few. In addition to #Angels, Jana spent 6 years at Twitter as VP of Global Business Development and Platform where she led the 150+ person organization responsible for Twitter’s global strategic partnerships. Finally, before Twitter, Jana spent 2 years at Netflix as Director of Business Development. 

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In Today’s Episode You Will Learn:

1.) How Jana made her way from the worlds of Twitter and Netflix to founding #Angels and becoming an angel to today, investing on the front lines with Lightspeed?

2.) What were some of Jana’s biggest takeaways from her time with Netflix? How did that experience impact her operating mentality today? How can leaders determine the true quality of their team and their conviction in them? What is “the leaver test”? What does Netflix do internally to drive such high performance? What does Jana mean when she says, “leaders have to provide context, not control”?

3.) Does Jana believe that founders should “always be raising”? What is the right way for founders to approach OKR setting with regards to requirements for the next round? When should this OKR discussion for the next round take place? Who should be involved? How can founders get potential investors to do the work upfront and determine interest?

4.) In terms of metrics for the Series A, they depend based on the vertical and business model but what is required, metric wise, to raise a Series A in:

  1. A D2C brand? What revenue levels would be expected? What growth levels would be expected?
  2. A consumer subscription business? What level of churn is acceptable? What does Jana see as a good CAC/LTV?
  3. Why does Jana believe that you cannot grow your business on ad spend perpetuity? How does Jana think about the cost of advertising today? What have been her biggest lessons when it comes to how CAC changes over time?

5.) What tips and advice does Jana give to founders to allow them to enter fundraising negotiations with leverage? What can founders do to gain leverage if their numbers are not in place? What does Jana think should be some of the biggest considerations for founders when it comes to their cap table?

6.) How does Jana think that founders can put their cap table to work in the most effective way? Is there a way to stress their suggested “value-add” prior to their investment? What can be done to actively improve the lack of women and underrepresented minorities on cap tables? What would Jana like to see change here?

Items Mentioned In Today’s Show:

Jana’s Fave Book: Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook, Dark Money

As always you can follow HarryThe Twenty Minute VC and Jana on Twitter here!

Likewise, you can follow Harry on Instagram here for mojito madness and all things 20VC.