The Next Episode

I know, I know – long time no blog.

A lot has happened in the last few months: I graduated from business school, moved to New York City, and embarked on a new adventure (more on that soon).

In my last post, I wrote about why I wanted to work in venture capital. I was in the thick of recruiting, and laser focused on landing in VC post-grad. I was fortunate enough to work on projects with two VCs I really admire – one a deep dive on blockchain technology (a humbling exercise, I might add), and the other, customer interviews with startup founders. As graduation neared, I decided to broaden my scope, and given my background in commercial real estate and interest in technology, I met with several awesome, venture-backed CRE tech startups.

And then something funny happened. After much job-related research and planning, I found myself in the right place at the right time. Brad Hargreaves and his wife, Amanda Moskowitz – both serial entrepreneurs – came to SOM to give a talk about startup marketing. I missed the actual talk, but had a chance to catch up with them on campus later. Jen McFadden, my good friend and mentor who had invited them to come, casually mentioned that Brad was starting a new real estate venture.

Suffice it to say that one thing led to another – Brad and I kept in touch, continued to meet, and in May, I signed on as his second hire. Common is building flexible, community-driven housing by offering furnished, month-to-month memberships, starting in New York City. Just like he helped address the digital skills gap as a founder of General Assembly, Brad is passionate about solving another big problem: creating a better user experience around housing.

I couldn’t be happier to be a member of the Common team. I’m surrounded by people who come to work each day excited about what we’re doing, and I feel honored to have the chance to help build this company. Our first properties open in Brooklyn this fall, and while I don’t know what the future holds, I can’t wait to find out. 

  Common Team, 8/18/15.

Common Team, 8/18/15.

Why VC? 20 Questions

As some of you might know, I’m currently in my last semester of my MBA at Yale, and (still) looking for a full-time job in NYC. (All the interesting ones come at the end, right?!) I’ve predominantly been targeting VC firms, as well as a couple of startups, mostly in the commercial real estate space.

I recently answered the following questions for a seed stage firm in New York, which was meant to get at the question: why VC? Since then, I’ve shared it a number of times, so I figured I’d put it up here.

What has been your favorite job you have held and why? Tenant Rep Brokerage group at CBRE Chicago – in a very short period of time, I watched early-stage, high-growth companies completely transform the face of the city.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your life? Becoming fluent in Khmer – the hardest and most rewarding thing I have done.

What are your 3 core values? Respect, Integrity, Gratitude

Why are you interested in venture capital? What motivates you? I love learning new things, meeting new people, and helping entrepreneurs be even more awesome. I’m also passionate about bringing more diversity to the face of tech and VC.

Have you ever been #1 at something? What? I won the award for the best senior honors thesis at Berkeley… on the history of Cambodian dance.

How do you learn new things? By immersing myself in the issue. I also ask a lot of questions.

How do you set goals? When you don’t achieve a goal, what do you do? I’m a big believer in SMART goals. I set them regularly, and reevaluate them frequently. If I don’t achieve a goal, I try to understand why, learn from it, and move on.

What are your 3 favorite hobbies/pastimes? Cooking, photography, adventure travel

What thing about the internet/tech do you think is true that most people think is false? That people’s demand for constant connectivity and content will, at a certain point, begin to decline.

Are you in love with the internet? What about it are you in love with? I am not in love with the internet per se, but am rather in awe of its ability to reach a vast portion of the earth’s population and impact people’s lives. It is the epitome of scale.

If you were a VC, how would you start building a network in tech? What types of entrepreneurs would you focus on trying to connect with early? Having spent a considerable amount of time working with the faculty, staff, and students of SOM’s entrepreneurship program, I think that universities are a great untapped resource. I also think female entrepreneurs are an underserved market with large upside potential.

Why do you want to work in venture instead of working at a startup? Interpersonal and intellectual stimulation and diversity – lots of people, with lots of different ideas and experience/expertise, working in lots of different roles, companies, and industries.

What is 1 tech product you admire that you use for work? Google apps suite

What is 1 tech product you admire that you use for play? Trulia

What is 1 tech product we have probably never heard of that you like? http://www.bfmuir.com/home/2015/1/31/ski-tracks-a-love-story-of-apps-analytics-and-adoption

If you could invest in any private tech company right now at the valuation of the last round, which company would it be? Mattermark – I admire Danielle Morrill as an entrepreneur and think she and her team are building an incredible product with great potential for expansion into other markets.

What spaces that people focus on right now aren't interesting to you? bitcoin the currency (though I am interested in the underlying blockchain technology), cybersecurity, phablets

Name 3 examples of great online brands. General Assembly, Warby Parker, Harry’s

Name 3 examples of great offline brands. J.Crew, PUBLIC Chicago (hotel), Linus (bikes)

What is the coolest designed site on the internet? In its mobile form, Instagram – there are plenty of beautifully designed sites, but Instagram’s impeccable UI/UX allows users to get what they are looking and intuitively and efficiently.

Launch Lady Land

Last weekend, I attended Y Combinator’s second Female Founders Conference in San Francisco. Over 800 women filled SF’s Masonic Center to hear from past and current Y Combinator founders on topics ranging from how they started their ventures, to scaling their companies, to raising venture capital.

In total, we heard from 12 founders, all of them women. A few observations:

Women founders are keeping it in the family.

I was surprised to learn that almost half of the founders – 5 out of 12 – cofounded their ventures with a spouse or close family member. These include:

  • Jessica Livingston, Y Combinator: cofounded with her husband 
  • Danielle Morrill, Mattermark: cofounded with her husband
  • Tracy Young, PlanGrid: cofounded with her then-boyfriend, now-husband
  • Ruchi Sanghvi, Cove (acquired by Dropbox): cofounded with her husband
  • Adora Cheung, Homejoy: cofounded with her brother

Not but a few days ago, I came across this article, which highlights three female founders – Julia Hartz (Eventbrite), Michelle Zatlyn (CloudFare), and Adi Tatarko (Houzz) – whose companies are among the 80 tech ‘unicorns’ that have passed the billion-dollar mark. Who are their cofounders? You guessed it – in two out of three cases, their husbands.

I was surprised to find that these women were starting such successful ventures with family members, since this seems counter to the conventional VC wisdom that family and startups don't mix. I can’t draw any immediate conclusions, but this trend strikes me as interesting, and worth further exploration.

Women are founding ventures across a variety of sectors.

When asked during a Q&A panel, Jessica Livingston told attendees that female applicants to Y Combinator are starting the same types of businesses as their male counterparts, and last weekend’s panelists were no different. The founders we heard from are leading both consumer and enterprise tech businesses in a number of different industries.

However, I would be remiss to say that this is the case universally. I recognize that there is selection bias in that YC represents some of the best tech startups out there, and even more so, that YC likely elected only the very best ones to showcase. Last summer, working at a seed fund that only invests in female founders, I got the distinct impression that women were founding consumer businesses targeted at women customers. I am hopeful that with time and more role models to emulate, women will tackle a broader set of problems and markets.

Founders of tech companies need not be technical.

Just like many male founders of well-known tech companies are not in fact programmers – PayPal’s Peter Thiel studied philosophy and law, and his cofounder Reid Hoffman, who would later go on to found LinkedIn, studied cognitive science and philosophy – an engineering degree need not be a criteria for women to start tech companies either. (For more on this topic, I highly recommend this article.)

This is also not to say that female tech talent was not featured: Ruchi Sanghvi was the first female engineer hired at Facebook, and went on to lead the company’s development and launch of Newsfeed; and Kimberly Bryant, who earned her electrical engineering degree in the 80s, has almost three decades of computer programming experience. But overall – counterintuitive as it may seem given the ongoing debate about women, STEM, and Silicon Valley’s pipeline problem – I was refreshed to see both technical and non-technical founders on stage.

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to attend the Female Founders Conference. In addition to the panel speakers, I got to meet a lot of great women founders working on a variety of interesting ventures. And even though only 23% of teams applying to Y Combinator have a female founder, I am confident that with time and precedence, Y Combinator and its peer accelerators will continue to attract awesome female-led teams.

Ski Tracks: A (love) story of apps, analytics, and adoption

Three weeks ago, I discovered a product that will forever change the way I snowboard. 

I’ve been snowboarding since 1993. In the last two decades, all of the products that snowboarders use – from boards and bindings to boots and apparel – have improved substantially. But year to year, changes in product design are fairly incremental, and hard to detect as a user.

This year was different. Enter Ski Tracks, a movement analytics app for ski and snowboard enthusiasts – a MapMyRun for the mountain.

Within 24 hours of downloading the app, I was hooked. For the first time in 22 seasons, I was armed with more data than I could have ever imagined – ski altitude and vertical, slope and distance details for each run, and, perhaps best of all, top speed. I was overwhelmed, and completely immersed, in all of this newfound information.

SkiTracks.PNG

I’m admittedly not much of a quantified self type – I don’t own any wearable technology, and don’t use a ton of tracking apps. This has made me think a lot about my interaction with Ski Tracks. A few things stand out to me:

It changed my behavior. After just one run using Ski Tracks, I was resigned to the fact that I would never again get to the bottom of the hill and not check my phone. I wanted to know how fast I’d gone, how much vertical I’d covered. It made me more competitive, with myself and those around me. I was continuously pushing myself to break my own PRs – riding faster, riding longer, riding better. At the end of each day, I dove deep into the app, retracing my tracks and comparing them with past runs and days. I consumed my data voraciously, and boarded differently because of it. The moral of this story? Products have the power to change human behavior.

It solved a problem I didn’t know I had. My quick adoption of Ski Tracks caught me off guard – I hadn’t been aware that I wanted something like this, and yet here I was, practically addicted to the app. Had a friend not told me about it during my trip, I never would have found it, since I wasn’t looking for it in the first place. I discovered Ski Tracks by accident rather than out of any necessity to solve a burning problem. Unlike a lot of other wearable and digital QS products on the market, knowing my top speed on a snowboard may not seem as value-additive as knowing how many calories I’ve burned in a day. The takeaway? It’s hard to attract customers who aren’t looking for your solution.

Products don’t need to be perfect to deliver value. I must admit that Ski Tracks’ UI/UX is not the best I’ve seen; the interface is a little clunky, and the overall design could definitely use an upgrade. But room for improvement notwithstanding, Ski Tracks is evidence that delivering products early and often can bring tremendous value to users, even if they’re not perfect. As a (relatively new) student of software development and agile methodologies, I can appreciate that the makers of Ski Tracks are pushing their product out to users, and hopefully gaining meaningful feedback from them in return. The message for those launching new products? Don’t prioritize perfection at the expense of good enough.

The QS market might be larger than we think. It’s not a secret that both the wearable and digital QS markets are continuing to grow. In a report released earlier this month, Rocket Fuel found that 31% of adult US consumers currently use a QS tracking tool – including wearables, apps and websites – and an additional 25% of respondents that don’t currently use any QS tools are interested in doing so. But I will argue that the QS market may be even larger than we think – I did not fall in this 56%, but after having had a taste of my own data, there’s no going back. If my own experience is any indication, I’m convinced that the 44% of people who aren’t interested in QS tracking will eventually catch on. All signs point toward more data, and more empowerment, for more people.

In a few short weeks, I’ve undergone a small but meaningful personal transformation, from a member of the uninterested 44% to a QS enthusiast and frequent endorser of Ski Tracks. I’ve persuaded no less than 4 friends and family members to download the app – in part because I love using it, and in part because the experience is that much more fun when shared. Needless to say, given the growth in tracking hardware and software, I’m excited to see where QS takes us.