Office Hours: I am a managing partner at Leadout Capital and lecturer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. I was formerly VP of strategic partnerships at Wealthfront. I'm Alison Rosenthal.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Alison Rosenthal, managing partner at Leadout Capital, early stage venture capital fund with a focus on backing “non-obvious”, resilient founders. I am a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and advisor at Wealthfront. I was formerly the VP of strategic partnerships at Wealthfront, chief operating officer at MessageMe, executive in residence at Greylock, director of business development at Facebook, manager of business development of Zazzle, and investor at General Atlantic. I have also been on the board of AutoNation and KQED and presidential ambassador of global entrepreneurship at the US Department of Commerce. I have an undergraduate degree from Brown University and MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.Ask me anything about strategy, leadership, business school, fundraising, early stage VC, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @alisonrosenthal!Elphas – please ask @alisonrosenthal your questions before Friday, September 25th. @alisonrosenthal may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi @alisonrosenthal, thanks for joining! I see you back non-obvious founders, but do you also look for non-obvious concepts as well (4-wall/hardware)? I'm the cofounder of an LA based dog care company @Dogdropco and we always love feedback on investor mindsets when it comes to non SaaS models. Thanks!
Hi! Thanks for your note. My criteria is 1) team, 2) market, 3) product so yes -- I do look at different concepts that a great team believes (through lots of objective needs finding data derived from work in a market) solves a real pain point. That said, I typically stick to software applications as that is what i did as an operator. Hope that helps!
Thank you @ElphaStaff ! I am really grateful for the opportunity to engage with the community via this AMA!
Hi Alison, thank you so much for your time!Is there something about early stage strategy, that you would advice differently / additionally, to underrepresented founders?For example:- What non-obvious advantages of being a "non-obvious founder" could we leverage on?- What specific risks should we be more aware of?P.S. Let me just say the mission statement of Leadout Capital and the cyclists' leadout analogy are really wonderful, thought-provoking ones!( <- quick link for fellow Elphas)
Well, often non-obvious persons are not given the benefit of the doubt by our current systems so you've had to work 10x as hard to get where you are today. So, i'd say leverage that ambition, perseverance and resilience. So many risks when you found something. The odds are stacked against you so courage of conviction and resilience are a must. I, too, am a founder like you so I speak from experience!Thanks for the kind words about Leadout's mission and the metaphor. I was a pro cyclist so it means something to me personally.
Such an important topic, thank you. Being a first-timer means questioning the way of doing things often and sometimes it sneakily transfers onto questioning that conviction in general. Btw. Wow, the cycling is a perfect match to the conversation then too. I believe I owe most of my resilience as a skill to competitive dancing in the past!
Following up on this as well, how strongly do you believe in the value of the founder market fit when talking about the "non-obvious founder"?
Hi there, thanks for taking the time to discuss with us! What do you feel like the value of business school is these days for people who work in startups and tech?
As I wrote below -- am answering these questions somewhat randomly - an MBA can help you build network and skills. Both are essential, in my experience, to having impact in the business world.That said, some programs are known, programmatically, and by way of the students these programs attract and what the alumni base tends to do with a degree for excelling in different areas of business. so, marketing, finance, public / non-profit corporations, entrepreneurship and general management.i don't believe you need an mba to be successful in a startup. you need to be willing to go to the computer store to buy the first server, set it up and start writing the first version of the product. you need to be able to fix the printer and close and paper the deal. at the startup level, you need a ton of humility, creativity and raw horsepower as core characteristics. in terms of key skills: you either need to build (e.g. software eng) and/or sell (sales).
Thank you for doing this AMA, Alison!I'm the Head of Partnerships at a Series A healthtech start-up and sometimes I find the long gestational period of strategic partnerships frustrating in its unpredictability. In addition to seeking intros to target orgs, my current approach is somewhat sales-y (LinkedIn, Cold Emails) and at times it can feel like I have too many plates spinning at once. Do you have any frameworks/resources/books that helped you excel in your Partnership roles at Wealthfront and Facebook? What's your advice for identifying, prioritizing and making the most out of partnership opportunities?Thank you!
Thank you! Your question is really a good one and hard to answer in this forum. I was at both companies when they were really nascent but when I left, the growth had been substantial. BD and partnerships definitely were geared towards that goal of growth for both companies...I often think of the framework at the early stage as how the role and its function directly advance the company for FB it was always growth and engagement. For Wealthfront it was growth and to a certain extent at the beginning but then certainly over time a focus on revenue growth and margin expansion. No one size fits all, unfortunately!
Could you share how you identify “non-obvious”, resilient founders? What are green and red flags? And what top 3 or so factors are most important to you in evaluating the viability of a startup?
I have guidelines and processes that help me get there on the answers to your questions. The guidelines are more first time founder, persons whose ventures and companies have been historically overlooked or not funded by VC, ability to execute, ability to build the first version of the product, ability to recruit a diverse team. I also have other criteria that that is more subjective and a matter of understanding value systems, first principles. Flags include a busted cap table, poor references for example
Hi Alison,Thanks for taking the time to answer questions! You have a very impressive background :)I have a couple of questions:1) How did you hone your strategic thinking skills? Are there any resources or activities that you would recommend to help others cultivate this skill as well? (I'm the cofounder and CTO of a digital health startup so looking to improve my strategic thinking skills in this domain!)2) What did you do as the Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and how were you appointed for this position? (I did tech policy for city governments before so super interested in this arena!)3) What was your path to becoming a lecturer at Stanford GSB? (I'd love to teach someday too :))Thanks for your time!
Thanks for taking the time to share your questions and appreciate very much the kind sentiments. 1) I read. I listen. I ask questions. I am big believer in building empathy as a skill so as to really understand the needs of a user or a customer.2) I worked with the other fellows and Commerce Dept. officials to advance American style entrepreneurialism both at home and abroad. I was nominated by a peer and then vetted (in re appt. question).3) in re the GSB, as a grad myself, i've always stayed close to the program. and, as i found myself with pockets of time over my career, would volunteer to mentor some of the students, do demo days, etc. one thing lead to another.
Thanks for your insightful response!
Hi @alisonrosenthal, thanks for taking the time to chat with us & congrats on your experience, inspiring! I'm Ewelina, I run a marketing technology SaaS company with enterprise clients across the globe. During the COVID 19 crisis, I realized I'd like to improve my leadership skills, specifically, communication, negotiation, people management and the ability to navigate in uncertain circumstances. I decided I'd like to go back to study. Do you think Stanford GSB MBA would be a good choice for that? If so, what would your advise be to potential applicants?Best,Ewelina
Stanford GSB is a wonderful program/ institution. The essay questions are 1) why stanford gsb and, 2) what matters to you most and why. I'd advise you to think through the answers to those questions, have great refs and get a good GMAT score! :-)
For those of us raising pre-seed, should we apply to [email protected] or is there another email address for warm/Elpha intros.
grit@ works
Thank you for joining us. I am interested in business strategy, especially in cross-border scale-up strategy. In your opinion, what are common mistakes of startups when they try to scale up across countries? Do you suggest any books or sources that would be helpful to learn about this matter further? Thank you.
It's important to be focused at a startup. The danger of moving international too quickly is it can be distracting and waste of resources if you pursue before you've achieved product market fit. I would focus on evidence of PMF first before looking to scale up. If you don't have PMF in the market in which you launched, it's very risky to expand for scale's sake alone.
Hi Allison. We are at the beginning of our fundraising journey. Do you have any advice on how to connect with women led VC firms? We are based in DC. Thank you!Julie
Hi Alison, Thank you for giving us your time <3. As you've worked as VP of Strategic Partnership and now you're managing partner at Leadout Capital, my question is around these two roles. What's your take on having a partnership between early-stage SAAS products and the VC/Accelerator program? I recently came to know about Notion - has done partnership with accelerators/ VC firms to offer notion as a startup package to their portfolio company. This helps startups, VC firms, and Notion itself in growth. What do you think? What are the criteria to be eligible for this?
Hi. I don't know enough about this partnership to really answer this well. Seems interesting, for sure!
Hi Alison, thank you for taking the time to connect with us. I am applying to Business schools this year. Can you share how the Stanford MBA has helped you shape the lives of so many people that you impact? What difference would it make if you didn't pursue MBA? Thank you 😊
An MBA can help you build network and skills. Both are essential, in my experience, to having impact in the business world.I believe you can learn anything if you put your mind to it, so you don't necessarily need a degree but is an expedient way to get the skills and network in a discreet and focused period of time and get the seal of approval, that is probably worth something but again not necessary to having an impact.
Hi Alison, thanks for your availability. We are a startup from Sweden, and we have developed a software where the patient can provide his health information in his own language and the doctor can see it in another. During the appointment the screen can be shared and info is shown in the patient and the doctor's languages, so that the patient sees what the doctor is updating, and the doctor can and prescriptions in his own language, and print them in the patient's language (it can convert from Swedish-English, Swedish-Persian, German-Persian, etc). The potential is huge, B2G to handle immigrants in all Europe (in Sweden 25% appointments need a language interpreter) , retire homes that will receive all these immigrants, expatriates moving to different countries and carrying their health info with them, business travellers , ... It is an own database which means that we can have devices off the cloud to be used in catastrophes and remote areas. We have the domains of over 25 countries, but I need help with investments and specially guidance. Would you be able to help us out?
Hi Alison! Hoping to connect and grab a window of your time for your Office Hours. I'm the CEO & cofounder of Queenly, an ML-driven search engine and marketplace for the formal wear industry. Since launching last year, we now has over 35,000 active users and we are on track to end 2020 with $700,000 in revenue. The total list value of our cloud dress inventory is $5.6 million.I'd love to chat with you because you mentioned backing "non-obvious" resilient founders, and I believe you'll enjoy & appreciate my story. I immigrated to the US when I was 10 years old and I was an emancipated youth that suffered abuse. Then I set out to UC Berkeley as an independent student and worked a plethora of jobs. With almost no resources and no family support, I was able to put myself through college and land jobs at Google, Facebook and Uber afterwards. Now, I am able to live out my dream of having my own company whose mission I deeply care about. Hope we can chat! Not sure how els to reach you but my email is [email protected]. Thank you!