I'm a Partner at Sequoia Capital. I'm here to talk about fundraising, transitioning from PM to VC and more. – Amy SunFeatured

Hi, I'm Amy Sun. I'm a Partner at Sequoia Capital.I started my career in product marketing at Microsoft, I helped build the growth marketing team at Uber and transitioned to product management at Uber through hypergrowth (the company grew from 500-->12,000 people and $1Billion --> $30Billion in gross bookings run rate during my time there). I was also product manager at Facebook building and growing Stories product. I graduated from Harvard with a degree in Economics, and I’ve been an oil painter since I was in elementary school. Ask me anything about fundraising, transitioning from PM to VC, creative expression tools, building and growing product teams, or something else!
Excited to have you here, Amy! Amy will be answering your questions before the end of the week. Please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so be sure to upvote the ones you most want her to answer with emojis.
Congrats on your success, @Amy. I transitioned from product manager to VC firm this year. I believe my secret sauce is evaluating founders using applied cognitive and behavioral psychology methods (aka emotional intelligence), and judging product/market fit using data and a refined gut instinct from six years of product experience. Any tips or tricks to help distinguish me/my firm from other firms given the influx of basically free capital right now?What tools do you have in your toolbox for assessing a product's runway beyond the obvious (current traction, TAM, bottom-down analysis, etc)?
Question: how transferable do you find these PM skills between different industries? Example: In my digital health company, a formerly successful telco PM failed miserably because of the lack of innate understanding about emotional drivers for adoption and behavioural psychology as applied to health-related scenarios.
Facebook's recruiting philosophy was very interesting because all PMs were hired as generalists. I think the skills of understanding customer needs, market sizing, setting goals and metrics for success, communicating to a team, and working across design and engineering to define product roadmaps are transferable.However, "PM" can be a very different role at different companies with different skillsets and expectations. Certain skills that are industry and product-specific are much harder to learn. For example, a data infrastructure PM whose customers are developers will more technical skills than a consumer app PM who is selling directly to consumers. When hiring, I would be super clear on the skills and expectations when defining the role.
I actually have experience in both telco and consumer and I've observed that there's both transferable and non-transferable skills.Transferable - the core PM skills you think of wrt understanding customer needs, setting goals and driving to success, influencing without authority, leading cross functional team of eng design++, etc etc.Not-very-transferable - domain expertise such as deep tech knowledge, culture of the company, knowledge of the industry such as regulations and user behaviors, etcA common misconception is that we're all working in the "tech" industry. "Tech" is actually many companies applying tech-driven solutions to myriad different industries. So to be successful, you really need to understand the uniqueness of the problem you're trying to solve.
I see the same pattern: deep insights into users' behaviour are cumulative, within an industry, not really that transferable. I wasn't surprised to see Amazon's PillPack offering empathy training, so its younger employees can understand the state of mind of someone working in healthcare or not feeling well.
Extremely transferable!A great PM or VC hone their understanding of emotional drivers either to grow their product by understanding their customers better than anyone in the market (PM), or assess the depth of a founder and the quality of a product they've built that people can't live without (VC). In fact, we hear a lot of positive chatter from founders because we are former operators and have built a product people use and love vs. sole VC / investment banking background.
Congrats your success as well!The best way to distinguish yourself as an investor is from your portfolio, so I would focus on your investments as your "north start" metric. Obviously, that takes time to build. In the meantime, having unique insights on markets and where they are going, and leveraging your experience to uniquely help founders is all helpful!I gravitate toward engagement and customer love. If customers are obsessed with your product and there is a viral cult following then you have a lot of room to grow.
What's the best pitch you've seen recently by a female founder, and what made it stand out?How did it compare to to other pitches you've seen?
The 2 that really stand out to me from this past year are Emily Weiss, the founder and CEO of Glossier, and Audrey Gelman & Lauren Kassan of The Wing. We invested in both companies and could not be more thrilled to partner with them. :DThe founders were extremely ambitious, confident, clear about their vision and the path to get there, and on top of all of the details of their business. I believe "a force of nature," "brand genius," and "visionary" were all terms that we used to describe these founders after the pitch. Their deep understanding of the problem they were solving for their customers and their unrelenting ambition really set them apart.
I'm a 2nd year MBA student at Chicago Booth and have actually been debating doing VC vs. PM after graduation. I came to school with the intention of doing VC and have been taking on various internships to get experience. This summer, I interned in a product role and found that I loved it as well. How easy is it to transition from PM to VC? Does it make sense to do MBA>PM>VC or directly to VC if I can?
It's up to you! It depends on which opportunity you are more excited about right now! I personally transitioned from product to VC and I've seen people transition from VC to an operational role like product as well!Product and VC are very very different, so it depends on what you're most passionate about right now. If you love working on a team, understanding customer problems, and iterating quickly with design and engineering, product is a great option. If you like thinking about business models, market structures and looking across and working across many industries, you may like VC. No matter which path you choose, I think you'll continue to have many options in your career. The only thing I would caution against is using one role as a "stepping stone" into another role. I think if you do that, you'll have a hard time doing a great job on the problem at hand if you're focused too much on the next thing.
What areas are you investing in and/or most excited about? And what areas do you want to see more female founders build in?
Lately I've been excited about healthcare, supply chain, fintech and consumer brands.I'd like to see more female founders in all areas!
I am growing a company in personalized medicine, at the cross-section of health and insurance, and I am literally staring at the structural problem in VC funding. Personalized medicine represents a paradigm shift, a shift that requires many smaller changes in areas such as education of health care providers, reimbursement and data management. The value of Personalized Medicine is understood in general but the "how to do it" is still new. Our company has benefited from developing our tech and business model in Canada, which is a a hybrid of the US and European health ecosystems. I've only ever met male VCs. Their general attitude is "you are doing something powerful, radical but also difficult", and our conversation revolves around all kinds of barriers (which we are solving, as evidenced by the growing list of B2B clients). Next, the same VC would be talking with a male CEO, also focused on a challenging sector but their conversation is all about market opportunity, growth vision and scaling strategy.
I'm planning on starting the fundraising process in a few months time. During these next few months, what do you recommend I do as I prep to pitch?
Make a wish list of your favorite investors and the firms they are at. Come up with the characteristics of the ideal investor you would like to work with for this round. Understand exactly how you are going to approach each investor on your list-- are you getting an intro? Do you plan to reach out cold? Do you need to figure out how to get in touch? Have a great one-liner. Have an ambitious vision. Get all of your key metrics in a good place, be able to tell a story with data. Start talking about the unique insight that you have into your market. Start educating people about trends in the industry that you're founding a company in. Feel free to email me :) [email protected]Good luck!
Thank you for your thoughtful response, Amy! Great notes. I have a spreadsheet started already, so I guess I'm ahead of the game there! I'll continue gathering data points on our metrics and market research. Thank you for the great advice. Will reach out soon and stay in touch. Have a great weekend!
My question: what is the best way to go about raising a bridge round prior to closing a larger fundraising round?
Really hard to say without more context on the business and prior funding of your company. I don't think there is a single "best" way. I would ask your insiders and board members :)
Thanks for your feedback Amy, and will do. Have a nice weekend.
Im curious as to what happens after a successful pitch. Can you give us some insights about the road from pitch to signed term sheet? How long does it usually take to put a deal together? Who leads a round? How involved are VC's after investment?
This is very different firm to firm, but for us, the founder meets one person at the firm first, if that partner is excited about the company, they'll have the founder meet a few more partners and start to dive deeper into your business. Before partnering with a company, we do everything we can to prove or disprove our investment thesis around the business and to understand if this can be a generation-defining company. This could mean talking to customers, doing market research, meeting the team, diving deep into the company's data, using the product, doing research etc. This can take anywhere from a week to months.Different firms have different approaches around leading rounds. We almost always lead rounds and take board seats and are very active in helping our portfolio companies grow. However, other firms only follow-on and are more passive.
I am about to start fundraising, and I have been doing practice pitches with anyone who will listen, but its difficult to get advice from VC's... Whats your best advice when putting together a pitch so that I can actually get in front of some amazing VCs?I have read plenty of advice online, put together a concise 10 slide deck covering all the essentials, we are live with an innovative fintech product and generating traction straight away, we both have strong professional backgrounds to pull off the execution ( MBA, Chartered Accountant, and my co founder is an experienced CTO).So what else can I do to make my pitch be seen?
Casually get to know people in the seed investing community before you actually go out for a fundraise. Go to hackathons, conferences, meetups, ask people to introduce you, reach out cold. Really try to get to know investors as people outside of the pitch. and understand what people are excited about. While these meetings are casual, keep in mind that you are making a first impression. If you find you don't know many people in the ecosystem, try talking more about what you're doing on Twitter. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but a lot of great seed investors are really engaged on Twitter.Then when you're ready to fundraise, do it in a very concise time period and reach out to everyone you've met that you like at once so you can time everything together.For the pitch itself, put a lot of work into a really compelling one-liner and think really big. How will you build a business as big as/bigger than Paypal, or Bank of America?
I am a solo founder of a soon to launch DTC homewares brand. I have domain experience in design and retail. How important is having a co-founder? Is it a deal breaker for some VCs? At which stage should I be reaching out to VCs in terms of milestones and traction?
Lack of co-founder has never a dealbreaker for us! The benefit of having a co-founder is usually because starting a company is hard and stressful and some people find it helpful to go through it with someone else. You can start reaching out to VCs as early as when you just have an idea! For milestones/tractions, it depend on how much funding you'd like to raise.
Thanks for being here 😄I wanted to know as a VC what is the appetite to invest in start-ups outside of the USA such as the U.K.?
Less than half of our investments are in US companies! We have a ton of portfolio companies in Europe, Latin America and we have teams and offices in China, India and Southeast Asia! So lots of appetite!
Great to hear Amy! Thanks 😄
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, Amy! I am curious about your thoughts on female entrepreneurship within high growth ventures. While women have a significant share of overall small businesses, I read somewhere that only 15% are deemed high growth ventures. What is stopping women to get into the space and what can we do to get more women to do so? How is Sequoia looking to address this?Thanks!!
I think this is a structural problem and VC plays a big role in it. Most venture funding in high growth companies has been led by firms that are predominantly male. A lot of founders from the previous generation have been white men. Hiring more women to make investment decisions is a good start (of the last 8 hires to the investment team at Sequoia, 5 of them have been women). Investing in more women and highlighting their successes to pave the way for the next generation is also helpful. We have a lot of amazing women founders in our portfolio such as Adi Tatarko of Houzz, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, Julia Hartz of Eventbrite, Tracy Young of PlanGrid, Emily Weiss of Glossier and Audry Gelman of The Wing. I also think helping women build strong networks and support each other in the industry will make a huge impact. My partner Jess Lee has been instrumental with All Raise and Female Founder Office Hours. We have a mentorship program called Ascent for women working at Sequoia portfolio companies, we sponsor events like WeCode and Grace Hopper. We still have a long way to go, but I'm excited by the progress so far!
Wondering how you started your career in product! Would love to hear about the kinds of things you did in your undergraduate years & if you would have done the same things knowing what you know now.For reference, I'm an engineering + business student at UC Berkeley interested in product management and eventually VC, and I've also oil painted since elementary school!
I'd love to hear you talk more about similarities between making art and being an investor, if any.
Welcome Amy! You sound like you’ve had a wonderful career. One topic that may speak to you as you have a hobby of painting. How do you set clear boundaries with time to create work life balance?
What do you think is the funding scene like for media startups right now? Any tips for the same?
Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions! I'm not currently a PM, I'm a software engineer. But I'm still interested in what kind of experience I should be working towards if I'd like to eventually move towards VC? Are there any recommended things I should be doing to gain experience or knowledge?Thanks again!
Hi @amysun thank you for sharing your knowledge and time. When building high growth teams what were best practises in designing and building the teams. Also tools that help to keep everyone aligned. Have you found that after sales and support worked closely with growth teams to reduce gaps.
Thank you for doing this for our community! I am an investment manager in the public markets and am in the founding team launching a FinTech/investTech: an open-architecture, digital investment solution with flexible universe selection, combining both active and passive styles based on a proprietary intrinsic-value investment algo. We are in the pre-seed stage and wonder what you think if we only have beta users but no paying customer yet, and what would you be looking for if you were to meet a team (founder has 30 years of investment experience) like this! Thanks so much!
Hi Amy! What is your advice for best raising capital for a pre-seed and pre-revenue company? Cold-calling/emailing vs. crowdfunding vs. pitch events? Should I still have a pitch deck? I am the founder of a philanthropy app and currently only have a prototype design
Hi Amy! I just joined Elpha and am very happy to see all the amazing advice and support available here. I have a question about raising seed funding. How important is it to have a robust business plan that can be provided to an investor if they are interested? We initially got the advice that everything should be lean, we used a lean canvas, kept the financials lean, etc. so we never created a traditional business plan, however, we are worried that not having a business plan will be a red flag to some investors. Any thoughts on this?? Thank you!Carma Khatib
Hi Amy, thank you very much for sharing your experience! Does Sequoia Capital invest in e-mobility?
Hi Amy!Thank you for sharing your knowledge! You have already provided so much valuable information! I want to hear your thoughts on whether or not VCs like to invest in companies that are similar to a portfolio company that had an exit. Similar in industry and business model.
Have Sequoia ever invested in a real startup? a product that has not been built yet and not started generating revenues.
We've invested in many startups where it was just a founder and an idea! AdMob, Palo Alto Networks and YouTube were incubated at our offices. Many founders in our portfolio today are still in the early days of refining their idea.
thanks for sharing, super impressive! when is your next exhibition? let's do one together - the PMs and startup lovers that paint!