Office Hours: I'm COO at Rival & an early stage investor. I’m here to talk building companies, operating & investing, & leading with purposeFeatured
Hi Elpha! I’m the COO of Rival, a SaaS technology platform for the biggest live events in sports and music, backed by a16z and Upfront Ventures. I’m also an investor at Jane VC, an early stage fund that invests in visionary female-led startups (we invested in Elpha!).Before Rival, I was a business development exec at Uber leading strategic partnerships, building high performing teams and driving cultural transformation during a critical time. My tech experience spans early stage to hypergrowth. I led commerce and product biz dev at Twitter, and prior to that wore all the hats building two mobility and energy tech startups. I have a long standing passion for pioneering tech startups but I’ve always been more interested in people than tech - how to create happy, resilient, purpose-led teams and organizations. I have an MBA from Stanford and a BS from UC Berkeley, and I started my career in politics.Ask me anything about building a career in tech, venture backed start-ups, investing, surviving hypergrowth, balancing family life and work, or something else!
Excited to have you for Office Hours, Ann!Hi everyone! please reply in the comments with your questions before this Thursday. Please emoji the questions you'd most like Ann to answer, since she may not have a chance to answer every single one. Thanks!
Thanks for having me Cadran! Elpha is an amazing community, looking forward to ALL the questions. Keep 'em coming, I will do my best to answer them all.
I am going to ask some hard questions to open a dialogue.You have an impeccable resume, congrats.Did you grow up in an affluent home with a stable homelife?You sound like a very smart and helpful person, so I’m asking this question because it will help readers understand whether they should be looking to mimick your career moves or directly apply your advice to their situation.I’m asking because the startup scene is flooded with people who have attended Stanford, and there’s only one person I can think of who grew up in a truly middle class home (not “middle class” for Stanford, which is much higher family income than the rest of the US).It’s important because if you’ve had access to family wealth in excess of $15,000, including college expenses paid by your family, then your career advice doesn’t really apply to those who do not have financial help from their family. I am sure you understand It’s a completely different game if you’re paying for everything with loans, credit cards, low wage jobs.Even your chances of being sexually assaulted increase when you don’t come from an affluent family, so someone’s approach to startups and raising money would need to be more cautious about taking meetings alone with investors, etc.And if you did NOT have financial help from your family, I would be extremely interested to know more about how you got into your prestigious positions and how you made your way through Berkeley (did you work, take out big loans, how did you afford your first apartment?)
Thanks for asking the tough question! Context matters. I’m happy to share mine here briefly. My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 11, we started at zero. My parents worked incredibly hard but I didn’t grow up with any sense of a financial safety net. I had to figure out a lot of things for myself - how to get into college, how to get the first job, how to pay for school, etc. I took out loans for college and grad school, and come to think of it, I’ve basically been working since high school. Growing up like that made me independent, hard-working and resilient, so I’m not sure I’d trade it for a more comfortable upbringing -- it made me who I am! Professionally, it's kind of funny that the things that are the most interesting don’t make into those glossy bios. Looking back, I got rejected from plenty of great schools and jobs, been at failed startups, and got underestimated a lot. But that’s life. You gotta work with what you’ve got. To your point, here are the ways in which I consider myself incredibly lucky and I know had a material impact on my life / career: *I got to grow up and live in the United States! *My parents taught me the value of a good education / excelling academically *I have a loving and supportive family*I work in one of the most dynamic industries in the world, surrounded by people who are smarter, faster, better than me, which means I’m always learning *I’m healthy enough to enjoy these things (though self-care could use some help) From there, it really is what you make of it.
Thank you for your time Ann! What you've done with your career is truly inspiring! Love to see women of Uber crushing it (I was a product lead at Uber before going back to the startup world)My question: Whats your advice for kickstarting fundraising for a tech startup? I'm planning to raise money for my startup in 2020 and need tactical tips for where to start, how many people to pitch to at once, how to decide how much to ask for and creating a pitch deck that really represents the mission of the company.
Yes, the ladies of Uber are crushing it out there! So wonderful to see. I’m rooting for you. Hard to answer this question simply because there’s a lot to unpack there and how you approach fundraising is very specific to what you’re building and your personal situation. There is a ton of content out there on this topic and you should talk to founders who’ve done it recently (recency matters because the winds of VC are constantly changing). Here’s where I’d start -- 1) Think through what it will take to get your MVP off the ground? In very practical terms, what is needed to prove the initial hypothesis behind your company and what will it cost? Think of it in 12-18 month chunks of time and come up with a budget. Ask yourself when do you really need the funding, how far can you get on your own? Cause fundraising is a time consuming and emotionally draining process. If you have a network that will write you checks, go for it! If you will have to form new relationships to get funded, then bootstrap so you have something to show when you go out to raise. Check out the Holloway Venture Guide. It’s just a really good overview of how venture funding works and the key terms, know this before you start. https://www.holloway.com/g/venture-capital/ . There’s also Scott Kupor’s book on fundraising -- Secrets of Sandhill Road2) Work on the STORY and your pitch. At the earliest stage there are no metrics. You’re asking investors to believe in you and the idea, so spend the time to craft a compelling and credible sales pitch (deck, pitch email, 30 min call). 3) Start with your warmest networks and fan out from there. The industry works on warm referrals, so get as much as you can out of your networks first. Then research angels and early stage funds that invest in your category, and reach out to them. It’s a lot of work but it’s not a volume game -- go after the people who already have demonstrated interest / affinity / investment history in your domain. 4) The internet is your friend. There is so much good content out there on how to think about your cap table, your pitch, your first funding round, etc. Figure out your business plan, and then talk to founders who’ve raised in last 9-12 months for fundraising tips.
Hi Ann! I'm currently working in a technical role (Data Science) and am considering moving to a business role (Product Management) to be closer to the business. I have a couple of questions:1. would you say an MBA is valuable for such a transition, for someone already working in tech?2. have you seen successful transitions from technical roles to business roles, and what did they look like?3. what are your tips for working in a hypergrowth environment? Since there are no rules, what is a good principle to follow?
It’s great that you’re taking the leap into product management! You can absolutely do it and the best way to break in is not by getting an MBA but going after a PM role that’s more technical or data heavy so that your expertise is an asset to the role. (sidebar on the MBA - it’s less valuable in tech than having experience at hypergrowth company during it’s growth years AND it’s really about building a network, not about functional expertise). (sidebar on PM roles - they vary greatly from technical to UX centric to being more like a business GM. Best PMs I know are exceptionally cross-functional leaders, communicators and project managers, that’s a big part of the job). How to make the transition -- 1) Easiest - do it inside of your current company because people know you, you have a track record and most companies want to retain talented people by giving them new opportunities to grow. 2) Harder - find companies where technical PMs are essential to that business or find roles where a technical background is a plus. Go where being an ex-data scientist will be highly valued or highly relevant. 3) Hardest - taking on a PM role where your background isn’t at all relevant, i.e. starting from scratch. It’s do-able if you have a great manager / mentor or you're entering a training like an APM program. Otherwise it’s hardest way to transition. It’s a competitive talent market, so chances are you can get the role, but it may not set you up for success. Hypergrowth survival kit -- 1) Constantly scale yourself - you cant do it all. Be proactive in delegating, hiring, giving away work, managing time, so you move forward instead of drowning. 2) Focus - hypergrowth brings with it infinite temptation and opportunity, new markets, new partnerships, new products -- and on top of that the pace of day to day execution is relentless. To get results, know which metrics / goals matter, prioritize ruthlessly, say NO often. 3) Be good to people. Everyone is stressed, and everything changing every 6 mo. Assume good intent but resolve tensions directly and in a timely manner. 4) Optimize for learning. Hypergrowth doesn’t feel good in the moment but it’s great experience. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and you’ll be ok. :)
Hi Ann,Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Your career path is truly inspiring and I absolutely love what you are doing at Jane VC 😍As we all know, only a fraction of venture capital is allocated to female entrepreneurs. The annual The State of European Tech report by Atomico showed that $92 of every $100 went to funding all-male founding teams. In 2018 less than 1% of all venture capital in my home country, Sweden went to all-female founding teams.Myself I recently joined a pre-seed VC firm in the Nordics as an Investment Manager. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and from my experience, I don’t see that there would be a pipeline problem. However, I am more concerned about the fact that there are still so few women making investment decisions. For example, Finland got its first female VC partner only this year.I would love to hear some of your thoughts on why we still aren't seeing any significant improvements in the numbers.
I’m assuming you’re asking why there aren’t more women in VC? I wish I had the answer! I can’t speak to the Nordics but looking at it from the lens of Silicon Valley, here’s my take:Historically, there’s been two feeder functions into Venture Capital - Finance and Engineering, both are fields in which women are heavily underrepresented. You could become a VC by being a successful founder or coming in from banking. Today, more Operators / C-Suite execs are entering VC and that’s going to change the numbers. Women own a tiny % of the wealth that Tech has generated, so the number of women who are angel investors or can start their own funds is still small. (check out the work by Carta on #TheGapTable). It’s changing in real time, so I’m very curious to see how the combination of more female GPs and more female-founded funds shape VC going forward. A few weeks back, I went to the AllRaise Summit for second year in a row and it’s amazing to see all the new talent going into VC. More women are entering VC firms than ever before as analysts, principals and partners. And AllRaise is doing great work to support women who’ve entered venture (mentoring, etc). Reasons to be optimistic! That said, VC is still kind of a black box, hard to figure out how to break in, how to get promoted, how to find a good fit. It’s competitive and it’s heavily relationship based. On some level, women have to want to play that game and kick the doors down for the numbers to change more quickly.
Hi Marianne, thank you for sharing the story of your journey with us. I've also been thinking about entering venture capital. I would love to watch you grow more at your firm and learn about your experience in investing, can I follow you on Twitter or LinkedIn?
Hello Ann ! Thank you for doing this. I admire and would really appreciate your feedback having been on both sides of the investment table. 1. Most investors / operators speak to pattern recognition for successful founders; what characteristics do you feel are indicative of a successful founder?2. How do investors such as yourself prefer to be contacted by founders looking for investment?
First, let me just say that people will always surprise you. We don’t really have the formula up front. Being a “successful founder” to me means you’ve built a substantial and enduring business, and on the way there, people who are good on paper will fail and people who don’t quite make sense will win. That said, I think there are certain signals / traits / characteristics that likely to help a founder succeed against the odds (which is what all founders face) and that you can reasonably get a sense for at the early stage of a venture. This is what I look for for:1)Deep conviction and passion for the problem she/ he is solving2) Granular, real world understanding of the customer and their pain points, or the market industry inefficiencies they want to address 3) Balancing the ability to dream big with having a clear strategy and/or an objective way to validate their ideas4) Ability to attract the right talent for their company, will people follow them? 5) Are they resilient, resourceful, see the world from a unique angle? All of this adds up to answering two questions: 1) Do I believe in this opportunity? and 2) Is this the right person / team to solve for that, can they get it done? To your second question -- Most investors prefer a warm intro through someone they know - a friend, a peer in the industry, a former coworker, etc. It helps you standout in the busy inbox and get priority for attention. At Jane VC, we are committed to being open to the cold pitch, so you can email [email protected] to reach out to us. We really do read those emails. Whether or not you have a warm intro, you MUST have a well crafted pitch email that very succinctly summarizes for the investor - Who you are (professional credentials) What is the company / idea and why it mattersWhat traction you have to date Link to a pitch deck (ideally) Highlight any committed angels / investors / advisors Why you’re interested in me as an investor (don’t say cause I’m a woman, yikes!)No one has it all. Play to your strengths.
Thanks for your time Ann!1. Could you talk about your experiences finding mentors? I have cold emailed a few women in tech about mentorship with no luck and was wondering if you have suggestions for how to approach sourcing/nurturing this type relationship? 2. What do you think are the most common mistakes co founders make when starting a new venture?
1) On finding mentors - mentorship is someone caring enough about you to want to teach you the ropes, give advice and be a sounding board on decisions. So it has to start with a real relationship, not cold calls. My own experience has been that there were people along the way who were helpful at that point in time in my career, who really cared or were willing to engage / teach, but i really haven't had anyone that I would consider a career long mentor. My advice on mentorship is -- - First, figure out what you want from your mentor - what are the specific topics / decisions / etc you want to learn about and seek out people who can help with something specific. - Don't overlook peers. You can learn just as much, if not more, from people around you who are really good at their craft. Get as much mentorship / learning as you can from people you work with or just ahead of you. - Relieve yourself of the idea that you NEED mentors to be successful. You need people you can learn from and who is relevant for that will change a lot during your career. Focus on finding people who can help you with what you need NOW, vs that ideal of a mentor who paves the way for you. Chart your own path :) 2) What are commons mistakes by founders? That would be an extraordinarily long list! The co-founder relationship? Treat it like a marriage, it's a relationship that requires deep trust, honesty, alignment on values and constant work. Co-founders are partners, the biggest mistake is treating it like a given or transactional relationship, vs. a relationship in need of constant investment / work. Hope that helps!
Thank you for your work Ann. Your positive outlook on supporting women in Entrepreneurship inspires me. Go bears!I am building teams now with a style of leadership called service leadership. When people don’t follow up on tasks do you have a suggestion on moving forward without feeling like I have to remind them. I’ve been told set deadlines. I welcome your insight on building empowered communicative teams. Thank you so much in advance. 💗
Check out the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott, it's a fantastic practitioner guide to managing that speaks to this topic. Direct, timely feedback is the key to what you're describing. If someone on the team misses the mark, let them know and be clear on what it is you expect instead. Practice this as a leader and your team will follow, when people see it's safe to speak openly and directly in service of the mission, communication flows naturally.
Hey @annbordetsky! What an impressive track record! I myself also work on the business/operations side of the tech world. I'll start with asking you how you managed to have kids, and how your life at home is like. I've been married for almost a year now. I'm a head strong career person and a feminist. We currently do well at sharing responsibilities, although I sometimes see that I carry slightly more weight. I wonder how adding kids to that mix could maintain the balance. How do you do it? Also, with your career taking off, how did you maintain working on improving both your growth at home and career?Lastly, how have you been able to drive a positive cultural transformation during a critical time? I could greatly benefit from learning what worked for you and your team.
Thank you for sharing and allowing us to ask you questions. I'm looking at building a panel of female positive investors who are looking to invest in female founders (not necessarily female only founders) with a blockchain focus. Is this something that you would be interested in? Do you know which investors might be?
Hi Ann; Amaz'g background and thx for offering an AMA! My question is how to raise a small amount (like $100k) pre-seed from a strategic player to test some things before going to some bigger contacts we have. (I've raised $45M prior in a startup I founded). F&F wanted too much of Co and a strategic player would add value from the start theoretically. I didn't want to spend the time req'd from an Accelerator (had a couple asking me to apply) but truly I just want to test out some hypotheses before raising more capital, and challenge myself to not need to raise more and more (rather generate revenue and grow on that). I finally reached out to Hollywood after being told "we're interested in what you're doing/ come back when you're raising your next round" repeatedly. I actually got a response and RFP from JLo's agent (haha was not necessarily expecting it). Thx again (and a pers question: are you glad you didn't pursue politics haha..esp now!?)