Discover Inside tech startups

The voice of VCs and entrepreneurs

Inside tech startups

5 Mistakes Founders Make When Hiring Their First Salesperson

5 Mistakes Founders Make When Hiring Their First Salesperson Onstartups Feb 25, 2015

Your MVP is complete. Some seed funding is in the bank, or maybe even a Series A. You’re anxious to see if your product flies off the shelf. It’s time to make that first sales hire.

The most common mistake when forecasting growth for new products (and how to fix it)

The most common mistake when forecasting growth for new products (and how to fix it) Andrewchen Feb 23, 2015

Forecasting weather is hard, and so is forecasting product growth. Startups are about growth Paul Graham’s essay in 2012 called “Startup = Growth” makes a big point in the first paragraph: A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary […]

The post The most common mistake when forecasting growth for new products (and how to fix it) appeared first on @andrewchen.

Some Career Advice for Aspiring Tech CEOs Bothsidesofthetable Feb 24, 2015

A shortened, better edited and with nicer pictures vers […]

Personal update: I’ve moved to Oakland! Here’s why.

Personal update: I’ve moved to Oakland! Here’s why. Andrewchen Feb 24, 2015

My new neighborhood, in Jack London Square, Oakland, CA. Where’d you move? I moved to a tiny neighborhood called Jack London Square in Oakland. Yes, it’s named for that guy that wrote about the gold rush. I’ve only been here 3 months but I really like it so far. Previously, I lived in Palo Alto […]

The post Personal update: I’ve moved to Oakland! Here’s why. appeared first on @andrewchen.

Here Are the Details About Upfront Ventures’ Newest EIR – @Chamillionaire

Here Are the Details About Upfront Ventures’ Newest EIR – @Chamillionaire Bothsidesofthetable Feb 23, 2015

Five-and-a-half years ago I first met Chamillionaire at […]

The race for Apple Watch’s killer app

The race for Apple Watch’s killer app Andrewchen Feb 17, 2015

The upcoming race As the release of the Apple Watch draws near, we’re seeing press coverage hit a frenzied pace – covering both the product, the watch’s designers, sales forecasts, and the retail displays. That’ll be fun for us as consumers. But for those of us who are in the business of building new products, the bigger news is […]

The post The race for Apple Watch’s killer app appeared first on @andrewchen.

Why You Need to Stop Hating Self Promotion Thisisgoingtobebig Feb 23, 2015

I counsel a lot of job seekers looking to get into the startup world. Very quickly, I lay out the fact that getting a job comes down to two very simple things:

1) Do you know what you do?

2) Does everyone else?

That's it.

If people had a clear concept of what value you bring to the table and lots of people understood that value, all you'd have to do is tweet that you were a free agent and the opportunities would come to you.

The only problem is, people don't like self promoting--and that's what they see the second part as. Tweeting, blogging, speaking on panels--as much as, ironically, you're reading this blog post and don't seem to have a terrible impression of me, you associate terms like self promotion and personal brand building as a narcisistic, somewhat douchy exercise that involves a lot of chest pounding and boastfulness. It's not how they want to talk about themselves.

Well, it doesn't have to be.

Your blog doesn't have to be like that. Your voice won't be seen as full of hot air--if you stick to what you know and self edit your tone. Can't you do that?

If Forbes wanted you to write a weekly column on the professional world around you, wouldn't you take it? So why is a blog any different?

There are lots of interesting opportunities out there, but it's incredibly hard for a startup team to go from not knowing anything about you at all to making you employee number five. It's exponentially easier when they're imagining who would make a great head of customer service and they think of you right away because you write this neat blog about the tactics of making customers happy.

If you really want to do what you love--let everyone know you love it. Be a public student of your craft. Show others what you bring to the table by writing down what you learned and what's hard about what you're still in the process of learning--and what's changing all around you.

Otherwise, you're leaving your job satisfaction to the randomness and ineff [...]

The #vcbcc List Thisisgoingtobebig Feb 20, 2015

Two things ain't nobody got time for:

1) That.

2) Keeping track of all of the various criteria and foci of the hundreds of potential co-investors you could have in a seed round.

Especially not as a one partner fund.

Given that I often help my companies finish fundraising by introducing them to other investors, I wind up making a lot of intros. Keeping up with who does extra stage, what defines too early, who will only do B2B, consumer, etc., is a huge pain in the ass.

Granted, sometimes it's really clear that a deal is right for one particular co-investor, and that person or fund has done a great job branding that they want to see those types of deals, most VCs will look at a lot of different things and do things by exception all the time. Plus, they're always shifting around or refocusing on certain things.

So I've mostly given up.

Instead, I've started circulating a private list of things I'm working on--as well as a note about when some of my companies might be raising. I've also thrown in a few notes about good people I know who are looking for opportunities.

You want to know what deals I'm doing? Here they are. Knock yourself out. It's actually what SV Angel used to do back in the day, before the days of Angel List.

I've taken to calling it the #vcbcc list. Every month I send out a BCC note to about 190 investors who I know well, have done deals with, or who have asked me to keep them in mind for deals. I've sent out about three or four of them now and I'm thrilled to say that the list has now sourced over a million dollars of co-investors. Moreover, it gets me deals back in return--because sometimes it's just a matter of being top of mind for someone.

The best part is, a lot of the interest has been from VCs I wouldn't necessarily have thought of for that particular deal.

Do I worry about other people crowding me out of these deals? No... because if I try to make sure I build good enough relationships with the founders so that [...]

Be Careful About Being a Meddling Startup CEO Bothsidesofthetable Feb 17, 2015

* I recently wrote a post talking about how some VCs me […]

Taking My Hat Off to @Shervin and His Hyperloop Ambitions

Taking My Hat Off to @Shervin and His Hyperloop Ambitions Bothsidesofthetable Feb 13, 2015

* Shervin Pishevar. Many of the articles I’ve rea […]

Why Most Online Video Companies Will Fail

Why Most Online Video Companies Will Fail Bothsidesofthetable Feb 9, 2015

I live in LA and fund startups. So you can imagine that […]

One Weird Trick to Build a Personal Brand

One Weird Trick to Build a Personal Brand Bothsidesofthetable Feb 4, 2015

  My long-time friend Jason Lemkin is on the verge […]

It’s Sofa King More Effective to Pick up the Phone Bothsidesofthetable Feb 11, 2015

* Phone calls. Millennials are allergic to them. I have […]

The Board Before the Board Thisisgoingtobebig Feb 9, 2015

Forming a board...  It's what the best performing companies do once they take on outside investors.  Board members can provide useful feedback, help to focus the founding team, and provide a network of contacts.  

Unfortunately, many companies don't get financing--because they don't get any of the above.  They don't get the feedback they need, especially around priorities.

Sometimes, the founders lack focus to the point where they don't even get to the point of company formation.  They get caught in a sea of too many problems, too many opportunities, without a good idea of what to do first to coalese their ideas into a single vision.  

A lot of friends and potential founders come to me with tons of ideas, or none at all, or half of one--but with the will and drive to create something, making it all extremely frustrating for them.  What do they do first?  How do they pick out their idea?

It's hard for me to get too involved, because committing time to help is a slippery slope.  For advisors, there's a real gap between one coffee and joining the company.  You want to help, but your time is limited.  

That's how board participation can help an advisor scale.  You're on the hook for a finite amount of meetings and the meetings are structured in such a way to prioritize the discussions that create the most impact on the company.

So why wait until you have a company to setup a board?

Most people have a fair number of people willing to help, but they get stuck in trying to figure out how to get the most help out of them.  

Setting up a simple board before you've even got a company can help you get into the practice of collecting feedback and getting nudged back into focus.  Going through the discipline of being accountable for your time, setting and sticking to goals and simply talking through problems with others can bring clarity to chaos.

I'd recommend that if you're going to get something off the ground, there are three people worth talking t [...]

The Most Misunderstood Facts About Building a Business on YouTube

The Most Misunderstood Facts About Building a Business on YouTube Bothsidesofthetable Jan 20, 2015

Any reader of this blog for a period of time will know […]

You Can’t Rely on a VC to Make Your Hardest Decisions Bothsidesofthetable Feb 1, 2015

* What is the role of a VC for entrepreneurs? I suppose […]

Here’s What The @NYTimes Should Teach Its Writers About Social Media

Here’s What The @NYTimes Should Teach Its Writers About Social Media Bothsidesofthetable Feb 1, 2015

Not everybody likes the NY Times. I happen to be a long […]

Be Honest About Whether Your Product Really Makes a Difference Bothsidesofthetable Jan 26, 2015

Startups in a world of massive markets can be confusing […]

How to Build Online Relationships into Meaningful Networks Bothsidesofthetable Jan 24, 2015

I was waiting for my son’s basketball game to sta […]

What happens when you find the right journalist for the story Thisisgoingtobebig Jan 22, 2015

I'm incredibly excited to announce Brooklyn Bridge Ventures' investment in Plum Print. Plum Print turns your kid's artwork into buyable merchandise like coffee table books, and soon note cards, framed prints, and calendars. While other apps store art for future printing, Plum Print is different because it doesn't require large amounts of time for you to do it yourself. You throw everything in a box and Plum Print does the hard work for you, returning the art and a completed keepsake. So, yes, they're conceding the market of parents who have enough time to scan hundreds of pieces of artwork a year.

I don't think that's a big market. :)

I'll talk more about my investment in another post, but what I really loved about their announcement today was how great the article in Techcrunch was. Sometimes, you send some info over to a reporter and they do what needs to be done, but the result is the same kind of story you see everywhere else. Yes, I'm accusing tech journalists of barely rewriting press releases.

And you know what, why shouldn't they?

You sent them the same pitch you sent everywhere else. If they bang something out in twenty minutes, you'll link to it, you'll get some traffic back, they'll get traffic--it's transactional. If you treat PR like a transaction, that's the way press will treat you back.

So when Meg and Carolyn wanted help on their announcement, I knew the right person to cover it from the tech side--Sarah Perez from Techcrunch. I met Sarah in person at Techcrunch Disrupt in NYC a few years ago. We had connected by e-mail about Tinybop and I knew she was interested in kids apps and companies. She's a mom herself and her family is a big part of why she lives down in Florida. So, she knew why I was sending her the Plum Print story and I, just as importantly, I knew why I was sending her the Plum Print story.

I just read the story she wrote and it's fantastic.

It's comprehensive--it covers all the major points about their new upcomin [...]

Blogging for the Hell of It, Not Blogging to Stay Relevant Bothsidesofthetable Jan 18, 2015

. I used to love blogging. For me it was always a creat […]

A result. Faster. Thisisgoingtobebig Jan 15, 2015

Why do startups fail?

They run out of money, of course. That's an oversimplification and actually it's more the result than the root cause.

A lot of times, it comes down to failing to produce results, and enough of them. What I've realized recently, though, is that smaller, faster results are key--and it doesn't always matter whether those results are good or bad.

I know a few startups that are struggling with their execution and it strikes me that they don't have any enough small victories. Their goals are all or nothing, like big product releases. For months, they're building the next thing, and there's little for the CEO to accomplish in the meantime.

Similarly, they get stuck in trying to negotiate with a huge customer for months on and end it ties up their resources.

Even in the beginning, some founders can't move forward until they raise their seed round. All you ever hear from them is whether they raised their seed round or not--and the company just seems dead in the water.

There are no small victories.

Having small victories isn't a function of winning and losing--it's about the design of your goals and your approach to them.

Language is incredibly important here. It starts with your team's disposition around new goals.

When your team decides that enterprise users should be able sign themselves up, that's a big project. That involves automating a ton of things that aren't automated yet and untold headaches for your tech team.

What's the reaction when the CEO says "I've gotten feedback from customers that they want to just try the product out themselves, and the setup and support team is already overloaded...what would it take to allow people to set themselves up?"

If the first reaction from an already overloaded tech team is a face palm and an "ugh", that's a problem that goes deep. That means the people involved are only thinking of the end goal and nothing in between--and not positioning themselves to allow for small wins. [...]

Overcoming The Odds: 10 Tips For Getting Into A Top Accelerator

Overcoming The Odds: 10 Tips For Getting Into A Top Accelerator Onstartups Jan 5, 2015

Just as the CEO is the investor’s interface to a business, the application process and form is your interface into top accelerators like Techstars and Y Combinator. The best programs are super-selective--less than 1% of applicants get in, making them pickier than Harvard, Stanford and MIT. So as our New Year’s present to you, here is the scoop on how to improve your odds of getting in.

We can’t speak directly for any programs other than TechStars Boston, which the two of us have known and been involved in for years, but these hints should improve your chances significantly just about anywhere.

Excited to be the Least Stylish Investor in the Most Stylish Company: Backing Bradford and Bezar Thisisgoingtobebig Jan 8, 2015

To date, I've backed three fashion related companies--Refinery29, chloe + isabel, and Ringly--and now I have the pleasure of joining the syndicate of investors in Bradford Shellhammer's new company, Bezar.

Could I a less likely candidate for such a portfolio? :)

Bezar is where you find people who design the kinds of things that I see in other people's apartments and stop to pick up, inspect, wonder at and think, "That's awesome... I would have never thought of adding that to this place."

It's the kind of place where you buy clothing that make people notice because it's cool and interesting--even people like me, currently typing this with a Mets t-shirt on and jeans that I bought at Macy's.

It's a platform that puts the emerging designer up to be celebrated and I'm just as excited for the designers that are going to be featured on the site as I am for Bradford and his terrific team.

How I got to this investment was another long term story. I was a huge Fab.com buyer in the early days when we backed it at First Round Capital. It was the only marketing e-mail I opened up everyday--because it always had the coolest stuff. Each e-mail brought with it something that I felt that need to tweet and share--and many, probably too many times, something I bought.

That was the core of what Bradford brought to that company. It was built around his design sense.

But Fab fell into the trap that many companies who go down the VC route fall into--too much money, too soon, and growing too fast. Money pushed the whole thing off the rails and made it into something that wasn't the exciting thing it was when it first launched.

After Bradford left, I reached out to him and asked him to get dinner. I wanted to hear his lessons learned and help him figure out his next thing. Small world, it turns out I also knew his husband from the finance world having met him over 10 years ago.

We had a great chat and stayed in touch. When he told me he was launching Bezar and as [...]

My top essays in 2014 about mobile, growth, and tech Andrewchen Jan 6, 2015

Hello readers, Happy 2015 and hope everyone had a relaxing holiday. As always, more essays are coming soon for the next year. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my essays published here over the last year. If you want to stay up to date, just make sure to subscribe for updates. Also, thanks […]

The post My top essays in 2014 about mobile, growth, and tech appeared first on @andrewchen.

Turns at Albuquerque: How I Measure My Career Thisisgoingtobebig Jan 5, 2015

I love thinking about career paths and how people get from A to B. It's my favorite thing to teach as well--and I'll be giving a class at Startup Institute this Tuesday night about it. They're a career accelerator, which is a pretty neat concept--doing what YC and Techstars do for startups, but for your career.

Anyway, 2015 marks a couple of big career anniversaries for me.

Twenty years ago, I got my first job. I started working in 1995 at the age of 15 in the mailroom at Waterhouse Securities (which became TD Waterhouse) at 100 Wall Street.

Ten years ago, in 2005, I started working for Union Square Ventures as their first analyst.

I've always thought about plotting where I was in my career against where I thought I should or could have been at my age. Sure, there are outliers who start companies at age 19, but that didn't seem like a fair comparison. I was aiming more for the top quartile--who was at top of my field that didn't seem to get there via a fluke--whose career might actually be replicable.

When I was working for USV, I learned of Chamath Palihapitiya's career. At 28, he became the head of AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM), which was a big deal at the time. When I was 26, I called him up and asked him about his background to try and figure out how, in two years, I could be running AIM (or rather, the equivilent impactful job).

What I learned was that Chamath's career path was the product of three things: First, being really good at what you do, obviously. Second, was taking risks. He didn't aim to become the head of AIM. He joined a startup that wound up getting bought by AOL. He later took a similar risk by joining Facebook when it was just a year old or so.

I reiterated the notion of risk taking when giving career advice the other day and how when I joined Union Square Ventures, it wasn't the USV it was now. Fred and Brad didn't have the reputations they do now. Barely anyone had ever heard of them. Getting a job at USV was much easier [...]

Upfront Ventures Raised New $280 Million Fund

Upfront Ventures Raised New $280 Million Fund Bothsidesofthetable Dec 16, 2014

Whew! We’ve been dying to tell you all for a whil […]

A Few Funny Characters You'll Find In Silicon Valley

A Few Funny Characters You'll Find In Silicon Valley Onstartups Dec 15, 2014

The following is a guest post by Nathan Beckord. Nathan is co-founder and CEO of Foundersuite, a San Francisco-based company developing the ultimate collection of software tools and templates for entrepreneurs.

8 Unconventional Lessons From Quitting My Job At HubSpot

8 Unconventional Lessons From Quitting My Job At HubSpot Onstartups Dec 29, 2014

The following article is a guest post by Ellie Mirman. Ellie is the VP Marketing at Toast. Check out her blog or follow her on twitter: @ellieeille.