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February 14 2018

17:53

How to pitch

Learning how to pitch VCs is critical for most tech founders (though, maybe it shouldn’t be).

Here are the key elements to remember:

1. Tell a simple story that convinces people that your company matters
2. Prepare well for Q&A. Understand the questions that smart and interested people are likely to ask about your business to learn more.
3. Prepare supporting material well

Tell a simple story

Good pitch decks are like children’s books. They have 10-20 pages. They never put more than one concept on a page. That concept is explained with one *simple* declarative sentence and supporting evidence on that page illustrates the point and tries to convince the reader that it’s true.

For example:

We are the fastest growing company in our industry

{Graph comparing growth rates with competitors}

When you remove the supporting evidence, you should be left with a string of simple, declarative statements. When read in order, these statements should tell a clear and compelling story about why your company is important. 

For example:

We are the Gates Foundation. We find ways to use philanthropy to solve critical problems that are hard for markets or governments to address. Billions of people face some crucial challenges related to health and education. We’ve figured out how to very effectively deploy money to help reduce and solve those problems. We have learned three things that are critical to deploying money effectively. We have unique access to capital and talent allowing us to continue deploying money effectively. Our operations are working globally, and we continue to expand. We intend to spend 50  billion dollars over the next 25 years. We expect this to save a total of 67 million lives and help raise 600 million people out of poverty. To date, we’ve been heavily focused on healthcare and education, but we think we can also apply our approach to solving additional challenges.

That may be an awkward example, I’ll see if I can get clearance to share a real example. But you get the idea. It’s ten sentences long and when you read it, it’s clear what the underlying story is and why the company matters. If you gave me that presentation, with supporting evidence that clearly proved each of those ten sentences, I’d be a massive Gates Foundation cheerleader.

If you want to build a good pitch deck, pretend you’re creating a children’s book about why your company will win.

Prepare well for Q&A

Your pitch is built to excite an investor. It’s gets them interested. That’s the first step of a longer process. For an investor to go from interested to excited, they will generally need to learn some more detail about the business. If an investor can ask, and get a solid answer to, a good question — that moves them forward and helps them make a decision.

Some questions aren’t good. They don’t explain much about the company’s strategy, or it’s potential for success. They don’t identify risks. They don’t do much other than build rapport and allow you to look confident. They are wasted time (being confident answering a bad question often doesn’t help you much. 

There are likely 10-15 good questions to ask about your business at this stage. When investors ask you a good question, you should rejoice — that’s a sign they understand the business, are engaged, and are smart. It’s also your chance to truly sell them.

Most people don’t spend enough effort getting this right. You should know the good questions to your business. What nuances are important? If you failed tomorrow and were asked to evaluate investing in a similar business, what would you ask? What risks do you face? If you fail, what are the 3-4 most likely causes? 

Spend the time to brainstorm all of the good questions you could get, both the ones you’re excited to expand on and the difficult questions that you hope you don’t have to answer. Don’t waste time on bad questions. “What’s your hiring plan over the next 12 months” is a bad question. The good forms of that question are “what’s missing from your team today and can you add that with this round” and “how will you build and manage a great team?”

Brainstorm good questions and then answer them as compellingly as you can. Write the questions in a doc and write the answers. Take the time to think through these well. You’re investing your time and life here, don’t shy away from asking the hard questions of yourself in hopes that you can avoid thinking about the risk your taking.

Most people don’t put in the work on this. Don’t be one of those people. Your answers to good questions are your opportunity to show that you know the business, that you are smart, and that you have good instincts. Refine your answers. Get to the point where they describe well, and fairly succinctly, what matters about that quesiton. 

For example:

Q: Why don’t you give more in the United States?
A: Our foundation spends about $500 million a year in the United States, most of it on education. That’s a lot, but it is less than the roughly $4 billion we spend to help developing countries. We don’t compare different people’s suffering. All suffering is a terrible tragedy. We do, however, assess our ability to help prevent different kinds of suffering. When we studied the global health landscape, we realized that our resources could have a disproportionate impact. We knew we could help save literally millions of lives. So that’s what we’ve tried to do.

Source: The 10 toughest questions we get asked (2018 Gates Letter)

In keeping with our Gates examples, this is a good example of thinking deeply about the hard, even negative, questions and coming up with an answer that is clear and compelling on why they believe their efforts are important.

Not everyone will ask good questions. That’s okay. They don’t understand your business yet. Your job is to navigate them to the good question, which can be done a surprisingly high amount of the time. 

For example, if someone asks the bad question: “what’s your hiring plan in the next 12 months?” Then you can answer their question briefly, then redirect and connect it back to a good question that you have an answer for. 

For example

Direct answer: In the next 12 months, we’re planning to hire seven engineers and one ops person, which will allow us get our product out the door and meet the milestones we’ve set with Customer X.
Pivot to answering “good” question: When I think about growing the team, I think that long-term, we’re missing a really critical person on risk and compliance, who I’d like to bring in as soon as we can find the right person (with knowledge that this one is a unicorn and will take some time).

Prepare supporting material well

I’m going to spend a lot less time on this, because it’s a lot more company and stage dependent than what you see above. 

You a seed stage company? Financial model might not matter that much, but employee and customer interviews might. If you’re Series C, you’re going to have your financials split 6 different ways and showing aggregate data on customer behavior might be more important than specific customer reviews.

Here’s what’s important to know. Once a good investor goes from interested to excited, they start becoming advocates for the deal, but they also switch from thinking “what could this be” into thinking “what are the ways this is going to bite me.” Welcome to diligence. It’s a critical phase to getting someone to say yes and work with you over the long-term.

Spend time thinking about what investors might need in this phase. Ask friends. Ask VCs. Ask your investors. If there are clear things that are likely to be common needs, set those up. Get some customers that are willing to do interviews. Get personal references for the key team. Get your financial model. Get your cap table. Whatever it is, don’t be surprised by a “can you send us the…”


This doc is a work in progress. Suggestions or ideas welcome.

December 01 2017

04:03

One on Ones

Below, find some stream of conscious ideas on good 1-1s. 

Smarter folks than I have written on this: Andy Grove, Rands


Good One on Ones.

1-1s are critical. They’re a really good way to make sure that blockers aren’t shutting something down, to develop rapport and trust, to elicit help, and to avoid surprises and “getting out of sync.” They’re also just a nice way to make sure we don’t get into our own execution tracks and drift apart from each other.I wanted to share some ideas on how we make the most of them.


One-on-ones are the subordinate’s meeting. 

You own them. They fail if you don’t prep for them. Make (and preferably share) an agenda the day before. Review it an hour (and definitely share!) before the meeting.

1-1s go way better when you come in with the issues in mind that you want to talk about. And even better when they are in order of import and/or you share an agenda so we know which issues to allocate more/less time to (i.e. don’t let us spend 45 min on X, when Y is actually more important to you).

Generally you want to discuss things in this priority:

  • Urgent, Strategic
    • [“One of my key employees is flailing and I’m not sure how to help them; We’re about to screw up something really big; We just screwed up something really big; I feel like I’m failing and am considering quitting, etc.”]
    • This might be scary to talk about, but prioritizing these well and calling attention to them early can often be “save the day” moment
    • Companies are saved through these urgent calls to action, people are able to keep jobs they otherwise would have lost, etc. <— this is where the good work happens
    • As a leader or early member of any company, I guarantee there will be at least one time where you raising one of these early will be the difference between the company being successful and failing
  • Urgent, Tactical
    • [“I need you to convince this person of X; we need to submit this ASAP; I’m underwater and need you to pick up Y for me; I need you to sign this; I’m blocked by Z — please help me get unblocked; etc.”]
    • Ideally, these should all be handled outside of this 1-1 time, but if we don’t have the time to get something done the right way, we at least have this hour as a safety valve
  • Strategic, Not urgent
    • [places the org can/should go; personal and career development goals; big/important ideas; ways to expand our products or service; etc.]
    • The best one-on-ones are often when we get to spend 1/3 to ¼th of our meetings touching on these issues. It means the org is humming very nicely and there aren’t many problems when we can talk about stuff like this
    • We won’t get to these in every meeting, if we’re lucky enough to have one meeting a month at this stage where the first two are totally handled, we’re in a good place
  • Tactical, Not urgent
    • If we ever have time for these things, we should often just end the meeting early
    • The one-on-ones that fail worst are the ones that spend their time on these because they are “top of mind” — it’s almost always an indication of bad planning.

Action items and follow-up. 

We both need to hold each other accountable for action items. Tracking notes and action items week-over-week is important for this to feel like progress and for there to be continuity to what we discuss. 

Good 1-1s follow a flow from week-to-week more weeks than not, but not every week. When a crisis hits, it clearly should interrupt the flow of what you’re focused on. But, if you’re having a crisis every week — that’s an indication that you’re struggling with your responsibilities and that we should both look for ways to help you with that. 

You should have some breakthrough or crisis pretty frequently in the early days, but it’s probably every 2-3 weeks, not every week. A major exception for that is if they are breakthroughs more than crises. If you can meaningfully improve what you’re working on every week, that’s obviously a good thing.

Label items on the agenda with what you actually want from it. 

One of the funny things about one-on-ones, is that most managers (myself included), absolutely suck at listening. We end up stuck in some other context. 

Often, for example, we think you’re asking for help when you’re only asking for an emotional outlet on some annoying issue that you easily know how to solve. Or, we think you’re just giving us an update when you actually need help solving something. 

I find there are usually one of four categories that most agenda items fit into. Adding these to the agenda item teaches your idiot manager (me) what to be doing in each section. 

Update - Hey, I’m doing or did X and you should know about it. Especially important on material decisions you don’t need approval for but that you don’t want people surprised by later.

Escalation - I’ve done X and Y, but I can’t get Z to happen. I need you to unblock me or fix this. I think the best way for you to do that is A, but B or C may also work.

Vent - No action is needed, I just want to express how annoyed I am at Blah.

Decision - You need signoff for something. Always presented in this fashion: "I have X problem. I think there are Y and Z solutions. I recommend we do Y because A, B, and C.”  

You may be asking, “Why that stupid draconian format?” Great question! The way you know someone is ready for a promotion is when the organization (as personified by that person’s manager” starts agreeing with their recommendations on increasingly complex issues. So, by using that format, it’s easy to see when someone is [1] seeing all the options and [2] picking the “right” one — as determined by that boss and that company’s culture.

Note that that goes both ways, if a subordinate consistently disagrees with their manager’s decision making, they can, should, and will leave (if they are talented). That could be caused by an honest misalignment on a vision, it could be an indication that this company’s culture isn’t for you, or it could be a warning sign that the manager is making bad decisions and needs to either grow or be replaced. 

With some frequency (especially when folks are recently in a new or expanded role) the manager will disagree with the recommendation made and should explain why. If the employee doesn’t agree, they should push back. As a manager do not shut those discussions down. Have them, even if it’s time sucking. It will improve the performance of your team. It could alert you to when you have issues with someone’s decision making. And, most importantly, it will give you early signals on your own performance so you can fix your own errors before you get replaced.

Some commitments from my end: 

I will take notes and be present. 

I may occasionally add something that I care about to the agenda, but I will do so after we address the things that you care about. This is your time, if I need more time to address my concerns, I can book a different slot with you.

I will attempt to, if I wasn’t able to in the moment, deliver feedback to you here — that way my feedback is always w/in a week of something happening and I have a venue to do it when it might have been inappropriate in the moment (if we are with another person, for example).

Status updates make 1-1s better. 

The more time that we spend talking about things in the “Strategic, but not-urgent” bucket, the more we’re getting to focus on the really fun and really important things. 

To get to those, we have to get through the urgent stuff first. That is hard, but it’s made easier by handling those issues asynchronously. Update emails are great for briefing, sharing info, making sure someone is up-to-speed. Asynch updates can also help with other issues — if someone understands the context for something, it may be 5 minutes in a 1-1, instead of an hour.

Note: This can be overdone. Spend at least 50x more time working than you do sharing what you’re working on. But, 30-60min of asynchronous communication a week could easily be what enables us to have great 1-1s.

We should both be 100% candid and honest. 

We’ll probably talk about concerns, fears, annoyances, hard emotions. We also may talk about personal struggles and what impact that may have on work and challenges coming up. Personal goals/desires. All of that. 

This is an open and human moment, and it’s a safe 1-on-1 space for that. Think about what you want and need me to know so that this isn’t unstructured or unproductive, but don’t shy away from tough topics or discussions.

October 03 2017

05:09
“Venture capitalists’ job is to invest in risky projects.”  This statement is scary to me. We should be risk evaluators, not risk takers.  We should invest where our background and instincts and due diligence convince us the anticipated return will far exceed our evaluation of the risk. There are five key risks in any deal:  Market, Product (a/k/a technology), Management, Business Model, and Capital. Taking all five at once is crazy. Most losses happen when you combine Market and Product risk – take one, not both, and take it with a proven entrepreneur.
A Venture Capital History Perspective From Jack Tankersley - Feld Thoughts

April 06 2017

20:06
Investors and employees make much more money by increasing the size of the pie rather than their share of the pie.
The Right Way to Grant Equity to Your Employees | First Round Review

March 30 2016

21:08
I think the right initial metric is “do any users love our product so much they spontaneously tell other people to use it?”  Until that’s a “yes”, founders are generally better off focusing on this instead of a growth target.
Sam Altman

March 18 2016

14:16
The global population is both growing and urbanizing, and managing infrastructure and workforce development is profoundly difficult everywhere.
A global experiment in co-living | TechCrunch

March 11 2016

18:56
Leave the Medium thought pieces about when the stock market is going to crash and the effect it’s going to have on the fundraising environment to other people—it’s boring, and history will forget those people anyway.   There has never been a better time to take a long-term view and use technology to solve major problems, and we’ve never needed the solutions more than we do right now.
Hard Tech is Back - Sam Altman

March 07 2016

03:17
If you’re a founder of a venture-funded company, your first chance of success is about 19 percent. If you succeeded with that first company, your chances of success with your second company will be more than 30 percent. If you failed the first time and try again, your odds of success are [still] roughly 19 percent. So your instinct, generally as an investor is that, ‘Wow, if you [the founder] have a history of success, then I should bet on you.’ That’s a good instinct. But some instincts aren’t born out by the data. So it’s a mix, and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong and it’s not all intuition-driven. It’s not all computer-driven either.
Bill Maris Talks Uber, Zenefits, And Increasing GV’s Yearly Fund To $500 Million | TechCrunch

February 20 2016

10:42
You have but one weapon against this cruel oppressor: focus.   In  good times, entrepreneurs don’t have to focus as acutely because the creation of good stuff outstrips the slouching to disorder.  The great all-weather teams, on the other hand, have to focus because they realize that time is really expensive and when the creation of good stuff slows, entropy lies in wait.  Choose what to do and what not to do.  Just choose quickly and be explicit about your choices.
Super LP

November 05 2015

21:18
Play fullscreen

“I think the attitude towards failure should be tolerant, but like ‘hey that sucks, let’s not do that again.’”

(via Blitzscaling Session 2: Sam Altman - YouTube)

November 03 2015

00:51
Play fullscreen

Charlie Munger talks like a Sorkin character:

“Think about it for awhile and you’ll agree with me – because you’re smart, and I’m right.”

“Berkshire has not made its progress in life by making macroeconomic bets… occasionally, in recent years, Warren is kept out of other mischief by doing things like buying Brazilian Real. And he’s done it very intelligently, and made a few billion dollars. But, it’s a sideshow. You know, when the markets are scarce for our kind of activity, Warren has to do something. He’s so used to a couple billion dollars coming over the transom every so often that he sometimes stretches if it’s easy enough.”

(via Charlie munger - Caltech 2008 DuBridge Distinguished Lecture in Beckman Auditorium - YouTube)

October 24 2015

16:33

The most recent OTC memo

So there you have some of the key lessons from sports:

· For most participants, success is likely to lie more dependably in discipline, consistency and minimization of error, rather than in bold strokes – high batting average and an absence of strikeouts, not the occasional, sensational home run.
· But in order to be superior, a player has to do something different from others and has to have an appropriate level of confidence that he can succeed at it. Without conviction he won’t be able to act boldly and survive bouts of uncertainty and the inevitable slump.
· Because of the significant role played by randomness, a small sample of results is far from sure to be indicative of talent or decision-making ability.
· The goal for bettors is to see value in assets that others haven’t yet recognized and that isn’t reflected in prices.
· At first glance it seems effort and “common sense” will lead to success, but these often prove to be unavailing.
· In particular, it turns out that most people can’t see future outcomes much better than anyone else, but few are aware of this limitation.
· Before a would-be participant enters any game, he should assess his chances of winning and whether they justify the price to play.

These lessons can serve investors very well.

October 13 2015

04:21
We’ve noticed that the best startups tend to not hire employees for awhile. One of the reasons, it seems, is they are able to convince much better people to join once things start working.
I am Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator – AMA | Hacker News

September 25 2015

03:48

September 23 2015

04:09
Most great companies historically have had good unit economics soon after they began monetizing, even if the company as a whole lost money for a long period of time.
Unit Economics - Sam Altman

September 02 2015

04:37

In almost every domain there are advantages to seeming good. It makes people trust you. But actually being good is an expensive way to seem good. To an amoral person it might seem to be overkill.

In some fields it might be, but apparently not in the startup world. Though plenty of investors are jerks, there is a clear trend among them: the most successful investors are also the most upstanding. [1]

The Ronco Principle

July 07 2015

07:32

Half-baked thoughts on Philanthropy

You no doubt saw Philanthropy for Hackers. I dug the concepts. His rules for giving are good ones:

  • Start giving early
  • Deploy capital quickly
  • Remain small and bet big
  • Follow market logic
  • Get political

All good rules, we should all strive to follow them (not just billionaires – giving should be a small part of all of our lives).

Peter Diamandis posted a challenge; that more philanthropists specifically target the impact they want to make. This intersects well with Parker’s “hackable” problems. I love this idea.

The other part that jumped out at me as being totally true was this:

“They want to interact directly with the scientists, field workers and academics whose ideas power the philanthropic world but who have traditionally been hidden away in a backroom somewhere…”

That reminded me of two foundations/organizations doing a really excellent job at collecting and sharing these experiments:

I’m not sure, but it seems like the progenitor of the trend might be Gates with his Gates Notes on HealthEnergy, and Education. Whoever started it, we’re going to get a lot more of it over the next generation of philanthropy. The great part about this is that we’ll widely be smarter and more informed as a society because of it.

Anyway, thought you’d really enjoy the latter group of these – the content being the key deliverable for a good foundation is a new thing and I think it better aligns motives. Captivating content increases the visibility of the project, and therefore of the donor. Having to publish good content, which is effectively semi-peer-reviewed because it can’t impugn the reputation of the donor, puts an onus on the foundation to do some novel work and to do it reasonably well. We also preserve more knowledge this way.

It’s certainly not the cure for all (or most) of philanthropies challenges, but it’s a nice trend that I’d like to see more of. Who else is doing a good job of sharing these types of insights? 

Who are the good think-tanks that have effectively become high-quality publications? Are there more in the political/business realm?

I think Long Now qualifies (long-term thinking and prioritization). So does ThinkWithGoogle (marketing) and KurzweilAI (singularity proselytization). 

That has to be a wildly incomplete list (and a clear admission of where my attention goes) – who else am I missing?

June 30 2015

21:12

Inside Out Gives Kids a Language to Understand and Discuss Their Emotions

I loved the movie Inside Out, it was another in a long line of Pixar masterpieces. 

Over breakfast this morning, a friend shared that he felt like kids didn’t get a lot of emotional education (at home or in school) and never really acquire the language to understand and talk about their emotions. 

My friend shared the story of a father who saw the movie with his son and reported that the movie encouraged his child to “ask a bunch of new questions.” That’s awesome. 

Is there other content like this that is delivered “subversively” through a really enjoyable experience? 


– 

Related: The research on increasing neuroplasticity through video games – one of the researcher’s big desires is to get professional game designers to help make the games fun. (source: Podcast Interview)

June 22 2015

20:30
Yana How are things?
good Day... how are you?Hope you are great.
My name is Yana or simple Yanya. I am single lady and look for serious relationships... So this is a reason why I am writing you this email:) If my information correct you are single man too and looking for woman. Does it true?
Something more about me: My age is 30 ,I am russian,and I am health care worker. Never married have no kids and now single. I enjoy every day of a life and have many different interests and hobbies. My main wish is to find serious relationships and love. So thats some information about me. I will be excited if you will write me back and say me more about you. Hope soon you will write me something. bye.
18:27
2942 cedc

good day! how are you?how is everything?
My name is Yana or simple Yanya. I am single lady and look for true love… So that is why I am conatcting you:) If I am right you are single man too and want to find second half. Does it true?
Something more about me now: My age is 30 ,I live in Russia,and I am working in medicine. I am single and I never been married. I enjoy life and have many different interests and hobbies. My dream is to find true love. So thats something about me. I will be happy if you will respond me and say more about you. Hope soon you will write me something. Bye.

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