Today wasn't nearly as busy as yesterday, but it started off with a lot of knowledge and finished up with some pretty entertaining stories. The first meeting was with Ann Winblad, one of the cofounders of the Hummer Winblad Venture Partners that has been around for 25 years, and it was informative in exactly how venture capitalists operate. Ann is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met and a quick search for her online yields thousands of relevant results. The things she's accomplished are mind boggling, and the connections she's made over the years is almost intimidating. For example, it came out during some of my research that she dated Bill Gates for a few years. Beyond that, she's also one of the most successful venture capitalists and has received awards and recognitions from numerous corporations and magazines. Obviously, she had a lot of knowledge to offer.
I've kept all of the details in notes for myself if I ever find myself in a position of trying to get a startup off the ground, so I'll spare some of the details, but it was very helpful to have her explain Series A funding and the like, as well as things that she looks for. One interesting yet slightly disheartening note that she made was that she would likely never invest in a company that's starting up in the Midwest area. She gave a bit of reasoning, but it became clear that location was key and that the Silicon Valley area would be the place to be if I were to be doing a startup.
Some takeaway lessons that I got from Ann are:
You need to invest early, but don't invest too early. If the world isn't ready for the technology (like with Microsoft's tablet in 1990), then it won't pick up and you'll lose on money if you invest
It's not just about how you're helping write code--it's also about how you're helping to build the company
You must always operate with some assumptions when creating your startup, or when investing in one. Companies go out of business when their assumptions aren't valid, so this is crucial. Narrow it down to a few assumptions including
Need for the product
Value of the product
Marketability of the product
Your process should follow a guide of Planning → Building → Landing → Expanding
Make a plan. Have a list of milestones, challenges, how to overcome them, etc.
Build your product, even if it's a rough prototype
Land it in the marketplace, and have it be steady
Expand. Now that you've got a decent foundation, this is your chance to make your product line grow
When you have an "Oh shit!" moment (when, not if), you can't just step back. You have to go right in and face it, take care of it, and make it yesterday's news
Much of this can be applied to things outside of entrepreneurship and I always appreciate the lessons that can be generalized. One last detail she mentioned that hit me like a brick was her saying that a first job out of college likely won't matter much. I've heard it many times during this trip from almost all companies I've met with, but this time it really stuck and I'm not sure where to go with that tidbit. Even though she said it wasn't always the case and that it more has to do with doing something new instead of working on something that's existing, it was still somewhat disconcerting and I'm going to have to reflect more on it.
After that meeting, we met with Phillip who has a varied career path. His history ranges from being an entrepreneur for several of his own startups to being a professor to working at NASA. He's worked (and is working) on developing technologies such as cameras that can scan your brain in almost-realtime, video delivery to mobile devices, video and telecommunication products and services, and a gamut of other high-tech fields. The guy was a genius and it was great to listen to his ideas and his stories from his time at NASA, as well as bounce some of our own startup ideas off of him.
The rest of the afternoon was spent looking around the Berkeley campus and admiring some of the architecture out there. There were some great views of the surrounding area and it was nice to take in some of the sights before we head to Palo Alto for our Google experience tomorrow. A few days ago, the group I was with was passed by a Google Maps car and we haven't yet appeared on the site, but since we're meeting with some people from that division tomorrow, maybe we'll get a chance to ask about it. Or maybe I'll be too distracted by all of the cool technology I'll be surrounded by. Only time can tell!