When I was doing my MBA at Stanford, evaluating possible next steps, I sat down with a partner at a well-known VC and told him I wanted to help startups. Before graduate school I had spent three years with an automotive startup in San Diego and although we had raised a tremendous amount of money and had a brilliant engineering and business team, we failed. We failed for a variety of reasons, some preventable, some not. Importantly, I felt that much of what we encountered others had, too. I believed that our investors, with all their knowledge and experience, could have helped us avoid these potholes. I wanted to be one of those investors, spending my time being helpful to everyone and leveraging an industry-level perspective to help founders avoid well-worn traps. But before I could get my story out he pushed back. “If you want to help startups that means you want to invest in sh*t startups.” That’s one perspective.
The Ethos of Service
Every firm is different. For me, one of the main differences between firms is their perception of their own value beyond capital. Some shared his belief that a company should be able to thrive alone, while others talked freely of their efforts to help entrepreneurs, including those outside their portfolio. Others still offer a wide range of “services” but little access to the partners making the investments — the ones with the deepest insights and broadest value. For me, the desire to be helpful drove my pursuit of a job in venture, and I committed to finding a firm with similar values.
Venture capital was not an obvious path for me. I studied politics and Chinese in college, and worked part time as an analyst for the school’s IT services. At graduation I accepted a job as a consultant with a large firm, mostly because I wanted to travel, and spent the next few years learning the ropes as a developer on large CRM implementations. The choice to come to business school after the startup was as much a poorly disguised strategy to move to the Bay Area as it was a deliberate career decision. However, as Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
Now, looking backwards from my desk at Trinity Ventures, I see the ethos of service to innovators as the common thread, and the driving force, behind my career decisions. In consulting this meant working with smaller groups on more interesting problems, at the cost of greater exposure within the firm. While at the auto startup, I continually fought to join meetings outside my core focus to offer assistance, and to push myself to learn at the same time. At Trinity, being helpful to the entrepreneurs we meet is a mandate of the culture, and one that pays dividends far beyond deal flow and dollars. For us, the job is intellectually gratifying and personally rewarding, as we get to live our lives as students of innovation, and as proud coaches of inspiring performance.
Offering Something Unique
Every firm develops their own approach to “adding value beyond capital.” Trinity has an incredibly diverse group of partners, each with their own dynamic experiences, who work together in the most collaborative environment I’ve seen in venture. A few examples: Noel cofounded the firm in 1986 after founding three successful software startups, before software was a meaningful part of the Valley. Twenty years later, Dan founded Flurry and has built a substantial practice around cloud services for developers. Karan came out of enterprise direct sales, and Fred had worked as a developer, management consultant and PE investor before finding his way to VC. This means that when the Trinity team gets in a room, with a new entrepreneur pitching his or her idea for the first time, or with a portfolio CEO we’ve known for years, everyone has a unique perspective, and some unique advice to offer. This diversity of thought adds an assortment of value that no other firm could duplicate.
This is why Trinity is the right place for me, and why I’m convinced that we can do well by the entrepreneurs who share their dreams with us, as well as the LPs who entrust us with their capital. I am proud to be a part of an investment institution that has such a rich history and promising future, that brings together diverse skills, networks and perspectives, and ties them together with a commitment to be helpful.