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Summer Internship and Striking Gold

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Written by: Lucie Bardet

When I announced to friends that I would be spending my summer working for a venture capital firm, they seemed surprised. The role didn’t match the liberal thinking that I usually live by. But I was the first one to realize that I did not appreciate the full scope and breadth of venture capital activities. Indeed, when I first contacted Haas alumna Kira Noodleman to understand what a venture capitalist investor does, it was her obvious passion for her work that got me more and more intrigued by the startups and VC value chain. Embracing my full-time internship this past summer at Bee Partners as a summer associate, I realized the diversity of thoughts and missions that VCs can hold, and that managing a venture capital firm is much more than investing in cool companies and improving your profile on the market. Being a venture capitalist is about self-assessing, doing due diligence, and supporting your portfolio companies. Venture capital is not about making quick money; it is about a long-term commitment and an engagement in ideas that you think worthwhile.

A few key takeaways from my time at Bee.

Continuously self-assess. What impressed me this summer was the constant self-reflection and critique that everyone on the team engages in, along with the constructive feedback exchanged weekly and throughout the year during workshops and sprints. I had the chance to participate in a positioning workshop which triggered passionate discussions about the fund’s objectives, organization, and strategy, and where everyone pushed back and was listened to and challenged. As a startup itself, Bee grows, evolves, and matures, yet never takes success for granted nor rests on its laurels. This mindset pushes the team to explore new areas of investment beyond their current knowledge base. One of my biggest tasks this summer was to write investment recommendations in the health care sector. Despite a strong education and 7 years working in the biotech and health care sectors prior to starting my MBA, my self-assessment revealed that my knowledge of the U.S. healthcare system was limited to FDA and regulatory affairs as applied to big corporations. I knew little about health care startups. Working at Bee, I had the opportunity to attend more than 20 events in the field, from coast to coast. I met researchers, faculty, and startup Founders, and felt the amazing energy and innovation that emanate from the Bay Area.

Diligence is due, not optional. More importantly, diligence does not only cover the companies we want to invest in; it includes all the people we seeded in the past and potential investment areas going forward. It’s about networking and finding the partners who will later support the Founders. It’s about finding new limited partners to raise a future fund. It’s about finding future market disruptors and making them allies rather than enemies. This summer I was able to apply my extensive science and engineering background to the due diligence process while developing new networks and networking skills.

Know what you are looking for. Venture capital is a long-term game. It is not only a one-time check to promising Founders; it is building a relationship for years and years and years. It involves maintaining a philosophy in a segment you understand and in which you can support your Founders as well as adapting to new tech (r)evolutions, management practices, and legal or geographic opportunities. I had the opportunity (yes, the opportunity) to screen more than 500 startups this summer, and to reply to every single one of them. Believe me, this meant saying “no” a lot. Although most Founders are passionate about their ideas and have well-thought-out plans, a disciplined investor has to be able to say “no” often in order to say “yes” to companies that match their objectives, knowledge, and abilities. In such a competitive environment, with relatively low barriers to entry and where dozens of VCs emerge each year, specialization and domain knowledge are key to a VC firm’s success. Because when you know what to invest in, you are better able to support your portfolio companies with the resources they need, meaning the survivorship of your portfolio is the survivorship of your fund, too.

Be a great partner for your limited partners and your Founders. This summer, I learned that the most challenging and interesting part of the business is serving as the mediator between your investors and your investments. You need to understand and serve them both, and your objective as a firm is to bring this win-win-win situation to life. Of course, it’s harder in real life than on paper. I got first-hand experience with this balance by drafting an investor deck intended for LPs and writing a report about compensation allocation trends for our Founders. The report was written after we surveyed our portfolio companies and was meant to provide them cues about both the amount of equity and salaries in cash that Founders and different employees receive from the inception of a company to a series B.

I was glad to work in a young fund and experience both a startup and a VC environment this summer. I am grateful to have worked closely with Garrett Goldberg, Tim Smith, Kira Noodleman, and Michael Berolzheimer, who supported me while allowing me a degree of freedom in decision making which I didn’t expect, coming, as I did, from a different field and a different culture.

After this summer, becoming a VC is more appealing than ever. Of course, investing in and working with talented entrepreneurs who want to change the world while being financially successful seem compelling. And as I drove across the country after my internship and experienced the breadth of American history, I realize that this country has a unique mindset, which runs in parallel to startup Founders and, even more specifically, to Silicon Valley. Like the Forty-Niners who ventured farther and deeper into new country, into new rivers, and in colder waters in search of the precious stone, there is a large amount of hard work and luck involved in VC. But the smartest and hardest working adventurers learn how to position themselves to strike gold.

Thanks, Zach. And Thanks, Cal!

UC Berkeley and its programs, people, and principles are foundational to life at Bee Partners: Tim, Kira, and I are all graduates. A third of Bee portfolio companies came up through Berkeley. Bee Partners proudly founded, embraces and supports CalFoundersAnd we serve as mentors at SkyDeck, and speak or serve on panels for classes and competitions including LAUNCHBear TrapThe House, Space Technologies at Cal, and the VC Speaker Series for Haas Venture Fellows(HVF).  

HVF is a small group of students in each MBA class that represents the UC Berkeley entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Bay Area venture capital community. I was one of those students way back, and we’ve deepened our support as our firm has grown. Each year, we invite a student or students from HVF to join us in an intern role as a Bee Associate. Zach Thigpen ably filled that role this year. We were very pleased with his work, enjoyed his company, and are sorry to see him go (but glad that our HVF interns are never far away).  

Zach dedicatedly immersed himself in the world of venture capital and Bee Partners. We are proud of his growth and production. And as much as we’ve helped Zach develop and sharpen his skills, we’re grateful for the improvements he has left in his wake.  

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A few Zach highlights:

  • Since Zach joined Bee, the length of time for companies in our deal flow pipeline has been cut in half.

  • Zach created a marketing payload of useful resources and strategies for companies to go to market and attract their first customers.

  • He worked with several Bee portfolio companies on a variety of projects, including investment deck review, industry analysis, market sizing/segmentation, customer discovery and positioning, and most importantly, long-term strategy.

  • Zach helped form and articulate some deep Bee concepts in a series of blog posts that express our most important investment thinking.

  • Zach attended numerous industry and startup events, building the Bee brand consistently with our principles.

And yes, that’s just a few of the Zach-benefits we enjoyed!

It’s always hard to let our interns go, but exciting to watch them launch into new endeavors. His contribution to our Bee Partners tribal knowledge will be long felt, and his energy missed.  We’re proud to have Zach as an ambassador for Bee Partners, and can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

Our congratulations to grads – and our special love for Cal

It never gets old.

Every year, I attend several college graduation events.  And yes, there’s a certain sameness to them – flip the tassel, “Pomp and Circumstance,” and mortarboards in the air, not necessarily in that order – but I swear they never get old. There’s really nothing like the convergence of those two powerful graduation feelings: The sense of accomplishment and the excitement for what lies ahead.

My favorite ceremony? Until my own kids walk, it’s Berkeley-Haas. Not surprising, since it’s my alma mater. But in addition to that near-ancient connection, I’m always most excited about Berkeley-Haas graduation because we at Bee have committed to a deeply partnered relationship with the entrepreneurial programs there and the spectacular people those programs send into the world. (See below for a summary of our involvement.)

In the spirit of the graduation season, we thought to summarize some pieces of Bee Partners’ philosophy as a message to all graduates about to step onto the entrepreneurial path. These seemingly simple ideas have guided us in our post-college lives and we’ve witnessed their effectiveness for the startup founders we advise. I hope you find them useful.

Breathe

First, breathe a sigh of relaxation and relief, a breath of post-graduation air. Enjoy it – you’ve earned it! Then, as you launch into startup life, teach yourself to breathe like marathoners do: steadily, deeply, and for the long race ahead. This race you’re beginning won’t go to the swift. It’s a race won by endurance, persistence, and determination. Learn to breathe for that.

Collide

University life is a bit of a particle collider. That’s one of its great assets – you run into people. That’s a little less the case in startup world. Your head’s going to be down, often for days at time. Don’t forget to collide. Find other people and learn about their lives, their interests, and their needs. Widen your world. How? Meet for coffee, get together for ping pong (not beer pong, college is over), go for a walk.

Truth-tell

In school, your professors, advisors, and peers gave you reality checks, i.e., told you when you were doing something stupid. Now you’re on your own. It’s easy to delude yourself that you’re making progress when you get up and go to work every day, but you’ve got to be ruthlessly honest. Force some timetables to test your effectiveness.  If you don’t have a customer by a hard deadline, consider that it’s time to cut and run or take a serious pivot.

Stay connected

Don’t say goodbye for good. Stay connected to your cohort – and your alma mater. You just spent years in the trenches with these folks and many of them have earned your trust.  Keep in touch with them beyond social media. Share with them your successes and failures. Who knows… your first VP of engineering could be your old lab partner’s kid sister. We’ve seen it happen.   

Keep learning

Resting your laurels on that crisp diploma is a sure way to become marginalized. The curiosity that made you a stellar student will continue to serve you in your startup life. Keep an open mind and continue to cultivate new experiences. Start with admitting that you don’t know everything…  yet.

 

Bee and UC Berkeley

Bee Partners has a lengthy and tightly knit relationship with UC Berkeley. Garrett, Tim and I are regularly involved in university events and programs related to entrepreneurship, tech startup, investing, and business. All three serve as advisors to Haas accelerator SkyDeck, where Tim is head of the design program.

Further involvement:

  • We offer capital support to the Hansoo Lee Fellowship, and mentorship and office space to its awardees. Congratulations to this year’s fellows, Leon Rodriguez of NecesitoDoc, and Sarrah Nomanbhoy of NarHub!

  • We are always pleased with and excited about the quality of students from Haas and love having them join our team. This year we congratulate Kira Noodleman and can’t wait to have her join the Investment Team here in August!

  • I recently had the honor of moderating the Berkeley-Haas alumni panel “Venture Capital Perspectives.” This lively and engaged discussion led to some significant job opportunities between Bee Partners’ portfolio companies and Haas students. Special thanks to our panelists Lo Toney (GV, MBA 1999), John Coelho (StepStone Global, MBA 2007), Wes Selke (Better Ventures, MBA 2007), and Lev Mass (xSeed Capital, MBA 2007).

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Haas Reunion Conference
Photos Copyright Noah Berger / 2017

  • I also served as a judge on “Bear Trap,” the Cal version (better in our opinion!) of “Shark Tank.” This was a fun time for sure, but surely not easy to pick winners from among so many great contestants. Many thanks to George Panagiotakopoulos and the rest of the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Association.

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Bear Trap winners Players Lounge, HomeSlice, and Mekonos.

There are many other student and alumni groups we work with, including CalFounders. We’re honored to support these programs, and look forward to supporting yet another incoming class in the fall!

Honored to Continue Our Support for the Hansoo Lee Fellowship

We would like to congratulate Leon Rodriguez of NecesitoDoc for being selected for the Hansoo Lee Fellowship. The Fellowship is an opportunity for Berkeley-Haas MBA students to pursue their passion similarly to our friend Hansoo Lee and we are so honored to partner with Leon to help improve people’s lives.

Four years ago, Bee Partners lost an important member of our community, Hansoo Lee, co-Founder of Magoosh and BerkeleyHaas MBA class of 2010.  Since his death, I am proud of Bee Partners’ continued support of the Hansoo Lee Fellowship, which celebrates his passion for entrepreneurship in his memory. Read more about the incredible impact that Hansoo had on Bhavin Parikh (CEO and co-Founder) and on the culture at Magoosh.

Mirroring Hansoo’s vision for encouraging entrepreneurship, the Fellowship provides a stipend and mentorship to allow Berkeley-Haas MBA students to pursue their venture full-time for their summer internship.  Bee Partners is committed to preserving Hansoo’s legacy and we are excited to announce that in addition to providing capital support, we will now offer mentorship and office space during the summer to the winner of the Hansoo Lee Fellowship.

We would like to thank Hansoo for his profoundly positive impact on BerkeleyHaas’ entrepreneurial ecosystem.  We welcome all Haas MBA students to consider apply to the fellowship starting in the Fall of 2017, and encourage others to support this Fellowship along the way.