team

Always Be Refining: For our LPs, Our Companies and Ourselves

Some say it takes five years and twenty million dollars to train a venture capitalist. This last quarter, I crossed that five-year mark. And while I’m not sure about that $20M number (my learning curve is still vertical when it comes to fund management, board responsibilities, and relationship management; perhaps it always will be…), one thing I’ve definitely learned is that “becoming” a VC is just that: an ongoing becoming, a journey, a continuous hypothesis test.

To that end, I host a quarterly roundtable session with fellow next-generation VCs on becoming a better board member. These “get-real” gatherings bring together diverse members of our early-stage investment community who I trust to share best practices, discuss lessons learned, and provide objective feedback.

So far we’ve covered:

  • Building the right option strategy: Finding the right balance between dilution and having the assets to attract talent is critical at the early stage. What are best practices? What are the consequences at the next round of funding?

  • Applying a legal prism to supporting early-stage companies: Board members have a fiduciary duty to our LPs. How do we help from a legal perspective with issues such as planning for the long term and assessing disputes as the team grows?

  • How to best prepare for and engage in early-stage (often working) board meetings: Board basics with a twist: How to be effective when teams are small and the future is (or seems) wide open.

We’ve drawn from our Bee bench of trusted advisors to get the best content for these meetings, which, so far, have been led by our long-time attorney, by an experienced angel investor, and by a many-time early-stage board member. One of our trusted advisors will be leading the next meeting on the psychodynamics of early-stage boards.

Would you or someone you know benefit from attending? Do you have other topics that we should cover? Want to chat about why we take board seats at inception? Hit reply, email me at garrett@beepartners.vc or call me at (208) 860-7855.  I’ll be around for the next five years.

Beyond Ourselves and Beyond the Holidays

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We wanted to make a holiday contribution and we wanted to do more than just write a check. So our Gina Songco, who is the glue who holds Bee together every day, looked around for a volunteer opportunity for Team Bee, and we chose Project Open Hand, a San Francisco charity that provides meals and groceries for the elderly and unwell.

Our plan was to don the aprons, cut the carrots, and help our neighbors. A Nice Holiday Gesture. Not at all a bad impulse, but one, it turns out, that’s somewhat at odds with our values. We’re not “one-and-done” people.

When we were shown around Project Open Hand and learned about the work they do, and then got side-by-side and elbow-deep in chopped vegetables in the kitchen, we all began to get the sense that this kind of work is essential to who we are. Since then, we’ve made a commitment to do more volunteer work as a team, most especially not during the holiday season, but when organizations like Project Open Hand need volunteers the most.  

Like Project Open Hand and other community organizations we’re eyeing (GlideSt. Anthony’s), we value:

  • Commitment—We create relationships with Founders, investors, and everyone in our community for the long haul, especially for the times when things aren’t so glam. We’re not tourists and we’re not celebrities.

  • Support—Our commitment to Founders goes way beyond writing a check. Internally, we find ways to support our team members as we all grow.

  • Trust—Our Founders and investors can rely on us to be honest and available. Building trusting relationships matters to us as a moral principle and it’s critical to our success.

As we plan for 2018, Team Bee will choose where we want to commit our volunteer time. We’ll also be asking our Founder teams and other members of our community—maybe you!—to join us in this effort, reaffirming our values and supporting our neighbors.

Welcome back, Kira Noodleman

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We’ve considered Kira Noodleman elemental to Team Bee since she joined us as an intern after her first year of Berkeley Haas in 2016. This fall, diploma in hand, she returned and became a Bee investor. Our resident blockchain and ag-tech expert, she also works in dealflow interviewing dozens of potential Bee portfolio companies each month. She is involved in marketing and company-building for both Bee and portfolio companies

The expertise we’re tapping comes from Kira’s career as a product manager in emerging markets, supporting financial services, “gamified” e-commerce, and data visualization projects. Perhaps her most significant project prior to grad school was on Google’s Project Ara, where she was one of the driving forces in creating a disruptive hardware ecosystem to deliver the mobile internet to six billion people. She co-led a 35-person team charged with designing and implementing the project’s minimum viable product at its launch in Puerto Rico.

How Kira ably balanced the deep thinking her previous projects required with their emergent nature and circumstances demonstrated qualities excellent for venture capital. At Haas, she had the opportunity to apply that background to many entrepreneurship initiatives, making her an even better asset for Bee. We wanted someone who could stand on our shoulders and look way, way out to the frontier curve of technological innovation and identify opportunities others weren’t seeing yet.

Kira says it best herself: “I come from a new generation. Bee has given me the opportunity to lead research on new technologies and paradigms that are going to shape the years and decades to come.”

Kira graduated from Haas but she gets back to campus and Cal events often to represent Bee and keep her connections live. You’ll also see her at investment community events, and gatherings that focus on women in startup and VC. We’re already asking ourselves how we ever did without her.

Working on a Mystery: Optimism in Dark Times

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Ask anyone who knows me—my capacity for optimism is off the charts. As a newborn I had a “baby bottle half-full” frame of mind. And yeah, there’s a substantial feedback loop in my career that has nurtured and supported that. Who would want a pessimistic venture capitalist, even if such a thing were possible? Especially when there’s so much to be excited about.

It’s been my great privilege to ride the exhilarating VC risk-reward cycle with my partner, team, investors, and, most importantly, the Founders we support. These men and women are concretely changing the world with progressive innovations. They improve the care of Medicaid patients, give teenagers a positive place to communicate, keep batteries out of landfills. When crises like earthquakes and hurricanes arise, they send drones to help refugees. The list goes on.

We talk to thousands of forward-thinking people like this a year. This is VC and tech startup culture: There’s a lot of risk, and plenty of failure when you’re running down a dream. But you go wherever it leads. You keep optimistic.

Today, in spite of what seems like a full-on cascade of human-made catastrophes (we know where climate change comes from, right?), I am still that optimistic man. But I also have to admit that today I am angry, sad, and mystified. We lost 59 people (and counting) in the 521st mass shooting in the last year and a half. A single person had at least 23 firearms in one hotel suite. According to the reports I’m reading, these, and the 19 more found at his home, were legally-owned weapons, many of them war-grade, automatic weapons. Not for hunting. Not for taking down an intruder in your bedroom in the dark of night. Suitable only for killing large numbers of human beings from a safe and tidy distance.

The Las Vegas shooting was a nightmare wrapped around a tragedy rolled up in a scene from hell. And there have been 521 such nightmares, big and small, in 477 days.

The White House has issued a statement that discussing gun laws is “premature.” Like many statements coming from the current administration, this is absurd. It is also phenomenally cruel. Our only hope is not just a discussion of gun laws but a complete reformation of those laws. I believe in the rule of law, but I believe in it because I believe that mostly, American laws are built on, or for God’s sake at least nod to, some kind of moral purpose. How can legal gun ownership of an unlimited number of long-distance murder machines have any remote moral purpose?

I’m an optimist. I’m running down a dream of a world without mass shootings. It is hard to see how that can be when the bullets and the bullshit fly, but I know it’s there. Keep working on the mystery. And RIP, Tom Petty. “There’s something good waitin’ down this road.”