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AMAs

Sarah joined Greylock as an investment partner in 2015. Her areas of focus include products, platforms, networks, and marketplaces that enable new forms of communication, media, and commerce. 

Prior to Greylock, Sarah was the product lead for search, recommendations, machine vision, and pin quality at Pinterest. As one of the first 35 employees, her first order of business was to launch Pinterest internationally and close the Series C financing. She also led three acquisitions as she helped the company scale through a period of hyper-growth. 

Sarah joined Pinterest in 2012 after co-leading the Series A investment while at Bessemer Venture Partners. She spent six years at Bessemer, investing in a wide range of businesses from e-commerce companies such as Quidsi [parent company of Diapers.com, Soap.com, Wag.com, and others] (Acquired by Amazon), Onestop Internet, and KupiVIP; to SaaS companies Mindbody Software (IPO), Cornerstone OnDemand (IPO), and Convertro (Acquired by AOL); to an enterprise software company, Metalogix (Acquired by Permira).

You can follow her on Twitter: @sarahtavel

She will be live on June 14 starting 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which she will answer as many questions as possible.

  • MM

    martín medina

    almost 2 years ago #

    Sarah,

    Thanks for joining us today, Greylock is one of the most innovative VC firms out there and I am constantly reading the content you guys are putting out and following your portfolio companies very closely.

    What is it about the culture at Greylock that sets it apart and what brought you to join the team? Also when working with so many companies and entrepreneurs, how do you guys effectively leverage their skills and ideas as well as the communities you guys have which are focused on various different things (especially the growth community)?

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Thanks for the question Martin. To me there were a few things: 1) the culture. Greylock is a high-horsepower, high-integrity group of people, but low ego. This was really important to me. 2) Every single one of the partners are either former founders or operators. When everyone in the firm shares this background, it really changes the way we think of our jobs. As I got to know the Greylock team, it was very clear to me that the partner think of their jobs not just about being great investors, but also great *board member*. Great partners to the founders in which we invest. This changes our orientation when thinking about how we can help our companies be successful. And this is exactly the type of investor I want to be.

      3 Share
      • ST

        Sarah Tavel

        almost 2 years ago #

        In terms of how we leverage these skills/ideas, we do a bunch of thing: we're lucky to have an incredible talent team that does truly incredible work on behalf of our portfolio companies. I know, I know, you're probably skeptical of a VC's recruiting team being able to add any value to the dozens and dozens of portfolio companies we have... I was skeptical too. But I've been blown away. On average, one of our portfolio companies makes an offer to a candidate we referred *every other day*. That's pretty unbelievable. It really works. Second, we organize community events for people. Check it out here: http://www.greylock.com/communities/. We've got a great and very active growth one!

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah:

    Thanks for doing this!

    What are good benchmarks for successful e-commerce companies in the following areas:

    Facebook CPC
    Email Optin Rate
    % of email list that makes a purchase
    Retention rate
    Referral rate
    Shopping cart abandonment rate

    -Terence

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      I haven't looked at enough ecommerce companies lately to give you a good answer here. I'm sure there is stuff on Google though!

  • RD

    Robert Derow

    almost 2 years ago #

    Impressive background! Thanks in advance for doing the AMA.
    In regards to your work with early stage entrepreneurs and in particular marketplaces that can have stringent growth requirements to sustain the ecosystem, what do you look for early on to gauge demand (produce market fit) and what KPIs do rely on for measurement of success?

    Best,
    Robert

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Ultimately when evaluating an early stage company, I say it's a combination of art and science. The art is understanding how products work, the science is knowing how to measure it. The earlier the company, the more it is about art, which in this case is assessing what I think of the product and the use case. I wrote about this on medium re: hierarchy of engagement (https://news.greylock.com/the-hierarchy-of-engagement-5803bf4e6cfa#.q86sp198i), though a little less relevant for marketplaces. In terms of KPIs related to marketplaces, you're looking for metrics to assess health of both the supply side and demand side, and ultimately how those sides come together. Do you have enough of both joining the marketplace? are transactions increasing proportionately? My friend Boris Wertz at Version One has a great primer on what metrics to track for marketplaces: http://versionone.vc/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Marketplace-Handbook-11-08-2015.pdf

      3 Share
  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    almost 2 years ago #

    Sarah! Thanks for taking your valuable time here with us today.

    You recently reshared this quote on Twitter:

    "The bigger a company gets, the harder it is to change direction, so growing a bad business only makes it worse."
    – Paul Buchheit

    When do you know when a business becomes "bad"? Do you have any 'red flags' that you look for when growing a business, to make sure you're headed in the right direction?

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Thanks Logan and great question. Ultimately, from the outside, it comes down a lot to 1) the core metrics of the business, and 2) metrics around recruiting. re: #1, for me it's first, is growth slowing? and second, are cohorts becoming less engaged? For #2, if a company is starting to see important members of the team leave, or having challenges recruiting new execs, that's usually a telltale sign.

      2 Share
  • AA

    Aldin A

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for being here!

    1) What, in your opinion, are the key metrics for an online product driven marketplace business, such as etsy?

    2) What are the biggest challenges that you've seen marketplaces face as they scale, and how have they tackled them?

    3) Can you talk about referrals and how they work in marketplaces?What are examples of examples of marketplaces that do a great job and what are they doing? What do you see companies doing wrong when it comes to referrals?

    As someone who's just starting, cash isn't something I have an abundance of. And the way I see it I can't really do discounts either like normal ecom sites who buy there products and have a large margin which can absorb giving 10% off to the referrer and referee VS marketplaces which are supposed have a small transaction rate (from what I understand) to stay competitive (which gives them less margin to play with). Any advice on how how to tackle this?

    4) Can you talk about how loyalty programs work in marketplaces? What are examples of examples of marketplaces that do a great job and what are they doing? What do you see companies doing wrong when it comes to loyalty programs?

    5)How do you go about figuring out the optimal transaction rate for a marketplace? Start too low, and if you try to increase it everybody will be up in arms. Start too high and you can't attract sellers. Any advice on how to figure out your take rate and strike the right balance?
    What are the general guide lines you think you should look at when deciding on pricing?

    6)Suppose by adjusting the take rate you can attract sellers(ie Seller A pays 10% per transaction VS Seller B which will only come on the platform if you charge 7%) Do you lower the take rate for seller B or refuse, and seller B walk? Do you think there can be variance in the take rate between the sellers or should they be charged the same?

    Thanks again

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      A lot of good/big questions here. I'll come back to it.

      • AA

        Aldin A

        almost 2 years ago #

        Hi Sarah,

        Out of curiosity did you reply somewhere else on the AMA, or did you just not get a chance to reply? I just didn't want to miss out, in case you did reply.

        Thanks for doing the AMA. I definitely learned a lot.

        Aldin

  • SA

    Shaker A

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah,

    Great to have you here!

    1) What are things startups should do/focus on to increase their survival rates? What are the subtle things you see early stage companies screwing up on that they really can't afford to screw up, and how do they fix them?

    2)What should marketplaces do/focus on to increase their survival rates?What do you see marketplaces screwing up on that they really can't afford to and how you fix them?

    3) Can you talk about some of the lessons that you've learned about scaling the process of acquiring the supply side of marketplaces. How have some of your portfolio companies done it?

    4) Can you talk about fraud on marketplaces and how have you seen the companies dealing with it?

    Thanks

    3 Share
    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Great questions. re: #1: to me, key things are about spending money very very carefully until you have product market fit. You want as lean a team as possible before you get there. There is no point of hiring more than the bare minimum team (usually just the co-founders) before you figure out what users want. Then you scale. Companies that hire before that waste runway, and that's a shame. Once you have product market fit, you still need to be careful with hiring. Other thing I see is scaling too quickly, particularly for local businesses. I see a lot a company launch something in one city, and before they've figured out the playbook, launch a bunch of other cities which burns through their cash, without really figuring out how to make it work in any one city.

      re: #2, similar to #1, it's about figuring out what the hard part of the marketplace is to get on, and figuring out what hacks you need to do to get them and then make it worth their while. Hiring engineers to do fancy algorithms for sorting/relevance etc is a waste of burn.

      #3, this really varies by marketplace. It's a lot of hard work. I think that's the thing that people miss. To get the flywheel spinning for a marketplace, you can't sit in front of your computer and code. You need to pound the pavement more often than not and do things "that don't scale" to get the liquidity to help you start scaling.

      #4, this will always be a combination of code+people. FIrst and foremost, if you're successful, you'll attract fraudsters and the cat and mouse game begins. you need to put someone in charge of minimizing fraud. It won't happen by itself. This isn't something you should delay. It can really ruin an emerging marketplace if it gets overtaken by fraud. Give your good users a way to report bad users. And then use machines to try to suss out what good users look like vs bad users. That's the only way to really scale. Lastly, sites with anonymity almost always have the biggest problems with fraud. If you *really* want to be careful with fraud in the beginning, you could only let people register with FB, as an example.

      2 Share
  • AN

    Andreea Nastase

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah and thank you for sharing your knowledge with the community!

    You've already shared so much in your Medium posts and it's been invaluable.

    I have 3 questions:

    Firstly, how do you handle stress or have done so in the past? I'd love to know more about high pressure scenarios and how not to let them overwhelm you in general.

    Secondly, what's a good way to promote one's achievements as a woman in an authentic, honest way? (I come from the UK and I'm curious about US culture)

    And finally...what are some good books to read for people who are or aspire to be product managers

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Thanks, Andreea.

      re: stress, I find that going for a walk or working out is the best medicine. I live about 45mins from Greylock's SF office, so whenever I'm working in the city, I make a point of walking. It always makes me feel happy. When it's a more acute situation like a big meeting, I make sure to work out even if a little that morning. It always helps take out some of the nervous energy.

      re: #2, everyone finds their own path. I love writing. I love the process itself (it's an outlet for my creative energy), and it also gives me an authentic way to leverage my experience. So in a way, I get to promote my achievements (really my experience, which is an output of my achievements) without doing so explicitly.

      I never read a book to help me become a product manager, but one of my engineers once forced me to read The Mythical Man Month :) (any engineers out there will laugh...)

  • CM

    Carmelo Mannino

    almost 2 years ago #

    Sarah,

    Thanks so much for spending some time with us. Greylock writes a lot about getting users to do the core feature of your product. In one of your best articles you mention that 50% of individuals on Pinterest were Pinning regularly and Greylock saw this as a large reason for Pinterest's success.

    My question is:

    With apps and web tools having so many features (often at the initial release), how do you know what your core feature is that builds an engaging product? and what are some tips for getting users to engage in those features?

    Thanks!

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      To be clear, all the writing and opinions you cited was my own, not Greylock's.

      re: your question, if you have so many features early on you don't know what your core action is, you've got too much going on and you need to simplify. What's the action that if users didn't do it, they 1) wouldn't understand the value of your product, and 2) your product essentially wouldn't exist? I've written more about this here: https://news.greylock.com/engagement-hierarchy-core-actions-dd4f72042100#.lkc8y2mlp

      In terms of getting users to engage in those features, my colleague Josh Elman wrote a great post on the ladder of engagement here: https://medium.com/@joshelman/building-your-growth-model-and-ladder-of-engagement-3b3a18f2d1a8#.sbu4k9wdp

      2 Share
  • RB

    Ry B

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for doing this. I really liked your post on the hierarchy of engagement and the two follow up posts you did!

    1) For level 1 of the hierarchy is it the same as the 'aha moment' or is it more nuanced than that? If so what is the difference?

    2) You mentioned that the framework is how you look at non-transactional consumer companies. How would level 1 apply to a marketplace such as etsy? Would it be the core action of buying something on etsy?

    3) As a marketplace scales matching the buyers and sellers who are a good fit for each other becomes critical, because there's so many of each in the marketplace. Recommendation engines are one way to help match the correct parties. How else have you seen marketplaces increase their chances of matching the right buyers and sellers?

    4)Did pinterest have a recommendation engine from the very begining or was it added later on? Did you custom build it initially or did you use a third party software? What would you recommend to startups looking to build marketplaces that are bootstrapping? What lessons have you learned about recommendation engines that we can all take away something from?

    5)I saw an article from first round about e-commerce startups and when to build search:

    http://firstround.com/review/What-I-Learned-the-Hard-Way-Building-an-E-Commerce-Site/

    In essence it says hold off on building out search when you don't have a lot of products on your site and people don't know exactly what they are looking for. You should instead optimize how you categorize the products on site and optimize for browsing. This way you'll be able to learn how people interact with your site and can further improve it. Agree? Disagree? How would you go about tackling the issue of search?

    Thanks again

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Thanks! can you expand on #1? not sure I get the question.

      re: #2, yes level 1 would apply where the core action is actually a transaction. level 2 applies as well, but it's very thin. Level 3 is more about the network effects of the marketplace so you're building a deep moat.

      re: #3, yes that's right. What I tell founders though is that early on, you don't need a sophisticated recommendation engine. Usually very simple, hand-tuned heuristics are enough. At Pinterest we build a recommendation engine (I actually shipped our first recommendations with my colleague Hui Xu - people who pinned this also pinned!). But this was once we already had millions of users. We custom built it because we felt like we had a very unique data asset, our interest graph (created by all the pins people saved to boards). Nothing off the shelf would be able to replicate it.

      Biggest thing I learned about recommendation engines is user data > machine data. When we integrated things like navboost (boosting pins that users clicked on), the effects on the quality of the results were dramatic. Tuning things like topical relevance were not as effective.

      re: #5, I think there's something to that, though I think in the early days there are amazing off-the-shelf search tools you can use to bootstrap search like Algolia: https://www.algolia.com/. So not sure you need to put search off..

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah, thanks for doing this AMA with us. Looks like you still have quite a few more questions to tackle and only a 1/2 hour left in the AMA. So no worries if you can't get to my question. I'd like to know if there have been advantages from starting in VC and then becoming an operator at a hot startup and then going back to VC. If so, what have the key advantages been?

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Sean - Thanks for the question! It's great to meet you. I've been a big fan of your work for a long time (first time I cited you: http://www.adventurista.com/2011/07/are-you-vitamin-painkiller-or-drug.html).

      I have a great deal of survivor bias in my answer to your question, but I'm very lucky the way things worked out for me. At Bessemer, I was meeting companies constantly. I always knew in my heart I wanted to join a company or start one, but it wasn't until Pinterest that I felt a company that fit so well in all regards. So on the "buyside", it's as if I got to go to thousands of interviews before I chose the company I wanted to join. On the "sellside", at the time when I joined Pinterest, there was a lot of interest from other candidates. The team had just a couple dozen people when I accepted my role. If I hadn't already had a seat in the board room with Ben / Evan and been able to build a relationship and show value that way, I have no idea whether I would have risen above the other candidates. So all in all, I'm grateful the way it worked out, but definitely couldn't have planned it this way.

      And then of course, coming back to VC, I realize how important it is to have operating experience. It does change the conversations I can have with founders. When you are lucky enough to have that operating experience come from a company that went through a period of incredible growth (I invested in Pinterest when it was 5 people, joined when it was a little over 30, and left when it was >650), it makes that operating experience even more valuable.

      But all in all, can't say I planned it this way :). When I left Bessemer to join Pinterest, I honestly thought I was taking a big career risk.

      • SE

        Sean Ellis

        almost 2 years ago #

        Awesome, after reading this AMA, I'm a fan of your work too! These benefits make a lot of sense, thanks.

  • TG

    TJ Gray

    almost 2 years ago #

    Thanks for taking the time to answer questions Sarah!

    I do not know many venture capitalists and I was wondering what would you say is the best career advice you could give on eventually becoming a VC? Is it best to just start working in the start-up scene and gain knowledge/skills about it and use that to get recruited by a firm like Greylock? I’m currently a student intern at a start-up that does growth hacking so I still have plenty of time to figure out my career path.

    Also, nice rugby icon photo I used to play myself at Xavier on 16th street before I tore my ACL (twice.)

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      There is no clear path to becoming a VC. I joke I got in through the back door by joining as an analyst one year out of college, but my path is very unusual. I suggest doing exactly what you describe - get great experience at a startup, create value, and start building relationships with investors. You never know when a door might open.

      And ouch on your ACL!

  • JB

    Joseph Bentzel

    almost 2 years ago #

    The Greylock/Rothman blog post on VC cash as a "performance enhancing drug" was well done and long overdue. Question. How has excess capital availability negatively "forked" the growth strategies of startups into much higher sales/marketing spend (aka CAC) and is the VC industry partially to blame for producing a generation of SaaS & B2C startups that have NOT come to terms with self-sufficiency as an operating model? FYI for GH community members who have not seen the Rothman piece: https://news.greylock.com/why-uber-won-5598a2a66561#.i92qlc7tw

  • RS

    Ross Simmonds

    almost 2 years ago #

    Sarah, thanks for jumping in and doing this AMA!

    Your piece The Hierarchy of Engagement was one of the best articles I've come across in quite some time - Great work and thanks for putting it together.

    Two questions:
    1) When your push for a seed investment in an early stage company (pre-traction) - What factors tend to play a role in that decision?

    2) What is your thesis on the movement towards conversational UI?

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Thanks, Ross. Really appreciate it!

      For seed investments, it's always first team, and second, believing in what they're doing (as early as it is). I've passed on opportunities that had amazing teams, but I just couldn't get behind what they were doing, for whatever reason. It doesn't feel authentic to me to just make an investment on #1, if I'll spend our conversations together trying to convince them that they should change #2. So really both need to line up for me.

      2 Share
      • ST

        Sarah Tavel

        almost 2 years ago #

        On your second question, I'm actually working on that right now. Still figuring it out. My biggest questions are: 1) will the value here really accrue to startups, or to the incumbents? It makes me nervous to build an app that exists only within FB, and be at the mercy of any changes they make to messenger moving forward. Some will take that risk and be successful, but it's still a risk. And 2) what are the use cases where conversational UIs actually make sense ( ie actually solve a user problem or create user value)? The origin of the conversational UI was really around solving a distribution problem, not a user problem. I think a bunch of early companies in the space missed this, but I'm starting to see some interesting companies here (and we're lucky enough to be investors in two: Operator and Ozlo)

        3 Share
      • RS

        Ross Simmonds

        almost 2 years ago #

        Awesome - Makes total sense.

        Re: the conversational UI - Big fan of the Ozlo team and what they're doing. The question between startups/incumbents is a lingering one for sure. I think the most valuable use cases where conversational UIs will make sense is when they augment existing skills and talents.

        Humans are good at looking for products and books but tech can be better. Humans are good at scheduling events but tech can be better. Humans are good at remembering to follow up with a prospect but tech can be better. In these cases, a conversational UI can be powerful.

        It's definitely going to be interesting to watch. Thanks for the response!

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for doing this AMA.

    1) Do you think there are new promising approaches to e-Commerce. If so, which ones?

    2) e-Commerce has historically emerged from the B2C world. How do you envision the future of e-Commerce for B2B, if any?

    3) How do you see computer vision impacting e-commerce, if at all?

    4) Beyond mobile commerce, which new experiences can we expect as consumers in e-Commerce?

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Thanks Arsene.

      Yes there are tons, but the #1 rule of e-commerce is don't do something amazon can/will immediately do. I think a lot of the interesting concepts around e-commerce now are less about holding inventory of physical goods, and more about peer to peer or digital goods.

      Don't have any thoughts on #2.

      re: #3, I sure hope it does. One of the last features I worked on at Pinterest is our visual search feature: http://www.techinsider.io/how-to-use-pinterest-visual-search-2016-6. The potential for this type of technology and e-commerce are exciting.

      re: #4, it'll be interesting to see how new companies bridge the online and offline worlds, either using machine vision or bluetooth technologies like iBeacon, or NFC.

      3 Share
  • MH

    Matt Heady

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi, Sarah.

    We were approached today by an equity crowdfunding platform that partners with patient capital vs. venture capital in exchange for $50k hard marketing costs + 10% deal closing few to package and secure the total round among its investment capital pool with a 506d form filing.

    The agency did mention possibly working on waivers, but is this type of raise too risky an attempt or considered unconventional?

    We are looking at an initial pre-revenue seed, and in the large part are located in an area with high private equity and not many connections to the VC arena, but so far our initial traction and media exposure has been very good.

    Thank you for your thought direction, we greatly appreciate your insight!

    Cheers :)

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      I don't know enough to give any advice here. Is the 10% a fee of the investment or they want 10% of the company? And does the equity crowdfunding platform have any track record of success? I've seen some metrics around crowdfunding and the dollar flows weren't encouraging.

      • MH

        Matt Heady

        almost 2 years ago #

        Hi, Sarah.

        10% of the investment.

        Success history has been about 6 total deals closed that's public we know of. Unsure the total number of attempts as a whole.

        Thanks for the initial reply. We're on the fence about which avenue to take being crowdfunding vs traditional venture capital as we are not in a major metro area.

        Cheers :)

  • GD

    Guerric de Ternay

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah,

    Lots of venture capital firms use content marketing as one of the main ways to build credibility and position themselves in the startup/tech scene.

    E.g. https://growthhackers.com/articles/13-mini-content-marketing-case-studies-in-the-venture-capital-industry

    - What's Greylock's marketing strategy?
    - How do you differentiate yourselves?
    - Do you feel there's an increasing competition among VCs?

    Thanks a lot for doing this AMA.

  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    almost 2 years ago #

    Sarah absolutely amazing to have you on thank you so much for agreeing to it.

    A couple of questions from me:

    1) What do you make of the recent storm surrounding Theranos and the failure of some companies to have done the necessary due diligence?

    2) I read your fantastic piece (Tavel's heirarchy of engagement), now retention has come to the forefront largely trumping user growth do you think there will be an issue whereby investors will still be expecting hyperscale numbers (unimpressed by mediocre growth) but also with high retention statistics?

    3) Which areas of the start-up world excite you/ technology excite you and do you believe could see serious emergence in the coming 5 years?

    4) Pinterest seems to be one of the most interesting emerging and under valued unicorns. How significant will it be as a platform as marketing teams look to place ad-spend with highly engaged users?

    5) I play a lot of rugby over here in England, what do you do to scratch this itch now you are stuck in an office? (Big issue for my fellow sportsmen in the UK).

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      re: Theranos. I don't know enough about the situation to really comment. I'm still hoping Theranos emerges in front, though the momentum of news isn't on my side.

      2: I don't think that's a problem. You need both to become one of the enduring, iconic companies. It's hard - don't get me wrong, but it's the right focus. Granted, there will be a lot of companies that aren't able to reach escape velocity and won't be able to have this type of exciting growth - that's a different type of business, and not always necessarily the right type of business for venture financing.

      3: So many areas here! Excited to see what consumer experiences get transformed (or made more affordable) with machine learning / "AI". Excited to see what happens when the cost of high quality VR headsets become more affordable and therefore more mainstream. CRISPR stuff is cray-cray. That will transform humanity in a more meaningful way than either AI or VR.

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      for #4, I hope very significant! We've already crossed 100m MAUs, and the company is growing quickly internationally. Will be fun to see. They actually just announced a new monetization feature today: http://techcrunch.com/2016/06/14/pinterest-gets-visitor-retargeting-and-other-new-ad-targeting-tools/?ncid=rss

      5: hah! I keep to low-impact exercise now like swimming/rowing/yoga. Much better for my aching joints :)

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hey Sarah!
    So awesome to have you on!

    Is it fair to say that only (software or hardware) platforms/marketplace type businesses have the greatest odds of becoming sustainable unicorns? (that was one of my biggest takeaways from your awesome Hierarchy of Engagement post)

    If yes, is it still worth an entrepreneurs time and effort to try and launch a startup that isn't a platform/marketplace - and especially from the perspective of getting funded? Why?

    If not, and all other things being equal, what other macro-characteristic (like being a platform/marketplace) could a startup look to have to ensure greater odds of sustainability/success?

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      I'd say that companies that have the greatest chances of becoming sustainable unicorns have incredibly strong network effects or economies of scale. More often than not, you find this with platforms/marketplaces, but not always. e.g., companies like Amazon or big banks, have very strong economies of scale, that make it very difficult to compete. But they take an enormous amount of capital to build.

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah,

    Really enjoyed your hierarchy of Engagement piece and your Mitochondria in startup piece (as a former bio major: ) and super excited for your AMA

    1. What's your perspective on MSFT buying LNKD?

    2. From your experience, how can an employee use VC's mindset to identify great start up to join? Do you have some framework?

    3. Is there anything you do outside your work that actually helped you a lot in your growth?

    • ST

      Sarah Tavel

      almost 2 years ago #

      Thanks, Hila!

      1) Reid Hoffman is one of my partners, and I couldn't be more excited for him. What an amazing journey, and a really bold and smart acquisition for MSFT. It'll be great to see where it goes from here. I'm optimistic.

      2) I actually think my hierarchy of engagement is a useful framework when evaluating a company to join (is it growing? are users retaining?) but ultimately other things are very important too: do you trust the judgment of the founding team, particularly the CEO? does the culture and values of the company reflect your own? I think of the values of a company as the map for how to be successful in the company. If they don't reflect your own, it'll be hard to be successful.

      3: I'd say yes - I'm always trying to grow as a person. One thing I love to do is journal. It really helps me reflect on life and grow as a person.

  • SH

    Saleh Hindi

    almost 2 years ago #

    Good morning Sarah, thank you for doing this AMA.

    I understand that cultivating relationships and networks is important for any business venture. Could you comment on the effect a cofounder's network can have on a startup's success? Furthermore, how do young executives overcome a lack of network when managing or raising money for startups?

    Thank you for your time,
    Saleh

  • SK

    suneelkaw Kaw

    almost 2 years ago #

    Sarah,

    Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this AMA.

    I have a question about growth experiments. We are a small company in Advertisement Video On Demand space. We run multiple experiments that should have a strong benefit for our users and should increase engagement. However, when these experiments run, the metrics don’t move much. Can you please share thoughts from your work in Pinterest and other companies where an extremely strong hypothesis failed miserable during live data testing?

    Thank you once again.

  • GR

    Gary Rempe

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah, thanks for your generosity.

    What would be your three biggest product takeaways from your time at Pinterest?

    Cheers, Gary

  • JM

    Jason Meresman

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah, thanks for today's AMA. Within the Greylock portfolio, are you seeing the emergence of a dedicated "growth team"? If not, where does the growth function typically sit? In product, marketing or somewhere else?

  • BW

    Brand Winnie

    almost 2 years ago #

    Hi Sarah. Thanks for doing this AMA. :)

    We all agree growth is arguably the most important piece of any startup. How much does design and branding play into how the startups within the Greylock portfolio have had growth and success? Does Greylock have an internal design team to assist with all of the portfolio companies or do you just advise founders on hiring techniques as it relates to design for each particular startup?

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