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Andreessen Horowitz

When I first met Logan Green and John Zimmer nearly a year ago, I was struck by the authenticity of Lyft’s founding. Originally called Zimride, everyone assumed the company was named after John but it’s actually a much better story: When Logan was traveling in Africa — Zimbabwe, to be exact — he noticed that despite the lack of infrastructure, people were able to get around efficiently thanks to a vibrant ridesharing movement. Every car, van and bus was full and people would literally stand on the side of the road waving money instead of sticking out their thumbs.

African Combi

At nearly the same time, John was sitting in a college course exploring the history of transportation: canals, trains, and then roads and planes. He wondered to himself, what would be the next big innovation in transportation? He thought, “I’ll bet it’s about using information to fill seats — especially all those empty seats in cars.”

I’m acutely aware of John and Logan’s observations when I’m sitting alone in my 7-passenger minivan on the 101 inching along while others are zooming past me in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. These are times when I really wish I had a few extra people in the car! But it’s just not that simple — I don’t want to go way out of my way and I want to feel comfortable picking up someone new.

With this unique vision in mind, John and Logan went about launching Zimride and Lyft. The information technology problem was essentially solved with the proliferation of GPS-enabled smartphones. If they could get a critical mass of people on the same network with information about when and where people wanted to go, it would be relatively easy to pair up drivers and riders that were headed in the same direction. But how to get it started? And what about safety?

The first incarnation, Zimride, launched in 2007, tackling these issues by targeting college students headed home on holiday. Logan and John’s big insight was that by using Facebook profile information via Facebook Connect, both the drivers and the riders could find out about each other to develop enough trust to get into a car together. As a driver, you’d post the where and when details of your trip and then passengers would apply for a ride with a predetermined chip-in. Over the years they have showed steady and solid growth and built a real community of people making friends and sharing rides.

Last June, they launched Lyft in San Francisco, a made-for-mobile, ridesharing app that was geared towards ridesharing within a city as opposed to between cities. Since its launch, Lyft has absolutely exploded and is now doing over 30,000 rides per week! Now active in four major cities and expanding at a blazing pace to meet demand, the key for Lyft has been the community. Lyft has a very different offering and experience than anything else in this space. To be specific:

–  Lyft is all about taking cars off the road via ridesharing. This is NOT merely a cool new use of technology to efficiently onboard and route more cars, cabs, towncars and limos. Lyft wants to use technology to get everyone who currently owns a car to join a trusted information network to share rides.

–  As such, the Lyft drivers are regular folks with underutilized cars. They are college students, engineers, entrepreneurs and retirees. As the founders like to say, a Lyft driver is “your friend with a car.”

–  As demonstrated by Airbnb, the person-to-person sharing economy is all about earning trust and establishing a good reputation. If I am going to rent my spare bedroom or get into the car with someone I don’t know, I have to find a way break the trust barrier. Lyft requires all drivers and riders to connect through Facebook. They have intentionally limited the potential market to people who have established social network identities as a way to improve trust and safety. The drivers and passengers also rate each other after each ride to further build their reputations.

–  Lyft screens their drivers with interviews and full background and DMV checks. They are looking for real people with great driving records and a knack for hospitality.

–  You also get to ride up front in a Lyft. As the car pulls up with its unique pink mustache on the front (as John says, “it always brings a smile!”), you jump in the front seat and do a ceremonial fistbump with the driver. You are offered a phone charger and the chance to play DJ for the ride. Many of the drivers I’ve ridden with even offer something unique and fun like Capri Suns or snacks for the road.

Lyft is a real community — with both the drivers and riders being inherently social —  making real friendships and saving money.

I am pleased to announce Andreessen Horowitz’s partnership with Logan and John. We will be leading Lyft’s Series C financing round of $60 million to propel the Lyft movement globally. I am honored to be joining the board of directors and excited to help the founders realize their dream of filling all of those empty seats!

Ben Milne has a special relationship with transaction fees.

An entrepreneur with a design and manufacturing business in Iowa, Ben found himself obsessed with one simple notion: transaction fees were eating into his profit margins. If you consider money as data, there had to be a better way with so much money sloshing around in the system when the marginal cost of actually transferring the money is practically zero. So why did it cost him $55,000 a year to access it? Why then did he have to wait seven days to get paid?

This is the frustration out of which Dwolla was born. Ben set out to redesign a much better, and radically cheaper, payment network.

But how in the world would he scale a new, two-sided payment network today?

The PayPal and Visa stories are well documented. Visa’s story is famous. A genius by the name of Dee Hock pioneered a brilliant strategy that empowered a loose association of affiliates to distribute the card all over the world, almost entirely manually. And while eBay was distracted building and scaling their marketplace, PayPal snuck in to become the defacto standard for eBay transactions between individuals. eBay bought a competitor and tried to unseat PayPal but the network effects were just too strong and they ended up having to buy PayPal for $1.5B.

So how would Ben do it then? This is the beauty of his approach at Dwolla. Ben began designing a system based on the impending ubiquity of the Internet; something consumers, banks, businesses, and developers had immediate access to on their phones and computers. This would give Dwolla the ability to bypass the traditional systems, hardware, and distribution costs associated with the card networks birthed in the 60s and 70s.

Dwolla moves money for only 25 cents and can do so instantly (versus two to seven days it takes other processors). Signing up is free and there are no other costs. Not counting the hardware, gateways, and hidden fees, businesses and consumers were paying three to eight percent per swipe, adding up to over $48B in 2009. Ever walk into a bar, buy a drink and been told, “there’s a $10 minimum to use a card?” Yeah, that’s why.

What’s astounding? In addition to payments only costing 25 cents, transactions under $10 are free — this opens up a huge opportunity for Dwolla to be the defacto standard for micropayments. This “flat fee or free” pricing model strategy is such a compelling value proposition that large players, like the state of Iowa, are signing up for Dwolla in droves.

What about checks? Small business owners and consumers know the pain points associated with manually processing checks all too well and all the problems with the slow, antiquated Automatic Clearing House (ACH) network. How much does it cost to do a wire? $50? $10? That depends on where you bank. But either way, ouch.

These slow-moving, expensive, fraud proliferating systems aren’t just the United States’ burden. In many countries around the world, the luxury of ATMs, having cash on hand, or retaining the value of money as it moves from one person to the next, just isn’t possible. In many developing areas, networks charge up to 30 percent of a transaction because of the way you paid for a particular good or service.

The world needs a better way to transfer value, the same way it needed a better way to transfer information before the Internet went mainstream.

Now here are the other wonderful parts: Dwolla has created straightforward APIs, simple user experiences, social integration, and one of the United States’ most sophisticated and advanced banking software, called FiSync. And whenever Dwolla signs up a new customer, those users now send out their payments via Dwolla. The payee is then highly motivated to activate and bank-enable their Dwolla account to claim their cash. It’s natural convenience.

I am pleased to announce Andreessen Horowitz has led a $16.5 million investment in Dwolla to help Ben and his team realize their vision of fixing the worldwide payment network. Here’s why we believe this is such an amazing opportunity:

  • Founder/market fit: Ben is one of the most determined and scrappy entrepreneurs we’ve met and has a deep knowledge of the entire payment network.
  • Ridiculous market size: Dwolla’s FiSync is taking on ACH and FedWire, a combined $730+ trillion market with real-time transactions, new revenue streams and incentives for key players in the payment process.
  • A snowball of traction: Its annual processing run rate has moved from the hundreds of millions to billions and its business development pipeline is chock full of opportunities.
  • The simple strategy of “natural convenience.” Especially as it pertains to ACH and payout needs, Dwolla offers an easy-to-use platform for payers and a free, low-cost platform for payees.
  • Radical innovations in anti-fraud and risk management technologies: For example, Dwolla removes much of the sensitive financial information, which is often exposed when someone uses a paper check or plastic card, from its transactions. This reduces liability for merchants and developers, and mitigates the threat of identity fraud for its consumers. Genius.
  • One of a kind technology: Underneath Dwolla’s beautiful front facing experience belies a complicated, intricate series of systems, technologies, and considerations that we’ve never seen before.
  • Our customer references came back over-the-top positive on responsiveness, customer/ developer friendly, and intuitive/ easy to navigate user interface.

Ben and his team are introducing an entirely new way to think, access, and use money. I am excited to be joining Dwolla’s board of directors and look forward to helping Ben build the next multi-billion dollar payment company!

It took almost six months for my former company IronPort’s acquisition by Cisco to close and it seemed like forever. Although I was still the CEO by name, I was essentially running a “puppet” government with every hire, major expense and strategic shift needing explicit approval from my soon-to-be-overlords. Since Cisco was a functionally organized company, I would soon be losing half of my direct reports as sales, HR, and finance would report into their respective groups. My job was becoming smaller and it had considerably fewer degrees of freedom. So here was the big dilemma: I had signed up for 24 months of re-vesting my founder’s shares that wouldn’t begin until the deal was closed and it already seemed like a paint-drying eternity. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t cut out for a big company but I just couldn’t spend the next two years watching the clock or I’d spiral into insanity. What to do?

An analogy hit me as I watched my son at recent team practice: Water polo. Despite growing up on Florida beaches, I’m not that great of a swimmer. I’ve never even put on a Speedo. I didn’t think that I would like anything about water polo. However, if I was locked in a sports complex every day for two years and everyone else was playing water polo — how long could I sit on the edge of the pool before I gave it a go? Should I just go through the motions? Splash water on my face and feign participation? No, I came to believe there was only one way forward: shave all the hair off my body, put on the Speedo, start throwing elbows, making shots and playing with vigor…

Seriously and specifically, after six months in, I strongly advocated to be put in charge of all Security products at Cisco — a business that was three times larger than IronPort. I believe if the leaders of a newly acquired company are locked up for a significant period of time (>18 months), they should strongly advocate for bigger jobs within the acquiring company. This is especially true if the leader isn’t planning on staying around after the vesting period. This may seem like odd advice, but here’s the rationale:

It’s not about you, it’s about your team. If you’re a disaffected leader, moping around, “doing time” and talking smack, your team will disintegrate and the acquisition will fail. On the other hand, if you land a larger role, you are in a unique position to help them out. You owe it to the people who ate Ramen noodles while you paid them in potentially worthless stock to work at your company in the beginning. In addition to promoting some of them to larger roles within your new org, you will be much more connected to the cross-company opportunities and can advocate for your top performers. When your team sees you engaging, they are more likely to pull harder, too. Most of the mid-level managers at IronPort had a significant increase in their responsibilities at Cisco and it prepared them to take on even larger roles both in and outside the company. There is a myth that employees that come from a startup aren’t cut out for large companies — in fact, many may be ready for a change. Over the eight years we built IronPort, many of our single employees got married, had kids and wanted the current income, benefits, lighter work hours, and increased stability of a larger company.

You need to “sew in the organ” to make the acquisition successful. Most acquisitions fail. If something isn’t big enough to stand on it’s own or doesn’t logically snap into an existing business line, it will usually wither and die. This is especially true if the acquired leaders leave or become disaffected. Employees mimic leaders’ behavior or get shifted to new leaders when the previous ones exit and have no connection or trust with their new reporting chain. If the leaders take larger and different roles within the acquiring company they form beachheads of trust and points of navigation. It becomes less “them” vs. “us” and a more collective “we.” Look, I’m not saying it’s ever going to be Kumbaya over s’mores, but it’s a helluva lot easier to accept the bullshit you get at a large company if you have someone you trust explaining the rationale to you.

You will meet amazing great people as you get closer to the inner circle. If your head isn’t in the game, you’ll never spend any meaningful time with the best people. After my promotion, I got to spend a ton of time with the senior team, went through their version of VP leadership training, and tackled many tough strategic issues. I believe it’s only by really getting to know the key people that you can make an informed decision about making a career at the new company. Yes, I met my share of climbers, passive-aggressive assholes, and C-players but that didn’t really matter long term. The rockstars I came across have become lifelong colleagues — some of whom have stayed — but many have moved on to bigger, more interesting jobs in hot Silicon Valley companies. Don’t overlook the importance of this opportunity.

If you decided to take my advice and push for a larger role, I have a few more suggestions once you’re there:

Don’t play favorites with your old team. If you’ve run a successful startup, you’ve likely attracted first-rate talent to join you. Invariably, the close relationships, trust from working together, and familiarity with their great work will lead you to promote them first and fast. However, it’s important for them to earn some credibility with the new organization first. In retrospect, I moved too quickly and put my old team in charge too fast. We suffered from a perception of an “IronPort takeover” that was hard to reverse. I should have taken more time to evaluate my inherited Cisco team and let the cream of the crop rise naturally.

Mix up the talent. When we announced the reorg, I shuffled the leadership decks completely. The IronPort SVP of Engineering took over the firewall group and the Cisco VP running firewalls took over IronPort. Each had a fresh set of eyes and legs to apply to their new areas and attacked getting up to speed with vigor. In addition, we flew in all the director-level leaders and above from all the product groups to do group brainstorming and come up with new roadmaps for every product. Because the plans were argued and debated out in the open with everyone involved, there was much more buy-in with the employees working on the products.

Speak your mind. I was constantly pointing out inconsistencies, stupid directives, red tape, and anything that got in the way of doing the right thing. The fact that I wasn’t nursing a 10-year career trajectory and was on the fence about staying long term was incredibly freeing in terms of getting things done. In general, large companies get caught up in their processes so much that the leaders forget how to push to do the right thing. In addition to making the experience more entertaining, I met a bunch of other, like-minded leaders and made progress on important projects.

Negotiate for more compensation. Although this is starting to change at companies like Facebook and Google, most large companies are not prepared to be competitive with hot startups for compensating executives. As the leader, you can create a business case of what a comparable compensation plan would look like for a CEO of a private company. The main benefit here, again, is for your team versus you. If you can set up a compensation umbrella for you, it will apply directly to the rest of your executive team and top engineers.

Put together a succession plan. (Especially, if you’ve definitively decided it’s not for you.) In today’s world, 18-month stints are the norm at well-run large companies so there’s no need to feel bad leaving at the end of your vesting period. If you’ve integrated the team, someone would have likely distinguished his or herself and can be promoted into your role. If you’ve addressed your compensation and met all the best people, you’ll have all the data in place to make an informed decision to stay or move on.

In the end, for a variety of reasons, I left Cisco two years to the day when my vesting period was over. My former SVP of marketing at IronPort took over my role as head of all security products at Cisco. Many of the best people at IronPort stayed at Cisco for many years after their IronPort vesting was over. I believe the main reason the acquisition was a success was because the team engaged and meaningfully integrated into Cisco.

     “There are a bunch of aggressive, ivy-league educated, high IQ people working in Bentonville whose careers are going nowhere because they never learned how to connect with other people.” ­­­— Lee Scott, (now former) CEO of Walmart, circa 2008.

During my short tenure at Cisco, I attended a leadership offsite where Lee Scott was the featured speaker. I certainly knew of Walmart but had never heard of Lee Scott before this meeting. He humbly delivered a powerful hour-long speech on leadership ­­­— without notes or slides, as he paced the stage, hands in pockets. While I’ve heard a lot of leaders speak, I’ve never come away more impressed with how the delivery matched the content.

What struck me the most? That authenticity and humility lead to trust. Trust leads to approachability and open communications. And after listening to Lee for just an hour, he felt familiar and approachable.

Honest and fallible.

Lee definitely knew how to be authentic. For others, this may not come so easily.

At the core, coaching authenticity is complicated ­— some might say impossible. Telling someone to be authentic sounds pretty low calorie. Especially to a founder plowing through a list of product and operational goals. But it’s important. An approachable and authentic CEO is essential to fostering a high-performance, open communications culture.

About the clearest discussion I’ve seen on authenticity is a paragraph in Jack Welch’s book, “Winning”:

     “A person cannot make hard decisions, hold unpopular positions, or stand tall for what he believes unless he knows who he is and feels comfortable in his own skin. I am talking about self-confidence and conviction. These traits make a leader bold and decisive, which is absolutely critical in times where you must act quickly, often without complete information. Just as important, authenticity makes a leader likeable, for lack of a better word. Their realness comes across in the way they communicate and reach people on emotional level. Their words move them; their message touches something inside. When I was at GE, we would occasionally encounter a very successful executive who just could not be promoted to the next level. In the early days, we would struggle with our reasoning. The person demonstrated the right values and made the numbers, but usually his people did not connect with him. What was wrong? Finally, we figured out that these people always had a certain phoniness about them. They pretended to be something they were not ­­­— more in control, more upbeat, more savvy than they really were. They didn’t sweat. They didn’t cry. They squirmed in their own skin, playing a role of their own inventing. A leader in times of crisis can’t have an iota of fakeness in him. He has to know himself­­ ­— and like himself ­­­— so that he can be straight with the world, energize followers, and lead with the authority born of authenticity.”

He absolutely nails it.

The quote clearly illuminates the issue, though stops short of giving practical advice. I am often asked by founders and CEOs how to be more approachable or make a personal connection. And of course, while being authentic means something different to everyone — here are a few ways one could start:

Get self-aware. As I mentioned in a previous post (Treating the Dysfunctional CEO), all leaders need feedback. Having an understanding of how others perceive you — through a solid 360-review process — is the crucial first step towards being real. Learn and accept your foibles and faults. Poke fun and work on them out in the open. “I’ll try to keep this short, I know I can be long winded…” etc.

Talk about failures. Nothing helps make a leader more approachable than admitting your struggles, screw-ups and behind-the-scenes thinking on hard calls. If the leader makes this a priority, the whole company will be more open and methodical learning from failure. At IronPort, we used to go through exhaustive post-mortems: customer losses, engineering slips, and misplaced strategies.

Show up to socialize. Have a beer bust on Friday afternoons. Take a team to lunch. Drop in on a late-night networked video game war. (As a newbie, I was slaughtered pretty quickly). Especially if you are naturally an introvert, you must go out of your way to socialize with your team.

Embrace “professional intimacy.” I love this phrase. It describes a leader’s willingness to get personal and talk about life at home or their own career struggles. E.g. “My wife once threw my blackberry in the toilet… It’s essential to be able to balance home and work before it blows up.”

Nix multi-task listening. It’s one thing to ask someone what they are working on and another to really tune in, give them your full attention and ask follow up questions. I constantly see bad behavior with executives checking their watch or texts, or looking over a shoulder to see who else is in the room. That’s just phony crap.

Loosen up! This is really about speaking to others as though you really trust them with your thoughts vs. reverting to canned responses or the “company line.” Leaders that can explore the poles of an issue, in their own words and off the cuff with employees will gain real trust. This is especially true during all hands/company meetings.

Get good at speaking. As a CEO, if you are a nervous public speaker, you need to practice. Find a coach, do some videotaping and/or try Toastmasters. The goal is to have a marathoner’s heartbeat when speaking to a crowd so as to be natural and comfortable.

And finally: embrace different views.  Encourage employees to challenge your decisions and approach. Let everyone know that you are not perfect, you don’t always have the best answer, and sometimes they have better answers.  In some cases, you will get good ideas too. You are obviously the decision maker but embracing different views will improve openness. (Thanks to Yoram at Maxta for this suggestion!)

I leave you with two examples:

Alec Baldwin’s parody of a GE exec on “30 Rock” comes to mind. Yet for all that’s been said, good and bad, about GE…the company does actually have an enduring, high-performing culture for a reason.

And secondly, from what I understand, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, is the embodiment of an authentic leader. He would fly around and hold informal meetings with groups of employees that would yield all kinds of new innovations.

It’s leaders like Herb and the execs at GE, whom employees actually trust – that inspire ideas, pushback, and foster tremendous loyalty.

I have so much respect for people who fought online criminals for eBay and PayPal. There hasn’t been a set of websites more highly targeted by cybercriminals and fraudsters.  The founders of Silver Tail, Mike Eynon and Laura Mather, were colleagues on the anti-fraud team at eBay/PayPal for three years and had a front row seat to the newest attack techniques and the most beguiling exploits. It stands to reason that the team pioneering security and anti-fraud techniques at the tip of the spear would come up with a breakthrough technology. This was the genesis of Silver Tail.

After testing with customers, it was clear that Mike and Laura were on to something special but desperately needed help to scale. The product needed many refinements and it was clear that they should bring in a seasoned executive to help them with sales, marketing, and building a team. Enter Tim Eades as their new CEO and partner. Tim had been a longtime sales and marketing executive at IBM and a CEO at Everyone.net. His aggressive, take-no-prisoners competitiveness, indomitable work ethic, and remarkable ability to enroll customers and recruits made him the perfect fit.

When Andreessen Horowitz first started looking at Silver Tail, they had just been named to the Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) as the furthest out on the “Visionary” or “X” axis. This MQ position fairly reflected the stage of the company and the founders’ technical breakthrough.

Source: Gartner (February 2011)

On the “Y” axis however, which measures “Execution,” Silver Tail was still in its infancy. They had a total of 15 customers using the product, with only a few paying, and the rest in beta. That said, customers were not on the fence with how they felt about it: “We’ve never seen anything like it!” and “They are charging too little…”

So, they had a proven technology and a few rabidly fanatical customers. At this point, the company’s future was going to revolve around it executing flawlessly to win the market. And they did that and more. The team’s accomplishments are exemplified by the most recent (May 2012) Gartner MQ:

Source: Gartner (May 2012)

It’s the story of how the team, driven by Tim, deployed the product, acquired customers, scaled the company, and accelerated into a tornado in merely 18 months:

  • Almost two thirds of the top US banks have deployed the product or are in the process of deploying.
  • A skeleton crew of 12 expanded to a global team of nearly 100, including top notch teams in Federal and European markets.
  • Three new, world-class executives joined the team to lead product and marketing, engineering and finance. Each one built a remarkable team of rock stars.
  • An irreverent, open-communication, and high-performing culture helped attract and retain top talent.
  • Huge success in ecommerce.
  • Customer responsiveness became a true market differentiator as the team overemphasized quality and support. In fact, existing customer referrals are Silver Tail’ s largest source of new leads.
  • The company was cash flow positive in the first half of their 2012 fiscal year.

This “hockey stick” ramp reflects the disruptive nature of Silver Tail’s Web Session Intelligence technology and the rapidly shifting frame of reference currently underway in the security space. Analyzing “snapshots in time” of network traffic and deploying “signatures” is not keeping up with the innovation of hackers and cybercriminals.

Silver Tail’s success in the market did not go unnoticed. We are announcing today that Silver Tail has signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by EMC/RSA. From the very beginning, Tim and the founders had a vision of helping to eliminate fraud and deploying their technology as widely as possible. With EMC’s worldwide presence and resources, they will achieve these goals much faster and integrate into a broader set of security and anti-fraud technologies.

Please join me in congratulating Tim, Laura, Mike and the rest of the incredible Silver Tail team in marrying the ultimate peanut butter-and-chocolate combo: A breakthrough technology innovation with near-flawless execution!

I would also like to thank my partners, Mark Cranney, Jeff Stump and the entire a16z team for all of their extra effort with Silver Tail – it made a meaningful difference…

I often get asked about what’s the best path to becoming a successful entrepreneur: “Should I go try and start a company now? Or go to grad school? How about working at a large tech company for a few years?”

I spent five years at a large technology company, two years at business school and then two years in consulting before I went to a startup. Even with that experience, I still believe I was too green to jump right in and start a company. It’s not that those experiences weren’t valuable­­­—it’s just that the most valuable learnings for successfully running a startup come from actually working at a well-run startup. I’d go even further to assert that the startup should be based in Silicon Valley and backed by venture capital.

You could just start a company without any startup experience, sure, but you will have a significantly higher chance of success if you already know how to navigate a startup’s unique challenges, including: raising money, changing product direction, and cultivating a culture. These are hard things to learn on the job and you may have only one shot at the crucial “friends and family” round to get you started.

Why a Silicon Valley, VC-backed startup? If you just graduated college, you probably haven’t developed the experience or instincts to judge whether a startup has a great team, a differentiated product or is going after a large enough market. While certainly not perfect, the VCs have done a lot of this important vetting for you, and their decision to invest can be considered a boost of credibility and resources for the company. Also, within each technology region, there is a dense network of specialized talent, financiers, and service organizations (e.g. legal, PR, recruiting) that form a startup ecosystem. Silicon Valley is by far the largest ecosystem and therefore holds the most potential job opportunities and the strongest network.

What about grad school or establishing a foundation at a large company? It comes down to relevance. The responsibilities, roles, contacts, context, culture, communications, risks and instincts you need to develop to eventually run a successful startup are best found at a startup.

If you’re trying to prepare yourself for entrepreneurship— the same two to four years at a startup isn’t even comparable to the equivalent time spent in school or a large company. There’s probably five to ten times more learnings and relevance at the startup.

The next step involves finding the right startup to join. As it turns out, I moved out to Palo Alto from Boston in 1996 with virtually no connections or contacts and over $100,000 in school loans from business school. A few things I did are surprisingly still relevant today:

  • Prepare for a long haul. You’ll need to move out here without a job while most of your friends have jobs locked up well before graduation. If you don’t have enough savings, you may need to get a part-time job while you job hunt. If this step makes you nervous at all, you may want to reconsider the entrepreneurial job choice. 🙂
  • Research.  Start by downloading the last four venture capital surveys from the San Jose Mercury News website. These PDFs summarize the last year of companies that have been funded by VCs. Included are the company name, amount raised, VC involved and headquarters city. This is a great list to start with because all of these companies have recently raised capital and are therefore likely in hiring mode. Build a spreadsheet, start researching and then rank these companies by your level of interest. Go to the VC websites, check all the online publications (e.g. AllThingsD, TechCrunch, etc.), and look up the company name URLs. While you are on the VC websites, you should look through all of the companies on their “portfolio” tab to see if any should be added to your list.
  • Focus. There are many different types of startups and many different jobs within a startup. If you can code, there will be obvious roles within engineering, sales engineering or quality assurance. If coding isn’t for you, you’ll need to figure out the best entry-level role to position yourself. Perhaps in customer care, product management, finance, inside sales, or business development. It will also help to choose between the type of startup: enterprise or consumer. The more you begin to focus, the more credible you’ll become as you deep dive into the differences between the roles and the way the different companies go to market. You’ll want to be as knowledgeable as possible before you start networking.
  • Make a target list. After doing all this research, narrow it down to 20-30 target companies and make a market map or web of every possible link to the company—names of the investors, management team, PR firms—every potential connection (I’m thinking similar to an FBI board targeting a mafia family, but not quite that creepy). Your best chance of getting an interview is if you have a “warm” referral into the company (i.e. someone you’ve met who can refer you to someone inside the company whom they already know). That’s the goal. Continue to research the companies, the roles, the competitors, and the market so that you start sounding like you know what you’re talking about.
  • Start networking. I pulled out the Harvard Business School alumni directory, the University of Florida alumni directory, and the McKinsey alumni directory. I sent emails to guys 15 years older than me with “Hey Steve, I’m a fellow Florida grad, blah, blah, blah, can we have coffee?” I went to every meet-up that had the word “Stanford” in it. Before I knew it, one coffee led to another and after a while I started asking smarter questions and got stronger referrals.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of preparation and persistence throughout the process. It took me four hard months of preparation, research, focus, list-making and networking until August, 1996, when I received a warm referral into a little, 12-person startup named Hotmail. It ended up being the best job experience of my life and I was completely hooked.

Procter & Gamble, the $185 billion market-cap consumer products juggernaut, has a tried and true method for developing new products: extensive consumer research, including surveys and focus groups, product testing, name testing, ad/slogan/copy testing, iterate product design, line up manufacturing capacity and then, finally, concluding with in-store merchandising, final branding and ad buys for launch. Their “big bang” approach shoots out a new product globally with the hopes of propelling it to over $1 billion in sales in the first few years. This process usually takes about 18 to 24 months and results in about a 50 percent success rate for new products. That said, for every smashing success like Swiffer and Febreze, there are an equal number of expensive, high profile flameouts. Does anyone remember Dryel, the at-home dry cleaning solution? How about the Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash? They were just some of the multi-million dollar write-offs.

P&G’s development process actually reminds me of how we used to develop on-premise enterprise software: long 18- to 24-month cycles, a handful of beta testers—almost like a focus group—and then a big launch to manufacturing and worldwide sales channels. The hit products were huge, but there were also many high-profile flops—for example, Groove Networks.

But things have changed so dramatically in software development… The rise of open source has ramped up productivity as thousands of people contribute features and bug fixes. Short, agile development cycles incorporate customer feedback and allow developers to iterate in weeks versus months. Finally, SaaS distribution models allow for more direct feedback as developers can now see every interaction the end users have with the software. Taken together, software is getting to market sooner, at a lower cost and with a much higher success rate at launch.

Is it possible that many of these learnings from software development can be applied to real-world consumer product development?

That’s exactly what Quirky has figured out and why they have the potential to disrupt the entire P&G business model. Ben Kaufman, Quirky’s founder and CEO, had the vision to democratize product development. He assembled a team of professionals across design, merchandising, legal, manufacturing and marketing to work with a worldwide community of participants who collaborate on every aspect of product development. The community contributes ideas, names and slogans, pricing input, marketing tips, manufacturability suggestions and will soon be able to offer in-store merchandising help.

So why do thousands of people help Quirky make products? They get paid! One of the more popular products, Pivot Power, a completely redesigned, flexible power strip, will pay nearly $500,000 to its inventor and another $500,000-600,000 to the more than 700 contributors who helped bring the product to life, including the person who came up with the “Flex Your Power” slogan. And that’s just this year’s expected earnings for one product! The inventor and influencers will make significantly more in the future: 10 percent of wholesale revenue and 30 percent of online/direct revenue. Now that’s a real incentive!

Is it possible that the collective brainpower of thousands of people can be more successful than the experts at P&G? We believe that Quirky has cracked this code and that’s why we are announcing today that Andreessen Horowitz has led Quirky’s $68 million expansion round. Here’s why we’ve invested:

  • Ben Kaufman is the epitome of what we call “founder-market fit”. At his previous company, Mophie, a maker of iPhone accessories, Ben ran into all of the problems small inventors have getting their ideas to market. It was through his real-world struggle with prototyping, manufacturing and merchandising through retailers that Ben decided there had to be a better way for everyone.
  • The vast majority of Quirky products require an investment of less than $50,000 along with one to four designers/engineers working with the community. As such, every single product that Quirky has launched to date is profitable—there have been no duds.
  • The average time from when a Quirky product idea is submitted to when the product appears on a store shelf is a remarkable 120 days. Quirky develops prototypes with a 3-D printer to quickly iterate designs and the crowd-sourced feedback de-risks the products before they hit the retail shelves.
  • References with Quirky’s network of major retailers (e.g. Target, Fab.com, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc.) were absolutely glowing. They love the newness, speed and innovation that allow Quirky products to command price premiums and more favorable in-store displays.
  • Quirky’s fast-paced culture attracts the world’s best consumer product designers. Each designer is typically working on five to 10 projects at a time, across a wide range of product types. If you want to build a large portfolio in a short time, you wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
  • Quirky is testing a unique scan-based trading model that would leverage the community to manage in-store displays, merchandising and inventory management. This is a completely new innovation that has their retail partners excited: “Quirky is moving 10 times faster than their competition.”

Offline retail and product development are well overdue for innovation and Quirky is the most exciting new retail concept we’ve seen since the Apple store opened over a decade ago! I’m thrilled to be joining Quirky’s board of directors and look forward to helping Ben and the company expand dramatically.

I’d like to thank my partner, Connie Chan, for being such a passionate advocate for Quirky. If not for her early interest and dogged pursuit, we surely would have missed the innovative magic happening under the hood.