The Winding Road from Flybridge to Flybridge!

I am thrilled to announce that I am rejoining the team at Flybridge Capital Partners as a Principal in New York City.  I was last here between 2010 and 2012 before I headed off to Harvard Business School to get my MBA.  While at Flybridge, I sourced two portfolio companies –  Tracelytics (acquired by AppNeta) and Crashlytics (acquired by Twitter) – and worked as the first US employee for a third:  tracx.

The part of this new chapter that I am most excited about is collaborating with an investment team that I love and know that I work incredibly well with.  In contrast to recent stories about many women’s experience working in tech and VC, I can confidently say that as a result of the incredibly supportive culture I experienced at Flybridge, I have not only thrived but am also lucky to have found my passion and place as an investor. My investment interests and experience are broadly across the information technology sector, including the consumer web, mobile and enterprise software markets.

As a VC, I get to work with exciting entrepreneurs –visionaries who tell me how they want to change the world and, if I’m fortunate enough, I get to help them make it happen.  And there is no better place to invest than in a rapidly growing startup ecosystem like NYC with so much amazing talent (more on this later). I look forward to further honing my skills, and learning from a team that’s dedicated to seeing me succeed.

My time at HBS was productive and fun –I remained active in investing as a judge and mentor of our student venture competitions and as an angel investor in a next-gen automated marketing solution and a quantified-self platform.

During my first year at HBS, I started an experiential marketplace comparable to an “etsy for service providers.” I spent my winter vacation backpacking through Africa and working in Accra, Ghana for Tigo Cash, the country’s largest mobile payments network, developing their global remittances product and increasing usage of their mobile wallet product.  For my summer internship, I lived in SF and ran business development at Google[x] for Project Loon, learning firsthand how to scale the most innovative solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

While at HBS, I founded So She Did, the resource I always wished I had, to help young women invest in themselves, from the inside out. Young women are inundated with content and media focused on fashion and beauty and I wanted to offer them actionable tools and exercises for personal and professional growth.  I am inspired by all the proud and fulfilling #SoSheDid Moments shared by our community.

Throughout my MBA program, travels, and startups, I continued to be entranced by the vibrant and growing startup ecosystem in New York City, and felt compelled to play a role in its evolution. I moved here last week, and am grateful to be a part of such a culturally rich and diverse city like no other, and consider it to be a true rite of passage for anyone in their 20s!

I am continuing my Angel Dinners and Founder Fairs, curated events for top angel investors, talented entrepreneurs, and the best engineers in NYC. Stay tuned for upcoming events in NY and if you’re a part of this thriving startup community, please reach out as I would love to meet you!

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Master of Your Destiny

Here is a post on shaping your reality.

Before I jump in, I know it wouldn’t be fair to not mention anything about my time at Harvard Business School. My favorite part of the experience has been connecting with brilliant, ambitious, like-minded women. I’m used to being the only woman in the room, so I was delighted to be in a class where we made up 40% of the classroom discussions. I will cherish these relationships for the rest of my life. Life is too short to not surround yourself with people you trust, value, respect, and care about. Most importantly, who keep you grounded. I also love the range of classes I’m taking: Creative Marketing in Strategic Industries, Design Thinking and Innovation, Financial Management of Small Firms, Online Economy, and worked on my own startup (will dedicate a separate blog post to this). And I made my third investment, an SF-based company in big data/enterprise space, so am glad to stay involved in the startup scene both on- and off-campus.

While my blogging has slowed, I’ve been journaling a lot. Every time you access a memory you, you change it. As Thinking, Fast and Slow’s Daniel Kahneman would say, we fall prey to Outcome/Hindsight Bias, or Narrative Fallacy. So the only way you can be truly honest with yourself about why you made the decisions you made, is to write down in that moment your reasoning. “A few lucky gambles can crown a reckless leader with a halo of prescience and boldness.”

Key learnings on Mastering Your Destiny:

1) Don’t look outwardly for validation or truth. Looking outwardly is like looking at fun-house distorted mirrors, because it is not a clean slate. You’re seeing other people’s own projections. Turn inwardly to find your truth.

2) Release your agenda. Don’t be attached to an outcome. Keep an open mind and heart. So long as you are true to your values and integrity, embrace the unknown.

3) Be gently and cautiously optimistic. Be aware of imperfect information, and do not jump to conclusions.

As an entrepreneur, you are the closest to feeling like you can control your destiny and shape your reality. But ultimately, you are not the master of your destiny. You are the master of how you choose to spend your time and energy, and the rest is not up to you. That’s a relief.

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First Week of classes at Harvard Business School! Meeting so many fantastic people, and having fascinating discussions via case method. Post coming soon…

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Fake it till you make it (correction: Fake it till you Become it)

I’d always taken pleasure in over-preparing for things; I got a boost in confidence simply knowing that I was over-prepared for whatever it was I was walking into. That sense of confidence alone was often the single greatest contributor to any good performance.

But then I entered the real world, and my need to over-prepare has been gradually replaced with my new motto: “Fake it till you make it.” I’ve carried this concept with me since graduating from college in 2009 and figuring out what to do with my life. There is no greater test of my new motto than joining a startup. I knew I wanted to join an early stage startup, but I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I studied economics in college, had a few finance and consulting internships, and one year in VC, but didn’t know how this translated into a valuable skillset for startup success.

Luckily, I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be a problem. In startup mode, you just do. And if you’re smart, agile and hardworking, what you do can make a real impact. Three months into my new role, I’m re-branding our identity, messaging, positioning, opening partnership talks, meeting with top global corporate brands and discussing how tracx can help them transition into next generation social media management. I’m seeing first hand how brands react towards the loss of control over their messaging as a result of social media, and gradually accept this new peer-to-peer relationship between the brand and customer. I’m working with some of the most sophisticated brands who not only embrace this but are also letting social media data drive sales, marketing, customer service and product development within their corporation. Compared to these giant brands, we’re just an itsy bitsy tech startup, but one that is boldly telling their execs that we have the solution to their problems. Startups are the embodiment of my motto taken to the max.

As I reflect on the difficulty of taking this leap and how I was able to overcome the challenges, I think there is an interesting gender component that plays into my experiences.  From college until a few months ago, I  experienced some form of Imposter Syndrome. Apparently, this is common amongst women. Unable to internalize our accomplishments, we dismiss our success as luck, timing, or result of deceiving others into thinking we’re more intelligent and competent than we think we are. I’ve felt this way just about every time I landed myself an awesome gig. “Hooray I got the job, but what if they find out I’m not as smart or awesome as I seemed during my interview?”

It’s time to take some credit, ladies. We deserve the success we’ve achieved. But when in doubt, fake it till you make it, and then fake it some more till you BECOME IT. After all, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

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Venture Capital–>Scrappy Startup

I’ve had a great experience my 1+ year in venture capital. Was privileged with the opportunity to bring in two seed investments, Tracelytics and Crashlytics (yes I like lytics companies :) ) that have both successfully gone on to raise their Series A round. I love working closely with the founders and watching them learn, endure, and actualize. I also found the investment process incredibly intellectually stimulating. I was meeting some of the most interesting people in the world, working with some of the brightest minds, and learning a ton. What more can anyone ask for?

As much as I thought I was ‘in the trenches with entrepreneurs’ thinking through business challenges, I realize now that this was a nice thought but was pretty far from reality. In December 2011, I found out that I was admitted to my top two business school choices: Harvard and Stanford Business School. I feel incredibly fortunate and am thrilled to start at Harvard Business School this Fall. After the news, my team asked whether I’d like to take any time off before school to travel, relax, or something. Through the HBS Facebook group I learned that a few candidates had quit their jobs upon the good news and were taking the next 9 months to travel. Thankfully I love my work too much that this never crossed my mind. I hear you have tons of time to travel in bschool anyway, so I told my team that I actually would love to join a startup before school starts. I’m lucky to work with incredible people who sincerely care about my professional and personal growth as they were very supportive of the idea.

Timing was perfect. We just closed investment in tracx , a startup that was about to open its NYC office (R&D/engineering is in Tel Aviv). The CEO would start building a new sales and marketing team here in NY, so I could potentially be their first US hire. After a few meetings with the CEO, it was clear that 1) We were a great fit, and 2) he was going to need a lot of help. It was an opportunity to roll up my sleeves and get a real taste for building a company. So in January I decided to move to NYC until August, and started my first day on Feb 1st 2012 as Head of Product Marketing and Business Development. Still an advisor to Flybridge. I joined the week we announced our launch and funding on techcrunch . I had just sat on opposite side of the table evaluating whether we should get involved in the company’s $4.4m round of financing, and now I’ve hopped sides and am evaluating how we should spend $4.4m.

I can’t wait to share the journey here. I’m keeping a journal so there’ll be plenty of stories. For one, now I know what the ups and downs of the startup roller coaster feel like. How it really feels to have your highest high and your lowest low back-to-back sometimes only minutes apart. One great reason to celebrate every achievement as it comes. The thrill of spending many sleepless nights working to push something live that ends up getting 50k uniques in three days, shared by Steve Blank, Robert Scoble, Tim O’Reilly across all their social networks. Or giving your first demo to a huge brand, and moving them down the funnel, to closing your first account or spending sleepless nights working on something that does NOT get any traction (yes, all this and more has happend in just two months). In VC land, it’s hard to know whether you’ve made the right decision for awhile, you get some indication, but the verdict is often out for years. In startup land, I often get hit with the results pretty immediately (which is awesome). I’m working longer hours than I ever have, sleeping fewer hours than even college days, and yet I’ve never felt more energized. I’ve also never felt more connected to my work. There was a moment I had doubts that I’d be able to make the impact I want in only 6 months, but boy was I wrong. 1 day in startup life is equivalent to 200 days in a big company. Shit just gets done.

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My Ideal Social Network: The Interest Graph

Gravity currently maps our interests in order to target relevant content/ads. Step in right direction, but still lots of room for innovation in presenting the data in a more meaningful and digestible way.

It has now been a year and a half since I graduated college. Surprising how much life can change in such a little amount of time. My priorities, ambitions, interests, career goals, etc. are all much different from when I was a freshman at Yale. Even compared to my senior year, I find that I have new passions, and interests– my ideas and thoughts about the world and my place in it are evolving constantly. I have a handful of college friends that I catch up with regularly. But how do I keep abreast all the latest happenings of the rest of my friends who are now professionals all over the globe? Facebook. Is it ideal? Far from.

As a young professional, I find very little use out of Facebook. Partly it’s the result of the fact that I created my Facebook account the summer of 2005, the summer before I entered Yale. It’s a popular time for all the excited incoming freshman to add just about every possible college connection– quick encounters at admit events, interesting classmates who we’d like to meet in person, friends of friends, and finally those who we actually call our friends in real life. Multiply this by 4 years of college, and then the summers spent at internships, study abroad programs, traveling, living life, etc. and you get a bunch of “Facebook Friends.” So what does my Facebook news feed look like? A whole lot of noise. Sure you can opt out of updates from certain ‘friends’, and even un-friend people who you realize you never actually were real life friends with. But this takes a ton of time, and there’s always the awkward concern of “what if this person ever comes to my profile and realizes I unfriended him/her.” Facebook surely doesn’t mind this as ultimately they’re not betting on people continuing to log into their Facebook profile, but more on all the valuable data they’re collecting from being so integrated into practically every new product and service. Think Like buttons, Open Graph, and Facebook Connect. Facebook will continue to be relevant so long as new businesses continue to layer on top of it embedding all of Facebook’s plugins, and as far as I can tell, we’re only seeing the beginnings of this.

There must be an easier way to learn about what’s top of mind with my friends than following them on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. I had brunch this past Saturday with Steph, a dear friend who I don’t see as often as I’d like– she said, “I checked your blog before brunch to see what you’re thinking about these days to make sure we catch up on all the important stuff!” But not all my friends have blogs (nor update them regularly enough), but we do regularly post articles, updates, tweets, etc. related to our interests. So how would I like to stay abreast all the latest happenings of my real world friends who are located all over the globe? (And by happenings, I mean, what do my friends care about these days?) Answer: The Interest Graph.

I would love to have an interest graph for my friends– where I could dive into what they’re thinking about lately and watch my friends grow and evolve their interests, priorities, opinions, and passions. The interest graph would pull in keywords/topics from a meta-analysis of my friends’ tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, posted articles, and I’d have a real map of all the things that matter to them. I could click on a keyword, and dive deeper into the articles that my friend has been reading/liking/tweeting/etc. And I could watch this change over time so that next time I meet Steph for brunch, I’ll be sure to ask about all the stuff she’s thinking about these days. We change so much throughout our lifetime that it’d be nice to have a way to keep posted on the stuff that matters to us. The Interest Graph would be my ideal social network.

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5 Lessons Learned My First Week in VC

Checking in now that it’s been a little over a week since I started as an associate here at Flybridge Capital Partners. Is it everything I expected and hoped for? Yes, and even more! I love that a huge part of my job is meeting with entrepreneurs to discuss goals, strategies, challenges, and plans for their startups (the other part of it is research, internal meetings and (my favorite) startup events). I get very excited hearing about and discussing all the big ideas that entrepreneurs have. Then I tone my excitement down (just a little bit) when I run it by the rest of the team here, and give the more substantive analysis and reasons we should (or shouldn’t) consider pursuing an investment opportunity.

I’ve already listened to about seven pitches, and read through about a dozen pitch decks. One of the most valuable aspects of the learning process for me is listening in on the partners debrief after pitches(something we make a point to do at least weekly) and sharing my thoughts on various pitch decks that we review (something I do almost daily). From our debriefing, I’ve seen a few common concerns that I’d like to share here with hopes that the next time you talk to an investor, or send in a pitch deck, you’ll take the following points into consideration:

1) Tell a story. One of the best ways to engage us is through a clear and fluid story. Check to make sure your pitch deck flows from one slide to the next. This story should help us understand why you and your team are the right people to tackle the particular problem you’re trying to solve. For instance, one entrepreneur had spent twelve years in academia studying and teaching bioinformatics and he noticed that despite the trend of increasingly interdisciplinary, collaboration of sciences, there was no simple way for him to discover and connect with other researchers to collaborate on projects. It was a real pain point for this entrepreneur and his colleagues. By the time he was done telling his story, we could feel his passion and determination and, all other factors being equal, we knew that he would see his idea through no matter what.

2) Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the challenges and risks. It shows us you’re not overly optimistic and by considering the real risks, you can be ready to assuage our concerns. Also, just because you do not mention say, a strong competitor, or a risk to your approach of acquiring customers, does not mean we’re not already thinking it. In fact, if after our meeting, I come across a direct competitor in your space which you left out of your slide on competition, I may wonder whether the team truly understands the competitive landscape or even worse I may question the credibility of the entrepreneur.

3) Create a good network that can help you speak to knowledgeable professionals in your space. The team is of first and foremost importance. We are always happy to make helpful introductions but are more inclined to do so if we feel that you’re already actively seeking out those with relevant knowledge and experience in your space. One entrepreneur who pitched us last week not only had a strong team (with comprehensive knowledge and relevant experience), but also knew (almost) all the experts in the space, and how to connect to each of them. He showed us a list of knowledgeable professionals he’d already spoken to about his product, their feedback and as a result, we found him and his product more compelling and credible.

4) Show us the history of your startup. We like to see the progress of your idea, product, startup, etc. Feel free to connect with us early even before you start fundraising, re-engage with us as you build out your product and acquire customers, and let us watch your startup pivot, and evolve. If we can see all the progress you’ve made so far, it allows us to more confidently believe in where you plan to be 6, 12, 18 months from now. One caveat though– be careful that this does not work against you. We had one entrepreneur pitch us last week (who had met with a partner 6 months earlier), who many of us liked (and believed in the idea) but because we did not see much progress (improving strategies, building a team, better product, etc.) between then and now, we decided not to pursue an investment.

5) Get traction. You can start testing with only $50 on google ad words (or a Facebook campaign) to begin to understand market demand, messages that resonate, etc. and how to get the viral element using social media, FB platform, Word of Mouth, etc. This is a good place to start and it shows us that you’ve managed to get some uptake. Then walk us through your plan to acquire more customers. Given the different channels you’ve explored and the cost to acquire customers in each, get the unit economics to work such that the long term value of your customer exceeds the cost of acquiring that customer. Most importantly, make sure your strategy is measurable, which makes it repeatable, and therefore scalable.

There is of course more feedback that does not fall neatly into these five categories, but these points are the most common ones that I believe all startups can apply. I hope to continue to provide actionable advice for entrepreneurs as I learn more every day. And if you have any questions on how to improve your pitch deck, feel free to send them my way!

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Honored to be a Part of…

Wow, summer has certainly flown by, but it has definitely been a most eventful summer for me. Lots of exciting things have happened/are happening that I’m honored to be a part of.

First, I’m happy to be joining the DartBoston Family where I’ll be organizing the Family Dinner events. Yifei Zhang who had started Family Dinners a year ago, will be leaving Boston to pursue some new (and very cool) ventures abroad and I’m honored that he thought to pass the torch onto me. My first DartBoston event ever was the Family Dinner and since then, I’ve attended just about every DartBoston community event; needless to say we had a great time at the dinner. I had a lot of fun planning my first Family Dinner to celebrate the 1-yr anniversary of Family Dinners, which we’ve themed “Meet the Angels.” You can check out our awesome list of mentors and angels and the details for the event here. I’m thrilled to share that we will be bringing together amazing entrepreneurs from across the startup communities at MIT, Harvard, Babson, MassChallenge, Northeastern, Dog Patch Labs, Founder Institute, Tech Stars, and DartBoston– a mission we hope to further accomplish with each future Family Dinner. It is my hope that this Family Dinner will help pop the startup community bubbles that have formed around various Boston/Cambridge college campuses so that we can unite all the amazing startup communities here in MA and get them all out to events together.

Second, I’ve been helping Bill Warner plan the MassTLC 2010 Innovation unConference happening October 14th and the awesome pre-party the evening of October 13th. I first met Bill at the Boston Startup Weekend in early June and am excited to have the opportunity to work with him on the unConference. The story of how it happened is quite memorable: I had met Jeffrey Lu (co-founder of Daily Aisle and now my co-chair of the Connectors) at the Boston WomenPreneurs summer party the first week of September, and within the same week I received an email from him asking if I can meet with Bill Warner the following morning at 8:30 am because he “has a project for us.” This goes to show you the value of networking events as you really never know who you may meet and what incredible opportunities may come of your new connections. Intrigued that someone I had only met a few days ago was sending me time urgent emails to meet with one of the most respected Boston Fathers of the startup scene for “a project,” I decided to show up the next morning, no questions asked. After hearing about Bill’s vision for this year’s MassTLC Unconference, the pre-party, and the role of the Connectors, I was eager to help Bill realize his vision. So for the past two weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the CIC Anything Goes Lab working with Bill, Laura Ring (Director of MassTLC), and Jeff on recruiting experts and great entrepreneurs, reviewing applicants for the sponsored entrepreneurs 1-on-1 sessions with the experts, recruiting connectors who will help facilitate meaningful connections between the entrepreneur and experts, planning the budget for the event, and finding suitable sponsors. I’m really looking forward to this year’s unConference as it’s the largest and most ambitious one yet and the pre-party, which will be the first one ever for the event. There truly is no other opportunity like this to connect with all these amazing experts in one place so if you haven’t yet, sign up now because you do not want to miss this event.

Finally (saving the best for last), I am most excited to share that I will be starting as an associate at Flybridge Capital on October 12, 2010. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to work in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit (aka Rock Center) at Harvard Business School for two incredible women professors, Mukti Khaire and Mary Tripsas. In addition to the fun learning experience I had writing case studies and doing academic research for Mukti and Mary, I greatly benefited from the access I had to the HBS network. Through this network, I was able to meet Jeff Bussgang, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at HBS and General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, at one of his lunch talks with the MBA students. I had just finished reading his new book, Mastering the VC Game (which I saw on Mukti’s desk as Jeff had given a free copy to the profs in the Entrepreneurial Management dept before it was even available on Amazon). In his book, Jeff states that no one grows up wanting to be a venture capitalist, but that one sort of just ends up at its door as the result of some chance encounter. So I could not wait to sit down with Jeff and ask him how I could end up at the door to VC. Given how much I enjoyed meeting entrepreneurs, and successful founders of great companies, and doing research on various industries in order to write interesting and educational case studies on startups, I knew that I would love the type of work I’d do as an associate in venture capital. And little did I know, but Jeff would become my chance encounter (or perhaps his book sitting on my prof’s desk was the serendipitous moment). I set out to make this dream job a reality (a process to which I will have to dedicate a future post), but after getting to know the entire Flybridge team, I can sincerely say that I’m honored and incredibly excited to join them. And just to give you a sense of how much fun this is going to be, check out the team I’ll be working with. I can’t wait to start!

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The New Gamer

With the entrance of Facebook Places last week, it is now clear that the core “check-in” feature in all the recent geo-location services has become commoditized. The check-in services that will manage to stay afloat in this tough competition are those which can differentiate themselves through deals, rewards, partnerships and most importantly through fun and engaging user experiences. Based on this, SCVNGR is well positioned to stay at the top. Its new partnerships with the Patriots, Celtics, AT&T, Zipcar, etc. (though we still don’t know their user stats) and its goal of “building a game layer on top of the world” demonstrate the type of vision that vanilla check-in services such as Foursquare and Gowalla lack. But you can’t get the valuable deals, rewards, and other partnerships without a strong user-base and you can’t get the user-base without providing something fun and different. Continue reading

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Gobbling up Turkey

Ancient city of Ephesus, located near the Aegean Sea- was one of the great Greek cities in Asia Minor and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World

I’ve just returned from a wonderful excursion through Turkey with some of my dearest friends from college. Two of whom are from Istanbul, the cultural, economic, and financial center of Turkey and a truly amazing city with a rich history. In preparation for my trip, I read Orhan Pamuk’s Snow (winner of the Nobel Prize), a sad but beautifully written novel of profound relevance to the present time with its sentiment best summarized by the following quote from the London Times, “The debate between the forces of secularism and those of religious fanaticism.. is conducted with subtle, painful insight into the human weakness that can underlie both impulses.” I highly recommend Snow, or really any of Pamuk’s novels for that matter. I’m fascinated by the fact that Istanbul is the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents: Europe (Thrace) on one side of the Bhosphorus Strait and Asia (Anatolia) on the other. Continue reading

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