Being an investor requires “understanding what the founder needs in order to be successful and how you can be a small part of that journey,” according to Meka Asonye, partner at First Round Capital. In this Carta Equity Summit panel on the journey from operator to investor, Meka joined Dannie Herzberg, partner at Sequoia Capital, who also has a background in sales; Frederique Dame, a partner at GV with a background in product; as well as Mallun Yen, founder of Operator Collective. They shared insights based on their backgrounds as operators, and gave advice to founders without connections in Silicon Valley how they can make their mark.
This transcript has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Mallun Yen:So happy to be moderating this panel of my favorite type of people: operators turned investors. I’m Mallun Yen, founder of Operator Collective, which, as the name suggests, is a fund with over 150 operator limited partners (LPs), as well as institutional investors. We invest primarily in enterprise and business-to-business (B2B) software. We are a bunch of operators who have built and scaled all of the iconic and admired companies, and are also 90% women and 40% people of color.
I’m going to do really quick introductions, then actually let our panelists tell us about their backgrounds and how they ended up in venture. Then we will jump into some of the nitty-gritty of your questions, so feel free to add questions in the chat.
I’ll start with Dannie, who is a total badass sales executive from Slack who recently joined Sequoia as a partner. Next, Frederique, who has been a partner at GV since 2018, focusing on disruptive technologies in the consumer space, and the future of women’s healthcare. Then we have Meka, who’s with First Round Capital and was previously at Mixpanel leading a really, really big team—and prior to that, at a little company called Stripe.
Moving from operator to investor
Dannie, tell us about your background as an operator and what led you into venture.
Dannie Herzberg:Thank you, Mallun. And thank you to Carta for hosting and creating this friend reunion and ability to make new friends like Frederique. I’m Dannie. I am brand new to venture capital (VC) and am loving it so far. I joined Sequoia in March, eight and a half months pregnant, not expecting to make a career shift out of sales and tech, which I loved, into VC. But I really believe in serendipity, and following unexpected paths with great people.
I ended up as a venture capitalist for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a big fan of writing down goals, as I believe that helps them to manifest, and I leave mine somewhat ambiguous. So about six months before I joined Sequoia, I put pen to paper on my goals, which I always encouraged my team to do and had been remiss on, myself. One of the goals I wrote down was “be the right-hand person to a CEO who I admire and who values my skill set.” I love the yin and yang of mutual admiration and divide and conquer. The second goal was to sit on a private company board, and the third was to teach. This was on a five-year horizon. I really like variety in how I spend my day and whom I spend it with.
I had a couple conversations around this, putting it out there, asking some questions. Then Andrew Reed, a phenomenal investor and human who I met six years ago, who is a Sequoia partner, texted me, “We’re thinking about hiring a partner who knows product-led growth and sales. So many of our founders have found product-market fit and they skew more technical and less go-to market. Have you ever thought about joining VC?” Since it was Andrew, the answer was, “Tell me more.” And every partner he introduced me to made me fall more in love with Sequoia and the depth of people they’ve collected. So it was a no-brainer when Sequoia gave me the offer.
Mallun:They are lucky to have you, Dannie.
Mallun:Meka, how about you?
Meka Asonye:My story is way more serendipitous. I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. My first job out of college was with the Cleveland Indians [now the Cleveland Guardians] doing moneyball—I was like the Jonah Hill character in the movie, crunching numbers trying to figure out how to put the best major league baseball team on the field. I then went to business school, then sold out and went to Bain. After two and a half years of working with large Fortune 50 “sleepy” companies—because I was in San Francisco, I wanted to be part of early-stage tech. That took me to Stripe, where I was one of the first salespeople and helped the company grow from 250 to 2,500 people. That’s where I started to fall in love with the early-stage ecosystem.
I made my first angel investment in 2017. I remember being so excited about the energy that founders have about their business and the challenges that they’re tackling, and one investment led to another. At some point, you get sick of trying to hit the annual recurring revenue (ARR) number quarter after quarter as a vice president of sales. And I just started to say, “I want to live my life doing what gets me excited.” That was angel investing on nights and weekends. When I met the folks at First Round who were solely focused on day-one founders, I knew that was where I wanted to end my career.
Mallun:That’s an awesome background. Your moneyball job sounds like a fun job to have left, but clearly, you’ve gone on since then.
Meka:It was the coolest job in some respects, and also the toughest in others.
Mallun:In one of the startups that I did, we put together an insurance company, which of course involves lots of data and actuarial models. We had the most awesome PhD statistician, an actuary who came out of Stanford, for 14 months before we lost him to a sports team. We didn’t even try to keep him at that point—it was patent risk reduction versus sports.
Meka:That’s a tough sell.
Mallun:It was a tough sell. We didn’t keep him. Frederique, how about you?
Frederique Dame:Hi, thank you for having us today. I’m a partner at GV on the consumer team. I’ve been at the firm for three and a half years now, and still feel like a baby VC. I still have a lot to learn, and it’s a very humbling job. Prior to VC, I was an operator for 15 years in product and engineering. I started at Yahoo 15 years ago in the search and marketplace team, pioneering social user-generated content, then worked at a few photo sharing sites. Most recently, I was at Uber from 80 to almost 10,000 employees. That was thanks to First Round, as Rob Hayes referred me to Uber, and the rest is history.
After I left Uber, I was advising a lot of startups, especially on product-market fit and scaling a company, team, and culture. I realized that I wanted to make an impact on more than just one company—and saw that I could do that as an investor, working with multiple CEOs. I had lots of fun meeting with entrepreneurs, unlocking their potential, brainstorming, and problem solving. That got me to join GV.
I thought I would do marketplace and future of work investments based on my background, but the beauty of joining GV is that I found my passion in women’s health. As a woman who went through a lot in that regard, I started to do one women’s health investment and then two. It’s half of the population; there’s still a lot to do, and it’s not just one investment to make in the area. So I really found my passion working on deals in women’s health, as well as the consumer space and the consumerization of enterprise.
Mallun:I’m glad that you’re focused on investing in that very important area.
Connecting with and selling yourself to founders
Mallun:I think there’s some unfair advantages that operators have when they go into VC. Operators tend to have a different mindset, right? We’re used to working as a team and being at a big company, and VC is different. So was there something that surprised you about how the VC business model works, and maybe you decided to do something a bit differently? I’m going to start with you, Meka.
Meka:Feels like a Harvard Business School cold call.
Mallun:I didn’t give any of the questions in advance.
Meka:I’m actually shocked at how similar this is to my last job as a VP of sales. First of all, no one tells you this, but VC is sales, especially in this day and age. When you’re trying to partner with a founder, you’re competing with the likes of Frederique and Dannie, trying to convince them that you’re the right partner for them. It takes a lot of the same skills, which is consultative selling, understanding what the founder needs in order to be successful and how you can be a small part of that journey.
As someone who’s led large teams, being a VC is also being a manager. It is being a coach to some of the most talented people on the planet and helping them get the most out of their team. So, my job is very similar to what it was as a VP of sales. There’s obviously a lot that’s different, in that every day I’m seeing businesses that honestly, I’ve never heard of. I’m doing a ton of Googling beforehand to get smart on the businesses that we’re looking at, but there’s a lot of similarities to operating.
Mallun:What’s your sales pitch?
Meka:It’s a couple things. I feel lucky to be able to sell First Round, a firm that was the first money into Uber, Square, and Roblox—and Josh Kopelman, who started our fund, literally invented the institutional seed class. So, half of it is just selling the wisdom of the partnership. Then the other half is selling me as a person—which is that nobody is going to work harder. You’re never going to wait more than two minutes for a response to a text or email. Unlike a lot of VCs, I still need to make a name for myself, still need to find my first unicorn. So I’m going to be busting my ass from morning till dawn to support my founders. I think people understand that the hustle and grit mentality is real. And it’s—again, similar to what you do as a salesperson—you’ve just gotta keep pounding the rock day, after day, after day to make sure you hit the number.
Mallun:It is sales. Dannie, speaking of which, you know a little about sales.
Dannie:I was just going to say that anyone who has spent more than five minutes with Meka knows that no sales pitch is needed, because he’s a magnetic person who puts everyone at ease. You want to be around him, so you’re like, “Sure, you can have access to my data room.” I don’t know if there’s a data room at the seed stage.
I totally agree. There is a lot that sets you up from a career in sales for a career in venture. And for the original question on what’s been the biggest surprise or what are we doing differently? One thing is that Zoom has made everyone very productive. You can squeeze in so many more meetings than before. We do track how productive everyone has been.
To me, Zoom feels painfully transactional. I’m such a people person and I’ve always made my career bets—major, five-plus year investments—based on founder magnetism and questions. It’s just, “Do I want to, almost blindly, follow you based on the culture and customer community that you’re building?” That’s been my litmus test. So I’m trying to spend as much non-transactional time as I can with founders.
One thing that’s been gratifying for me is just getting into market. Imagine being a sales or business development rep, and you schedule one of those pretend “I’m going to be in New York anyway, do you want to set something up” meetings, then you scramble to set up a trip to New York. I’ll choose a city where I think there’s something interesting and I’ll set up my flights, hotel, and maybe one meeting. Then other meetings just come up and I get to know people a lot deeper than I would on Zoom. I can ask them about their spouse, what motivates them, why they started the company, and why it’s so hard. Then later, once some trust has been built, we can get into “What are your numbers? What’s your growth rate? What are you thinking about for your next round?” But for me that feels more authentic and I don’t count the number of interactions I’m having, as much as the quality and the depth of them.
As for my personal pitch, I definitely stink at that if it’s about being braggy about Dannie, but I can sing Sequoia’s praises from the rooftops. My cheat in sales is joining a winning company. You seem like you’re good at sales no matter what, because the product is good. I’ve never sold an underdog brand, which means I might be so-so at sales. But at Sequoia, I’m lucky to step into that platform and I can sing my partners’ praises all day long. So I try to “show versus tell” and be responsive, inquisitive, and very present and not do emails at the same time as I’m talking to someone. You know, little things. That’s as far as I can go in terms of my pitch. Then hopefully people backchannel us, as any founder should. Do your homework, and that tells the whole story.
Mallun:Dannie, I think that your background speaks for itself. We’ve had the benefit of working together for a few years, and everyone always wants to talk to you, Dannie.
Dannie:I love Mallun. I’ve been in the living room that Mallun is sitting in, and I will gush about Operator Collective forever because I was an LP there before I became an institutional investor. She has brought together an incredible community of operators who not only get access to founders, but build community amongst themselves in learning from each other. So thank you, the feeling is mutual.
Mallun: Frederique, any surprises? And how do you differentiate yourself?
Frederique:I’m a big fan of capitalizing on your superpowers. When I joined venture, I didn’t have the typical background in finance or having invested before. So I thought that in the investing community, a product background would be seen as different from the typical VC profile, and it’s been a great way to bond with founders. I’m a big fan of product vision: I don’t want you to sell me version one; I want to talk about the V10 of your product, what is possible 10 years down the line; and how are you going to become a platform and product that people want to use every day? As we know, founders need a north star to make it through the ups and downs. So it helps to be able to brainstorm and be interested in a founder’s vision; and to be able to help them understand how to scale their product, people, and culture.
At the end of the day, it’s a relationship business. Like Dannie said, you want to spend time with the founder and get the chemistry right. Because they’re going to text you at any time of the day, and you’re going to drop everything. It’s a very close relationship. I spend more time with my founders—all the founders that are pitching to me—than with my own partners internally.
So to me, this genuine curiosity to learn about what they’re building, and being as passionate about it as they are, is very important. That’s why I’m investing in women’s health. My passion about it resonates when I talk to them, and it’s a competitive advantage. I’ve been through a lot of what they’re trying to solve, and never realized how much of an advantage it could be in my career. And I’m also lucky to work at GV, to Dannie and Meka’s point. A platform where you have partners who support you when you have a blind spot, and who are open to your new ideas, is helpful. We come from different backgrounds and so we have different ideas, which is very important.
Investment stages and decision-making rubrics
Mallun:Frederique, what stage do you invest in?
Frederique:We are stage agnostic, with Series A and above as our sweet spot. So, it’s a relationship business, and I will meet companies in the seed or pre-seed stage just to build the relationship. I think it’s as valuable for the investor as it is for the founder to get to know your people ahead of time and get to work before a check is being written. Understanding your investor, your work style, and the value you can bring to a company is very important. And it’s your deal flow: people will refer other people to you if they had a good interaction or enjoy working with you.
Mallun:Dannie, what stage do you invest in?
Dannie:Sequoia invests from the idea stage through IPO and beyond. I personally focus on Series B, C, and D.
Mallun:Meka, are you guys the first check?
Meka:Yeah, we’re usually the first or second check. We say that we invest in pre-seed, seed, and some Series A, but essentially it’s companies in the first two years of life who are still looking for product-market fit.
Mallun:So you are investing at slightly different stages. In our audience we have investors, VCs, and founders—who I think would all love to be funded by you some day—and we have some questions for each of these.
Meka, you and Frederique are probably at the earliest stage. What do you look for when you’re trying to balance founder, market sizing, vision, ability to execute, etc.? Is it really about the founder at that early stage?
Meka:Yes. Our rubric has product, market, and team, but if I’m investing in you, it’s all about the founder. I’m attracted to working with the best people who are going to run through brick walls and people who have an unfair advantage or an earned insight that informs what they’re building. And I really like founders who are intensely customer focused. When you ask them about the pain point they’re solving, either they can talk about it firsthand, or they’ve talked to so many customers that it sounds like they’re talking about it firsthand. They fundamentally get what’s broken and what they need to do to fix it.
Mallun:I’m generalizing here, but there’s a common observation that when a pitch comes from a woman—or person of color, or anyone who is not part of the dominant homogenous group—that sometimes their vision of the market opportunity is not big enough. Some might say it’s just more realistic, but others say it’s not big enough. How much does that matter? If you have a badass founder, they know the pain point, and they know you can fix it—but I feel that they don’t have quite the right vision for the sizing of their market.
Meka: I think there are probably some structural reasons why this has happened. Part of why I’m passionate about being in venture is changing who gets funded. So I get really excited that four of my first five term sheets were to female founders. And I think the best businesses really expand the total addressable market (TAM). Looking at one of our iconic investments, Uber, if you thought about the market as black cars, obviously that TAM was too small. So it’s really important. Sometimes the founder can do it for you and say, “This is what the TAM is today, but this is what we’re really building for.” But we’re on a journey with the founder, so if we see something that can be bigger, sometimes I’ll just ask. I don’t want to put words in somebody’s mouth, but I’ll just ask the question to understand if they’re just talking about this first initial wedge and then going into a much larger market, or are they really content with the smaller market size?
Mallun:So even if they weren’t there before you ask them those gentle questions, it sounds like if you can get there and the founder has the potential, then that’s not a reason to ding them.
Meka:Definitely not. I love learn-it-alls, people who can change their opinion on the fly. None of us know everything, and it’s important to be adaptable and maybe learn something through the process. So if someone gets there over time, I actually take it as a positive. We’re investing so early that sometimes the folks are still at their businesses. Things are going to change, and that’s fine for us.
Mallun:Dannie, you are at B. It’s no longer just about an idea. I know Sequoia invests at all stages, but if someone says, “I want Dannie on my cap table,” what do you look for?
Dannie:I have a personal rubric, and we also have a growth scorecard. For me personally, it’s what I mentioned earlier: Is this a human I would follow? In every interaction, I’m asking if I’m borderline tempted to quit—I’m not going to, but am I borderline tempted—to follow this leader, and be a partner in crime, just like I stated in my goals earlier, to help them build this? Do I want to refer every star in my network to help this person build the company? I don’t care if it’s a sexy market today, or even if the topic is a relatable one that I’ve thought about personally. I care that the founder can excite me about it and that there are leading indicators—it doesn’t have to be revenue growth at this point, but showing some sort of community groundswell or momentum, indicating that the revenue will come. That’s what I’m looking for.
Frederique:I would agree. You want to work with a great human. In my operating days when we were recruiting engineers and product managers, the two criteria we had when we were on the fence were, would we have FOMO if he or she goes to the competitor? And would I enjoy spending time at 2 a.m. with that person, and ordering pizza when the system breaks? I think it’s the same with a founder. You want to pick up the phone right away when there’s a problem, or insight that they need from you. So wanting to spend time with that founder is a big criterion.
The other thing, as Meka and Dannie said, is what else is possible? What is the vision for the company and how much can this stretch outside of their initial release and create some new opportunities for the business? Then, can they hire the right people? I think the most successful people are the best recruiters and the best fundraisers. It goes both ways. I look at Travis at Uber—he was a master fundraiser, but also a master recruiter, and he sold me my job at Uber the same way he would sell it to an investor.
So being able to articulate the vision for your product, recruit the right talent, and recognize what type of talent you need at every stage of your company is critical. Then the rest falls into place. At Uber, we had so many near-death experiences that even the best company with the best metrics can go wrong. As Danny said, you want to have the right metrics, but if you don’t it’s OK too, because there are opportunities to grow and to tackle them as you get more financing and recruit more people.
Dannie: I can add to the metrics-bashing train: customer references. Most investors will try to be very, very respectful about calling your customers and not bugging them too much. But if you create customers who gush about your product, where they would borderline quit if your product was taken out of their hands, that is a very compelling story to us. I care way more about that than unscalable gross margins and other things that you will figure out over time.
So I would overinvest, un-scalably so, in customer delight and having people become raving fans who are net promoters and introducing your product to other people within their company or at other companies. I trust the rest will follow, and that’s a really big indicator for me. I find that the founder is one way to measure my sense of, “do I wake up thinking about this company? Should I be leaning in here?” But I really can’t know until I’ve talked to at least a handful of customers.
Advice on cold inbounds for founders without connections
Mallun:There was one company we invested in recently—Dannie, they’ll be raising a B soon—the feedback was that reps were paying for this out of their own pockets even before their company would pay for it. I agree that when you have those superfans, you’re onto something special.
There’s a question from the comments: how do you approach a person of color that might have a keen product vision but lacks some of the insights and relationships in the valley? Because we all know it is easier when you know all the people. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen kingmaking in the past. It’s easier when you have that network around you, but not everyone has that. Anyone want to jump in there?
Meka: I think one of our most recent investments was actually a cold inbound. So while we definitely invest in people that we have worked with before, or for whom we got a warm intro from a pre-seed investor that we’ve worked with a bunch, all of us partners go through our inbox and look through every single deck that we receive. All we’re looking for is an interesting founder with a compelling insight. Whether that’s a person of color, woman, man, someone in Argentina—it doesn’t matter to us. We’re just trying to invest in the next billion dollar business, wherever that comes from.
So I would encourage that person to reach out to as many firms as possible—just make sure that you’re reaching out to the right firms at the right stage who invest in the right kinds of companies. But we’re all in a game where there’s a scorecard, where we’re trying to generate excess returns for our LPs, and wherever that comes from, at least at First Round, we don’t care what that looks like.
Dannie:First of all, I love that question. I would play the outsider role to your advantage because frankly, I worry that we are in an echo chamber. You follow VC Twitter, and it feels like no one is saying anything very original, so the most powerful investment that we could make as a firm would actually come from someone who has a keen insight and who hasn’t been brainwashed within a particular echo chamber. Someone who can speak to a different population where there’s a huge market opportunity. If you can educate someone who would be worthwhile for a customized cold intro about the market opportunity, take time to figure out who might be a good angle, as opposed to sending one-to-many emails. I think very tailored cold outreach tends to get a good response. Perhaps go through some prolific angel investors to get some advice about what questions to anticipate, and they may offer warm introductions. But definitely go for it, and maybe an outsider status is actually a strength here.
Frederique:I would add that you want to talk to other founders who have the investor that you’re interested in. So if you want Sequoia, you might talk to one of the companies that Dannie invested in and ask for a warm intro through a founder. Not only is it not a coin toss anymore, but you also get the perspective from that founder about that investor’s style. As an investor, I see myself as a coach and every time I meet a founder, especially an underrepresented founder, I try to coach them on how to talk to VCs. For example, I talk to a lot of women who will tell me the valuation they want and what VCs they are talking to that afternoon. I’m like, “No, you don’t say that. You let the market direct the valuation for your company.”
I think that making intros to other investors, especially, is easier at my stage where we can build a syndicate. I want to introduce them to another investor, if it’s not the right stage for GV, or it’s not the right win-win at this stage. I’m a big fan of investing in a company when the timing is right as well, so if I won’t bring you the right value as a seed, as an A, and we need to wait a bit more, I want to refer you to an investor who I would love to work with and sit on the board with. So I think that what goes around comes around. I believe in abundance. I think that you want the best for the founder, and eventually they will want to work with you.
Mallun:I agree that finding someone within some network can help to get in, but cold inquiries do work. Meka, you’ve invested that way. We’ve invested that way. But there’s a couple of things that I would say that aren’t obvious if you have not been part of the valley. Sometimes people will have third parties reach out on their behalf, and I don’t know about you guys, but those tend to not go over very well, if someone says “I’m representing Meka who just started this company. I want to tell you all about him or her.” Those tend to not even get responded to. If it’s a founder who emails—and I agree with Dannie’s point, if it feels tailored—it is more like, “Frederique, I read about you because of this. I would love to work with you because of Y,” then how can you say no to at least taking a look at that?
Frederique:So just ask me to go on a Peloton class, and I will do it with you, and we can have a phone call afterwards.
Mallun:Yeah, that’s awesome. Mine is to hike with me at the dish.
Mallun:At the end of the day, what the VC, founder, and everyone is doing is sales, figuring out how to differentiate yourself from the noise and everyone else that’s out there.
Valuations and the long game of fundraising
Mallun:I’m going to ask a few questions that I really just am curious about. Let’s talk valuations for a second. At Operator Collective, we launched publicly about two years ago, and started investing about three years ago. We do enterprise and B2B software, which two out of three of you also do as well. I remember we would look at multiples, and I’d be like, “Oh my god, the multiples, 4x or 5x revenue.” That now looks really cheap. Any commentary on valuations: Is this sustainable? Is it just going to keep going?
Meka:Dannie, you’re the one who’s part of the problem. Why don’t you tell us?
Dannie:I don’t have any speculation to share. The conversation that we always have around the table is about value, not valuations. And it’s a really grounding line for us to say, “Are we talking about a company that is going to be one of the defining companies of this decade, in which case the valuation will always pale in comparison to what it could become?” We don’t use the word “deal” at Sequoia and we’re not hunting for a deal. We are cognizant of ownership percentage, and we’re cognizant of what it would take to make a return. But we really try to ground the conversation in value versus valuation, and that makes it much easier to wrap my head around.
Frederique:I really like that comment, Dannie. When I advise my founders, I say that it’s great to have a high valuation, but you always need to think about the next round. When I invest, I can invest money in a company, but I want to build and invest in a company that’s sustained over time. And if no one wants to follow because the valuation is too high and the revenues don’t meet expectations, it’s not a success. So it’s important to be disciplined and understand your long-term strategy in terms of valuation, so that you can sustainably raise money and fuel your business for growth. Having a long-term view on your fundraising strategy and your valuation is more important than the instant gratification of having a high valuation.
Meka:Yeah. The journey is long, and I think you’ve got to play the game that’s on the field. I’ll caveat that by saying that there’s nothing that turns someone off more than a founder with unrealistic expectations. So if the average seed is $30 or $40M and someone’s asking for a $100M post-valuation for a pre-seed, the conversation probably isn’t going to go anywhere. But valuation is what it is and as long as we’re in generational companies, we find that things will work out.
Mallun:Thanks. The other thing that I’ve been hearing is that for many years, traditional VCs were very disciplined—if not rigid—about saying that the valuation has to be less than X; my percentage has to be Y. And we’re starting to see more flexibility, maybe because of the different types of funds that are coming up. How are you viewing that at your firms—is there more flexibility? There seems to be more collaborative investing these days, which I love.
Frederique:Personally, I think that even if you have a smaller portion of a bigger pie, it’s good. So if you see a company where you think, “we’re going to have less ownership, but it’s going to be an incredible outcome and a great company to work with,” I think it’s much better than having lots of ownership of a company that may not have as much potential.
Mallun:Has it always been like that? I know you haven’t been there that long, but in terms of GV as an institution, has there been more flexibility in recent years?
Frederique:I think we’re still very disciplined, but if you see an opportunity with a company that has tremendous potential, you want to collaborate with the founder and be part of the journey.
Mallun:Dannie, how about you? You have a very large institution.
Dannie:How do I answer that? I don’t know what the historical conversations sounded like. The part of your statement/question that resonated most with me was the collaborative element. Each of us who enter VC tend to be very personally competitive people. Former athletes, people who are really hard on themselves, really ambitious. But our ecosystem is a really collaborative one, and while we all want to maximize ownership, what we really want is to set a founder up for success with the right board and the right set of advisors that will allow them to build a really big company.
So whether that’s pulling legendary operators onto the cap table, or making sure that it’s diverse so that they get a series of perspectives in there; or whether it’s a very large growth round, we know we’re going to split it with another firm. We’re very conscious of who the person is who will join the board from the other firm, and what unique value will they add that we know this founder needs? I love being in the room at Sequoia and speaking respectfully about other folks that we can collaborate with. And it’s been a learning exercise for me to understand where various individuals in the ecosystem spike and how we want to play matchmaker there when we have any influence.
Mallun:Meka, you invest so early. How far do you usually follow on?
Meka:We make it super easy for our founders. When we write a check, we say, “We will take our pro rata in the next round.” That’s our typical engagement model. There’s some onesie-twosies a different way, but we want our founders to know that we led your seed round and will be there in your next round.
Mallun:Do you tend to go all the way to the end of pro rata?
Meka:There are some companies, like Roblox was one recently, where we continue to build ownership. In some of our generational companies, we’ll look to see what we can continue to do to support the founder as they continue to mature their company.
Mallun:So the pre-seed rounds have always tended to be collaborative. What size check do you typically put into a seed Round, and what percentage? Is there a typical?
Meka:I think it’s changing so quickly. I started in March and the companies that we invested in then look really cheap by today’s standards. At First Round, each of us partners only invests in five to 10 deals a year, so they tend to be very meaningful. We always want to lead or co-lead our rounds. That means different things in different market environments. We try to match what’s happening on the field and be the best partner to our founders. Sometimes that looks like a 10% ownership, and sometimes it’s 15%.
A reminder to hustle
Mallun:Frederique, no pressure. Final thoughts as we are in the last minute and a half?
Frederique:I would say hustle, hustle, hustle. Whether it’s cold calling or networking or finding your next customer, I think focus on being creative in how you approach people. People are people, so try to find ways to network and relate to people as much as you can. Networking doesn’t have to be transactional; it’s about finding commonalities between people. And if you have this approach, someone will remember you the next time they see you. It’s so easy in this day and age with LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram to find out what someone is interested in and bond on a different level than the professional level—so just network and hustle.
Dannie:Everything Frederique just said. To build on it, I would say, be proactive and just ask. If you’re a founder and you want to make a connection with anyone on the panel or in the network, find a way in and open yourself up to rejection. The worst thing that you could hear is “no.” If you want to surround yourself with a group of people who can elevate your game, be the connector who brings all of those people around the table, whether you think you’re worthy of it or not. If you want to break into a cap table for the very first time, share your admiration for a founder, tell him or her you want to help them build their entire team and do whatever it takes to be part of it. Just put the ask out there, and you would be pleasantly surprised with how often you hear yes.
Mallun:Great. Meka, final thoughts.
Meka:Surround yourself with great people and never get beat on hustle. Never get beat on hustle.
Mallun:Thank you all so much for being here with us today, Dannie, Frederique, Meka, can we hang out again, please?
Mallun:I really want to. Thank you all.
Dannie:Thanks, Mallun. Thanks, Carta team.