As I've gotten more ramped up here at Austin Ventures, I've learned a lot about the "other side" of entrepreneurship. I've known the world of a founder for the first half of my life (I'm 41 now), and I've started five companies, including Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics. But I've never been on the other side of the table as an investor and been a part of the closed discussions that occur after founders make their best case to an investment committee. What I've learned is really eye-opening and is helping me put a lot of patterns together (this is called "pattern recognition" in the investing world).
Two days ago I had the honor of keynoting at the First Round Capital CEO Summit in San Francisco. The event was held at the Jewish Contemporary Museum. During my speech, I promised to put my notes up on my blog and so here they are.
My talk was about the 7 lessons I've learned on the journey from founder to CEO. First Round Capital invested in us when Bazaarvoice was under 10 people; they came in alongside Austin Ventures - where I am now a Venture Partner - in our Series A. First Round has been an incredible partner in our journey from startup to public company. Personally, I think they are the best first round investor in the U.S. with the portfolio to show for it. Josh Kopelman, a fellow Wharton grad, is especially strong and he has helped me many times along the way.
I started off my talk emphasizing that the journey matters most in your transformation from founder to CEO. It is both a beautiful journey and also at times a gut-wrenching one. As Kirk Dando, my CEO coach of four years, says, "the path to heaven goes through the road to hell". This couldn't be more true. You aren't born knowing how to either found a company or be a CEO. You aren't born knowing how emotional this journey can be. But it is a journey that I've cherished and, in my opinion, the most profound journey that one can take in a career. It is a journey that led to me being recognized as Austin's best CEO for the large company category last year. This doesn't mean I have done everything right or that I don't make mistakes (hopefully less of them are repeat mistakes).
I often get asked by entrepreneurs, "what is the most important thing that I can do to build a great culture?". My answer, "recruiting". Recruiting has to be a top-three priority for any CEO, for any size organization. But as a startup, it is the difference between life and death.
When Brant and I started Bazaarvoice, we wanted to get the team right from the beginning. We were obessive about that, and it paid huge dividends later on. If there was ever a secret to Bazaarvoice's success in those early days, both culturally and performance wise, it was that we obsessed about recruiting and also constantly debated how we would create a great culture (more on this second point in a later post). Brant and I came up with a process for recruiting that was so obvious in hindsight but yet is so rarely done.