Posts by Author Garry Tan

Welcome Eric, Vince and Jen to the Initialized Capital Team

The Initialized team has grown, and we’re very lucky to call these talented people our partners. It’s always been a priority for us to bring on people who are experts at what they do who also happen to be genuinely good, kind, and empathetic.

We’ve gone out of our way to find people who can help with the nitty-gritty of building a company — in going from zero to one. Successful startups are able to navigate not one or two, but thousands, of landmines that stand between them and building a successful company.

With these new additions, we have just upped the ability of our founders to diffuse problems on this path. When a startup reaches the other side of product-market fit, it’s magic, and we are happy that with these great folks, more will be able to cross over.

Eric Woersching, General Partner

Eric is able to help startups understand their metrics and put together operating models that make sense as they hit scale. He is a seasoned financial analyst and investor, and worked for legendary investor Peter Thiel for 9 years, first managing the trading desk at Clarium Capital Management and then as a portfolio manager and macro analyst at Thiel Macro. Eric has also been an angel investor in Y Combinator startups. He is a CFA charterholder and has a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford.

Vincent Chu, Operating Partner, Engineering

Vince has consistently built distributed systems that have handled world-class scale, while also having the empathy and product vision to build software that deeply satisfies what users need. A physicist turned software engineer, Chu worked with me as Director of Engineering at Posterous. At Twitter, he worked on the backend systems that power the public API and consumer-facing features for the home timeline. More recently, he was an early employee at Clara Lending, building its mortgage lending platform. He has a AB in Physics and Mathematics from Harvard, and a PhD in Applied Physics from Stanford.

Jen Wolf, Operating Partner, Product/Design

Jen is a talented interaction designer who can also build, manage, and inspire teams of product managers and designers to build products used by millions. She was recently Chief Product Officer at Reserve, a hospitality platform that connects restaurants and diners. A startup veteran, she was previously the CEO and Founder of a boutique product and design consultancy where she worked on successful projects with companies like Apple, Twitter, Chase, Nordstrom and Starwood Hotels. She has a BA in International Studies from the University of Washington.

Why Initialized Invested In WorkRamp & The Future of Employee Training

Work is changing a lot, and great software remains at the heart of that. Around the Initialized offices, we often talk about how easy it is for someone to share a photo with a friend with great consumer software, but nearly impossible for very simple things to happen at work. 

Today, we’re announcing that we’ve invested in WorkRamp, a graduate of the most recent Y Combinator batch, that is re-imagining how companies train their workers.

Imagine for a moment: A room full of 100 people looking at PowerPoint slides together. The dull videoconference where half the people have the browser minimized. The long-winded email that managers spend days agonizing over, but most folks skimmed briefly and archived immediately. Incredibly, the best option for folks who wanted to train their organizations was to use MailChimp to send the email and check the open rates! 

Enter WorkRamp. The company has built a knowledge management tool that lets employers easily create training guides. These are living documents that are actively pushed to large teams, with sections that train people through tasks, tests and videos. These guides can be revised over time into a master plan that folks use for new employee onboarding, rolling out a new sales plan, or even for engineering teams to share the best security practices. 

Managers can get real feedback about whether the guides are useful, and if their teams actually retain the knowledge presented. For instance, a salesperson can shadow calls with senior sales people and get certified in their skill pitching people, using video, all inside of WorkRamp. Once a whole team has been through the training, the VP of Sales can easily see who’s up to speed and who might need some extra coaching. 

We love that WorkRamp guides are the obvious replacement for the dumb out-of-date wiki, a painful all-hands, and the boring videoconference. Their smart learning management software is already helping companies like Square empower more small business owners, and Off Grid Electric bring electricity to more homes in Africa. 

WorkRamp’s CEO Ted Blosser previously led teams at Box and Cisco, and his cofounder Arshdeep Mand was Director of Engineering at YC-funded SpoonRocket. It’s a winning combination: product/engineering founders who can sell. Here’s what Ted had to say about starting WorkRamp now with more experience:

My first company failed and I promised myself that I would go learn from the best before taking another shot at starting my next one. I spent almost 5 years at Box, learning and doing everything I could — from sales, to product management and go-to-market. I was able to work with top leaders like Aaron Levie and see first-hand what you needed to do to make your company successful. Right before my fifth anniversary, I felt the market opportunity was right and my skill set was developed enough to make the leap again. Building a company is a long journey (especially in enterprise SaaS), but there hasn’t been a day so far where I’ve regretted the timing of my decision!

We’re very excited to be investors in this startup with great co-investors and friends like Leo Polovets at Susa Ventures, Semil Shah at Haystack, Wei Guo at Wei Fund, Mike Ma and Mike Miller at Liquid 2, and super-angel Elad Gil. 

WorkRamp is available now at workramp.com.

Last minute tips for YC Interviewees

This is the first week of interviews for the Y Combinator Winter 2017 batch! So I thought it'd be helpful to folks to get down in writing my lessons from being a partner doing interviews at YC for almost 5 years. 

Congrats on getting the interview. You've made it past the most significant cutoff in the YC applicant process. Based on your team, idea, and traction, you've made it into the top 5% of all people starting startups at this time. You're one 10 minute interview away from being in the top 1.5%. 

Here's the list. You'll notice that each of these is usually addressable through practice, and preparation. When you pitch an investor for half an hour or an hour, you have a margin of error. With 10 minutes, you don't. 

Use plain-spoken language and start concrete

You don't have a lot of time to explain what you do. Ten minutes is not a lot of time. Don't let your desire to fit some idea of what a startup should sound like obscure what you actually do. If you're making  software that connects retailers with consumers, that's fine, but that's not specific enough. Better to say that you help brands like Gap or Aeropostale directly sell to customers online through YouTube stars. 

...Then zoom out, and be sure to show why that could be something much bigger

The best founders are able to start off with very concrete and real progress, but then once they've established themselves as real, they can zoom out to show what the product could become. So you might be helping Gap sell through YouTube now, but because Gap is such a great lighthouse customer, it means that the Fortune 1000 is now willing to sell direct through you as well, and that could be very big. 

Traction gets you in the door, the big future gets you the check

Smart investors never fund things because of what you've done so far. What you've done just gets you in the door. What makes people get out the checkbook is how big you can become. 

This fact is important because the top broken pitch problems end up being related to exactly this. Some pitches start with the grandiose future, but the team has nothing rooted in reality or what they've done so far to show that they're the folks to make it happen. Others focus almost entirely on talking about the traction now, but never talk about what it could become. 

It takes both. 

Know your numbers

What is the cost of what you're doing? How much does it cost to acquire a user? How much does it cost to service one customer? How much money do you make per unit sold? It's fine if you're not profitable initially, as long as you have some story where you can certainly be profitable down the road. 

The most obvious way to tell if someone is serious is that they've thought through the costs and pricing of their business. Great founders never neglect that part, because at the end of the day, the bottom line is how you tell if a business is good, or a business at all. 

What do you understand that nobody else does? 

Having big dumb competitors is good because it shows that there's a real market or problem that's being solved, and YC partners have a long history of seeing firsthand small teams of smart people outperforming big dumb companies for years. It's a well known playbook. But it's not enough to call them big and dumb. What can you do that those incumbents can't or won't? 

If you don't have competitors, that's OK too. What do you replace? What were people doing before using your product or service? One thing this question tends to capture is whether people actually want it. 

The tricky part is when there are actually smart competitors who already exist. Then you've got to be even more direct about why you are better. These are cases where in particular you have to be 10X better, not just 10% better. The road to startups is littered with many failed teams that have a product that is only marginally better. 

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These tips work great for all pitches (including pitches to us!). Being prepared in the above ways is helpful for founders in the same way the 12 question YC application helps founders of all stages— because these are the things that naturally help people make things people want.

YC remains the best place in the world for eminent founders to create new things and join one of the most valuable founder communities, and we've been lucky to have a front row seat to the great things that have come through. Let us know how we can help.

Best of luck to all the interviewees. 

Initializing Initialized Capital...

Welcome to Initialized Capital. We’re proud to announce we're investing out of a new $115M early stage seed VC fund. 

We’re founders who are engineers, designers, and product people. We’ve built startups from scratch ourselves, and we want to help you do the same. When startups work, they look like miracles, but they are in fact the result of impeccable execution in every aspect, from the team, to the idea, and ultimately to the product itself. There are a thousand landmines that every founder, no matter the experience level, has to navigate. If we can help point out those landmines, and help folks along their journey, then more miracles can happen.

We invest in early stage companies with a typical check size of $500K to $1M. This should either be plenty of funding for a small team to show traction from nothing, or the start of a strong seed round syndicate with other smart investors we know who can help in complementary ways. We’re happy to be the first check into your seed round and we won’t ask you that thing everyone else always asks: "Who else is investing?" We make up our own minds. 

We believe great companies emerge from many industries and disciplines, and from anywhere in the world. We are best at funding small teams just starting out, when they have zero to 10 employees. You should have a great team pointed at a great idea, but we’re not afraid to invest even if you only have an early demo.

Come talk to us. We’ve done more office hours with more startup founders than most anyone you’ll find. If we can help you avoid some landmines and find the right path, then that’s what we’re here for.

—Garry Tan
Cofounder and Managing Partner