CVP: Why VC? And why early stage?
Tony: VC is a position where you get to do a variety of interesting things. One of those is meeting with entrepreneurs who are building products that are trying to make the world a better place, getting exposed to new ideas, and thinking about the forefront of innovation.
As far as why VC, it’s a role that somewhat found me. Coming from the operator side, as a founder of Pyne, I was excited about being on the other side of the table and helping others build their dreams.
I find the early stage particularly exciting because that’s when ideas are being created and directions are being laid out that will go forward into the future. As companies get bigger and more established, the goals shift.
CVP: Can you walk us through a typical day in the life of Tony?
Tony: There is not a typical day but I can try to break it down by where my time is generally allocated. Normal weeks are typically between 60-80 hours. My time is spent between finding and talking to new companies (deal sourcing), helping exciting companies, and doing research about the industries we are interested in. That said, the majority of my time is spent meeting and exploring new companies, as well as helping existing companies.
Also something I’ve come to appreciate as both and operator and a VC is the idea of “work-life integration.”
CVP: How does Social Starts evaluate a startup? What do you personally think makes a company stand out?
Tony: One thing that SS does is a deep dive into the founders’ backgrounds in order to try to understand where the founder is coming from and what their motivation is for starting a company. I want to understand the journey of where and how the founder got started, and why they’re solving this problem today. I call this the “momentum” behind solving the problem. Some people think about this in terms of a “person’s grit”, and I think it is important to know what the pieces are that will make this person have to solve this problem. Understanding the “why” is very interesting to us.
We also want to know who is the entrepreneur, and what is the founding team like: who’s selling, and who is the one who is building. These are important roles, and we want them all to be incorporated in a founding team.
We also look at the market: is this market really big? Is there a real opportunity there?
When these 3 things are filled, that’s when I get excited.
CVP: What’s more important, great revenue model but no user traction, or great user traction but no revenue?
Tony: This question is interesting because it totally depends. What is a great revenue model without any user traction? I’d be interested to see what that would look like. I would probably say it’s not a great revenue model until there’s some traction. Stepping back, if I understand the question as: “Is revenue or traction more important?” I still think it depends on what type of business are you building. I think entrepreneurs should understand what metrics are important and why, and then be able to communicate that to investors. If you are a consumer app, then user growth is going to be king, but if you are building a B2B SaaS product, then a demonstrated revenue model is going to be super important. As far as what kind of traction is most important, it totally depends.
CVP: What advice would you give to a student interested in getting into VC?
Tony: I think the most important thing is to try to talk to as many people in VC as you can to try to understand what the job is like and what tools you’re going to need to develop. I think VC sometimes seems like a job that’s fun and interesting - and it definitely is both of those things - but it also requires a lot of work and a lot of skills that maybe are not so obvious.
On top of that, once you’ve decided that VC’s something you want to do, educate yourself in a particular vertical, because if you become part of an investment team, it would be really helpful to have something to bring to the table. For example, becoming an expert in VR or Bitcoin could be helpful in evaluating startups in those spaces. It will be important that you have a set of skills that you are bringing to table that would be valuable to the team. After deciding on what you think is interesting and developing those skills, it will be a process of finding a position that matches both your interests and skillset.
CVP: One thing you miss most about college?
Tony: Having my friends in such close proximity - friends that I still have today and have always pushed me intellectually and to aim higher in my personal goals. That was a great period of time, but I am also happy to be done with it. I never seemed to see eye to eye with many of my professors. Probably why I ended up in the world of startups .
CVP: Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors with Social Starts!