Posts by Mark Suster


One of the interesting things about being a VC is that you often see companies in transition. If you’re an early investor like I am that often means writing the first $2-3 million check into a business that previously had either survived on fumes or on a $500,000 angel round.

I also see companies as they move from having taken $1-5 million from me to their next round where they raise $8-15 million from Series B investors and sometimes I lead at this round (we’re stage agnostic but 80% of our deals are seed & A).

Moving from a company that had less resources (and presumably by the time they’re raising depleted resources) to a company with newfound resources can be telling.

I have seen many companies raise their first $3 million and still act like a company that has no resources at all. And while this might sound to the inexperienced person like a sensible idea – it is not. In a VC business when you raise additional capital you need to “level up” and act the round you are.

Of course I’m not preaching crazy, irrational spend or having Kid Rock at your next company party. But you do need to find a way to do activities that are more scalable. The founders are (or should be) the most valuable resources in the company and scaling implies that you bring in others to help accomplish tasks that allow the founders to get more leverage.

In some cases this is about getting routine tasks off of the founders plates. It’s why I wrote this post that the controversial first hire after an A round out to be an office manager / assistant / HR person who handles everything from stocking supplies to booking travel to scheduling group meetings. All of those things that you do yourself as a badge of honor in the early days are simply not your best use of time.

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Reference calls. We all have to make them. Whether you’re considering hiring a new employee or as an investor whether you’re looking to do a background check on the founders of a company.

My friend Jason Hirschhorn Tweeted about this today

References on hires are often useless.

— Jason Hirschhorn (@JasonHirschhorn) April 6, 2014

1. Ask for at least 5 references
As your candidate for at least 5 references. You specifically want to ask for people who have directly worked with the person before. I like to get a mix of people who have reported to the candidate, whom the candidate has reported to (2x) and peers.

Don’t worry about the fact that these are the references that the candidate has hand-picked – that’s part of the process. I would start by asking the candidate, “How did you decide on these five people” as part of your review process.

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Most technology startups seem to be funded by product people or business people.  Specifically what is often not in the DNA of founders are sales skills. Nor do they exist in the investors of early-stage companies.

The result is a lack of knowledge of the process and of sales people themselves.

My first startup was no different.  I had never had any sales training so everything we did for the first couple of years was instinctual.  While we did fine learning on the fly, it turned out that a lot of what we did was wrong.

As we grew into several millions of dollars of sales per year it was no longer acceptable to “wing it.”

So I did want any rational person who wants to improve does – I hired a coach.  We focused together on improving our sales methodology, our training and our comp plans through a larger than life ex country manager from PTC named Kai Krickel.  He taught me much – most of it unconventional.  Most of it worked and his philosophies have proved enduring to me.

His business was called TEDIC – The Excuse Department is Closed. That mindset always stayed with me and even rung true at the time. Excuses.

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There’s an old joke in software development, “How much time does it take to design software?” Answer: As long as you have scheduled for the design phase.

I know. Not funny, “ha, ha” but pretty apropos.

If you’ve been involved with a number of software projects you already have an intuitive sense for this. We’ve all been involved with projects that seem to drift and drift and make progress. There’s a healthy balance between allowing a design team to dream up functional requirements, talk with customers, analyze competitors and for technical projects – research the latest cool-kid tools to play with.

Design with no constraints becomes a research project.

You see there is a creative tension along the spectrum of  time and scope. If you pull too hard at the scope end of the chain your time drifts. If you pull hard at the time end of the spectrum you end up shipping inferior product.

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If you’ve watched any industry in the last 20 years where technology has begun to transform how the industry works the results are always predictable driven by what Clay Christensen appropriately called “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (one of the most influential books that changed my thinking about markets).

Young startups claim they are going to change the world, large companies that dominate that sector scoff at how low quality these new entrants are, until like frogs boiling in water they come to the realization that “this shit is real.” The next step is the industry tries to fight back.

TrueCar is the first ever Internet service that tells you exactly how much other people in your area paid for the car you want to buy. You enter your make, model, trim & year and out pops a price curve of purchases in your area and in most states you will then be offered a fixed price to purchase that car.

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