Transitioning From Product to Investing
Welcome back to the Kauffman Fellows Podcast! For the final week of SC Moatti’s miniseries, The Age of Product: Outperforming in the FAANG Era, she hosts Joe Robinson, Hummingbird Founding CEO, and Melody Koh, NextView Partner. In each episode, they discuss the skills they gained working in product, how those skills make them stronger investors, and how investors can provide the most value to their portfolio companies. Catch each episode below or on iTunes, Spotify, and Anchor.fm.
This season of the Kauffman Fellows Podcast is produced in partnership with Mighty Capital. Together, we unravel what truly makes a great VC investor.
Designers + Geek Founder, Circle fmr CPO, now Hummingbird Founding CEO, Joe Robinson, on the Power of Networks
In the penultimate episode of her miniseries, SC Moatti (KF Class 25) welcomes Joe Robinson, founding CEO at Hummingbird, a platform that fights financial crime. Together they discuss the power of networking, where to turn for inspiration, and how investors can provide the most value to their founders.
Tune in and catch some of our favorite soundbites below!
On the power of networks
For Robinson, the power of networking and community has been a great source of inspiration.
“I started my career in communities. I ran a group that wanted to see live music concerts together called Live Music SF. Then, I pivoted into running tech events and tech communities. I took over Silicon Valley New Tech, one of the original meetup groups.
I started to produce my own events and community, which became Designers and Geeks. It has had a giant influence on my life. Not just the organizer parts of it, but the meetups themselves. One of the things that makes San Francisco, San Francisco is that sense of community. Being able to go to community events and meet other people working on interesting things and form new collaborations. They are a great way to find and make new connections and open doors to new opportunities. They’re sources of new ideas and new connections that have been great for me.”
On building great products
While there are always best practices, it’s important to remember that nobody has all the answers.
“Get out there and build connections and build your own profile. Look for the best stuff. I’m always grateful to be a part of this ecosystem and have the support of people that are bringing capital to the table.
There’s no specific path to success. If you look at successful companies, they have forged their own trails. You can take advice and get ideas from different sources, but there’s no playbook for it. There’s no playbook for a perfectly successful company. It comes from inspiration, work, timing, and luck. Remember that nobody has all the answers before you go doom scrolling on Twitter for entrepreneur advice.”
On getting value from investors
Robinson has found value from all of his investors, but he had to learn to see the different types of value each person has to offer.
“You get different things from different folks. Investors can be more operational, others are more vision-oriented, and some are great connectors. It’s incredible to have a mix of supporters. Capital is one thing, but we couldn’t have built the company without some of the investors’ support and guidance as well.”
On what makes a great VC investor
Great VCs know how to spot great products and support the companies in which they invest.
“On the investment side, it’s good taste in products, the ability to see a new and interesting market and to see how that product is going to go and take that market. In terms of supporting entrepreneurs, it’s being as supportive as possible to the entrepreneurs that you work with and helping with connections, without feeling like you need to get in and steer the company.”
NextView Ventures Partner Melody Koh on Product Meets Investing
SC welcomes Melody Koh, Partner at NextView, a C-stage focused firm, to the final episode of her miniseries. Previously the Head of Product at Blue Apron, Melody shares how her experience as a product manager has made her a stronger investor.
Tune in and catch some of our favorite soundbites below!
On being a great investor
If investing was easy, everyone would do it. Being great as an investor means being skilled in these areas Koh describes.
“A great investor can be a contrarian and right at the same time. That’s hard to do, and it’s probably the most challenging piece of this job. The other way I think about that challenge is, how do you see something others don’t? Maybe they eventually see it, but how do you identify it as a C-stage or early-stage investor?
It’s tough for human beings to imagine step functional change at the timescale that could become a reality because we’re human beings, and we’re pretty linear. As an early-stage investor, especially in technology, that’s something with which you have to challenge yourself constantly.”
On the skills that transfer from product to investing
Koh has found many of the skills she developed in product useful in venture capital.
“There are things that become second nature for product managers. Things like what is your value prop or how significant is the problem that you’re solving? Who you’re solving it for, the user journey, user persona, target segments, why does it matter, and how much does it matter? I tend to hone in on those aspects more than my partners, who have slightly different experiences than me. When you’ve done product, you have more of an intuitive sense of how something can be built, how easy or hard it is. You have a better shot at assessing the technical aspects of what a company is trying to do.
As a product leader, the most important thing is the muscle of hiring. That’s handy for helping and coaching portfolio founders as they think about hiring 30 plus people in two years. When you’re an investor, you work with a founder in a coaching relationship. Not the same as a manager and direct report, but there are aspects of it that are similar.”
On how investors can add value
One of the best ways to be valuable to your portfolio companies is to use your experience to help them avoid mistakes and accelerate their timeline.
“A company’s success comes down to how that founding team can iterate and maneuver. We sometimes describe it internally as a heat-seeking missile to get to the heat and break out into 1,000 different execution steps that stack on top of each other which makes a difference in that outcome.
Being an investor is a long-term relationship. Through the journey, there are going to be ups and downs. It’s important for an investor to be steady and have empathy for what the founders and the company are going through.”
On how investors can help products win
Investors can offer value to product leaders and companies in many different ways.
“Investors are helpful in terms of introductions to other leaders. We can offer advice on different types of technology stacks, and try to stay out of the way, and just let teams execute.
We tend to be higher-level, strategic thought partners. Every one of us has prior operating experience. Sometimes, we can be helpful on a tactical level as well. There’s a lot of iteration involved at high velocity. That’s when we think it’s beneficial for someone to be bouncing ideas off us and gut checking.”