By Sarah Tavel
FORTUNE -- It's been more than a year and a half since I left Bessemer Venture Partners to join Pinterest. Since then, I've taken quite a few meetings and phone calls from junior VCs or MBAs asking about my transition from VC to operating. By far, the most common question I get from this bunch is something along the lines of, "Did you learn anything actually useful in VC?"
1. I learned how to ask the right questions. Anyone can ask questions. But learning how to ask the right questions -- to use questions as a mechanism to uncover the hidden truth in a company's business model, or the tradeoffs in an engineer's architecture, is something that comes with training. VCs spend a huge amount of their time asking questions, and thus learn the craft of asking the right ones. This skill has been enormously valuable to me as I transitioned to Pinterest.
2. I learned how to read people. In my first performance review at Bessemer, people judgment was one of my weaknesses. I'd now say it's one of my strengths. As a VC, you're constantly meeting founders and building your pattern recognition for reading people. This skillset is particularly useful when you're in a business or corporate development role but, as with asking the right questions, it's one of those horizontal skills that will serve you anywhere.
3. I learned how to learn. In VC, you're constantly ramping up in a new area. Each company you evaluate comes with its own ecosystem that needs to be understood. Similarly, trends in the tech ecosystem turn over so quickly that, if you ever stop adapting and learning, you'll quickly become a dinosaur and won't know a Snapchat when you meet one. That drive to constantly learn will help you adapt to new environments and challenges.
There's a flipside to these three though:
1. In startups, you've got to answer the questions. One thing I learned early on at Pinterest is that my muscle for asking questions was a lot stronger than my muscle for answering them. As with asking questions, there's an art to answering questions well. It's been good to exercise this skill.
2. I didn't learn how to read an organization. VC firms tend to be smaller partnerships. Although Bessemer was about 45 people when I left, I was never in an office with more than 10 people. As Pinterest has grown from 30-odd people when I joined to more than 200, I've had to learn how to navigate a company. People who have come from larger companies definitely have a leg up in this regard.
3. I'm not specialized. VCs rarely specialize. Sure -- I knew the e-commerce ecosystem cold, met with countless consumer companies, and quite a few adtech companies, but that doesn't compare to spending several years working at Google. But you've got to start somewhere ...
Sarah Tavel (@sarahtavel) works in business and corporate development at Pinterest, after spending six years with Bessemer Venture Partners.
Why startups shouldn't always take the top price from angel investors.
FORTUNE -- Silicon Valley is living in the age of angels. And it is beginning to cause some problems.
Here's the troublesome scenario: A young tech entrepreneur raises some angel funding to begin building his business. Maybe $100,000 or so at an entirely-reasonable valuation. It was a good experience. They return to the angel market for a bit more funding, believing MOREDan Primack - Oct 3, 2013 12:09 PM ET
Startup "demo days" have been flouting the law for years. Here's how they can keep doing so, even though the laws are changing.
FORTUNE -- Beginning on Monday, private companies will be legally permitted to "generally solicit" investors. And it may forever change startup "demo days," which have become ubiquitous in Silicon Valley and beyond.
For decades, private issuers have been prohibited from publicly passing the hat. That's why you've never seen MOREDan Primack - Sep 20, 2013 12:27 PM ET
What to do with the company co-founder who isn't CEO?
By Jeff Bussgang
FORTUNE -- I've been thinking a lot lately about the unsung hero of many startups: The other founder. A lot has been written about the founder/CEO and his growth and evolution as a company grows. But little is written about the (nearly omnipresent in my experience) co-founder -- the No. 2, behind-the-scenes partner who teams with the founder/CEO MORESep 10, 2013 1:15 PM ET
What startups should do if the environment is worse than expected
By Ben Horowitz
"Hope that you feel this Feel this way forever You can plan a pretty picnic But you can't predict the weather."
--Outkast, Ms. Jackson
FORTUNE -- If you run a startup and are currently raising money, you probably planned for a somewhat different fundraising environment than the one you find yourself in today. You probably thought that valuations would be roughly MOREJul 15, 2013 2:29 PM ET
Startups should keep employee upside in equity.
By Eric Paley
FORTUNE -- Venture-backed startups are incredibly ambitious. A startup team comes together to try to create something highly improbable and well beyond what can reasonably be expected given the scarce resources at hand. Once financed, everyone at the startup should have a reasonable salary, but the real compensation for achieving the improbable is equity.
Inevitably, I get into a discussion with my MOREMay 6, 2013 2:53 PM ET
Aim high, seek out key networking meetings, and pick yourself a winner.
By Jeff Bussgang
FORTUNE -- My first time jumping into the startup world was as a freshly minted Harvard MBA in 1995. As my classmates were rushing off to high-paying, high-powered jobs on Wall Street, I joined a Series A startup with 30 employees as a product manager, making $65,000 per year - lower than my pre-MBA salary at MOREApr 3, 2013 3:14 PM ET
Not every VC deal can be a hit. And that's when the real work begins.
By Fred Wilson
FORTUNE -- Early stage venture capital is a lot like baseball: If you get a hit one out of every three times, you are headed to the Hall of Fame. And if I look back over my career, and also over the track records of the firms and funds I have helped manage, MOREMar 28, 2013 2:34 PM ET
The three real keys to going public have nothing to do with $100 million in revenue.
By Glenn Solomon
FORTUNE -- As a junior banker at Goldman Sachs (GS) in the early 1990's, I was weaned on the conventional wisdom that growth companies were ready to go public when they reached $100 million in annualized revenue and had at least two quarters of profitability under their belts.
The "$100 million revenue" theory MOREFeb 25, 2013 11:06 AM ET
Startup crowdfunding is due to change drastically this year. Here's advice from Ronny Conway, Ben Horowitz, Kevin Rose, and others.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- Investing successfully in startups takes more than a pocketful of cash. That's the message venture capitalists and securities regulators hope to transmit to those interested in equity-based crowdfunding, a new form of investing currently awaiting regulatory approval. Ordinary investors will soon have the opportunity to invest MOREFeb 25, 2013 10:30 AM ET
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