August 17, 2016
The Good, The Bad, & The Fugly
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In the latest episode of Venture Confidential, Peter is joined by Anarghya Vardhana, Senior Associate at Maveron. Anarghya recounts her journey into venture capital, including the challenge of moving from product to venture. She talks about her experience working at a “consumer only” venture capital firm and explains her approach of using “targeted curiosity” to uncover and exploit new opportunities.
About the Guests
Anarghya Vardhana is a Senior Associate at Maveron, a consumer-only venture capital firm where she invests in seed and series A tech companies. Prior to Maveron, Anarghya worked as Investor at Rothenberg Ventures and Country Lead at Google Ideas.
Peter Chapman: Anarghya, thank you so much for joining us on Venture Confidential.
Anarghya Vardhana: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Peter: I know you studied Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford, spent some time at Google, worked in a bunch of start-ups, and then made the leap to venture in 2014.
Peter: Tell me about that move.
Anarghya: Yeah, so, you know, after Stanford went to Google. Was on the operating side. Was on the product AdWords Express Google's local ads product. Learned a ton there, and it was the perfect cradle to an introduction to the corporate world. Google is fantastic, great culture, great leaders. Worked with engineers who could make computers do back flips, it was amazing.
And I left there after three years because I felt like there was something out there where I could grow much, much, much faster, and hustle at a pace that I had yet to reach I felt like there was a potential, and I was young and this is the time to do it type of attitude. And knew a lot of friends in the start-up world, and jumped to a fintech start-up.
Rode a massive wave of up, up, up, and then crash and burn, and experienced a lot in a year at this start-up, a lot of what not to do, and was not uncommon to spend a night at the office type of thing. Worked a lot, learned a lot, grew a lot, and don't regret that experience at all. So kind of went through different start-up thing, and wanted to see what was next, and was considering joining another start-up, perhaps starting something myself, but didn't have an idea, and was talking to a bunch of different friends some of whom were in venture.
I asked them what ideas you're interested in, categories, companies in your portfolio I may want to join, and that's when one of my friends who had a small seed fund in San Francisco suggested that I come in, maybe help on the venture side with diligence, with product diligence, specifically, and help some of the portfolio companies, and see if I wanted to join one, or start something.
Peter: Tell me about those early years what was it like being a new venture associate?
Anarghya: Oh, man, so now it is what spring of 2017, so I've been in the world of venture for three years. Wow, it does not feel like that long.
I think going from product to venture is really, really tough because in product, or in any type of operations every single day you are getting feedback.
You solved this bug, you launched this feature, this customer said this, whatever, whatever. There is a feedback cycle, and everyday you have metrics that tell you whether you're good at your job, or bad at your job, and you can work towards getting better. In venture there can be a lot of false signals.
There can be a lot of unknowns, and it's really hard to know. You make an investment, and you do your best, and you help as much as you can, and let's see what happens. I think you and I have both seen examples of companies that look amazing, and then they kind of crash and burn, and vice versa.
Companies that looked like they had no promise, and have trouble raising, and then suddenly they blossom into something quite incredible, so that was the initial hardest thing for me was everyday I was like am I doing the right thing? I'm a pretty data-driven person, so I would track everything in Google Docs, and look at companies that I'd seen, track StrictlyVC and Pitchbook, and see if any of them had looked a little bit successful, or had inklings of success just to give myself a GutCheck.
Had some interesting things, companies that I had really wanted to invest in, and we ended up passing that had nice exits and acquisitions, and I was like, "okay, there's a little bit of a shimmer of I'm doing something right." I'm still super new and super young in venture in the grand scheme of things.
Peter: Do you still track the performance of companies you've passed on?
Anarghya: Yes, we do that as a firm, so I'm at Maveron now a consumer-only venture capital firm, and
Every week we look at a competitive report where we see the consumer investments that got announced that week, and we look at ones that we saw, and look at ones that we saw and passed, and ones that we didn't see.
Why did we not see them, how do we think about that investment, et cetera, et cetera, so we're very much focused on making sure we are being as data-driven as we can.
Peter: Cool, how are you actually measuring intermediate success? Is it just funding rounds, or you're looking at other indicators?
Anarghya: You know, funding rounds at the end of the day they're marks on paper, so it's hard to know for sure. It is an indicator of something, so we can certainly look at that, and say, "okay, this is generally trending in a positive way." As much as possible we try to stay very close to other investors and founders, and try to get any type of metrics around companies.
Obviously, we know our own, and know how companies are trending internally. Looking at the market, and looking at consumer appetite the nice thing about investing in consumers is you see the product, or the service out and about, you see people using it or not using it, and you can kind of get a macro-level pulse of what's going on, and that's another indicator.
I think at the end of the day there's no easy answer to know if something's working, but part of our job is to keep tabs on the market, and to see what cultural consumer tech trends are, what brands are consumers latching onto, what do they love, what do they hate, are we invested in those areas, and how do we find companies in those areas?
Peter: You said it's hard to get feedback. One of the things that I experienced early in venture is that when you're working for a large company there's often a really systematized sort of career progression, and feedback channels, and maybe you're getting quarterly performance reviews, peer reviews, there's less of that in venture. How did you figure out how to sort of guide your own career development in this field?
Anarghya: At Maveron I am lucky and blessed enough to work with a very small team, so our investment team is four general partners and me, and two of the general partners are here in San Francisco, and two are up in Seattle. I have a really perfect blend I think of autonomy as well as mentorship. They take the apprenticeship model very seriously, so before joining Maveron that's something that I really dug into because I saw how hard venture can be.
And if you're kind of floundering around as a junior person in venture unsure of what you're doing it's really hard to build a career, and to develop and to get better. I think for many of us our goal is to get better whatever we do whether that's work, or dance, or cooking, or relationships, what-not.
The benefit of working with people who have seen this is that you kind of tangentially as well as directly benefit from their pattern recognition.
I'm thankful that my partners are very open about telling me about opportunities they missed, and they're not gonna dwell on it, but they will say why they passed, and why they might have felt that reason to pass, and what the metrics might have said then, and what the metrics say now. So I learn a lot from them, and I use that as a way to gauge my own growth in venture.
Our team is really, really close being small helps with that, and we do our Monday meetings face-to-face every Monday, and because of that we have a lot of transparency and honesty and an openness that allows us to give each other feedback. The feedback could be anything from, "hey, we were in this pitch meeting together, and you asked this question, and I thought you were gonna ask this follow-up question but you didn't. Is that something you thought about?"
I'm like, oh, good, I didn't think about that and now I know, to, hey, give me your feedback on this company, and I provide the feedback. They're like, "okay, that was a good assessment, or bad assessment and here's what you missed, here's what you got right", so a huge part of that is the function of the team.
Peter: Yeah, awesome. Any themes that have emerged for you? Stuff that you really want to get better at over the next couple of years?
Anarghya: Everything, I mean, you know, in venture you have to find companies, you have to win the deal, you have to help the company, you have to know when to exit. Timing is critical. You have to know how to either maintain your ownership, or the dynamics of that because exiting when you own very little may not be a smart thing, or whatever, timing is key.
Then you also have to be good at fundraising at the end of the day because as a VC you're also getting funding from other LP's, so I think all five of those things I'm continually attempting to get better at.
What I love about the job is that it affords me the ability to just be curious, and I feel really lucky that it's my job to be curious, to ask questions, to and meet people.
To ask them more questions, to dig and learn and read it's amazing. I think that curiosity is something that has been with me kind of my whole life, and it's awesome to be able to have a professional career where that curiosity is rewarded, and I think within venture now the training and the coaching is around like targeted curiosity.
Where am I digging, where am I trying to find, what am I trying to unearth, what questions am I really asking, and I'm asking them in a way that I'm like understanding the motivations of the founder. How they may react in certain situations. I mean it's such a people based business, especially,
In the early stage if you invest in the seed and series A stage, you're betting on people.
The business will go up a rollercoaster, go down this way and that way, but you want to bet on the right people, and getting to know the people is a whole different level of curiosity that I think I'm just learning how to express.
Peter: Yeah, I love this phrase targeted curiosity.
Anarghya: I just came up with it.
Peter: Coin it, it's yours.
Anarghya: Thank you.
Peter: One of the early challenges for me when I got into this was venture is so broad. It felt like at any stage there were hundreds of possible companies that I could be researching, talking to. Even when those companies the range of possible questions and investigations seemed really overwhelming.
Anarghya: Oh, yeah.
Peter: What's some stuff you've figured out in narrowing that range?
Anarghya: Well, for us we have the high-level kind of umbrella of we only invest in consumer tech brands. We believe that the brand, and the emotional connection that a company, a product, or service has with the consumer is paramount, and people will use products and services, and bring them into their lives because they fall in love with something about it.
There's some emotional connection. It makes them feel nostalgia. It makes them feel happy. It makes them feel successful, whatever it may be. Our entire kind of thesis is around that, so that brings it to one category, and, of course, that's huge and broad. Within consumer we invest in fintech, health tech, social apps, eCommerce, frontier tech, kind of everything under the sun that's direct to consumer and leveraging tech.
Then the next layer we add on that is that we're very team and founder driven. You know,
A lot of people talk about product market fit. One thing we talk about is product founder fit. What makes this person or this team the right person or team to build X?
Is it a problem they had that they're trying to solve? Is it a field they worked in, and they have kind of this intimate knowledge that allows them to innovate, or it may even be that they have nothing to do with this field, so they have this fresh outsider's perspective, and then they can come in, and make it better for everybody.
So really figuring out like who are you founder, and what are you building, why are you building this, and building a relationship with them, and having faith in them. Of course, we're looking at the product, the market, the business opportunity and everything, but first and foremost it's the person.
Peter: Can you give me an example of good products team fit that you've seen?
Anarghya: Yeah, we love the Series A in a company called Allbirds, which is a vertically integrated woolen shoe company right now. They have two products right now. They have a sneaker and they have a lounger, and they're made of merino wool, and they are environmental friendly, sustainably designed shoes.
They're amazing, they're super light the most comfortable shoe you'll ever wear. The founding team of Joey and Tim super interesting team. Joey has a background in Materials Science and Business. Tim was a professional soccer player. He was on the New Zealand National Soccer team played in the World Cup, had this huge soccer career.
So I think the pairing of those two is quite interesting when you're thinking about building this lifestyle brand, building sneakers, building shoes is you have someone who is an athlete who lived in sneakers and shoes, and all that stuff, and then you have this other person who has a scientific background in materials science, and pair them together and voila, Allbirds.
Peter: I love it.
Peter: You know, I took a look at the Maveron values before this meeting, and a lot of what you were talking about, and the Maveron team seems to be echoed in the values you look for in founders. You talked about being receptive to the feedback, being curious, is there a relationship here? Like is the stuff that you seek in each other the same stuff that you're looking for in founders?
Anarghya: I would say our values, and what we believe in at Maveron touches every single point of Maveron. It is in the core, and something that the GP's live day-to-day. It's something that the whole team, myself, the operational team, we all kind of live and breathe by, and it's something certainly that our extended family, our portfolio, friends of the firm, all of those folks, I think, are very connected to that.
And a large part of it is putting the consumer at the center. What does the consumer want, and how do we deliver it to them? Then it's building these businesses around that, and leveraging technology to make it easier, to learn, get it to the consumer faster, give them an optimal experience, but it's not that this one cool technology is gonna change my life.
We don't think consumers live like that. Consumers don't say, " it's fascinating that there's this rotating machine system that gets me from point A to point B." They say, "I call my Uber, I call my lift and it's awesome." And that is kind of connected to all of us. I think the values of honesty, transparency, curiosity, hard work, and hustle that is 100% emulated by the team, and I think it naturally becomes what we look for in our founders oftentimes.
Peter: How do you test for that in the founding team?
On average before we do a Series A investment we've known that founder for a year and a half. We are very relationship driven.
Our seed investment is a way to get to know founders early, founders and team early, and that allows us to build a relationship over time, and we have numerous touchpoints whether it is one-on-one coffees, or inviting them to events, or spending time at their office, and, also, meeting other people that they know.
So through a combination of that we're really able to get to know them, and how they operate, how they hire, how they inspire, how they navigate really tough situations, how they think about capital and its usage, et cetera, et cetera. Because at the end of the day as a CEO you have a bajillion things to do.
And it's hard to test for every single thing. Of course, there's going to be surprises, especially, when things go downhill you see how someone reacts under pressure, and that's not something you can always test for. You can, of course, reference them, and do all that stuff, but, sometimes, you just don't know until you know. That's kind of the risk and beauty of venture.
Peter: So you had this lovely framework earlier. You said there's sort of five components to venture. Finding the right companies, winning the deal, helping those companies, getting the timing right, and raising your own fund. I want to go back to the first step sourcing. You said that you often start a relationship at a Series seed, how do you find those companies?
Anarghya: Sourcing, the eternal art and science, and mystery that I think we're all trying to get better at.
Peter: Please tell me, yeah.
Anarghya: Multiple different avenues. I think one part is meeting lots of people, so we work very closely with other seed firms because in the seed stage we're not competitive, we're not leading rounds, we're just a part of it, and we can easily and nicely come in, and be that puzzle piece to fill out the round.
Or we can be the first check-in, and help fill out the round with other friends in venture, so it's a nice easy way for us to get involved, so we spend a lot of time time talking to, building relationships with other seed funds and seed firms, and kind of see what's going on there. We obviously respect our existing portfolio founders a lot, and get interesting sourcing opportunities from them.
They'll be like, "hey, have you seen this company, or this idea, or have you met this person?" That's always super valuable we love those recommendations. Again, those recommendations may come from our portfolio CEO's, they may come from friends of the firm, they may come from other investors, whatever.
Another area I think all of us on the team have nicely overlapped networks, but also differentiated networks whether that's from school, previous jobs, just living and being in the Valley, or in Seattle or New York, or whatever, so kind of leveraging those networks to see what's going on.
One thing I love about consumer investing is that you're investing in products and services that are touching regular people. And because of that you never know where a really cool opportunity could come from.
You may see it at the Farmers' Market. You may read about it in Glamour Magazine. You may hear about it from someone sitting next to you on an airplane, so I think we're always ears up, eyes open, seeing what's going on.
And kind of academically and rigorously spending time understanding consumer trends, but, also, it's something that we all love and care about, so we do it all the time.
Peter: Is there a set of friends that you're tracking closely right now?
Anarghya: I think everyone on the team is looking at a bunch of different things. I think like high-level trends, I mean there are so many, I'll give you an example of a couple things. One, we're seeing consumers taking more and more interest in ownership in their healthcare. The way in which millennials, or Gen Z manages their health is very different from how our parent's generation may manage their health.
I may go immediately to Google to diagnose versus calling a doctor or going to the doctor, so there's just a change in the way people think about it, a change in the way they own it, and there is kind of this perhaps disconnect from the traditional go to the hospital, go to the doctor. And there's many other ways in which you can do it.
So I think that's a high-level trend we're looking at, and seeing a lot of interesting companies, and apps and services kind of around that. Everything from different types of insurance to a different clinical model to do it at home kits, and even things like wearables and stuff that can track people's different health metrics.
Peter: Do you have sort of a formal division of expert domains within the firm? Do you say like I'm the healthcare guru, or do you sort of everyone does everything?
Anarghya: Yeah, the benefit of the team being small is that we're very collaborative, and almost on everything we're kind of like a two person process, so we'll have like a main and then a plus-one, and because of that we get exposure to a lot of different sectors. I'm able to partner with multiple different GP's on different projects, and different investment opportunities. David on my team, for example, is kind of our hardware person, and looks at all the hardware opportunities, but, again, other people have plus-oned him on different deals, so he's pretty flexible.
Peter: Cool. I know at a previous role you started a VR accelerator. Are you still playing in that space at all?
Anarghya: Yes, I did help start a VR accelerator, and, yes, I'm also looking at kind of the category of consumer frontier tech, so looking to see what are the next things around the corner that will work their ways into consumer lives. Is that VR, AR, is that automation, is that voice-based chat systems, is it personal assistance. And I think it's a fascinating space, and it's super exciting to think about like how will people interact with the world around them in the next two years, three years, five years, 10 years? Certainly looking at that space we've made a couple of investments. We announced a Series A investment, and a Seattle based VR/AR company called Pluto. Yeah, we have a bunch of different investments in the area.
Peter: I'm deeply curious like what will this world look like in 10 years? Where do you think we're skating towards?
Anarghya: I think it comes back to what I was saying earlier which is like technology is continuing to accelerate and to advance. I don't think it's gonna be like an aha moment where you suddenly wake up, and you're like, "wow, everything is robotics, and automated around me." I think it's kind of things that seem fringe that slowly inch their way into our lives. It is things that go from obscurity to a little bit of usage to ubiquity. I think that the companies and products, and services that will win are ones that aren't the ones that claim to completely change the way you live your life in order to use this.
They'll just gradually work their way in. Someone told me this cool term which is called M.A.Y.A. So M.A.Y.A. stands for Most Advanced Yet Acceptable, and I think that applies to technologies because we're gonna see things that are really, really on the edge of like, "wow, is this possible?" But it is still accepted and kind of works its way into society, so that may not be a completely humanoid robot that is walking on the sidewalk, but it may be a car that drives itself, which is still automated and technically robotic, but it's looking for those little psychological places that you can jump into that is still acceptable to people, and that is something that people will still integrate into their lives.
Peter: What are some other M.A.Y.A. technologies right now?
Anarghya: I have two Google Homes and an Echo.
Peter: That's a lot.
Anarghya: It's a lot, especially, when you consider I live in San Francisco, and probably don't have that much space, but
I think it is astounding and amazing that you can shout into the ether, and the ether responds.
I had a friend's kid who I saw was pinching their fingers on a paper magazine wondering why it wasn't expanding. I hear stories of kids who will walk into rooms, and will say, "Hey, Alexa, play Sesame Street." The kid may not know that Alexa is this black cone device. They may think that you can scream into the ether and things happen that's amazing.
Peter: I love this because it feels like an ancient human dream.
Peter: Yeah, like there's something out there listening to us.
Anarghya: Like you're commanding the gods to play your favorite song.
Peter: Yeah, that's the future we live in.
Anarghya: Yeah, and I mean I'm so connected to these like home systems that I'll find myself being in a hotel or something, and I'll say, "Hey, Google, what's the weather?" Nobody responds and I'm like, oh, well, that's disappointing.
Peter: Yeah, I want to move to part two of Anarghya's venture framework, winning the deal. So you've been doing this for a while now, and I imagine that your approach to negotiating has changed somewhat in the three years. What are some things you do now that you didn't do three years ago when it comes to actually closing capital?
Anarghya: There are tons of great funds out there, and there are tons of great investors. I've learned more and more that as a firm, and as an individual investor we invest in brands. It's also all about our own brand the Maveron brand, the Anarghya brand, the brand of all the other partners I work with, and really establishing that so that founders and teams know what they get when they sign up for a long-term relationship with us. And establishing that brand just like any company would do takes time, and you do multiple different things.
For me joining Maveron was because of the Maveron brand. Maveron has established itself over the last almost two decades invested in companies like early eBay, and Groupon and Shutterfly, and recently things like Everlane, and Allbirds and Periscope. And seeing a company that has been unapologetically consumer, especially when many other firms are like, "oh, we're not gonna touch consumer, we're gonna do a little bit of enterprise". But for me it was like really important to work on products and services that were affecting people's lives everyday that were in the hands of people, and I think Maveron did a great job establishing that brand, and that attracted me to the firm, and I think that attracts founders, and other people to the firm.
When you're working on building a consumer tech brand and you want the secret sauces of what works, what doesn't work, how to craft your story, how to figure out what that emotional connection is because it could be multiple things. You know, our hope and what we see happen is that the founder wants to partner with us because we've been through that, and seen that pattern recognition. Not me, personally, but the firm, and the other partners. I think what I've learned in terms of being able to be that partner of choice for the founder is again it comes down to that relationship, and what value can we add?
Do we show that we are founder friendly, and we're supportive, and we're gonna be on their side even when things are hard that we're gonna open up our own Rolodex, and help them hire, help them bring in other investors for later rounds, help them with PR, whatever it is, and showing that early on. I personally have always believed, and my parents raised me like this, which is to throw good things into the universe, and good things may come back one day. Maybe that's being raised Hindu, and having kind of this belief of karma.
But I think part of it really clicks with how Maveron works, which is, "yeah, we're gonna help founders, and we may not be investing in them today, we may not be investing in them tomorrow, but, hopefully, when the time is right we've done good things, and earned that goodwill to be able to lead the round, or they're hopefully recommending us to other funders who are also fundraising." Of course, you have to give founder friendly term sheets and terms, and all of those things. I think what, also, I've seen happen over the last year and a half that I've been at Maveron is we will refer a founder where we're trying to win a deal to other founders in our portfolio, and, hopefully, they have great things to say.
Peter: So you said you do seed investments really is a way to build pipeline for your Series A investments. How often do you get in on the Series A without having invested in the seed?
Anarghya: I don't have the numbers to share off the top of my head, but there are certainly instances where we don't invest in the seed, and invest in the A. There are instances where do invest in the seed and invest in the A, and there's also instances where we do invest in the seed, and don't invest in the A. So all of the combinations happen.
Peter: I'm wondering, you know, when you invest in the seed you have a long time to show that you can add value, and build that relationship. A lot harder to demonstrate that when you're meeting a company closer to the A, and you're not in an earlier round how do you charm them when you have this sort of collapsed timeline?
Anarghya: Yeah, good question. Take them to Hamilton, I'm kidding. A couple of different things, so if we meet a company, and don't do the seed the seed check is a very small check for us, and oftentimes for the founder as well.
Even when we don't do the seed there are instances where we'll set up weekly, biweekly calls with the founder to still support them to still add value, and we may recommend a great branding firm to them. We may help them hire their head of marketing. We may help them think about how big this round should be.
There's multiple different ways that we can add support. One thing I love about Maveron about my team is that I feel like everybody is like unapologetically very authentically themselves. I feel like that allows us to form these relationships with founders that are very friendly, and it's amazing to see when founders that you do or even don't invest in text you and ask you for advice, or ask you a question. I see that happen with me, but even more so with the GP's I work with.
And that's awesome when you're that 10 p.m. call, and someone's like, "hey, I want to do a quick GutCheck with you", that's trust and that's something that we really, really value, and are honored to have. I think that comes from interactions, and from how we treat people, how we treat each other that shows, and how we treat our founders I think spreads from how we treat each other.
Peter: Sure, yeah. One of the common complaints I hear from founders is that their interaction with the folks in venture can be very difficult to parse. It's difficult to get blunt feedback. A lot of soft-nosed sort of ambiguous next steps. It sounds like you're a fairly blunt team.
Anarghya: I don't know if blunt has a negative or positive connotation to it, but I would say we are straightforward, honest and transparent at least we try our best, best, best to be. Of course, there's gonna be emails and stuff that slip through the cracks, and things like that, but when we're meeting founders we want to quickly turn around, and give them a yes or a no. It's okay to say no, and in our business as you know there's gonna be a lot of no's. I have a tremendous respect for founders because they're so used to hearing no, no, no, no, no. I mean I've heard Howard Schultz say with Starbucks how many no's he got until he got a yes, and that's an amazing company that has reached every corner of the earth.
As an investor we really owe it to the founders when we say the no to do it in a timely manner, and, hopefully, give them something helpful whether that's a no-but, maybe I can introduce you to this person whose looking for a job in this field, or whether it's a no, you're not a good fit for us because you're too B2B, but maybe I can introduce you to one of my friends who does B2B investing, or it's a no and here's why. I'm worried about this, this and this, and if they're not worried about it that's fine. Maybe it's something they didn't realize was something that would be a red flag for investors, and it helps them in their other pitches, or in developing their business.
Peter: So I found that there's easy no's, and there's hard no's. The easy no's for me are when it's like, "hey, you're really outside our domain. You're too late stage. You're competitive with an existing company there's nothing we can do about this." The hard-nosed tend to be more personal. "Hey, you rubbed one of our partners the wrong way, or the team is not sold on your vision." How do you deliver that more touchy feedback in a way that preserves the relationship?
Anarghya: I mean a lot of it boils down to the language and the tone. I think many times it is going to be that, you know, we think the idea is good, and the market is there, but we're not sure if you have the right people around you to get there. And saying like I think there's something here, and I think you can do it it's just not the right time for us right now to see that it's gonna happen in the next three months or whatever. Let's stay in touch, can we help you, and let us know when you lock down that amazing head of acquisition, or whatever it is that will fill the gaps.
If it's a thing that you rubbed another partner the wrong way that's hard feedback to give, and I honestly don't know if it is given every single time. I think at the end of the day it's going to help the founder. If it's something in the way they pitch, or the way they respond to questions, or the way they address people, and it could be tweaked slightly. It could make their pitches 10X better, and I need to practice what I preach I think it's helpful if we tell them, and I think I do in many instances, but I'm sure I don't in some instances.
It's hard to give personal feedback, and you never know if that is something that they can change about themselves? I don't know, so it makes this business hard. One thing I think I am very, very conscious of is when I'm meeting women founders, or underrepresented founders, founders of color and I recognize that one, there's not a lot of venture money going to women founders or founders of color. I think I'm extra conscious of supporting them and helping them. In those instances I may give them a call later and say like, "hey, I think you're super smart. I think you're going to build something great. Here are a few things in your pitch that you may not be aware of that could rub a VC in the wrong way, or that may raise red flags."
I think many investors talk about helping women founders, or helping underrepresented founders, and I think if you can put your ego on hold, and say, I'm going to suck it up and get the courage to give them this honest feedback because I truly think it's going to help them.
And I think it's gonna help a bigger category of people then I think it's time to suck up the ego, and give them that feedback.
Peter: Yeah, is there some common feedback that you deliver along those lines?
Anarghya: I mean it could be a number of things. It could be something like, "hey, in the pitch you talked about wanting to get acquired next year because maybe you think that's what VC's want to hear. It's really helpful to do your research in advance, and know what kind of VC you're pitching, and if it's a Series A investor with their fund size and stuff they probably don't want you to get acquired in the next year for a small amount that's great for you, but not great for your investors."
It's just like knowledge that some people know because of their networks, and because of other privileges that they're born with, or that they have around them, and some people don't know. If I'm able to share that insight, and help them in their pitches then I think it's my obligation to do so.
Peter: Interesting, yeah, I'm glad we're talking about diversity in tech. You know, one of the things that we struggle with is creating a portfolio that has a rich representation of female founders, founders of color. What are some other things that you're doing to get more of these underrepresented founders at Maveron?
Anarghya: So one thing about Maveron that really attracted me there was that Rebecca Kaden is a GP and she's a woman. She's incredible and she was one of my first touchpoints at Maveron, and we really hit it off. She has immense passion for consumer tech brands, has a ton of pattern recognition and insight, and is just a really wonderful person who is a go-getter and has a lot of heart and hustle. I think when you're investing in companies that are targeting regular people you need to make sure that you have a diverse mindset around your own table.
And I think Maveron does a really good job with that. I think everyone can always improve, and I think we're very conscious of that, and I think we're always keeping our own mindsets and frameworks in check because one thing that is important to remember is that just because you wouldn't use a product doesn't mean that millions of other people wouldn't.
So I think what I love about my team is that we're very conscious of that. We're always talking about that. We're aware of that. We have women on the team. We have people of color on the team, and we're able to recognize that the consumers that our portfolio companies are targeting are broad and diverse, and, therefore, we too have to think in a broad diverse manner. And that the founders who build these companies will also be broad and diverse, so we look broadly and diversely. I think all of us are constantly thinking about how do we see more companies that are led by women, and led by underrepresented founders.
And how do we find them, and we continue to work hard at that. It can come from a variety of things. It can come from mentorship, which all of us do. It can come from speaking at specific events. It can come from outreach, and it can come from throwing a lot of goodwill into the world, and hoping it hits somewhere.
Peter: I'm interested in a little story you told about how if you talk to a founder who is a woman or person of color you're extra likely to reach out afterwards, and offer them some helpful feedback. I'm interested because I think it points to this thing that seems a little bit tricky to me, which, you know, I used to call executive presence. And it's sort of about how one presents themselves in front of a board.
One of the lines that I walk is on one hand I really encourage founders to be vulnerable with me, you know, we want them to be their true selves, and we want them to sort of spill their guts and trust us, and we also want to know that they're going to pitch well. How do you walk this line of sort of encouraging people to be really vulnerable while also testing for their ability to handle themselves in front of an adverse bunch of investors?
Anarghya: Part of it is as a founder you should know the ins and outs of your business, right side up, upside down. If I'm mentoring a founder, or helping them with their pitch that's the first place to start which is like be yourself, and be your authentic self. You don't want to go in there and be someone else because then the whole pitch is gonna probably fall apart because you're spending so much time trying to be something else. But know your business really, really well. If that's not a strength if knowing the numbers, or if being able to tell a story in a clear way is not a strength practice that.
And pitch it to friends, pitch it to other investors who maybe are not in your domain, but can still give you valuable feedback. Practice in front of a mirror, and that's something that I will offer to my founder friends who may not know many other investors I'm like, "look, just pitch to me, and I'll give you feedback."
You need to be yourself, but you need to be your best self. You want founders to be open, honest, and true to themselves in the pitch, but you're also presenting, you're also putting on a show.
And if you think about, you know, the best performers maybe this is a weird analogy, but if you think about performers on stage, if you think about President Obama on stage I think he exudes a sense of authenticity, and connection, humility, and vulnerability, but he's also on stage performing, and he does a fantastic job. And, yes, like towing that line is incredibly hard, and I'm giving you an example of one of the greatest orators of our time, but, hopefully, that's what all of us can strive to do which is be yourself, but be your best self.
Peter: I love that. Be yourself, but be your best self. This has been super educational.
Anarghya: Oh, thank you, me too, for me, too.
Peter: Okay, good, good.
Anarghya: Yeah, you threw some hard questions at me. I like it.
Peter: That's my job. I try to ask everyone this question. If you could go back in time, and meet a young Anarghya Vardhana who is just about to start venture what advice would you give her?
Anarghya: I am still a young Anarghya Vardhana who is just starting venture. Oh, okay, I have a lot of advice for myself. This is a job that never really turns off, right? You are in meetings, and at the office, or at a founder's office, or at a coffee shop. You're just bouncing around all day, and then when I was a product manager let's say I went to a friend's birthday party in the evening I was done being a product manager. I was now at my friend's birthday party, but in venture you're at the birthday party, and especially as a consumer investor you hear about some cool new trend, or you find out that the friend's other friend is a founder.
And you start chatting I mean you are constantly on, and I feel incredibly blessed, but I love what I do, and it's interesting to me to always be on like I want to hear about new consumer trends. I want to meet amazing new founders. It can be a little exhausting at times, so I would tell myself that it's an amazing job, and anyone who does it is super lucky to do it, but it can be strenuous. It can be exhausting, so prepare for doing some self-care, for really being able to shut down your brain whether that's by working out, or watching a movie, or hanging out with friends who have nothing to do with tech.
I have one of my best girlfriends in med school and just talking about med school experience is something so different, and it's great, it's refreshing, and, sometimes, it inevitably turns into, wait, "but what do you think about this health tech app?" But I try not to do that too much. Another thing I would tell myself is that like it is all about the people. It is about the people you see everyday. It's the people you may see once a year. It is about the relationships you build. I think that for me aligns really well with my personal values because the number one thing I value in my life is my relationships.
And that is the relationships with my family, with my husband, with my sister, with my friends, with my colleagues, with anybody, and I really, really, really value the relationships, and venture is very relationship driven, which is great. It's also hard because relationships are with people, and people are emotional, and we have our own emotions, and it has its ups and downs. There are days where it can feel like amazing, and everything's working, and then there are days where it can feel like nothing is working and everybody hates you, and it's so hard. In those times I think it's just put your head down, and keep working and keep looking for interesting opportunities, keep meeting great people, keep helping the people around you, and, hopefully, good things will come your way.
Peter: Anarghya, thank you so much for joining us. This was a real pleasure.
Anarghya: Thank you for having me.