I participated on a panel at the First Growth Venture Network yesterday on product-market fit and customer acquisition. Lowenstein's Ed Zimmerman, our host, asked me to cram a semester's worth of content (related to my HBS class) in 10 minutes and below are the slides I pulled together:
Around this time of year, many students are focused on finding a job in Startup Land and building their careers. If you have your own idea and no one can talk you out of it, that's awesome. But for most undergraduates and graduate students, they have no idea how to get plugged in to the startup community. I gave some advice in my post, Seeking a Job in Startup Land, but I didn't give specific pointers to companies who I think are emerging winners and thus good places to begin your startup career.
For many years, I have been keeping an updated list of interesting, scaling start ups (private or recently public) to share with the students in my HBS class to point them in the direction of good, fast growing companies worth exploring. I recently learned that Andy Rachleff at Stanford does the same, although it is lighter on East Coast companies. Now that graduation season is coming, I thought I would "open source" and share my current list, organized by geography. Note that this is my own imperfect point of view with imperfect data (full disclosure: Flybridge portfolio companies are hyperlinked). Feedback welcome!
Private: Acquia, Actifio, AdAgility, Affirmed Networks, Airbo, Anaqua, Applause, BevSpot, Bit9, BitSight, Cloudlock, DataXu, Digital Lumens, Draft Kings, Drifft, Drizly, Dyn, Ellevation, Evertrue, Fiksu, Globoforce, HourlyNerd, Iora Health, Jana, Jibo, Kyruus, Localytics, Nasuni, OpenBay, Panorama Education, PeerTransfer, Promoboxx, Rapid7, RunKeeper, Savingstar, Sonos, Thinking Phones, Valore Books, Veracode, VMTurbo, Zerto
Public: Akamai, Care.com, Demandware, EMC, EnerNOC, Hubspot, iRobot, Kayak/Priceline, Trip Advisor, Wayfair
Private: 1st Dibs, Alfred, Appnexus, BetterCloud, Betterment, Birchbox, Bloomberg, Blue Apron, BuzzFeed, Carnival Mobile, CB Insights, ClassPass, Codecademy, Contently, DataDog, DataMinr, Etsy, Fan Duel, General Assembly, Gilt, Handy, Harry's, Integral Ad Science, Jet.com, Kickstarter, Knewton, LearnVest, Manicube, MediaMath, MongoDB, Newscred, Oscar Health, Outbrain, Payoneer, Quirky, Rent the Runway, Sailthru, Shapeways, Spotify, Sprinklr, Stack Exchange, tracx, Vaultive, Warby Parker, WeWork, Yext, ZocDoc
Public: OnDeck, Shutterstock
Private: Airbnb, Atlassian/HipChat, Automattic, Beepi, BloomReach, Cloudera, Cloudflare, Coinbase, Coupa, Coursera, CreditKarma, DoorDash, DoubleDutch, Dropbox, Eventbrite, Evernote, Fitbit, Flipboard, FundBox, GitHub, GlassDoor, HomeJoy, Houzz, IFTTT, Instacart, Jasper Technologies, Jawbone, JustFab, Lyft, Monetate, Nextdoor, Okta, One Kings Lane, Optimizely, Palantir, Pinterest, Plastiq, Quora, Rubicon Project, Shazam, Slack, Slice, SpaceX, Square, StitchFix, Stripe, Survey Monkey, Thumbtack, Turn, Twilio, Uber, Wanelo, WealthFront, Zenefits, Zumper
Public: Box, FireEye, Horton Works, Lending Club, LinkedIn, New Relic, Palo Alto Networks, ServiceNow, Splunk, Tableau, Twitter, Workday, Yelp, Zendesk
Israeli (often with HQ in the US – either BOS, NY or SF)
Private: BillGuard, Fiverr, Forter, Freightos, Hola, IronSource, Kaltura, Kaminario, Magisto, ObserveIT, Outbrain, Riskified, SundaySky, Taboola, tracx, Wochit, Wibbitz
Public: CyberArk, Mobileye
London: Bla bla car, CityMapper, Duedil, FarFetch, Funding Circle, GoCardless, King, Purple Bricks, Shazam, TransferWise, Vouched For
LA: Cornerstone on Demand, OpenX, Rubicon Project, SnapChat, TrueCar, Zefr, ZestFinance
SEA: Avalara, Julep, Juno, Koru, Peach, Porch, Pro, Refin, Zulilly.
CO: LogRhythm, Rally, Sympoz, Webroot
UT: AtTask, Domo, Health Catalyst, Hirevue, Inside Sales, Instructure, Plurasight, Qualtrics
- CHI: AvantCredit, BucketFeet, Fooda, Narrative Sciences, Raise, SpotHero, SproutSocial
- DC: 2U, Cvent, Opower, Optoro, Sonatype, Vox Media, WeddingWire
Other: Kabbage (ATL), Open English (MIA), Yik Yak (ATL)
There are a number of founder leadership models that can work well as a startup evolves. I have lived a few as an entrepreneur and worked with many as a board member. Getting the founder model right is critical because the founder is the soul of a company. If you can navigate a leadership model that keeps the founder involved and engaged in the business as it scales, it meaningfully improves your odds that startup magic will happen.
Putting aside the complexities of multiple founders (as I talked about in my post, The Other Founder), the founder leadership model tends to fall into a few buckets:
- Ellison Model – Named after Oracle's Larry Ellison, who did this for over 50 years in one of the most amazing executive and entrepreneurial runs in history, this model is where the founder runs the show from end to end with no #2. Founders who pull this off are able to hire strong functional managers, weave them into an operating team and grow as leaders with the help of these strong managers. Steve Kaufer of TripAdvisor is 15 years into running on this model and going strong.
- Zuckerberg Model – Named after Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, this model is where the founder hires a #2 early on so (e.g., Sheryl Sandberg) that they can focus on one aspect of the business (e.g., product), while letting the #2 run most of the day-to-day operations. You sometimes hear board members talking to each other in short hand about this model when they say, "we need our Sheryl".
- Schmidt Model – Named after Google's Eric Schmidt, this model is where the board hires a professional CEO early on to provide company leadership to build the company around the founder's early vision (e.g., Sergei Brin and Larry Page). Schmidt joined Google initially as chairman and then 6 months later as CEO. That is VC playbook 101: get the CEO-in-waiting on the board, let the founders and them get acquainted, and then see if you can make a match. But even with the new CEO in place, the founders should remain deeply involved and lead major initiatives (e.g., the founder becomes CTO). And, in a few rare cases, founders return to run the company after the CEO retires, now that they have had time to grow as leaders (e.g., Akamai – where founder Tom Leighton succeeded operational CEO Paul Sagan, and of course Google, where Page succeeded Schmidt).
I have implemented each of these models in my portfolio. The right model varies based on the circumstances, obviously, and most importantly based on the makeup of the founder and what they are good at and what they love to do. Good founders realize early on that there is a Start Up Law of Comparative Advantage and that they need to quickly figure out what they are uniquely awesome at and hire the right complimentary team around them.
I find the old school model of shoving the founder aside happens only in rare situations. More typically, early investors focus on employing one of these three models to keep the founder(s) close to the business and put the right team in place around them to allow the company to successfully evolve and grow.