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Do you think of yourself as an engineer, a founder or an investor?
A little bit of all three actually. While CTO of Flipboard, I led two company acquisitions which required strategic thinking like an investor. One of my fondest moments as a founder was pulling on my engineering background to write v1 code, mostly front end where you can see your commits immediately. And as an investor, I’m inspired by Kleiner’s long history of incubating companies (from Genentech to Fortify) and recently started a new company called Packagd in the basement of our office. Regardless of the role, I think of myself as a builder and look forward to building every day.
What’s a memorable product you’ve been a part of building?
One formative experience that stands out for me was building Hulu, where I was founding CTO and head of product growing the company from two people to hundreds when I left. Hulu was my first opportunity to create a consumer brand that was used by tens of millions of people, and understood by almost everyone.
What interests you most about consumer companies?
Any chance to build is incredibly rewarding. But building something that users have a personal and emotional reaction to—from Hulu to Flipboard (which both have over 500K followers on Twitter)—is extra-special because your creation now matters to someone. They may love it or hate it, but that user now has a passionate opinion that makes what you’ve built important to them. Consumer products give you a chance for that type of emotional reaction, which is why I’m so excited to find great consumer companies to partner with.
How do you assess consumer investment opportunities?
I look at the “3 T’s”: Team, Timing, and TAM (or Total Addressable Market). For the team, we aspire to back missionary (not mercenary) founders, who are pursuing a goal greater than their personal ambitions that can inspire and attract others. For the timing, we think of Victor Hugo and his quote “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come” and ask ourselves “Why now?” Why is this moment the best time for this company to succeed (and not five years ago or five years from now)? And for the TAM, we’re on the lookout for Google-sized markets. We want to help entrepreneurs build industry-transforming companies that will thrive for decades.
What excited you most about Kleiner Perkins when you rejoined in 2015?
I’ve had the experience of working with Kleiner from three different vantage points: as a founder (Erly), a portfolio executive (Flipboard) and an investor. In every case, the value of KP was truly transformative, particularly the hard work and dedication put forth. I’ll always remember my partner John Doerr staying up all night with the Flipboard team in the war room after the initial product launch to answer customer-support emails. That culture of absolute commitment to our entrepreneurs is something I want to be a part of.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My father, who’s my personal hero, told me a story growing up that’s always stuck with me:
“A family woodcutter, on his first day on the job, walks into the forest and cuts down 20 trees, barely missing his father’s record of 21 trees. Determined to break that record, he tries harder and works longer on his second day but, surprisingly, only cuts down 15 trees. On his third day, he works even harder and longer but only cuts down 10 trees. Ashamed, he goes to his father to beg for forgiveness for his failures. His father replies: ‘Did you sharpen your axe?’”
Learn from the experiences of people who’ve come before you, never stop trying to improve even things you do well, and don’t forget to sharpen your axe.