You’ve really zeroed in on consumer companies. What are the ingredients for success in this space?
In consumer, the best inventions are often simple to explain, but develop into powerful social movements. This is the magic of becoming “popular”—when a new product strikes such a deep emotional nerve that it is talked about with enthusiasm in everyday life. Capturing that magic can be elusive. But founders who discover it, tend to focus more on the human impact of innovation than simply the feature advantages of a new product or technology.
Lately, you’ve been investing mostly in companies outside the Valley. Why is that?
Technology is making the world smaller, which is why founders should think globally from day one. For consumer companies in particular, the largest and most diverse markets can be found more readily in cities like New York, London, or Shanghai than in Silicon Valley. As a result, proximity to those markets can help establish early and reliable signals on product/market fit. Moreover, startups today can be built on top of tech infrastructure and channels of user acquisition that are easily tapped from anywhere in the world. Because of this, access to resources is no longer the key impediment —only brilliant invention and the relentless will to succeed.
What makes a successful founder?
Founders are rare individuals; they see the world through a uniquely different lens. The ones that resonate with me are those looking for seismic change rather than incremental change. They are pioneers with creative irreverence, fighting against the odds to overcome old and established norms, strapping themselves to their vision with fierce dedication. “Making it” becomes more of an existential necessity than simply a career goal. This is why they embrace abnormal levels of perfectionism and hustle – they know that the last inch can often make the difference between success and failure.
You’ve sat on many boards over time. What makes for strong directors?
The most important thing to establish as a director is a foundation of trust and confidence with the CEO. I have never seen a board operate functionally without this dynamic in place. Secondly, a board member should aspire to deliver competitive advantage. For me, this begins by offering original thinking and having the courage to challenge accepted points of view. It also involves providing a powerful network of relationships and resources that can help propel founders towards game-changing outcomes.