Venture Capital and Product Management

Ever since entering the venture capital industry 8 months ago, I’ve been thinking about how best to cross-pollinate venture work with my previous product experience (Even going as far as to guest-speak on the #1 most listened product podcast about how Venture Capital is Product Management).

In my first post, I discussed how I first attempted to codify the qualities of a good VC. This step was important so that I could begin mapping PM skills / workflows to VC skills / workflows and look for overlapping opportunities.

At a sky-high level (reiterating: sky-high level), you can imagine product management to break down into 3 core buckets of:

Product Planning

All the user research / needs gathering / synthesis of qualitative & quantitative data that helps inform what product / features should be built.

Execution

All of the roadmap planning / sprint planning / spec writing / launch planning / cross-functional collaboration that gets the product launched.

Post-launch Iteration

The ongoing planning & execution necessary to keep successfully improving and growing the product post-launch.

If I map this to venture capital, I imagine it to look something like:

Product Planning = Sourcing

Creating deal flow through outbound sourcing (researching industries and doing cold outreach, attending events / demo days, hosting office hours at accelerators, etc…) or inbound sourcing (referrals, inbound e-mails, people pitching you at a party, etc…).

Execution = Diligence / Executing the investment

Filtering through sourced companies by undergoing deeper diligence (getting to know the founding team, deconstructing the product, digging into metrics, looking through historical financials if there are any, competitive analysis, determining customer love, etc…), negotiating terms, proving value-add to win competitive rounds, executing the investment.

Post-launch Iteration = Supporting your founders

Working with the founders to support them and help them succeed in any way possible (board meetings, strategic advice, helping them hire, finding them customers, guiding them on product strategy, thinking through growth strategies, etc…)

Tactically, here are a few random examples (these examples aren’t too structured so bear with me) of cross-pollination that I’ve thought about or tried so far:

Roadmap: I started by creating a personal roadmap outlining the VC skill-sets I wanted to improve throughout the year. I’ll need to regularly re-visit this roadmap in order to re-prioritize where I want to be focusing my time.

Venture Backlog: I’ve created a backlog of venture projects (for myself and a few members of the venture team) that I cost and prioritize so that I can actively work on top-priority projects during any rare down-time I have.

Sprints: I need to do a bit more thinking about this one. It’s easy to fantasize breaking down my workflow into sprints / sprint tasks but my weeks can be spontaneously unpredictable, especially if we’re considering an investment where the funding round is moving quickly. This leads me to believe that the traditional product sprint cycle would break far too often to be accurate or even necessary.

Specs: It’s not an exact parallel but I’ve tried to structure writing my investment memos as if I were writing product specs. There’s not as much team collaboration around memos (we’re generally expected to have filled out the majority of our memos with our own points of view) but we’re expected to be just as thorough and think through all “edge cases.”

UX: I’m always looking to improve the “user experience” for founders. I never want a founder to leave a meeting feeling like they’ve wasted time with me. I’ve been experimenting with various methods of feedback – one passive strategy was creating a Typeform that I link in my e-mail signature. Lot of clicks but no responses yet (I may shift to simply linking to this Typeform in my rejection e-mails to founders)

My e-mail signature

TBD: I’m going to keep this a living post and update accordingly as I experiment with more cross-pollination in the upcoming months

If you want some more inspiration around the importance of cross-pollinating, check out Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” For those who don’t know, Scott is the original creator of the Dilbert comics and this book is a peek into his life journey from his humble origins into the comic superstar that he is today.

It’s a great feel-good story: a seemingly average underdog overcomes potentially career-ending voice & hand health issues, works consistently on nights/weekends at his craft, and finally gets the break he needs.

More importantly, there are a few pieces of “career advice” that he sprinkles throughout the book. One particular non-traditional recommendation he gives is to forget about becoming the best at one specific thing and instead become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

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