7 things I learned as a VC at Andreessen Horowitz

March 11, 2015, 6:27 PM UTC
CA: Companies In Silicon Valley
A logo sign at the headquarters of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in Menlo Park, California on December 6, 2014. Photo Credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa USA *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***
Photograph by Kris Tripplaar — Sipa USA/AP

I left Andreessen Horowitz five months ago to join Imgur as director of product. Below are seven things I learned in venture capital that were particularly useful:

1. The winners always have something that looks hugely wrong with them. Like spectacularly wrong. That’s why no one else has invested/hired/built this opportunity. But you can. Value strength over lack of weakness.

2. Venture (and everything else) is a service business. That means you need to sell yourself to your customers (entrepreneurs, potential employees, partners) all day long. Everyone you talk to, especially the people you turn down, should walk away wanting to work with you even more than they did before.

3. The best way to become quickly knowledgeable is to find the right people and talk to them. Of course, do your homework first. But there isn’t a substitute to finding the three people in the world who know best and triangulating their answers.

4. Managing a portfolio as a collection of risk-reward ratios leads to superior returns. Make sure to have a mixture of low reward, low risk and high reward, high risk projects at work and in life.

5. There is no template for success, and no one knows what works. Everyone is winging it, so make sure you take apart advice to understand why it worked once. For that one person. In that one situation.

6. Big things growing really fast get really big, really fast. Bettings on these things when they seem large but are still growing is a good bet. Counter: make sure you understand why they’re growing, because there is real growth and then there is sugar growth. Sugar growth is fast but stops abruptly.

7. There is a huge advantage to being right early on. In venture, in each new job and in your career, those attached to winners are associated with success. If you have great investments early, the results can snowball.

Sam Gerstenzang (@gerstenzang) is director of product at Imgur, and previously spent 16 months as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. This post originally appeared on his blog.

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