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Mike Vernal
12/2/22
Created on December 2, 2022 at 9:33 pm
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Tl;dr with Mike Vernal

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Hi, I'm Mike.

  1. I'm a kid from the east coast who was lucky enough to be born at a good time and find the tech world.
  2. I'm a partner at Sequoia where I get to support awesome people like Rousseau and team!
  3. I have a great memory for numbers but a terrible memory for fictional names. I can remember a company's P&L from a few years ago but can't remember anyone's name on The Wire or Game of Thrones.

As a leader at MSFT, Meta, and now Sequoiaβ€”what would be your one-line summary of the major lessons learned from each?

At Microsoft, it was how to operate at scale. The key is to assume your co-workers are smart and well-intentioned. In a 50k-person company, there's a good chance you've never met the people on a far-flung team you're interacting with. It's easy to have misunderstandings. If you start by assuming your co-workers are smart and well-intentioned, it's easier to debug conflict.

At Facebook, it was the power of speed. 99% of the time, the right thing to do is make a quick decision, do it, and if it was wrong then go back and change it. Speed wins.

At Sequoia, it was the importance of individual conviction. 99% of the time you should make a quick decision, but 1% of decisions really matter and are irreversible. You should leverage the wisdom of a team to make that decision, but don't let what the team thinks be a proxy for discovering your personal, deep belief.

What was something unexpected that you learned going from builder to investor?

Most builders tend to focus on their craft – the quality of the engineering, the product, the brand, etc. These are all critical, but ultimately companies are judged on the quality of the business. Great products do not necessarily make great businesses and not all great businesses have a classically "great" product.

It's an intense time for startupsβ€”what do you recommend for those that might be entering the fundraising market now?

It's still a great time to start a company. Seed-stage investing is about dreaming about what might be. For Series A and beyond – in this environment – the company needs to be a great business. 

You need a great product in a great market with happy customers and an efficient sales motion. Now is the time to focus on the quality and efficiency of your business – if it's a great business, you'll be able to raise.

What do you look for in founders you invest in?

Speed, competitiveness and clarity of thought. The ideal founder sees an opportunity others aren't seeing, will move quickly to capture that opportunity and won't rest until they've won. They are two types of people – simplifiers and complexifiers – and most great founders are the former.

Who is someone that has inspired you in some way?

There are many, but one archetype that stands out are the people who have just believed in me at various points. In college I set out to concentrate in Math. I had a tough time – I was good at Math, but I wasn't world-class. There were a couple of CS professors who, I think, saw something in me and made me feel at home in the CS department. Never underestimate the power of believing in other people.

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