Back to the Future in VC:  A Conversation with a16z’s Mark Cranney

Back to the Future in VC: A Conversation with a16z’s Mark Cranney

Andreesen Horowitz (a16z for short) has accomplished what few can claim:  a meteoric rise to the apex of venture capital.  To put it in a context many of us can relate to—it’s as if a new American university had been created less than a decade ago and in that short time is now competing head to head with Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  Shouldn’t it be impossible to attract the same caliber of talent as the firmly established industry juggernauts after only a few years?  a16z has approached venture capital so differently that they’ve fundamentally altered the relationship between entrepreneurs and VCs. I’m reminded of a snippet from the documentary “Something Ventured,” (a great documentary for the next time you are flipping through Netflix trying to find something worthwhile to watch) from the early days of venture capital,  where Arthur Rock is working with a team he has backed… a time when VCs were nearly indistinguishable from full-time business operators, and when they meaningfully moved the needle of the businesses they backed. Recently I had the pleasure of getting to know one of a16z’s operating partners, Mark Cranney, who shared with me one aspect of the firm’s model: augmenting the sales of its portfolio companies.  I was captivated, and asked Mark if I could bring some of our Peak Ventures portfolio companies to a16z’s Go-to-Market Bootcamp (a regular event that they put on for their portfolio companies’ leadership teams), and he graciously welcomed us to attend.  That full-day event was incredible, and so obviously useful to the teams who attended.  It inspired me to share the experience with you all...
We’re all Chicanos on the Train

We’re all Chicanos on the Train

At dinner several years ago with long-time friends, I dug into brick-oven fired pizza while we spoke about ethnic backgrounds. These were not friends who I’d just met or thought lightly of. They were good friends, people who contributed to our community, and who crossed paths in schools and churches. I identified with them, so you can imagine my confusion when one of them turned to me and asked: “So Sid, do you get offended when someone calls you Mexican?” My instinctive response was simple, but wrong on so many levels; and because of this, it has stayed with me these many years. Let me now share with you how I responded and how I think we all share a common card, and motivating force, as minorities of one type or another. My instinctive response My response was as bad as the question. I muttered, “No,” and then changed the subject. In doing so, I validated the notion that calling someone what they are can inherently be a bad thing. And, as it relates to my ethnicity, I perpetuated an existing negative stereotype. I moved to Utah when I was 4 years old–old enough to remember our orange trees in the backyard of our home in Whittier, California, and old enough to remember shying from my ethnicity as I acclimated to Utah. Technically (and I now have an ancestry DNA test that can show you all the beautiful detail) I’m ½ Mexican, ¼ Dutch, and ¼ German. My parents split when I was still young and I was raised by my mom, who hails from the Mexican side. And...
My Journey from Entrepreneur to VC: a Different Kind of High

My Journey from Entrepreneur to VC: a Different Kind of High

Checking my phone as I boarded a long international flight back to the US, I noticed a flurry of LinkedIn notifications congratulating me on my 2-year anniversary at Peak Ventures.   A rush of emotions hit me when I saw those notifications as I reflected on this path in venture capital, my transition from entrepreneur to investor, and what I’ve learned in these few years. Transition As an entrepreneur, I assumed that venture capital, though different, would have some of the same highs—and maybe even more of them on account of being involved with many companies instead of just one.  But although it’s been exhilarating in its own right, venture investing is a different high—more moderate.  As an entrepreneur, you experience higher highs and lower lows.  Everything rides on your business’s success– financially, emotionally and otherwise.  When things look bleak, desperation swoops down to grasp you in its painful claws.  And so too, when execution and opportunity align, exhilaration lifts you up to the thrill of the highest of highs. Venture capital is more like second-hand smoke.  Don’t get me wrong, I get buzzed with excitement every day in my line of work from the challenge-driven passions of the entrepreneurs we back (and in many ways I appreciate that I’m not a user of the entrepreneurial drug anymore)—but I’ve had to reset my own expectations of how I define success and feel joy.  It’s like transitioning from being the athlete on the court to coaching my 8 year-old’s team.  Hey now, don’t misunderstand and think that I’m calling any founders children… it’s just that I’ve experienced withdrawals from missing the...
Inside the Mindset of Top Young Talent

Inside the Mindset of Top Young Talent

Hiring veteran executives to fill out your C-suite is a luxury most startups will never enjoy.  Hiring young, untapped or junior talent, however, is a challenge that all startups face.  Moreover, growing green talent capacity into C-suite capability layers on yet another set of difficulties to the already strenuous life of a startup.   Navigating this is less science, more art. Some founders rely on being highly extroverted, others in having established credibility within specific industries or groups, and some—to some extent all of us–just power through conversations and interviews in bringing together that band of people who will man the boat and struggle to make it out of the tides and into deeper water. When we do stumble onto the winners in our teams, those people who seem to magically tackle anything thrown at them, retaining them is critical.  Losing them?  Unacceptable. Several years ago, while driving back to Utah from a team off-site, one of my colleagues, Caleb, shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and in a strained tone let me know that he had accepted a position at another company.  He was a natural star, a fast learner, and someone who lifted the energy of our team, so I was shocked!  I stumbled through a discussion over why he left and ultimately wished him well in the transition.  I think he was the first direct report that I had regrettably lost, so I didn’t feel entirely prepared for the difficult discussion, but fortunately for the both of us we parted ways on a good note, and our friendship remained intact. Fast forward a few years.  A group of...
The Beautiful Madness of March & Majerus

The Beautiful Madness of March & Majerus

March Madness is on!  Such a great time to enjoy college hoops, the powerhouse schools and the Cinderella underdogs.  I was reminded recently that few experiences prepared me more for startup life than my time 18 years ago as a college basketball walk-on and before the 1998 NCAA tournament. Last month I was in Phoenix, Arizona, for a board meeting.  The night before, at an evening EdTech meet-up hosted by CampusLogic, from the corner of my eye I caught what appeared to be an old teammate from my days playing basketball at the University of Utah.  “Tony? Nah,” I thought, but naturally I had to find out.  Sure enough, it was, in fact, an old acquaintance and talented teammate from more than a decade and a half earlier. We chatted for a few hours that evening and I was drawn back to stories and memories from my time around a legendary coach and remarkable team.  With March Madness descending upon thousands of us basketball junkies, here’s a reflection back to one of the many lessons learned on the court. Being a walk-on athlete coached by Rick Majerus left no room for a half-hearted effort.  And the result was special…   Basketball walk-ons, by design, have to fight for their place.  During tryouts it was an all-out battle to scrap for the ball, defend relentlessly, and hopefully sink a few buckets.  For me they also turned out to be a good excuse to remove the studs in my newly pierced ears (yes, my hallmarks of the 90s and college freshmanhood).  It’s a long-shot, maybe a crapshoot, to make the team...
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