Tim Anglade, who recently joined Scale Venture Partners as an executive-in-residence, said he’ll be doing a bit of “advising and helping around all the usual topics” in his new role at the Foster City, California-based firm.
Most of his time will be spent on a project called “The Startup Tapes,” a series of conversations with successful founders on topics of interest to entrepreneurs.
The goal, Anglade said, is to talk with entrepreneurs and take the deliberations that drive a company’s development to “find a way to extend those conversations to the outside world.” Questions considered in early installments include when to relinquish control, how to attain diversity, and what mistakes startups most commonly make.
A theme that has emerged from the first several installments is the challenge of identity at startups.
For example, Dave Finocchio, co-founder and chief executive of Bleacher Report, and Justin Kan, of Twitch and Y Combinator, each describe an early drive to start a company that outpaced the concept of what that business should be.
“When we got going, we wanted to be in sports,” Finocchio recounts, “but we weren’t quite sure if we were in the media business or if we were in the platform business.”
Once it was decided that Bleacher Report was a media company—not, say, Tumblr for sports—there was another transition to be made, from website (and app) to something even less concrete: a brand, a “channel” on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
Kan describes an even stronger sense of initial uncertainty, telling Anglade, “We were kind of stumbling in the dark for a long time trying to make a company.”
Kan recalls how an inchoate idea of “making our own reality TV show” morphed into an e-sports livestreaming platform that eventually resulted in a nearly $1 billion exit when Amazon bought the company in 2014.
Luck and timing played a major role, Kan says. Even the decision to move into gaming was considered a gamble.
“The best entrepreneurs,” he says on the tapes, “capture something that would happen with or without them.” Discipline helps, too. Kan stresses the importance of “setting metrics a priori” to provide structure and direction in place of emotional decision making, as well as seeking customer feedback.
A segment with Sarah Nahm, chief executive of recruitment tool provider Lever, focuses on responding to stakeholders’ values and expectations. “How hard you work for your company makes up a huge part of your identity,” Nahm says.
Nahm says that employees today “want to see the ethics of their business shine through.” Conforming to this cultural change isn’t just political correctness, she explains, it’s a smart strategy.
“[It’s] what makes a startup employee care more, stay later, work harder, it’s meaning, and the chance to have impact,” she says.
The format is a bit loose, but Anglade succeeds in eliciting candid reflections.
When he asks Bleacher Report’s Finocchio why decided to hire an outside chief executive, his response was, “It’s better to be rich than to be king.”
Anglade said 20 episodes are already complete. Future topics will include national and international expansion, benefiting from communities (particularly on software), and why companies fail.
Anglade’s future interviews will include Aaron Levie from Box and Michelle Zatlyn from CloudFlare.
Anglade pointed out that some of those being interviewed were backed by Scale, such as Box, but some are from companies that are unrelated to Scale’s portfolio, such as CloudFlare.
“We’ll talk to anyone who has an interesting story,” Anglade says.
Action Item: To view The Startup Tapes, visit the Scale website at http://tapes.scalevp.com/