Learning From Brian

Brian Watson spent a little more than two years at USV and yesterday was his last day. He’s moving on to an operating role in a fast growing company that will remain nameless until Brian decides to tell that part of his story (soon). We have a two year rotational analyst program at USV that has produced an incredible alumni class and Brian is now a member of that illustrious group. He has a very bright future ahead of him.

Brian took the time to write a post on the things he learned at USV. I kidded him yesterday that it could have been a tweet storm because it’s chock full of 140ish character lessons learned. It’s a great collection of insights and I would encourage everyone to read it.

Our analyst program is a two way street. We teach our analyst things and they teach us things. Brian has taught me a lot. He was never afraid to walk into my office and say “we aren’t paying attention to this and we should” and he did that a lot.

I am a pretty directed person in the office and I am sure I put off a “don’t bother me” vibe. Brian ignored that and I appreciate it.

Here are a few of the things that Brian taught me in no particular order:

– Photos are the killer content type on mobile. Quick to consume like text, but easier to produce on a phone.

– Pay attention to what Apple does. It is more important than you think.

– Tech is fashion as much as you don’t want to admit it.

– If you insist on using everything we invest in, we will miss important things (Tinder).

I would also like to thank Brian for introducing me to Isaiah Rashad and many other great musicians. Brian’s soundcloud likes are here.

I am proud of many things about USV, and Brian noted a bunch of them in his post, but the thing I am most proud of is the people that collectively make up USV, past and present. Brian is a great representation of that and I wish him well.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. LIAD

    thoroughly impressive insight-bites. remarkable that he groked so much in 2 short years.+ lovely way to consume information.super easy to read bite-size chunks3 mins reading time = wealth of actionable info.

    1. fredwilson

      yeah. he totally gets the idea of making content easy to consume

      1. John Revay

        One wordInstagram

      2. Abdallah Al-Hakim

        I thought his post was pure gold and I got a few retweets and favourites as soon as it was tweeted

      3. JamesHRH

        Fred, I just upgraded to Mavericks.iMessage now allows me to type on my laptop (highly efficient) and communication over IM, text & web. Super slick & simple.Glimmers of addictive, cloud-centric UX magic – stuff that non-integrated, open devices / OSs cannot replicate easily or at scale (no one plays nicely).Once they get it right in one place, my bet is that they will replicate it (communications, cloud doc storage, productivity apps & content distribution – I can already select something to play from my desktop & just pick the screen it plays on, if that screen has an AppleTV hanging off of it.

  2. WA

    Ultimate “USV Capstone” takeaways.

  3. aminTorres

    Sounds like a great guy. I only got to speak to him once… but glad to see he is got a great photography taste – wink! re: article cover photo.

  4. William Mougayar

    His essay was so revealing and insightful. I think it should be mandatory for USV analysts/GMs to write an exit essay ;)I briefly met him 2 weeks ago. He’s quite tall! Good luck Brian in your next success!

    1. jason wright

      a guest post here should be mandatory.

    2. LE

      I think it should be mandatory for USVI think for something to be good it has to be as a result of inspiration and not assignment. Maybe assignment works for some people but I’d rather read or learn from something that was driven by inspiration. (Basis of what Fred writes everyday, right?)Any comments that I make here are always driven by inspiration. To me it would be a chore that would totally kill creativity if I was told “you must comment on AVC today”. I’m guessing that most people feel the same way.

      1. William Mougayar

        maybe Brian set a trend that might inspire others, but he will be a tough act to follow 🙂

  5. awaldstein

    “Prioritize being present” is as true a dictum for how to live life as there is.Fashion as the best example of marketing through others perception of objects is not just true for tech, its marketing at its core.

    1. fredwilson

      Our Monday .meetings are a great example of being present. We don’t have rules about devices but people stay off them and talk to each other.I love those meetings

  6. JLM

    .Very smart guy.Good read.Well played.JLM.

  7. JimHirshfield

    A great read. Saw it trending on…somewhere.

  8. Guest

    “you need to convince a partner that an investment was their idea. People tend to like the things they find themselves.”

    1. fredwilson

      A lot

      1. Richard

        Really? My gut tells me this doesn’t apply to the USV team.

      2. JamesHRH

        I think this is less true of certain personality types. You are far more likely to operate this way than Brad or Albert, I bet (not a criticism. BTW).

    2. John Revay

      Not invented here

  9. pointsnfigures

    that was a great post. I learned a lot from it. Glad he shared. Some of it was re-learning but it’s never bad to be reminded. Good luck to him and I hope his company hits it out of the park.Associates are fun. At HydeParkAngels.com we have ChicagoBooth students that “work” for us. I think there are over 50 in our alumni cadre now and they go on to do great things. I love working with young people.

  10. jason wright

    bye bye brian

  11. Brandon Burns

    “Pay attention to what Apple does. It is more important than you think.”Anyone who has the ability to teach Fred this lesson deserves the medal of honor. I’m sure it took lots of head banging. 🙂

    1. Aaron Klein

      LOL. Exactly my thought.

    2. Richard

      I think we all jumped in this one.

    3. jason wright

      but does he really and truly believe it?

    4. LE

      If any charge is filed in this crime it would simply be not understanding Apple as opposed to not agreeing with Apple or the way they operate. It’s always important to know where someone (or a company) is coming from always. [1]That said I don’t think Fred should just accept that Apple is more important “than you think”.I think he should (if he wants) spend some time connecting with those who love Apple to see why they love Apple the way they do. Not read about it but actually connect and experience it. What is the actual emotional attachment to the product? Why such a loyal longstanding following that refuses to get pissed off and leave the platform (and it’s for more reasons than a platform is hard to leave).[1] Why all those religious people fight overseas all the time with each other? Oh ok, it’s brainwashing at an early age so reasoning with them (where “them” = “masses” isn’t going to work obviously..we need a different strategy).

      1. Brandon Burns

        After years of interacting with Fred on AVC, I think I can confidently say it all boils down to this:From networks to patent law, Fred appreciates, invests in, and believes in open, non-hierarchical systems. He also has a strong bias against closed, curated systems. Android stands for open. iOS stands for closed.However, Fred has also supported closed systems while telling himself that he hasn’t. Kickstarter, until this month, had some of the most stringent rules for a marketplace. So did Etsy, and so does CircleUp and several other USV investments right now. There is an undeniable advantage that comes from curation, and the gatekeeper reaps the rewards.Whether conscious or not, Fred has been reconciling the difference between his belief that open is better and the evidence that closed, at times, has its advantages. And if Fred has shown anything, its that he’s a sponge and will absorb new ideas and ways of thinking and evolve his position accordingly.Brian’s a smart dude, but he also one of many voices, including the ones here on AVC, and the one inside Fred’s own head, that have been informing his opinion on open vs. closed networks… and, thus, Apple.

        1. JamesHRH

          the AVC mission talks about User Experience and networks, not open or closed, FWIW.The Bartender is enough of a pro to have an investing mantra that is not 100% aligned with his personal tastes / preferences / personality.

        2. ShanaC

          circle up is required to.

        3. Donna Brewington White

          Your insight and ability to articulate it continually amazes me.

          1. Brandon Burns

            Your warmth and welcoming words to so many on AVC continue to amaze *me.* 🙂

    5. JamesHRH

      LOL. Brian is a pretty attentive cat.

    6. ShanaC

      will that always be true is a different question

  12. Aaron Klein

    We often think of the alumni network as being valuable for the alumni, but in truth, I think USV benefits even more, in terms of deal flow, from having that network out there.

  13. Cam MacRae

    Good post, littered with nuggets. However for a couple of reasons I can’t agree with this:A/B testing is often better than user testing, and you should run them across specific user segments. Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.a) User testing done well is more akin to an observational study than market research (contrary to what this snippet seems to suggest).b) Much A/B testing is implemented such that the results are in essence arbitrary.

  14. Richard

    Fred, (with all due respect) it seems like you’ve been a little obstinate about learning from apple. Steve jobs always saw his products as fashion statements and so have its users. And a core group of developers have always stomped their feet saying “how can they buy that stuff”. Culture has always prioritized fashion over performance. Photos …people have always been “obsessed” with taking photos. Let’s not forget just how important kodak was in its hey day. There is a reason apple is opening up its camera api. Spend an afternoon at a trendy hotel pool, public beach and you’ll see this (and more).

    1. fredwilson

      I am guilty of gravitating toward things that mirror my values and world view. Apple doesn’t do that so I tend to be too dismissive. Its a fault of mine

      1. LE

        I think there is a difference between loving Apple yourself and wondering why others love Apple the way they do and not somehow gaining from that understanding.I have no need for a fur coat or a fancy watch. But I absolutely understand what makes others lust for those things. And I definitely see and understand why you love music so much even though I don’t (I’m still stuck on music from years ago which I play over and over again and it makes me happy.)Jobs was a perfectionist who appreciates design and a well built product. And as a result Apple is stocked with people who lean in that direction and the end product made for the user is better than if that weren’t the case. And it works for Apple in their business. Same philosophy making plumbing fittings may not.

      2. Emil Sotirov

        It may turn out that the time to be rightly dismissive of Apple is just now coming (again). Let’s not forget how the Soviets were powerful and well respected by many well educated Westerners for a very long time. Disclosure – I don’t like what Apple stands for, period.

      3. Donald E. Foss

        Independent of the Apple theme, looking more favorably on things that “mirror our values and world view” is a fault most of us share, whether we acknowledge it or not.

  15. Julien

    “- Photos are the killer content type on mobile. Quick to consume like text, but easier to produce on a phone.”Is by far my favorite… I would tweak if with “images” instead of photos. I always use Facebook/Twitter on mobile because it’s so hard to even type a login/password… and I never use them on desktop because typing is easier than feeling “spied” upon… etc.Don’t ask me to type anything on a phone.

  16. John Revay

    I particularly liked “- If you insist on using everything we invest in, we will miss important things (Tinder).”It was telling a few weeks ago when fred shows a screen shot of his mobile home page – Google Apps and USV backed Cos, Brian had a much more diverse portfolio of apps on his home screen.http://avc.com/2014/05/app-

    1. LE

      I don’t know I would argue that that could be a DWR (danger will robinson) as well.I think you need a seat of the pants feel for what you get involved in in order to make the right decisions especially in a betting game like VC or angel investing. Business is about feel and gut it can’t be reduced to 140 character bullet points. Behind each 140 characters there is a ton of nuance that applies or doesn’t apply that Fred takes into account. Someone reading those points doesn’t make them Fred. Me telling you how I go about negotiating doesn’t make you me. This isn’t math. Big blue isn’t going to win this match.I mean I’m not a maven in music or sports but sure I think I could add value to a company involved in the music business.But why should I?It’s not like there aren’t other things that I could get involved in that I would have a better edge in. And you need an edge over the other guy.Many people in business have gotten tripped up by straying from an established knowledge base and going into something completely different where others have a large advantage in terms of time and experience. A case where this wouldn’t be true is if the new entrant somehow tried something that the legacy participants wouldn’t because of their experience. Or if the new entrant had no existing advantage in something else so all opportunities are equal. [1][1] This was the case when I went into my first business out of college. I had no knowledge of this business (which meant I would do and try things the legacy people wouldn’t) but I also had nothing else that I really knew about that presented an opportunity so there was little downside. The downside of Fred doing “a Tinder” is that he has a fixed amount of time and attention. So if he does Tinder he might miss a bet on something that he is able to use and manage better.

    2. JamesHRH

      I personally would have liked to witness that interaction.

  17. Brandon Burns

    Brian’s entire post ladders up to two nuggets:”Identify emergent behavior and promote it.””Growth trumps all.”Pretty much everything in business, from starting with the right idea, to executing it correctly, to how go to market, talk to investors, manage a team — it’s never about you; it all boils down to an ability to see, analyze and manipulate the pre-existing behavior of others.But it’s also about growth. Even if you identify all the right behaviors, you have to have the team, money, partnerships — or the ability to grow without them — to keep momentum moving forward. You and your business may be as killer as a great white shark, but a shark that’s not swimming is dead.

    1. LE

      “Growth trumps all.”Related somewhat to the saying “a rising tide floats all boats”.If you’ve got money and time you can fix problems, find solutions and take chances that you can’t take w/o money. Because you have the money to do this you can take shortcuts as well knowing that if you get snagged on something you have the resources to fix the problem with money. Taking chances and shortcuts are important. You don’t have to be as careful because you have an insurance policy to cover you (money to dig you out of mistakes or miscalculations).it all boils down to an ability to see, analyze and manipulate the pre-existing behavior of others.(I’ve made an assumption here about what you are talking about btw re: manipulate.)A great point and this is way underplayed in importance. (I’m talking about all parties in the equation, employees, customers, vendors etc.)Here is an example that illustrates this on a smallish scale.A customer places an order for (what you believe) is the wrong product. You can either write to the customer and say:”You ordered widget A in blue but I think you meant widget B in Orange, right?”.-or- you can say”Thanks for the order for widget A in blue. I assume you also wanted widget B in Orange as well. If not please let me know and thanks as always for your business.”.In case #2 you are creating a subtle barrier by making it a bit harder for the customer to cancel and you are also sticking an idea in their head as far as what they should be doing.

      1. Brandon Burns

        A recent lesson: resources (including money) only fix problems if you already have the resources on hand.Seems obvious, but in startup culture its not. Money, co-founders, partnerships, etc — founders seek these resources when they don’t have them. Which of course you should do, in a sense, because you’ll need them to grow in the future. But you also have to grow today, and that means doing what you can given the options at your disposal today. You can’t position your pieces for a checkmate without advancing some pawns first.

    2. Richard

      This is the case post-IPO as well.

      1. Brandon Burns

        Apparently, its the case always.

      2. awaldstein

        moreso actually.

    3. Donald E. Foss

      I prefer “sustainable growth trumps all”. I don’t like bubbles, unless they’re being blown by a 2-3 year old.I also love the line “a shark that is not swimming is dead.” That can describe a lot of “has-been” businesses.

  18. falicon

    At the end of the day, USV finds success because of the people behind the brand…you’ve all built an amazing venture firm, because you’ve always found amazing people to join in on the mission. I’ve never met a single person affiliated with USV that didn’t impress me on many levels…you guys keep hitting it out of the park on talent and you’ll continue to find great returns for your LPs.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Human capital is the most valuable capital. One of Brian’s points was as a VC the most important job you have is finding great employees for portfolio companies.

  19. Twain Twain

    “Look for a CEO with product intuition and empathy.”This is the hardest for investors to do well in our data-driven world of click through counts, conversion clicks, churn etcetc.No tool or dataset currently available can measure the emotional intelligence of a CEO, their product calls or the emotions of users in a coherent way.

  20. SubstrateUndertow

    My favourite !Data as art, not data science, is how we’ll derive insights from the world around us.

    1. ShanaC

      I don’t think he fully understands science – and why that terms is overused.

  21. Bruce Warila

    Brian, Write a book. Great list. Best of luck.

  22. Guest

    Good luck! OT: Thanks for removing the sitemeter javascript. The leaner the site the more confident the user is in the ability to trust the site, and thus a better experience.

  23. Semil Shah

    His post could be the basis for at least 4-5 full 90-minute MBA classes on some of the tactics around early-stage venture.

    1. JamesHRH

      Stuffed with goodness.

  24. msuster

    His post was a genius consolidation of your many posts plus insights I’m sure he gained on his own. I want to forward it to every new VC. When you read it, it sounds straightforward. But consolidating lessons learned into its core is very hard to do.

    1. fredwilson

      yup. he’s done it well

    2. JamesHRH

      The volume of things he captured shows that he is apart from the crowd (or above it, if Bill G is reading).

  25. sigmaalgebra

    Nicely written.Sounds good, but I don’t like it: It’s too close to some current VC meme, echo chamber sound, fad, cliche version of solid thinking.His advice strongly conflicts with my view of how to select and do projects and how I’ve done my most successful projects.Maybe some people could make money following that advice, but I couldn’t.My 140 character advice: Pick a big problem; find a new, ‘must have’ solution, exploiting math and IT, with a technological barrier to entry.Mobile? Apple? Pictures, video, text, music? “CEO with product intuition and empathy”? A network? “Marginal returns to data”? “Identify emergent behavior”? “Remove an old feature for each one you add”? “Constraints lead to creativity”? “Set clear KPIs”? For each of these, depending on circumstances, etc., maybe/maybe not.

  26. RobinTanya

    I appreciate that my son had the courage to pursue his path, intentionally learn from USV. He shared many valuable lessons not simply about VC, about the people that make up USV -values, ethics, commitment. How they inspired his natural inclination to critically think about his views, technical skills, and professional acumen. As a parent that has wanted nothing more for her son than to follow his path. I am thankful for USV and the shared experience and proud of my son qualities as a person.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Love this. The mom chimes in. Although you look like you could be his sister! Congratulations on raising such a winner.

  27. David Petersen

    Fred, you would crush on Tinder.

  28. pointsnfigures

    “The most indicative metric of a community’s health is the cross-pollination of stakeholders. Etsy sellers buy from other Etsy sellers, Kickstarter creators back other Kickstarter creators, and Meetup attendees start new Meetups.” I am not sure about that statement. If you don’t expand the community, it becomes a circle jerk. Brycedotvc posted this quote on his tumblr.

  29. jason wright

    “In pursuit of dopeness”

  30. andrewparker

    You don’t have to use everything you invest in, that’s true. You do have to talk to users whenever you make (and continue to manage) an investment. The easiest way to talk to a user is to use the product yourself. This only breaks down when you aren’t in the target market. But I think you already understand this. You were never in the job market, yet you funded Indeed.

  31. davidhclark

    “Tech is fashion as much as you don’t want to admit it.”Amen.

  32. Donna Brewington White

    I wish Brian the best. Even though my vantage point is quite distant, I have appreciated his presence at USV. Something very fresh about him. I expect great things. His musical tastes have been highlighted before and I’ve listened. Stretches me, but a couple or so pleasant surprises.This is a good thing that USV does, developing talent to reinvest into the ecosystem.Has it really been TWO years?!

  33. Donna Brewington White

    Just read Brian’s post. That’s gold. He’s a good student. Which is an important part of being a good teacher.