Tips From A Start-up Founder Turned Venture Capitalist

When Minnie Ingersoll left her dream job at Google, she went from founding the start-up Shift in her co-founder’s Bay Area apartment to successfully raising $200 million from Sand Hill Road, from seed funding all the way to Series D. When she recently moved back to Los Angeles, she joined TenOneTen, an LA-based venture capital team investing in the future of technology.

She recently spoke to Pasadena’s top innovators and entrepreneurs at Friday Coffee Meetup about this “deeply soul-searching rollercoaster” from Big Tech to start-up to venture capital, and shared lessons that can help any entrepreneur who wants to shape the future. If you missed her talk at Friday Coffee Meetup, you can listen to the whole thing here. Here are some key takeaways that will help any entrepreneur or fundraiser.

Where will the money get you?
Start-ups often make the same error: they’ll only present how they’re going to spend the money rather than sharing where that money will take them. They share the numbers but not the story. “What I want to know is not how you’re going to spend it, but where it’s going to get you,” she said. “I want to know how the investment will get you to your Series A.” In other words: the point is not to ask for money, but to present clear milestones for how that money would be put to tangible use.

Focus your pitch on the story of your team.
It’s important to emphasize quality of the team. Assembling the best team is critical, since this will show the investor that not only do you have a valuable vision, you also have the team who can make it happen.

Never stop repeating your vision.
“Repetition doesn’t ruin the prayer.” That’s the proverb Minnie uses to remind her and her team how valuable it is to articulate the company’s vision in simple, memorable language. You have to decide your values and distill them into direct language, and then hold onto that vision. A phrase like “what’s best for the user” will never get old, and every time you say it is a way to bring the focus away from the crises of the day to the fundamental mission of your company.

Educate the Investor.
It’s critical to help the investor by educating her on whatever field you’re focused on. If you’re working on exome sequencing or another cutting-edge technology, put in the work to not only understand the market but also to translate that information in the most accessible way possible.

Create an “Enough List.”
Founding a start-up can feel like jumping into a rocket ship—the pace can be grueling, and you have to be ready to hold on. One thing that’s helped Minnie stay sane as she navigated funding rounds is to put a name to the thing that’s causing you stress. Nothing is more toxic than just living with a vague cloud of stress; identifying its source is the first step to addressing it. Paradoxically, another thing you can do is get comfortable with failure. The more you go for it, the more familiar you’ll become with high stakes and hard choices. You’ll become more relaxed with smaller issues because you’ve built up endurance.

Working in the technology sector can make you feel like there’s no end to what you need to accomplish, so Minnie suggests keeping an “enough list.” Sure, the to-do list will be miles long, but you have to decide what’s enough for the day and what you can honestly achieve. These kinds of personal milestones will help you stay focused over the long haul.

Inspire the hire.
When Minnie and her co-founder were building the team, they had one high-powered software developer in mind, so they spent months of effort taking him out, and sharing their vision for Shift. Eventually they closed the deal, and he joined the team. Not only was he critical for building out the software for their online marketplace, his pedigree helped to elevate their company in the eyes of investors—they were building out a team with proven success.

Show up, tell the truth, and hope for the best.
Whether it’s navigating the inevitable corporate bureaucracy of a successful tech company or scrappy ways to make deals while waiting for the company to grow, there’s no shortcut to being truthful and determined. While it’s no guarantee of success, Minnie emphasized over and over that even on her successful days she had to navigate frustrating conversations, the unexpected setback, and the normal work day. Staying disciplined and honest has helped her build a successful—and sustainable—career in what is often a volatile market.

Closing Notes
These are just a few things Minnie Ingersoll shared with our tech and start-up community. Want more? Listen to the whole thing here, and join us next Friday. Friday Coffee Meetup exists to vitalize Pasadena’s tech and start-up community—from investors to entrepreneurs to innovators. If that’s you, come to Cross Campus in Old Town Pasadena every Friday at 8:15 to network, listen to an informal lecture, and learn more about the future of technology in Pasadena, Los Angeles, and beyond.

At Echo-Factory, we help good companies be better. Our formula is simple: Strategy + Creative + Media. Reach out to us, and we’ll build the right strategy to help you grow.