Moving at startup speed

Since joining the Promus Ventures team just over a month ago there have been lots of new experiences that I have been getting used to — the transition from a corporate venture investment role at Qualcomm Ventures to a more traditional institutional venture capital gig has definitely been fun!

It seems like there is little written from a VC perspective about working first-hand in both areas. While the ultimate goal of finding great entrepreneurs who are building amazing companies is essentially the same, I have noticed lots of differences in the way that this goal is achieved.

Perhaps the most significant difference I have found so far is in terms of speed. The ability of an empowered, agile investment team to deal with the flood of early stage investment opportunities that comes into the Promus Ventures network is incredible. There is a certain amount of overhead involved with most corporate activities, and while Qualcomm Ventures had built a world-class corporate venture process, I have been blown away by how much faster things can get done at Promus Ventures.

Part of it boils down to evolutionary pressure I think: while corporates are typically recognized as slower than the average investor, they can argue that they bring additional value that justifies giving them time for their decision making process. In contrast, any traditional VCs who do not move quickly and with conviction will find life challenging. This is driven by the speed at which world-class entrepreneurs execute and react to the challenges of building a startup. Venture investors need to move at the same speed, ensuring that they treat entrepreneurs and founders with respect and allowing them to focus on what they do best — creating world-changing companies. Taking too long to make decisions or provide help can destroy that respect. Given how competitive the best deals are, not moving at founder speed can be enough to see a VC firm wither and die due to lack of good deal flow.

I believe another driver of this speed is the rate at which technology and industries are changing. There has been lots of debate about whether humanity’s progression along the technology curve is accelerating or decelerating, maybe most famously framed by Peter Thiel when he asked why we’re not getting faster.

When I look at the sectors and industries that Promus has invested in over the last six years, and continues to be excited about, I believe that we are seeing the rate of technology change continue to accelerate. For example, the pace of change is staggering in the new space sector due to advances in everything from launch systems to analytics. The velocity at which advances in gene editing and genetic analysis are enabling computational and synthetic biology companies to create value is astounding. For a casual observer the speed at which AI/ML are allowing computation and automation to penetrate into industries and sectors that have managed to stay mostly analog instead of digital might seem to be be slow, but I truly believe it is mirroring most exponential change curves — it will seem like things are changing slowly until all of a sudden they aren’t.

Anyone who thinks about spaceflight knows there is a sector-specific description for acceleration used when talking about spacecraft flight dynamics — delta-V. I’m confident that the delta-V we see across the venture ecosystem and all the sectors and industries being impacted by technology will continue to surprise many people, driven by best in class founders and investors. Our team here at Promus Ventures is excited to be part of that acceleration.