Returning to Venture Capital at NEA
I am excited to share that I’m joining NEA as a Partner! I couldn’t be happier after six years building product at Airbnb to get back to working with entrepreneurs. As an investor at NEA, I will focus on early stage consumer startups.
Early Interest in Venture
Since I was a teenager, I have been obsessed with being ahead of the curve, whether it was in music or fashion or technology. I had the 1998 “Think Different” Apple posters on every wall of my bedroom. I put them up to inspire me to be adventurous and non-conformist. I fancied myself a rule-breaker and still do to this day.
This curiosity — this desire to be ahead of the curve — has persisted throughout my professional life. In the early years, curiosity led me to lose my childhood savings investing in the 1999 bubble by backing eToys.com, an online toy store that was ahead of its time.
Flashing forward, I found my way to venture capital in 2007 when I joined Greylock Partners. The only things I knew about venture at the time came from reading Red Herring magazine, a physical precursor to TechCrunch. I had an amazing experience and learned a tremendous amount from some of the best investors in the industry. I also recognized that though I loved partnering with these entrepreneurs, I had no experience actually building a business.
After a couple years in venture, I decided that I should dive into the operating world. I set my sights on product, which brings together engineering, data, and design to build the online experience. I learned the ropes at HubSpot, starting when it had 45 employees, and Dropbox, joining the team at 25 employees.
Then I heard about a fledgling startup called Airbnb, an online booking platform for shared space around the world. I thought, if this works it will be huge! At the time, I never imagined that the 35-person company I joined, as the first product manager, would grow to the company it is today. Brian, Joe, and Nate have done an amazing job setting the vision and getting others to move in one direction. I learned first-hand the tremendous effort required to scale a business over 100X. I learned what it was like to build, not just maintain or critique others’ work. The hardest part is motivating a team towards a common goal and being relentless in achieving it. The emotional roller coaster is hard to manage, and learning how to deal with the stress of growth and change was wildly instructive.
Partnering with Entrepreneurs
During my time at Airbnb, I couldn’t help but peek my head outside and reach out to interesting founders. Now that I knew what it took to get a business off the ground, I was more motivated than ever to help founders in any way possible. I backed several startups as an angel investor, including Bowery Farming, Everlane, Funding Circle, and Tile.
In addition, I met amazing individuals within Airbnb who were venturing off on their own. For instance, I worked hand-in-hand with Brian Armstrong who told me he was building a wallet for bitcoin. I quickly read up on the topic and realized that he was a pioneer in a nascent but potentially transformational industry. I backed Coinbase early because I believed in Brian.
Transitioning Back to Venture
After six years at Airbnb, my teams were in a stable place and I was confident that they were on the right path. I looked inward and realized that people and ideas have always been my passion. I love chatting with founders to understand their vision. Now was the best time to leverage my experiences at Airbnb and carry them forward to help entrepreneurs build the next transformational business.
I left Airbnb to explore a few different avenues around investing. Venture is a multi-decade commitment, and I wanted to think through the decision thoroughly. The venture world has changed considerably in the last ten years. The industry has 3X more capital than before and is now saturated with media coverage. The landscape is more competitive than ever.
I came to the conclusion that I wanted to join a platform that could compete effectively with others in the industry and meaningfully help a startup succeed. I quickly realized that it’s the people around the investing table that “make the platform.” And each partnership practices their craft in different ways.
Over the next several months, I spent a tremendous amount of time with the partnership at NEA and felt a connection. I was impressed with how they approach investing and how they treat their entrepreneurs. I dug in, speaking to their LPs (investors in venture capital firms) and the entrepreneurs they backed. The words “collaborative,” “transparent,” and “true partners” came up in every conversation.
NEA is a powerhouse in venture capital that has been around since 1977. It is sector and geographically diverse and is multi-stage (seed to growth stage), which is critical in the competitive venture environment. More importantly, it has built a culture of teamwork and mentorship that endures and thrives today.
Just like in a startup, the culture at a venture partnership matters — I can’t emphasize this enough. As I think about being at an enabling platform where I can learn from others and be excited every day, NEA is that place.
I can’t wait to get started!
Follow me on twitter @jpgg.