A Week in the Life: Sara Eshelman
Who I am: I’m a Principal at Spero Ventures . Prior to joining Spero I was an investor at the Omidyar Network and a management consultant at Monitor Group (now Monitor Deloitte). Like many people in VC, I didn’t necessarily plan on this being my career. But am grateful every day for the challenge and opportunity. I live in lower Manhattan and only half-jokingly call myself the head of Spero’s New York office (of one). I have a husband (Bernard), a five-month-old son (Adrien), and two wildly intelligent house cats (Turbo and PK).
What I do: During any given week, my time is split between three areas: 1) finding and evaluating new companies to invest in, 2) supporting companies and founders in our portfolio, and 3) building Spero, which includes ensuring we are operating efficiently and effectively. As a new fund (we launched in March 2018), this is something we think a lot about.
My agenda for the week (July 15–19):
- Monday: Partner meeting
- Tuesday-Thursday: Calls and meetings in and around the office
- Friday: Writing, thinking, and a few calls
8 am — Wake up and head to the office. I work from a space called Primary, which is essentially a wellness-focused WeWork. It’s a seven-minute walk from my apartment, which is absolutely life-enhancing. And it’s a great environment to work from.
9 am — Prepare for Partner meeting. Like most VC firms, we spend several hours every Monday sharing pipeline, portfolio and administrative updates. A fair amount of preparation goes into making these meetings effective. We circulate memos on pipeline opportunities at various stages of maturity and broader investment theses we’re working on. I typically devote part of my Sunday afternoon/evening to assembling my materials and then use my Monday morning to review others’ (while my West Coast partners are still sleeping).
1 pm — Partner meeting. This lasts more than five hours as our team of five* works through a set agenda. This week is lighter than usual because we’re starting to enter the summer slow down where some VCs go on vacation, and, as a result, fewer founders are out fundraising. That said, we discuss a few companies we’re in later stage diligence with and several newer ones. We also talk about portfolio. We have 18 active portfolio companies and leverage our collective knowledge and networks to support them.
6 pm — Having ended on the early side, I’m able to login to livestream Margo Georgiadis (CEO, Ancestry) and Othman Laraki (CEO, Color) at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference. Among other things, they talk about genomic data privacy . I’ve spent the last several months diving into the genomics space, and this is an essential topic that companies need to address thoughtfully and proactively.
7 pm — Catch up with another health-focused investor. We talk about areas we’re interested in and challenges we’re seeing with companies/business models in the market.
8:45 pm — Dinner. It’s actually my birthday today, so Bernard has a dinner reservation. In an interesting twist, the restaurant offers a small wooden box into which we can deposit our phones. Having seen this before, Bernard tells me that those who comply are offered an extra chocolate at the end of the meal. I’m a sucker for anything free** and chocolate, so I take one last look at Slack and say goodnight for the evening.
* Soon to be seven as we welcome two new members in August.
** Of course it is not actually free…it’s priced into the meal. But the illusion of free is sometimes all that matters to me.
8 am — Wake up a little groggier than usual because dinner ended up lasting until quite late and Adrien is still perfecting “his nights.”
8:30 am — Listen to a webinar on the role of genomics in animal breeding as I walk to the office and fill up my coffee mug. I generally use mornings for harder thinking work. This includes developing and refining investment theses, prospecting companies that fit within them, and conducting due diligence. Michael Karnjanaprakorn , the founder of Skillshare (one of our earliest investments), wrote about this strategy in 2017 and I’ve been following it ever since.
1 pm — Board meeting. Spero led Gencove’s latest investment round earlier this year. Co-founders Joe and Tomaz have built an incredible team and technology and it’s a privilege to be supporting them in their journey. At the early stages, we generally convene monthly meetings to cover all things strategy, tech, product, hiring, BD/sales, etc.
3:30 pm — Catch up with an old colleague now working in the fintech space. This isn’t an area we have much exposure to at Spero, so it’s exciting to learn what she’s seeing.
5 pm — Catch up with a very old friend and fellow VC Susie Bihler (Partner, Catalyst). I’ve known Susie since I was about six. She was one year ahead of me in school and a fellow swimmer. In addition to generally catching up, we talk about the importance of finding mentors both in and outside of our organizations. I work with three amazing partners at Spero, but am still working on establishing the right relationships externally.
7 pm — Catch up on the flurry of emails and Slack messages I missed while in meetings as I head back downtown.
Wednesday 7/17 and Thursday 7/18
8 am — Same morning as usual. I love weeks where I’m not traveling because I can truly sink into a routine (though the content of every day is quite different).
Noon — Calls and in-person meetings with founders, other investors, and folks who are actively working in sectors I’m focused on. I’m basically back to back until about 7pm both days.
7 pm — Try to compile what I’ve learned from the day’s meetings and update my pipeline and priorities accordingly. I’ve been experimenting with Notion for to-do’s, but also rely on a hodgepodge of iPhone notes, lists and post-its. While it seems messy, the process of continually re-writing these is important for updating my thinking and priorities.
8 pm — Sneak off to the gym before heading home. I usually spend a couple of hours in the evening catching up on emails and preparing for the next day’s meetings once I get home.
8:30 am — Same morning routine, except that Friday’s are generally meetings-light and focused on general catch up, thinking, writing and due diligence. I’ve been working on a blog post about DNA Sequencing all week and have given myself Friday (today!) as a deadline for publishing it. I’ve always enjoyed writing and find it essential for organizing and advancing my thinking. Until now, most of my writing has been for internal consumption, but I’m experimenting with wider distribution. It’s intimidating, but as a Spero advisor reminded me recently, “tomorrow it will be lining the birdcage.”
10 am — Publish the blog post. Dun-dun-dun.
10:30 am — On to the next topic. Future of work is another big focus for us at Spero and I’m specifically interested in the intersection of aging adults and work. I spend a few hours digging into today, as I have been doing for the past few weeks.
2 pm — Take a few meetings — one internal (via Zoom) to discuss two deals we’re actively evaluating and one with an entrepreneur who is in town for the day.
6:45 pm — Head out for a run on the waterfront. It’s about 90 degrees in NYC today. Not the finest running weather, but my brain needs the adrenaline.
Before I sign off, a few more reflections on my week: Writing and responding to people by email is a constant. As is general reading about our industry and the broader world. I’m currently reading The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt about Gen Zers focus on ideological safety and just finished Trillion Dollar Coach . I’m an introvert, but love to talk to people about specific ideas and, of course, companies.