The Pursuit of Great Ideas: How Fresh Perspectives Keep Us Growing at Costanoa

Photo Credit: Robert Houser

To be successful in venture capital over long periods of time, you can’t rely on yesterday’s conventional wisdom sectors or technology trends. That’s an especially important consideration when you’re looking for early-stage technology companies that create and transform industries.

At Costanoa, we do our best to guard against complacency by bringing in smart, bold people with deep domain experience to challenge our assumptions,point us in fresh directions, and try to invent tomorrow.

We routinely bring in-house a couple of talented operators from the tech community to join us as entrepreneurs-in-residence and executives-in residence (typically referred to as EIRs). We’ve been doing this since the firm’s founding in 2012 and it’s been a great experience for all.

So what exactly does an Executive or Entrepreneur in Residence do? On the one hand, EIRs get a chance to see venture capital from the other side, which will make them more effective back in their roles. While they’re here, they have complete access to everything we do, our perspectives and our decisions. They join us in pitches, help identify and analyze companies and sometimes work with portfolio companies. They do deep dives on sectors in which they might be interested and riff on ideas for new companies with our investment team.

In return, we gain mightily by having a steady infusion of thinkers ready to share their knowledge of different sectors and technologies. We benefit from fresh perspectives as we evaluate new investment opportunities, often leveraging their expertise. Costanoa EIRs are exceptional people who can one day start their own company or wind up in leading positions at one of our portfolio companies. Along the way, they also make enormous contributions to our portfolio, our knowledge base and our community.

We are thrilled to welcome our two newest EIRs, John Dawes and Chris Wake.

John is an Executive in residence who started with us in January. He is a longtime friend who worked with me and Martina Lauchengco, an Operating Partner here at Costanoa, years ago at Netscape as part of the server product management team. He’s been an executive and longtime product leader who has held senior product positions at Lithium Technologies, IBM and Tealeaf. You can never have too much product experience in the organization.

Chris, our newest Entrepreneur in Residence, comes to us after heading business operations at Clearbit and Spire Global. He is an expert in data science and its use in operations, one of the leaders in putting satellites into space to generate and analyze data from the earth.

So please help us in welcoming John and Chris to our community!

From an uber perspective — lower case “u” — this program is just another way that Costanoa works to engage with early stage businesses in the tech ecosystem. But it’s not the only way. In addition to working with EIRs, we’re also incubating a couple of companies in our offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto. One is Aquabyte, a startup that uses computer vision and machine learning models to optimize fish farming efficiency, and the other is a stealth seeded company that you’ll hear more about soon.

One of the ancillary benefits is that our offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto aren’t the usual staid VC office. We welcome the periodic chaos of startups in our halls as they go about the job of customer discovery and writing code.

This all may add a bit of chaos to our routine but in a really energizing way as it exposes us to new ideas, new blood, new sectors, and new networks. As a team and a community, we embrace it.