Brand New Perspective; Same Old Values
By Team CRV
We launched a new website and visual identity today. It may not be “breaking news,” at least by 2021 standards, but there’s a meaningful story behind it that felt relevant to share.
But first, the big idea:
CRV invests in software that gives power to the person.
In the early days of software, technology was the province of powerful, deep-pocketed institutions driven by a desire to automate work and increase profitability. Empowered by lower barriers to entry for starting up and increased access to web and mobile technologies for their customers, a new generation of technologists and entrepreneurs is driven to solve problems for individual people.
At CRV, we are more inspired by founders who empower individuals than those who give more power to institutions.
We invest in products that give people the freedom to determine how and where they want to work — from a barber who wants to manage their shop, to a marketer who wants a more personalized way to communicate with their customers.
We invest in products that give people more control over their lives — from an artist who wants to quit their job as a barista so they can turn their art into their profession, to a busy parent who wants to serve their family a fresh meal without needing to take time away from the kids to cook it.
The back story: stewards of a 50 year-old brand
A few years ago we were on a team hike in Napa Valley for our annual offsite. We were approaching the firm’s 50th anniversary, and we reflected on what got us here and where we wanted to go next.
We discussed how much the industry has changed in five decades, and the direction we wanted to take the firm. We deconstructed our success stories, as well as the ones which didn’t work out as well. We wanted to honor the culture Rick Burnes created when he co-founded CRV in 1970. By the end of the weekend, we collectively confirmed that the most consistent factor in our performance has been our values — and chief among them is the importance we place on building trusted, long-term relationships with our founders.
But as highly as we regard our partnerships with founders, we realized we didn’t know how they felt about us.
So we decided to ask them. We hired an agency to do an audit. We asked them to interview dozens of CRV founders and co-investors about their experiences with us, and requested that they anonymize the responses so interviewees would feel comfortable being open and honest, even if — especially if — they thought it might be hard for us to hear.
The feedback was incredibly valuable, and gave us a foundation for a new way of thinking about the brand we want to carry forth into the next half century.
What we heard: the nice-to-hear
We found that among our founders, the thing they valued the most was that they could trust their investors. One founder actually said about CRV, “I would trust them to be nice people on a stranded island.” That might be the nicest thing we’ve ever heard.
Our founders also told us it is critical to have a partner who is available at any time and would continue to be there for them in the long run — a partner who has philosophical alignment and pure conviction. Importantly, they want the freedom to create their own world.
Internally, we hire for those character traits, so it meant a lot to us that our founders share the same values.
What we heard: the hard-to-hear
Under “areas for improvement,” we learned there was an enormous gap in perception: A lot of people couldn’t name more than a few companies in which we invested, and they couldn’t say what we invest in or why.
That was a tough one. We thought we were helping people by not cluttering the airwaves with “thought leadership content,” but it turns out our lack of communication made it hard for founders and co-investors to figure out when to give us a call.
We invest early — often before there is a product, let alone a first customer — and when we see “it,” we move quickly, lead the round and commit for the long term. But when we tried to put into words what “it” was, we realized it was something we felt quite clearly, but not something we knew how to describe.
Of course we want to invest in “brilliant founders” with “audacious ideas” and “bold vision” who are building “industry-leading” companies. But what does that even mean? And how is that differentiated when every VC website says they’re looking for the same thing?
So we dug deeper. We dissected the stories of the winningest companies from our past, and thought hard about what we want more of in the future. We had to get specific: What do we care most about? What do our best companies have in common?
A common thread
The harder we looked, the more we realized that our convictions are not driven by technology trends or sweeping POV statements about the future of technology; they’re not driven by hot sectors or addictive products.
Our convictions are driven by founding teams that have a keen insight into, and empathy for, the people who will use their product every day. They spend a lot of time thinking about big cultural shifts, as well as the idiosyncratic details and frustrations that pervade our daily lives.
Founders like Tony Xu, son of a restaurant manager. He understood the challenges of restaurants and other small businesses that needed to find new ways to reach and serve customers in an online-first world, and knew that they had no way to build an order-and-deliver infrastructure on their own. So he founded DoorDash.
Or Michelle Davey, who was driven to improve what she saw as one of the most critical issues in the United States: access to healthcare. She launched Wheel to give consumers more control over their healthcare, regardless of their geographic or socio-economic limitations, while also giving clinicians the power to deliver better care to more people online.
Or Howie Liu and Andrew Ofstad. They thought about the barriers related to the difficulty of learning to write code and wondered what would be possible if everyone could build software — What would they create? What problems could they solve? They founded Airtable to bring to life their vision of a future in which everyone had access to the exclusive developers’ club.
As we continued to revisit our reasons for investing in dozens of companies, our shared sense of purpose came into focus: We invest in software that gives power to the person.
Our new website
When it came time to redesign our website, we started from first principles. We knew we wanted to feature our founders first. Without them, we wouldn’t even have a brand. You’ll see their stories on page one, and on every page that follows — even our bios.
When we reconsidered the team section, we figured if our goal is to build authentic relationships, we shouldn’t waste any time: We wanted to make it easy to learn who we are, how we think and what we might be like to work with — not just around a boardroom table, but on a late night phone call when a founder needs help thinking through a hard problem.
So we shared some things that don’t usually show up in pedigree-laden CVs. We’re competitive skaters. Computer nerds. Desert racers. Rowers. Climbers. Musicians. Fly fishers. Back-mountain skiers. Jungle dwellers. Small business owners. We’re also immigrants, the sons and daughters of immigrants and former ESL students. Upstarts.
Just like many of you.
We hope you’ll visit us at our new site or our social media channels to get to know us and our founders. We’d like to get to know you, as well — if you’re building software that gives power to the person, give us a call.
By Team CRV