Talking Seed with Sequoia

Sequoia
Sequoia
Feb 25 · 8 min read

As we launch our latest seed fund, Sequoia partners George Robson, Stephanie Zhan, Bogomil Balkansky, Shaun Maguire, Josephine Chen and Konstantine Buhler share what drives their passion for meeting seed-stage founders, what they look for in ideas and companies, and what to expect from initial conversations with Sequoia.

George Robson

What do you love about partnering with seed-stage founders?

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the same is often true for companies. The seed stage is about creating something from nothing, against the odds — and in doing so, quickly answering tough questions about the market, your approach and your team. I love being there to question, challenge, support and encourage founders at that formative time.

Are there sectors that you’re passionate about or where you see innovation coming through?

Decentralized finance promises to fundamentally change how both consumers and businesses access financial services, and to make money truly programmable and global for the first time. Meanwhile, millennials and Gen Z already have a different relationship with money than their parents, as well as different pressures in terms of the housing ladder and funding education. I think there are opportunities for a new generation of products focused on savings, to help them achieve their goals.

What qualities do you look for in seed-stage founders? What are you looking for in the idea or pitch?

Self-awareness. There are so many unknowns at the seed stage — who the target customers are, what to build first, who to hire next, how to think about pricing — and the founder’s role is to put the best team on the field and empower them to answer those questions. Understanding your own approach as an operator, along with the strengths and weaknesses of the market, gives you the flexibility to adapt and make better decisions.

What can seed-stage founders expect when they pitch Sequoia?

Empathy. We have deep respect for the founder journey — and we believe entrepreneurship is an incredible vehicle for change. We want to get as excited about the problem you’re solving as you are. We want you to help us dream with you.

What is the one piece of advice you would give seed-stage founders?

It’s never too early to define your culture. Culture is your collective basis for decision making — it determines who you hire, retain and promote; how you make decisions; and what happens when nobody’s looking. Your company will be the product of millions of choices, and culture is a critical tool to help you navigate them.

Get to know George and reach out to him here.

Stephanie Zhan

What do you love about partnering with seed-stage founders?

To me it’s the most meaningful, fulfilling part of the journey to be your very first believer, the first person in your corner, and to be cheering you on when the whole world might not see your vision just yet. It’s when things are the most challenging and ambiguous as you try to find product-market-fit and hire your first one or two people. But it’s also the most fun: helping you find your first customer, grow your community, close your first team member, or plan out the product roadmap. These are the moments in time you will always look back on in your journey.

Are there sectors that you’re passionate about or where you see innovation coming through?

There are so many! On the enterprise side, new ways of working are leading to a wide variety of collaboration tools, new forms of infrastructure for businesses to work together, and a whole new software stack is being reinvented as companies adopt machine learning and data science. On the consumer side, the way we connect, play and share is happening in new ways online. Lastly, an entire generation of digital natives is settling into a new stage of life, which creates opportunities across everything from fintech and commerce to travel, homes and pets.

What qualities do you look for in seed-stage founders? What are you looking for in the idea or pitch?

We’re looking for ideas that will stand the test of time. That starts with special teams with unique insight, and what we call category creators — people redefining a market and building something new at scale.

What can seed-stage founders expect when they pitch Sequoia?

We are people… just like you! We’re curious about you, your idea, the problem you are trying to solve and why it matters now. We also call ourselves partners, not investors, because we truly think of ourselves as a partner who will be there with you during the highs and lows for the next decade or more.

What is the one piece of advice you would give seed-stage founders?

Don’t overthink it. Just reach out! We’d love to meet you and start getting to know you. We understand it takes time and are eager to begin the conversation.

Get to know Stephanie and reach out to her here.

Bogomil Balkansky

What do you love about partnering with seed-stage founders?

Prior to Sequoia, I spent most of my career as a product person. I love the “zero to one” journey — ideation, finding the first design, seeing the first paying customer. Working with seed founders lets me relive the highs of this phase.

Are there sectors that you’re passionate about or where you see innovation coming through?

I spend a lot of time on infrastructure and open source, specifically developer platforms, DevOps, observability, and data infrastructure. These disciplines are currently being re-thought as part of the “shift-left” trend which is seeing developers take more responsibility for work that used to be handled primarily by downstream Ops and IT teams.

What qualities do you look for in seed-stage founders? What are you looking for in the idea or pitch?

Contrarian insight. Most good ideas start out as controversial before they become obvious to everyone else.

What can seed-stage founders expect when they pitch Sequoia?

A lot of probing questions. But behind them is a genuine attempt to understand how you think, to get to the source of your passion, and to internalize your vision.

What is the one piece of advice you would give seed-stage founders?

The best time to fundraise is… precisely when you are not fundraising. That is, you should build the relationships you’ll need far ahead of when you need to raise money.

Think of your first conversations with Sequoia as the start of a relationship, not a one-shot pitch. The earlier our relationship begins, the more helpful we can be and the better the odds of us partnering with you over time. This is easier to do if you aren’t in an immediate money crunch.

Get to know Bogomil and reach out to him here.

Shaun Maguire

What do you love about partnering with seed-stage founders?

As a former founder myself, I love being as close to the founding journey as possible. And because the earliest mistakes are often the costliest, sharing our hard-won insights can help the founders we work with avoid major pitfalls. Whether it’s helping place a key hire, landing an early customer, or offering product insight, the earlier we partner, the more impact we can have.

Are there sectors that you’re passionate about or where you see innovation coming through?

Regardless of the sector, I’m drawn most to category-creation opportunities — founders who are going after gigantic markets and have unique insights on both how they should do so and why they should do it now.

What qualities do you look for in seed-stage founders? What are you looking for in the idea or pitch?

Founders come in all types. For category-creation opportunities, I’ve found domain experts or a young dynamo to be the most compelling. Above all, we value clarity of thought.

What can seed-stage founders expect when they pitch Sequoia?

We tend to be very direct with our feedback, and we care a lot about the market: the size, the dynamics and the timing.

What is the one piece of advice you would give seed-stage founders?

Incentive alignment is everything — and it’s important to align incentives for all stakeholders, including your co-founders, employees, customers and partners. Aligning on things like founder ownership percentages, product pricing, and employee equity is incredibly important, but it’s easier said than done.

Get to know Shaun and reach out to him here.

Josephine Chen

What do you love about partnering with seed-stage founders?

I love partnering at the earliest stages because I get to dream of the future with founders while also tackling the day-to-day operations required to make that future a reality. The journey to make these dreams a reality will take a decade or longer — I want to be there from the very beginning.

Are there sectors that you’re passionate about or where you see innovation coming through?

I’m always excited to meet entrepreneurs at the intersection of biotech and computer science; the genome is the original operating system. I also think the application of fintech to SaaS verticals will be pervasive over the next decade. The innovations this enables will help companies create new revenue streams and connect with previously hard-to-reach audiences, such as small businesses and freelancers.

What qualities do you look for in seed-stage founders? What are you looking for in the idea or pitch?

I look for a team of both thinkers and builders who have unique insights into a large market. It is invigorating to hear from a founder who deeply understands a problem and can describe how to overcome it. Nothing beats the feeling when it all clicks. The buzz from those conversations has fueled many late-night research marathons as I seek to further understand their missions.

What can seed-stage founders expect when they pitch Sequoia?

Focused and constructive engagement. We’ll pepper you with questions, but not because we are trying to poke holes. We genuinely want to learn more about how you think, what you need, and why you do what you do.

What is the one piece of advice you would give seed-stage founders?

It’s never too early to come talk with us. Discussing ideas and riffing on them is my favorite part of this job.

Get to know Josephine and reach out to her here.

Konstantine Buhler

What do you love about partnering with seed-stage founders?

I love adventure and seed company building is an adventure. It’s fun to believe in each other and build something from nothing. It feels like us against the world.

Are there sectors that you’re passionate about or where you see innovation coming through?

AI, SaaS, and InsureTech all benefit from virtuous data cycles — more data makes them more valuable. Beyond category though, what gets me most excited is happy customers. I love customer love. If you have an idea that really delights a customer (preferably many), that is the best starting place.

What qualities do you look for in seed-stage founders? What are you looking for in the idea or pitch?

This could sound cliché, but I definitely look for grit, intelligence, and ethics. You have to grind until you win, be smart enough to think through the non-obvious, and be an honest person. The cherry on top is customer obsession. The joy of company building is serving others, and I look for founders who genuinely want to improve peoples’ lives.

What can seed-stage founders expect when they pitch Sequoia?

Honesty, ideas and fun. Life is short, so I think every interaction should have some joy in it. Hold me to that.

What is the one piece of advice you would give seed founders?

I’ll share a quote from the American architect Daniel Burnham: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir [wo]men`s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.”

Get to know Konstantine and reach out to him here.

Sequoia Capital Publication

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