Mark Selcow is a General Partner at Costanoa Ventures, where he is focused on investing in the next generation of great enterprise technology companies. Investments to date include Lively, NumberAI, Parallel Domain, Quizlet, Skedulo, and Springboard.
Prior to joining Costanoa, Mark was a serial entrepreneur and operator, who led organizations in the enterprise software and consumer Internet sectors. He co-founded and served as President of two companies. The first, BabyCenter, was a pioneer in the consumer Internet and grew to become a leader in the online parenting market. BabyCenter was sold to Johnson and Johnson in 2001. The second, Merced Systems, became the dominant provider of Performance Management software for large Customer Service functions. It was an innovator in combining operating data, complex derived metrics, and human factors, such as coaching, incentives, and games to achieve improvements in employee performance serving customers. Merced grew profitability from its first year of shipped product and was sold to NICE Systems in 2012.
Please enjoy this Q+A with Mark Selcow.
What is your / your fund’s mission?
Our mission at Costanoa is to build the next great early-stage boutique venture firm that helps entrepreneurs create smart technology and solve hard problems that change how business gets done. As a former founder of two startups myself, the founder is what I look at most closely.
What is one thing you are excited about right now?
I’m excited to prepare the next generation for what the future of work requires: lifelong learning for an economy with more frequent job changes, and upskilling for analytical/data and creative jobs. Fintech and insurance tech are also areas of great interest to me; they are both so ripe for disruption opportunities. It isn’t always sexy tech but it’s necessary tech.
Who is one founder you think we should watch?
Each one of our founders is doing great things, but one to watch right now is Alex Cyriac at Lively. He has a clear vision, is deeply knowledgeable in his market, is an inspirational leader, and a strong, performance-oriented executor. I think he’s got the whole package.
What are the 3 top qualities of every great leader?
- Good judgment
- A striving nature.
What and when was your very first investment? What struck you about them?
My first venture investment was in Quizlet, though I’d done quite a lot of angel investing previously. I found Quizlet to have a compelling mission, a ruthless focus on product, a culture of trial and testing, and a great organizational culture. I was lucky to have such a great first investment.
What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?
Do I want to be in business with the founder for the long term? Series A investing is like getting married, as you’ll be together a long time, and will go through very intense, early-stage challenges. It’s important to believe in and like each other.
What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?
What is most important to me and my company in terms of what we need from our next investor? Is it just the money, is it a type of help — like recruiting or go-to-market advice, is it branding, etc? It’s key to be clear. It’s also important to talk to other founders who work with your potential investors — how they behave after they give you the money is more important than what they do before they invest when they’re trying to land the deal.
What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?
This depends on the stage of the company. At the earlier stage, the CEO should focus on 1. finding product/market fit, 2. landing initial customers, and 3. ensuring the company is adequately financed.
Not running out of money is a priority, but financing is about more than not running out; it’s also about how much to invest, where and when.
Favorite business book, blog, podcast?
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. I think understanding the minds and behaviors of your team and your customers is the magic behind building a great culture and ensuring you’ll have happy customers.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
Hanging with my kids and playing the drums (I’m in a Talking Heads tribute band). My kids and I are playing a lot of poker and gin rummy lately and it’s great to sit across from each other, reading each other’s faces and laughing.
Who is one leader you admire?
Mauricio Pochettino, the manager of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur English soccer team. He has built a world-class team on a modest budget, and gets the most from them.
What is one interesting thing that most people don’t know about you?
I didn’t have a job when I graduated college. I bounced around at various short-term roles (I managed a retail futon store for a while), hitchhiked around Europe and the US, worked on a political campaign, and experimented with my life. I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t need the validation of a brand-name position. I consider that to have been a defining chapter of my life, one marked more by exploration than achievement.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to every founder?
You earn your reputation over the long term of your decisions, words, and actions. And you can lose it in a single moment. Do things for the right reasons, and think long term.
How can startups reach you?
Startups interested in an opportunity to pitch Costanoa can apply here.