LIFT: Last in, first to talk

My first month as an EIR

I’m one month into my mid-career internship at Trinity Ventures and rather than just share what I’ve learned, I want to share how I’ve learned.

As the new kid — although my newness was short-lived— my first day and week was chock-full of the usual “how will I fit in,” “will they like me,” “did I pick the right group” thoughts. But the most important question for me was “How do I learn as much as possible now that I’m here?”

Here’s what I did.

Hi, my name is

I started by stacking my first (and second) day full of back-to-back-to-back 1:1’s with everyone at the firm, from partners to associates to marketing to operations teammates. Because I was able to finagle calendar access weeks in advance this was a great way to introduce myself i.e. “Who the heck is this guy throwing 1:1’s on my calendar?” Getting everyone’s viewpoints on the firm, their roles, the areas that get them excited, and how to get the most out of the EIR program — all of this helped me chart the course for how I was going to optimize my first week and month.

I cordially invite myself to… all of your meetings

One of the draws for me to Trinity’s EIR program was the freedom to invite myself to any pitch meeting I found interesting on anyone’s calendar. I decided on Day 1 that I wasn’t qualified to deem a calendar entry interesting or not, so I proceeded to just invite myself to all of them! I ended up joining 30 one-hour pitches across a dozen different industries ranging from HR SaaS to transportation to AI to FinTech to robotics to health. Not only has this been incredible exposure to a variety of domains, but it’s also a crash course on context-shifting and how to think in a “mile wide, inch deep” horizontal fashion. This opposed to the vertically focused mode I have been in all of my career as an operator.

Follow the LIFT rule

The LIFT rule is perhaps the most simultaneously unsettling and awesome aspect of Trinity’s EIR program. I love it. LIFT stands for “last in, first to talk” and essentially means that the newest member of the team is required to be the first to opine on a pitch, a company, and a founder by scoring it (more on that below), sharing your reasons why, and recommending next steps. As you can imagine, this can be intimidating when you’re the rookie surrounded by a room of veteran VCs who have played this game for decades. But it has been such a great forcing function for me to learn how to evaluate, analyze, and make decisions based on a limited amount of data on an opportunity (i.e. one hour of getting to know the founder, listening to what they say, seeing what they show), and limited understanding of an industry. I think this LIFT rule should be applied to all VC firms and could be applied to all types of companies.

Keep score

Trinity has a 1-to-4 scoring system (no decimals allowed), which helps crystallize what you think about an opportunity and what to do about it after a pitch meeting. A score of “4” means “chase the founder out to the parking lot with a term sheet,” 3 means “I like it and want to spend more time on this,” 2 means “I have doubts and its not really for me but perhaps another teammate likes it,” 1 means “let’s save both parties’ time, pass and move on.” Or, as one of our GP’s put it more succinctly, “fuck yeah,” “yeah,” “no,” and… “let’s save both parties’ time, pass and move on,” respectively and respectably.

My month 1 cohort of pitches shook out at 0% 4’s, 24% 3’s, 52% 2’s, and 24% 1’s. But more important than the scoring itself has been learning why I’m scoring the way I’m scoring and what my methodology is — development of such is still very much in progress. That said, and not surprisingly, I’ve quickly realized that what matters more to me than most everything else is the founder. No matter the market, the problem statement, the product, the technology, the competitive differentiation, and the traction, if the founder shows signs of being an incredible force of nature, I’ve leaned towards the higher end of the scale.

credit: Hunter Walk

In any given year, Trinity on average sees 10,000–15,000 companies, takes 1,500–2,500 one-hour pitch meetings, works on 125–150 opportunities, and ultimately invests in about 12 of them out of a $400m fund. Not only seeing, but participating, first-hand, in this funnel and system has made for an incredible learning experience in my first month.

I feel like I’m working out a set of brain muscles that I never knew existed (and clearly has never been exercised). I’m excited to keep strengthening that muscle as well as discovering what other flabby brain muscles I can work out in the next month.