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Arthur Patterson on Company Building

March 20, 2023
Written By
March 20, 2023
Season 3 Episode 11
32:41
Written By

Arthur Patterson, legendary VC and founder of Accel Partners, sits down with Tom Chavez to discuss insights into company building. Tom and Vivek review the tape on the latest episode of The {Closed} Session.

Arthur Patterson, the founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call.

Tom and Vivek sit back and review the tape - analyzing Arthur’s insight into company building across the dimensions of identifying the right talent, doing experiments, what the common thread is across the hits and misses, and a first-hand perspective on the demonic energy that helped keep Tom from being fired as CEO of his first venture.

Twice a month, the super{set} community comes together for a weekly call - often featuring fireside chats with outside speakers and friends of the super{set} Hive. On one such call, we were pleased to welcome Arthur Patterson - founder of the venture capital firm Accel and an investor in Tom and Vivek’s previous companies, Rapt and Krux.

Arthur Patterson is one of the greatest VCs of all time, founding Accel as an upstart in 1983 and building out the firm to become the powerhouse it is today. He’s an investor - not an operator himself - but he’s stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the world’s finest entrepreneurs and has plenty of insight into building successful software companies.

From digging into the Nietzschean energy and other qualities required to be a successful entrepreneur to Accel’s philosophy of “the prepared mind,” to identifying the homegrown unknowns that can become the core of your early team, and to what makes or breaks a successful company idea, Arthur has insights for us all.

Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Closed Session, How to Get Paid in Silicon Valley. With your host, Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya.

Tom Chavez: Hello, everybody. And welcome to Episode 10, Season Three, of The Closed Session. My name is Tom Chavez.

Vivek Vaidya: And I am Vivek Vaidya.

Tom Chavez: For our listeners, this is going to be part two of a two-part podcast. So if you haven't listened to the last podcast, stop, kick yourself out of this one. Go back, take a listen there.

Because what we're doing is taking the best hit snippets from a really rich and interesting conversation we were lucky to have with Arthur Patterson, the founder of Accel, in a community call that we have at super{set}.

As Vivek mentioned, we have these community calls. It's one of the coolest... So many cool things about working at a super{set} company, but one of them is you get to participate in these community calls where we learn from each other, we bring in luminaries like Arthur. So that's what we're doing here.

Vivek Vaidya: For a moment there, Tom, I thought you would go all Vanilla Ice and say, "All right, stop, rewind and listen."

Tom Chavez: Keep going.

Vivek Vaidya: But you didn't.

Tom Chavez: No, but come on. Drop it like it's hot.

Vivek Vaidya:  "All right stop, collaborate and listen. Ice is back with a brand new invention. Something grabs a hold of me tightly. Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly. Will it ever stop? Yo, I don't know."

Tom Chavez: Bang. People, that just happened. Can we have-

Vivek Vaidya: I could go on.

Tom Chavez: Can we have a moment of silence? That was all the way live, nothing rehearsed here. And that's Vivek Vaidya on the mic, yo.

Vivek Vaidya: That's right.

Tom Chavez: Literally on the mic here in the studio.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah. Woo.

Tom Chavez: All right, let's press on.

Vivek Vaidya: We've got more important things to talk about.

Tom Chavez: So for part one, we reviewed Arthur's questions. And they had much more to do with the venture industry and the origins of venture capital in Silicon Valley. Great stories there. By the way, if you haven't read The Power Law-

Vivek Vaidya: Oh yeah, let's put a plug for Power Law.

Tom Chavez: We like that book a lot. Totally unpaid-for plug. We haven't done one of those in a while.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah. And here we are.

Tom Chavez: Here we are doing a totally unpaid-for plug for The Power Law. It is a wonderful history of the origins of Silicon Valley. And, predictably, Arthur shows up in that book, as he needs to be, as one of the lions of venture capital, one of the inventors of the whole field.

Vivek Vaidya: And if you are going to buy the book, I would recommend buying the printed version of the book as opposed to the digital version, on a Kindle or whatever. Because there are some very interesting pictures, old pictures of these stalwarts of Silicon Valley, that I find very interesting.

Tom Chavez: Absolutely. It's such a great... We insisted that everybody, the super{set} management team, read that book this last year. We all learned a lot from it.

So Vivek, let's jump right in to one of the key topics we took up with Arthur. And we had some really useful advice around hiring key executives during the early stages of the company. Let's go take a listen.

On Early Stage Hiring

(Start Interview Clip)

Tom Chavez: Listen, we see that all day long, right, ego really is the enemy of progress in company building. And it's a strange paradox, right? Because to will accompany into existence, you have to have this kind of crazy Nietzsche-ian energy to do something that everybody says can't be done. So is that ego? I don't know.

But then at the same time, as you point out, the people who let their ego overtake them, they always feel like they have the answer, "I don't need these pesky helpers. I've got it all right up here." It's remarkable, then as now. If that was the bug bear that you were fighting off 25 years ago, I can tell you we're still at it today.

Arthur Patterson: Yeah. Well, I mean, at some firms it's very tempting to go out and hire, quote, executives that have been notably successful in successful companies. And Kleiner Perkins made a religion of that.

But the early successful guys at the firm actually didn't, that wasn't their background. They were much more apprentice, up the ranks. And they lost all their really good guys, Kevin Compton and others, and kept hiring these guys. That were Ray Lane who'd run Oracle and whatnot. And these guys, when you get to be really good at being an executive-

Tom Chavez: Yeah. It's not the same skillset.

Arthur Patterson: ... you hold on the steering wheel, you're not good venture guys.

And so learning it from the ground up, we found, to be by far the best model in terms of making successful guys. But you got to be curious, you don't need to be a genius. 

You got to be looking for people smarter than you, rather than being the expert yourself.

But curiosity, sustainability and personal sustainability, I think, are really important. So in the venture business, luck and initiative looked like all there is. I mean, he really out hustled everybody else and he got the deal. And by the way, it turned out to be lucky. And third deal in he, it made a jillion.

Tom Chavez: Or to your point, he just didn't quit delayed gratification and then eventually got lucky. Whoever it is, right?

Arthur Patterson: Yeah, yeah. And so those are factors. And you have to have them, but they're not, in our view, enough. And that's why we believe in this, in the top-down thinking it through, sort of our look before you... Prepared Mind is look before you leap. 

And look as hard as you can, because you may be in this thing for a long time and you're not going to discard it on its first hiccup.

(End Clip)

Tom Chavez: Well, a lot of good stuff there. Right? And I think the comment, certainly for the venture capital industry, but it applies everywhere in terms of hiring for early stages. You can hire the fancy pants, the luminaries, the guys, the Ray Lanes and the others who've achieved great success in a certain context.

It's always been fascinating to me how much people index on that. And also how convinced and ineffective the fancy pants become, right? It goes to their heads. And it intertwines with the point about ego, once you've had some success, and we see this all day long, it just goes to these people's heads.

Vivek Vaidya: Because they think it's all about them. They made it happen.

Tom Chavez: Right. And they've also lost track of the luck. So wait a minute... And by the way, you and I have the strong feelings also about people carry on with this really wrong idea, that if you've made a bunch of money you must be a genius. It's such a poisonous, terrible idea that I think infects too much of our social discourse.

Once you've been in... Yeah, I mean, listen, you and I hustled for decades and you keep at it. But yeah, when it comes to hiring, you recognize humbly there has to be a little bit of luck, you do it long enough to get a little bit lucky. But whether you're a venture capitalist or an executive, you can't let it go to your head. And that's why we prefer the homegrown unknowns. What do we mean by that?

Vivek Vaidya: Which means that we believe in, just like Arthur was saying, we believe in company first. Company building is a learnable craft, and we have our playbooks, and we bring in people who can learn the art of company building from super{set}.

And we have our own methodology, our own version of the Prepared Mind, which is what we do where we write the solution memo and the staging and sequencing and all of that. That is our version of the Prepared Mind when it comes to a particular company.

Tom Chavez: Right. And the homegrown unknowns, though, are the people who don't have all of the luster and the press releases. They're not yet famous, but we believe they've got the stuff. They've got the grit, the humility, the clock speed, the ambition to go and get the job done.

Sometimes you find people who've had some success who still want to throw their hat in the ring and work hard and go build. The odds are not with you, though, if you're trying to bring those people particularly into the early stage.

Vivek Vaidya: We've had a lot more success with the homegrown unknowns than with the people who've actually been there, done that and want to do it all over again.

Tom Chavez: That's right.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah.

Tom Chavez: All right. Well, let's move on to the next clip. Arthur has this idea of company building as an experiment or as a set of experiments. It's a fascinating notion. Let's dive into it now.

On Company-Building as an Experiment

(Start Interview Clip)

Tom Chavez: Hey, let's switch gears here and talk about company building now today relative to before. Because I think it's safe to say today there's more capital.

Arthur Patterson: No, no.

Tom Chavez: Well, there has been, maybe we can come back to that. There has been a lot more capital than 1983, when it's just two or three firms. And a lot more infrastructure, cloud systems like Amazon and Azure and others.

So I remember when we were starting Krux, it was a really risky thing. And this sounds adorable today, but at the time AWS, before, right at that juncture, entrepreneurs would go off and raise an extra 20 to 30 because you had to build your own data systems, like taking equity capital to build a data center was just what was done. So at the beginning of Krux, we took this crazy gamble like, "All right, let's try this AWS thing and see if we can make it work."

The point is, there's a lot more tooling, more opportunities to start companies. Which in part explains the velocity and volume of companies that are now out there and continuing to get built.

So I'm just wondering if you could say a little bit about what do those changes mean for management teams and company builders here at super{set}? What are the kinds of habits and capabilities you need? How do you do your 100 pushups? What are the main things that you need to do to be successful when things seem to move so fast? The things that used to unfold in nine months now, in our shop, it seems can just unfold in nine days. Like competitors move so much more quickly, investors are pouncing. What does a company builder do?

Arthur Patterson: Yeah. Well, while the clock speed in a very ebullient financial market picks up, I don't think the fundamentals in the business pick up. And what is generally not recognized, certainly by the press, is that it's all a supply question.

Venture guys think they're important, the entrepreneurs think they're important. But, by the way, you're just cogs in the wheel. And there'll be X number of new opportunities created by the technology and the changes in social norms or something. And that's it. And you're just cogs. Now, there are better cogs and worse cogs, but you can't change that number.

Now, if it was in the Soviet Union, the Apple phone would've been invented, it just would've taken another 50 years. So this incredible process of entrepreneurism in the United States that so accelerates the exploitation of these opportunities is just one of the most powerful things in the world. You see some of these big companies working on these projects and nothing gets done despite a billion dollars spent. And you put an entrepreneur with a few engineers on it and they have it and in six months. It's an incredible process. So the fundamentals really haven't changed.

And the later stage has completely changed, completely changed. The amounts of money these companies are able to raise and the players that are in them. That's really public market investing, moving back into being greedy enough to get closer and cheaper prices. And the people that are doing that aren't venture guys, they're basically public investors who you write down into your growth funds. At Sequoia they probably have 10% of the guys there now are early stage investors.

But in the early stage, when we were talking about the opportunities here, at an early stage the challenge the entrepreneurs have is these are experiments and you're trying to find supply of these new ideas. And so the key thing is to treat them like experiments, understand they're experiments, and have extremely fast learning processes.

Now, if you go in and throw a lot of money at it, you'll probably be unsuccessful because the whole process of getting all those people and the money muddies the evidence and you're not able to learn. You're administering sales forces instead of learning what they're doing out in the field. So I said, "Well, only put one sales team out in the field. Try it out, the product out, on the customers. And see how to make the model work." Because it's going to change. And if you put 10 out in the field, you can't tell what's working, what's not.

And so the care of the experiment at the beginning, I say, hasn't changed one iota in terms of the lessons of doing that. The later stage and the ability to fund these things is a totally new phenomenon. And the different people, more money. But they're just plain different.

I was just looking at a fund, it's called [---]. And they had established 23 offices in the last four or five years around the world. But they were basically doing copycat deals in all these markets, Nairobi and whatnot, copycats of US deals. So they'd solve the supply problem, they didn't have a supply problem, they created.

And so they actually have a lot less risk than doing it in Silicon Valley where you really are conducting an experiment to feel out where the next supply is. And it's much riskier.

(End Clip)

Tom Chavez: A lot of good stuff there. Vivek, what are your reactions?

Vivek Vaidya: Well, I think the first reaction is, he's spot on. Early stage company building is an experiment, and the experiments are conducted at various levels. There are product experiments that you conduct. "Hey, how about..." Because you have a broad... At least at super{set}, if we've done our jobs well in framing the solution [inaudible 00:15:50] and the staging sequencing, there are lots of options.

We're trying to find, as we've said in this show once before, once or maybe twice before, that it's like a heist, right? Company building is like a heist. So we have to figure out how to get in, and there are multiple ways to get in. And so you have to now run these experiments as you're talking to customers, and talking to the industry, and even your own feasibility, do the backwards and forwards thing. To figure out what's the most effective and efficient way to get in? That's an experiment. And so that kind of analogy is just apt, from my perspective.

Tom Chavez: Absolutely. Yeah. Look, and along those lines... I've been working with Arthur for a long time, I have seen him evolve his thinking. I wasn't going to sort of take him to task in the Q&A there, but I think that Arthur 20 years ago had much more passion for planning.

And of course I had a lot to learn, and there was too much zigging and zagging going on at Rapt. But I think what we've all collectively come to understand a lot more sharply now is that if you're not course correcting, if you're not conducting an experiment and then taking what you learn from it and then doing something different better immediately, you're not doing it.

The companies and the entrepreneurs that scare me the most are the ones who have a plan... By the way, always have a plan, as we've discussed in prior podcasts. But then revision can strike at any time, get ready to pivot and move.

The other thing I just appreciate about Arthur, and this is classic Arthur Patterson from the balcony aerial perspective. Entrepreneurs think they're important. Venture capitalists think they're important. You're all just cogs in a machine.

Vivek Vaidya: Exactly, exactly.

Tom Chavez: That is vintage Arthur Patterson right there.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah. And it is, like you said, it's the view from the balcony. And also he's extremely self-aware, right? That no one person, regardless of how important they think they are, can change, alter the course of anything that's going on by themselves.

Tom Chavez: That's right. Hey, so the next clip was a doozy. You were there for it. And I had wanted to ask Arthur for 20 plus years, and I finally marshaled the courage, I suppose, to ask why wasn't I fired at Rapt? Which was the first company.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah. So for our listeners, Rapt went through a few tumultuous phases. And it's all to Tom's credit that we kind of pivoted and got out in the way we did. But there were some nerve-wracking moments, for Tom in particular, that-

Tom Chavez: Gently put.

Vivek Vaidya: And again, like I said, to his credit, of course the rank and file like us, we were affected by it, but not that much. And he did a very good job of shielding us from all of that. And so he asked Arthur in this fireside chat, why wasn't he fired? Because things weren't going that well. So take a listen.

Tom Chavez: Here we go.

On Why Tom Wasn’t Fired as CEO of Rapt

(Start Interview Clip)

Tom Chavez: So I've wanted to ask you a question now for about 25 years. So finally, I'm just going to blurt it out, Arthur. Early on at Rapt, I remember you used to tease me, we'd go into board meetings and he'd say, "Well, what's the business plan this time?" Because there was this zigging and zagging. I was a puppy, didn't know what... I had a lot to learn. Why didn't you fire me?

Arthur Patterson: Well, this goes back to this whole idea of persistent investing. And if we fire you or close the company... In that case you were the company, and we weren't about to get somebody else. There wasn't enough business there to attract anybody else to. If there had been you would have in trouble. But you make sure you got rid of all the good guys.

Tom Chavez: Well, that's a survival strategy of a sort. I didn't even think about that.

Arthur Patterson: So I think, though, that was an example where you were making progress. You were taking the same software base, you were repositioning it. And you were making enough progress that you could keep raising a little money and keep going. And the alternative is firing you, writing off the investment, and then having to go find some other experiment to climb in on.

Tom Chavez: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay.

Arthur Patterson: So lousy choices.

Tom Chavez: He made the decision that sucked a little less, sounds like.

Arthur Patterson: Yeah.

Tom Chavez: So years later, at the beginning of Krux, we were trying to figure out a thing. And I'm grateful and psyched that you got involved a little bit later, but not at the beginning. And we were angling trying to figure something out, and it didn't work.

When all of that was buttoned up, and I think I was very conscious of wanting to write a polite email thanking you and your partners for the time that you spent looking at it. But it was a little... We didn't get where we wanted to go, at least at that moment.

And I remember you wrote me back a short email, which I have still, where I said, "Sayonara, best of luck. We'll see you all later." And then you wrote back, "Tom, your demonic energy is welcome at Accel anytime." What was that about, the demonic energy?

Because I will tell you, that's become a term of art around here. And we can talk about that in a minute. I'm looking at Jeremy as I say this, demonic energy. But what did you have in mind by demonic energy? And what did you mean by that? Because it was at a time when things hadn't worked. I thought it was a strange thing to write.

Arthur Patterson: This was in Krux?

Tom Chavez: Yeah. I don't even know if you remember.

Arthur Patterson: And this is the beginning of Krux?

Tom Chavez: Yeah.

Arthur Patterson: Well, at the beginning of Krux, I remember just supporting you initially. But the partner, who was our sort of consumer partner and who was in Yahoo, just didn't click with you that well. And so I was trying to pass it on to a younger partner, the relationship onto a younger partner. But I think I ended up doing it for the firm, at that point in time anyway.

But it's back to this question of some cogs are better than other cogs in this process of demonic energy is really important. But I think it's a little bit like the way they rate diving, that they characterize the dive with one number and then how you did it with another. And as a venture guy, you want to pick off a seven or eight dive and have it done at 10, as opposed to the 10 dive done at five.

And demonic energy can get you up to the 10 on the doing. And you demonstrated, in Rapt's case, by virtually reinventing the company, I don't know how many times, that incredible intensity to the guy taking responsibility and figuring it out. And it's the entrepreneur and his team that's going to do that, it's not going to be the venture guy, for sure.

Tom Chavez: Phew. Finally, 25 years later, I get some clarity.

Arthur Patterson: I don't know, was it worse than I thought?

Tom Chavez: No, no, no. It's just good to talk about this stuff, finally.

Arthur Patterson: There was a demon living in there that I didn't even know about.

(End Clip)

Tom Chavez: Oh, that was funny. I hadn't listened to that since we had the conversation. But I guess two cheers for demonic energy. And then when he says that, and this is something that we carry forward, it's like, "Look, you are going to get kicked in the head and you are going to wobble. And if you think you're not, go home."

We're looking for steady progress, a little bit of progress, reasons to believe. It doesn't have to be tectonic and it rarely will be. Right? I guess that's one of the things I heard Arthur talking about. And I think that we were achieving it steadily.

Vivek Vaidya: Look, actually before I go there, how did you feel when you got the answer finally?

Tom Chavez: It felt a little bit like closure. It was helpful, it was clear. And yeah, I mean, there was no ill will or bad feeling hanging over my head, I've just always been curious. And now with the distance maybe, the distance that we have from all of that, it just makes an awful lot of sense. By the way, in our context at super{set}, given what you and I do at super{set}, it makes a lot of sense, especially against that backdrop.

Vivek Vaidya: Mm-hm. No, I think from the other side, there's no way that the people that we had... And we went through, what, three rounds of layoffs between 2001 and the end of 2002, or thereabouts. There was no way that the people who were working at the time, whenever it was, would've hung around if you weren't there.

Because the latitude and the demonic energy, the fact that we're still building something interesting... What did not happen at Rapt was that we did not let up on the innovation. We kept building, right? There was always new problems to solve. 

There is, again, that curiosity aspect that comes in, or that came in at the time. So we didn't lack for challenging problems to solve. And I think that's what they saw.

Tom Chavez: Well, and listen, as things get tumultuous in the outer economic environment right now, we had a community call in fact earlier today. Where it felt really important to note for people, "Hey, you might be a little freaked out and it's okay. But this is the good stuff. This is the best moment to lean in and build, because we're starting at a bottom."

And it's just an opportunity for continuous steady progress, managing your own psychology and not imagining that you're going to slay the dragon every single day. Steady up and to the right, with intensity.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah.

Tom Chavez: Okay, the last little clip here is we asked Arthur, what's the common thread across big hits and misses? Really useful insights here. Let's go take a listen.

On the Common Thread across Big Hits and Misses

(Start Interview Clip)

Arthur Patterson: Well, the good ones were good ideas. And depending... But as I was talking before, about these are experiments, and you're groping around, and everything's highly ambiguous. And frequently the founders, the best founders, are controversial individuals to say the least.

And so if I knew exactly how to tell you which are the good ones and the bad ones... I mean, I think I've gotten better at it over the years and can recognize good ones. I mean, really good ideas don't necessarily have to begin with the best individuals, because really the best individuals are attracted to the best ideas. And if you get a second rate idea, then good guys don't get attracted to it, or the good guys drift off and go find something better.

And in really hyped marketplaces, like we've had over the last eight years or so, you'll find multiple people executing around the same opportunity. And sometimes that works. I mean, Google came in after all the other search engines with a fairly minor differentiation and captured it. Facebook came in after some other guys, and with a fairly minor trick on who could use their URLs, blew everybody else out the market.

And, I mean, by the time we invested in Facebook, it was obvious it was a good idea. It was obvious to me, because I'd done media deals before. And so I can't give you an exact formula, but make sure it's a good idea and figure out why it's a good idea. Some of my disappointments in the '99, 2000 period where some of it is that just the market wasn't ready for.

Tom Chavez: Yeah.

Arthur Patterson: They were great ideas, but only in my head, not in terms of market acceptance.

(End Clip)

Tom Chavez: Well, and that's true for us too. Right? We have a lot of ideas around here. And I think you mentioned it in the last podcast, that it's not just the quality of the idea, but the timing. Is it time for it right now? We ask ourselves that question a lot these days.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah. This is one where I slightly disagree on the fact that it's all about the idea. And the fact that something is a good idea is only realized in retrospect. You go, "Oh, it was successful. So it was a good idea."

As Arthur was saying, there are lots of ideas that appear to be good, but they don't work out. Why? Because maybe they were not a good idea at the time. And so timing, as you were saying, becomes super, super critical.

Tom Chavez: Yeah. Arthur is kind of maybe talking out of both sides of his mouth, because he uses Google as an example. Well, there was nothing new or novel about the idea. It wasn't any worse of an idea than the prior eight search engines that came before. That a good idea? Or was it just the quality of the execution? Was it a minor adjustment? I think he's being uncharitable to the Google guys, it was a breakthrough kind of improvement in the algorithm and-

Vivek Vaidya: And also it's a business model.

Tom Chavez: And the business model. Well, that's where good old Bill Gross from Overture in Southern California doesn't get enough credit for pioneering the business model. But Google, to their credit, cloned and expanded on it.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah. And they executed much better on that great idea.

Tom Chavez: Yeah. So if guys like you and me sit around and talk about this stuff, yes, great ideas. That's the necessary condition. The sufficient condition is strong execution. Always.

Vivek Vaidya: Execution. Yeah, exactly.

Tom Chavez: And that's where we aim to earn our keep over here at super{set}. Well, listen, man, that was a fun little hang.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah. It was good to listen to the snippets again and then reflect.

Tom Chavez: Always good to take in scraps from Arthur's table. His partners have referred to him as the Riddler, so there's a lot of good stuff there if you're patiently able to take it in and learn from it, as we've been lucky to do over so many years.

Vivek Vaidya: Yeah.

Tom Chavez: Well, that's a wrap everybody. Thanks for listening to this edition. We hope you're learning from Arthur, as we have. And we'll see you on the next sesh.

Vivek Vaidya: Thank you, everyone.

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super{set}’s Spectrum Detoxifies The Online Space

We are living in a time of extraordinary concern about the negative consequences of online platforms and social media. We worry about the damage interactive technologies cause to society; about the impact to our mental health; and about the way that these platforms and their practices play to our most destructive impulses. Too often, the experiences we have online serve only to polarize, divide, and amplify the worst of human nature.

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Back to the Office, Kinda Sorta

With vaccines on the horizon, the idea of getting back to the workplace doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore. In this episode of The Closed Session, Tom and Vivek discuss what it's been like working from home, their likes, dislikes, and lessons learned. What pandemic habits are here to stay, and what pre-pandemic routines are likely to re-emerge? Between the 'back-to-workers' and the 'work-from-homers,' Tom and Vivek wonder whether a middle course is within reach.

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To SPAC or not to SPAC

Harpal Sandhu, a Silicon Valley veteran and friend of super{set}, joins Vivek and Tom and explains what the excitement about SPAC's is all about. How did we get from IPO's to SPAC's? What's a PIPE? And why does the $10 price show up? In this episode you'll understand why entrepreneurs might prefer a SPAC and how they navigate its possibilities and pitfalls with investors.

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From Watsonville To The Moon

This post was written by Habu software engineer, Martín Vargas-Vega, as part of our new #PassTheMic series.

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Not Just On Veterans Day

This post was written by Ketch Developer Advocate, Ryan Overton, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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The Balancing Act For Women in Tech

This post was written by Ketch Sales Director, Sheridan Rice, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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The Studio Model

What’s a startup studio? Is it just “venture capital” with another name?

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We don’t critique, we found and build.

The super{set} studio model for early-stage venture It is still early days for the startup studio model. We know this because at super{set} we still get questions from experienced operators and investors. One investor that we’ve known for years recently asked us: “you have a fund — aren’t you just a venture capital firm with a different label?”

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New Venture Ideation

Where do the ideas come from? How do we build companies from scratch at super{set}?

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Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

This post was written by MarkovML Co-Founder, Lindsey Meyl, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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Good Ideas, Good Luck

Coming up with new company ideas is easy: we take the day off, go to the park, and let the thoughts arrive like butterflies. Maybe we grab a coconut from that guy for a little buzz. While this describes a pleasant day in San Francisco, it couldn’t be further from the truth of what we do at super{set}. If only we could pull great ideas out of thin air. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

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Data Eats the World

The wheel. Electricity. The automobile. These are technologies that had a disproportionate impact on the merits of their first practical use-case; but beyond that, because they enabled so much in terms of subsequent innovation, economic historians call them “general-purpose technologies” or GPTs...

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The Four Types of Startup Opportunities

In our last post, we discussed how data is the new general-purpose technology and that is why at super{set} we form data-driven companies from scratch. But new technologies are a promise, not a sudden phase change.

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VCs Write Investment Memos, We Write Solution Memos

When a VC decides to invest in a company, they write up a document called the “Investment Memo” to convince their partners that the decision is sound. This document is a thorough analysis of the startup...

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People, First

What does it mean to be a super{set} co-founder and who do we look for? Why is the Head of Product the first co-founder we bring on board?

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The super{set} Entrepreneurial Guild

Has someone looking to make a key hire ever told you that they are after “coachability”? Take a look at the Google ngram for “coachability” — off like a rocket ship since the Dot Com bubble, and it’s not even a real word! Coaching is everywhere in Silicon Valley...

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Why Head of Product is Our First Co-Founder

At super{set}, we stand side-by-side and pick up the shovel with our co-founders. Our first outside co-founder at a super{set} company is usually a Head of Product. Let’s unpack each portion of that title....

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Why I'm Co-founding @ super{set}

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder at MarkovML, describes his Big Tech and startup experience and his journey to starting a company at super{set}.

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Too Dumb to Quit

The decision to start a company – or to join an early stage one – is an act of the gut. On good days, I see it as a quasi-spiritual commitment. On bad days, I see it as sheer irrationality. Whichever it is, you’ll be happier if you acknowledge and calmly accept the lunacy of it all...

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The Product Heist

Tom and Vivek describe how building the best product is like planning the perfect heist: just like Danny Ocean, spend the time upfront to blueprint and stage, get into the casino with the insertion product, then drill into the safe and make your escape with the perfect product roadmap.

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Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

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Early Stage Customers

Tom and Vivek discuss what the very first customers of a startup must look and act like, the staging and sequencing of setting up a sales operation with a feedback loop to product, and end with special guest Matt Kilmartin, CEO of Habu and former Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Krux, for his advice on effective entrepreneurial selling.

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Overheard @ super{summit}

Vivek Vaidya's takeaways from the inaugural super{summit}

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How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

Reflections after a summer as an engineering intern at super{set}

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Why I Left Google To Co-found with super{set}

Gal Vered of Checksum explains his rationale for leaving Google to co-found a super{set} company.

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The Era of Easy $ Is Over

The era of easy money - or at least, easy returns for VCs - is over. Tom Chavez is calling for VCs to show up in-person at August board meetings, get off the sidelines, and start adding real value and hands-on support for founders.

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The super{set} CEO

Tom and Vivek describe what the ideal CEO looks like in the early stage, why great product people aren’t necessarily going to make great CEOs, and what the division of labor looks like between the CEO and the rest of the early team. They then bring on special guest Dane E. Holmes from super{set} company Eskalera to hear about his decision to join a super{set} company and his lessons for early-stage leadership.

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How To Avoid Observability MELTdown

o11y - What is it? Why is it important? What are the tools you need? More importantly - how can you adopt an observability mindset? Habu Software Architect Siddharth Sharma reports from his session at super{summit} 2022.

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When Inference Meets Engineering

Othmane Rifki, Principal Applied Scientist at super{set} company Spectrum Labs, reports from the session he led at super{summit} 2022: "When Inference Meets Engineering." Using super{set} companies as examples, Othmane reveals the 3 ways that data science can benefit from engineering workflows to deliver business value.

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Infrastructure Headaches - Where’s the Tylenol?

Head of Infrastructure at Ketch, and Kapstan Advisor, Anton Winter explains a few of the infrastructure and DevOps headaches he encounters every day.

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Calling BULLSHIT

Tom and Vivek jump on the pod for a special bonus episode to call BULLSHIT on VCs, CEOs, the “categorical shit,” and more. So strap yourselves in because the takes are HOT.

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Former Salesforce SVP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation Jon Suarez-Davis “JSD” Appointed Chief Commercial Officer at super{set}

The Move Accelerates the Rapidly Growing Startup Studio’s Mission to Lead the Next Generation of AI and Data-Driven Market Innovation and Success

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Why I'm Joining super{set} as Chief Commercial Officer

Announcing Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) as super{set}’s Chief Commercial Officer: jsd tells us in his own words why he's joining super{set}

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When and Why to Bring on VCs

Tom and Vivek describe the lessons learned from fundraising at Rapt in 1999 - the height of the first internet bubble - through their experience at Krux - amid the most recent tech bubble. After sharing war stories, they describe how super{set} melds funding with hands-on entrepreneurship to set the soil conditions for long-term success.

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Startup Boards 101

Tom and Vivek have come full circle: in this episode they’re talking about closed session board meetings in The {Closed} Session. They discuss their experience in board meetings - even some tense ones - as serial founders and how they approach board meetings today as both co-founders and seed investors of the companies coming out of the super{set} startup studio.

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Q&A with Accel Founder Arthur Patterson

Arthur Patterson, founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call. Arthur and Tom cover venture investing, company-building, and even some personal stories from their history together.

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Arthur Patterson on Venture Investing

Arthur Patterson, the founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call.

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Four Tips for a Distributed Workforce

This month we pass the mic to Sagar Gaur, Software Engineer at super{set} MLOps company MarkovML, who shares with us his tips for working within a global startup with teams in San Francisco and Bengaluru, India

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Arthur Patterson on Company Building

Arthur Patterson, legendary VC and founder of Accel Partners, sits down with Tom Chavez to discuss insights into company building. Tom and Vivek review the tape on the latest episode of The {Closed} Session.

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7 Ways to Turn an Internship Into a Job at a Startup

Chris Fellowes, super{set} interned turned full time employee at super{set} portfolio company Kapstan, gives his 7 recommendations for how to turn an internship into a job at a startup.

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Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of pymetrics

Kicking off the fourth season of the {Closed} Session podcast with a great topic and guest: Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of pymetrics, which was recently acquired by Harver, joins us to talk about the critical role that technology and specifically AI and neuroscience can play in eliminating bias in hiring and beyond.

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Diamonds in the Rough

Obsessive intensity. Pack animal nature. Homegrown hero vibes. Unyielding grit. A chip on the shoulder. That's who we look for to join exceptional teams.

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The RevOps Bowtie Data Problem

Go-to-market has entered a new operating environment. Enter: RevOps. We dig into the next solution space for super{set}, analyzing the paradigm shift in GTM and the data challenges a new class of company must solve.

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Alysa Hutnik, Chief Privacy and Data Security Architect @ Ketch

We are delighted to share our new episode of the {Closed} Session podcast with guest Alyssa Hutnik. Alyssa looms large in the privacy world, and she’s been thinking deeply about the intersections of data, technology and the law for nearly two decades. She’s also the Chief Privacy and Data Security Architect at Ketch, a super{set} company, as well as a lawyer. Hope you enjoy the episode!

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The Information: "TikTok Is Not the Enemy"

Tom writes a nuanced take on the TikTok controversy and outlines ethical data principles that will restore people’s sense of trust and offer them true control over how and when they grant permission for use of their data.

read more

boombox.io Raises $7M to Build Out Creator Platform for Music Makers

super{set} startup studio portfolio company’s seed funding round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from Ulu Ventures Raise will enable boombox.io to accelerate product development on the way to becoming the winning creator platform for musicians globally

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Building the Creator Platform for Music Makers at Boombox.io

On the heels of boombox.io's $7M seed fundraise led by Forerunner, Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya sit down with boombox co-founders India Lossman and Max Mathieu for a special episode straight from super{summit} 2023 in New Orleans!

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From Chords, to Code, to Chords Again: The Story Behind Boombox.io

super{set} founding general partner Tom Chavez wasn’t always set on a life of engineering and entrepreneurship – music was his first love. For a time, he was determined to make a career out of it. With boombox.io, Tom has combined the best of both worlds into a product that inspires and delights both the engineer and the musician.

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Horizontal Scaling at super{summit}

Vivek gives us the rundown on what the hive is buzzing about after super{summit} 2023: how to 'horizontally scale' yourself.

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Generative AI + Creative Work with Big Technology's Alex Kantrowitz

Alex Kantrowitz, journalist and author of Big Technology, joins Tom and Vivek in the studio to discuss his road to journalism, ad tech, and the business and ethical considerations of generative AI.

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Jamming with Habu’s Matt Kilmartin on Partnership Strategy

Discover how Habu, a trailblazer in data clean room technology, utilizes strategic partnerships with giants like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS to expand its market reach and foster the potential of an emerging category. Learn from CEO Matt Kilmartin's insights on how collaboration is the secret sauce that brings innovation to life.

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MIT Professor Rama Ramakrishnan on How ChatGPT Works

MIT Professor Rama Ramakrishnan joins Vivek on the pod to delve into the evolution of Generative AI and ChatGPT, as well as his own journey as an entrepreneur turned business school professor.

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Pivots and Possibilities

Discover how lessons from law enforcement shape a thriving tech career. Ketch Sr. Business Development Representative Brenda Flores shares a bold career pivot in our latest "Pass the Mic" story.

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The Future of Work and Talent in Tech

Does it matter where you go to college? Should the SAT be abolished? Do you have to have a degree in computer science to work in tech? What are the differences between higher education in the US and in India? Why did Tom and Vivek ban Harvard and Stanford degrees from working at their first company?

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AI Alignment with Brian Christian of 'The Alignment Problem'

What does ‘AI alignment mean? Can philosophy help make AI less biased? How does reinforcement learning influence AI's unpredictability? How does AI's ‘frame problem’ affect its ability to understand objects? What role does human feedback play in machine learning and AI fine-tuning?

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Hold Fast: Game-Changing Wisdom from Seamus Blackley

Creator of the XBox and serial entrepreneur Seamus Blackley joined Tom Chavez on stage at the 2023 super{summit} in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a free-ranging conversation covering the intersection of creativity and technology, recovering back from setbacks to reach new heights, and a pragmatic reflection on the role of fear and regret in entrepreneurship.

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An Intro to Product-Led Growth from MarkovML

Want to grow your product organically? This blog post breaks down understanding costs, setting up starter plans, and pricing premium features using MarkovML as an example. Learn how to engage new users and encourage upgrades, enhancing user experience and fueling growth through actionable insights.

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Building Tech on a Moving Regulatory Target

In an interview with Ketch co-founder Max Anderson, the focus is on data privacy laws and AI's role. Anderson discusses the global privacy landscape, highlighting Ketch's approach to helping businesses navigate regulations. The conversation also emphasizes data dignity and Ketch's unique role in the AI revolution.

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AI Hot Takes: Deepfakes, The Big Stakes, and What to Make

Is AI our salvation or is it going to kill us all? Tom and Vivek roam widely on others’ takes about artificial intelligence, adding their insight and experience to the mix. Along the way they consider Descartes, Ray Kurzweil, Salt Bae, Marc Andreessen among others. If you are looking for a down to earth conversation that tempers the extremes at either end of the debate, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

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Lessons from the Startup Circus

super{set} Technical Lead and resident front-end engineering expert Sagar Jhobalia recaps lessons from participating in multiple product and team build-outs in our startup studio. Based on a decade of experience, Sagar emphasizes the importance of assembling the right engineering team, setting expectations, and strategically planning MVPs for early wins in the fast-paced startup environment.

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Navigating the Startup Journey from Launch to Finish Line

Are you a launcher, or a finisher? The balance of conviction, a guiding vision, and the right team to execute it all make the difference between entrepreneurial success and failure. Tom Chavez delves into his journey as a first-time CEO and the invaluable guidance he received from a key mentor.

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Understanding The AI “Alignment Problem”

Vivek Vaidya recaps his conversation with AI researcher and author of "The Alignment Problem" Brian Christian at the 2023 super{summit}.

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High-Velocity Personal Growth

What's the price you put on personal growth? In his most recent note to founders, super{set} Founding General Partner Vivek Vaidya outlines 7 points of advice for startup interviews and negotiations. Vivek explains his compensation philosophy and the balance between cash and the investment in personal and career growth a startup can bring. Here’s the mindset you need to reach your zenith at a startup.

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Harvard Computer Scientist James Mickens on The Ethical Tech Project

Are we walking a tightrope with AI, jeopardizing humanity's ethical core? Is AI more than just algorithms, acting as a mirror to our moral values? And when machine learning grapples with ethical dilemmas, who ultimately bears the responsibility? Harvard's Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, James Mickens, joins Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya on "The {Closed} Session."

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How Boombox Nurtures Customer Collaboration for Success

In a conversation with boombox's co-founder India Lossman, the discussion pivots to the art of fostering customer collaboration in music creation. Lossman unveils how artist-driven feedback shapes boombox's innovative platform, with a glimpse into AI's empowering potential. Understand the synergy between technology and user insights as they redefine the independent music landscape.

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ActiveFence Acquires super{set} Company Spectrum Labs

ActiveFence, the leading technology solution for Trust and Safety intelligence, management and content moderation, today announced its successful acquisition of Spectrum Labs, a pioneer in text-based Contextual AI Content Moderation.

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How Engineers Should Talk to Customers with Empathy

Do you get an uneasy feeling anytime you get added to a customer call? Do you ever struggle to respond to a frustrated customer? Peter Wang, Product lead at Ketch, discusses how customer feedback can help drive product development, and how engineers can use customer insights to create better products. Learn best practices for collecting and interpreting customer feedback.

read more

Tech Crunch: Answering AI’s biggest questions requires an interdisciplinary approach

Tom Chavez, writing in TechCrunch, calls for new approaches to the problems of Ethical AI: "We have to build a more responsible future where companies are trusted stewards of people’s data and where AI-driven innovation is synonymous with good. In the past, legal teams carried the water on issues like privacy, but the brightest among them recognize they can’t solve problems of ethical data use in the age of AI by themselves."

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Spectrum Co-founders Launch Nurdle AI

Justin Davis and Josh Newman, Co-founders of Spectrum Labs (acquired) launch Nurdle to get AI into production faster, cheaper & easier.

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Spotlight Series: Gal Vered, Co-founder of Checksum.ai

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio every episode. Up first: Gal Vered is co-founder and Head of Product at Checksum (checksum.ai), end to end test automation leveraging AI to test every corner of your app.

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The Product Mindset for Engineers

Ever find yourself scratching your head about product management decisions? Join India Lossman, co-founder of boombox.io, as she unpacks the product mindset for engineers. Unravel the art of synergy between PMs and engineers and delve into strategies to enhance collaboration and craft products that users will adore.

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Why Headlamp Health is Bringing Precision to Mental Health

Co-founder of Headlamp Health, Andrew Marshak, describes the frustratingly ambiguous state of mental health diagnoses - and the path forward for making mental health a precision science.

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Marketing in the Age of AI with Rex Briggs

How is AI steering the future of marketing strategy? With the convergence of AI and marketing tactics, Rex Briggs paints a compelling picture of what's possible: AI agents that revolutionize user interactions, and generative techniques that craft persuasive content. Drawing from his deep expertise in marketing measurement, Rex joins Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya to explore the cutting-edge of AI-driven marketing strategies. Listen for insights on harnessing AI's potential in modern marketing.

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Tom Chavez in Huffpost Personal for Hispanic Heritage Month

Writing in the Huffington Post: "My Mom Sent Me And My 4 Siblings To Harvard. Here's The 1 Thing I Tell People About Success."

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Developer tools that are worth their while: KEDA and Boundary in action

Running cloud platforms efficiently while keeping them secure can be challenging. In this blog post, learn how two of super{set}’s portfolio companies, MarkovML and Kapstan, are leveraging tools like KEDA for event-driven scale and Boundary for access management to remove friction for developers. Get insights into real-world use cases about optimizing resource usage and security without compromising productivity.

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Watch: Sandeep Bhandari Fireside Chat

Sandeep Bhandari, Former Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Risk Officer at buy now, pay later (BNPL) company Affirm, joins Vivek Vaidya, Founding General Partner of super{set}, in conversation.

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Spotlight Series: Andrew Marshak, Co-founder of Headlamp Health

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio every episode. Up now: Andrew Marshak is Co-founder and Head of Product at Headlamp Health (Headlamp.com), a healthtech company bringing greater precision to mental health care.

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Philosophy, Data, and AI Ethics with NYT Best-selling Author + Data Scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

From unpacking Google search patterns to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of big data, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers a unique lens. As the NYT Best-selling author of “Everybody Lies” and a renowned data scientist, he delves into the ways data mirrors societal nuances and the vast implications for tech and its intertwining with everyday life.

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Forbes: 5 Startup Studio Misconceptions

It's still early for the startup studio asset class - and we hear misconceptions about the studio model every day, ranging from the basic confusion of accelerators versus studios to downright incorrect assumptions on our deep commitment to the build-out of every company. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

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Ringside Tales from Serial Startup Champion Omar Tawakol

Like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, the fiercest competitors can sometimes become friends. Omar Tawakol is a prime example. As the founder and CEO of BlueKai, he went head-to-head with Tom, Vivek, and the 'Krux mafia' for dominance in the Data Management Platform arena. A serial entrepreneur with roots in New York and Egypt, Omar eventually steered BlueKai to a successful acquisition by Oracle before creating Voicea, which Cisco acquired. Today, he's pioneering a new venture called Rembrand (rembrand.com), which innovates in product placement through generative fusion AI.

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Spotlight Series: Lindsey Meyl, Co-founder of RevAmp

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio in every episode. Today's guest is Lindsey Meyl, Co-founder at RevAmp (rev-amp.ai), a "Datadog for RevOps" platform that offers observability across the revenue engine, monitoring performance, flagging when something is amiss, and determining the root cause of how to fix it.

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Why Proprietary Data Is the Linchpin of AI Disruption

Read Vivek Vaidya's latest in CDO Magazine and learn why in this new AI landscape, those who harness the potential of proprietary data and foster a culture of collaboration will lead the way—those who don't risk obsolescence.

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MedCity News: It’s Time for the Tech Revolution to Come to Mental Health Diagnoses

Headlamp Health co-founder Andrew Marshak writes in the MedCity News that "We need to take inspiration from the progress in oncology over the last few decades and challenge ourselves to adapt its successful playbook to mental illness. It’s time for precision psychiatry."

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What Consumers Think of AI and Their Privacy

Everyone’s talking about AI - so The Ethical Tech Project decided to listen. Joining forces with programmatic privacy and data+AI governance platform Ketch, The Ethical Tech Project surveyed a representative sample of 2,500 U.S. consumers and asked them about AI, the companies leveraging AI, and their sentiment and expectations around AI and privacy. On the latest episode of The {Closed} Session, get an inside look at the survey results in a deep-dive conversation with the team at The Ethical Tech Project.

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Why the AI Revolution Will Be Data-Centric

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder of MarkovML, joins super{set} Chief Commercial Officer Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the role of data in gaining a competitive advantage in the AI revolution. Learn the difference between optimizing models and optimizing data in machine learning applications, and why effective collaboration will make or break the next-gen AI applications being created in businesses.

read more

VCs Write Investment Memos, We Write Solution Memos

When a VC decides to invest in a company, they write up a document called the “Investment Memo” to convince their partners that the decision is sound. This document is a thorough analysis of the startup...

read more

From Watsonville To The Moon

This post was written by Habu software engineer, Martín Vargas-Vega, as part of our new #PassTheMic series.

read more

Why Headlamp Health is Bringing Precision to Mental Health

Co-founder of Headlamp Health, Andrew Marshak, describes the frustratingly ambiguous state of mental health diagnoses - and the path forward for making mental health a precision science.

read more

7 Ways to Turn an Internship Into a Job at a Startup

Chris Fellowes, super{set} interned turned full time employee at super{set} portfolio company Kapstan, gives his 7 recommendations for how to turn an internship into a job at a startup.

read more

Tech Crunch: Answering AI’s biggest questions requires an interdisciplinary approach

Tom Chavez, writing in TechCrunch, calls for new approaches to the problems of Ethical AI: "We have to build a more responsible future where companies are trusted stewards of people’s data and where AI-driven innovation is synonymous with good. In the past, legal teams carried the water on issues like privacy, but the brightest among them recognize they can’t solve problems of ethical data use in the age of AI by themselves."

read more

Why I'm Joining super{set} as Chief Commercial Officer

Announcing Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) as super{set}’s Chief Commercial Officer: jsd tells us in his own words why he's joining super{set}

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Redefining Customer Experience in Data-Driven Tech Startups

Ted Flanagan, Chief Customer Officer at super{set}-founded Habu, sat down with Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to provide insights into how Habu's strategies in customer experience set it apart in the data collaboration market. Learn how customer experience strategies helped Habu land a $200 million after being acquired by LiveRamp in January 2024.

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boombox.io Raises $7M to Build Out Creator Platform for Music Makers

super{set} startup studio portfolio company’s seed funding round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from Ulu Ventures Raise will enable boombox.io to accelerate product development on the way to becoming the winning creator platform for musicians globally

read more

How Engineers Should Talk to Customers with Empathy

Do you get an uneasy feeling anytime you get added to a customer call? Do you ever struggle to respond to a frustrated customer? Peter Wang, Product lead at Ketch, discusses how customer feedback can help drive product development, and how engineers can use customer insights to create better products. Learn best practices for collecting and interpreting customer feedback.

read more

Why Head of Product is Our First Co-Founder

At super{set}, we stand side-by-side and pick up the shovel with our co-founders. Our first outside co-founder at a super{set} company is usually a Head of Product. Let’s unpack each portion of that title....

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Why CTOs Should Care About Gross Margins, Cost-to-Serve, and Product Management

Why should a tech exec care about profit and loss? Aren’t our jobs to make the product great, and someone else can figure out how to make the numbers add up? That was my attitude for a long time until I finally appreciated the significance of gross margins for SaaS businesses during the early part of my tenure as the CTO of Krux.

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super{set} Fund II: $90 million to intensify our serial focus on data+ai company building

Announcing super{set} Fund II

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Building Fast, Scaling Globally

Harshil Vyas joined the super{set} Hive (i.e., portfolio companies community) in March 2023 as Co-Founder of Kapstan and employee number one in India. We jumped on a Zoom recently to talk about accelerated timelines, globally distributed workforces, and what is unique about the super{set} model.

read more

Data Eats the World

The wheel. Electricity. The automobile. These are technologies that had a disproportionate impact on the merits of their first practical use-case; but beyond that, because they enabled so much in terms of subsequent innovation, economic historians call them “general-purpose technologies” or GPTs...

read more

High-Velocity Personal Growth

What's the price you put on personal growth? In his most recent note to founders, super{set} Founding General Partner Vivek Vaidya outlines 7 points of advice for startup interviews and negotiations. Vivek explains his compensation philosophy and the balance between cash and the investment in personal and career growth a startup can bring. Here’s the mindset you need to reach your zenith at a startup.

read more

Infrastructure Headaches - Where’s the Tylenol?

Head of Infrastructure at Ketch, and Kapstan Advisor, Anton Winter explains a few of the infrastructure and DevOps headaches he encounters every day.

read more

Lessons from the Startup Circus

super{set} Technical Lead and resident front-end engineering expert Sagar Jhobalia recaps lessons from participating in multiple product and team build-outs in our startup studio. Based on a decade of experience, Sagar emphasizes the importance of assembling the right engineering team, setting expectations, and strategically planning MVPs for early wins in the fast-paced startup environment.

read more

The Information: "TikTok Is Not the Enemy"

Tom writes a nuanced take on the TikTok controversy and outlines ethical data principles that will restore people’s sense of trust and offer them true control over how and when they grant permission for use of their data.

read more

The Era of Easy $ Is Over

The era of easy money - or at least, easy returns for VCs - is over. Tom Chavez is calling for VCs to show up in-person at August board meetings, get off the sidelines, and start adding real value and hands-on support for founders.

read more

The Information: The People OpenAI Should Consider for Its New Board

Tom Chavez writes in The Information that "OpenAI’s board needs a data ethicist, a philosopher of mind, a neuroscientist, a computer scientist with interdisciplinary expertise and a political strategist."

read more

Too Dumb to Quit

The decision to start a company – or to join an early stage one – is an act of the gut. On good days, I see it as a quasi-spiritual commitment. On bad days, I see it as sheer irrationality. Whichever it is, you’ll be happier if you acknowledge and calmly accept the lunacy of it all...

read more

super{set}’s Spectrum Detoxifies The Online Space

We are living in a time of extraordinary concern about the negative consequences of online platforms and social media. We worry about the damage interactive technologies cause to society; about the impact to our mental health; and about the way that these platforms and their practices play to our most destructive impulses. Too often, the experiences we have online serve only to polarize, divide, and amplify the worst of human nature.

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Horizontal Scaling at super{summit}

Vivek gives us the rundown on what the hive is buzzing about after super{summit} 2023: how to 'horizontally scale' yourself.

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Forbes: 5 Startup Studio Misconceptions

It's still early for the startup studio asset class - and we hear misconceptions about the studio model every day, ranging from the basic confusion of accelerators versus studios to downright incorrect assumptions on our deep commitment to the build-out of every company. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

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Why the AI Revolution Will Be Data-Centric

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder of MarkovML, joins super{set} Chief Commercial Officer Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the role of data in gaining a competitive advantage in the AI revolution. Learn the difference between optimizing models and optimizing data in machine learning applications, and why effective collaboration will make or break the next-gen AI applications being created in businesses.

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Tom Chavez in Huffpost Personal for Hispanic Heritage Month

Writing in the Huffington Post: "My Mom Sent Me And My 4 Siblings To Harvard. Here's The 1 Thing I Tell People About Success."

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Jamming with Habu’s Matt Kilmartin on Partnership Strategy

Discover how Habu, a trailblazer in data clean room technology, utilizes strategic partnerships with giants like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS to expand its market reach and foster the potential of an emerging category. Learn from CEO Matt Kilmartin's insights on how collaboration is the secret sauce that brings innovation to life.

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Forbes: Why The Biden-Xi Talks Should Put A Microscope On San Francisco

The prettifying and securing of downtown San Francisco, where super{set} is headquartered, should be the norm - not just for special state visits from the world's dictators. Here are 3 things the city of San Francisco should be doing all year round to make the city better to live, work, and invest in. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

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Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

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ActiveFence Acquires super{set} Company Spectrum Labs

ActiveFence, the leading technology solution for Trust and Safety intelligence, management and content moderation, today announced its successful acquisition of Spectrum Labs, a pioneer in text-based Contextual AI Content Moderation.

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Why I Left Google To Co-found with super{set}

Gal Vered of Checksum explains his rationale for leaving Google to co-found a super{set} company.

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We don’t critique, we found and build.

The super{set} studio model for early-stage venture It is still early days for the startup studio model. We know this because at super{set} we still get questions from experienced operators and investors. One investor that we’ve known for years recently asked us: “you have a fund — aren’t you just a venture capital firm with a different label?”

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Good Ideas, Good Luck

Coming up with new company ideas is easy: we take the day off, go to the park, and let the thoughts arrive like butterflies. Maybe we grab a coconut from that guy for a little buzz. While this describes a pleasant day in San Francisco, it couldn’t be further from the truth of what we do at super{set}. If only we could pull great ideas out of thin air. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

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Why Proprietary Data Is the Linchpin of AI Disruption

Read Vivek Vaidya's latest in CDO Magazine and learn why in this new AI landscape, those who harness the potential of proprietary data and foster a culture of collaboration will lead the way—those who don't risk obsolescence.

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The RevOps Bowtie Data Problem

Go-to-market has entered a new operating environment. Enter: RevOps. We dig into the next solution space for super{set}, analyzing the paradigm shift in GTM and the data challenges a new class of company must solve.

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Forbes: Why A Collaborative Approach Trumps "Lone Genius" In Company-Building

Off the heels of super{set}'s first exit - the acquisition of data collaboration company Habu by LiveRamp for $200 Million - Tom Chavez writes how the super{set} approach to collaboration in company building leads to successful outcomes.

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From Suitcases to Startups: Why Immigrants Innovate

How are immigrants like entrepreneurs? Peter Wang of Ketch arrived in the U.S. at age 7 with two suitcases and a box. Read his story in the latest "Pass The Mic."

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When Inference Meets Engineering

Othmane Rifki, Principal Applied Scientist at super{set} company Spectrum Labs, reports from the session he led at super{summit} 2022: "When Inference Meets Engineering." Using super{set} companies as examples, Othmane reveals the 3 ways that data science can benefit from engineering workflows to deliver business value.

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Spectrum Co-founders Launch Nurdle AI

Justin Davis and Josh Newman, Co-founders of Spectrum Labs (acquired) launch Nurdle to get AI into production faster, cheaper & easier.

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How Boombox Nurtures Customer Collaboration for Success

In a conversation with boombox's co-founder India Lossman, the discussion pivots to the art of fostering customer collaboration in music creation. Lossman unveils how artist-driven feedback shapes boombox's innovative platform, with a glimpse into AI's empowering potential. Understand the synergy between technology and user insights as they redefine the independent music landscape.

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The Product Mindset for Engineers

Ever find yourself scratching your head about product management decisions? Join India Lossman, co-founder of boombox.io, as she unpacks the product mindset for engineers. Unravel the art of synergy between PMs and engineers and delve into strategies to enhance collaboration and craft products that users will adore.

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Why I'm Co-founding @ super{set}

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder at MarkovML, describes his Big Tech and startup experience and his journey to starting a company at super{set}.

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Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

This post was written by MarkovML Co-Founder, Lindsey Meyl, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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Pivots and Possibilities

Discover how lessons from law enforcement shape a thriving tech career. Ketch Sr. Business Development Representative Brenda Flores shares a bold career pivot in our latest "Pass the Mic" story.

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Watch: Sandeep Bhandari Fireside Chat

Sandeep Bhandari, Former Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Risk Officer at buy now, pay later (BNPL) company Affirm, joins Vivek Vaidya, Founding General Partner of super{set}, in conversation.

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Building Tech on a Moving Regulatory Target

In an interview with Ketch co-founder Max Anderson, the focus is on data privacy laws and AI's role. Anderson discusses the global privacy landscape, highlighting Ketch's approach to helping businesses navigate regulations. The conversation also emphasizes data dignity and Ketch's unique role in the AI revolution.

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The Balancing Act For Women in Tech

This post was written by Ketch Sales Director, Sheridan Rice, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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Diamonds in the Rough

Obsessive intensity. Pack animal nature. Homegrown hero vibes. Unyielding grit. A chip on the shoulder. That's who we look for to join exceptional teams.

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The super{set} Entrepreneurial Guild

Has someone looking to make a key hire ever told you that they are after “coachability”? Take a look at the Google ngram for “coachability” — off like a rocket ship since the Dot Com bubble, and it’s not even a real word! Coaching is everywhere in Silicon Valley...

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Navigating the Startup Journey from Launch to Finish Line

Are you a launcher, or a finisher? The balance of conviction, a guiding vision, and the right team to execute it all make the difference between entrepreneurial success and failure. Tom Chavez delves into his journey as a first-time CEO and the invaluable guidance he received from a key mentor.

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CalMatters: Why visa reforms benefit not just California’s tech sector but the economy overall

Vivek Vaidya writes that America needs more H-1B workers. Common sense reforms to the program will even the playing field for startups, not Big Tech, to bring innovative talent to American's shores.

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MedCity News: It’s Time for the Tech Revolution to Come to Mental Health Diagnoses

Headlamp Health co-founder Andrew Marshak writes in the MedCity News that "We need to take inspiration from the progress in oncology over the last few decades and challenge ourselves to adapt its successful playbook to mental illness. It’s time for precision psychiatry."

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Jeremy Klein on Leading super{set}'s Data-Driven $90 Million Fund II

Jeremy Klein is a general partner at super{set}. Jeremy helped build super{set} from day one alongside Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya, designing super{set}’s structure, recruiting co-founders, and laying the plans for a scalable buildout. super{set} recently announced the closing of its $90 million Fund II. He sat down with Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to provide insights into the strategic timing and vision behind launching Fund II, his professional journey from a legal expert to an integral part of super{set}'s fabric, and how his unique background and approach have been instrumental in building super{set} and recruiting top-tier co-founders.

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How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

Reflections after a summer as an engineering intern at super{set}

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How To Avoid Observability MELTdown

o11y - What is it? Why is it important? What are the tools you need? More importantly - how can you adopt an observability mindset? Habu Software Architect Siddharth Sharma reports from his session at super{summit} 2022.

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Developer tools that are worth their while: KEDA and Boundary in action

Running cloud platforms efficiently while keeping them secure can be challenging. In this blog post, learn how two of super{set}’s portfolio companies, MarkovML and Kapstan, are leveraging tools like KEDA for event-driven scale and Boundary for access management to remove friction for developers. Get insights into real-world use cases about optimizing resource usage and security without compromising productivity.

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Detecting Software Bugs with AI

Gal Vered is co-founder and Head of Product at Checksum (checksum.ai), an innovative company that provides end-to-end test automation that leverages AI to test every corner of an app. He sat down with Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the exciting problem that Checksum is solving with AI and what Gal likes best about working in super{set}'s startup studio model.

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super{set} Celebrates First Exit: LiveRamp to Acquire Data Collaboration Software Startup Habu for $200M

LiveRamp Enters Into Definitive Agreement to Acquire Habu, Reinforcing super{set}'s Unique Company Building Model of Founding, Funding, and Scaling Data+AI Businesses

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Hold Fast: Game-Changing Wisdom from Seamus Blackley

Creator of the XBox and serial entrepreneur Seamus Blackley joined Tom Chavez on stage at the 2023 super{summit} in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a free-ranging conversation covering the intersection of creativity and technology, recovering back from setbacks to reach new heights, and a pragmatic reflection on the role of fear and regret in entrepreneurship.

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Q&A with Accel Founder Arthur Patterson

Arthur Patterson, founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call. Arthur and Tom cover venture investing, company-building, and even some personal stories from their history together.

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Podcast: Tom Chavez on How AI Startups Can Show Us What’s Next in Marketing

Tom Chavez joins the "Decoding AI for Marketing" podcast published by MMA Global and hosted by well-respected international marketing & AI experts Greg Stuart (CEO, Author, Investor, Speaker) and Rex Briggs (Founder/CEO, Inventor, Author, Speaker).

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Not Just On Veterans Day

This post was written by Ketch Developer Advocate, Ryan Overton, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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Four Tips for a Distributed Workforce

This month we pass the mic to Sagar Gaur, Software Engineer at super{set} MLOps company MarkovML, who shares with us his tips for working within a global startup with teams in San Francisco and Bengaluru, India

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Former Salesforce SVP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation Jon Suarez-Davis “JSD” Appointed Chief Commercial Officer at super{set}

The Move Accelerates the Rapidly Growing Startup Studio’s Mission to Lead the Next Generation of AI and Data-Driven Market Innovation and Success

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Tech Crunch: Boutique startup studio super{set} gets another $90 million to co-found data and AI companies

Startup studio super{set} has a fresh exit under its belt with the sale of marketing company Habu to LiveRamp for $200 million in January. Now, super{set} is adding another $90 million to its coffers as it doubles down on its strategy of building enterprise startups.

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An Intro to Product-Led Growth from MarkovML

Want to grow your product organically? This blog post breaks down understanding costs, setting up starter plans, and pricing premium features using MarkovML as an example. Learn how to engage new users and encourage upgrades, enhancing user experience and fueling growth through actionable insights.

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Overheard @ super{summit}

Vivek Vaidya's takeaways from the inaugural super{summit}

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The Four Types of Startup Opportunities

In our last post, we discussed how data is the new general-purpose technology and that is why at super{set} we form data-driven companies from scratch. But new technologies are a promise, not a sudden phase change.

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From Chords, to Code, to Chords Again: The Story Behind Boombox.io

super{set} founding general partner Tom Chavez wasn’t always set on a life of engineering and entrepreneurship – music was his first love. For a time, he was determined to make a career out of it. With boombox.io, Tom has combined the best of both worlds into a product that inspires and delights both the engineer and the musician.

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Understanding The AI “Alignment Problem”

Vivek Vaidya recaps his conversation with AI researcher and author of "The Alignment Problem" Brian Christian at the 2023 super{summit}.

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