Hide

Sign Up

Get our monthly newsletter in your inbox.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
see all feed
see all Podcasts
see all Elements
{feed}
No items found.

People, First

June 13, 2022
Written By
June 13, 2022
Season 3 Episode 3
30:56
Written By

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?

Tom and Vivek share what they look for in a Head of Product co-founder and why that is the first hire they make when a new company is out of the gate at super{set}. They are then joined by Pankaj Rajan, co-founder at MarkovML, for a Q&A on his background, why he joined MarkovML, and his experience at super{set} so far.

Everything we do, every company we build is based on a philosophy of “People, Product, Customers” — in that order. We mean it: people first. We don’t build alone. At every company we start, we do it alongside a talented product-oriented co-founder whom we recruit to join us. Our success is predicated on starting with the best outside talent.

Tom and Vivek share what they look for in the very first hire for every super{set} company: a Head of Product Co-founder with grit, humility, organized thinking, and clock speed. They discuss why the Head of Product is the first hire and their views on the Product Manager role and discipline in the context of their decades of experience in Silicon Valley. Finally, Pankaj Rajan joins for a Q&A — about where he was before super{set}, his previous startup scar tissue, what he is doing at MarkovML (super{set}’s new MLOps company), and how his experience as a super{set} co-founder has been so far.

Learn more about how we at super{set} found and fund data-driven companies at superset.com

Transcript — Season 3 Episode 3

Voice over: Welcome to The Closed Session, How To Get Paid In Silicon Valley, with your host, Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya.

Tom Chavez: Welcome, everybody, to the third episode of season three of The Closed Session. My name is Tom.

Vivek Vaidya: And I’m Vivek Vaidya.

What Makes A Great Co-founder

Tom: We are going to pick up, in a way, where we left off. In the last episode, we were talking about this craftsmanship not critique approach that we have to collaborative company building. We’ve said it’s all about people, so in this session, we want to get into the guts of what it makes to be a great co-founder.

Vivek: That’s right. We’re going to tell potential co-founders what we’re looking for and describe how our craft not critique approach results in collaborative company building.

Tom: So everybody in Silicon Valley is talking a lot about mentorship and coaching, it’s a buzzy thing, everybody has coaches, which is great. Coaching isn’t the whole enchilada.

Vivek: That’s right.

Tom: You got to do, right?

Vivek: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tom: So, the approach that we have in mind over here is one where we lock arms with co-founders. And of course, there is learning by doing, but it’s all about getting into the dirt under your fingernails and connecting to the grist of company building.

Vivek: That’s right. And it’s also our commitment to continuous improvement. We don’t claim to have figured everything out. We’re also works-in-progress. So through this process, we’re learning and we want to improve ourselves as well.

Tom: By the way, we’ve said that along the way. We need to learn too. Part of what we just need, from the job, is to show up at work every day, learn some new things, make your brain hurt. We do that in partnership with the co-founders that we’re lucky to work with. In the olden times, there was this idea of an apprentice, right? And maybe, these days people worry about the word, it feels… I don’t know, it depositions the apprentice and-

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: We don’t like caste systems. But the concept was a good one, right?

Vivek: Yeah.

Tom: Because it establishes the idea of tutelage and partnership between somebody who knows some stuff wants to share it with somebody who wants to learn that stuff.

Vivek: Yeah. The core idea over there, or the crux over there, which at least appealed to me, was this idea of partnership. Again, going back to what we just said about continuous improvement, apprenticeship, the way we see it, is a partnership that we create between ourselves and the co-founders that we bring on board.

Tom: That’s right. So in a sense, we’re kind of creating a guild, not cult, it’s a guild, committed to the craft of company building. It’s all about people, and co-founders are fundamental. So, let’s get into it. What are we looking for in the core disposition of a co-founder? You want to maybe give us a quick recap, from the sort of keeping the [crosstalk]-

Vivek: Yeah. So there were four things, right? There’s grit, there’s humility, organized thinking, and clock speed.

  1. Grit
  2. Humility
  3. Organized Thinking
  4. Clock Speed

Vivek: Why these four things? Because we have good reasons for all four, right?

Grit

Vivek: Grit, because company building from scratch is not for the meek of spirit, Tom. You know that, right? So we look for co-founders that can show up and can literally take a punch.

Tom: We’ve seen a lot of co-founders, right? Who had what venture capitalists like to call the pedigree, that they have the training and the education. They’re show horses, they trot them out for the stables. They look great, right? And yet, when the first curve balls or their first kicks to the gut happen in company building, they bravely turn their tails and flee.

Vivek: Yeah.

Tom: You need grit. You need to be able to take a punch. You need able to stick with it.

Humility

Vivek: And then, related to that is humility, right? Startups are built on strong convictions and loosely held opinions, right? So, you need to be humble about the fact that you don’t know everything.

Tom: So another failure mode we’ve seen, right? The very reason we focus on these things is because we’ve seen the perils of what happens when you don’t have these qualities.

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: Co-founders who show up, too cocky, too convinced, too certain. It’s always a path to perdition.

Vivek: It is. We’ve talked about the certainty to knowledge ratio in the past, right? We’re looking for people who have really low certainty to knowledge ratios, right?

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: So…

Organized Thinking

Tom: Organized thinking. What’s that about?

Vivek: I think, look, there are a lot of people who have the technical chops perhaps to build products, right? But can they organize all of that complicated thinking into simple concepts-

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: That can be communicated up and down the stack, left to right, to various stakeholders? That’s what we mean by organized thinking.

Tom: Right. There are a lot of great technicians who are virtuosic in certain swim lanes where they reside. What we have in mind here with organized thinking is the ability to kind of come up a level, maybe go to the balcony, and see the whole sweep, connect the pieces of the solution, because a lot of this is about systems of systems in fact, when we’re building our systems of systems. So you need somebody who can kind of taxonomize the elements of the total solution, think clearly about the whole thing while still going deep when they need to.

Vivek: That’s right. We talk about dot connecting, right? Dot connecting as a learnable skill. It’s perhaps not teachable, but it is learnable. And that’s what we mean by organized thinking.

Clock Speed

Tom: Yeah. And the final one is clock speed. And here, we’re going to be careful, right? This is a subject for a separate podcast, the way people dwell on matters of IQ and standardized testing, and there’s a lot of clever test takers out there, god bless them. So we’re not going to get crazy about this stuff, but there is an element to this about clock speed which is about just keeping up and learning fast and being able to process information and connect those dots you talked about-

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: At the speed of light.

Vivek: Yeah. I think that’s really it, right? It’s the ability to process information as quickly as possible to figure out what’s going on and then figure out the implications of what the information is presented means, right?

Tom: Right.

Vivek: That doesn’t necessarily require high test scores, as you’re pointing out, but you do need the ability to process things at a certain clip.

Why We Hire Head of Product First

Tom: That’s right. So those are the bread crumbs we talked about in a prior podcast, and that’s the sort of table setting for what we want to talk about now when we get into the product co-founder. Let’s dwell on this now. So, the first hire we make when we’re standing up a new company is a product co-founder. Why do we do it that way, Vivek?

Vivek: Because the company formation thesis we have at super{set} is all about starting with the product, right? What are we going to build? What problems are we trying to solve? And more importantly, how do we connect all of those problems and solutions into a broader product strategy? Because we want to create large, ambitious visions that we want to execute on.

Tom: That’s right. So look, we’ve been at this for a while and I think it’s safe to say 20, 25 years ago, product wasn’t necessarily a thing. In the 90s when you were starting a company, right? It was somebody with an idea, and then frequently, venture capitalists would bring in a VP of engineering-

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: To “Code it up,” right?

Vivek: Yeah.

Tom: I suggest that sort of in the early 2000s, there was this tilt that suddenly happened where people realized, “Wait a minute. Between the engineers who are coding the thing and the person with the idea or the vision who’s beating the drums and trying to get people to do it, there’s this important middle ground that is really the realm of great product.” Right?

Vivek: Yep.

Tom: Google, we’ve got to have a quick moment of appreciation for them, they launched this APM, Associate-

Vivek: Product Management, yeah.

Tom: Product Management function, and it became a discipline, right? That Google created. I think a lot of companies followed it. Certainly from my own vantage point, it’s clear that there’s this appreciation now for how do you explain, see the whole product, but in an analytic way? It’s not a product marketing, hand wavy thing. It’s an engineering undertaking, but it’s not necessarily encumbered by all of the technical details on-

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: How you’re going to code it up.

Vivek: Correct. And we’ll cover this in detail in another podcast, but what we’re talking about here is there’s something in the middle which is in between the product marketing narrative around what the company does, et cetera, and the Jira tickets that need to be filed to actually build the product. What sits in the middle?

Tom: Right, [crosstalk]-

Vivek: That’s what we mean by product management.

Tom: Now, you’re taking me to a thing. So let’s pick that up, because those Jira tickets and the catalog of all of the features and the things that are broken, it matters, and a good product leader needs to be willing to get into the nuts and bolts of that. The challenge that we see is that there are a lot of folks out there, who carry them, who want to be product people. They carry themselves with that idea, they put it on their resume, and we’ve seen a lot of these folks come in.

Vivek: Yes, we have.

Tom: They’re feature function loggers, right?

Vivek: Yep.

Tom: They catalog all of these things and they keep a list. What’s problematic with just that? If that’s the whole thing, what’s the problem there?

Vivek: You miss the forest for the trees, right?

Tom: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Vivek: And so, we want our product leaders to be strategists and empaths, right? You really need to be empathetic towards the customers for whom you’re solving these problems, right?

Tom: Right.

Vivek: And you need to be able to connect it all together in a cohesive product strategy. I think that’s what these feature loggers oftentimes miss out is that, “Oh yeah, these 10 things need to be done.” Why? How do they connect to a broader story? What’s the overall broader strategic narrative that we’re taking to market? They miss out on that.

Tom: We’ve touched on this briefly in our prior podcast, but we have this discipline that we adhere to around typically three stages for a company’s build out, and it’s all product centric, right?

Vivek: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tom: So for example, Ketch, the data privacy security company, three stages, comply, control, secure, in that order. That’s the build-out. It’s the narrative, it’s the positioning and posture of the company, it defines everything that we do with customers, and of course, it lays out the-

Vivek: The groundwork, yeah.

Tom: Product strategy, right? Now, when we do that, to your point about how features and functions and logs of tickets and so on aren’t enough, you have to establish sort of the post conditions of stage one, right? As the preconditions for-

Vivek: Stage two.

Tom: Stage two. So, there you have it. The product strategists is seeing that whole suite, right? And they’re laying it out in a blueprint, ideally defined at the founding of the company.

Vivek: At the founding of the company. And I think this is the one kind of big thing we learned from our own experience building Krux is that we crafted that product strategy while we were sitting at your kitchen table many years ago. It really helped us. And I think that’s one discipline where we’re actually pretty non-negotiable about in the company build-outs that we’re carrying out at Superset.

Tom: Now, to build a little suspense, because we’re going to have a special guest come in here in a minute-

Vivek: We are.

Tom: And we just had a very serious jam session with him and other members of our team in this company. We’re looking at that three stage model, and there’s an element to the third stage where we don’t know exactly-

Vivek: How we’re going to get there.

Tom: How it plays out. We don’t know point-to-point and that’s okay, right? Because we have conviction that if we’re laying out those initial steps using this organized thinking approach, right? You’re going to have the sort of flywheel effect where the company, as a learning organism, is figuring out how to get to those endpoints.

Vivek: That’s exactly right.

Tom: Right?

Vivek: Yeah.

Tom: And we’re very comfortable and zen-like about it. You can be a little cocky, right? In stage three. In fact, if you’re not being just a little bit grandiose, you’re not doing it right.

Vivek: Correct. By definition, you have to be grandiose. And by definition, there has to be more uncertainty the further you’re looking out on the horizon because you have more information about stage one right now, right? And what you learn in stage one will inform stage two, but you still need to make those bets-

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: As to where are we going to go? And that’s what the strategy is all about.

Tom: 100%. So, I said we’re going to build a little suspense here and have our product co-founder come on in here. We want to interview our special guest, Elvis is in the building. Give us a second. We’re going to reset. We’ll be right back.

Vivek: We’ll be right back.

Pankaj Rajan, Co-founder: MarkovML

Tom: We are back. I told you we were going to take a little break, reset, we had a special guest, Elvis was in the building. Are we here to have him now with us, Vivek?

Vivek: Yeah. And we have Pankaj Rajan with us, who is our co-founder and head of product and engineering at Markov ML. Before joining Markov, Pankaj was at Amazon in the Alexa group. And before that, he was an ML architect at Walmart. Welcome, Pankaj.

Pankaj: Thanks, Vivek and Tom. Pleasure to be here.

Tom: Thanks for being here, Pankaj. Listen, before the break, we were talking about product co-founders. You are our product co-founder at a new company called Markov ML. We’re really excited about it. We were talking about what it takes to be a great product co-founder, and one of the questions that frequently comes up now in this context is, well, what about industry expertise, right? And you kind of fit a very well understood model where you come to this undertaking and you have so much experience in this domain. Can you tell us a little bit about how you accumulated that experience and how does it become relevant to what we’re building out at Markov?

Pankaj: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The experience started off mostly because of passion, right? You have to be passionate about something and just do it because you like doing that. So I started doing machine learning when I was in college, 2002. Was fascinated by a robot landing on Mars, how an autonomous robot would work millions of miles away from here. Got fascinated about image processing in general, and spent almost all my undergrad year learning about maths and machine learning in different forms. Sometimes, you don’t understand what’s happening. It was way beyond my expertise at that time. But then, you have to persevere, you have to learn. Did go to some good ML schools, learned more about machine learning, ended up in the US.

Tom: Arguably, at a time when machine learning wasn’t even necessarily a term of art.

Pankaj: Yeah, machine learning was not the term of art. We used to call it soft computing at that point of time. You had to just assign a label to it like what you’re doing. And it was artificial neural networks, now deep learning, which was kind of… The name just went away.

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: Yeah. As we were saying, you’ve been in Amazon and you’ve been at Walmart working on complex machine learning problems and products, right? How are those roles different from what you’re doing at Markov now?

Pankaj: At a high level, big companies like Walmart and Amazon, they are both huge companies, and there are pros and cons. The thing is that most of the improvements there are incremental improvements. Even though they may be looked at as innovations, but they are incremental improvements. And then, the entire focus is focused on what you can do within the constraints of these big companies, their revenue model, their messaging, what they want to accomplish. And even if you fail there, it’s okay. I mean, you may not get a hike, you may learn something, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a blip.

Pankaj: Startup is different because A, you really need to have a point of view, the way you want the world to look like, right? A lot of times, you don’t know that. You just have a hypothesis, and every time you have to go and negate that hypothesis. And you have to be very deliberate about it, because it kind of hurts your ego, that this is the world I want to see, but it’s not happening. It’s not happening because. That’s very important. And when you know the because, then you have to go and critique it and see how can it evolve into A, something you’re passionate about, but more importantly, is it a problem? Does it solve a problem that your customers will pay for? And before they pay, do they love it? They won’t pay for something that they don’t love.

Tom: Before you joined us, Vivek talked about great product leadership as strategy plus empathy, right?

Pankaj: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tom: And so, what I hear you getting to is this question of, well, how do I empathize with the needs of my users, the people who are going to adopt this technology? It’s a trap, right?

Pankaj: Yup.

Tom: That I think great techies frequently fall into. “Uh, customers, use cases, blah, blah, blah. Who cares?” No, that’s the good stuff. And you can’t really be great at that as a product leader, unless you’re constantly, in your mind’s eye at least, empathizing with the end users of the technology while you’re down here at nine decimal points grappling with an extremely technical issue.

Pankaj: Yep. And I think the biggest distinction is also understanding difference between want and needs. If you go and ask customer what they want, they’re going to tell you the moon, and that’s good. By the time you build this moon, they want something new.

Tom: Right.

Pankaj: So, you always have to understand what they need. And as a techie, you always fell into this trap of what they want versus what they need.

Tom: Right.

Pankaj: I mean, there’s a subtle difference between the two.

Tom: Hey, so we’re talking a lot about the big companies, Amazon and Walmart, but before Walmart, you were in a startup, right? And forgive me, I forget the chronology, not quite right, but let’s talk about the startup because you’ve got [crosstalk]. Talk about that startup experience. What’s similar between that and what you’re doing now? What’s different?

Pankaj: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So before Walmart, I was in two startups. Both were legendary machine learning startups, constantly coming in top 10 AI companies in the world. And I’m really proud to be there. Learned a lot from some of the amazing mentors that I got like [Arjit] and Ashutosh.

Tom: Shout out to them.

Pankaj: Yeah. I mean, they’re great people. So the experience is when you join a company as an early employee, the focus is to enable founder’s vision, right? You can compliment it, but at the end of the day, it’s founder’s vision. And you learn a lot like how founders think, how to create a business out of a technology problem. So both of these companies are solving really hard problems, which are unsupervised learning and smart homes. Not an easy problem.

Tom: Right.

Pankaj: Very hard problems. But what is it mean? So, how can you build technology that solves real problem? So, that was my biggest learning at these two places and especially, working close with these people. Walmart was a whole different experience, because now, you’re taking that experience into a big giant company and you’re trying change, which is hard. But these experiences helped me to make that change at a Walmart scale. And the credit goes to my bosses as well, building that trust and enabling that. But after having aggregated all this experience, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, right?

Pankaj: This is a something you just know that you want. It’s not something somebody tells you and you become an entrepreneur. It’s like you inherently, subconsciously, want to do something. An entrepreneur is not about making money. It’s not about being a CEO or a CTO or any of these titles. It’s about creating something when nothing exists. And I always had that urge. And so, I decided to start a company. And that’s where the learning part comes in. Because when you are in this cocoon, in the startups when you are in, lot of things are kind of sorted out. In big companies, even though they are incremental improvements, there’s still the safety cushion. You think, okay, you build technology, it will sell.

Tom: Right.

Pankaj: And that was the biggest learning, going and doing my own startup, it’s understanding, “Hey, this is what I wanted.” I wanted to shape the world view towards the technology. World needs solutions to the problems. So it took me two, three years to understand. But we build great products. We build great teams. We were able to reach a point where there was a problem that customers were willing to pay for. But then, there’s also one thing that you have to realize is there’s a product market fit and there is a problem founder fit. I realized the founder product fit was not there. And the COVID came which was, okay, this is the time to take a break and plan something new.

Tom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vivek: So let’s talk about that something new, right?

Pankaj: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vivek: We’ve been working together for almost a year now actually. It’ll be a year in April. Before you joined us, we talked about the process that we used to kind of collaborate with our co-founders and how this model of apprenticeship exists, this idea of guild that we have, right? And we talked about some of the frameworks and techniques we use over there. So we just had recently, right? A few weeks ago, we had a whiteboard session where we talked about the product strategy and company strategy for Markov. And there were some debates and there were some things, that were not clear to us, that became clear to us. So, can you describe how that process was from your perspective? What did you learn and how that process kind of has helped you with your experience at Superset?

Pankaj: Mm-hmm (affirmative), definitely. I mean, people who know me, Tom and Vivek especially, you know I like debates. It’s not about proving a point. It’s about learning about a point of view. And these debates mostly have been around that. You have to come up with an open mind, you have to be vulnerable, and you have to be open for critique. But at the same time, you don’t have to be afraid of presenting a point of view.

Tom: That’s right.

Pankaj: And you have to be very direct and blunt about it. But it’s about the problem, it’s about the debate, the topic that we are having. It’s not about the person, it’s not about anything else, it’s not about the strategy. And I think through those debates, you get clarity of thought. The clarity of thought is very important.

Tom: That’s right.

Pankaj: And the alignment is also very important, how you align with the overall vision. So sometimes, you can always say this thing, right? “Destination can be same, but the paths can be different.” And we had to make sure even the path that we take is kind of aligned, because otherwise, we won’t reach a destination. So as a company, as a team, as a group of co-founders, it’s very important that we communicate the same message. And those debate sessions, those discussions, those whiteboardings are bringing about that… Not consensus, but kind of clarity of vision. And we learn from each other, right?

Tom: That’s right.

Pankaj: I always like when we go into nitty gritty. Vivek and I are talking about the architecture, Tom kind of says, “Okay, I got it.” Now, this is the big picture, right? It kind of condenses the entire message about what is the message that we want to tell to the customers, for the company? Which is, “Okay,” which makes me think. And then, take a step back and, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.”

Tom: No, and I see you, Pankaj, as somebody with sort of calm, steely resolve. When you have your point of view, you put a stake in the ground and you don’t roll over easy, which is great, right? Because he’s a fiery personality. I have some opinions. As you’re pointing out, the good stuff happens when we’re chopping it up, debating it, fire testing it. No one’s getting defensive or worried about whether or not they matter or not, right? We want to get to… Not the truth because for engineers, engineers don’t care about truth. But we want to get to something that works, right?

Pankaj: That’s true.

Tom: And it’s the playing it backwards and forwards and testing all of those assumptions, seeing where they take us, rolling it back, revising our initial conditions. That’s where the hardcore work in product. And it’s not just product strategy, but product blueprinting, right? Because at the end of that session, we really do have… I mean, in some of the earlier stages, right? It’s probably a little more hand wavy. We’re intuiting some things, but we’re not quite sure. Now, we’ve hung at least three or four actually decimal points off that thing after the end of that session.

Vivek: Yeah, absolutely. So just continuing in that vein and perhaps exploring a slightly different aspect of working in the Superset hive as a co-founder with us, what were you most surprised about when you came to Superset?

Pankaj: I think I wasn’t too surprised because we had a lot of conversations with Vivek and Tom. It was not like…

Tom: We dated for a long while.

Pankaj: Yeah. From the point we started having a conversation, from the point I joined, there was several conversations. I knew that I’m getting into a place where I would A, get the right mentorship, B, I’ll get to work with people who really believe in what they say which is very important. For me, two things matter the most. One is trust, and the second part is openness. And these two things were there in Superset. We’re open about what we are doing, what we want to accomplish, and we want to get. And we are also open about, “Hey, it’s not about what we intend to do. It’s not about execution. It’s about building.” There’s difference between execution and building or creation. Creation is a pre-processor of execution. And that’s the creation part is where lot of companies fail because they’re unable to have a consensus on what to create.

Tom: Right.

Pankaj: I think that’s where you need the partners, and that’s what I got at Superset.

Tom: Listen, we also talked, before you joined us, about what we need from the journey and it’s learning and always.

Pankaj: Yes.

Tom: There’s a kind of mentorship by doing, right? But it’s also important to us that you’re teaching us every day of the week. In fact, I’m thinking back to that session. There was a thing with Monte Carlo algorithms from 20 years ago and probabilistically, approximately correct techniques that I was fascinated by. “Oh, wow.” You turf it up. I didn’t know that people are doing that now in the realm of what we call data vital. One example among 1000s where you’re showing up, not just with a strong point of view, but with an awful lot of industry context and knowledge that is immediately relevant to the build-out. That’s the good stuff. It’s exciting.

Vivek: Yeah, absolutely. And now, just to kind of put this in the context of the broader Superset model, for me personally, if I look at five or six companies at Superset, they’re all using different tech stacks-

Tom: Right.

Vivek: For their own very good reasons, right? And so for me, it’s a fascinating, magnificent learning opportunity. Why do you make these decisions and why are you doing this versus that? Well, we used to do things this way, but look, this much has changed. So, it’s been great learning from all of our portfolio companies.

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: For me personally as well.

Tom: Hey, we’ve talked about trust and openness. So this is a place of trust right here, right now. I got to ask you, who do you like more? Between me and Vivek. And by the way, before you answer, just know it’s a very career limiting thing to give the wrong answer. But who do you like more?

Pankaj: Yeah. It depends-

Tom: Oh.

Pankaj: What I want at that moment.

Vivek: I’m actually very impressed that you waited so long to ask this question.

Tom: I am a paragon of self-regulation.

Pankaj: Yeah.

Vivek: Yeah. Well done, Tom.

Tom: You’re welcome.

Vivek: I’m so proud of you.

Tom: I don’t know. I [crosstalk]-

Vivek: I’m so proud of you.

Pankaj: Yeah. It depends on what I need to get done. And it’s like-

Vivek: So, he’s a politician.

Pankaj: Yeah.

Tom: But great product also requires great persuasion and communication. Did you see how he just did that, ladies and gentleman? He just straddled that line so perfectly.

Vivek: That’s right. And he made it about us, right? Oh, we started giving each other-

Tom: That’s-

Vivek: All sorts of grief about why didn’t you ask the question before and whatnot. Well done, Pankaj.

Pankaj: Yeah.

Tom: Well, listen, as we wrap it up here, it’s really terrific to have you with us. Thank you, Pankaj for coming in and sharing your perspective. We’ve said, “Mentorship is a two-way street,” and that’s a biggie for us. We’re learning, you’re learning, we’re locking arms. By the way, when you talked about the prior experience and now, your fingerprints are all over this thing. It’s not us coming up with something, bringing tablets down the mountain and… No. This thing that we’re building is your thing, right? That’s important to the overall approach. And I think as we roll forward, what I’m also excited about here in this conversation today is we’ve said, “People, product, customers, in that order. People first.”

Vivek: Absolutely. People first. And just to kind of add to what you were saying about mentorship being a two-way street, we also, Tom, you and I, have learned along the way to give space, and to Pankaj’s point, he felt strongly that his startup, establishing the vision, was very important to him. So, he’s had a huge role to play-

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: In defining the vision for what we’re doing at Markov.

Pankaj: Yep.

Tom: Don’t get a big head, Pankaj, but Pankaj is also kind of creating the gold standard now at super{set}.

Vivek: That’s right. Setting the bar high.

Tom: Yeah, it’s a very high bar. So, thank you for that. Listen, really great to have you with us and to have this conversation about product and people and how we make it work together at Superset. So-

Vivek: That’s right. So thank you, Pankaj.

Pankaj: Glad to be here.

Tom: Thanks to all of you listening. We hope to see you soon in the next episode.

Vivek: All right. Have a good one.

Tom Chavez: Be well.

Transcript

Hide

Get our monthly newsletter in your inbox.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Written By
Written By
Read next

Introduction to The {Closed} Session

In the first episode of The Closed Session, meet Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya, serial entrepreneurs and podcast hosts.

read more

Starting From Scratch

In the second episode of The Closed Session, Tom and Vivek discuss the framework for starting your own company from scratch, and the three dimensions that should be taken into account.

read more

The Business Plan

You’ve decided to launch a business, but before you hurtle blindly into the breach, you need a bulletproof plan and a perfect pitch deck to persuade your co-founders, investors, partners, and employees to follow you into the unknown.

read more

Early-Stage Funding Do’s and Dont’s

In this episode of The Closed Session, Tom and Vivek talk about dilution, methods, mindset, benchmarks and best practices for raising investment capital for a new tech startup.

read more

Early Team Formation

Now that you've written the business plan and raised money, it's time to recruit your early team. In this episode, Tom and Vivek cover the do's and dont's of building a high-output team - who to hire, how to build chemistry and throughput, how to think about talent when your company is a toddler versus when it's an adolescent.

read more

Creating a Winning Culture: Must-Haves, Memes, and Tips

read more

Building a Kickass Product & Technology Engine

read more

Women in Tech

read more

How to Interview for a Startup

read more

Is Tech Stingy? The Case for Doing Well *and* Doing Good

read more

And, we’re live at super{set}!

Welcome to Season 2 of The Closed Session! In this first episode of 2020, Tom and Vivek talk about the five companies super{set} launched in 2019 and the lessons they’re learning as they go.

read more

To Sell or Not to Sell

read more

Quarantine Edition: Let the Rants Unfurl

read more

Equity and Inclusion

Tom and Vivek talk about inclusion and reflect on their personal experiences as brown guys in tech. Inclusion feels like a moral imperative, but does it really make for stronger, better companies? Are there unintended consequences of acting on good intentions to 'fix' an inclusion problem at a company? Why is tech so lacking in diversity, and what can we do to get it right?

read more

Big Tech and Regulation

The drums are beating for Big Tech, and for good reason. In this episode, Tom and Vivek break it all down and explain why you need to watch your wallet, or at least raise your antenna, whenever Google or Facebook say they're making a new product decision "to protect user privacy." Exactly how do their product decisions erode competitive markets and our own data dignity? Recorded at the tail end of 2020 before all of the post-election events unfolded, this episode explains exactly how the major platforms abuse data, why you should care, and what we can do to fix it.

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

Not Just On Veterans Day

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

read more

The Balancing Act For Women in Tech

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

read more

The Studio Model

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

read more

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?”

read more

New Venture Ideation

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

read more

Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

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

read more

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.

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

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.

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

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?

read more

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...

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....

read more

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}.

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

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.

read more

Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

read more

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.

read more

Overheard @ super{summit}

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

read more

How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

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

read more

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.

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 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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

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.

read more

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

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}

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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

read more

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.

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

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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!

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

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

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!

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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?

read more

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?

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

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.

read more

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}.

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

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."

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

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

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

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.

read more

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."

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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."

read more

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.

read more

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

Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

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

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.

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

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

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

Announcing super{set} Fund II

read more

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.

read more

The Balancing Act For Women in Tech

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

read more

How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

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

read more

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.

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.

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

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."

read more

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.

read more

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."

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

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}.

read more

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.

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

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

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

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.

read more

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

read more

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.

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

Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

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

read more

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

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.

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

Not Just On Veterans Day

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

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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...

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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."

read more

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.

read more

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?”

read more

Overheard @ super{summit}

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

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

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.

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

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

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).

read more

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.

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

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.

read more

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

read more

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

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}.

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}

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....

read more

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.

read more

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.

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

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

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more

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.

read more