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.

The Studio Model

April 13, 2022
Written By
April 13, 2022
Season 3 Episode 1
34:30
Written By

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

Tom and Vivek dig into the startup studio model being deployed at super{set} and working with co-founders on new data-driven companies.

It’s still early for the studio model — case in point, people still are asking “you have a fund right? Aren’t you just a venture capital firm with a different label?”

Tom and Vivek detail just what we’re doing at super{set} — what the model is, how we’re different from VC, craftsmanship versus critique, what’s in it for LP’s, and most of all what’s in it for co-founders?

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

Transcript — Season 3 Episode 1

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

Tom Chavez: Well, here we are. Episode one, season three, and you know we’re not just on the radio.

Vivek Vaidya: We’re not.

Tom: We’re all the way three dimensional video.

Vivek: That’s right.

Tom: A lot of people. And here’s the thing, the reason we’re doing this is a lot of people are saying, look, we love the sound of your silky radio voices, but we need Vivek live. I don’t…

Vivek: In 3D.

Tom: Yeah.

Vivek: They want to see me in 3D.

Tom: And can I say…

Vivek: Yeah, right.

Tom:… You look fabulous because you got a haircut.

Vivek: I did get a haircut.

Tom: You got a haircut.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: It was looking a little shaggy.

Vivek: I got a haircut on Wednesday. In between two meetings, I had 30 minutes. So… You know

Tom: To Supercuts.

Vivek: Of course. Of course, I went to Supercuts.

Tom: Go to Supercuts like you do. Say I’ll take a $7 haircut. Hold the self respect.

Vivek: It’s $25 Tom.

Tom: 25. My bad.

Vivek: We’re not in the 1990s anymore.

What is the Studio Model?

Tom: Got it. Well, so here we are. Very, very exciting season three, episode one. We wanted to talk today about the studio model, the venture studio model. What the heck is it? Because there seems to be a little bit of confusion out there. I was talking to one of our mutual investor friends. This coming year, we’re contemplating maybe raising a follow-on fund. So he had just gone through his own fundraising and I was saying, “Well, you’re a venture capitalist, that’s one thing. We’re a venture studio and that’s really, in our minds, quite a different species.” And it was instructive when he said, “No, you’re wrong.” All the investors out there are going to look at this and say, “Has a venture in front of it. It’s the same thing.”

Vivek: And he’s not totally wrong, is he?

Tom: He’s not totally wrong. And we can’t protest too much when it comes to this stuff. But we think there are some pretty significant differences, right?

Vivek: Yes. Before we get to the differences though, let’s just quickly address the similarities.

Tom: Okay.

Vivek: Right. So we do, to an LP, we do appear like any other fund because we have the 2 and 20. What does 2 and 20 mean Tom?

Tom: So 2 and 20 is, we didn’t make that up. That’s the standard structure for a venture capital fund, wherein 2% of the capital in the fund is used as a management fee. And the 20% is that we take 20% after having paid the fund back in full, by the way, there’s something called the American Waterfall versus the European Waterfall. But we don’t have to worry about that. The essence of it is you pay back capital and then if you’re successful, as we are going to be, you take 20% of the returns from the fund. That’s what venture capitalists have been doing for decades. So you’re right. We have a similar structure. Well, let’s examine whether or not there are any other similarities we need to know, because that’s really the core one.

Vivek: I think so. I think so. So Tom mentioned the management fee, which is the 2%, and then the 20% is called the carry. You’ll hear these terms from venture capitalists or fund and stuff. 2 and 20, 2% management fee, 20% carry. I think that’s it.

Tom: I think that’s really it. So look, if you fixate on that, as some people might, you say, well, walks like a VC, quacks like a VC, must be a VC. But there are these really fundamental differences and I think if you fixate on that, it’s like looking at a horse buggy. Well, it has two seats in the front, two seats in the back. You look at a Tesla, oh it has two seats in the front, two seats in the back, but come on, it’s a completely different species. So we’re going to come at this with our own bias. Our listeners and viewers can calibrate however they like, but we’re going to show up with a strong point of view here today as to how this is different. I think it starts with, look, we’ve both been lucky to work with some really terrific venture capitalists.

Vivek: We have.

Tom: What do venture capitalists do? They invest capital. There was this really formative moment early on in our first company, Rapt, where I was a puppy. I didn’t know what I was doing. I think it was the third or fourth board meeting. I walk in and I have these issues that are vexing me. So I want to raise them with the investors.

Vivek: Of course.

Tom: It just seems like these only smart people around the table, let’s get their input. So I’m waxing on and presenting these issues. One of these prominent venture capitalists with actually a good amount of gentle concern, takes me aside right after the meeting and says, “Hey, Chavez, you seem to be confused. We’re professional critiquers. See, you craft, we critique. That’s how this works.” And that’s really, I think, one of the fundamental differences. It’s important to have intelligent critique as you’re building a new business from scratch. How do we show up? How are we different in this regard?

Vivek: So if you think of that intelligent critique as advice from the control tower, as we know from our experience and other entrepreneurs who’ve been on the journey now, company building, especially early stage company building, is a dogfight.

Tom: It is a pride swallowing, soul sucking.

Vivek: You got kicked in the head so many times.

Tom: Every day. And venture capitalists aren’t there receiving those blows.

Vivek: They’re not.

Tom: They feel it, one degree of separation away.

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: They get vexed and angry and concerned at board meetings. But that’s very different from being down here on the ground, getting kicked in the head.

Vivek: Correct. So that’s one major difference is that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our entrepreneurs, with the co-founders we bring on, and build the company with them. And we craft. We craft, we are standing on the whiteboard drawing pictures, designing product, architecting solutions, selling software, the whole nine yards. That’s one way in which we are significantly different.

Tom: Let’s build on that now. Because one of the things that we don’t do, which is the prime function of a venture capitalist, we don’t chase or source deals.

Vivek: That’s right.

Tom: Everything that comes out of our studio, we have a really key hand in crafting and forming from scratch.

Vivek: We incubate companies.

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: And by incubation, you’ll find a lot of incubators.

Tom: That’s a dangerous word. So what do you mean by incubation in the form, or in the sense in which people are used to hearing the term incubator versus how we incubate?

Vivek: So we’re not like the traditional incubator where we provide space. Although we do, we provide space and snacks and okay, now you go and build your company. We’re actually building, developing the hypotheses that we’re going to go test out in the building of the company. We hire people, we design solutions.

Tom: We build the product.

Vivek: We build the product.

Tom: We find the early customers. We sell the early customers. We develop the contracts. We create the backend infrastructure for these companies, not just finance and legal, but technical infrastructure, on and on and on.

Vivek: So we show up as co-founders.

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: And we do everything that you would expect us to do, like we did at Krux, in these companies that we start.

Tom: Right. Now, notice as we talk this through. So we’re the first money in and that’s one of the commitments we’ve made to our LPs. There’s still a really important role for VCs to show up in those later rounds…

Vivek: Absolutely.

Tom: … And help us continue the journey. So think of us as this extreme, everybody likes to talk about stage two, stage three companies. Not enough people talk about, okay, how about stage zero or stage one, however you want to define it? When there’s nothing to a company except blank space on a whiteboard, that’s where we show up.

Vivek: That’s where we show up.

Tom: We set up the sockets for successful financings with other VCs at the table in follow-on rounds.

Vivek: And then, like you said, the intelligent critique from VCs, the perspective from the control tower is definitely very useful sometimes, because what we don’t see…

Tom: Sometimes.

Vivek: Yeah. But you have to admit…

Tom: Not always, right?

Vivek: Not always, sure. But oftentimes it is, because we don’t end up seeing the patterns. Good VCs, like the ones that you were talking about that we worked with, they’ve been able to see patterns across multiple companies they’ve worked with and they’ve given us useful advice along the way.

Tom: That’s worthy of another podcast. Let’s examine that in a future episode. What defines a great VC? But we’ll get to that later. In this context, we’re looking for VCs who can come up with the pattern matching experience that you’re talking about. That’s valuable. A great VC asks provocative questions at just the right moment and the right context, that catalyze the answer where the management team is after. So that’s really key. They do get a little, I said, they’re not always useful because sometimes, and here’s the curse of the VC, is to be so frequently wrong and never confused. We’ve seen some of that too. So the tricky, tricky part is to show up with a strong opinion and we always show up with a strong opinion. I’m quite proud of the way in which we reserve the right to change our mind always. Great company building requires, especially at this early stage, requires continuous course correction. So that’s something we take pretty seriously. Should we dive into what we mean by craftsmanship versus critique?

Craftsmanship versus Critique

Vivek: Yes, let’s do that. Let’s do that. So what do we do? What do we mean by craftsmanship? Actually, let’s start where you were just the thing you were just talking about, which is we show up and we ask questions. Even before we’ve brought on co-founders to work with us, we follow that approach ourselves. We ask questions open-endedly, how would we go into a new space like healthcare?

Tom: That’s right. Let’s use that as an example, because that’s a formation that’s reasonable.

Vivek: What do you know about healthcare Tom?

Tom: I know nothing about healthcare, it’s got to be said.

Vivek: Exactly. But we’re seriously contemplating a new company in healthcare now. So how are we doing it?

Tom: So we start from scratch and we ask, we have hypotheses, we ask open ended questions. First, we educate ourselves as to the status of the market. Who’s on first? Who’s on second? What are the core dynamics at work? Let’s manage the distinctions between payers, providers, industry, pharma, companies and the like. You start setting up that scaffolding to scan the whole space. You start, and this is where actually I was joking. Well, I don’t know anything about healthcare. Neither do you. Turns out to be a really useful thing.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: Because we’re not encumbered by the 20 years of bad habits, the 30 years of bad habits that somebody who’s just been doing healthcare for so long, is going to bring to this undertaking. So we’re asking these questions. We’re assembling panels of people. We’re unabashed when it comes to calling people who might know people who are smart.

Vivek: Shameless, even I would think.

Tom: We are just ridiculous. We’ll call these people, wrestle them to the ground out, bug them with a lot of pesky questions. We start to formulate and sharpen those hypotheses. And this is where we start to develop a strong point of view that can be revised at any moment. But it’s a strong point of view as to how we can plug in. And let’s talk about that now, too. Look, there are a lot of companies out there that are useful and they should exist. We’re very clear about the kinds of companies you and I are going to be involved in building.

Vivek: And not building also.

Tom: So if you’ve followed some of our prior episodes, we’re all about this data-driven thesis. Our businesses at the core, we’re product guys, all of our businesses at the core are in some form or fashion, capturing, generating, analyzing, pipelining, orchestrating, activating data. So we stick to our knitting in that regard and we bring that posture to healthcare.

Vivek: And this is one area where we apply the concept of pattern matching as well. Like VCs do, but we do it in a very different context. But we have established over the last 20, 25 years, certain patterns of building. Not just building data-driven software companies, but recognizing problems and matching them to, oh, that’s an instance of X that we saw earlier. So we do that. We do a lot of that and that starts to create a product strategy for us.

Tom: That’s right. People have asked what’s the strategy for Superset? It’s people, product, customers in that order, as we’re engaging in this, we’re also scanning the horizon for breakthrough co-founders who can join up, typically, as there’s you, me and one other person in the boat.

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: So we’re trying to stand up a small team with a product oriented co-founder, who in this case, comes from the domain. We’re starting to formulate hypotheses and this is different from what other groups do. Some other venture studios, let’s note this, will start with a more outside in premise. For example, in a consumer driven context. How are women approaching matters of beauty and how do they buy their beauty products? Let’s go examine that and work backwards into a potential solution. That’s not what we do.

Vivek: That’s our approach. I think it’s largely because of the space in which we’re operating. You mentioned consumer. It’s possible for, these days especially, for people to get feedback on whether a direct to consumer product is going to work or not. You can stand up a landing page and buy some advertising on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, et cetera. And then see what interest you get from people for the product that you are trying to build. We unfortunately, can’t take that approach because we’re operating primarily in the B2B space, and it’s more involved and we have to seek out these people who could become potential adopters and advisors and customers for us, which is where the interviews and the conversations that we do with the industry come in.

Tom: Now, to that earlier point you made about curiosity and question asking, and let’s use the pharma as an example. We came into this and there is a data management thesis that took hold of us fairly early. It was really quite similar to what we did at Krux, our prior project.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: It was interesting, because I especially, you probably got there a lot quicker than I got there because that’s just what happens every day. But it took me a while to recognize, because it looked so similar to Krux. And I said, “Nah, nah. It can’t be that easy. There’s got to be another thing here going on. We can’t get stuck smoking our own stash here and just seeing what we want to see. It’s got to be harder than that.” So it was powerful for us to go through that process and realize, as Snoop Dogg says, “YXY.” It’s the structure of the product is going to be quite a lot like Krux. It’s not going to be a perfect copy, but the scaffolding is the same.

Vivek: At Krux, we used to say data in, data out, something in the middle. The simplest way of explaining what a DMP did, we found that there was a very similar pattern over here, especially when we were exploring clinical trials and pharma. That’s something that we do. What more do we do, Tom? We’ve done that, but then now, the nitty gritty of company building, how do we multiply value?

Tom: Well, okay. So we have a product theses, we start to build prototypes and actual working software that we’re pedaling now to pioneering customers, that we smoked out of the bush, through friends, our network, all kinds of interesting means. Many of these, by the way, in early stage formation, I see a lot of companies breaking their pick on trying to get nickels, every nickel off the table with these early customers. We want to co-innovate with these early partners. Of course, money needs to change hands. By the way, we’ve had deals where there’s…

Vivek: Where money hasn’t changed hands.

Tom: … $0 license.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: The main thing is to get early customers who are going to help you fire test and build the product. They’re going to be tolerant and flexible. We’ve also seen a number of people who say, “I’m a pioneer. Get me in there.” We’ve also, no, you should not be in, you’re not a pioneer. You’re the middle majority. You’re comfortable adopting later. So we have to find those early customers. And it’s just maniacal focus with a small, early team of how many developers?

Vivek: Anywhere from three to seven, I think, depending on the breadth of our stage one product and how quickly we want to bring it into market.

Tom: And really ideal, the Jeff Bezos line, feed them with a single pizza.

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: So that’s effectively what we’re doing in this early stage. We start to get proof points. You have a single customer. By the way, let’s also pause for a moment, because we do talk to a lot of people who, and we congratulate them. They’ve taken a company from whatever, 10 to 40 or 10 to 50 in the parlance of the VCs. Zero to a customer.

Vivek: Zero one.

Tom: Zero to three customers. That’s just another thing and it’s really hard. I see a lot of people poo-pooing it. Oh, that’s adorable. You got a couple of early customers. No man, get up in here and close a single customer. When you have nothing, it’s a big leap.

Vivek: I think people underestimate how hard that is. And they also underestimate the people who are closing these deals, these early first customer, second customer deals, are the founders.

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: There’s no salesperson whom you can hire, who will close these early deals for you. Founders, especially tech founders, are not natural born salesmen. It’s difficult. That’s why it’s even more difficult to go from zero to one or zero to three.

Tom: Have you had some sales training along the way?

Vivek: I have had zero sales training.

Tom: Okay. I’ve had zero sales training too. Have you seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where Ferris Bueller playing the clarinet? Remember that scene, where he’s playing the clarinet honking away? And then he proudly turns to the camera and said, “Never had a single lesson.”

Vivek: Yeah.

Tom: That’s us. But guess what, and this is important as well.

Vivek: You’ve sold some software.

Tom: Sold a lot of software, because it doesn’t feel like selling.

Vivek: That’s right.

Tom: I’m just so passionate about this thing, and I now know a good amount about it. Let me explain to you how this is transformative.

Vivek: We were talking about this with someone the other day. You were talking about someone and this came up and we said, “Look, if you just talk about what you’re doing passionately, then the sale just happens.”

Tom: You have to be an organized thinker. We’ve gotten better at it. There’s ways to structure the conversation as opposed to just hurtling in like a over eager puppy.

Vivek: Sure.

A Message from Our Sponsor

Tom: Asking lots of questions by the way, is also key. Before we move on to what’s in it for our investors, should we take a little moment for our totally unpaid for a promotion? We haven’t done one of those.

Vivek: You want to do that, huh?

Tom: Yeah.

Vivek: So what’s the one product Tom, in these last two, two and a half years, that you’ve been using a lot of?

Tom: Okay. But here, see it’s hand sanitizer. But let me tell you something, and you were there for it.

Vivek: Here we go.

Tom: 20 years ago, you remember our first company and I think, well, of course you remember the company, but you probably also remember that I was always running around with some kind of flu.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: And it took me a while. First, my kids were younger at that age, so they’re little Petri dishes bringing home bugs all the time, but I’m also shaking a lot of hands in the context of sales. And so I had the bright idea, I think I’m just getting sick from shaking everyone’s hand and then capturing all those bugs. So I started to get some hand sanitizer on my desk and other employees used to tease me like, okay, that’s crazy. Who is this guy using hand sanitizer 20 years? Nobody did that. And I started to put hand sanitizer in my cars and I started to use it regularly. So this is not a recent development. I’ve been doing hand sanitizers…

Vivek: For you, yes. It’s not a recent development.

Tom: … For a long time.

Vivek: That’s right. That’s right. Did you ever have any embarrassing moments where you shook hands with someone and then suddenly you’re…

Tom: No, no, no. Like Trump, right? Apparently, he’ll shake your hand and then somebody here on the side. No, I’ve never done that. Okay. But I do have, I don’t have it here, but I have a little form fact tiny little form factor, hand sanitizer in my pocket that I can pull out at any time. What’s the winning brand?

Vivek: Purell. You just told me. Purell.

Tom: Purell is the winning brand.

Vivek: That’s right.

Tom: Now, here’s one of the things that vexes me. There’s been so much bad hand sanitizer produced in the last two and a half years. It’s very alcoholy.

Vivek: Liquidy.

Tom: Yeah. It sticks like a sheen on your hands or whatever. I hate that. People…

Vivek: Use Purell.

Tom: Purell.

Vivek:

Use Purell. There you go.

What’s In It for LPs

Tom: There’s no substitute. Okay. Thou sendeth our totally unpaid for promotion. Should we talk about what’s in it for our investors?

Vivek: Yeah. So, as we talk about this, it leads me to think, we’re not a VC, we’re doing something unique and different. So is this what? Is this another asset class then? Where does this end?

Tom: Let’s come back to where we left off. If you are investing in Superset, this is a direct caffeine shot to a from scratch pharma company, the example we’re using. Very, very different from what most LPs, Limited Partners, the guys with the money who put their money into venture capital funds. So, at first glance, you’d look at that and say, it seems quite different. The astute investors and the ones that we have are like, “Okay, I’ve made venture capital investments. This is not that.” What propels them into an investment with Superset, and I’ve seen this, is a little bit of frustration, because they’ve told me. A little bit of frustration as to whether or not the VCs are actually really earning their keep. The 2%, especially on a big fund, turns into a lot of money. So it starts to feel, in some cases for LPs investing in less successful VCs, feels like a tax. So they want to get closer to the action.

Tom: We had an investor at Krux, who was a large sovereign wealth fund, and they insisted on putting money into the company. I always found that strange. And I finally asked them, “Why are you doing this?” I mean, these are I don’t know, $180 billion sovereign wealth fund. $2 million or whatever it was, in our, like why would you do that? They explained to me that it was the learning benefit.

Vivek: Access. The direct access.

Tom: The access. It was just $2 million is a drop in the bucket for an $180 billion fund. But they felt like the learning benefits that they get from that small investment. And so maybe there’s a piece of that at work here, but that was whatever, 10 years ago. What else has changed in the intervening 10 years, as we see Tiger, Coatue and all these guys piling in money? These rounds that are happening now in an afternoon with no diligence. Maybe a subject for another podcast. But the point of the matter is that a huge amount of capital from people who used to just stay put at later stage, is now coming into early stage. That puts a little bit of a squeeze on conventional VCs.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: Because guess what? Their money is green too.

Vivek: Because it’s just the value add they have, is ostensibly, just advice and critique.

Tom: Right. The really good ones with great brands and established franchises are going to keep kachunking along.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: But there is this delicate squeeze…

Vivek: In the middle.

Tom: And we’re not going to get too precious about it. But what we’re seeing so far is that, that does heighten people’s interest in early stage, because this thing that we’re talking about feels quite different.

Vivek: And people have told me. Friends who are LPs in other funds, et cetera, they have told me that they would like to get access. Our model is appealing to them because it’s a way for them to get access at formation. And in the seed stage rounds, which are more valuable than when they get in at series B or C.

Tom: So let’s unpack that. And we’ll talk about it in the context of Superset. You and I aren’t just investing other people’s money.

Vivek: Correct.

Tom: We have a lot of our personal…

Vivek: Capital.

Tom: … Sweat and capital in Superset. So the alignment that we have with our LPs is perfect.

Vivek: Perfect.

Tom: To your point about the returns, we’re also engineering their portfolio. We’re not trying to caffeinate these rounds at outlandish prices, we too want to see a nice, steady up and to the right journey. So for our LPs, and I don’t really know how the other studios do it. But at least for our LPs, we’re perfectly aligned because of the structure of our fund and the way that we build these companies, we’re perfectly aligned with our LPs. That generates very attractive returns from scratch. Because to your earlier point, if you’re in early and then you take that long ride, the returns can be outlandishly huge.

Vivek: So I think that’s another way in which we’re different. And perhaps, who knows, this might turn into, as we’ve been discussing, its own, perhaps it’s ambitious, but its own asset class down the road.

Tom: Well, I’m going to put a stake in the ground on that one.

Vivek: All right. Here we go.

Tom: Because I think, look, there once was upon a time where PE didn’t exist. And a few pioneers, I guess Henry Kravis and others, I wasn’t there so I just read the story secondhand. But PE didn’t exist. And then a small new police of people started to do it. Fast forward 40 years later, we all know what private equity is about. I pause it that we’re at a similar juncture now for venture studios. I’m not saying it’s going to happen in a year. But 10 to 20 years from now, I think formation, venture studio, whatever you want to call it. Let’s not worry about the names. Formation is going to be a thing in the same way that PE became a thing.

The Studio Co-Founder

Vivek: In fact, even in the same way that venture capital became a thing, because it wasn’t that long ago that venture capital didn’t exist. So let’s examine one more topic. We’ll examine the topic of where our ideas come from in a separate episode, but who do we work with, Tom? What kind of people are we looking for?

Tom: Well, we touched on it briefly. Where we start with at the very, very beginning, we’re looking for a product minded co-founder. You want to dimensionalize their personality traits and the things that matter. I would say, we want somebody who can show up and is resilient. They can do take a punch. This is what we call grit. Because this company building stuff from scratch is not for the meek of spirit. You’ve got to be able to bend and flex and revise. You’re going to be told no dozens of times by customers you’re trying to get in the boat. But you have to be fierce in the face of that.

Vivek: You do have to be fierce, but you also have to be humble to recognize that you don’t have all the answers. So you have to almost be shameless in your approach to asking people for help and saying, “I don’t know this. Can you help me understand this?” That humility has to be there, but it has to be accompanied with fierce resolve.

Tom: See, and that’s that dance. That’s that tension. Because it sounds like we’re talking out of both sides of our mouths, and we are. Because you need to have somebody who is Socratic in the way they just look at this broad picture and say, “Oh my gosh, what do I know?” You must know something. Let me try to create the intellectual process that captures what you know, such that we can integrate it into our big learning organism and do the right thing. We’ve seen a lot of people, who show up with a very high certainty to knowledge ratio. They take strong positions and dammit, this is it. And they don’t course correct, and it never works.

Vivek: It never works.

Tom: It never works. So you have to have somebody who’s humble in the way that you describe. They have to be very organized thinkers.

Vivek: In their thinking.

Tom: Let’s dwell on that for a minute, because I’ve seen a big shift in Silicon Valley in the last 20 years. 20 plus years ago, I think there was a premium placed on hackers. And in the last five to 10 years, especially, everyone’s talking about product. I want a product guy. And there’s a very well understood distinction between a great engineering leader and a product guy. How do you think about that?

Vivek: I think the ability to put things in places, categorize things, name things. Oh, my flux capacitor is called Fu and it gets these inputs and these outputs. The ability to describe how things work in a way that’s accessible, I think has taken on significantly more importance than the technical wizardry that goes on under the covers in the last five to 10 years.

Tom: I’ve said to friends, if I had lived in a different time, it would’ve been amazing if I could have been one of Darwin’s understudies. I wouldn’t be smart and come up with evolution like Darwin, but I would be a very enthusiastic understudy who was saying, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s a duck. That’s a flat billed platypus.” Things in their places is just so core.

Vivek: You do irritate people sometimes.

Tom: I know it. I know it.

Vivek: You’re just pushing people like, “Well, let’s thingify this.”

Tom: To thingify it. Got to name it.

Vivek: Got to name it.

Tom: So we can refer to it later.

Vivek: And sometimes we just come up with kooky names because we can’t name the thing in the moment as well.

Tom: That’s right.

Vivek: So we just call it baba ganoush sometimes.

Tom: Stupid names, but at least we can map our brains back to the thing…

Vivek: Back-to-back.

Tom: … If you call it baba ganoush. Clock speed.

Vivek: I think…

Tom: You change your mind a lot on this one.

Vivek: As we just said.

Tom: I think you change your mind too much on this one actually. Tell us what about clock speed? What do we mean by clock speed? When does it matter?

Vivek: I think there is a certain amount of ability that you need to have in order to process new information that is being thrown at you. Because when you’re collaborating with multiple people, everybody has different ways or different speeds at which their brains work and their thought processes work. So sometimes, one person will reach an endpoint much faster than the other person. So you have to be able to keep up, but it works both ways. The person who’s reached there first, also needs to, and this is where the organized thinking comes in. The person who’s reached there first, also needs to be able to bring other people along, because these roles get reversed quite a lot. So that’s what I think we mean by clock speed.

Tom: That’s right. That’s right. Now, let’s wrap that up with the boat. The reason we dwell on that is because you can’t decouple these qualities, these traits in the people we want to work with from the formation task itself.

Vivek: Yes.

Tom: These are the core must have capabilities.

Vivek: According to us.

Tom: In our view.

Vivek: In our view, in our model, according to us.

Tom: It’s like princess… Unless we’re wrong.

Vivek: And we’re never wrong.

Tom: And we’re never wrong.

Vivek: That’s right.

Tom: Okay.

Conclusion

Vivek: All right. So can you wrap this episode up Tom, with above? What did we talk about?

Tom: Well, we talked about difference between VC and venture studio slash formation. We talked about how we approach it in our shop.

Vivek: Craftsmanship versus critique.

Tom: We talked about the what’s in it for LPs, and the kinds of capabilities we’re looking for in those early product co-founders. Hopefully this helps give people a sharper sense as to what’s going on. It’s a little mystifying for many.

Vivek: What is the studio doing? What do you do?

Tom: What the hell are you guys doing? So that’s a quick flyover picture and it’s all consistent of course, with our broader vision to advance entrepreneurship across the planet. We do believe that it is a learnable craft. Now, this is where we get a little neater. That’s not to say that it’s teachable. I’m not telling you that I can diagram it all out for you. But what we’re trying to do at Superset is create the soil conditions for great entrepreneurs to come in and get the job done.

Vivek: There’s a lot of learning by osmosis, I think. There’s no class of people, oh, today we’re going to learn about this class and chapter one, whatever. We’re not doing that.

Tom: Which is why I’m so skeptical of the accelerator incubator. And a lot of people have come through our shop, like yep, I did those programs and…

Vivek: Didn’t work.

Tom: … It didn’t really get me where I needed to go. All right. Well, that’s us. That’s what venture studios and formation is all about.

Vivek: We’re going to dig deep into a lot of the topics that we’ve covered today briefly, and hoping to generate a lot of interest in this new asset class that we’ve hope we have kick started. So thank you for listening.

Tom: Welcome to season three. Go buy yourself some hand sanitizer.

Vivek: There you go.

Tom: Cheerio.

Vivek: All right.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Just On Veterans Day

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

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

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: 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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

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

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

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

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

Announcing super{set} Fund II

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

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

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

Overheard @ super{summit}

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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Balancing Act For Women in Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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