Christine Tsai

Christine Tsai

Founding Partner at 500Startups

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON May 25, 2017

Discussion

Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
Hello world - I'm Christine Tsai, founding partner at 500 Startups. Excited to be here, and happy to answer questions about 500 and our seed program (née accelerator), investing/VC, diversity, building a strong culture, Taco Bell, you name it. In terms of companies, I led 500's investment in ipsy, RealtyShares, Bombfell, Sprig, Magoosh, StackCommerce, and more. Ask me anything!
Ahmed▲Fagiry
Ahmed▲Fagiry@aos101 · Formatio
Hello there, this is pretty exciting. Could we know how can an engineering/recycling/high tech start-up and a non US company be linked or connected to investors in the US? do investors in the US still have the appetite to fund an overseas company? thanks a lot, wishing you all the achievements you desire.
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@aos101 I think more investors are starting to pay attention to global companies - because they have to. Unfortunately, a lot of Silicon Valley still prefers to invest in Silicon Valley. I would recommend looking for investors (or even accelerators) who have invested internationally, esp in your market. It may be more challenging if you're not a US entity though - depends on where you're incorporated.
Sherad Louis-Charles
Sherad Louis-Charles@slouischarles
If you have a business/product that can be copied easily, what are some things that would sell you on why that business would succeed despite copycats?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@slouischarles The cold harsh reality (or maybe not) is that your idea is not unique. For every "unique" idea, there are likely 10 other startups pursuing the same thing. If I'm meeting a company and there is already a big incumbent in the space they're in, or there are a lot of other startups doing the same thing, I try to keep an open mind but I will want to be convinced that: (1) they have some unfair advantage that the others don't, (2) they put the customer/user first and really understand who they're targeting, and (3) they are focused on building a strong brand. When I met Ipsy, the big incumbent out there was Birchbox. But what stood out about Ipsy was their focus on building a bigger community around beauty and beauty influencers. They were more than just subscription commerce. That convinced me to invest.
keyul
keyul@keyul · Maker of Quick Code & Bot Stash
What things need to be keep in mind while pitching to investors as a first time founder?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@keyul Understand who's on the other side of the table. It makes a big difference when you have done your legwork and research, and show the investor that you want THEM in your round. That means what companies they've invested in, what their investment stage / criteria is, any backchannel feedback you've heard from their founders, etc. I'm always impressed when founders have done their homework before they come into our meeting. The other big thing is to know whether you're pitching on vision vs. traction. If you're early stage, most likely it'll be on vision and the problem you're solving, why that investor should care, etc. Depending on who the investor is again, you may tweak your pitch slightly. Not change it entirely, but focus more on what will resonate w/ that particular investor.
Dylan Bathurst
Dylan Bathurst@dylanbathurst · Engineer @PurseIO
Thanks for doing this chat Christine! Of all the companies accepted into 500, what percentage would you classify as a marketplace?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@dylanbathurst TBH I don't know a specific %, but we do like marketplaces and have invested in a lot of them. The challenge with marketplaces is if they're generating sustainable revenue, not just GMV. So that's what I look closely at when evaluating a marketplace company. Also how sticky it is - how often does the demand side come back to buy?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
Great questions everyone! I had fun answering them, and hope you found this useful. P.S. GO WARRIORS. #StrengthInNumbers
Niv Dror
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
Hey Christine! Thanks for joining us :-) What signs do you look for first before knowing if you'd like to invest in a startup? (or at least being open to investing, all other things being equal)
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@nivo0o0 Team, stage, customer target / problem they're solving
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@nivo0o0 I also try to get a sense whether I think the team is coachable or open to feedback. If they seem too arrogant or stubborn/defensive to feedback, that's a big red flag.
Ayrton De Craene
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
What have been the biggest challenges you've had to overcome in your career?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@ayrton One of the biggest challenges - being an introvert. Being told I am too quiet / not vocal enough / not "strong" enough is the story of my life and something I've heard ever since I was a kid in school who did great, but didn't raise her hand. The world (especially in the professional context) tells introverts that they need to be louder, and that a leader must be extroverted. However, that's unhealthy and certainly not the case. The loud asshole leaders of the world - I firmly believe they got to where they are DESPITE that behavior, not BECAUSE of that behavior. Being introverted has a number of great advantages when it comes to leadership and GSD. So I've started to own my introversion, embrace it, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. #QuietLeadership
Dave McClure
Dave McClure@davemcclure · lost boy.
@christine_tsai wait... loud asshole... why, who could that be ;) ❤️ (srsly: christine is an amazing leader who has helped us make 500 what it is today)
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What growth tips can you share with the Product Hunt community?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@jacqvon My growth tips are now non-existent, but our GROWTH MARKETING team at 500 has a ton of tips. A lot of it is here: http://www.growth.500.co/
Javiperez
Javiperez@javiperezsea · Owner and CEO, It24.io It24 Inc.
Why today all startups and VC's are so focus in investment when should be in customers or monetization?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@javiperezsea Because it's seen as necessary and/or "trendy". Nowadays a lot of founders read TechCrunch or other tech blogs, see what's in their social media feeds - and there is so much focus on fundraising, how to pitch investors, companies closing $X million in funding, etc. It's what catches headlines. However, I completely agree that startups should be focused first and foremost on building a business. VC funding should be a catalyst for growth, but not the end goal. Monetization should be figured out independently of VC funding - e.g. figure out how your customers will actually pay you for your product, and how you will keep things afloat in rough times, esp if fundraising is tough. (because it ALWAYS IS)
Javiperez
Javiperez@javiperezsea · Owner and CEO, It24.io It24 Inc.
@christine_tsai Thanks, Christine, we at @it24io as spanish start-up It24.io CEO maybe I´m wrong but from an ethic point of view we prefer not to take any investment from any VC until we don´t monetize enough, what do you think about this?
Hi Christine. Do you prefer investing in early-stage startup/project/idea or in a more mature products and team?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@patry_francois I tend to invest and prefer early stage, but the company must be an actual company w/ a launched product and customers. There aren't too many cases where I / 500 would invest in a pre-customer pre-product company. We have invested in "mature" products, e.g. ones that were past Series A in funding and generating strong revenue, etc. which is a bit out of thesis for 500, but there are always exceptions.
Seth Williams
Seth Williams@sethbwilliams · Designer, Product Hunt
What does success look like for you?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@sethbwilliams For me personally, success is defined by if I love what I'm doing, am happy, and feel like I'm having an impact on something bigger than me. Not super happy smiles sunshine, but just deeply content and full of gratitude. I care a lot more about the journey vs the destination, so as much goal setting is important. what's usually more enlightening is the change that happens w/ me in order to hit that goal. This is something I think about a lot especially for my 2 kids, and trying to avoid setting any expectations in my head about what they "should" be doing. Rather focus on them improving, doing what excites them, and supporting them. vs. "you must be a doctor when you grow up" and be too much of a tiger parent. ;)
Nick Abouzeid
Nick Abouzeid@nickabouzeid · Words at Product Hunt ✌️
Hi Christine! What's the biggest thing that's surprised you about investing in the tech industry?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@nickabouzeid How hard it is to predict winners. Every VC likes to predict the future and think they can pick winning companies, but when you're investing in early stage companies, it's REALLY. REALLY. HARD. When a company does become successful and you try to decipher "what was special" about that company that you saw early, you're probably just making stuff up. Most likely, there was nothing incredibly special that made it a surefire win. Also, there are a lot of companies that seem to be promising early on, then crater after 12-18 months. This is a big reason why we invest in so many companies and absolutely believe in large portfolio theory for early-stage investing. It doesn't mean we invest in everything - we do still have a strong filter and investment criteria, to make sure we have a good pool of companies first. I've also noticed that of my companies which are doing really well, the founders lean towards being introverted (and coachable). Maybe too small a sample size, but just sayin'... ;-)
Narek Khachatryan
Narek Khachatryan@narekk · Product Designer
How would you define an effective Product Manager in a startup? Also if you have time, do you think PMs should design and/or code?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@narekk The best PMs I've ever worked with make the entire team feel bought in and like they have a seat at the table. They are also humble and self-aware of what they may not know, and who might know it better - regardless of title, seniority, department. They also make it a point to spend time with users/customers regularly. The worst PMs I've ever worked with throw their power around, treat their cross-functional counterparts like their personal assistants, disregard feedback from customer support. I've worked in tech support before, so I know firsthand the pain of being brushed off by the product team. Should PMs design or code? If it's additive, not disruptive to the product and their team.
Roger Verhoeven
Roger Verhoeven@rogeliketweety · My Blogs Social Media : http://appearoo.
Great to have here on #ProductHuntLive How and why are you started with 500 #Startups Christine Tsai @christine_tsai ?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@rogeliketweety @hnshah Dave and I started 500 b/c we wanted to be a different kind of VC. One that is global, invests in a lot of companies, cares about building a great community, and is DIVERSE and inclusive. Because VC is a very exclusive world, and talented entrepreneurs exist all over the world.
Roger Verhoeven
Roger Verhoeven@rogeliketweety · My Blogs Social Media : http://appearoo.
@christine_tsai Thank you for your comment on #ProductHuntLive Btw good thing to Invest in #startups all over the World
Athos Espírito Santo
Athos Espírito Santo@ath104 · Co-Founder/Co-CEO, Turetos
Hi Christine! You say you are an introvert, what's tips you can give to people like you to be a leader? What's tips to pass your ideas and express your opinion?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@ath104 Introverts are great at connecting w/ people 1:1 and LISTENING. Use that to your advantage in developing relationships with people. Also in this day and age where lot of communication is written (social media, emails, Slack, etc) that actually works very well for introverts b/c they tend to prefer written communication. I've been told I seem like a very different person "online" than in real life. That said, of course introverts cannot completely avoid in-person group meetings or brainstorms, so it's always best to come prepared to those things in terms of what key points you want to get across. (e.g. "speak up")
Athos Espírito Santo
Athos Espírito Santo@ath104 · Co-Founder/Co-CEO, Turetos
@christine_tsai Thanks Christine!
Theoharis Dimarhos
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi Christine! How does a non-technical person become of value to VCs in an attempt to get into investing?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@theo_dimarhos You're talking about how to get into VC? You don't need to be technical or a former engineer to do VC. What matters more is your overall knowledge of tech, what's relevant, having your own opinions and thesis on investing, etc. Also having actual operational expertise (either having worked at a startup, in tech, or spending time w/ startups) will give you more credibility as an investor and be more helpful to your founders.
Jake Crump
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What is your morning routine?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@jakecrump I wake up, usually after hitting snooze 2-3 times. Drag myself out of bed, with my 3 yr old usually coming after me. Prep my 5 yr old's lunch for Kindergarten while my husband preps breakfast for everyone. Then it's just a blur and mad rush to get the 3 yr old dressed, fed, myself ready and fed, and out the door. We play "man on man" defense at our house. I take the 3 yr old, husband takes the 5 yr old. Nothing at all glamorous about my mornings!!
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Christine, thanks for joining us today. What is the best piece of advice you ever received? How did this impact you?
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@ems_hodge "Be the change you want to see". In terms of how that applies to one's self, if you want to be perceived a certain way, then act like it. It's very easy to get down in the dumps and blame external factors for why you're not getting what you want. But don't let that be an obstacle. If you want change to happen, be the change.
Danny Tirmizi
Danny Tirmizi@danny_tirmizi · Founder : Icarus App
Hi Christine , as your company grew what were the most relevant marketing platforms or methods that worked for you over time ? What were the ones that didn't ? Cheers!
Christine Tsai
Christine Tsai@christine_tsai
@danny_tirmizi The usual suspects - Twitter, Facebook, our own blog. Video was helpful, mostly in terms of capturing content from our events/conferences, weekly talks, and publishing them. In terms of what didn't work - nothing stands out as a train wreck. But what we found was that no single marketing channel is a silver bullet. Twitter is still prob the most impactful, but Facebook has also ramped up quite a bit and I think we've just barely scratched the surface on YouTube and video content.