Cyan Banister

Partner at Founders Fund

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON May 09, 2016 Thank Cyan Banister on Twitter


Hi - I'm Cyan Banister, partner at Founders Fund. Formerly, I was an angel investor -- some of my notable companies I've invested in are: Uber, Thumbtack and SpaceX. I love to build things with friends, especially art and I love watching movies. I don't like being serious all of the time, which is why "silly person" is in my bio on Twitter as a reminder to lighten up. Super duper excited to be here - ask me anything!

Update: Thank you all for your questions. We can continue the chat on Twitter if you want - @cyantist. This was super fun.
Ben Tossell — Community Lead, Product Hunt
What are your favourite questions to ask founders?
@bentossell What makes you uniquely fit to solve this problem and what do you have that nobody else has (tech, team, etc.) that will make you #1? Also, my new favorite question was asked of me by Peter in my interview: "what worries you?".
Tanmay Desai — Co-founder, Cruxbot
@cyantist @bentossell What was your answer to that question, if you don't mind sharing.
Kingsong Chen — Founder at Lace, Marketplace for GovTech
Hi Cyan, what needs to change for it to be easier for startups to sell to regulated industries (i.e. government)?
@kingsongchen Regulators are not always the enemy, it is the job of companies to figure out how to work with them. Ideally, you build a company that offers products that are useful. This is a pretty broad question, so it is important to understand the specific problems you are trying to solve.
Niv Dror — Writer/Social Editor @ProductHunt
@cyantist hey Cyan, thanks for joining us! Two questions:

1) Can you tell us about Uber's seed round? How did you get in, did you think the company would get as big as it's become?

2) How did you get the coolest Twitter profile pic of all time?

@nivo0o0 1) That is a fun story. I originally heard about Uber from my personal driver who took me to the airport. (Roger) He handed me a card and said, "I'm not an investor, but if I were, I would call this guy Ryan Graves -- this company is going to be huge!" He was their first driver I believe. Or at least, one of their first drivers. Eventually, his whole family was driving for Uber. He kept handing me cards and after meeting Travis at a demo pitch at one of Jason Calacanis' Open Angel Forums, I knew that I needed to finally call Ryan. Luckily he let me in :)

2) That wonderful photo was created by my friend @nadya on Twitter. We are collaborating on a series of photos of what the future looked like from the past. That is what VR looked like in the 80s. Not far off!
Hello Cyan, thanks for taking our questions. Where do you look for emerging trends (e.g. sources, events, websites, etc.) and how do you pick ventures in nascent industries?
@candriopoulos Mostly I have conversations with smart people that I respect. That's one of the reasons I wanted to join a firm, so I can constantly be surrounded by people that I can bounce around ideas with. Other than that, I'm very active on social media and watch what people are doing and what they are discussing.
Shaan Puri — ceo, Monkey Inferno
Hi Cyan,

The first time we met, I noticed you had great, infectious energy. What does the first hour of your day look like?

Do you do anything out of the ordinary to shape your mood & mindset?

@shaanvp This is a wonderful authentic question - thank you Shaan. My first hour of my day is a nightmare probably like most people, but it is more about my outlook on life. I try to stay curious. I'm constantly learning - about myself, about others etc. In general, we have one life to live (IMO) and treating each day as a special day is kind of my secret I suppose. Also, I was stoked about meeting you.
What are some common mistakes that you see marketplace startups make? and what are some key traits of marketplaces you believe will succeed?
@panashemahachi Biggest mistake is going too broad. Maniacal focus is what will help them succeed.
Jeremy Pepper — Consultant
@cyantist @panashemahachi Yay for feature creep!!
Thomas Stöcklein —
What is working with Peter Thiel and the other great minds at Founders Fund like? What have you learned so far? What, if anything, has surprised you?
@tomstocklein The team pushes you to look at everything in different ways. Just when you think you know something, a team member will ask you a question that will make you rethink or reshape how you think about any given topic. Everyone here is a generalist, which may be surprising to some, but part of that is the willingness to go deep and learn new things about sectors you know nothing about. We look at a wide variety of businesses, from sandwich delivery, to drones, to vertical farms to biotech and so on.

I've mostly learned a little more about my team so far. I'm only a month in. Every day I'm surprised, which I think is a good thing to be.
When should founders start thinking about social impact and/or philanthropy?
@leila_janah I look for founders that are trying to maximize positive impact through their work, because I believe the most important technology companies have the potential to uplift people all over the world.

This may not always take the shape of philanthropy, not everyone has the resources to do the Benioff pledge, but if you can, that's always one way to go, or commit some of your time on the side.
Ben Tossell — Community Lead, Product Hunt
Hey!! If you had to be a tech CEO/founder for a week, who would it be and why?
@bentossell Reed Hastings from Netflix. I have immense respect for him and his team. I'd love to know how they turned a dvd on demand business into a company that now produces amazing original content. They are incredibly innovative. That would be a dream come true to shadow him for a week.
Emily Hodgins — Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Hi Cyan thanks for being here today! How did you first get into tech and investing?
@ems_hodge I started from the ground up. My roots are with Internet Service Providers and infrastructure, so I began my career supporting dial up Internet and worked my way up (our out) from there. Tech is my first love.

I got into investing because of my most amazing mentor and husband Scott Banister. After exiting IronPort, I wasn't sure what to do and he identified that I could be good at this and encouraged me to do so. Sometimes all it takes is a nudge and I'm glad he did it.
Thomas Stöcklein —
What apps that most people may not have heard of are on your smartphone?
@tomstocklein Depop, P&T Chat, Ingress, Hooked, PingPad, Clect
Thomas Stöcklein —
You're the co-founder of Signal Media Project, which promotes and facilitates the accurate portrayal of science, technology and history in popular media. What are the most common examples of 1) science 2) technology and 3) history getting misrepresented in today's media? Which media outlets (besides the National Enquirer) are the worst offenders?
@tomstocklein I'll keep this short, because I only a few minutes left, but I think blogs are the culprit because they are on a tight timeline to produce stories and they need hooks in order to sell ads. Sometimes bloggers correct themselves later, but by then the damage is done. I don't think this is nefarious intent, but lack of resources that are immediate to them in order to write accurate stories. Maybe also some education around a healthy dose of skepticism would help.
Jeremy Pepper — Consultant

What areas do you think are not getting the funding like they should? What are your favorite things to invest in?
@jspepper I'm a generalist, but I have a concern that too many investors have become risk averse. As investors, I believe our jobs are to find companies that are completely new technologies. Often times, these technologies have a high probability of not working, but if they do, they are the most important companies in the world.
Jeremy Pepper — Consultant
@cyantist Not enough generalists in the world. I still consider myself a PR generalist, with skills in all the different arenas. Too few of those around, and why there's so much bad messaging and PR out there for startups. Oy.
Jeremy Pepper — Consultant
@cyantist And I remember the old, old days when VCs would take risks and there'd be E, F and G rounds. And higher, betting on an idea until it could go on its own. (FedEx is one example).
Hi Cyan, Wauw I'm amazed by how much you have accomplished - What are you most proud of?
@anders_artboost_cederholm My lack of a formal education. I fell in love with technology at an early age and I'm self-taught. Thank you btw.
How do you avoid the noise of the media and elsewhere? Where do you consume your news? Any good book recommendations?
@jacob_anstey2 I go out of my way to expose myself to a wide variety of view points, so you'll notice I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook. Some of these people I agree with, and some I do not, but what happens is that I read what they read and that expands my thinking.
David Joseph — Co-Founder, President.
Do you use Integrative Medicine in your own daily life? What excites you about the future potential of healthcare platforms to put the power back in the hands of the people?
Tanmay Desai — Co-founder, Cruxbot
Hi Cyan,

BOTS - hype, next-big-thing or just another user interface? What do you think?
Charles Kunene — Co-founder & Product Designer @Obaa
How do you ensure that you have access to the best founders running companies in markets that you're excited about when there's so much noise in the industry?
Tanmay Desai — Co-founder, Cruxbot
Hi Cyan, thanks for joining us.

Do you believe that something is still missing in the way/process we find, read and consume articles/news? Would you fund in this sector if something comes up?

Cool profile pic, BTW.
Harry Stebbings — Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@cyantist thanks so much for coming on PH! I am intrigued how have you seen your investment decision making process change over the years investing? How does this investor mindset change the operational approach you take with Thankroll? P.S. Would be an honour to have you and Scott on @twentyminutevc
Marcus Davenport — Founder & CEO Startup
@harrystebbings @twentyminutevc I've heard of your podcast, I'll have to check it out! Where are you based out of?
Jeremy Pepper — Consultant
What do you think of Project Include? Does tech do enough for inclusiveness? Where you approached to be part of it?
Kevin Fallon — Analytics / Data @ Pond5
Hi Cyan - Thanks for taking the time with us!

TL:DR ... To found or not to found? ... actually that is not the question ... the question is really when ...

I have always been 100% confident that one day I was going to go for it and try to build one of my moonshot ... hair-brained ... too big to execute ... "do you really want to take on those guys" ... internet changing startups. To me, David is always > Goliath ( as long as David is patient enough; a committed student of the market; and oozing passion / heart.)

Despite frequently dreaming up ideas (generally related to the structure / conduits to the internet) ... this is the first time I feel the gravity of an idea pulling me in. No matter how hard my rational brain wants me to focus on cash (my income & savings ... i.e. my future startup war-chest). I have been very lucky in my ~five year career and have continually found myself in exciting and challenging roles (M&A advisory, startup finance + successful exit, and now startup finance / data / analytics); and working for great clients, management teams and investors. But now I worry my good fortune is is making it too hard to jump!

We are prototyping around the clock (I even had my mom tinkering with the tech yesterday!) ... and we could launch an alpha in a week if we needed ... but I don't know if right now is when I jump (i.e. quit current VC backed job). My compatriot / technical cofounder is a PHD candidate so he has some more flexibility.... I 100% want to go full-time and there is plenty of work to be done ... any advice on how you might think about whether or not to jump?


Alina Trach — Ripple
@kjfallon May this inspire you! "The only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks."
Mark Zuckerberg
Jeremy Pepper — Consultant
What lessons did you learn from Zivity that could be applied to other media companies?
alexandremayol — DayPass: hotel pools & fitness on demand
Hi Cyan, thanks for sharing here, what is the Service or Product you dream someone builds?
Where do you think our economy will go in the future? Between having outsourced a lot of our production overseas, Artificial Intelligence moving to take over a lot of every day business procedures, and telepresence moving towards VR that will increase reach and mobility, what do you think will be left for the everyday guy as part of the workforce? What will our country produce and export? Not everyone is a programmer.
@lee_bishop great question. and geometrically increasing populations, same finite Earth resources, and less work for people to do is a recipe for disaster. then again, there may be occupations in the future that nobody can imagine now, like how nobody could have dreamt up something like "social media marketing manager" a hundred years ago.