Josh Elman

Josh Elman

Partner at Greylock. Previously Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. Seeking crazy ideas.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 01, 2015

Discussion

Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
Hi I’m Josh Elman. I’m a VC at Greylock where I get to invest in great founders and companies building new consumer apps and products. I’m involved in Medium, Nextdoor, Operator, Jelly, Meerkat and SmartThings. Before becoming a VC, I got to help build Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Zazzle, and RealPlayer as a product manager and engineer.
Hey @joshelman, What's a prediction that David Sze and Reid Hoffman have for the future that you vehemently disagree with and why? Mazz
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@mazzeo so the hard part is we agree alot - I got to work with them both at linkedin and facebook as they were contrarian believers in social networking. Since I joined Greylock, one area I pushed that I didn't have as much agreement on was Internet of Things / Connected Home. I'm a huge believer that every mechanical device in our home is going to get smarter and have more sensors and data, and will make our lives smoother and easier. When I proposed investing in SmartThings, there was some resistance and skepticism. Fortunately, as a partnership, I had the support to go hang myself out to dry, and even better the company made great progress quickly and we sold to Samsung last year for a nice outcome (and they have continued doing great work there).
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Excited to have you here, Josh. When we first met IRL about 3 years ago, I asked you for advice on which startups I should consider joining as I was considering leaving PlayHaven. I recently met up with a friend that's going through the same transition. What advice would you give and what type of questions should young PM's, marketers, designers, etc. ask themselves when deciding where to go next?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@rrhoover great question. Whenever I have thought about where I work and where else I could work, I always asked myself "what product do I love today and think should be much much bigger and used by many more people in the world?". If the product I was working on wasn't in the top 5, I'd think about trying to go work on a product that was in that list for me. I think it's really important to choose something you legitimately love and believe can be a lot bigger and more important in the world. If you convince yourself to work somewhere because you think it can pay you a lot of money, you won't be as happy working on it, and you won't go to sleep or wake up thinking about how you can make the product better nearly as often (except perhaps in nightmares)
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@joshelman Thanks for joining us Josh! What advice would you give to your 22 year old self if you were 22 in 2015? What about your 30 year old self?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@eriktorenberg i would tell myself to marry the girl I'm with (fortunately I did!). And I'd tell myself to realize that everyone I was working with had good intentions -- it makes a huge difference when you trust the people you work with and vice versa.
Scott Hurff
Scott Hurff@scotthurff · Product Manager & Lead Designer, Tinder
@joshelman great to see you on PH Live, and sorry I missed you when you were down at Tinder. Question: What's been the DNA held in common by the hugely-successful orgs of which you've been a part? In other words, why do you think Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter were so successful?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@scotthurff this is a great question. What impressed me about all of the companies is the founders and in those early days pretty much all of the employees shared this optimistic belief that we could make a big difference for the world. And every decision came back to whether it would help make that more possible, and avoided any short term tradeoffs. Also all of the companies had a very healthy mix of understanding of data along with this vision so decisions were not just based on he said / she said opinions
Scott Hurff
Scott Hurff@scotthurff · Product Manager & Lead Designer, Tinder
@joshelman thank you, sir!
Leo Polovets
Leo Polovets@lpolovets · Partner, Susa Ventures
@joshelman I've worked with a lot of great PMs in my career, but you were the very best one. I'd love to know: 1) What do you think are the characteristics of a strong PM? 2) What advice do you have for people starting out in PM?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@lpolovets aww thanks Leo - I loved working together too. I still tell stories of the name hack we figured out. I think the characteristics of a strong PM are someone who gets the team to build consensus and own the problems together. It's important that everyone on the team gets a chance to contribute to finding the best potential ideas to solve the problems they want to. For aspiring PMs, I encourage as many as I can who have engineering backgrounds to code professionally for at least a year, maybe two. You go through the entire cycle of building something, changing features along the way, shipping it, learning what worked and didn't, staying up late to fix the bugs, and building v2 on top of what you built. With at least one turn through the cycle you'll have a totally different perspective when you are in a meeting and say "can't we just do this instead?" and know how much work an engineer or few now have to do because of that. Without that empathy, it's hard to be a great PM
If you could start a business in any industry/sub-sector tomorrow what would you choose and why?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@alfink92 something that makes cities work better -- massive shift right now from suburbs back to cities that I don't think is going to change over the next few decades
Sydney Liu
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
@joshelman Hi Josh, Loving the Medium posts and your talks (like at @jason’s Launch incubator) about product development. Keep them up :D During the extremely early stages of a product, what should be the main things a founder should focus on and talk to the users about? Say somebody comes up with an idea that they think can be a great company and solves a killer problem. Builds a basic prototype in a day and launches on ProductHunt, has 1k users now. What’s next? There are obviously a lot of things that need drastic improvement with the product because it’s so early, probably every piece of the funnel could use drastic improvement and the core use of the product as well. Where would you look for indicators of what to focus on/change first and what would the next 7 days of working on the product look like for you? Thanks a bunch! Sydney
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@sydney_liu_sl so if you got to 1k users, that's a huge first step. The key is to think about who is sticking around and finding the product useful, and why. Once you start to understand that, you can continue to build more features that lean into that use case. I would look less at the data from your users, and in those first few weeks talk to as many as you can to hear the early anecdotes. I like to joke that the plural of anecdote is data, but in some ways it's true - you start with a few stories and then your data shows you if those stories are happening more and more frequently even with users you can't talk to
Sameer Noorani
Sameer Noorani@sameernoorani · CEO, Roomvine
@joshelman Scenario: A startup has a built unique product. Not based in the US. Nature of the product is such that its difficult to seed without adequate marketing capital so it has limited traction and growth. Team with a great resume but not in tech/startup. Massive market size with no competition. Question: What would it take for you to realistically invest in such a startup?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@sameernoorani i think the best way to get your first investment is to find people in your region and / or domain that understand what you are doing and are willing to make the bet. As you get more traction and growth, it becomes easier for others to understand your plan towards world domination. For me personally, I focus most of my investments on domains I have worked in and understand well, have built strong networks, and in areas where I can really help the companies succeed
Brett Watson
Brett Watson@brettewatson · Learner
@joshelman I am deeply interested in highly technical fields that I foresee being huge industries in the future (eg: automated vehicles, hyperloop, etc), but I am non technical (I do marketing). How can I break into companies that are reserving spots only for essential/technical people before they get big?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@brettewatson great question Brett! To get into an early company, you have to hustle, network and become as much of an expert as you possibly can. I also find sharing up front work to show how much you want the job and are thinking about the problem. Just saying "hey I can market, i'd like to work with you" isn't as compelling as saying "Hey I've been studying everything i can about automated vehicles, I've done 3 studies with professors, and here is one idea I had for a campaign to encourage truckers to try trucks with new automation systems"
Brett Watson
Brett Watson@brettewatson · Learner
@joshelman Great advice. Thank you Josh!
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
What've you learned from working with founders in your role as an investor (as opposed to an operator)?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@johnolilly hi John :) the thing I've learned the most is how hard and how important it is to find the right employees and executive mix for a company. The investment in finding a partner to own an area like marketing, engineer, or product can be such powerful leverage for a founder, but if it's not the right person it can also have such a negative impact too.
Daniel Landy
Daniel Landy@danolandy · 📚Babson Student
@joshelman I recently read Hatching Twitter and its funny to see that you worked at Facebook on Facebook connect. Then you worked for Twitter and tried to integrate Facebook connect and Facebook disabled the service for Twitter. Fast forward and you invested in Meerkat and Twitter decides to disable the social graph for them. My question is do you think these companies are in the right to disable these services to companies they deem as competitors or do you think these companies are doing the wrong thing?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@danoliverlandy this is a great question. When companies have opened up platforms - like Facebook or Twitter, it is so that developers will make products that make users more addicted to the platform such as Twitter or Facebook. It's not for other developers to just get big and suck out the graph. Facebook has historically always prevented this without clear use cases that make the experience of Facebook better. So I don't think the companies are doing anything wrong. That said - when Meerkat first popped on Twitter it was one of the most amazing experiences I'd had with my Twitter network in a long time. It got me excited that the Meerkat team could continue to build great products and features to connect a new graph and experience well beyond Twitter which is why I invested.
Shaan Puri
Shaan Puri@shaanvp · ceo, Monkey Inferno
hiya Josh. You get a chance to talk & work with lots of talented people. What is a skill/trait that you've seen in others, that you wish you had (or had more of) in yourself? -shaan
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@shaanvp great question. One of my weaknesses is I tend to process a lot of things externally or verbally. So when I'm thinking about a problem some people think I'm babbling lots of random stuff. Once I get to something I'm comfortable as an answer, I can state it pretty clearly. But I always admire people who speak softly and crisply the first time. Communication is very important in every professional and personal setting, so it's something I hope to get better at
Patrick Rogers
Patrick Rogers@mrpatrickrogers · Developer @realm
Ricky Yean
Ricky Yean@rickyyean · CEO, UpbeatPR.com (formerly PRX.co)
@joshelman if that's how you think that's fine. I think it takes away some of the mystique but that's all. People like us who think by babbling have a branding issue. @dtran320
seth goldstein
seth goldstein@seth · co-founder: crossfader, turntable.fm
ok smartypants, let's say the governor of massachussetts michael dukakis II gives you carte blanche to do what it takes to return beantown to its former splendor as a hotbed of startups and venture capital, what would you do?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@seth i'd still invest in the bay area. Weather is just better :)
seth goldstein
seth goldstein@seth · co-founder: crossfader, turntable.fm
Jared The Dude
Jared The Dude@jaredepicpower · EVP & Co-founder @ Muxy.io
@joshelman I have heard you are the biggest troller in the SV. Circle T or F.
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@jaredepicpower can I circle the OR?
Jared The Dude
Jared The Dude@jaredepicpower · EVP & Co-founder @ Muxy.io
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
THANK YOU EVERYONE. These were all great questions. I wish I could have kept going and answered everything. I'm sorry if I didn't get to your question - some I wanted to would take even longer answers than I had time for - but hopefully prompted a few good medium post ideas. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter and Medium- @joshelman. And I look forward to more ways to talk more in the future !
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@joshelman everyone please give a HUGE thank you to Josh for taking the time to chat with us today!
Alex Cook
Alex Cook@aacook · Founder of NanaGram
@joshelman Thank you!
Alex Carter
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
@joshelman thanks Josh!
Jeff Needles
Jeff Needles@jsneedles · Data @ Houseparty & Maker of Things
@joshelman What is the most fun/entertaining part of working with new startups?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@jsneedles the optimism. The ability to move fast and see ideas go from a brainstorm to users within just a few days or weeks at most
Phillip Yang
Phillip Yang@geekyyang
@joshelman Hi Josh. Thanks so much for doing this on Product Hunt. Big follower of you. My 2 questions are: 1. Mobile Ad Tech: I saw your response to Rob Leathern's Medium Post re: The Mobile Video Ad Lie. Do you feel that there needs to be a change in Mobile Ad:Tech, and if so, any thoughts on how? 2. LinkedIN Messaging - Stickers: Saw your Tweet on this new update. Do you think Stickers/Emojis/GIFs are just too much? Or, do you think they can evolve further and have an impact on advertising, especially for mobile?
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@geeky_yang mobile ad tech: Rob's post was excellent. And frightening how much data loads on every page load on our devices. The thing with our mobile devices is they know who we are better than computers ever did. Yet the ads don't seem to have access to any of that. I think what companies like Snapchat and Facebook are doing to make the ad formats truly native and integrated are a good step. Re LinkedIn - I think the messaging is great and it's fun to have stickers / GIFs that add a large emotional impact with few characters. I'm already seeing advertisers use these kinds of emotional content in their ads. My snarky comment about LinkedIn was just that I didn't associate the brand with anything cartoonish -- eg a dog sticker and the word "paws-itive"
Phillip Yang
Phillip Yang@geekyyang
@joshelman Thanks so much for answering! Appreciate it!
Emily Veach
Emily Veach@editemily · writer @Feedly
@geeky_yang Great post. The Mobile Video Ad Lie: https://medium.com/@robleathern/...
Phillip Yang
Phillip Yang@geekyyang
@editemily It was wasn't it? Rob's post was really interesting. Loved how he really 'dug' deep into his research. :)
Anthony Onesto
Anthony Onesto@anthonyonesto · GM Konrad Group/Entrepreneur/Advisor
@joshelman very specific question - does a startup B2B product need beta clients in the US to get its first round of funding if it already has product 1.0 and clients in India but wants to expand into the US and build out a version 2.0
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
@anthonyonesto i don't know the answer since I invest mostly on the B2C side. But I'd suggest first investors being in a similar market to first customers can be a great advantage for all
Anthony Onesto
Anthony Onesto@anthonyonesto · GM Konrad Group/Entrepreneur/Advisor
@joshelman appreciate the insight, thank you.
John Owen
John Owen@thejohnowen · Program Mgr, Wright State Research Inst
Josh, What's the most important thing a a community (government, universities, nonprofits) can do to support the entrepreneurial community?