Kevin Thau

General Partner at Spark Capital

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 04, 2016


Kevin Thau@kevinthau
Hi, I'm Kevin and I am a General Partner at Spark Capital. Before Spark I spent the past two decades working at a handful of startups. Two of them I helped grow from less than twenty people to thousands of employees. Twitter more recently and Openwave, the pioneer of the mobile Internet, in the late 90's. I'm new to being an investor, but have the pleasure of working with incredible teams at Medium, Haven, Aura, Bumpers, and Sidewire. Happy to be here answering your questions!
Dylan Qian@dylan_qian
Hi Kevin! Thanks for taking the time to do this. I would love to know what your thoughts are on VCs becoming the public experts on industry trends (through blogs and other mediums) while actual operators do not consistently and publicly voice their thoughts on their industry's trends?
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@dylan_qian We are really lucky working in Venture Capital because we get to meet with so many entrepreneurs starting companies across so many different industries. That gives people a good view of what kind of companies are being started right now. I think it is great when VCs share that insight.
Anthony Stylianou@anthony_stylianou · Social Media Manager, CatchApp
Hey Kevin, what got you into the Startup world to begin with early on in your career? Finally, what do you believe will be your next challenge that you take on in the near future?
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@anthony_stylianou My father started a few tech companies, one of which he took public. Watching the whole process as a kid looked super exciting to me. The idea that you get to make the rules, culture, and future of a company vs joining one was always what I wanted to do.
Sam Couch@samuelcouch · Engineer // People Person
Last night @sacca referenced your Twitter job interview as "legendary," saying that you were "[the] most demonstrably prepared candidate of all time." Would you share the story? 😬
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@samuelcouch @sacca Hah! I love that he keeps bringing that up! I have a strategy for interviewing that has always worked for me. I play offense vs defense, meaning I come prepared with documents that give data, examples, and my detailed thoughts about what the company should do & how I would do it if I worked there. It allows me to set the agenda & also lets the company see how I think and would act if they hired me. That’s exactly why early stage companies are so fun because you can show how exactly you will be additive vs fitting in to the machine.
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
Which company in the Spark portfolio do you wish everyone on PH knew about?
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@andrewett I can’t do just one! :-)… I would say IEX, have you read Flash Boys? They are changing the way stocks are traded so it is more fair. I am personally pumped about Thalmic Labs even though I am not allowed to talk about what they are working on because it is some seriously transformative tech. Last one… you gotta love Bumpers because they are trying to make Podcasting more approachable and fun!
Hayk Yaghubyan@haykoyaghubyan · Serial entrepreneur and digital marketer
Hi Kevin. What are top 5 characteristics of startup that make you to invest in it?
elhaddi@enduradata · Founder EnduraData
Hi Kevin. What valuation methods do you use the most?
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
Hi Kevin! If you could time travel and give your 25 year old self advice, what would it be?
Mario Hall@nadomars · Co-Founder / Designer @CymbalFM
Hey Kevin, we spoke a year and a half ago back when Cymbal was just getting started. Your feedback was incredibly helpful, especially due to your experience at Twitter #Music - thank you once again! I wondered what you thought of more recent happenings in the music streaming space - Rdio shutting down, SoundCloud's growth/revenue/label issues, Pandora/Amazon's upcoming entrance into on-demand, and Apple Music's dominance of exclusives. Is the continued entrance of new competitors sustainable? Who will win? How will the music tech landscape look in 5 years?
Erez Pilosof@pilosof · Founder, Hop
Hi Kevin, how can you tell if some current buzz like AR, AI, Bots etc... is a fad or a real opportunity ?
Matthew Bedick@matthew_bedick · Financial Analyst @BlackRock
Hey Kevin, I had the opportunity to speak to your partner Andrew Parker who shared his greatest failure in VC, which he presented not necessarily as a regret, but how he just messed up. What is your greatest failure as a VC?
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@matthew_bedick too early to tell after only being at it for a year and a half. Let's check back in a couple more years!
Alejandro Reyes@scoopappinc · Founder Scoop App
Hi Kevin. Do you invest in user-generated content platforms? If so, is it vital to have a fairly large user base in order to get seed funding? Thank you
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@scoopappinc I love user generated content platforms! No, I wouldn’t be looking at how big your user base is at the seed stage. I would be completely focused on your product and whether or not it resonates with me. I would want to understand why you made certain product decisions and how you are thinking it is going to evolve in the future.
Nipun Gupta@nipungupta · Veni. Vidi. VC. Podcast
Hi @KevinThau, thanks for your time here. How did your experience at Twitter and Openwave help you become a VC at Spark ? Considering there is no school for Venture Capital out there, I am interested to learn how you acquire the skills for a job like this.
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@nipungupta The number one thing that working at those places did for me was give me exposure to what amazing founders act like. John MacFarlane, from Openwave went on to found Sonos and was an incredible technical visionary. He saw markets before anyone else and shaped technologies to set the foundation. Ev, Biz, and Jack are the most savvy design, product, and brand thinkers I have ever met. I can tell that after working closely with founders like them, I’m drawn to similar types of talent.
ian ownbey@iano · Bumpers / Captioned
Hey Kevin!! You are the best!!! Were you around for the Twitter Music initiative? What happened there?
Paul Sondhi@paulsondhi · Student
Hi Kevin, thanks for doing this! As a soon-to-be college grad, what advice would you give to undergrads wanting to jump to work at a startup?
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@paulsondhi Good question! Pick the part of the tech industry you are most passionate about, research all the startups building companies in the space. Do whatever job they are willing to hire you for. Nothing is beneath you. I am a believer in the “mail room” strategy.
Paul Sondhi@paulsondhi · Student
@kevinthau Thanks for the advice Kevin! If you're ever in NYC, would love to have you speak to some members of a VC club we have on campus (NYU). Will be sure to share your piece of advice with them as well :)
Ebrahiem Shetewy@eshetewy · Founder and CEO, MyTrustedWill
Hi Kevin, I trust that you receive tons of emails everyday, with an email subject "New Startup" or "Request funding for xxxx", and etc.. I also trust that the persons viewing these type of emails are opening and searching for something "quite identified" so they can decide how they will spend the next 5 seconds with this email, either forwarding to someone, or maybe deleting it. What are the information keys that you (or the guys viewing the message) are looking for, inside each of these emails? and would it require a "recommendation" so we can increase the possibility of ensuring that our email or project was 100% reviewed? Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@eshetewy Honestly, I try to look at every email because it is an incredibly humbling experience for people to share their dreams with us. I don’t have a magic bullet of things I am looking for, but usually I relate to how products are used by people and why. Some people call this the “user story”. It’s how my brain works vs market size or something.
Laf. Julius@laf_julius · co- founder @evolvesports
How's it going Kevin..thanks for taking time to be apart of chat...What methods did you use for scaling talent within the startups? What sectors are you currently looking to invest in? Size/stage investment? Do you think AR will replace employees?
Alejandro Reyes@scoopappinc · Founder Scoop App
@laf_julius AI you mean?
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
What one piece of advice do you find your self offering to founders the most often?
Kevin Thau@kevinthau
@ems_hodge There is not one way to run a start up or build products or hire people, etc. There are lots of things that have worked for lots of companies and you should figure out what makes most sense for you. In other words, trusting your gut is critical. Cherry pick the best practices, but ultimately you have to have your own instinct and vision for the company you want to build. The nature of technology is that the landscape is constantly changing which requires companies to re-invent the wheel almost every time.
Alex Circei@alex_circei · CEO & Founder Waydev, Inc.
Do you invest in startups from Europe? Do you suggest them to move in the US?
Hari@AiNGEL@hariraj_j · cofounder,Aingel
Hi Kevin, Thanks for taking time to do this. 1) In your decision making process for early stage investments, how important is the founding team vs. product, idea, financials ? 2)for companies you invest in, any area where you think that your firm adds unique or disproportionate value?