saar gur

Saar Gur

Venture capitalist at CRV and former entrepreneur.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON January 13, 2016

Discussion

saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
Hi – I am Saar Gur, investor at CRV and former entrepreneur. I have invested in a number of companies at the idea stage and/or within weeks of launching and love working hard to help my founders succeed. I have seen a lot of ups and downs from getting involved so early. Ask me anything about startups, company building, financing, product, customer acquisition, or fatherhood. I hope I can help you and the Product Hunt community. Psyched to participate.
Harry Stebbings
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@saarsaar thanks so much for joining us today Saar. Big fan of yours, my question is; how important do you think individual VC personal branding is? What methods do you enact to ensure that your brand is as public and recognisable as possible? P.S Would love to have you on @twentyminutevc and share your story!
Max Mathys
Max Mathys@pakkojuoda
@harrystebbings Related to this question: What do you think of Tobias van Schneiders personal branding?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@harrystebbings Great question. To be a great VC you have to do a few things well...and two of those things are (1) sourcing great investment opportunities and (2) winning competitive situations. Investing in your personal brand helps tremendously with those two things and so it is definitely important. There are plenty of ways to build brand. In my case, historically I have actually not tried to build a public brand as it isn't in my nature to blog/tweet/etc. - it really doesn't feed my ego to be a public "internet" celebrity and so I invest in efforts that work for me. I like being behind my entrepreneurs not in front of them. As an example, I really try to invest in my entrepreneurs and stand out in my service to them relative to others...and my current entrepreneurs have been my biggest source of leads for new investments and for winning new projects. This strategy can hurt me when I am cold calling founders who don't know me, relative to the VCs who have more internet fame, and that is definitely a weakness to my strategy. As such, I am trying to do a better job with some more public exposure like this AMA. :-)
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@pakkojuoda @harrystebbings I honestly have not followed Tobias van Schneider long enough to have a POV about his branding strategy. If you have a POV of here I would love to hear it and I will try to pay more attention to him and his branding actions.
kickme444
kickme444@kickme444 · Former reddit, CEO of Imzy
@saarsaar Hey Saar, what is your best source of deal flow and how did you get to a point where it was valuable?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@kickme444 thanks for the question! My best source of deal flow has always come from my network and the entrepreneurs I work with. I have always LOVED helping entrepreneurs - even when I knew nothing and had no experience...and that has been consistent through my life and led me to try VC. Over time...I think if you are actually helpful and treat entrepreneurs well....they introduce you to other entrepreneurs...and it builds... For a long time I did this without being an investor and at some point I think I realized that my network was actually valuable and I might want to try venture capital.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@saarsaar What is the craziest thing you've seen in a pitch?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@bentossell I was trying to think of crazy physical products or stunts I have seen...but I can't remember anything too crazy. Often the ideas sound crazy (e.g, Asteroid mining) but the teams either make us think they are believable markets/outcomes...or we leave thinking they are a bit delusional in their view of the future....(and often we are proven wrong). Also - we often see stuff that is really new and have to figure out whether a market will evolve...but at the time the pitches seem pretty crazy. To give you a specific answer: I was looking at Bitcoin when it was just getting started and I wish I had taken some pictures of some of the founder houses/apartments I visited and the founders themselves. Many of them were not blue-shirted slack-wearing entrepreneurs. :-) I won't say more. But we love emergent technologies and ideas, and love digging into nascent communities when they are funky and the people around them tend to be quirky hobbyists...
Cobby Amoah
Cobby Amoah@cobbyamoah · CEO, Peach
@saarsaar What are your thoughts on digital health and have you (or plan to) invest in any digital health companies at the early stage?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@cobbyamoah Thanks for the question. We are fascinated by changes in digital health and are actively looking to invest. We also know what we don't know around biotech and medical devices (primarily regulatory risks and FDA risks). So anything that doesn't have a ton of those risks are more in our sweet spot. We don't know how to evaluate product development risk in pharma for example. But digital health is exciting to us!
Porsche Tysk
Porsche Tysk@porsche_tysk
Hi Saar, 1. would you invest in single founders and assist putting the dream team together, rather than perhaps settling for an average team. 2. How long do you prefer an idea pitch to be and topics to include?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@porsche_tysk I am open to investing in a single founder company if I have deep conviction that the person will be able to attract great talent and build a great team. An awesome early team is a great signal of things to come...and taking on the risk that a founder won't be able to recruit great folks around them is a huge risk. In terms of the pitch - Ideally a founder can succinctly articulate the problem they are solving, and the unique insight they have into how to solve that problem... Ideally they should also find a way of communicating who they are...why they are working on this problem area, etc.
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@saarsaar thanks for being here today! What is one piece of advice that you often find yourself giving out to early stage or idea stage founders you work with?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@ems_hodge @ems_hodge thanks for the question Emily. First I will say that the best advice is delivered at the right time and ideally gets a person/founder to think differently about a situation...changing a person's POV about the world or about a situation is where we often have huge impact. That being said...there are a lot of pieces of advice that I consistently offer to early stage founders. Some of them include: On hiring/culture: Hire for culture fit over resume fit. You will never look back and say that you fired someone too soon. Culture will get formed whether you invest in it or not from Day 0. But it becomes very hard to change later. Easy to ignore as you are trying hard not to die...but worth investing in. The first hires matter for both talent and diversity. Your first few hires will either help you or hurt you tremendously in getting the hiring flywheel going. Doh! I just realized there are a number of other questions...so I may have to come back to this later... :-)
Max Mathys
Max Mathys@pakkojuoda
@saarsaar What are your words of wisdom when it comes to being successful? What is something that you think not enough founders are realising?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@pakkojuoda thanks for the question Max. There are so many ways to define success and I think many founders get singularly focused on one success metric...such as financial success. I think the really special companies can look at a number of factors and feel great about what they have accomplished through their journey and the company they go to work at every single day. Some of those factors include: Have you built a product that people really love? Have you solved a meaningful problem for them and is their life better as a result? Have you defined a new standard/disrupted a status quo? Have you realized your own potential and been stretched? Have you built a foundational company that will be around for 30+ years? Have you treated your customers well? Have you helped your employees realize their full potential and treated them well? Did you win as a team? Have you built a company culture that you are proud of? Have you created economic value for your shareholders? Have you done business in a way that you can be proud of? etc., etc., etc.
ilan abehassera
ilan abehassera@ilan · Co-Founder, COO at Willo ✨
@saarsaar Hey man :) How would you summarize your experience funding Hardware startups so far?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@ilan hey Ilan! Great to hear from you and thanks for the question! As you know, we have invested in a number of hardware startups at CRV including Ring (my investment), Pebble, Jibo, Rethink Robotics (Enterprise), WonderWorkshop, Light (camera), etc.. I wish I had deep conviction to tell you one way or another how they are doing (going to be massive or huge failures) but most of them are just launching or within a couple years of launch. So the honest answer is that the jury is still out on these investments as we don't have any realized returns from any of them. I feel great that we have backed some awesome entrepreneurs who are building some very innovative and disruptive products....and we invested in most of them at the idea stage so it is exciting to see that some of them are putting huge sales numbers on the board (an indicator of success) and many of their value propositions seem to be resonating. But let's revisit in a few more years when we have more data. :-)
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@saarsaar @ilan I will add that I think Ring is going to be massive. :-) (but that is the one that I am also closest to)
ilan abehassera
ilan abehassera@ilan · Co-Founder, COO at Willo ✨
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@saarsaar What would you recommend to someone who wants to advise startups?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@bentossell Thanks for the question. The question is pretty open-ended...and there are tons of ways to advise startups... I think you should bring something valuable to the table and my suggestion is that if you want to get started.....before you ask for equity...prove your value. Before I got into VC, I ended up getting adviser shares in a number of companies...but it was often after I had already been helping the companies a lot and the CEOs wanted to keep me engaged/involved.
Abdou Baldet
Abdou Baldet@abdou_baldet
@saarsaar Hi Saar Gur, Nice to meet you. I'm Abdou Baldet, a French entrepreneur and I want to launch my company. I'm the founder of Air Spectral and we are designing an innovative miniaturized camera to see invisible things. The technology, callled hyperspectral imagery, is already used on satellites and airplanes. Our aim is to reduce dimensions and weights to handle it or mount on drone, for geological mapping or mineralogic searching. I'm still at the idea stage and begin to enter in a prototype step. Do you know how I can have funds ? for a seed stage? Do you support french company? Have you an introduction with VC for me? Thanks :)
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@abdou_baldet Thanks for the question. And congrats on working on this new company and product. I am not very familiar with the French ecosystem but know that there are a number of active venture funds in Europe including WhiteStar, Balderton, Index, etc. - There also may be incubator/accelerators in Europe like Techstars that might be helpful to you. Sorry I can't be more helpful but I don't have many connections or experience funding French companies. Hopefully you can find connections to firms who are a bit closer to you than I am. :-)
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@saarsaar what has surprised you most about working with and investing in early stage startups?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@ems_hodge Thanks for the question Emily! Most startups are really hard. No surprise there. And I do think that super talented teams and hard work impact the success equation. But there is a lot of randomness and luck in startups too...and the randomness/luck factor continues to surprise me.
Hi Saar - with more ways for entrepreneurs to fund their projects these days - what do you view as the VC community's biggest advantages? Are there some products/markets that you believe the VC community just does better than others? Thanks.
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@sunilmud Thanks for the question. I think a great VC has the experience of seeing the value creation process and the company building process happen again and again. Said differently, I joined VC when I started seeing THE COMPANY AS THE PRODUCT (vs. the company's product as the main thing). In my experience a foundational company can only realize its potential from the people involved and the coordination of those people. Think of Apple, Amazon, etc. - Their products have significantly changed over time and the consistent thing has been the team's ability to innovate and execute in the same and new markets. And the challenge is that people are really complicated...and the coordination of people is really difficult. We also help build the company with great strategic advice/decisions such as fundraising, partnerships, and eventually exit/liquidity. The great VCs I have worked with really help in these areas in non-linear ways. And that is hard to tweet and blog about....so to answer your question...I think entrepreneurs who are still developing a product will get less value from a VC than after they have product/market fit and when they are faced with a number of new challenges including building an organization, strategy challenges, fundraising issues, etc. - VCs will help. I also think that many companies take much longer than planned and many VCs invest when companies are really in a bad situation and no outside party wants to invest. We often lead inside rounds in companies that cannot find external financing because we still deeply believe in the problem and teams...and so I think these are markets where the VCs can really earn their stripes and as you say "do better than others." Many of our enterprise businesses fit this...where the teams may work on a product for 2-3 years and spend $20m+ before releasing a beta.
Vinay Mimani
Vinay Mimani@wiredmau5 · Founder : trbble
@saarsaar Hi! Amongst all the reasons you would ever invest in a company (with a prototype), what are the 2/3 most important things that you look for? Also, if one of your answers is tangible traction, which trait/entity could possibly offset the lack of this ask? Also, a detour; could you name 2-3 of your fav artists :) Thanks for your time!
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@wiredmau5 thanks for the question Vinay! The 2-3 most important things I look for. Most of my investments have been idea-stage investments (pre-traction). (1) First I look for deeply authentic and talented founders. I wrote more on this here: http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/17... (2) I have to be personally excited about the problem the team is working on. If I don't think the problem is "meaningful enough" or if it doesn't interest me...than I am not going to be a great fit for the team. I am a passion-driven investor and pass on great products/teams/businesses all the time because I don't have a personal excitement for the problem space that a team may work on. But the opposite is also true...when I do invest...I think I bring tremendous excitement and passion to my companies and want to help them succeed. And helping is easy because I care about the problem and about making my teams successful. Helping is easy in those cases. I will mention that sometimes I don't have a POV about a space and the founders bring me up to speed on a problem space and I am drawn to their excitement. In terms of artists....I LOVE Andy Goldsworthy. He sees the world differently and has been able to make unbelievable art from the materials around him. In music I love A Tribe Called Quest. I grew up with it and after 20+ years I keep going back. :-)
Gert Jan Spriensma
Gert Jan Spriensma@gert_jan · CEO, Zazzy
Hi Saar! Thanks for taking the time to answer questions here. I'm excited about the uptake of Patreon and since you're an early investor there (involved in the idea stage?) can you share what you think is key to be successful in that space (artists/creators monetization)?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@gert_jan Thanks for the question! I think the founders of Patreon had a few key insights that they continue to work on: (1) Artists (broadly) are all small businesses. And most of them haven't been formally trained in running a business (Not many MBAs). (2) there is a real problem on the internet in that the advertising business is largely impression based (CPM) and doesn't work for creators (youtubers, bloggers, etc.) who have small audiences but incredible engagement and super strong relationships with their fans. Patreon will be successful if they make creators successful and help them build their businesses. The more we can increase the payouts to creators and do it in a predictable way...the more successful we will be.
V.S.VIVEK
V.S.VIVEK@vsvivek93 · Unoccupied
@saarsaar Thank you for Chatting with us. I have one question, What is your views on startups that depend on change in user behavior to be concrete in all aspects? What would you suggest those entrepreneurs? And do you think, it depends on the idea they are working on?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@vsvivek93 thanks for the question. I am not sure that I entirely understand the question but I will try.... If a startup is depending on a big change in user behavior...we tend to want to do a deep dive on why the founders think that people will change their behavior. We often can be convinced that a market will develop and share the point of view of the founders - and often these new markets require a change in user behavior. Sometimes evidence from extreme users is a great example...if there are already populations of users who are doing something...and the company pitches that they are building a product that is more usable/friendly but offers a similar value proposition...that it will go mainstream...we can get behind that. Many consumer products start in a niche community of extreme users and then go mainstream over time. For example...no one believed there would be as many yoga studios in the bay area as gyms 20 years ago...but consumer behaviors and preferences change... If a product simplifies a process (e.g., Uber vs. calling a Taxi) or has a strong economic value proposition (e.g., zipcar vs. owning a car)...it is easier for us to gain that conviction.
平嶺佐織(Saori Hiramine)
平嶺佐織(Saori Hiramine)@v97_y · about Serial Entrepreneur
@saarsaar Hi Mr. Saa. my name is saori hiramine. did you send me a Email?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@v97_y no I did not
neeharika sinha
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hello @saarsaar When you are investing in idea stage company what strikes out the most about the company for you to be interested in it. How can startups reach out to you?
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@neeeharika thanks for the question. Usually I have to be excited about the problem space and excited that the team is a great fit to execute against the problem
Michael Green
Michael Green@amikegreen · Cofounder
@saarsaar Thanks for stopping in! Any recommended of resources regarding formation of a VC? This has always has been a topic of interest, however most resources are either rather vague or of questionable origin.
saar gur
saar gur@saarsaar · CRV
@amikegreen thanks for the question. I find that most people who want to form a new VC get the best advice from other people who have been down a similar path....(and raised a fund). Not unlike how many entrepreneurs look to other entrepreneurs for fundraising advice. The actual mechanics of forming a fund (the legal docs/etc.) tend to be pretty straightforward. Most of the "formation" is getting the capital. :-)
Michael Green
Michael Green@amikegreen · Cofounder
@saarsaar Thanks for that, I guess best practice would be finding someone with a interest in a completely different dealflow/industry vertical to prevent potential conflict of interest. As silly as it sounds, securing the initial capital agreements or potential deals aren't the sticking points at the moment. From your answer, this sounds like a good problem to have!