Spencer Lazar

Helping start-ups break through the noise as a Principal at General Catalyst

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON December 17, 2015


Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
Hey Folks – I’m Spencer Lazar. I’m a Principal at General Catalyst Partners, and help lead our efforts in New York City. I’ve seen the start-up world through a number of different lenses (venture firms, geographies, and as both an investor & entrepreneur). Here to help anyway I can. Ask away!
Mark Bao@markbao · Founder, Ambition
What up Spencer! Curious, are you currently facing any problems / pain points / unmet needs that you wish an enterprising product person could hack up a solution to?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@markbao are you offering your services? So many problems to work on :) I continue to want to see a better set of resources & tools to teach millennials financial literacy. So many people I know between the ages of 15-30 do not have an answer to basic questions, which cumulatively will have a big impact on their future.
Hi @slazar How will you divide your time if a you've got one hour to solve a user problem? Thanks!
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@juniusfree great to hear from you. In the abstract, I'd spend 10 minutes planning; 40 minutes building; and 10 reviewing.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@slazar during your career to date, what has the best advice your've ever been given? Flip side, what's been the worst?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@ems_hodge the best advice that I received....There is a fantasy that every young person should "follow their passion." Most people do not have a passion that they can identify or have nurtured. And following your passion feels like a loaded / weighty to do anyway. Take the pressure off. Instead of following your passion, consider doing the most interesting thing you possible could do at any juncture of your career. That's an easier question to answer, and in doing so, you might wind up discovering your passion :) The worst career advice that I received was to dive into a startup at pace that I did. I was interested in building a company that helped consumers do more with their time. In product speak, I wanted to build a better mobile-first calendar. This was in 2011 (before products like Sunrise), and sounded doable/plausible. I was introduced to two super smart and capable guys (one a designer and one an engineer), and we went on a few founder dates. I was living in London at the time and they were in NYC. I would fly back to see them and otherwise do video chats over Skype. In a short span of about three months, we decided to team up and raised venture money. I spoke with many people before making each of these decisions. Smart people. And they encouraged me to do it. "What's the worst that could happen?" they'd say. "You'd fail?" That was right. I was fine with failing. The problem was not the decision to start the company, but how quickly everything came together. As cofounders, we do not really know one another well enough. Our product vision hadn't really gelled together. Taking money made it harder to break up as a team, and forced us to use words like pivot. Now, whenever I meet a young team, I am hyper aware of how long they have known one another and worked together. I also tell them explicitly not to raise capital until they as a team fundamentally believe that they have figured it out. Most people appreciate hearing this from a VC. But it is advice that comes from real experience.
Dhruv kumar@dhruvakumar · Founder,icliniq.com
Great Question by @ems_hodge. And a brutally honest reply by @slazar
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
Hey @alexcartaz - I'm most interest in next generation marketplaces. Prediction: Slack will become the enterprise identity layer for the web, much like Facebook Connect did for consumer products.
Kingsong Chen@kingsongchen · Dev
Hi Spencer, what are key insights you've learned from working with great founders?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@kingsongchen the best founders that I work with are in many cases defined by the pace at which they learn (and iterate). You speak with them, they truly listen, deeply process from first principles, and move (quickly).
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@slazar how are you my man!! Great to see a past @twentyminutevc guest on PH Live! I would love to hear how important you feel personal branding is for VCs as individuals, not firms is? What personal branding attempts to do you engage with? As always a pleasure and hope you are well!
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@harrystebbings fun question to start with Harry. An individual VC's brand is important, but it needs to be authentic. I tend to engage in events (both as a host & attendee) because that I where I connect most with founders. That said, I am always trying to push myself to try to channels. Your show and this session here are examples of this.
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
Any hidden talents you can share?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@russfrushtick I am a street art connoisseur & amateur photographer :)
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@slazar hi! Thanks so much for being here today 🙌how does the startup scene in New York stand out from other cities and San Francisco in particular?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@ems_hodge NYC has evolved quite a bit in my 10 years here. NYC's strength comes for a combination of its density, diversity, and energy. Relative to Silicon Valley, the community here is still quite young, but it packs a mean punch. The biggest reason for this to me is that NYC is a collection of tons of microcommunities. Left unto themselves in the offline (or even early internet days), microcommunities are exactly that, micro. But as the world has truly become connected, and the global population is orders of magnitudes bigger than it used to be, a microcommunity in NYC, can connect with similar microcommunities in other places around the world. To me, this explains the emergence of companies like Makerbot in NYC. Few would have thought NYC would have become a global focal point for the 3D printing revolution, but because the local community of makers here was able to reach their peers around the world, their world changing work was received by a global audience (and set of potential customers). This phenomenon is of course broadly true on the internet, but magnified by NYC, which itself can kickstart (:)) a product's traction, due to the density of offline networks here.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Thanks for joining us today! What types of tech startups excite you the most right now? What is your single biggest prediction for what will happen over the next 5 years in the ecosystem?
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What is your blueprint for assessing attractive startups? What is your (flexible) strategy for helping startups break through the noise?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@bentossell (1) team (intelligence, domain expertise, communication skills, quality of engineering talent, ability to recruit); (2) market size (existing or emerging); (3) defensibility (less from IP than things like network effects); and (4) product execution (what have they built and do people use the product on a repeat basis)...
Ali Afridi@alikafridi · Building Products
Hey @Slazar! - What’s your favorite app/product at the moment? - What’s your biggest regret in life so far (doesn’t have to be career related)?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@alikafridi hey Ali. My favorite app right now is NPR One. Opening the app always feels like a present. Biggest regret in life is generally a habit that I have where I do not stop and ask questions enough, for fear of being rude or looking dumb. This is a bad habit to get into.
Geoffrey Weg@geoffreyweg · Betaworks, TechStars, White House
@slazar @alikafridi +1 for NPROne. Completely changed my NPR listening habits.
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hello @slazar great to meet you here! What is the big difference you see in Ny vs SF startup scene? What is the best advice you can give a startup to reach out to you and get noticed?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
@neeeharika check out my answer to Emily too, but a couple other comments. NYC has different industries at its heart (fashion, advertising, financial services, media, insurance, healthcare). It is very light vs. SF in enterprise and infrastructure software. Ecosystem participants in general are less experienced in NYC, but no less hungry or capable.
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
@slazar @neeeharika I am working on fashion tech startup in SF.. Do you have any suggestions for a first time entrepreneur?
Chris Calmeyn@calc · Co-founder of Scout
Hey @slazar, thanks for your time, in addition to the interest in financial literacy (and perhaps fin-tech as a whole) that you mentioned in your answer to @markbao, are there any other sectors that you're particularly drawn to right now? If you could only commit capital to 2-3 in the next year which ones would you choose?
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
Hey @calc, thanks for the question. Personally, I am interested in opportunities (1) in the insurance sector (life, renters, commercial); (2) focused on closing the income inequality gap in our country (vocational training, financial literacy); and (3) opportunities around the future of work (apps built on slack, labor marketplaces, next generation career coaching...). As a bonus, I am doing a bunch of work right now in 3D Printing. Feels like we went through one wave the hype cycle therein, but a new class of exciting companies is beginning to emerge.
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi! What's your view on online education/schools? What elements are missing that would make them grow exponentially?
Dhruv kumar@dhruvakumar · Founder,icliniq.com
Hi @slazar, Here's a tricky question. What is the most important thing you will look in an entrepreneur that will make you quit whatever you are doing and join his/her company? Yes. I am talking about the traits you will look into. P.S. He/she has no experience but you are convinced that he/she is there to make it. :)
Spencer Lazar@slazar · Self
Thanks everyone for tuning in. Total pleasure to hang with you. And if you are ever in NYC, please come by GC!
Tommy Nicholas@tommyrva · CEO @ Alloy
Sup Spencer! One thing I've always wondered about with GC is how being based in Boston changes the mindset. I know you're based primarily in NYC, but does having the partnership based largely in Boston change anything for the good/bad/neutral?