Last week, a few InSITE fellows and myself had the distinct pleasure to attend a Columbia Venture Community talk organized by Joe Rizk (@jfrizk, InSITE ’12) speaking with Jeff Bussgang (@bussgang), who is a General Partner at Flybridge Venture Partners. Jeff has an extremely impressive resume and was all too happy to share his thoughts on where he sees tech moving, entrepreneurship, VC, and his love for Stephen Colbert. I was incredibly impressed with his humility and focus on the entrepreneur (which is a theme I have been continuously seeing with people who are successful in this world). He shared many insights with us, but there were a few that really stuck out that I would like to focus on:
-Flybridge has recently moved half of their office to NYC and the natural talking point is what they see in New York City that did not exist before and the culture of the New York City Start-up community. Jeff really was candid in saying that entrepreneurship is the same everywhere. People in NYC, Silicon Valley, Boston, Brazil, and London are all talking about the same things and trying to solve the same problems. Jeff believes, and I agree, that this is excellent news for start-up culture as people in different areas are all using the same language and processes to solve problems. What Jeff and Flybridge now see in NYC is that the city is taking advantage of its strengths to form companies, like Ad-tech, FinTech, and E-Commerce. He specifically stated that he still likes E-Commerce and it is an area still ripe for disruption. The example he used, which was very compelling, is that the “shopping cart” was invented roughly 15 years ago and in the grand scheme of online shopping not a significant amount has changed, and with the explosion of mobile there is a lot of potential. He was, therefore, not advocating for another flash-sale company or curated experience, but instead, real inspiration. Another topic was hardware supported by extensive software. I won’t delve too much into it, but places like MakeBot and Quirky and doing excellent “physical” product related things (If you want more “software in a wrapper type stuff… read some of @bfeld or link to @Nabeel and @Bijan from Spark Capital talk about the next big hardware product coming from a start-up and not an already established company).
-Jeff also offerered some candid and fantastic advice for starting your own company. Bussgang’s First Rule of Starting a Company is…. DON’T DO IT. His Second Rule, however, is completely ignore Number 1 if you cannot be convinced otherwise and are wildly passionate about your idea. Entrepreneurship is completely irrational, but that is not why entrepreneurs, especially successful ones, do it. His advice if you do not fall into Rule Number 2 is to join a company that has Series A funding and learn. You need to develop your “mafia.” Why does Jeff mean by mafia? He means your startup family that can learn and grow and develop successful entrepreneurs in the future. Think about the DoubleClick Mafia (future starters of Gilt, Business Insider, etc..) and the PayPal Mafia (Don’t even need to elaborate) among others. This was a great natural transition into Jeff talking about mentorship and he is an enormous proponent of it. I believe, and anyone who wants to argue with me about it is more than welcome, that mentorship is critical to becoming a successful entrepreneur. That is one of the reasons why Jeff believes you should work for a Series A funded company and you should pick your job because of your mentors. He also believes that it is critical to pay your mentorship forward. Make a list of 5 people who you want to mentor you and 5 people who you should mentor. He says this because being a mentor helps you know what you want out of your mentors.
(DISCLAIMER: BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FROM JEFF IN THE POST!).
Jeff has enormous admiration for young entrepreneurs and was constantly speaking highly of his peers and portfolio companies. He is a humble and grateful person and it was a pleasure to hear him speak. I think this is why Jeff has been so successful in his life. His humor, self-awareness, and hard-work speak highly of what Flybridge is doing and I am thrilled to see what they have in store. I want to close by thanking Joe Rizk and IDEO for hosting and Jeff for taking the time out of his schedule to speak.