The future of consumer tech, communities and communication with Sarah Tavel and Eric Vishria of Benchmark

Product Hunt Radio

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44:20

Feb. 5, 2019, 9 p.m.

On this episode I'm visiting Benchmark Capital, one of the world's most renowned venture capital firms, at their offices in the heart of the Tenderloin in San Francisco to chat with two of its general partners, Sarah Tavel and Eric Vishria.

Sarah Tavel has a unique background as an investor, then operator, and back to investor. In the mid-2000s she joined Silicon Valley-based Bessemer where she led an investment in Pinterest and others. She went on to join Pinterest back when they were only a few dozen people before returning to venture three and a half years later. She's now a GP at Benchmark and on the board of Hipcamp and Chainalysis.

Eric Vishria started his career as an operator, working at Opsware and HP before founding Rockmelt, a social take on the web browser, back in 2008. Later the company was acquired by Yahoo where Eric joined as a VP before making a leap into venture at Benchmark. Over the past four-plus years he's lead investments in Confluent, Contentful, Amplitude, and others.

In this episode we talk about:

  • What it's like to go from operating to investing and the different skillsets involved in those jobs, and why Benchmark has bucked the trend of venture firms expanding both in headcount and fund size.
  • What Sarah and Eric are looking for in an investment, which spaces they're most excited about (hint: they say that contrary to reports of its death, consumer is very much alive), and why each partner at the firm only does on average one or two investments in a year.
  • The importance of starting a company in Silicon Valley (or not) and why we're seeing more startups build outside the Valley.

We also discuss some of her favorite products, including a couple apps that are enabling new forms of communication on mobile, an “Airbnb for campsites,” and why Sarah has been playing Fortnite for “research purposes.”

We’ll be back next week so be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, Overcast, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Also, big thanks to AngelList and FreshBooks for their support. 😸

Quotes From This Episode

“When I meet with a company that's outside the Valley, I would get on a soapbox and talk about how they have to be here if they want to scale and I always kind of thought that from zero to a couple hundred million market cap, you can build that anywhere, but to be that multibillion-dollar company, you have to be here. I still believe that but not as a strongly as I used to and it's because you do see so many examples of companies that are getting started and are getting to some scale outside of the Valley.” — Sarah

“As soon as you think it’s over, it’ll probably come from an unexpected place. It won’t be a direct competitor to Facebook, it won’t be Facebook reborn. That isn’t the way it’s going to happen, it will be something unexpected, orthogonal, that comes out of nowhere but that meets this need for people to connect. I think that it’ll happen — I don’t know where, I don’t know how.” — Eric

“It's incredible to see how big many of the other venture firms are getting, and not just from a fund perspective, but from a people perspective. It's almost like they're vertically integrating. They've got seed investing, early stage investing, growth investing, some even have you know, public equity investing, debt, you know, as part of their platform. They've got talent teams and marketing teams and customer development teams and we've just decided to stay very very focused on what we do, which is being a close partner.” — Sarah

“It's really about looking at a lot of stuff, falling in love with an opportunity and an entrepreneur and deeply engaging, whereas operating is mostly figuring out how to get stuff done and very little of figuring out what to do, in a lot of ways venture is like 90% or 95% figuring out what to do and like 5% getting it done.” — Eric

Companies and Products Mentioned in This Episode

AutoSleep — Automatically track your sleep from your Apple Watch.

Bitmoji — Turns your avatar into stickers and emoji.

Breaker — The social podcast app.

Chainalysis — Building trust in blockchains.

Discord — Find people who share your interests.

Hipcamp — Airbnb for campsites.

Marco Polo — Keep in touch on the go.

Nextdoor — Connect to your neighbors.