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Power to the Customer

The beauty of SaaS is its ruthlessness.

The business model is built around choice — your customer has to want to keep re-upping their contract. It drives companies to be obsessed with empowering their customer. If they don’t, they die.

As companies move away from buying entire suites of apps from one provider, and instead mix and match to customize each layer of their stacks, the customer is becoming even more powerful.

I invest in very early stage enterprise SaaS and cyber security startups.

The sweet spot for me is when a company is less motivated by making money in the short term and more motivated by delivering tangible, measurable value for their customer.

David Cancel and Elias Torres, co-founders of Drift. In 2014, CRV invested in Drift and I joined the company’s board.

David and Elias pioneered conversational marketing — a new way to sell online.

Drift makes it possible for its customers to understand and engage their website visitors more effectively: The software identifies each visitor and deploys customizable chatbots to personalize their experience.

Drift CEO David Cancel shares his advice for new entrepreneurs: “Don’t fall in love with your idea… fall in love with your customers.”

I love companies with deep founder-market-fit.

Yossi Naar, Lior Div, and Yonatan Striem-Amit worked on cyber security for Israeli Intelligence, where they became experts on hacking operations, forensics, reverse engineering, malware analysis, cryptography and evasion.

There’s a big difference between peace-time security and war-time security.

Some people think of it like they’re fighting vandalism or petty crime; others approach it like war, where they’re fighting dangerous, well-funded teams that can take down banks, hospitals, airlines — even cities.

The founders of Cybereason built their endpoint protection platform using the same war-time approach they used in the military: intelligence gathering and analysis, deception, infiltration and countermeasures.

They leveraged their experience doing classified work in computer warfare to build Cybereason. I joined the board in 2013 when CRV invested in the company.

I’m always pursuing intelligence software — apps and services that use machine learning and artificial intelligence to help companies adapt and change as the situation requires — in every industry, and in both the digital and physical realms.

Much of what has been built to date replicates simple, procedural work, but we are beginning a new era in computing:

Engineers are giving machines higher and higher cognitive capabilities so they can solve more complicated problems autonomously.

Hubspot founders Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan pioneered the concept of “inbound marketing” — the idea that instead of pushing your marketing messages to potential customers with annoying emails, you can publish relevant content your audience cares about and new customers will come to you. CRV invested in 2012; the company went public in 2014 (NYSE: HUBS).
Nat Friedman and Satya Nadella, courtesy of MSFT.

Xamarin was one of the earliest startups making mobile developer tools. They made it possible for developers to stick to the language they know and like — C# — to build apps for iOS and Android.

CRV partnered with founders Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza in 2012, and Microsoft acquired the company in 2016.

I decided to become a VC after running marketing at a startup for seven years. Having raised money from VCs, I thought there ought to be a better way to practice venture — to be helpful and respectful and to recognize that founders are the ones who create value; VCs should be there to help, not to interfere.

Getting together with CRV founders to take rally racing lessons. Key takeaway: Just like entrepreneurship, you need to keep your eyes fixed on your goal, even if you’re sliding sideways. If you look straight ahead and stick to it, you’ll get back on track every time.

My favorite place in the world is the desert — Gobi, Sahara, Atacama — and my favorite thing to do is race through the dunes, covered in sand, sweat and grit, in 6,000-plus-mile off-road rally races, working as a team to make it to the end in one piece.

Long-haul rally racing is a lot like startup life: You’re always a little out of control; it’s high-risk, requires constant problem-solving, and even if you end up in a wreck, it’s the most fun you’ll ever have.