It’s Turtles All The Way Down

We have a great post this week from the founder of Thumbtack, who shares lessons on over a decade building the company. Most “lessons” posts serve up platitudes, but Jonathan’s post has a number a unique ideas. My favorite: he’s built multiple companies along the way 1) the startup hunting for basic product-market-fit 2) the startup hunting for business-model-market-fit 3) the startup hyperscaling 4) the startup building out a leadership team. There’s a new challenge just when you feel you’ve got the hang of it.

From the Operators

Jonathan Swanson of Thumbtack recounts Thumbtack’s wild ride in Zero to $1B: 8 Lessons Scaling a Startup.

Anand Iyer of Trusted shares An important Marketplace Metric: Search to Fill. Don’t be deterred by the Uber example at the beginning, this pieces goes deep on the math you need to corner your marketplace.

Andy Sparks of Holloway and his team at Holloway have put together the The Holloway Guide to Raising Venture Capital. It’s the definitive guide to raising.


From the Investors

Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital memorializes the passing of Mary Oliver. If you haven’t read her, Bijan found a good poem to start with.

This week Twitter was all upset about Ryan Hoover’s search for the Weekend Fund Chief of Staff, but Jason Calacanis sets them straight with a primer on carry in A carry comp kerfuffle in Micro VC land.

500 Startups recently published their 2018 wrap up, and we were surprised to see how many unicorns they’ve funded over the years. Add these startups to your index of unicorns: Credit Karma, Talkdesk, Twilio, Grab, Sendgrid, Canva, Intercom, Bukalapak, Gitlab, Revolution Precrafted

Hunter Walk of Homebrew says “Podcast Discovery” Is A Problem But It’s Not A Company. I’m a bit sad, because I want a collaborative filtering solution for podcasts, and Breaker isn’t quite there.

Gené Teare of Crunchbase reports that 2018 Sets All-Time High For Investment Dollars Into Female-Founded Startups. It’s so refreshing to see this happening.

What if being 10x better requires just a slight tweak?

We’re loving the How I Built This podcast, hosted by NPR’s Guy Raz. In this week’s episode, Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler tell the story of starting SoulCycle. Raz asked pointedly, “why even bother starting Soul Cycle when practically every gym already had a cycling class for members at no additional cost.” This reminded me of the quip “if you’re entering a market with existing competitors, you have to be 10x better.”

It’s sound advice, and the founders of SoulCycle knew they could offer a 10x experience with just a few important changes. As Danielle can attest, from the moment you step into the studio the receptionist has been trained to make you feel welcome and accepted. When class ends and you’re dripping with sweat, the lights are low, candles are lit, and the instructors prompt you to celebrate how powerful your body is without comparing yourself to others. In short, you’ve had more than a ride — you’ve had an experience that to some even seems cult-like.

Sometime 10x better doesn’t mean 10x more work. Remember that just a few small tweaks in your work, or life, could make all the difference.


From the Operators

Andy Dunn of Bonobos recounts conversations with the late Blake Nordstrom, who passed away last week, in The Last Time I Saw Blake Nordstrom. Growing up in Seattle, I’ve heard so many stories about the Nordstrom family’s dedication to customer service, and you feel it when you’re a customer there. To hear it from Andy, the founder’s great grandson still had the touch, and will be dearly missed. Rest in peace Mr. Nordstrom.

Over the past month Nathan Barry of ConvertKit went through a difficult time, facing something not talked about nearly enough: his wife’s miscarriage. His surprising discovery that sometimes Gratitude is a distraction resonated with us, and his vulnerability in sharing this story is deeply appreciated.

First Round Capital compiled the best advice from First Round Review in 2018 in The 30 Best Pieces of Advice for Entrepreneurs in 2018. They’ve also conveniently linked back to previous years if you want to binge on the best nuggets from this top notch VC publication.


From the Investors

Jason Calacanis is back to blogging regularly and suggests The Ultimate Outsider’s Hack is to Read All The Biographies. This reminds us of the approach author Robert Greene takes to summarizing knowledge around human excellence in his great book Mastery.

David Teten of HOF Capital has the best non-obvious advice I’ve seen in a long time. Writing down your responses to VC’s doing diligence goes further in closing a deal than you might imagine. Find out why in Face-to-Face Meetings Are Important, but Thoughtful Written Collateral is Mandatory for Closing the Deal.

Jeffrey Carter of West Loop Ventures dives into another under-reported topic of fundraising, discussing investor’s : Information Rights

Carlos Eduardo Espinal of Seedcamp has a simple but awesome spreadsheet for Managing Your Fundraising Pipeline. Savvy founders can also fill this sheet with qualified VCs using the Investors tab of Mattermark.

Ali Hamed of CoVenture draws the distinction between Capital Efficient Vs. Equity Efficient. Either he’s dead on that financing growth needs more options or maybe founders should get more creative with their distribution approaches.

A warm congratulations to Dorothy Ren for joining NextView Ventures on the investment team. If you’re a founder re-designing the everyday economy (home, transportation, food, work & money, health, apparel, and entertainment) hit her up with a pitch (her email is in the post).

Playing chess without seeing the board

This week two of our favorite videos comes from hours of great conversation last week with our former cofounder and great friend Andy Sparks. The first ponders how our typical approaches to strategy might be like playing chess without being able to see the chess board. And we also have a great video from one of the most experienced COO’s in startups, Keith Rabois.

We hope all of you are off to a great start in 2019!


From the Operators

Simon Wardley of Leading Edge Forum asks what would it like to be playing chess without being able to see the chess board or know the rules. It turns out this mode of blind thinking is where most business advice comes from. Situation Normal, Everything Must Change is humorous talk worth seeing.

Thompson Aderinkomi of Nice Healthcare tells the story of being fired as a CEO only to watch his company be shuttered months later. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s now recreating the company from scratch without venture scale funding. Read the full story at Indie and Me.


From the Investors

Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures did a great talk called How to Operate several years ago. Enough people have recommended it that I finally checked it out, and boy is it a good one. We’re breaking our own rule that all content must be fresh, because Keith’s advice is so useful.

Dave Kellogg of Host Analytics shares A Simple Trick To Get Your CEO Closer to Your Team. Middle managers in companies with 50-200 employees can benefit from this tactic.

Shannon Liston of Techstars explains How To Shutter Your Startup: Best Practices for Corporate Dissolution. This is the tip of the iceberg, and we wish there was more written about this given how many founders we’ve seen wait to plan this until there are only 30-60 days of cash left.

Morgan Housel of Collaborative Fund wonders if our Wild Expectations for leadership are too high. She mentions a fascinating bit of history about Harry Truman taking over from Roosevelt I didn’t know about.


From the Authors

Jonathan Rosenberg of Five9 announced on Twitter his new book Trillion Dollar Coach, a collection of insights from Bill Campbell who coached Steve Jobs, Larry page, and probably dozens of other successful entrepreneurs.

Eliot Peper announced on Twitter his new novel Breach. His two preceding books Bandwidth and Borderless have been completely on point with our political situation and the challenges technology has introduced.

Picking up where you left off

This week our friend Andy Sparks is visiting us here in Colorado. Danielle and I cofounded Mattermark with Andy back in 2013. Since Andy moved on in late 2016, we don’t get to see nearly enough of him, especially now that we’re in different cities. It’s been amazing to reconnect this week. There are certain friends you meet in life where you can be apart for a long time, but within minutes snap back to deep conversation.

One of our favorite traditions while working on Mattermark was getting together for dinners at least once each week. Founder Dinners were sometimes an outlet for tough problems to solve at the company, but more often a forum for philosophical questions, talking about the sci-fi we were each reading, and DJ’ing each others’ favorite YouTube videos. Every night this week seems to be like a Founder Dinner, and it’s such a treat.

Andy is busy running his company Holloway, but we will never forget what a joy it was to work with him every day for 4 years. If I could wish anything for all our readers in 2019, it’s that you’ll meet at least one friend this year, who even after being apart for years, you could pick up right where you left off deep in conversation.


From the Operators

Avni Patel Thompson of Poppy is Learning how to say goodbye: grieving the end of a startup. So many of these emotions ring true to where we were with selling Mattermark a year ago, and Thompson is right that too few people talk about this part of startups.

Chris Herd of Nexves offers a surprisingly elegant distillation in Want to Be a Billionaire? Solve “I want X but Y”. It reminds us a lot of Paul Graham’s classic How to Get Startup Ideas.


From the Investors

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures has been a blogging tear this week. Investors should give careful thought to his post Missing The Forest Through The Trees. And he also has thoughtful comments on how startup outsiders view seemingly foolhardy startups in The Profit Motive.

Semil Shah of Haystack is in a thoughtful mood as New Years rolls around, and has two great posts this week as well. “Your Portfolio Is Your Path” is a rare look at some regrets from an earlier fund. And Risk And Reward is a caution to founders that aren’t willing to quit their job and leap into their startup before it is funded.

Tim Ferriss of has a very simple plan for Conducting a ‘Past Year Review’. If you want something more involved, Steve Schlafman has a detailed review system..

Martin Casado of Andreessen Horowitz gives a shout out to the great book Crossing the Chasm in his post: The Unending Chasm, and How to Survive It. I know the feeling of “if we just get this feature done, everything is going to turn around” or “we’ve got product market fit, it’s just scaling from here.” Sometimes it isn’t so easy.

Steve Schlafman of Primary Venture Partners boils down a key takeaway from Keith Rabois’s startup school lecture. This decision matrix reminds me of Ken Blanchard’s extremely useful situational leadership–an oldie known by too few startup founders.

If you know friends who’s resolution is to build a startup in 2019, Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures gives sound advice that first time founders should take to heart. Our favorite: get out of your house and talk to your customers!

Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz has to be one of the more prolific writers and thinkers in startups, and he’s published his 2018 essay collection on growth metrics, marketplaces, viral growth in the enterprise, and more (PDF included).

Hunter Walk of Homebrew adds more thoughts on portfolio construction this week in 3.5 Notes From Our Most Substantial Venture Exit So Far.

Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures checks in on Just Where Are SaaS Companies Priced After the 2018 Correction? We know this eventually trickles into startup valuations, and it will be interesting to see where this goes in 2019.

When Computing Got Started

Several weeks ago we announced Buried Reads is starting an Engineering Newsletter. It’s been tricky to figure out what form this should take, since there’s not enough great blogging on engineering. Instead we’ll be doing more original work. We are starting with the story of how computing got started, going all the way back to early Babylonian algorithms, forward into the eighteenth century when Computer was an occupation held by workers calculating everything from the position of the moon to tables of logarithms, leading finally into Charle Babbage and his invention of the Difference Engine.

We are digging into original source material to tell the story, including early research on what it was like to be a Computer in the eighteenth century and Babbage’s autobiography. One moment in particular struck me as magical. Imagine a young Charles Babbage fatigued from calculating monotonous tables of logarithms who has fallen into daydreaming.

One evening I was sitting in the rooms of the Analytical Society, at Cambridge, my head leaning forward on the Table in a kind of dreamy mood, with a Table of logarithms lying open before me. Another member, coming into the room, and seeing me half asleep, called out, “Well, Babbage, what are you dreaming about?” to which I replied, “I am thinking that all these Tables (pointing to the logarithms) might be calculated by machinery.”

Charles Babbage in Life of a Philosopher

My mind races thinking of how momentous this moment was. Our laptops and cell phones may never have happened or been delayed decades even centuries later if not for this moment of inspiration that Babbage had.

If you are curious to learn more, subscribe to our Engineering newsletter.


From the Operators

Joel Gascoigne of BufferApp publicly shares the company’s performance in Buffer 2018 metrics. Impressive to see this company payback its Series A and decide to go non-venture scale. They reached $3.29 million in net profit this year.

Elisa Steele of Namely tells the story of getting on several boards and what the experience has been like. Listen at How To Effectively Use Your Board as a Resource.


From the Investors

Sammy Abdullah of Blossom Street Ventures does an analysis of public SaaS company multiples, which have fairly obviously tanked right along with the rest of the NASDAQ. The most interesting fact: public SaaS companies average -5% EBITDA margin. This was surprising to me.

Andrew Clark of Visible urges CEOs to write a yearly wrap up for their investors, and offers several useful sections you can consider including.

DifferentFunds published the State of Terms in Venture Capital 2018 for sub $100M funds. It covers the terms they iron out with their LPs, all the way down to, just as an example, the average number of words in the LP agreement. Founders can benefit quite a from understanding where their early seed fund investors are coming from.


From the Authors

Eliot Peper of makes an interesting point in True maturity requires treating adults like children. After reading How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett, I’m a big believer that rich emotional experiences can often be shaped by simple environmental factors. For examples, maybe I’m having a nightmare simply because I’m too hot from all the covers over me, and so my body is trying to come up with an explanation why I might feel this way. Peper points out that maybe we should sometimes assume complex adult behavior is from simple factors like this.

Struggling to Hire Engineers

The startup community has been kicking out amazing posts as the year comes to a close, and we have some gems to share this week. We’re breaking form a bit, and sharing some of our own advice on a topic near and dear to my heart: recruiting engineering talent.

Recruiting Game Plan

I’ve been using my sabbatical time to help companies hire engineers. Velocity is often the make or break issue in winning star candidates. I’ve been encouraging companies we help to map out the hiring process in advance, and have pulled together many elements that are easy to miss. The document got so much glowing feedback, I am sharing the Google Doc widely this week: Interview Game Plan template.


From the Operators

Rand Fishkin of SparkToro explores whether blogging is still worthwhile for the effort, and the factors authors should consider in Can You Still Blog Your Way to Visibility & Credibility?

Justin Jackson of Transistor.fm is thinking about something that’s been bouncing around in my head while on sabbatical: Can you grow a startup on the side?

Max Rhodes of Faire shares his story of getting to $100 million in financing. Our favorite part is the advice from Michael Moritz the “constant application of force” is what separates winning companies.


From the Investors

Christoph Janz of Point Nine Capital writes There’s more than one path to $100 million. We love the shout out to Neeraj’s and his great advice on tripling and doubling your company.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures points out that while we talk about the importance of self-care for founders, we also attack our most visible leaders when they talk about it in Leadership and Self Care.

Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures has been writing his book The World After Capital, which honestly I find as a bit of premature celebration. But I love his post this week Bots for All of Us (Informational Freedom).

Li Jin and D’Arcy Coolican of Andreessen Horowtiz compiled a terrific list of 16 Ways to Measure Network Effects.

A life without kids

Our headline post this week from Sarah Tavel at Benchmark was by far my favorite read this week. Danielle and I have been married for over 10 years, but still haven’t had kids. The decision has freed us up to start companies together, travel the world, read as much as we want, and have countless adventures. Sarah’s post is one of the more thoughtful essay’s I’ve seen on just how much I might be missing out on.


Reflections on Parenting

Sarah Tavel of Benchmark opens a window into important revelations in her personal life in Reflections on becoming a parent


SciFi Startups

Sarah A. Downey of Accomplice has been putting together an overdue series on what startups can learn from Star Trek The Next Generation. In Startup trek, episode 5: Where No One Has Gone Before she covers one of Danielle’s favorite episodes on time travel.

This week TC Sottek of The Verge announced The Verge’s Better Worlds, an effort to portray a more positive future. This as postive sign for those who remember Peter Thiel’s argument about pessimistic SciFi in The End of the Future.


From the Operators

Our parents are coming to visit this Christmas, and it’s filled with fun times, but also a dose of dysfunction that reminds us of annoying times during childhood. Morgan J. Lopes of Polar Notion has put together a set of questions for taking stock of your family relationships. This is a great one to think about vis-a-vis New Years resolutions: Annual Reflection Framework.

David Peterson of Airtable showcases Airtable by putting together a list of Startup Pitch Decks. If you’re building your deck out over the holidays and need inspiration, this is up your alley.

Claire Lew of Know Your Team announces her company’s pivot in Big news: Know Your Company is now Know Your Team. We normally don’t share product launches here, but we love that she shared so much background on her thought process through the transition.


From the Investors

Andrew Clark of Visible VC announces a new tool to help founders run their fundraising process in Get Funded: The Fundraise Tracking Tool

David Beisel of NextView Ventures is concerned founders are missing out on key opportunities that PR can drive in Nobody Announces Their Seed Round Anymore and That’s a Mistake

Hunter Walk of Homebrew offers advice for other funds to improve their portfolio pages, so founders can better determine whether it makes sense to pitch them, in A Small Change Seed Funds Can Make To Their Websites To Help Founders (and Themselves)

Founders who haven’t been in the market for early stage rounds might be surprised by Jason Lemkin of SaaStr‘s answer to the question Is it normal for Series A investors to buy up previous seed investor’s equity?

Jenny Fielding of Techstars announces she is doubling down on the New York tech community in And Now for Something New and Different… Announcing the New Techstars NYC Managing Director

Greylock Partners announces they have added former StitchFix head of growth to the team in Welcome Mike Duboe as Greylock’s Newest Investor

Lightspeed Venture Partners adds 3 impressive operators to the team in When we’re not obsessing about investing, we’re obsessing about hiring.

The Future of Marketplaces

Li Jin and Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz distill the history of marketplaces over the past 25 years and predict that companies like Bannerman, Convoy and Lambda will win over regulated markets. Read the full analysis in What’s Next for Marketplace Startups?.


From the Operators

Sadly, we did not come across any amazing operator posts this week. If you know founders that are blogging, let us know at editor@buriedreads.com.


From the Investors

Hunter Walk of Homebrew took us down memory lane to our days working on Referly as he asked Where’s my Personal Wirecutter? I Want a Place To Talk About The Products I Love!. .

Morgan Housel of Collaborative Fund asserts “writing is the ultimate test of whether your thoughts make sense or are merely gut feelings” in Selfish Writing.

Michael Brown of Bowery Capital outlines several ways that trophy board members can go south in Being Cautious About Independent Board Members. Watch out for that “independent” board member your investor insists on.

Some CEOs spend downtime during the holidays wondering “am I even helping at my company or am I just making things worse?” Jason Lemkin of SaaStr gives them some comfort in Could Someone Be a Better CEO Than You?.

Seth Levine of Foundry Group continues his excellent series on board meetings, this time covering Board Conflict.

Ready to Make Your Dream of a Startup Exit Concrete… What’s Your Number?

This is our favorite time of the year to be reading blogs, because people do a lot of reflection over the holidays. If you see thoughtful posts from founders and investors, send them our way at editor@buriedreads.com.


We’ve shared several stories about alternatives to traditional venture funding. This week Matt Wensing of Riskpulse shares his thoughts in The New Bootstrappers: How Alternative Fundng Modesl Are Embracing Founder Lifestyles. He hints at a new tool SimSaaS he’s using to compare alternative funding approaches for bootstrapped founders.


From the Operators

With lots of talk this week of whether to pivot or return the money, Jason Jacobs of Two Way Labs shares his personal journey deciding whether to shutdown his startup in Goodbye Two Way Labs, I barely knew ya.

Brian Donohue of Pinterest and Instapaper talks about everything from leading the team from paid to free and dealing with the ups and downs of M&A in Brian Donohue on Operating Instapaper Through an Acquisition.

Bertrand Fan of Slack didn’t believe his parents travel advice to fly on the day of Thanksgiving, and hacks together data from SFO’s Wifi records to figure out the best day to be Flying for Thanksgiving.

We’ve been rewatching Start Trek Next Generation together, and loving how relevant the writing is. Danielle sees Picard as a great potential CEO role model, and Kevin is fascinated by the explroation of AI with the character Data. So we were pleased to discover this week that Sarah A. Downey of Accomplice has started a blog series we’re intrigued by in Startup trek episode 1: Encounter at Farpoint.


From the Investors

Erik Torenberg of Village Global riffs on an earlier tweetstorm from September this week to talk about personal moats. The conversation that ensues with Tren Griffin of Microsoft (an excellent Twitter follow @trengriffin) and others is fascinating.

Semil Shah of Haystack tweets an epiphany as to why seed funds keep getting bigger (hint: more fees is not in the top 4 reasons) and kicks off an interesting conversation.


From the Writers

If you haven’t read Oakland-based author Eliot Peper yet, you’re missing out. He started writing about using technology to tamper with elections in “Bandwidth”. I was excited to discover this week he also has a blog and writes Most successful people have no idea what made them successful . Danielle love speculative fiction, and has read all his books. She is thrilled to see Amazon named his latest title “Borderless” among Best Books of the Month: Science Fiction & Fantasy. Go Eliot!

But What Happens in the Upside Case?

Usually, startups are dealing with solving an endless set of problems in what, even at the best of times, looks like a beautiful disaster… kind of like learning to do watercolor painting. But in the rare cases where the product finds the market, the funding comes through, and the team is off to the races–things don’t magically resolve. This week, we have a couple posts that reveal how challenging it can be to navigate the creation of new companies in the best of times. We would love to see more posts from investors and founders sharing the gritty details of operating from a place of strength.

The startup blogging pace is moving at an impressive clip as we head into the holidays and we were thrilled by the editorial process to get down to this set, each of which is incredible. Brew a pot of coffee and enjoy this week’s Buried Reads.


Now that we need scale, you’re not the right person

Steve Blank of Stanford University shares hard-won lessons from the experience of being hired over. Early startup employees should read How to Keep Your Job As Your Company Grows.

What happens when a founder is fully vested

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures discusses one of the most emotionally charged issues to come between founders and their boards in What Happens When A Founder Is Fully Vested?.


From the Operators

Rahul Vohra of Superhuman tells the story of How Superhuman Built an Engine to Find Product/Market Fit and introduces several management techniques that other entrepreneurs can use to get fit themselves.

In The Signal Network Michael Lopp of Slack develops a framework for measuring conversations along the lines of criticality and freshness. It reminds me of Stephen Covey’s framework for measuing tasks not just by urgency but also importance. Covey’s approach has been incredibly useful, and it feels like Lopp is onto something just as important with communication.

Jeff Gothelf of Sense & Respond Press asks What does an agile product roadmap look like?. If you ever felt like your roadmap is trying to predict features you don’t even know will help, this could be a better way to communicate future deliverables.

Matt Angle of Paradromics is creating a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) product. I’ve been curious about where neurbiology meets computing for quite a while, and this was fascinating. Listen at LoupVentures Neurotech Podcast.


From the Investors

Joe Floyd, Jake Saper, Kara Sweeney, and Carlotta Siniscalco of Emergence Capital were all promoted this week, and the firm shares the awesome praise each received from their portfolio in The Next Generation of Emergence Capital.

Rob Go of NextView explains how the current funding environment has lead many investors to value IRR over ROI in Chasing Markups

Jared Sleeper of Matrix Partners points out that customer experience aren’t happening at a smooth rate for most startups in A framework for modeling product development.

Sammy Abdullah of Blossom Street Ventures shares stats that are usually closely held like revenue, valuation, and round size for 179 startups in The Series A Valuation Report.

Parul Singh of Founder Collective shares the harsh realities founders seeking institutional funding can expect in Mastering Growth Economics: What $100M Startups Do Differently.


From the Columnists

Ryan Avent of The Economist asks Why Do We Work So Hard?. When my friends say “put your work aways for a bit” I often have the voice in my head, “Okay, but I really like this!” Avent does a good job capturing some of what might behind this.


Products We Love

The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen This is a difficult read with significant payoffs to those who want to understand the disparity between those who are most respected in society and those who are most productive. Written nearly 100 years ago, Veblen explores the economic theory behind why our culture does not honor those who build the most, work the hardest, and prosper through trade nearly as highly as those who destroy (war heroes), work the least (nobility) and rule through fiat (royalty, emperors and dictators). As you read, ask yourself what has changed over the past 100 years and more importantly: what hasn’t? Readers familiar with the concept of “Veblen goods” introduced in this book will find the fact that it is just $0.60 to download for Amazon Kindle deeply ironic.

Last year, the California wildfires filled our 56th floor apartment in San Francisco with acrid smoke and we purchased our first Molekule Air Purifier. Since moving to Denver, we’ve added 2 more to battle the regular poor air quality. It’s a beautiful highly functional product. Use our link to get $75 off your order.