I was just a little girl
Skinny legs, a press and curl
My mother always thought I’d be a star
–Lauryn Hill,”Every Ghetto, Every City
I clearly remember interviewing Connie Chan for an analyst position many years ago. After the interview, I immediately told my assistant Minerva to find the hiring manager Frank Chen as I wanted to speak with him right away about his candidate.
Frank: “What did you think?”
Me: “She can definitely do the job. The question is does she want to do that job.”
Frank: “What do you mean? She’s interviewing for that job.”
Me: “She’s more ambitious than you think.”
Frank: “What does that mean?”
I got very close to Frank, nose to nose, looked straight into his eyes and said: “Just make sure that you keep her bowl filled with kibbles at all times, because the big dog has got to eat!”
Frank looked at me quizzically as though I had temporarily lost my mind. One quality that I deeply appreciate in Frank is his ability take a horribly garbled and ridiculous instruction like that and do something positive with it.
But why was I so inarticulate? I had seen something in Connie that in the course of my career, I had almost never seen. From the way she answered every question to the way she had analyzed the firm to the poise she exhibited in the very way she sat in the chair, Connie was determined to be the best at everything she did. There was no question in my mind that she was destined for greatness. I saw it, but I could not say it.
I could not say it, because I felt an immediate conflict with where she was going and the way we had constructed the firm. When we founded the firm, we made a brand promise that if you raised money from us, we would put a Founder or CEO of a significant technology company on your board. That was our General Partner requirement, because we were determined to be the best place for technical founders to learn how to be CEO. To make good on the promise, we built the most powerful platform for giving founders a big time CEO-like network from capital markets to talent to big company customers to the press. On top of that, we committed to putting someone on the board who could help develop the CEO skill set. Finally, we wanted everyone in the firm to culturally understand the struggle of building a company. These were great ideas, but it meant that we did not promote General Partners from within. And in my heart, I knew that one day we would have to promote Connie or miss out. The thought was making me a little insane.
Fortunately for us, Frank hired her as an analyst and she did not disappoint. He paired her closely with our most accomplished General Partner Jeff Jordan who helped develop Connie’s venture capital skills. Connie contributed massively. She found and championed blockbuster deals, which generated amazing returns. After looking at the broader ecosystem, she decided that we needed to understand the innovations in China much better if our companies were going to compete, so she took that on personally. Yes, you read that right. She took on China. And, as with everything Connie did, she quickly became the best at that. She developed into the industry’s leading authority in explaining Chinese technology products to people in the United States. She even won David Brooks’ Sidney Award for her post, “When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China”. People in venture capital firms don’t usually win these kinds of awards, but Connie was never “usual”.
Through the course of her work, everyone whom we ever connected with Connie — from Ben Keighran, founder/CEO of Caffeine, to Chance the Rapper — came back with the same feedback: “Connie is the best.” Yes, we know.
Beyond that Connie approached investments in a very different way than our other partners. While the rest of us described deals beginning with the entrepreneur and the size of the opportunity, Connie always saw things from the target customer point of view first then worked her way back to the entrepreneur and the market size. Her different perspective landed us Pinterest and Lime early on when our conventional thinking would have failed. As importantly, she fiercely championed both deals so aggressively that we had to understand her point of view.
Fortunately, as things evolved, our culture became stronger than the GP no-promotion rule. Everyone in the firm became all about the entrepreneurial struggle and helping founders grow into CEOs. Founders didn’t just get a person; they got a platform. The old rule started to seem dated and out of place. So, four months ago we dropped the criteria and the promotion rule.
That’s why I am so pleased to announce that today we promote Connie Chan to General Partner. It is a proud moment for all of us.