When we first met Chris Lyons eight years ago, he did not have the experience that most venture capital firms were looking for: early college days as a Cheesecake Factory server and Sound Engineer for So So Def, to launching a mobile restaurant menu startup that was 10 years ahead of its time. But luckily, we were able to look past the profile to the person. And the person that we saw was spectacular at building relationships, a critical talent for any venture capital firm.
We had a very clear idea of how this talented young man could help us win. Externally, we called him Chief of Staff, because nobody knew what that meant. Internally, he would be a secret weapon that we called “Mini-Ovitz.”
We’ve talked before about the influence of Michael Ovitz and his transformation of the Hollywood talent business on the foundations of a16z. Among the many lessons learned from Michael, the most important was the recognition that long-term partnerships are as paramount in the venture capital business as they are in the talent business.
Chris would be our unfair advantage to do just that: find ways to build deep relationships with important CEOs in the startup ecosystem whether or not we had invested in their company. Dubbed “Ocean’s List,” an homage to the original Rat Pack and Ocean’s 11 movie, Chris would engage with important CEOs and leverage the full resources of the firm to look for ways to add value – help with an executive talent engagement, provide an important introduction in connection with a sales opportunity, advise on a new marketing or PR initiative, etc. Chris’ job was to build the reputation of the firm as the very best partner to any entrepreneur and he did it exceptionally well.
Along the way to elevating our reputation to the highest levels, Chris identified an opportunity to substantially increase the value of his relationship-developing talents. Chris recognized the growing importance of cultural influencers in the technology startup world and launched Silicon Valley’s first influencer network in 2016. For decades, black influencers moved popular culture and tastes through music, sports, dance, fashion, and art. As technology and consumer behavior became increasingly intertwined, Chris realized that the influencer community would have an outsized impact on the startup ecosystem.
Enter the Cultural Leadership Fund (CLF) in 2018. CLF connects the top geniuses in culture to the top geniuses in technology to create an invincible force in the market place. As an amazingly potent side-effect, the CLF brings a limited partner network of African American check writers into 100% of Andreessen Horowitz venture deals and donates all of its fees and carry to causes advancing more African Americans into technology.
Given the success of CLF and the impact that Chris has had on a16z’s overall success, we are proud to announce Chris’s promotion as general partner.