Renee DiResta works in VC, but comes from a background in finance. At all points through her career, Renee has thrived in fast-paced, high stakes environments, and isn't the type fo shy away from a challenge.
Working with O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and socializing within the Silicon Valley tech scene, Renee has seen many an independent venture sprout, grow, and either survive its first years or wilt in the sun. Her experience evaluating the market drivers, societal trends, financial data, products, and business plans leaves her uniquely well-suited to see which startups will bloom into something promising.
In the interview below, Renee shares tips on developing a polished professional identity online, helping a company survive past infancy, and walking the work-life balance tightrope.
You have cultivated a splendidly-polished digital persona. What sorts of tactics have you used to cultivate your digital identity and get on others' radar?
I came from finance, where people are strongly discouraged from blogging or tweeting about what they do. When I decided I wanted to switch careers into tech, I started following industry people on twitter and noticed how often they engaged publicly, blogged, etc. So I started a Tumblr blog, created a new non-private twitter account, and made an effort to join the conversation. In the beginning, I mostly commented on others' blogs, and asked a lot of questions.
Working in VC, I'm sure you've observed many successes and failures. Have you noticed any shared characteristics in companies that survive past infancy? Are there any common characteristics of companies that quickly fizzle out?
The co-founder relationship breaking down is possibly the most common reason for failure. Early-stage entrepreneurship is high-stress. It's important to partner with someone who complements you, rather than replicates your skill set and personality. Mutual respect is very important, particularly if one person is technical and the other is not – both of those skills will be valuable at different stages. Your startup is likely going to fundraise, and you're definitely going to have to reach out to customers, so determining up front who has those interpersonal or sales skills (or is going to work to acquire them) is important. Ability to execute depends on flexibility, and the ability to acknowledge and learn from early missteps.
Has your background in finance and computer science given you a practical edge to entrepreneurship and business? What sorts of habits or mindsets would aspiring entrepreneurs with a lot of "soft skills" benefit from assimilating?
I don't know that it's given me a particular edge, but I came from a world (trading) where thinking critically and being appropriately skeptical are strengths. I see a lot of unbridled optimism in Silicon Valley; I admire that trait in people, but do feel that it needs to be balanced with a realistic assessment of a startup's real revenue and growth possibilities. Even if an entrepreneur has never taken a finance course in their life – I hadn't until I'd spent several years working in finance - they should be able to open up Excel and hack together a basic set of projections rooted in real market-size estimates.
It's hard to rise to your level of success without making sacrifices (and sadly, many people fail to acknowledge this). What have you had to cut out to successfully pursue your careers in finance and VC?
Both of the jobs I've had require a big time commitment, but in a different way. Trading was an intense 12 hour day, generally exciting and stressful and surprisingly tiring at times, but I didn't think much about work on the weekends. VC is more of a lifestyle commitment – there is time in the office (analysis, taking meetings), and then time out of the office (meeting people, having meals, going to conferences or Meetups). I spend most weekends working in some capacity – attending a hackathon or conference, working on a side project (usually tangentially related to my career), etc. It doesn't feel much like "work" because I love what I do, and I'm fortunate to be married to a startup founder who works hours similar to my own. We try to make sure to spend at least an hour a day just hanging out together without our computers, and we set aside time on weekends to hang out with friends. I do wish I had more time to take online classes (in areas unrelated to tech!), or read a book, or go hiking.