It’s time (once again) to build

Photo credit: Unsplash (Chris Hardy)

I’m a bit of an accidental VC. In 2016, after an exhilarating 16-year career as a product leader in Silicon Valley, I started exploring the next phase of my career. My two favorite career experiences were eBay and Stella & Dot, both mission driven companies experiencing hyper-growth. Both allowed for hundreds of thousands of individuals to become entrepreneurs and build their livelihoods using new platforms. Beyond that, eBay and Stella & Dot were community-driven platforms, allowing people to build meaningful connections over shared interests and passions. …


My framework for evaluating weird and wacky startups

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Whenever you hear the story of a venture-backed unicorn, you’ll inevitably hear about the slew of VCs who had the chance to invest and didn’t, missing a huge opportunity.

Perhaps the most painful example is AirBnB. Back when Brian Chesky was nobody, trying to sell 10% of the company for $150,000, he famously got 7 rejections from top investors.

Although each investor gave a slightly different reason for their “no,” I suspect that the core mistake was the same: they put themselves in the shoes of the target customers, and thought, “No frickin’ way would I sleep in some stranger’s…


Featuring leaders at Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Western Governors University

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

It takes guts for a man to genuinely speak up on behalf of women. It takes even more guts to spur action in an organization and lead a change for the better.

Recently, I had the honor of moderating a Grace Hopper panel discussion featuring four men who’ve spent many years doing precisely that. All four think of themselves as “male allies,” and they came together in this discussion to open up about personal experiences, and to share their strategies to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. The guests and I all really enjoyed this conversation, so…


Which numbers add up to “love”?

People talk about “customer love” a lot, but what does it actually mean? How do you know if you have it? Which numbers represent customer love?

Over the course of my 16-year product leadership career, and in my role now as a VC evaluating startups, I’ve observed that you can boil it down to 4 pillars:

  • Revenue & growth
  • Organic referrals
  • The pain-killing power of the product
  • Retention

Here’s some more detail on how these 4 pillars can serve you as a framework for developing customer love at your startup. …


Valuable takeaways from the front lines

Credit: Daria Nepriakhina, Unsplash

Across 16 years, I’ve worked as a product leader at 5 companies in Silicon Valley (including eBay, Stella & Dot, and Betfair). In that time, I’ve seen true hyper-growth unfold: I was a director-level product leader at eBay when it scaled from $500M to $5B+ in 5 years, and I was VP Product when Stella & Dot scaled from $30M to $220M in 4 years. I’ve also seen the dark side — the colossal failures that happen when startups mismanage their products.

Recently, I shared some of my most useful frameworks at a Wharton alumnae event. Afterwards, the enthusiasm was…


Photo credit: Kristina Flour

Recently, someone said to me, “You’re always smiling, full of energy, and ready to do your best — are you doing some kind of special meditation or regimen? What’s your secret?”

She was convinced that I was following some extraordinary ritual. But even though I do meditate, that’s not the main thing I do that keeps me smiling and becoming the best person I can be. The real secret is the people I choose to surround myself with.


And do the work

Jessica Herrin giving a keynote address to Stella & Dot Stylists

“You have to believe in yourself beyond reason — otherwise, who else will?”

My former boss, Jessica Herrin, Founder & CEO of Stella & Dot, used to say this onstage during keynotes. It was also, I think, her personal mantra.

I always thought this quote was reserved for delusional founders. It is the belief in themselves that keeps founders grinding each day and managing through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.


As VCs stop funding money-losing businesses, healthy unit economics matter more than ever

After leaving my role as VP Product at Stella & Dot in 2013, I was excited to join a new mission-driven startup that was seeing explosive growth. The startup was Keaton Row, a tech-enabled personal styling platform where personal stylists could create digital lookbooks of wardrobe selections for their clients through a drag & drop interface.

After multiple discussions with the founders, my excitement kept building. Customers were spending $1,400 per year on average with Keaton Row, they were seeing double digit growth month-over-month, and they had a sky-high Net Promoter Score (NPS). …


Spero Ventures welcomes Sonny Mayugba as Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR)

Sonny Mayugba with his family during Waitr’s opening day on the Nasdaq

“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin

After evaluating the founder pitches for a recent accelerator class in late January, I packed up to leave when Sonny Mayugba, a founder with a huge smile and great positive energy, approached me to strike up a conversation. I had missed Sonny’s talk “From Napkin to Nasdaq,” which he had given to the graduating cohort earlier that afternoon, but I was excited to connect with him. …


Pitch and follow through (Part 4 of 4)

Soil — Seed — Series A — Growth Stage

[This is part 4 in a series of 4. Before going any further, you may want to read Part 1: Do I really want to do this?, Part 2: Am I ready? And how much money should we raise?, and/or Part 3: Operationalize your process. If you’re ready to start pitching, you’re in the right place.]

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve gotten your foot in the door and you’re in the process of scheduling investors.

I’m going to share with you a handful of final tips to get you through this final push. There are many excellent…

Ha Nguyen

Ha is currently a Partner at Spero Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm investing in the things that make life worth living.

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