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Feb 25, 2022

My choice to do the work: 
Joining The General Partnership

by Phin Barnes
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In August of 2020, I left First Round to discover the opportunity to build again. I had a lot of clarity on how I wanted to play the game, but didn’t know where my home court would be or which teammates I would work with best. I was uncertain about everything, but I knew I needed to go somewhere new.

"The first step towards getting somewhere new is to decide you are not going to stay where you are."

JP Morgan

Fear is clarifying. After overcoming the terror that comes with moving on in the first place (an ongoing process of containment more than actual victory TBH), I found that clarity lived in conversations with incredible founders, investors and company builders across Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Clarity lived with friends and mentors who helped me understand what the very best founders are looking for as they allocate space on their cap tables. Clarity came from looking at what I wanted in my day-to-day work and how I defined my long-term success.

Over the course of 18 months, I saw firsthand how founders looked for capital to meet their company construction needs with minimal cost (in terms of both dilution and distraction). I also saw that, as capital was becoming more and more of an available commodity, GPs were shifting away from building partnerships towards deploying capital at an increased velocity and fund scale. At the same time, the very best founders talked about actively looking for something more than capital. They’re after the exceedingly rare, extremely senior folks who have deeply relevant experience to engage with their vision. These founders define partnership through the collaborative work and tangible contribution made to the value of their company, rather than the valuation negotiated or the size of the capital commitment offered.

But, what I didn’t realize 18 months ago, was that the opportunity to meet this founder need and the opportunity to build again was sitting in my inbox 4 hours after I announced I was leaving First Round. It was an email from Dan asking if I had some time to talk about what he had built at SEV, where his team was evolving the business model of venture. He had figured out how to apply deep expertise and hands-on collaborative work with founders to support team building, product creation and go to market execution. I had known Dan since I first moved to San Francisco in 2014 and always had tremendous respect for him and his work. I saw this work firsthand when he and his team engaged with founders in my network — it redefined my understanding of partnership with founders and inspired me to do more impactful work as an investor.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve spent a ton of time with the founders SEV has partnered with so far, as well as the builders on the SEV team who are serving these partnerships. Each founder I talked with counted Dan and his team as their most valuable investor. Founders told me how SEV saved them a year or more of engineering time, closed meaningful revenue with new customers, and added key leaders to their teams. These stories were unlike anything I had experienced and completely changed my perception of what “value” really means as an investor.

Time with the members of the SEV team feels very different than any other team in venture when it comes to expertise, motivation and service. Every member of the team is extremely senior, understands how startups operate in the earliest days and knows how to operate efficiently at scale. There’s also a sense of ownership they bring to their work; they’re driven to build with and for the founders they serve, and the lengths they go to in service of the best entrepreneurs is just epic.

Very few people can deliver on the quality of work our builders promise and working this way is not a fit for every investor. But I can’t imagine a better way to practice the craft of investing or a better team to build with.

I can’t wait to build. Fast.

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