After spending three years in venture capital, I couldn't get the idea of joining a company out of my head. I never thought I would stay in venture - I sort of fell into it. More and more, I saw myself helping build a company from the ground up. I told my partners at Kleiner and they were incredibly supportive in making introductions and helping me explore new industries and companies. In late 2016, KPCB made an investment in a company called Helix. At the time, I had figured out a few things:
I began working with Helix in my capacity at Kleiner and I fell in love - the mission was infectious, the team was experienced, and the company was early. So I've been at Helix since. More to come!
I joined KPCB right after I graduated from UC Berkeley. I was the youngest person in the partnership by 5-6 years, and I was charged with building and executing the firm's "next generation" strategy - our efforts to meet the brightest young founders, source investments, find the most promising talent and build our brand at the college and post-college level.
The strategy centers around a unique program that I lead called the KPCB Fellows Program which matches the brightest students from across the country with portfolio companies like Nest, Square, Uber, Airbnb and many others. Beyond the program, I worked alongside founders to create compelling brands & companies, built a life-long community of talented young professionals, leveraged their networks to invest in a new generation of companies and continued to grow a more thoughtful story around the #KPCBFamily.
We realized early on that we had to play the long game. This wasn't something that could be instantaneous popular or instantaneously prestigious. We had to sell people on the magic, as if to say being a KPCB Fellow was something not only to be proud of, but something that you would go out of your way to tell people about. That's right, word of mouth, as slow as it is, was our primary growth method. In addition, we piled on experiential, digital and email campaigns, but all centered around the individual fellows and the communities they touched. This is how we grew this segment of our brand from the ground up.
The cornerstone of all of KPCB's next generation efforts is the KPCB Fellows program and the short time that fellows spend with our partners, companies, executives and other fellows. Every summer, I pulled together a series of memorable (and what I've been told to be "life-changing") events and experiences to expose fellows to Silicon Valley and the KPCB Family. I've had the pleasure of working with all of the partners at KPCB, executives like Sam Lessin (Facebook, Fin), Andrew Kortina (Venmo, Fin), Jini Kim (Healthcare.gov, Nuna Health), Jeff Holden (Amazon, Groupon, Uber), Marcos Weskamp (Flipboard, Uber), John Maeda (MIT Media Lab, RISD, Automattic) and many others. Because our experiences are so incredible, our fellows constantly give back.
The program has been covered in Business Insider, TechCrunch, Fast Company, Co.Design, GigaOM and several college newspapers including The Daily Pennsylvanian (University of Pennsylvania), The News Record (University of Cincinnati), The Daily Collegian (Pennsylvania State University), the GW Hatchet (George Washington University) and many others.
I learned pretty quickly that to compete in an environment where lots of other VCs were launching "young people" type of programs, we had to be active on digital - something an old firm like Kleiner Perkins wasn't always use to doing. To me, this didn't mean sending a tweet every two hours, but to be as thoughtful as possible about combining community, social platforms, storytelling and a creative, people-first mind-set. To this end, I worked on building powerful social campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, creating videos and other digital content that highlighted individual stories, and taking our community and the #KPCBFamily from the physical world into the online world.
Over the course of several years, I developed and adopted a simple design language, copy style and set of brand guidelines to establish a consistent feel throughout all of our content and platforms.
At such a small firm that has very little focus on brand or design, it was difficult to make sure that these guidelines seeped into every thing we did. But for all, programs or communications that touched young people, a consistent bright color and lighthearted, but inspiring language was used.
The KPCB Fellows Program has grown tremendously since I first joined Kleiner Perkins. The fellows who I first got to know are now leaders within their companies and some like Dylan Field (Figma), Stephanie He (Pharmeo), Hallie Lomax (VotePlz), Joao Batalha (Orankl) have started their own companies and projects.
When a community like this one reaches maturity, the work becomes a lot easier and shifts to facilitating rather than organizing. For example, we've built such a powerful culture of giving back and doing good, that fellows feel responsible for each other's' success. We sought to codify these values and are making sure that it permeates across every aspect of the program from the application down to the nitty gritty of programming and events.
What I am most proud of, is that these people don't consider us a business. We are a partner in their success and they are a partner in our success. They let us know when their colleagues or friends are working on new companies, projects or when they are looking for new jobs. This is the magic of the #KPCBFamily.
The tough part about building a brand or community is measuring growth, setting KPIs and trying to understand how (and why) it changes overtime. The KPCB and KPCB Fellows brands are so heavily intertwined and to truly understand how the work I did was making a difference for the firm, I conducted the same brand survey twice during my time at Kleiner Perkins.
The brand survey measured our brand equity within my cohort audience of young entrepreneurs, engineers and designers. The surveyed asked about KPCB and the KPCB Fellows Program in comparison to other venture capital brands in both quantitative "top-of-mind" and "aided awareness" terms as well as qualitative "personality" or "image" terms such as Declining, Diverse, Trustworthy, Arrogant, and Product and Design-Focused. The student surveys showed incredible success across time and was a sharp contrast to survey results from a similar survey delivered to entrepreneurs.
Happy to discuss my approach to creating the brand survey and it's results, just ask.
While at KPCB, I had the chance to work with one of the most incredible designers and technologists in the world, John Maeda (@johnmaeda). John Maeda was an incredible mentor who joined us from the Rhode Island School of Design where he was President. Prior to that, he was at the MIT Media Lab as a professor, an accomplished author of "The Laws of Simplicity," one of Esquire's Most Important People of the 21st Century and is considered one of the first people to train a generation of engineers who could design and designers who could code.
John wanted to change the way people see design, because that's what was happening.
While at RISD, he met a couple students named Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. At the time they were working on a small idea that turned into what is now known today as Airbnb. Design wasn't just some superfluous idea to make things pretty, but a mechanism and discipline that could change businesses and whole industries.
With this rise of design becoming so apparent to John Maeda and people in the upper echelons of Silicon Valley, John sought to use his status as one of venture capital's first design partners and KPCB's gravitas as a producer of incredible reports that identify key trends, to build a report that would codify design and it's influence in technology. This is how we came up with the first #DesignInTech Report in 2015.
You can see the 2015 report here.
I worked with John as well as my partners Jackie Xu and Aviv Gilboa from Kleiner Perkins on the first report in 2015. I focused on gathering data, developing key trends and heaping together collections of evidence to back what we were seeing from our view of design at Kleiner Perkins.
In 2016, I focused on developing our key messaging and thoughts around design as a factor in business as well as mergers/acquisitions, design from the eyes of young people, designing trust into a generation of marketplace businesses (Airbnb, Uber, cyber companies, etc.) and introducing the idea of designing for inclusion and diverse perspectives.
Above, you'll find the pieces I contributed to. You can see the full 2016 report here.
The KPCB Fellows Challenge is a set of open innovation challenges for anyone, anywhere, anytime to pursue. Our KPCB Fellows inspired us to launch the challenges - the two things the fellows loved most about their summer were getting to work together on projects and seeing that their skills could have a real impact. We wanted to bring that same value to the rest of the world. From there, we came up with the idea for the fellows challenges.
I helped partner with leading edge nonprofits to bring "social good" challenges to hackers and makers everywhere. I brought together a team of alumni KPCB fellows to think through how we refine challenges with our nonprofit partners, design assets and distribute our challenges through collegiate hackathons. For each partner, I assigned an alumni fellow to manage the technical development of a challenge and I worked with them to make sure all of our goals were aligned. On the other end, I built friendships and relationships with collegiate hackathon organizers across the country. They also expressed interest in bringing a social good element to each of their hackathons and I worked with them to match incentives and get people excited about making things of meaning.
From a business perspective, it was an incredible growth hack that helped us recruit some exceptional fellows who prioritized impact above the typical Silicon Valley hustle and gave our brand strength in the college engineering and design communities. We reached well over 15,000+ people, engaged 200+ hackers and recruited 15% of our fellows for our companies while only running this "for good" initiative for one year.
I met the Beyond Type 1 co-founders through Kleiner Perkins. The Executive Director Sarah Lucas along with KPCB Partner Juliet de Baubigny, TV Personality and Chef Sam Talbot and musician Nick Jonas have all had their lives touched by Type 1 Diabetes and created this incredible organization to build community, a group of resources and a fundraising vehicle called Beyond Type 1. Their aim is to disrupt diabetes.
I worked with the team early on, when the idea was pretty nascent. I worked closely with the co-founders to design and build their first pitch deck (excerpts below), codify a basic business model and riff on design/brand ideas. Beyond Type 1 has since gained a lot of traction and is an invaluable resource for those with Type 1 and the families of those with Type 1. It has evolved into a lifestyle brand that you can find online through their "Live Beyond" campaign, through their programs, at special events and through high-profile collaborations with the likes of Revlon, Victor Garber and many others. You can learn more at beyondtype1.org.
A month before I turned 24 years old, I had a crazy idea. For some back story, I hate birthdays - to me, they're just like any other day. But for some reason, there's just something about them, that get's people excited. When I was a kid, my parents always told me to celebrate when you can, because life doesn't afford you many chances to enjoy it. So I thought I would turn my 24th birthday into something useful. My terrible idea was to turn my birthday into a fundraiser.
I had been in touch with this incredible organization called Pencils of Promise, founded by a guy named Adam Braun. Adam and the amazing people at Pencils of Promise believe that everyone should have access to education. This is something that strikes at the very core of who I am and the values that my parents instilled in me. At the time, Pencils of Promise was focused on empowering communities and building schools in countries where there was a need. I honed in on one country called Laos, where my parents fled in the late 70s as refugees. I had traveled before in the region before, and there was no story that I felt better suited to tell. I wrote it all down and began a massive crowd-funding campaign to raise $10,000 in 3.5 weeks. I spent the month trying my best to capitalize on email, word-of-mouth and digital campaigns (#24for24) and ended up raising 3/4 of my goal. Even though I didn't completely reach my goal, I learned a lot about my Laotian-American community, what works in email marketing and how to craft a convincing message.
Here's the medium post I wrote to get the fundraising going.