Talk And Co

Sequoia Partner Shares How To Succeed

Photo 1 -- Matt Miller - Sequoia - Startup Grind Toronto -- Talk And Co

At its September installment, Startup Grind Toronto hosted Matthew Miller, Partner at Sequoia Capital, the prestigious venture capital firm. He was interviewed by Derek Andersen, Founder of Startup Grind, a global community that encourages local startup ecosystems through its numerous chapters around the world. Startup Grind Toronto runs tech community events, orchestrated by its Director, Michael Cayley. Miller and Anderson came in from the Bay Area, and the event took place at Pivotal Labs Toronto. Miller’s special perspective from the depths of Silicon Valley strongly coloured the talk.

Prior to joining Sequoia, Miller worked at Goldman Sachs, where he catalyzed their investment banking efforts in cloud computing. Miller gives the impression that he’s one-third of each: a clever tech geek, a sophisticated businessman, and a down to earth, gee whiz kind of guy. During the unstructured interview, Miller seemed to do his very best to provide insights on what makes individuals and businesses thrive, and several themes emerged.

Matt Miller and Derek Andersen - Sequoia - Startup Grind - Toronto - Talk And Co

Matt Miller (left), Derek Andersen (right)

1. Consider enterprise

Miller focuses on Enterprise at Sequoia, and is clearly passionate about enterprise technology. Enterprise businesses have major market and investment opportunities. He seeks to invest in companies that target big markets, and that can change the world; he believes that much of this potential lies in companies that improve the way enterprise works. Startups that focus on enterprise are statistically most likely to become billion dollar companies, making them particularly desirable investment targets for him and Sequoia. He said that, unfortunately, relatively few companies that pitch to Sequoia are in enterprise. While Miller acknowledged that other startups can and do attain greatness, Miller’s excitement about enterprise is worthwhile to consider if you’re founding a startup.

2. Be technical

Miller embodies the value of technical business people and businesses. The self-described nerd started programming in his youth. He pursued finance, explaining that, “I wanted to go experience the business side of technology.” Miller is far more tech-savvy than most VCs, and has the know-how to effectively work with technology startups. Notably, he works with Sequoia’s investment in Docker, which skyrocketed, becoming a billion dollar company this year. Docker offers an open platform for distributed applications that allows developers and sysadmins to build, ship & run distributed applications. Miller’s technical aptitude is valuable to his work with such technology companies, and there’s much potential for startups that provide enterprises with powerful, technically complex products.

3. Genuine value is vital

Miller expressed that, with tech startups gaining more traction than others, Silicon Valley is attracting many investors that lack a background in venture capital. Miller lamented that many startups are gaining funding without strong infrastructure. Some investors try to jump on the bandwagon of whatever companies are hot at the moment. Such investments, and the PR that goes with them, allow these companies grow and recruit employees, partners, and more investors. Miller cautions that it is bad business for a company to become reliant on funding and neglect developing a foundation. He advises cultivating solid business models and processes, whether or not they have yet received investment. Moreover, he looks for entrepreneurs who are “passionate about making a real, fundamental change.” To illustrate, he said, “One of the things that really attracted me to Docker as an investment is that it’s a huge, fundamental shift in the way that everybody builds, ships, and runs applications…Things like that, that have missions and scope that are very large, and dominant, and that can seem pretty daunting.”

4. Be human

It was refreshing to hear a venture capitalist talk about community, friendship, and emotion. At Goldman Sachs, Miller formed lasting friendships with like-minded colleagues, who “help each other out,” with many of them in management roles at major companies. He encouraged people to foster similar relationships. When seeking investment, he advised that founders should convey their emotion about what they’re trying to do with their companies, and how their products will help the world. He emphasized that, “The VC is your partner…Just like marriage, you should really love your partner. You should feel good with that partner…You should love the firm, and you should love the individual. And they should feel that way about you. Because you’re going to all be riding the highs and lows together.”

5. Work with geography

Miller acknowledged that the location of you and your business does matter. With seed stage startups, Sequoia only invests in Bay Area companies. According to Miller, Sequoia partners like to say that these startups should be a bike ride away from their Menlo Park office. He explained that these companies require more hands-on nurturing. In the growth stage, Sequoia will invest across the US and the globe. Speaking particularly of Toronto, Miller suggested that founders first try to obtain local investment, and he also mentioned crowdfunding. Otherwise, he said that founders may want to look to investors from New York or Boston, a short plane ride away, with investors potentially making monthly trips to Toronto. He suggested gaining traction locally, opening the option for subsequent venture capital from Silicon Valley.

Michael Cayley - Director - Startup Grind Toronto --- Matt Miller - Sequoia - Talk And Co

Michael Cayley – Director, Startup Grind Toronto

You can find out more about Startup Grind Toronto, including future events, here.

Photos: Raj Kutty

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