Post by Gobi Dasu, founder of learningdollars.com.
Last month, I had the chance to speak with Andrew Quirk, who was my student when I was a TA for CS 109 at Stanford (Probability and Stats for CS Majors). He gave me some interesting info about the Lightspeed Ventures Summer Program. I wrote this post because I think these tips may be helpful to our clients who are entrepreneurs that hire from the Learning Dollars talent network. Such entrepreneurs may consider applying to the Lightspeed Summer Fellowship.
1. LSVP gives you 15k per person + 5k for taxes, office space, mentorship.
Andrew mentioned that these are the benefits of the program, but they are pocket change for Lightspeed. The main benefit is the serious and constant drilling in product market fit (PMF). The program is structured in this way but also can be unstructured if your team wants it to be. He mentioned that one company came in with a startup idea and 4 weeks in decided to spend the rest of the summer learning about Blockchain. At least that company realized their first idea didn’t have PMF!
2. Lightspeed is investing in a relationship with you 5-10 years down.
Often college students are doing this program over summer break, so clearly Lightspeed doesn’t expect every company to stick around and scale fast. Yes, 2-3 companies did end up raising a seed and then a series A, but many companies and teams dissolve. The point is that after 5-10 years when you’re actually going to do the real deal, Lightspeed is going to know you and be there to invest. Plus, they are helping you by growing your network immensely. And if by chance your summer program idea is the real deal, all the better — you have a solid network for getting customers and co-investors.
3. The Lightspeed interview is mostly about team and getting to know you, not technical or even logistical ability.
The interview for the LSVP summer fellows program is mostly about getting to know you. Andrew mentioned that it’s a lot less technical than their team imagined. It’s mostly targeting students who are entrepreneurial thought leaders. Again, the point of the program for Lightspeed is not about immediate deal sourcing, but about developing awesome relationships for 5-10 years down the road. They stress on who you are.
4. If your team actually sticks to your idea, you certainly will learn PMF and B2B marketing and sales.
Andrew mentioned that his team was working on a product that would help citizens connect with their congresspeople. He said that constituents don’t want to pay for yet-another thing to do with politics (think WSJ, NYT, campaign donations etc), so they took a B2B angle. The tool would allow congressional campaigns to better understand constituents, along various dimensions and marketing strategies. This sort of wrestling with strategies and use cases is what Lightspeed helped with. He said all summer they were thinking not about code and tech, but about Product Market Fit. i.e. Would these Congresspeople actually use their data/service and if so how? Would they find it useful enough to pay for it?
Personally, I find B2B marketing quite tricky — how do you cold email potential clients? How do you do influencer marketing in a B2B setting and how do you create scalable buzz? So I asked Andrew just that: how did he get the first congressperson on board. Andrew said that one client is huge for them (it’s literally a congressperson!) so they can afford to spend more time, money, effort into getting just one. Concretely, they happened to get an introduction to Eric Swalwell via a Professor at Stanford in the Political Science department. Having Lightspeed on board as their “VC” obviously made this introduction more “worth” the professor and Swalwell’s time. Also, the professors at Stanford were inclined to get their team into both Democratic and Republican conventions for the State of California. This for me harkened my Junior States of America days with Winter Convention in Sacramento — I had no idea in high school that I could monetize such opportune meetings with state congresspeople by selling them data.
As I thought more about the value Lightspeed’s program offered Andrew’s team, there was mentorship, there were introductions, there was money, etc. But I feel that Lightspeed, almost like a prestigious alma mater or “YC”, is an important badge that will attract attention — something every startup needs. It’s a particularly useful badge in the B2B setting where it facilitates or enables intros.
I tried to ask Andrew if his team would find LD engineers helpful, to which he mentioned the team may need our engineers, but activity usually peaks several months before election seasons. It’s important to iterate quickly and try new ideas early. Andrew in turn mentioned that we at Learning Dollars (which is a talent network of software engineers), should of course look at building relationships with such VC fellowship/EIR programs to let entrepreneurs try out our 10 free hours of coding, but we shouldn’t expect significant revenue to start coming in from them until some fellows start raising rounds and building out engineering teams. In a sense, Learning Dollars would have to make long term bets on relationships the way Lightspeed itself does.