408. Workflow automation, LLMs impact on the Future of Work, Why Proprietary Data-Sets Will Win, How Business Models Will Change with AI, Why VCs should Focus on Revenue Growth and Not Markups (Lily Lyman)

408. Workflow automation, LLMs impact on the Future of Work, Why Proprietary Data-Sets Will Win, How Business Models Will Change with AI, Why VCs should Focus on Revenue Growth and Not Markups (Lily Lyman)

Lily Lyman of Underscore joins Nick to discuss Workflow automation, LLMs impact on the Future of Work, Why Proprietary Data-Sets Will Win, How Business Models Will Change with AI, Why VCs should Focus on Revenue Growth and Not Markups. In this episode we cover:

  • AI’s Impact on Work, Automation, and Collaboration
  • Investing in InsurTech, Supply Chain Logistics, Commerce, and Digital Health
  • Healthcare Tech Evolution, Business Models, and AI
  • Venture Capital, Valuations, and Investing in the Current Market
  • Entrepreneurship, Fundraising, and Company Building Insights

Guest Links:

The hosts of The Full Ratchet are Nick Moran and Nate Pierotti of New Stack Ventures, a venture capital firm committed to investing in founders outside of the Bay Area.

Want to keep up to date with The Full Ratchet? Follow us on social.

You can learn more about New Stack Ventures by visiting our LinkedIn and Twitter.

Are you a founder looking for your next investor? Visit our free tool VC-Rank and weโ€™ll send a list of potential investors right to your inbox!

Transcribed with AI:

Lily Lyman joins us today from Boston, Massachusetts. Sheโ€™s a General Partner at Underscore VC, one of the leading early-stage B2B venture firms based in Boston.
Lily is a vertical SaaS and future of work expert exploring the intersections that lead to deeper cross-functional collaboration across orgs, as well as tech-enabling the “deskless workforce.” She brings a global perspective to her investing, having lived in 75 countries before settling in Boston. Lily, welcome to the show.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
You have quite a background, I’d love to hear about this, the 75 countries that you’ve lived in, and just generally your path to venture capital.
Sure, yes, it’s it’s funny in my bio, that’s always a thing people ask me about. And maybe because it is it is a bit unique. So my, you know, the first 1012 years of my career, we’re all very international based, as you can tell, and that’s kind of what led to the 75 countries, I basically felt like I lived on a plane for a decade or so, which I’m very fortunate to have done. And I got to work with a lot of incredible people all over the world. But, you know, my path of venture was a little bit unusual. And a lot of people always asked, you know, how do you break into venture? What’s the path and and I think that there’s plenty of data points that show there’s no one path and adventure. And I think mine’s another example. There’s lots of different different routes. But you know, graduating from college, actually that I was going to go to the School of Foreign Service, or international relations or policy, foreign policy. But my first job out of college, I got a fellowship to go work with an organization called endeavor, which is an awesome organization that works with entrepreneurs in emerging markets. And in many ways, there’s some facets around it that are very similar to venture in that the the the mission of the organization is to find great entrepreneurs in each of these select countries, and then connect them with a network of experts who can help them be successful. And so I got placed to go to Chile. And I arrived in San Diego at the age of 22-23. And I was asked if I wanted to go open up a new office in Patagonia. So I moved to Northern Patagonia. And I live in this tiny town, it’s absolutely beautiful on a lake with volcano, I was one of the only Americans there, my Spanish was not great. But you know, I knew how to say, you know, here’s the biblioteca, and what’s your favorite color and things like that. But I quickly learned and figured it out. And that was sort of, you know, I got to work with incredible team there and incredible founders building all different types of businesses, you know, shipbuilders and folks building technology for the salmon industry, and all sorts of different things. But it was my first experience of working with entrepreneurs understanding what entrepreneurship is. And my takeaway, that experience I was there for about two years was that, you know, entrepreneurship quickly became sort of my theory of change in terms of the most powerful thing you can do to drive impact drive economic development, to drive innovation. And so I wanted to spend my time in that world of entrepreneurship. And, you know, working in endeavor, my takeaway was, I want to go be a founder, who can build that type of value and innovation or I want to go be, you know, a VC or an advisor who can help help those companies and help unlock people’s potential. So coming out of out of that experience is that, well, if I’m gonna go do either of those two things, I should go learn about business. And that path led me to thing why should go into consulting, that’s a fast way to learn about all different types of business models and markets and different types of analyses you should do. I don’t know if that was really the right insight, but it was an insight. And I followed that path, moved back to New York, which is where I’m born and raised and worked for a boutique consulting firm for a couple years, that again, was very international focus, so did a lot of new market entry strategies and things like that. And I love the work, I learned a lot. Again, I think I ratcheted up some companies, some countries in my country counter to that that job. But it was pretty far away from the world of entrepreneurship, you know, you deliver a deck and you hope somebody does something with it. But it didn’t feel sort of close enough to the impact that I wanted to have. So I applied to business school and was lucky enough to get into my dream school of Stanford, which, you know, just felt like just the epicenter of entrepreneurship and tech. So away, I went and spent all my time at Stanford focused on the world of entrepreneurship and venture took all the startup classes, all the venture classes, and, you know, some of the advice that I was given while I was there, I sort of had this itch and hunch that maybe venture was something that I would be interested in. But the advice I was given is if you want to go be in venture go operate first. And I think there’s pros and cons to that advice. And it to me, it was certainly good advice. And it’s what led me to Facebook, but you know, do I think it’s a requirement for venture? Maybe not I think one of the best VCs I know is Rebecca Kayden at Union Square and she was a journalist before jumping into the venture world. So I think you can do all different things. But for me, I listened to that advice and after school and while I was at school, I ended up actually starting a company that I sort of fell into through a class at the design school, totally different space in the in the agricultural space, but that ultimately didn’t work out after we’d done all the pitch competitions and stuff on campus, but you know, in attics France actually didn’t have founder market fit. I wasn’t as passionate about what we’re building, and I missed software. So I ended up going to facebook and join the growth team there. And we, we were focused on international growth in particular. So Facebook was at an interesting time and its growth. Where was that, you know, 2 billion users or 7 billion people in the world, 5 billion people with mobile phone 3 billion people with access to the internet. And the problem that we were trying to solve is how do you close the gap between those who have phones but don’t have access to the internet? And so in order to unlock the next billion users for Facebook’s platform, so that was the problem that we were working on is how do you get more people access to the internet. So I did that for several years, again, that took me all over the world to incredible places like Senegal, and Brazil, and Indonesia, and Philippines and South Africa, and Jordan, all over the place, Myanmar. So I think I ratcheted up 40 of those 75 countries in my time. It’s a very long answer your question sorry. And and while I was there, I started doing some angel investing on the side, because I like to be company growth. And it’s almost like we were at a start up within Facebook. But I missed some of the really early stage stuff. So I started looking at decks and making tiny little angel investment checks. And I got involved with yard ventures early on, asked me to join their their investment committee for their first fund when yard Ventures is Harvard’s Angel, Harvard Alumni Angel venture group, now part of alumni ventures. And so I joined the Investment Committee. And that’s when I started to spend more time looking at DAX, and talking to founders. And I said, I really like this, maybe I should do this all the time. And so at a certain point, I was looking to move back east to get back closer to family and my roots. And we were starting family and things like that. And I got lucky enough to get connected to the underscore team who was early in their journey as well. And I, you know, we sort of dated each other for a couple of months, I think partnerships and long term meta roles are kind of like a marriage, and like a family. And so we got to know the the team here and fell in love with the team and the core community model, which we’ll talk about the values and I jumped in at the end of 2017. In here ever since.
Amazing. So what what is the thesis at underscore? And what is this community based model? Yeah,
so our thesis that the founding of the firm was inspired by two things. One is by some of the principles of open source investing, or open source software, one of my one of the founding partners, Michael Scott was one of the earliest investors in the world of open source. And he’s back to great projects like AR and Drupal and projects like that. And no, he had the observation of, you know, when you can get communities of people working together in an aligned way you can create outsized value. And so sort of taking that principle of community work to build value, but you need alignment, combined with he took a listening tour when he left his previous firm, and he talked to hundreds of founders, and yes, and what is it that you really need to build your business? And the resounding answer is, yes, I need capital. But that can come from lots of places, what I really need is access to the right people at the right time. And so with that insight, combined with some of the principles open source, the founding concept of the firm is that if you can build an aligned community, around portfolio and around founders as they’re building, you can build, you can build exceptional companies, and it’ll lead to greater value than if you if you, you know, if you didn’t have this community. So we are what we call community driven approach to venture. And what that means is, we have a network of operators, experts, former entrepreneurs, executives, that we engage in everything we do, but the probably the most unique thing that we do is we actually give up 10% of our carry as GPS. And on a portfolio company by portfolio company basis, we use sort of distributed or share it with select advisors at the founders get to choose who they want to bring around their table. I know every member firm has a network of experts, you know, everybody has that. But I had never met a firm that actually sort of walked the walk and had the infrastructure in place to make that make that true. It’s called our core partner program. And
is that the main way that you create connectivity in your community is aligning operators with the founders, are there other kind of major that you use?
Yeah, so it’s, you know, there’s sort of different ways that community members can engage. So we do some big events, like we actually have our course, coming up in a couple of weeks. And you know, that’ll be several hundreds of several 100 people engaging in different types of workshops and content and connecting and networking. And then there’s folks that we engage alongside specific portfolio companies and again, they sort of have an aligned interest in those specific companies. And then there’s something in between where people are engaged in smaller more intimate events, different types of workshops and then you know, this this community approach ends up helping us meet great founders really early helping us evaluate and diligence founders helping us win and show the founders the value can bring around the table so there’s kind of a variety of ways that we engage the this network of
amazing so underscores primarily investing early stage what does that mean is that you know, seed precede series A and
yep, so we say up so we are early stage for us at largely means seed and a little bit of precede. So we think about sort of the pre Product Market Fit stage and the labels change all the time. But But typically, we invest sort of one to four or $5 million to lead or CO lead precede or seed rounds and and we That’s entirely and b2b software and and we’re gonna talk about a couple of the areas where we invest, but we largely invest in the areas of future work vertical, SAS, b2b, FinTech, and then what we call emergent technology. And we are all based here in Boston or Boston advantaged as we think about it, but we also invest all over the place. So we have companies in New York, Texas, Chicago, California, Europe, but we are bullish on the Boston ecosystem and happy cheer about about why that is. So yes, our investing thesis is is largely seed stage b2b software. And with a Boston
as are we, I think we have seven portfolio companies in Boston. Wonderful. So Lily, you mentioned future of work, you know, that term can be a bit opaque, what does it mean for you? And kind of what are the trends and categories within future of work that you focus most on? Yeah,
it’s, it is a very confusing topic. And some of us hate that label. Because it can mean lots of different things to different people. But some of the areas that that I get excited about are, you know, fundamentally thinking about how work gets done. And there’s sort of some some themes within that. On one hand, it’s around thinking about workflow automation, and increased productivity and efficiency. There’s also an area around collaboration and how both individuals teams and then companies also collaborate with their customers, I think, you know, for the past, the past, you know, chapter in b2b software has largely been around functional workflow, you know, use cases, and then separately, we would use Slack or whatever it might be to collaborate and, and communicate. And I think that there’s going to be a next generation of, of software that helps us communicate and collaborate directly into the work that we’re doing. And it’s not going to be limited by function. I think increasingly, we see obviously, there’s there’s cross functional synergies that need to happen. But you know, you just never look at the martech market map. And there’s, there’s too many duels targeting each individual function. But I think what we get excited about is, where are the intersections in terms of how different functions, communicate, collaborate and get worked on? And then also, I get excited about thinking about both within an organization and then with their own customers, how do they how do they collaborate, communicate and get work done? Across those intersections today, we’re still using so much email and things like that. And there’s, there’s room to evolve that so that areas are, how work gets done, and the collaboration side of it, I think we’re still, I think we’re gonna have a new a new chapter around that, I think a thing that’s going to drive that and we’re talking a little bit more, but you know, now, so much of our work is digitized. Even this conversation is now a digital asset that didn’t exist before, and our conversations in Slack and all these things. So I think there’s going to be a whole, there’s a whole sort of exhaustive data around employees and employee experience and employee collaboration and productivity and things like that, that didn’t exist before. And I think that that’s going to fuel some interesting opportunities around how you change how work gets done. I think another bucket that, obviously has been fueled by the rise of Bell Labs, and machine learning in AI, is around the work itself. So not just changing the way people do their work and increasing productivity and efficiency and things like that. But we’re seeing more and more opportunities where the work itself that previously someone had to do, you know, now machines can do it. And and so what does that whether it’s creating a product roadmap, and communicating that out to various players, or it’s creating a piece of content for your marketing, you know, we’re seeing a lot of that get get automated. And so there’s a lot of sort of, you know, typically, as you think of the business process outsourcing, there’s, there’s a lot of stuff in that bucket, that now not only can be done more efficiently, by humans more efficiently, but actually, machines can do big chunks of that. And so when you can do that, what does that allow you to free up and from a human capacity in terms of what can be done, and whether it’s more work, we can take on more, more whitespace or more creativity and strategic tasks. So that’s another area that we’re that we’re looking at, and then I’m excited about. And then the third trend that I spend time on is, you know, thinking about what we call the or some folks call it sort of the deskless workforce, you know, over 80% of the workforce does not sit behind a computer the way that you and I do. And they’re typically mobile first, and they but they need to get work done. And now they increasingly need to get digital work done. And so, you know, we get interested in in companies that are servicing those needs and unlocking some of those potential.
Amazing. Talk a bit more about AI’s impact on, you know, the future of work. I think there’s a lot of folks that are concerned. You know, there’s there’s fear based comments all across social media, what do you think AI means for, you know, work, maybe five years from now, and maybe 10 years from now?
Yeah, I think, you know, I think there’s layers of things to think about and, you know, in the shorter term, and it’s something that we’ve been working with both our portfolio companies on and also investment opportunities that we’re excited about, is thinking about, you know, every company needs an AI strategy, and whether that’s from you know, sort of single feature mode, if you will, embedding AI into your existing software on a granular level, so sort of an autocomplete, or whatever it might be, or on a department level thing, but how you get worked on specific departments in a broader workflows, whether it’s automated customer support, for example, or is it core to the product and sort of reimagining workflows are creating opportunities that didn’t exist before. So, for example, company of our investment called slang, it creates a AI created voice for retailers and restaurants, so automating in their incoming phone calls and being able to handle those. So it and then sort of the fourth bucket that we think of how it’s changing, how can change how work is done is thinking about proprietary datasets, particularly within vertical SAS companies and opportunities, or, you know, for successes scenario we’ve been investing in for many years. And there’s several companies that were invested in, whether it’s in the insurance space, or the pharma data space, or payments, automation, and optimization, you know, a lot of these sort of vertical use cases are now spinning off or creating a treasure trove of proprietary verticalized data. And so that’s an area that we are also excited about in terms of what can you unlock with small language models, or proprietary language models. So those are some of the areas that that we’re excited about. And I think we’ll continue to sort of shift the way that work has done both in the immediate future in terms of how you think about it this year. And then I think some of these larger, proprietary smaller data sets will unlock certain things that we’ll see in the next couple of years. In terms of
really, yeah, how do you advise how do you advise your CEOs and portfolio companies, right, that are trying to assess, you know, feature based stuff, application based stuff, maybe transformational instantiations of AI in their business? And kind of how to infuse that deploy that, you know, do you hire somebody who’s a head of AI, that kind of helps, because for a lot of folks in a business that, you know, are used to doing things a certain way, it’s kind of a paradigm shift to think, you know, what are the use cases where I can apply AI in my job, and struggle for CEOs to know, they might understand here are the big opportunities, you know, where we can use AI in our business, but you know, how much to push that across? Sort of the breadth of the organization?
Yeah, it’s? It’s a good question. I mean, I think that everybody needs to spend time on it and think about it. Like, it can’t be a side thought, even if you don’t think it has anything to do with your business. It does. It will, it should. And so, you know, I think it’s a topic that should be in every boardroom discussion and create the space for both in terms of where are the opportunities? And then also, where are the risks? I think one of the things that we see, you know, I think everybody should shouldn’t be on the lookout, or on the edge of both. How can I drive more efficiency in my business using this technology, and as we talked about before, it should be on a feature level could be on a department level, and then it should be across the entire offering value prop, but also, for companies that are a little bit more established for them. And they may not be a need of how do you make sure you don’t get disrupted by an AI native company coming after you. And so I think that, I think that we advise every should have an AI strategy, you should break it down across the different things around sort of, particularly this environment of trying to manage costs and things like that. But there’s a lot of things that can be huge cost savers. And so that’s at the very least, where you should start. And then you should, you know, work with your team. And, you know, folks who know the space and know the application technology. And I think, you know, this is definitely a moment where people should be connecting with, you know, and pick your head up. I think a lot of times founders kind of just want to go like this and get really focused, but I actually think that, that we’re experiencing such a tectonic shift and capabilities, that, you know, this is where I actually think community model can can play an important role, which is get outside your little bubble of what you’re focused on and make sure that you’re paying attention to what are the latest opportunities, what are the latest tools and things that you should be integrating talking to other CEO, product leaders, talking to product leaders, engineering leaders, talking to engineering leaders, like I think peer conversations is an underestimated way to accelerate learning. Learning. Pace of learning is one of the things I think is most important in in founders and CEOs and people of different styles of learning. But I think sort of the outside in blended with strong conviction is a really powerful combination for for pace of learning. And I think in this environment, things are changing really fast. And I think pace of learning is even more important, and we actually think community and network driven learning can be a powerful way to stay on top of things.
Amazing. Will he talk more about the SAS verticals that you’re most proactively pursuing?
Yeah. So you know, as a firm, we’ve been investing in vertical SAS for a while and there’s certain areas that we are particularly excited about. I personally spend a lot of my time in insurance and InsurTech been lucky enough to invest in some great companies like hi Marley, which is an intelligent communication platform for PNC insurance, and a company called Harold which is providing digital and restructure for commercial insurance. And we’ve looked at many, many others in the space. So I’m I continue to be excited about about that vertical, I think it’s largely and digitized, I think are still emerging in its digital transformation journey, if you will. And you know, as you think about opportunities where they’re sort of Trevor treasure treasure troves of data as hearing about sort of claims processing and automation. And I think the intersection of insurance and some of these other challenges like climate, and cyber are areas that are still under invested in and then we’ll see some increased innovation, particularly, as we have a lot more datasets from different sensors and all sorts of things that that are now digitized. So InsurTech is one that I continue to spend a lot of time on and get excited about. As a firm, we spent a fair amount of time in the supply chain logistics space for investors in a company Chicago Project 44. And we should just announced an investment in a company called the aircon, based in Dallas, and we’ve been several others in that space. But again, you know, we typically think about enduring industries that have enduring problems that are still sort of early in their digitization process. And so those are problems that we get excited about things like construction and manufacturing it but in that category, commerce is an area that we’ve been invested in for a long time. Clearly, it’s seen a lot of acceleration over the past decade, particularly the last five years. But companies like Spotify or wonderment, or there have been a whole handful in the space that we’ve invested in. So commerce, I still think there’s a lot of room for for innovation, but there’s a lot more attention, there’s gonna be called Hugh that we should just anyway, we mean this morning thinking about what they’re doing in terms of bringing video content to commerce. So those are some of the areas that we spend time on in the in the vertical SAS space. And digital health education thing is another area that we spent a fair amount of time we you know, being here in Boston, is obviously a hub on the on the healthcare side, you know, we typically don’t do biotech or anything that requires ft FDA approval, but we’re seeing so much innovation and opportunities in the digital health space, particularly when it comes to things like data management or workflow automation, whether it’s in biopharma or selling to providers, even things like health care, recruiting, or investors in a company called deploy that that is vertical specific platform for recruiting, onboarding, credentialing, and now scheduling sort of healthcare workers. So digital health is an area that we continue to be excited about. And we’re seeing a lot of a lot of continued opportunity. It’s noisy right now, I think that’s four years we’ve taken in that space. But areas we’re excited about.
It’s tough category, it’s one that we invest in pretty heavily. But you know, it’s had its ups and downs over the past couple of decades. As a category, it feels like stakeholders and incentives are a bit more complex in healthcare than maybe any other vertical, curious kind of what is what you think we’ll see in the next decade for healthcare software investing that doesn’t require regulatory approvals?
Yeah. You know, I think that there’s, there’s probably some sub buckets that that we will, you know, get excited about and playing. And I’m curious for you guys spend your time in the category. But, you know, a lot of people talk about value based care, and a lot of people spend a lot of time and energy and dollars in that space, you know, we’ve looked at at various things in that arena. And I think, to your point, getting the alignment and incentives in place is is challenging, where we are more likely to play and get excited about are things like, you know, a company we’re missing is a company called Tetra science, which is it’s almost like snowflake, but for Life Sciences, if you will, it’s sort of the industry cloud player for scientific data. So it works with pharma companies to integrate and be able to extract, pull all the data into the cloud structure it making machine readable, and then you know, be able to layer on all sorts of opportunities with it. So it’s, it’s almost more of an infrastructure, data, data infrastructure play, but harnessing data that previously was hard to extract, that’s a flavor of more of what we get excited about in this space, I think unlocking some of the data assets that are now being created, there’s some change and policies happening at the end of this year, on the healthcare data side. So we were more likely to look at things around sort of workflow automation, something like an employee, or something and kind of the data infrastructure side. Because I think to your point, we’ve seen so many companies that need to sell to providers, get the payers to unlock improve it, but then you also need patients to engage in and I think that if you can do that, it’s amazing, but it’s extremely difficult. And there have been sort of a graveyard of companies there.
You’ve spoken about AI MLMs, we’ve talked healthcare, you know, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on business model evolution, right, lots of sort of very strong legacy business models out there and subscription based and metered service uses. Of course, in healthcare, tech enabled services, how do you see business models evolving, you know, in in the coming years?
Yeah. You know, it’s a question I’ve never, you know, we’re spending a lot of time thinking about because I do think, you know, I think there’s elements You know, there’s a lot of things to love about SAS, and a lot of people love SAS for a long time. And I think that there will be opportunities where that will continue to deliver. And even within SAS, obviously, they’re sort of the having seen the emergence of the product lead growth models as sort of an enabler, or, or an element of the go to market side of things around SAS business models. You know, I think we’ll continue to see those evolve. I think that one of the things that that I’m curious about is particularly around sort of the usage of AI, as AI gets applied more and more products, you know, obviously changes the cost structure for businesses a lot of ways. And so you know, I think we will see more things closer to usage base versus let’s say, receipt base, or things like that. Because I think what matters is you always want to have value alignment. And so depending on the methodology, or the mechanism through which you’re creating that value, being able to capture it is important, you know, we always, and then I think we’ll see blends. So you know, I was looking at toast as an example, that sort of started with a subscription, but where they really made their money and had their most success was with being able to capture a piece of the transaction. And so they went was kind of a subscription piece, but where the big upside is, you know, we see a lot of that opportunity, still ahead in vertical SAS, where you see sort of a blended business model of a recurring component to it. But then, but then a percentage of a transaction or a percentage of a commission, which is what we see in insurance a fair amount. But again, I do think the cost structure of delivering some of these products is about to change, or is currently changing with with like, I’m curious how you guys are seeing it, but and so I think you do, I think we need to reimagine alignment in terms of value creation and value delivered based on this changing cost structure. So I think I think we’ll see something closer to closer to usage model. But I actually think as we think, as I talked a little bit about, like, if full packets of work are being delivered by machines, what is the cost? And or what is the value of that? And how are you going to, you’re going to price it and change it and charge for it. So if you guys have explored that at all, be curious, your thoughts, but those are some of the things that we’re thinking about.
I think you said it? Well. I mean, it’s a difficult one, because you always want to do value based pricing. But the reality is, how do you put a value on like, like you were speaking about before these datasets, building proprietary datasets within a vertical SAS product that could provide really great insights across a portfolio of customers if it’s used. But how do you put a value on the insight? I don’t know. So then you kind of you revert back to maybe cost structure based pricing? You know, and, of course, charging a markup on that. But yeah, it’s tricky. Yeah, it’s interesting.
Exactly. So it’s no, I think, I think we’re I think we’re early innings of seeing this seeing this evolve. I think there’ll be some some trial and error. And, you know, I think I think we’d have to figure out sort of both how to how to evaluate these and then how to add value them. So what is the right model and how you add value? But I think I think we’re gonna see,
I’d love your take on the VC market at large. You underscore has broad portfolio many great logos, that’s been kind of a an interesting time. Do you think it’s a good time to be an early stage investor? Where we’re not?
Yeah, I’m obviously biased. But I do think we’re at an inflection point in the venture industry, or I think the past year, in particular has been good enough, Bruce was labeled as the Reckoning and whatever language you want to use. But I think it’s been a good opportunity to sort of look at ourselves and say, Hey, what’s working here? What’s not? What should we keep? What do we what do we need to evolve one of our values and underscores actively evolve, which is sort of this idea of like proactive learning and getting better and honing? You know, we’re excited about being a real estate renter right now, and particularly in the areas that we invest in, I think that you’re seeing a very high caliber of founders, I think this environment is not for the faint of heart. And so we’re seeing experienced operators who know their problem really well come out and start companies. So we’re seeing, you know, folks spun out of places like clay, VO and HubSpot and toast and fly wire and other places like that and start companies. So nothing the caliber of founders is really high. I think that, you know, the enablement of a of AI has sort of decreased the cost of of getting a business up and going, and you can automate some of the early functions. And so I think the pace and the pace has accelerated in terms of what you can achieve, but also the costs have gone down. So I think that’s an exciting component. You know, from a landscape perspective, I think we are seeing a bit more of a bifurcation into what I’ve heard some LPS talk about is kind of a barbell approach. So kind of the big, multibillion dollar multistage firms, when there’s the handful of them have kind of solidified their positions as the as that. And then there’s the sort of more niche specialist focused funds and whether it’s focus by stage or domain or geography or whatever it might be. I think we’re seeing more and more sort of pull to one of those two ends of the spectrum. I think those who are sitting in the middle I’m intriguing to see sort of where those net out are, they have to make a call to either go bigger and and play in that game or home or can they stay sort of this this middle ground, but I think you know, you know, for seed stage it’s slightly less impacted by some of the some of the value Ah, in compression. And, you know, I like to say that the the tourists have gone home both in terms of the the folks who traditionally, you know, the last thing, the 2021 2020 2021 era, you know, we had a lot of people dabbling and seed. And I think some of those, there was a time period earlier this year where I think the tourists founders had gone home. So those who kind of call entrepreneurs, you know, I think, earlier this year that we hadn’t seen as much of that kind of noise. I think with all the AI hype, you do see a little bit coming back a little, the noise is coming back a little bit, which is kind of, you know, I think it’s sort of a bummer. But, but it’s also sort of part of, you know, when there’s something exciting and opportunity, people want to be a part of it, but I do think we’re, you know, we’re sifting through the AI noise, a lot more than we were, you know, a year and a half ago.
You will you’d mentioned CLEVEO, do you think that their IPO helps kind of kick things off in the exit environment, you know, it’s been so slow for so long. And finally, we have sort of, at least on appearances, and based on financials, we have kind of a best in class as company going public.
I do. I mean, I’m, I think it’s a net positive thing for the industry overall, both in terms of the unlock, it’s almost like it’s free conceal, if you will, and arm talking about it, and Instacart talking about it. So you sort of, I think those who were sort of nervous to be the first to step out, you know, claim is a great one to be one of the first to step out just because of the strength of the business and the unrelenting economics. And, you know, I think it’s a great example of how companies can be built, it was bootstrapped for so long, and then found efficiency very quickly. So I think that’s a net positive for the industry. And I think it’ll help give a data point to public market investors, and then also to private companies evaluating like, is this a good moment or not? So I think it’s I think it’ll be a net positive thing for the broader exit market. You know, I think some of the big m&a transactions we saw in June, also, were good for the industry. So I think, you know, I think we’re seeing more optimism, a little bit more confidence. And I think that’s, that’s overall net positive. I think what I hope is that in certain pieces that we don’t get overconfident again, and sort of we are seeing more of those skyrocketing valuations, across stages. In in unique cases, I think, in general, still, you’re seeing later stage markets still have compressed valuations and a lot slower activity. But I think we’re seeing more activity than we than we were before. And I think, overall, it’s a net positive thing, I think it’ll still be tempered, I don’t think it’s going to be bonkers to create use of technical term.
You know, there’s been a lot that’s been written about sort of the Ponzi scheme of venture, and this is not necessarily a new topic, like, I feel like this has come up like every five years or so, since I’ve been doing this. And our friends over at contrary contrary, wrote a nice article about it, sort of the greater fool theory, Kyle Harrison and company, where, you know, investments are made when a buyer can be found at an attractive multiple, versus those that, you know, are actually building enduring shareholder value over long periods of time. You know, where do you net out on this? Is this kind of the greater filter environment? And is it still being perpetuated?
I think we are we have come out of a chapter where I do think that was very true, you know, sort of 2020 2021 first two months, 2022 were very much the greater fool environment. For a lot of people, I think one of the challenges and transparently the reason why we’ve stayed deliberately small as a fund, I think it allows you to avoid the temptation of needing to play in that game. Because I think if you raise huge funds, which is helpful from an assets under management and the management fees perspective, so it’s a little bit easy to get addicted to that your incentives, I think are off in terms of capital to deploy and then valuations needed to in order to provide the outcomes you need to return those funds. I think the math is extremely hard and returning a $2 billion fund, very few people can do it. So I think you know, I think for those who in I think there’s a handful of firms and you look at a USB who’ve stayed small and focused and an emergence capital someplace stay disciplined and what they’re doing and stick to their knitting I think if you can, you know meet underscore aspire to be that flavor of like know what you do do it really well stay focused on it and don’t get starry eyed by things that aren’t right. So I think it depends on you. I think every veteran has to decide what do they want to be and if you think you can choose a model in which you’re backing real companies that have real revenue so we always in terms of our reporting and we talked about these and things like that we’re focused a lot more on revenue growth and rounds done and valuations done and we care a lot more about what are the evolutions of the business it’s not just seed to series A it’s Did you find product market fit in a to b isn’t just about that round size, but it’s are you finding go to market fit? And sort of b2c is more around? Are you finding repeatability and scale in that go to market motion? So we we try both as investors as Business Builders alongside of our companies, and the types of people we surround them by to focus a lot more on what’s the substance behind maybe what’s Garner? During valuations Great, that’s helpful. And obviously capital is important to fueling that next age of company building. But if you lose sight of the company building behind the funding round should be an output of have more substance under underlying the thing that’s, that’s creating that output.
100% couldn’t agree more. Few quick wrap ups here. Lilly, if we can feature anyone here on the show, who do you think we should interview and what topic would you like to hear them speak about?
You know, if you ever get the chance to talk Dharma Shah, you should just talk to him? I think he. Yeah. Yeah, it’s okay. Sorry. Maybe, maybe you forgot to pick them up. But anyway, I just think he’s awesome and always has something fun and insightful and thoughtful to say, so I really enjoy enjoying listening him he had he had a quote recently that I’ve been borrowing which is, he said, Success is making the people who believed in you look brilliant. And it’s something that I’ve really taken to heart. I think about it in our own venture firm. I think about the founders who back so I think he’s, I think he’s a star. Toby Lukey is amazing. Also on our if you’ve had him, but SEO from Shopify, again, he’s incredibly thoughtful. He’s incredibly focused and disciplined and doesn’t get FOMO he has a strong point of view. So I think he’s, he’s exceptional. She hates doing podcasts by Katie Burke at HubSpot again, another HubSpot. I got inbound on my mind and gone in milliliter. So please, she’s an incredible human, and one of the most intuitive people people you’ll ever meet. And so she’s incredibly thoughtful. So she actually likes doing podcasts, but I would recommend putting her on it.
Perfect. Lily, what book article or video, would you recommend to listeners, you know, something in recent memory that you’ve found informative or inspiring,
you know, I am a GSB alum, I’m a Phil Knight fan, he’s spoke at our graduation. And so you know, she’s always a book that I recommend. It’s a great entrepreneur story, it really brings to light the challenges and the hardship and the the great success that can come but also just sort of how important the underlying people dynamics are. So if you haven’t read that story, I just I love that story. And I think it’s always inspiring and brings out the true colors of what this business building nuance or experience can be. So I always recommend that.
Willie, do you have any habits, tactics or techniques that are a secret weapon?
God, I think I’m, I’m not good at this. This is an area that I’m often trying to, to optimize, I think, I do think that the people dynamics is the element that is maybe sort of my secret weapon, my team jokes, it’s my Whoo, in terms of habits behind that, you know, I always make time for people. And I think as a result, I probably don’t sleep as much as I should. And I probably don’t answer emails as quickly as I should. You know, Sarah benchmark taught me that maybe not every email needs a response with founders, I do always try to respond, but maybe not everybody needs a response all the time. And I’m trying to learn how to embrace that in order to prioritize what matters to me and, and you know, what matters to me is is making time for people and you know, the right people and things like that. But I do think that that has been a secret weapon for me in terms of how I connect with founders and other players in the ecosystem and things like that. But in terms of productivity and techniques and things like that, I’m a superhuman user while I get extra having role that are of course I’m in a couple of weeks. So excited, sit down and get his tips. And then you know, if I’m curious what your best ones are, because I’m always learning and trying to trying to optimize I have I don’t have any, any
just taking them in from others. You know,
I have I have three children on the age of six. I’m always trying to get more efficient. So maybe that helps put some prioritization.
And then finally here, Lily, what is the best way for listeners to connect with you and follow along with underscore?
Yeah, you can find me obviously LinkedIn or Twitter, you can email me and Williamsport FEC, you know, we want to, we want to always connect with folks. And you can go through our website also. So you can find out a score all over the place, but I’d say LinkedIn or email are probably the best. All right,
she is Lily Lyman, the firm is underscore Lily, thanks so much for your time. This was a true pleasure.
Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it.