2023 Asymmetric Update & Winter Offsite Recap
Over the last few months, the mid and late stage tech rut has only deepened.
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It is no secret that all VCs sell variations of the same product: capital. At Asymmetric, we work relentlessly to be helpful capital. There are two reasons for this. For one, we are a new fund. We have deep empathy for early stage founders as a startup ourselves and, to be candid, with no pre-existing track record to fall back on, our success is uniquely tied to that of every single investment we make. Secondly, none of us have ever been venture investors before. We all come from founding/operating and private equity backgrounds, where we worked side by side with our management teams. So we’ve built a service model that leans into our strengths as ex-operators who prefer to roll up our sleeves to work alongside our founders whenever they ask for help. It may not be the easiest or most common approach, but it’s what we like to do and are good at. And it’s something we are choosing to double-down on with the hire of Michele Spitzer as our Head of Portfolio & Platform.
Continuing the theme of most of our team knowing one another for a decade+, Michele and I met during the first few weeks of our Freshman year of college in 2009. After graduating from Barnard College, Columbia University with a BA in Psychology & Economics, her first role out of school was as a consultant at McKinsey. There, she focused on and gained an appreciation for lean management strategy, whereby she helped companies accomplish business goals by clarifying company strategy, setting clear KPIs, and aligning team leaders. She then moved her experience in house by joining Catalant at the Series B stage, hired by our very own Managing Partner Rob Biederman! At Catalant, Michele led the People function and oversaw recruiting, HR, org planning, and professional development as the team grew from 60 to 230 employees. Afterward, she took a brief work hiatus to earn her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business before jumping back into startups, this time going much earlier, joining as Savvy’s third employee. At Savvy, in typical early stage fashion, she worked on everything from helping define the core product and service model to leading operations and building out the customer success functions.
So what makes Michele uniquely suited to be a valuable partner to founders? She is first and foremost a problem-solver, having partnered with leaders of every function and built out many herself. She has thought hard about how to make every function in a company successful, but what makes her truly special is her empathy: for what founders go through, for the early stage struggles the broader team faces, and for the customer needs. This, combined with her wide-reaching and in-depth operational experience, made it clear there was no one better suited to spearhead our efforts to continuously do all that we can to serve our founders. And finally, we are thrilled to announce that Michele will be based in San Francisco and launch Asymmetric’s official SF presence. She is a native to the area, having grown up in Marin. With more than 60% of the Fund I dollars we’ve put to work to date invested in the Bay Area, we are excited to continue to support and grow our portfolio there.
With Michele onboard, in addition to the usual customer and expert introductions expected from VCs, we will continue to uphold our promise to our founders to do so much more. We will iterate and evolve based on founder feedback, but here’s what to initially expect from Michele and our Portfolio & Platform function:
Work with founders one-on-one on strategic topics
Build a community learn motion within the portfolio & beyond
Scale Asymmetric & advisor knowledge into an open content library
Create visibility for founders to tell their story
There is no better way to get to know someone than through their own words, so wrapping up with a mini Q&A with Michele below:
Tell us a bit about how entrepreneurship played a role in your upbringing.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial household. While both my parents are from California (mom from SoCal, dad from NorCal; don’t get them started on the geographic rivalry), they moved to Asia in the ‘80s to be part of a vibrant developing business environment. My dad helped found and lead China’s largest sustainable forestry company while my mom worked with business founders and their families. Most recently, they started a mission-driven venture, partnering with local farmers to grow hazelnuts in Bhutan.
My early experience of entrepreneurship was inspiring – my parents, along with their exceptional teams, built things where previously there had been nothing. We grew up talking about their work at the dinner table, where my brother and I were both expected to come up with perspectives on their business challenges. While our young advice was surely more cute than constructive, this practice instilled in me (1) how hard it is to be a founder and (2) how important it is for founders to have trusted thought partners (though ideally over 10 years old). This exposure sparked an early desire to partner with entrepreneurs tackling ambitious goals.
What got you excited about this role?
My last couple of roles have been in Operations at startups (most recently, starting the Operations team at seed-stage Savvy; previously, starting the People team at then-series B Catalant Technologies). From these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes for founders to grow their team, define strategy, scale operations, and ultimately achieve compelling outcomes. While I’ve loved being part of building these companies, I wanted to take these learnings and apply them more broadly.
As I considered roles that would allow me to do this, joining Asymmetric was a no-brainer. Not only did I already know and admire several members of the team, I was impressed by the portfolio they’d built in a short time, and I was excited to keep the startup feeling and pace I love by joining a new fund.
Drawing from your early stage experiences, what do you think is most important for founders to focus on in the very beginning?
There’s nothing harder or more important than building a great team. Early on, growing a team isn’t just about tactical recruiting execution. It requires having the organizational focus to define near and medium-term priorities, the operational clarity to translate your objectives into meaningful roles, the salesmanship to communicate your vision to prospective talent, and the leadership to support and develop the people who join you. When you’re moving fast and have an endless list of things to do, it’s really hard to do all of these things. Often, early-stage founders don’t take the time to, saddling themselves with “talent debt” and ultimately sacrificing company progress.
When should founders think about reaching out to you?
I love talking to people (I’m a strong E ENFJ, for those who use Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) so I’d love to hear from you on just about anything. My door’s always open both because I want to be a great partner to you today and because I want to be an even better one in the future – the more I hear from you, the more I learn, the more effective I can be.
Today, I can be particularly helpful if you’re deciding what operational metrics to track, developing a talent strategy, communicating a big change to customers, or defining your focus across an endless list of priorities. You make decisions all day every day with limited time and information. I won’t make any of your decisions for you, but I’d love to think them through with you and bring in insights from what I’ve seen at other companies.
You should also reach out to me if you’re traveling somewhere I’ve been (odds are good I have a well-organized spreadsheet of recs) or if you want to exchange skincare tips.
Any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our current and future founders?
From growing up in a household with entrepreneurs to working closely with founders, I’m keenly aware of how hard it is to start and run a company. I’ll listen with deep empathy and no judgment, and with an unwavering commitment to being your partner. I’ll ask tough questions, give direct feedback, and tell you when you’re making an avoidable mistake. And when things go off the rails, as they inevitably do from time to time, I’ll be there to help you think through solutions, make you a cup of tea (or something stronger), and continue building your business.
Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat!
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