Christine Herron is a principal with First Round Capital, a seed-stage venture capital firm focusing on innovative technology companies. Prior to joining First Round, Christine was a director at Omidyar Network, VP for Mission Research, and the founder and CEO of Mercury2. Christine holds an MBA from Stanford University and a BA in English from Columbia University. She was ranked one of the Top 20 Women in Technology in 2000 by AltaVista.
We’re very glad to have Christine leading a workshop, VCTips: An Inside Look at Growth and Fundraising Strategy, at Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon, March 31.
What would you like attendees get out of your Web 2.0 Expo presentation?
I’d like the attendees at our VCTips workshop to walk away with not only some practical tools for managing the fundraising process, but also with a good understanding of venture capital and the motivations that are driving the conversation from the VC’s side of the table.
The economy is still in a slump. Are you seeing any Web 2.0 or other tech trends bubbling up, particularly in response to where we are in the financial cycle?
We’re seeing that many more companies incorporate business model development into their startup plans from Day One. Even if the business model isn’t fully baked, the entrepreneurs have developed a compelling story of how they’ll test and refine their options in order to get the model nailed down and proven before it’s time to raise Series A funding. This is a significant change resulting from the economy’s impact on the funding community.
As far as specific Web 2.0 trends, folks are adopting their consumer behaviors to their work. I’m seeing large numbers of startups with services for independent contractors and small business, and the services that touch the enterprise have started introducing subscription-based sales models. There is also a fascinating wave of innovation happening around the cloud computing ecosystem.
Do you have any advice for companies looking to gain an edge, or just stay afloat, in the downturn?
Don’t take too long to make decisions. Be fully aware of how many days of cash runway you have in the bank. Put a countdown timer on the wall and race against it to prove your business hypothesis. If what you’re doing isn’t going to help prove out the hypothesis, then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it.
Any predictions about how the economy will (or won’t) shake out in the coming year?
If I knew, I wouldn’t tell anyone.
How do you think the new political administration will affect the tech industry?
The new political administration is actually *aware* of the tech industry. I believe this will have primarily positive effects as doors become opened, but we should also be aware of the potential downside as previously-ignored issues such as privacy or data ownership to become subject to regulation. Increased government awareness of an industry can easily morph into increased oversight.
What new technologies interest you these days?
Cloud computing, virtualization technologies, and new data architectures are all compelling shiny objects.
Any people you know of who are working on interesting but under-the-radar projects?
Definitely, but I can’t speak about them since those folks are trying to *stay* under the radar. The best way to assure that you hear about interesting projects is to be good at maintaining confidences.
Where and how do you get your news and other information?
Surprisingly, my leading source of news has become Twitter. I follow some incredibly smart and diligent people, and I take full advantage of their tweeting and retweeting news and links in real time. If Twitter is down, I check news feeds such as AP and Reuters through My Yahoo!. I check out the blogosphere separately, using NetVibes.
Do you have favorite communication tools? What makes them work for you?
Email and Twitter on my MacBook Pro. Given the need to weave constant communications and other multitasking through my daily work, I need to take advantage of a full keyboard. Not to mention that asynchronous mechanisms work best on days riddled with meetings.
What was your early career goal? When you were in college, did you think you’d end up doing what you’re doing now?
When I was in college, I thought I’d be a reconstructive surgeon. Somehow this has evolved into becoming a venture capitalist, entrepreneur, and sporadic creative. I’ve always been driven by curiosity and a need to Make.
Who are the people who have influenced you and why?
The first few influencers that come to mind are my mother Josie Herron, my dance teacher and choreographer Carol Abizaid, and my first manager, investor Steve Clearman. Mom was fierce and tireless when she became a single mom – she never gave up or put herself in a position where she couldn’t take care of herself and us. You make your own luck. Carol Abizaid was able to teach me and extend my talent in ways that I didn’t think were possible. There’s a key to turn every lock, and you just have to work to find the right one for each person, for each problem. And Steve Clearman? He cuts to the chase in every situation, without editing for political correctness, and I always had the benefit of his blunt feedback. You can be direct without being judgmental. The lessons from these people are with me every day.
You’re involved with a number of non-profits. How did those relationships come about and what do they mean to you?
After I had to wind down my startup in 2001, I spent some time getting to know the emerging arts community in the Bay Area. This included bartering business services (identity development, marketing, business strategy, web site design) on Craigslist in exchange for art. If you’ve never traded services before, it’s an eye-opening exercise in how to assess the value you can bring to someone else. Though I no longer have the time for a barter practice, I’m still very engaged with the local arts community and the people that support it. It keeps me grounded in the wide world that spins outside of our tech community blinders.