The Case for EiR

This post originally appeared on Medium.

For the past couple decades I’ve been focused non-stop on founding and running start-ups back to back, punctuated by intense immersions at some of the more culturally influential companies of our times from SEGA to Twitter. So it was new territory when I found myself with breathing room trying to figure out my next move. The central question as I saw it: was my obsession with electronics and hardware just a hobby, or a pivot to a new industry segment?

In thinking about how to sort out my next adventure, I spent time talking with a number of my friends at both startups and venture. A common thread to these conversations surprised me: the suggestion to pursue an entrepreneur in residence position as a way to help me answer my question and identify my path.

I had never considered being an EiR. I had previously only thought of the role as a way to build relationships for fundraising, or a place to have an office to work through ideas with a co-founder. Things I was not worried about in the immediate term. As I spent time considering the pros and cons of EiRing I didn’t find much posted on it from this angle. I thought it might be helpful to write about my journey in the hopes it helps others in the future.

A little more background on my conundrum:

With the maker movement in full swing, there are tons of accessible entry points on designing and building hardware prototypes, but far fewer sources of information on the challenges of building a scalable business involving hardware.

To be sure, people have been building successful scalable hardware businesses for a long time. Recently however, the democratization of product design and prototyping tools has gotten to the point where it’s possible to create rough prototypes of ideas in mere hours and production like prototypes in a week or two. Arduino and Ultimaker are extremely accessible platforms for quickly realizing the germ of an idea. High fidelity prototypes are in easy reach of small scrappy teams and individuals with software tools like Eagle CAD, cloud offerings from Autodesk and on-demand manufacturing services like Oshpark and Shapeways.

On the business side, it’s less clear. Crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter provide practical rungs up the customer validation ladder, but the ramp is far less smooth than scaling a software only business. Rapid prototyping and advances in low production volume runs certainly help accelerate the build, measure learn loop on a small scale, but the challenges ramp steeply as the business grows.

As I started to investigate the EiR role, I quickly realized that it’s the ultimate “choose your own adventure” with huge variation across, and even inside VC firms.

For some firms, the EiR role is the chance for a partner to realize an existing hypothesis working with a founder. For others, it’s the opportunity for yet more perspective on pitches and teams. For most, it’s early access to a new company in the formative stages.

As the benefits to VC firms started to become more clear, the real question for me was: “what was I looking to get out of an EiR experience?”

I knew that a fundamental criteria was wanting to spend my time with smart, experienced folks that I really like as people. In my case, I specifically wanted to learn more about scalable businesses involving hardware, both at the seed stage as well as growing businesses. I also didn’t want to miss out on learning from folks starting and scaling their consumer and enterprise software businesses.

Before joining SEGA, as an independent developer I knew how the game publishing business worked from an intellectual standpoint, but it was no substitute for seeing how the sausage was made. Similarly, another key goal for my EiR experience is to gain insights into the process that only come from first hand experience.

Finally, a big part of what drives me as a person and an entrepreneur is solving problems and being helpful. I knew I wanted to be somewhere that I could use my experience to be helpful to other entrepreneurs and the firm.

I was lucky to be talking with a few of the best firms in venture. Narrowing it down to those who were actively investing in both hardware and software, consumer and enterprise, still left me with a tough decision.

Ultimately, I decided that Redpoint was the right home base for me. I still get to spend quality time with my friends at other firms, but where you spend the bulk of your time during the experience is important.

Here were some key things that helped me make the decision that I would definitely advise anyone in a similar position to consider:

  • Talk to folks that have had successful EiR experiences at the firms you are considering. For me this was conversations with Javier Soltero and Arthur van Hoff, both amazing guys with unique stories and perspectives on the EiR role and Redpoint.
  • Spend time with multiple partners at the firm. I knew Ryan Sarver well and he was a big part of the attraction for me, but getting quality time alone with Chris and Satish really cemented my interest in the firm.
  • Understand the process of the firms in question. How open is the partner communication? What does their deal decision making process look like and how much access will you have to it? Redpoint is an incredibly open and collaborative environment which is important to me given that I’m still thinking broadly and trying to figure out what space my next adventure will be in.

Gestating a new venture is an exciting time. I couldn’t be happier learning with such a great group of people!