🔥Upside Guest Writer: What are Venture Studios and Why are they critical to our Future? By Norman Winarsky, General Partner at America's Frontier Fund, VC-in-Residence at Platform Venture Studio.
This week our guest writer is Norman Winarsky, General Partner at America's Frontier Fund, VC-in-Residence at Platform Venture Studio, advisor to startups, angel investor, author, and angel investor.
As a reminder, Norman is past President of SRI Ventures, which he founded, and which has launched more than 70 companies with a total market value of over $70B.
Norman was co-founder and board member of Siri, which was a startup spun out from SRI in January 2008. Siri has now been incorporated into all Apple iPhones, computers, homepods, and more.
He is co-author of "If You Really Want to Change the World: A Guide to Creating, Building, and Sustaining Breakthrough Ventures," published by Harvard Press. Norman is a Lecturer in Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, with a special focus on teaching how to create breakthrough companies.
This week Norman, in his piece entitled “What are Venture Studios and Why are they critical to our Future?” he gave us his insights on why he believes that venture studios are the future.
Title: What are Venture Studios and Why are they critical to our Future?
By Norman Winarsky
My last post described the tectonic shift that is happening in venture capital. Namely, that the venture world post-COVID-19 will never again be the same.
Thanks to remote work, startups now have the ability to recruit the best talent and court the best investors, no matter where they are. The playing field for capital and competition has leveled even more and is now global.
From this tectonic shift, a wealth of new startups can begin to emerge from all over the world. This begs the following questions:
Will it produce a Cambrian explosion of startups?
Will it democratize opportunities for entrepreneurs?
Will we see unprecedented worldwide innovation?
I’m hopeful, but building a new venture is hard. Very hard. Let alone a simple app, ideating and bringing to life a transformative venture is incredibly difficult (hence why I focus my work and these writings here). In this Brave New World breaking geographical boundaries is far from enough. If you want to create a transformative venture, You will have to:
Learn how to create, run, and build a new company.
Become savvy about venture capital, financials, business development, and more.
Lead with both actions and words. Recruit outstanding talent.
Learn from the experiences of great entrepreneurs, founders, and investors.
Commit yourself. Believe in yourself. Believe in your vision. Sacrifice security. Sacrifice higher income. And last but certainly not least, ask your family and friends to sacrifice and believe in you.
I believe that learning to create a transformative venture cannot be accomplished from books alone. It is like an artist learning how to draw or a musician learning to play an instrument. You will best learn if you apprentice to a “master.” If you have that critical support at crucial, painstaking moments, you will drastically increase your chances of success.
With this in mind, the acceleration of transformative startups will increasingly depend on Venture Studios, and they will become an essential component of the worldwide venture ecosystem. There are several flavors of Venture Studios, but for this post, I define a Venture Studio as one that helps entrepreneurs create and build a transformative company.
The Venture Studio provides a crucial role as a startup co-founder, mentor, coach, and investor. Once a venture has this type of help with its initial development, the venture will likely have much more success as it matures - much like the apprentice eventually grows into a master.
My own personal experience comes from running one of the original venture studios, SRI Ventures. SRI Ventures created over seventy ventures primarily from SRI’s technology. It began in 1992 at Sarnoff Labs in Princeton. We invested funds and intellectual property and supported startups with engineers, scientists, and lab space. We helped recruit teams, build compelling value propositions, attract VC investment, and negotiate favorable term sheets.
One of the most successful startups launched from the SRI Ventures venture studio was Siri. Yes, that Siri.
Here’s how it began:
In 2004 the SRI Ventures group began to explore the opportunity to create a transformative venture in the mobile phones and wireless communications market. We formed a program called the Vanguard Program and named it that because we believed the mobile phone would enable a new revolution in computing. In the past, SRI was always on the vanguard of computing revolutions, and we wanted to lead this revolution as well.
We understood that the mobile phone was not a phone but a supercomputer that was always on, always connected, with massive computing and communication capabilities.
We declared, “The phone in your pocket will drive the next great wireless market and technology disruption… New products, applications, and services will emerge, creating entirely new patterns of behavior … “
We didn’t know what venture we were going to start because the venture had to have the fundamental elements of a transformative venture that SRI Ventures developed. Below was our criteria:
Identify a major unmet need with a large market opportunity and potential for rapid growth
Identify a differentiated technology or business solution that trumps the competition and provides the basis for market growth
Build a team of people who are leaders in the market and/or technology space and who have the leadership, energy, domain knowledge, and commitment to lead the company to success
Develop a value proposition and business plan that articulates the company value, strategy, and plan and attracts the required capital
Find the right investors and members of the board who will be active in building value in the venture
Build the organization, and execute with power, speed, and agility
Ensure the future with continued support, including talent, investment, IP, and more
My team worked for three years on the Vanguard Program before we actually developed a venture concept that met many of these criteria. Then In June 2007, I recruited Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Dag Kittlaus and Tom Gruber to help build the venture concept. Adam Cheyer from the SRI Computer Sciences division also joined the team.
We had the beginnings of Siri.
From June 2007 to January 2008 we worked together and built the value proposition and business plan, invested SRI funds as well as SRI intellectual property, identified promising venture capital investors, negotiated the venture terms, and gained the venture capital investment. I took a board seat in Siri. Dag and Tom became the CEO and CTO. Adam Cheyer left SRI and joined Siri as VP of Engineering.
We started a great company, and we all knew it. We felt the power of starting the world’s first virtual personal assistant. Siri came to life, and it would not have happened without the SRI Venture studio. Period.
And so, I deeply believe that a venture studio that functions remotely is the missing link to unlocking great ventures throughout the world.
Today I work with Platform Venture Studio to help build these great ventures. It is a remote-only venture studio and has these critically valuable capabilities:
A methodology for the development of groundbreaking companies that tackle the world’s biggest problems
A world-leading CEO and community of investors, as well as advisors and mentors from the startup and venture capital communities with a depth of experience
A team of experts in the essential elements of ventures, such as design, growth, legal, finance and data analytics, talent acquisition, product development, software, and technology, subject matter experts
A network of entrepreneurs, founders, startups, coaches, and investors to collaborate with and offer support
A salary to founders
These are capabilities that I believe will enable the worldwide development of transformative ventures.
If you are building a transformative venture, we’d love to hear from you.
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