Venture capital firms recognize good design as a competitive advantage. Design-driven startups, such as Airbnb, Pinterest, and Nest, to name a few, have a strong success record. In the past year, we’ve seen a growing trend of VC firms bringing designers on board as partners.
Listen and learn as four designers turned venture capital partners discuss how they approach investment decisions, what life is like as a designer in a VC firm, and what the ingredients are for launching and building a successful company.
This panel is facilitated by John Maeda of KPCB.
John Maeda is an American designer, engineer, and creative leader. An internationally recognized voice at the intersection of design and the technology industry, John works with early, mid-, and late-stage startup CEOs as design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) in Silicon Valley. At the start of 2015, Fast Company named KPCB one of the “10 Most Innovative Companies” in design—a position fortified by John’s subsequent launch of the #DesignInTech Report, which covers venture capital funding and M&A activity for design in the technology industry.
A celebrated author and speaker, his books include The Laws of Simplicity, Creative Code, and Redesigning Leadership, the latter of which expands on his Twitter feed, @johnmaeda, one of Time magazine’s “140 Best Twitter Feeds.” John’s talks on design, technology, and leadership for TED.com have received over 2 million cumulative views to date, and he has given numerous well-received talks to audiences around the world. As a contemporary artist, John’s work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions in Paris, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, San Francisco, and New York City.
John has a BS and MS in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, an MBA from Arizona State University, and a PhD from the University of Tsukuba in Japan. He’s been awarded honorary doctorates in fine arts from Maryland Institute College of Art and Simon Fraser University. His other awards include the White House’s National Design Award, the Louise Blouin Foundation’s Creative Leadership Award, the AIGA Medal, the Raymond Loewy Foundation Prize, the Mainichi Design Prize, the Tokyo Type Director’s Club Prize, and induction into the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame.
Irene Au is design partner at Khosla Ventures, where she works with early-, mid-, and late-stage startup CEOs. Irene has unprecedented experience elevating the strategic importance of design within internet companies, having built and led the entire User Experience and Design teams at Google, Yahoo, and Udacity. She began her career as an interaction designer at Netscape Communications, where she worked on the design of the internet’s first commercial web browser. Irene also teaches yoga at Avalon Yoga Center in Palo Alto, where she is part of the teacher training program faculty, and is a frequent author and speaker on the relationship between mindfulness practices, design, and creativity. Irene graduated summa cum laude from the Honors College at the University of South Carolina with a degree in electrical and computer engineering and holds a master’s degree from the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where her worked focused on human-computer interaction .
Jeff Veen is a design partner at True Ventures, where he spends his time helping companies create better products. He does this as an advisor, as well, for companies including about.me, Medium, and WordPress. Previously, Jeff was VP of design at Adobe after they acquired Typekit, the company he cofounded and ran as CEO. He was also one of the founding partners of the user experience consulting group Adaptive Path. While there, he led Measure Map, which was acquired by Google. During his time at Google, Jeff redesigned Google Analytics and led the UX team for Google’s apps. Much earlier, Jeff was part of the founding web team at WIRED magazine, where he helped build HotWired, Web Monkey, Wired News, and many other sites. During that time, he authored two books, HotWired Style and The Art and Science of Web Design.
Dayna Grayson focuses on investments in both consumer and business services, including on-demand services, software-as-a-service (SaaS), vertical ecommerce, productivity software, and consumer applications. She is a director of Desktop Metal, Onshape, Glamsquad, Upskill, FiftyThree, and Framebridge. Dayna is the founder of the NEA Studio, a program to mentor designer-entrepreneurs, and she runs NEA’s seed investing efforts. Prior to NEA, Dayna was an investor at North Bridge Venture Partners. She started her career as a product designer and has a BS from the University of Virginia in systems engineering and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Enrique Allen is the cofounder of Designer Fund, where he invests in tech startups that are design leaders, including Stripe, ZenPayroll, Shyp, Omada Health, AltSchool, and Storehouse. He adds value by helping build and educate design teams through Designer Fund’s professional development program, Bridge, and their community of top designers from companies like Dropbox, Pinterest, and Airbnb.
Enrique is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and a Stanford University alum, where he continues to teach d.media, one of the most popular courses at the Stanford Institute of Design. Previously, Enrique was a designer at venture capital firms, including 500 Startups, Facebook’s fbFund, and Venrock, where he helped invest in companies like Wildfire (acquired by Google) and Behance (acquired by Adobe).
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