One of my favorite things about the tech industry is that reputations and relationships matter. Unlike Wall Street, or Hollywood, people in the tech industry pay it forward and treat each other well. This isn’t just Northern California touchie feelie; life goes in cycles and startups are a repeat game. We will all see each other again if we hang around the valley long enough. The path that led Aaron Batalion to join Lightspeed as my partner, focusing on consumer investments, is one of those relationship driven stories.
My first job out of college was at McKinsey in the Sydney office. A few years later my boss there, Charles Conn (who now runs the Rhodes Scholarship program), left the Firm to found CitySearch, a first generation online cityguide business. I didn’t know anything about the internet, but I knew that he was a very smart guy, so I called him and asked if I could come. He said yes, so I found myself in Los Angeles during the first internet boom. It was 1996, so within 6 months anyone working in the internet was a relative expert, and I’ve been working in consumer tech ever since.
One of my bosses at CitySearch was John Pleasants, who was later CEO of Playdom, one of our portfolio companies, and sold it to Disney. But in between he was CEO of Revolution Health, and he introduced me to Aaron Batalion and the other founders of Hungry Machine when they left Revolution to go out on their own. These are some “smart and scrappy founders” he told me, keep an eye on them.
A year later and the Hungry Machine team had one of the top apps on Facebook, a social network for book lovers called Visual Bookshelf. I loved the team and what they were doing and would have loved to lead their A round, but I was on the board of Flixster, a social network for movie fans, and the potential for future conflict seemed high. So we didn’t invest but kept in touch and I tried to be helpful.
Another year or two passed and Hungry Machine had become the biggest publisher on Facebook through a network of top apps, including Pick Your Five, the biggest single app on the platform. Again, I loved the team and what they were doing, and would have loved to lead their B round, but I was on the board of Rock You, a competitive publisher of Facebook apps. So once again we didn’t invest, but kept in touch and I tried to be helpful.
Another year or two passed and Hungry Machine had become LivingSocial, a local daily-deals website that was growing very fast. I still loved the team, I once again loved what they were doing, and this time I had no conflicts. We were able to invest!
Over the next four years I worked closely with Aaron and his cofounders as LivingSocial rode out the ups and down of the local daily-deals space. We worked together through good times and bad. I got to see him in all conditions, from trying to keep the site up through incredibly growth to making tough decisions about cost reduction, from finding clever new channels for customer acquisition to piloting new product lines at lightning speed. And throughout I saw him live and exemplify LivingSocial’s core values, (i) Make strong moves, (ii) Recognize others, (iii) Surprise and delight, (iv) Live hungry and (v) Champion good ideas. Aaron was not an introverted CTO. He was certainly incredibly strong technically, but he brought business, product and culture insights to the boardroom discussion that had a major impact on the way the company was run.
Three years ago Aaron moved to the Bay area, and eventually he left LivingSocial, planning to start another company. In the meantime he did what he does best, help other people. He became an in-demand advisor and individual investor in other startups, sharing the lessons learned through his own founder journey. He and I spent more time together as he pondered what his next startup would be. Eventually he came to realize that he was enjoying working with other founders more and more, and that he wanted to turn that into his profession.
When Aaron made this decision, a number of firms wooed him to join their teams. Happily for Lightspeed, the time that we had spent together over the last few years, and the way that Lightspeed has remained a supportive and involved investor in LivingSocial, in good times and bad, gave him a real comfort that he would find a cultural fit with our team. And so we’re so thrilled to have him join us, an overnight addition, seven years in the making!