Ep. 209 – Minnie Ingersoll, Partner at TenOneTen Ventures, on Venture Investing, Google & Launching her own Startup

Ep. 209 – Minnie Ingersoll, Partner at TenOneTen Ventures, on Venture Investing, Google & Launching her own Startup

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside innovation, we sit down with Minnie Ingersoll. She’s a partner at TenOneTen Ventures. We talk about her long time Silicon Valley product experience with Google, how she moved over into the startup realm building a company called Shift and is now on the other side of the table as a venture capitalist. Let’s get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, founder of Insideoutside.io, a provider of research events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas and compete in a world of change and disruption each week. We’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking, tools, tactics, and trends, in collaborative innovation.

Interview Transcript

Minnie Ingersoll, TenOneTen VenturesBrian Ardinger:  Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. With me in the studio today is Minnie Ingersoll. She is a partner at TenOneTen Ventures, which is a seed stage fund out of LA. She’s a long time Silicon Valley product leader and operations executive, work with Google for a number of years. Also had run as a startup founder, as she co-founded the company Shift. So welcome to the show Minnie.

Minnie Ingersoll: Thanks so much, Brian.  Good to be here.

Brian Ardinger: Well, I’m excited to have you on the show because we could probably spend about five or six episodes going through your career, both from the Google side, all the way to the startup side. And then finally now where you’re at here on the corporate venture side. So, I know a lot of your insights will be helpful for our audience. Let’s start with how you got into tech.

Minnie Ingersoll: Yeah, sure. So, I studied computer science at Stanford, which is like a very classic career path to getting into tech. But I just have always felt that there’s a lot of things that aren’t going extremely well in our world today. Not just related to our current pandemic, but that innovation is one of the huge, bright spots of our country. And just personally, I’ve always liked to be, I don’t know whether you want to call it like the life of the party or like where things are really happening, and tech was always just that spot where there was a lot of innovation going on.  Studied computer science and then joined Google in 2002 when it was 500 people. And that really got me even more in meshed in everything Silicon Valley.

Minnie Ingersoll, TenOneTen VenturesBrian Ardinger: And you stayed there a number of years. What kind of projects did you get to work on?

Minnie Ingersoll: Yeah, so I was a product manager, the whole time I was there, and I started when it was 500 people. I left when it was 60,000 people. So it was varied, but a lot of the time that I was there, I was working on access projects. So getting more people online, faster speeds, lower prices. Everything from domestically, looking at Muni WIFI to internationally looking at societies where they’re trying to suppressed access to information.

Brian Ardinger: Were you ever involved with the Google Fiber stuff in Kansas City?

Minnie Ingersoll: Yes. Definitely. Flew out to Kansas City, actually drove a minivan around the Midwest for a while, looking at different places. And interesting when you’re deploying Muni WIFI and you come from a tech background, Google fiber was less about signal propagation, but you know, you’re thinking about the technical aspects, but you realize it’s really about government relationships and navigating the public sphere. A lot of interesting lessons there.

Brian Ardinger: I’m sure it was very interesting case study in a lot of different ways. And it changed the forefront of what was going on here in the Midwest. Put a spotlight on some of that new tech that could be done outside of the Valley, too. So, you were at Google for about 12 years or so, and then you decided, Hey, I’m going to jump into the startup scene. Tell us a little bit about that journey and what made you make the jump and tell us what the company you built.

Minnie Ingersoll: Google was amazing, but I left in 2013, I was on maternity leave actually. And that sort of helped incubate my startup, which is an online marketplace for used cars. So, if you, I have a car you want to sell, it turns out most people are very bad at selling their car. And we probably could have built a whole business just on pricing used cars. It turns out it’s an interesting data challenge because we have all this data about what’s selling on Craigslist. What’s selling at auction, what dealers are selling for. And yet, you know, you’ve got something like Kelly Blue Book, which is fundamentally static source of information. You’ve got used car dealerships that are not transparent in their pricing.

And you might walk into a used car dealership and get different price than I walk in and get for the same car. So, we felt like there was a real interesting opportunity to do something. I mean, you could kind of say it was like, a used car dealership, but Google DNA, right?  Like a lot of the lessons that we learned at Google, I had two co-founders. We all had worked at Google previously, so that’s how we knew each other. And we tried to apply a lot of the lessons there to disruptive the used car industry.

Brian Ardinger: And through that particular process, I know you grew very fast, so you had to hire a lot of people. And so, tell us a little bit about what it’s like to go from nothing to something in a very short amount of time.

Minnie Ingersoll: You know, like your pants are on fire constantly. That was kind of the feeling. I then had a tiny baby and we hired 200 people in probably our first 18 months or two years. And I think doing anything well requires a lot of time. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcuts to anything. So, you just need to decide. Where you are going to put your time? And I think we decided that we would hire really good people. And so that was probably a third of my time or something. Like I just spent a ton of time on hiring, because that was the only way to really scale.

Brian Ardinger: Are there any particular things that you would recommend to founders or in that position to find the best talent?

Minnie Ingersoll: The best thing for sourcing is probably being really, really clear on who you want to hire. And so, the more you can come up with what attributes are going to make someone successful and take those attributes of what success looks like, and maybe turn those into certain personas. And then you could say, you know, I think someone who has previously scaled a startup would be successful here, or I’m looking for a CFO and I want them to come out of the FPNA and a direction or out of the accounting background. But being really clear on what those personas are, then allow you to target the right people. And when you meet them, know who the right people are and not have the swirl that comes afterwards. So just putting a lot of time in upfront.

Brian Ardinger: So now you’re in a totally different world. You’ve jumped onto the other side of the table, so to speak. You’re at TenOneTen Ventures. So, you’ve moved from the startup side to now investing in startups. What’s that like?

Minnie Ingersoll: You know, a lot of pieces are the same. A lot of what I’m doing actually has some similarities to hiring people. I’m meeting with people all the time and trying to do that dance of is this the right fit for what we’re looking for. So, some of that feels similar. There’s less managing people. And I got a lot of personal growth from managing people and there’s probably more sales, which is not something I totally expected. My background’s in product management, not in sales. You know, you’re always pitching your companies to other investors and trying to help them acquire customers. But other than that, it’s a fantastic job.

I think I’m smarter. I think I’m honestly a smarter person for having done it for the past year and change now because you sit there and people explain an industry that you know, nothing about and they know so much about. And I just trying to really understand how does this industry work? You know, they’ve got an insight. It takes me a little while to understand, you know, all the different forces at play there. So, I mean, it’s a fantastic job is the summary.

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Brian Ardinger: So, you’re based in LA. I would imagine it’s a little different than the Valley venture environment. LA seems to be a growing venture backed environment, but it’s still second tier, at least from the Valley’s perspective. We’re further down on the list as well, but what’s it like to be in the venture space in LA?

Minnie Ingersoll: Well, Brian, I will say it’s great to be second tier.

Brian Ardinger: We’re all about the Midwest and other places outside the Valley, outside of the core tech hub. So, I’m always excited to hear what’s going on and places that are building tech and building startups outside of what is perceived as the core areas.

Minnie Ingersoll: So, a couple of things. So, the first is entrepreneurship used to be more of a black box. You know, 5, 10 years ago, it was unclear how to raise money, how to hire great people. How does the startup flywheel get going? And nowadays it’s far less a black box. There’s podcasts like yours, entrepreneurship is being taught in universities. There’s just so much more out there. And so, you don’t need to be sitting there in Silicon Valley anymore. And that’s fantastic.

Another thing I think is that Silicon Valley or San Francisco, has gotten so fully saturated. I think we hit peak San Francisco a couple of number of years ago where it just got harder to live. It got harder for…you know, you as a person couldn’t thrive as much in San Francisco. I think it just got harder to have a house, have children, that sort of thing. It has contributed to the success of other markets because people now great people and great talent is now willing to leave Silicon Valley.

Brian Ardinger: So, talk about some of your portfolio companies or how do you go about finding good startups? Tell us about that process of finding talent and finding startups to invest in.

Minnie Ingersoll: Well, the first thing I’ll say is, although you’re based physically in LA, we do invest in startups nationwide and worldwide. So, if there are listeners who have great startups, I don’t want to limit ourselves there. Our sweet spot is pre series A, but not pre-seed. So, we’re usually nowadays I’d say most people have two rounds before a series A, some have three. And we’re usually the second round there, which is to say people usually have revenue, have products out in market. And our sweet spot tends to be an entrepreneur who knows an industry really well and understands where the point is for disruption. As opposed to creating a whole new industry, we tend to invest in technical founders and there’s usually a fairly heavy software data component. We don’t do consumer.

And so, for us, like a good example might be True accord is in our portfolio. They do automated collection, which you know, it’s an unsexy industry, but it’s a really big industry. And it turns out that call centers are the way things have been done before. Call centers are a bad experience for everyone. You’re incentivize to have things that are not compliant to have conversations that are not compliant when doing debt collection. And it’s the sort of thing that computers can do much better. I just assume have computers send me a text message or an email, than having someone on the phone calling me. And, I could give any number of examples, but tend to be big industries that haven’t had a lot of tech applied to them.

Brian Ardinger: That’s interesting. Because you know, a lot of the startups that we’re seeing here in the Midwest and other places are going back to their core. They understand the core industries. They’re not looking for creating a brand-new industry. They’re really looking at how do they find customers in their own backyard? How do they enhance the existing infrastructure and the existing ways of doing business outside of the Valley? It seems to be, that is the core. It is like, how do you actually build a business versus build a dream so to speak.

Minnie Ingersoll: Yeah, we like things about building a business or even just making a business more efficient. So just adding automation and especially in today’s environment, as in a potential downturn environment, places where you can create efficiencies automation, make a lot of sense.

Brian Ardinger: So that’s a great segue. As we’re recording this, we’re in the middle of the covert pandemic. Obviously, the landscape has changed for virtually every business out there. What are some of the things that you’re telling your founders to pay attention to? Or how has the environment and venture investing actually changed in the last six to eight weeks as pandemic is popped up.

Minnie Ingersoll: I think a lot of companies we’ll have some degree of tailwind. You know, things that are creating efficiencies, cost savings. Some of that will just continue. But I think a lot of the things that are still to be felt. So, we have a fairly heavy B2B portfolio. We don’t do a lot of consumer investing. The consumer companies have felt an immediate hit. A lot of them have because everything has been shut down. The B2B companies have not felt it as immediately, but they will, you know, Q4 could be horrible just because I think those industries are slower. Their contracts come up slower, but there’s going to be a lot of cutting coming. So, we are definitely telling our founders to be extremely cash conscious. I think there’s still a lot of funding that is happening right now.

We have a good group that we’re a part of and we’ve been checking in with them. A big group of venture capitalists who I think have their ear on a lot of things that are going on. And they call it “anec” data. Which I really like. So “anecdataly,” I will tell you, I see a lot of deals still going around, but I think valuations anecdataly, are maybe 20-30% lower than they might’ve been. And a lot fewer of those crazy outliers where there’s some pre-seed company getting a $20 million valuation. I don’t see that happening. We’ve done a couple deals since lock down or sheltering. And they have been for the most part companies that I think probably in a different environment would have done a series A but are instead feeling like having a strong second seed or third seed, is a totally fair option.

Brian Ardinger: Are you seeing a lot of the VCs basically hunkering down and focusing on their existing portfolio companies? Are you seeing new deals going?

Minnie Ingersoll: I’m seeing new deals going around. I think that there was a let’s hunker into our portfolio to help with things like re-forecasting, navigating the immediate situation, and 2020 forecast all needed to be revised. But now I think there are a lot of deals, in part because B2B companies will take a little while to feel the effects.

I think investing will take a while and I worry about what’s going to happen in a couple of years, but right now funds like ours, we have funds to deploy, but I think it’ll get a lot harder for emerging managers, emerging VC managers, to raise funds. And so, what I worry about is that the LPs, the limited partners are all, you know, endowments that have been squeezed. They won’t then fund as many new VCs and that effect will have a real effect on the ecosystem, but that’s going to take years to be felt.

Brian Ardinger: You mentioned you do a lot of B2B stuff. Are you hearing things from the corporate environment, as far as how they’re looking at startups and investing in that side? Do you do a lot of partnering with corporate venture or anything along those lines?

Minnie Ingersoll: You know, I’m not as close to the corporate venture side of things, but generally I think there’s a lot of things that are going to be relooked at, and disruption is a great time to invest. And when things are disrupted is the right time to lean in. And it’s not just disruption the way we do business, but it’s also in regulations right now. There’s industries we like health tech, education, where regulations and bureaucracies that were slow to adopt things are being forced to rethink what they’re doing. And that’s again, a great time to be building a startup or being an investor.

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, it’s definitely interesting times. I think both good and bad. And we’ll see who wins and who loses in the near future. If people want to find out more about yourself or more about TenOneTen ventures. What’s the best way to do that?

Minnie Ingersoll: Our website is TenOneTen.net. And then I host a podcast where I talked to VCs. Some of this is I’ve been cheating because I talked to a lot of VCs about what they’re investing in, what they’re seeing at LA venture podcasts,

Brian Ardinger: Minnie, I thank you for being on Inside Outside Innovation and sharing your insights of what’s going on out in the West coast. Appreciate your time.

Minnie Ingersoll: Thanks so much, Brian,

Brian Ardinger:  That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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