Rob Go is a co-founder and partner at Nextview, a Venture Capital Firm that invests in early-stage companies.
It was 2007, the eve before the great recession. Rob Go had come to Boston for a Harvard MBA and a chance to join a startup. But now, unexpectedly, he was holding two VC offers along with several startup opportunities with a difficult decision to make.
The Boston tech scene—later bolstered by accelerators like MassChallenge—had barely begun to sprout, and he could go either way to make an impact with his knowledge of consumer tech. With one decision, Rob would set himself on the path to starting his own VC, Nextview, which would cater to early-stage companies and nurture them through a hands-on investing approach.
So which path got him there?
To understand Rob’s journey into VC and founding his own firm, we’d have to go back twenty years. After graduating from Duke with a major in Economics, he worked for two years in management consulting. His real hopes, though, lay in the exploding tech scene situated in sunny California.
2003 had been an intense year for tech. Google was preparing for its IPO, Skype and WordPress had just been founded, and eBay had bought Paypal. So when Rob planned to move from Boston to California to be with his wife, he was ecstatic that a role was available at eBay.
Rob’s curiosity with consumer tech led him to a job in product marketing——a boon for a business generalist like himself. The experience was transformative. Ebay’s revenue grew $2.1 billion, and Rob witnessed massive growth at a consumer tech company. Working in a semi-technical role as a product lead also helped Rob develop domain experience on how Big Tech operated. When, in 2005, he moved back to Boston for an MBA at Harvard, he had acquired significant knowledge about the industry.
As graduation neared, Rob considered joining a startup, but received a call from a VC firm. Spark Capital was raising cash for their second big fund, and they were searching for someone with extensive consumer tech experience. Although Rob didn’t think of himself as an investor, it was an undeniably good opportunity.
You might say that investing in—or working with startups—was Rob’s destiny. He grew up in the Philipines and Hong Kong and witnessed his father start a series of businesses. Not all of them worked, but witnessing his dad go through the process multiple times stirred up an immense amount of excitement within Rob.
“Seeing him identify a market opportunity, assemble resources to pursue that opportunity, and give that a real go was very inspirational to me,” Rob reminisced. The backdrop of an entrepreneurial father would eventually play a guiding voice in his career decisions.
Although Rob originally aimed to work directly in a startup, VC could provide a mechanism through which he could interact directly with companies and help them, too. And in 2007, in the nascent tech industry of Boston, with investors excited about the “Next Big Unicorn Company”, Rob was in the right place at the right time to make that impact. Rob explained, “when an investor at a fund—let’s say early stage—is hiring somebody, they’re just thinking one thing: is this person going to help me invest in a company that I otherwise wouldn’t invest in?”
New hires typically offer a niche that these investors need. They can have crucial domain experience. They can be associated with otherwise inaccessible entrepreneurs. Or they could come out of a unique alumni network.
Rob fell into category one: he was a consumer internet expert, who had worked at one of Silicon Valley’s leading tech companies. Boston’s tech landscape was relatively low-key at the time, so it made him valuable as a potential VC investor.
“That’s just who I was, and that was very fortunate for me,” Rob said.
Rob received two VC offers along with several other roles in startups or product management. If he were to go the investment pathway, both decisions seemed like no-brainers. Spark Capital was headed by Bijan Sibet, Santo Politi, and Todd Dagres, who—just two years prior—raised a $265 million early-stage fund. His other offer came from a team with great chemistry and investments.
For Rob, his choice boiled down to one idea: investment quality. “What I’ve internalized is that this [Venture Capital] is a pattern recognition business. You’re training an algorithm and the better the data you use for training, the better the algorithm will be. And the best way to get the best training data is to join the firm that sees the best deals.”
In other words, your first VC job should center on building paradigms by observing how good investors invest in good companies. By seeing a lot of quality investments, you develop an idea of what makes a good company successful.
Spark seemed like a better decision because of that. And unbeknownst to Rob, one of Spark’s investments into a little company called Tumblr would end up reaping massive benefits years into the future.
Out of his options, Rob picked the VC route to Spark Capital, a decision that paved the pathway for his own fund a few years later. At his new job, he learned a valuable heuristic from Bijan Sabet—whose investments included Tumblr, Twitter, and Trello.
“Would I work for this person?”
Asking yourself whether a person is worth investing in is valuable because it spawns many other important questions that helped determine the potential behind a company.
“If I was an investor, would I be excited to work for this team? Is the founder inspiring? Is this a product I care about and believe in? Do I love the idea of building this thing and selling it over and over again?”
This idea of investing in extraordinary founders who attract talent made an impression on Rob, and he’d carry this idea with him whenever he made investments in the future.
After three years at Spark, though, Rob was feeling the itch to interact exclusively with early-stage companies. While he was on a good path at his job, he yearned for more agency and involvement with nascent startups. He knew who he wanted to work with, the demand for seed-stage firms was hitting double-digit growth, and at 30 years old, he was still early enough in his career to make the leap.
His new firm, Nextview, would be a dedicated seed-stage fund. But he also wanted to create an offering that supercharged the operations and growth of these startups. “We’re hyper-focused on the things that matter to companies at that stage: assemble a great team, build a great product, get more customers, don’t run out of money,” Rob reasoned.
Rob co-founded Nextview as a dedicated seed-stage fund, and the team settled on a theme for their investments: “We want to help design the future that we want to live in.” These companies make a meaningful impact in a highly commercial manner. They also occupy the Everyday Economy, or “the digital redesign of broad categories of everyday living.”
Founders in Nextview’s portfolio have ranged wildly in their offerings, but all hold a similar value of changing the way we approach our everyday life. Mealpal provides restaurant foods for lower prices by choosing the menu for you. Dia and Co. personalizes stylish clothing for plus-size women. Grove Collaborative simplifies shopping for sustainable home cleaning products.
These companies look good to Rob for two reasons: founder-market fit and JDCC. He explained:
“Founder-market fit is how well the attributes of the founders match the task at hand. JDCC stands for Jaw Dropping customer value through Competition Crushing business models. Basically, is this an extraordinary product offering that has the potential to be 5-10x better, faster, or cheaper? And is there an accumulating advantage? Is there a reason this company is a compounding machine? As it starts to win, will it be in a better position to keep on winning and win more?”
All these companies have an uncanny ability to build unique products and deliver them efficiently to customers (for more info on JDCC read Rob’s blog post here).
Drawing from the heuristic he learned at Spark, Rob also identifies if the founder is right for the job. From experience, he’s noticed that consistently successful entrepreneurs attract incredible teams, lean into their strengths, and identify deeply with their value proposition.
“I think the best ideas come out of deep-rooted personal experiences or needs. And the most inspiring leaders are the ones who are fully committed to success or doing what they can to make these companies work,” Rob elaborated.
Not every decision works, though, and that’s what makes venture capital extremely difficult. It’s a game of building mental training data, figuring out what companies can succeed, and generating exceptional returns.
“One of the interesting things about venture is that there’s a lot of futility in the business. You say no most of the time. Most of your decisions don’t work out. When you’re fundraising for a fund or a company, you hear a lot of no’s, too,” Rob said, “[but] There is something about my upbringing and the work ethic of being an Asian-American that made me very resilient.”
That said, Nextview has developed a unique business model to turn their investments into successes. Rob and his partners aspire to be the enthusiastic first yes, lead investment rounds, and be the first call for founders whenever they need them. And that business model is supported by the selective investments they make. “I have three other partners. We make 10-12 total core investments per year,” Rob told me, fewer investments per partner than any other seed fund in the country. Being selective allows them to spend more time working with each of their portfolio companies. This all-hands-on-deck effort ranges from a Talent Exchange program that helps founders recruit talent to product advising from leading product developers.
Moving from a consulting job, to a product lead at eBay, to investing with one of Boston’s biggest VCs and eventually starting Nextview, Rob’s certainly taken a unique path, one that might not have happened if he hadn’t decided to follow his wife across the country to the Bay Area.
I thought about the serendipity of choice, but Rob reminded me of the underlying, interlacing factors that lead inevitably to our futures:
“You don’t have to plan it out; you just have to make a great next step. And I think people get too caught up wondering how everything fits together. As a result, you end up getting non-exceptional outcomes because the only thing you can predict a couple steps in advance tends to be non-exceptional decisions.
“The exceptional decisions are the ones that lead to uncertain outcomes.”
Entrepreneur and Investor Advice
There’s a lot more transparency in the industry than there ever was thanks to social media content, podcasts, or interviews like this. So you have no excuse not to be well informed. The other thing I would say is: go out of the building, talk to customers, and don’t do things in a silo. You have to be very commercial and market-oriented. And don’t be afraid to sell something you don’t have to a customer.