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Behind the Scenes at a Venture Capital Firm


Last fall, before I joined Zendesk, I took a role as an Executive-in-Residence at Scale Venture Partners. A lot of people asked me about this, so I've written an article at GigaOm that describes my thought process and what I ended up working on.

While there are as many variations on the EIR position as there are venture firms, there are two flavors, generally speaking: Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Executive-in-Residence. Most firms have some experience with Entrepreneur-in-Residence programs. Essentially, they give office space, coffee and food to a proven entrepreneur so he or she can spend a few months researching or prototyping a new product or service...

I’m not the inventor type, and I didn’t want to just “hang out” at a venture firm to look at their portfolio companies, so I proposed doing a specific research assignment with Scale Venture Partners. Scale typically invests in late-stage Series B or Series C companies, which made it a good fit. I am good at scaling companies, but I don’t know that I’m any better at predicting which Series A investments will thrive than anyone else.

The key area of my research was to analyze some specific developments around Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), big data and NoSQL. This entailed studying the technologies in this area, understanding the optimal use cases and speaking to a broad range of customers and prospects to see what was actually happening in the marketplace and what patterns were starting to emerge. I also worked with the senior partners at Scale to determine how to keep them up-to-date with my findings and how the results would fit into their overall software investment strategy. The important takeaway was that a venture firm is not a research house. At the end of the day, they would measure the success of this effort by whether it helped them make better investments.

While I could have done my research on my own, it was helpful to have an office to go to, access to research materials and introductions from the Venture partners to companies that were using some of the new technologies. While I was primarily focused on pursuing my research, I also gave the investors my perspective on a couple of portfolio companies.

Working as an EIR was one of the most interesting projects I've done.  While it was a short, concentrated time, it exposed me to some new ways of thinking about managing the growth of a software company and how to think like an investor.  The contacts I made were also invaluable.

You can read the full article over at GigaOm or a slightly expanded version at Scale Venture Partners' site.  The full version also includes some tips for those who are thinking about an EIR role and how to determine the best match with your own needs.  

Zack Urlocker is Chief Operating Officer at Zendesk, a cloud-based help desk provider.  He was previously the Executive Vice President of Products at MySQL where he was responsible for Engineering and Marketing and helped grow the company to $100 million in revenue.  Urlocker is an investor, advisor and board member to several software companies.  He's also an occasional marathon runner and blues guitarist.