Sequoia Partner Jess Lee Advice for Startup Founders – Business Insider

Sequoia Capital, the storied Silicon Valley venture firm founded in 1972, jumped into the world of startup accelerators such as Y Combinator and Techstars this year when it introduced Arc, a new program meant to help founders build their companies.
The firm’s first US Arc class is beginning its second week of a seven-week intensive course to help founders hone their startup business plans.
Sequoia, which doesn’t use the word accelerator and prefers to call Arc a “catalyst,” is investing $1 million in each startup in exchange for a stake in the business. Each stake’s size depends on the size of the company. Most crucially, the firm provides formalized mentorship and training, with each week devoted to a different fundamental of successful startups — such as creating value, building for customers, and gaining traction — what the firm refers to as its proprietary company-design curriculum.
Thousands of startups applied, and a member of the investment team read every application to whittle down the list to the hundreds of founders who got interviews, the VC firm said.  Just 13 startups made the final cut, fewer than the 17 that went through the European version of Arc, which concluded this year.
Applications for next year’s programs aren’t scheduled to open until early next year, but for founders hoping to get a head start, Jess Lee, a partner who also runs the firm’s product team, shared some tips.
A common mistake in applications was for founders to focus too much on their idea and not enough on themselves, according to Lee. She said the investing team needed to see why a founder was the only person who could lead his or her startup to greatness.
“At seed and preseed it is so much about the story of who you are and why you had this insight,” Lee said. “And I think two areas that people don’t always highlight enough is their personal story and why they had that compelling founding insight.”
For instance, Vikram Bhaskaran, who cofounded the health-communication startup Roon and was selected for the current class, shared that when his father was found to have a rare neurodegenerative disease, he came to believe that patients and their families needed much better communication from doctors. His startup seeks to improve doctor-patient communication.
Another founder in the current class, Millie Yang, talked about how living around the world — in New York, Hong Kong, Colombia, and London — made her want to build a better global payments service, which is how she came up her startup, Beamo.
Founders tend to look at just their own segment of the market and how they win against their competitors but can sometimes forget venture capitalists look at many different segments, Lee said.
“We’re looking all companies at all markets at the same time,” Lee said. “You have to make the case for why your market is a good one or why the problem you’re solving is an important and large one.”
For those who didn’t make the cut this year, Lee says not to despair. After all, the firm initially passed on the food-delivery giant DoorDash’s seed round but then invested in the company’s later rounds.
“You don’t just get one shot at Sequoia,” Lee said. “We’re company partners at all stages. I’m sure we see some really, really incredible companies emerge from whoever applied that we missed, and I’m excited to talk with them again.”
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