Manage your time efficiently and use checklists to help with structure. This method will not only allow you to be effective in the workplace, but it will also assist in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Jana Messerschmidt is a current Partner and a member of the consumer investing team at Lightspeed Venture Partners, an American venture capital firm that focuses on early stage investments in the enterprise and technology space. As an investor, Jana’s portfolio includes the consumer, enterprise, technology, and cleantech markets. She specializes in seed, early stage, later stage, expansion stage, start-up, growth companies, and incubation. Jana utilizes her knowledge of and experience in debt financing for developing strategies for progression.
Jana is also a co-founder of #ANGELS, an investment collective dedicated to getting more women on the cap tables of successful startups. As investors, they collectively hold a portfolio of 80+ companies across various industries, including Bird, Cameo, Color, Eero, and Winnie.
Prior to joining Lightspeed Venture Partners, Jana spent years investing in and advising early-stage companies. She previously served as Director of Business Development for Netflix, where she focused on building the company’s early streaming partnerships, and Vice President of Global Business Development and Platform for Twitter, where she was responsible for strategic partnerships, enterprise sales, developer relations, and more.
Before joining these internationally recognized companies, Jana worked as Senior Manager of Global Sales at DivX and Director of Strategic Accounts at SmartDrive. Through the years, Jana has been at the intersection of business and technology. She has a history and education in technology, but has utilized her skills and expertise to excel in the venture capital sector.
Jana lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is married with a three-year-old daughter. Jana received her Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to investing, she is passionate about hosting events and conversations to build community, diversify networks, and include and promote women in frontier fields changing the industry.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
While I was working as VP of Global Business Development and Platform at Twitter, I went out for cocktails one night with some women from the office. We were discussing our personal experiences with angel investing, or for those who were not yet investing, talking about the idea of dabbling in it. As we discussed the idea, the more we thought that maybe it would be more interesting if we banded together and created a brand around what we were doing. We saw the potential in us women working together. So, we created our brand – one that we are all senior investors in.
We have each independently worked at a variety of companies, from individual contributor roles to senior executive roles. In each position, we freely identified how we were able to help those companies grow. Therefore, we saw our benefit – we have all done this before, so we can do it again and we can help others.
These women have been huge influencers both in my personal and professional life. We are all strong women, we each come from a uniquely different background, and we each have different skill sets. They challenge me to think differently, whether it’s about companies we are investing in or broader missions in the industry around diversity and underrepresentation. They are an aspirational group and so when the idea was discussed that night, I knew I had to be part of this team.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
With a three-year-old daughter at home, I have to be very structured and efficient with my time. My husband, who works as an exec at a tech company in San Francisco, also requires efficiency with his time so that he can balance both his professional and our personal lives. Together, we make a great team, which helps with managing my commitments.
A typical day for me is normally spent in meetings with founders – learning about their dreams and the businesses they want to build. Each day is different and for me and I think my experience now working at Lightspeed, paired with my continuous commitment to #ANGELS, is a really fun journey. I get to work with founders, making their dreams become reality. I know from personal experience how founders’ big visions can easily take a wrong turn and fail, so it is great to get to be by their side and work with them all the way through.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As a former engineer, I think about things very logically. I start with the big picture and identify what the goals are to get there. Then, I outline the tactics to achieve each of those goals.
I create checklists to help with my system. I love checklists! The process of checking them off and making progress, moving towards my goal – it is extremely satisfying. I think that this thinking partially comes from my engineering background, but it is also partially just driven by the fact that I have to maximize my time each day.
What’s one trend that excites you?
There are so many that excite me; but lately, I have been very interested in the future of transportation, specifically in how it will impact cities and city living. So, I have made a handful of investments in this sector as an angel investor.
One of the more notable companies that have caught my attention has been the Bird Scooter Company, as well as a few other ones that are pretty similar and still early in development. Bird Scooter Company is a mobile app that gives the community access to shared personal electric vehicles that can be picked up and dropped off anywhere.
These new businesses make me think about the future of our cities – what does home development look like in these cities? And how do they manage traffic in these new cities, which are filled with scooters, Ubers, Lyfts, and other new forms of transportation?
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am a copious note taker. This helps me as both an entrepreneur and as a member of the team at Lightspeed.
I actually think my colleagues have been somewhat surprised and awed by my note-taking since joining Lightspeed. We meet with so many different people and there is so much great information that they are sharing with you – it really helps to take notes and then just synthesize it later.
It is also a great technique to help you start to form the patterns and trends in your investing thesis. You can reflect back on questions such as: What were some of the things that gave me conviction about a deal, or what was it that got me so excited about a specific company? And as these things pan out, you can assess whether those companies are now marching forward with success.
What advice would you give your younger self?
When I was in high school and college, I felt that I had to figure out my whole future, and I believed that what I majored in was going to dictate my whole career. However, what I have found out is that even though I studied engineering in my undergraduate studies, that was not my set future. Instead, it just gave me more ways to look at a career in so many different roles. Going to college and educating myself in engineering simply opened doors. Never would I have guessed that I would have become an investor, especially considering what I was doing in high school and college.
To give you some insight, I grew up in a small town in Illinois. It was very rural and not many people understood what engineering or computer science was, nor did they understand technology and the influence of Silicon Valley. These subjects and ideas were far removed from anyone around me. So, at that time, I definitely did not know what venture capital was, and I also did not know what angel investing was. It actually took me years working in the Valley to start to understand how companies were funded, how companies were able to use that capital to grow, and what role venture capital plays in the industry.
So, in conclusion, I would tell myself to stay focused on progress and to not worry about planning out my entire life. At that time, I really had no idea what my future was going to hold, but I am happy with the outcome of that journey.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I engage in all aspects of new marketplaces. For example, when Uber first launched, I started driving as an Uber driver so that I could really understand both sides of the marketplace – the experience as a passenger and the experience as a driver. I wanted to understand how those dynamics played out.
I would not say that people disagree with this attitude and method, but that many would not spend the time getting so immersed in one marketplace. Many would find it a waste to become an Uber driver. However, I find it extremely beneficial to learn first-hand and appreciate the insight that it gives me.
In fact, my husband is similar as well. He recently signed up for DoorDash. He has shared with me that he has been having a fun experience, and his experience helps me understand the industry a bit more as well.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I focus on relationships. I believe that they are very important in all aspects of life, both personally and professionally. I always try to help people in my network, whether it’s companies that I have backed, those that I have not, and even those that have turned me down. I recommend that others try to be helpful whenever they can as well.
I even discuss this with the founders that I work with. When they are first starting and forming new relationships in the community, they are often confronted with tough decisions – which venture firms to accept financial help from, whom to hire, and who to partner with, to name a few – so I always suggest that whatever decision they make that they try to do it with grace and continue to help others, even if they do not end up being on the same team as them.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It is the strategy that I just mentioned that other entrepreneurs do – help people and be kind. This strategy has helped me grow immensely. I do not mean that someone has to be a pushover, but just be kind to others. More people will also want to work with you. People genuinely just want to feel like a partner when working together. So, my strategy is to not be so transactional about relationships, but instead to focus on the long term of the relationship.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have worked with many growing companies, and while with those companies, it’s inevitable that I would at times experience failure. Working at smaller companies you are faced with much adversity and must show grit – which, for me, can sometimes be challenging. However, these experiences of failing helped me grow.
When I transitioned to a larger company, I had to do layoffs in my organization. This was extremely challenging for me in terms of making choices. I think my experience from the past helped me make decisions, but I still look back and see some mistakes that I made. I can, however, reflect on that time and recognize how much I grew personally from those experiences. And next time I am faced with tough decisions, I feel I will be able to execute those decisions and deliver those messages in a much better manner.
Thus, I would say that I overcame my past failures by learning from them. If someone only works in hot companies that are on the growth trajectory, they will never really learn how to face adversity. And for those that lead teams, this is extremely important.
I do want to note that my experiences at these companies and the challenges that I faced were not the fault of the companies I worked for, nor were these challenges related to their performance issues. It was just business and my learning experience.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This first one might be a little too “techy,” but I would like to see GitHub for business people. GitHub is a software platform for engineers and provides a place for individuals to make code and share their ideas in code, allowing all participants to become more efficient. I would like to see the concept transitioned into the business world.
There is an immense amount of time spent repeating monotonous tasks such as sending similar emails – emails connecting people and ones trying to help others, as well as those that include pitch decks, proposals, and term sheets. Essentially, all things business. Too much time is spent recreating the wheel. My thought is that there should actually be a central repository where we can all share ideas and use each other’s work.
Also, I would like for a more efficient blow-dryer. I tweeted about this a lot. I have long hair and I have done the calculations: I spend about twenty minutes daily blow-drying my hair, so if I consider that I have dried my hair since I was 10, and can anticipate that I will blow-dry my hair until I am 80, that is 355 days of my life wasted just blow-drying my hair!
There is a Dyson blow-dryer that has allowed me to reduce my daily time to seven minutes. However, I would love for entrepreneurs to disrupt blow-drying, find efficiency, and give women their lives back. Women already rule the world – but if this was created, we would totally rule the world!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently signed up for Literati, a children’s book subscription company. Once a month, I get a package of five new children’s books; then I get the option to either send the books back or I can opt to keep them (or one!). Since I am a mom of a three-year-old who loves to go through different books, this has been a game changer. Even my daughter is delighted each month because she has a surprise and the delight factor of opening up the box. And as she has access to so many books, she is now getting introduced to new ideas and new readings.
I also like it because it saves me time. The books are really well curated; plus, I know the founder of the company. Actually, some of my friends invested in her. But all in all, it has been a game changer for me as a parent.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
There is a handful of different products, but I will talk about consumer products – the most used apps on my phone.
The most used apps on my phone are without a doubt Twitter, Netflix, and Uber, which is kind of ironic given that I’ve worked at both Twitter and Netflix, and my husband worked at Uber.
I am also obsessed with Cameo. Full disclosure though, Lightspeed and I are both investors in Cameo. I was actually a seed investor. Anyways, the app lets you personalize shout-out messages from celebrities. For example, imagine getting a video from a Real Housewife saying ‘Happy Birthday.’ That is the idea behind the app. I use it all the time; not only as a gift option to send to people for their birthdays but also for motivational team activities.
I also really enjoy Tech-Talk, which is a collection of articles and videos. I find that I can get lost while using the app though, just smiling and laughing for an hour. It’s just wholesome fun that I love to have in my life.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I have four.
First, if you’re interested in investing, read Venture Deals by Brad Feld. It’s the investing 101 handbook. Also in this category, I really like Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook. It’s a fantastic read geared towards techies and investors.
If you want a really good read, I love and recommend Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming.
Lastly, if you are interested in politics, and are intrigued by how the world is so crazy right now, read Dark Money by Jane Mayer. I highly recommend this one too.
• Manage your time efficiently and use checklists to help with structure. This method will not only allow you to be effective in the workplace, but it will also assist in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
• Take notes to help track progress. Not only will you have references to all matters discussed in important meetings, but you will be able to use the data in the future to assess growth on certain projects.
• Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself fully into any marketplace. Even if you feel your time may be spent elsewhere, learning the ins and outs of an industry can give you insight that others may miss.
• Always be helpful and kind to others, even if your journeys take you on different paths. Focusing on relationships will help you pursue a more successful future.
• Work in environments that will challenge you – do not always work with growth companies. Taking on these unique opportunities will help you learn more about the industry and how to overcome specific problems. This strategy ultimately gives you an advantage in the future.