Nicole Quinn

Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners

Nicole Quinn is a Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners and has been specializing in consumer behavior, retail, and taking brands public since the early 2000s. Regardless of the goal, Nicole is hyper focused on being true to the Founder’s insight and the brand’s core.

Nicole previously worked at Nutmeg, a London-based fintech startup, on the branding and marketing team. Nicole also spent eight years with Morgan Stanley where she worked on the IPOs for companies like Facebook, Groupon, and Pandora, which starter her on the journey to become an angel investor and, later, a startup cofounder herself.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Every single day is very different. Honestly, how I make it productive is the variety of it all. I think I am most productive when there’s always such newness and I’m learning from such inspiring founders and getting their nuggets of the future, of how they think the future will look based on how big their company could get, and how the world will change as a result of their ideas. My gosh, that makes me so invigorated to go through the day. My day is probably a third talking to current portfolio companies and helping them in all the many different ways that we try and be a true partner for them, and really be there for them each and every day, whenever they need us. A third speaking to new startups. I probably speak to five to 10 new startups every single day. And that’s what? If it’s 10 a day, 50 a week, so 2,500 a year. We end up investing in one to two of them. So it literally is one in 1,000. The other third is probably internal stuff, helping my other partners at Lightspeed, brainstorming with folks. We very much are one team at Lightspeed, and we always want to help one another with regard to our portfolio companies, or new ideas we have, or companies we’re really excited about partnering with. And so that’s the rough breakdown.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I used to definitely bring ideas to life when I was an entrepreneur. Now I’m so excited to partner with founders and help them bring their ideas to life. This is really what we specialize in at Lightspeed because we try to be the first institutional investor in, and then stay on the board for that company for the next 10, 15 years, all the way to them being a public company and afterward. I think I help folks by bringing their ideas to life by being a coach for them. I actually spent a year as a certified coach. I think the best board members are coaches to their CEOs and helping them to be the very best they can possibly be through coaching techniques. So if the CEO is the best they can possibly be, then that is how their idea comes alive. That’s what we do by being a true thought partner and coach to our founders.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m really excited about the intersection of consumer and crypto in a Web3 future. Perhaps that’s the metaverse. Perhaps that’s NFTs. Perhaps that’s DAOs. But we really are looking at all of it, and we’re excited to help creators build companies, whether that be games or social media businesses, or communities that really are very much open and equal for everybody. So we level the principles Web3 stands for. I think that trend is something we’ve applied to Cameo, a company we’ve been on the board of for many years with their launch of NFTs, which were hugely successful and actually sold out in around six seconds. And we’re investing in new NFT companies like Autograph, where Tom Brady is one of the co-founders, so we’re definitely excited about that trend as it relates to new companies as well as existing major players starting to play in the Web3 world.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One habit of mine that makes me productive is I’m a really big believer in walking meetings. Whether I’m walking with somebody when we’re having an in-person meeting, or walking while on the phone to them, I believe the forward momentum of walking also brings forward momentum to your conversation. And so you go deeper with one another, and you really think about how to bring those ideas to life a little bit more and really think about, ‘What else can we do? How do we take action?’ Because you are quite literally taking action by walking. That is a habit of mine that I try to do multiple times a day with founders.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take more risks. Maybe think bigger. I grew up in England where people are terrified of failure. Not just scared of it; terrified of failure. In Silicon Valley, it really is this very rare place in the world where failure is not just accepted but embraced. If a founder tells me, ‘I’ve failed at five startups before,’ I’m like, ‘Great. You have learned so many lessons. We want to invest in your next company.’ So you think about all the great founders and how many times they failed before they found the thing that really took off. So the advice I’d give to my younger self growing up in London, which I think the founders are now really starting to do in London, is take more risks and think much bigger, not being afraid to fail.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Most people, when they’re looking at a startup, are obsessed with TAM [total addressable market]. They’re thinking,’ Is the market size big enough?’ Whereas I think it’s true that the best companies, the companies that you should start with, are actually those that have a very small TAM. A very small TAM, and the customers will all talk to one another, word will spread and then you’ll really become the company in that small community. Then I believe that many small communities make up a big community, and over time you can get to a larger community, but by starting with many, many small ones. That is a controversial statement, because most people believe that many small towns do not make up a big one — one of my partners included; he wrote a blog post on it — but I deeply believe in the power of small communities.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Stay true to your word. How that manifests itself in my job now is I get back to every single email. If a founder replies to me, then I am going to get back to them over and over again. I think that’s really important. If you’ve got a meeting, make sure that you go to that meeting, make sure that you meet somebody at the time you say you’re going to. Staying true to my word is something that I deeply believe in.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that has helped us grow business at Lightspeed has been thinking very globally. We don’t just look at startups in Silicon Valley that are building for customers in Silicon Valley. I spend half my time looking at Europe and one of my other partners spends half of her time looking at Latin America. This strategy has really helped grow our business; now we have 10 offices globally and it means that we are on at least four continents. That is something that also is very important and one of our core values at Lightspeed, because we learn from founders globally, we help founders globally. We think we’re in the best position to do both because of the insights that we get from global founders. That’s been a great strategy.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The greatest failure I have had as an investor has been not investing in friends. It is my greatest regret that I have not invested in my Stanford classmates and they’ve all gone on to do such incredible things. I was really just learning the craft of VC [venture capital] when they were doing their early fundraising rounds. I wish that I had moved faster at an earlier stage to invest in great friends.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’m really excited about the future of social through Web3. I believe that gaming and social media together will be the most valuable businesses when interacting with Web3, so that’s the direction I point people in.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

My favorite book is The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, because every single day they find a different world at the top of the tree and love going into these new worlds in the same way that we’re now seeing folks do in the metaverse. That was my childhood and I’m excited to do that digitally in the metaverse now.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is, ‘We have two ears and one mouth, so we should use them in that proportion.’

Key Learnings:

  • Stay true to your word
  • Take more risks
  • There is power in investing in small companies