Cashing in on COVID
Stimulus Checks Are Coming In. Will They Be Enough?
With the economy stuttering, legislation has passed to stimulate recovery and aid small businesses. Will it be enough?
Seeing things the same, but different
From the evolution of VC-related content, to the future of the consumer industry and differentiating yourself as an early-stage company.
Welcome to Invested, Supermaker’s series featuring uncensored takes from within the inner workings of America's prestigious venture capital firms. Invested is led by Leah Fessler, journalist, investor, and Head of Editorial at Chief.
For most professionals, the idea of working alongside your sibling is more of a nightmare than a dream. Justine and Olivia Moore are the exception.
Not only are the Moores sisters and colleagues — they’re also identical twins. Optically impressive as their partnership is, Justine and Olivia’s compatibility goes beyond genetics (a statement I can make confidently as the fiancé of an identical twin myself). Their relationship is as much defined by productive disagreement as it is by natural consensus: “People who work with us tend to be surprised by how much we disagree,” they tell Supermaker.
Daughters of a venture investor, Justine and Olivia were always interested in following in their mother’s footsteps. The 25-year old Portland natives both attended Stanford University, where they both majored in economics and graduated with honors. At Stanford, they co-founded Cardinal Ventures, a startup incubator backing student-run businesses. After college, they both worked as analysts at Goldman Sachs, albeit on different teams. Getting dizzy yet?
Shortly into their banking tenures, Justine was connected with CRV General Partner Saar Gur to discuss consumer investing. After leading CRV’s investments in Bird, DoorDash, ClassPass, Patreon, and Dropbox, Gur was interested in hiring younger talent to diversify his team. Justine’s references urged him to also speak with Olivia, noting how well the twins collaborate. After meeting the Moores, Gur didn’t need much convincing.
Two and a half years later, Justine and Olivia are invaluable assets to CRV. Outside the fund, they’ve established a formidable personal brand, via their shared Twitter and Medium accounts, and their student-focused VC newsletter Accelerated, which boasts over 12,000 subscribers.
In this edition of Invested, Supermaker speaks with Justine and Olivia Moore about how they differentiate themselves as investors, what consumer trends they are most exited about, and what it’s really like to work alongside your sibling (and mirror image).
Name: Justine & Olivia Moore
Job Title: Venture Investors
Education: Stanford, B.A. Economics (2016)
Years at CRV: 2.5
Previous Jobs: Analysts at Goldman Sachs
On a daily basis, what does partnership with Gur look like? What are the top lessons you’ve learned from him so far?
We feel really lucky that we get to work with Saar. Our early stage consumer team is just the three of us, so we do a lot together. We’ve learned so much through just sitting in meetings with him and hearing how he asks questions and talks to founders.
One of the most important things we’ve learned from Saar is how to identify the “glimmer of greatness” that you can sometimes see in exceptional companies early on. This might be something about the founder’s unique insight on the market, signs of early customer evangelism, or even a specific feature that users can’t live without.
Our mom was a VC in Chicago when we were younger, so we knew a bit about the job growing up. But we didn’t have any business or entrepreneurship classes at our high school in Oregon, so we actually came into Stanford thinking we pursue journalism. We pretty quickly got sucked into tech and VC through covering startups for The Stanford Daily. We ended up majoring in Economics, joining a club that did projects for venture firms, and founding a startup incubator for students.
We thought VC might be a good fit because we are both very analytical and have always been really curious—we ask lots of questions and love doing research on things we don’t know. We’re also early adopters of a lot of consumer products, and always liked to debate about which ones would be big hits (and why).
Tell me a bit more about Cardinal Ventures—what was the vision, how did it play out, and how did it help get you where you are today?
Cardinal Ventures is a startup incubator we founded at Stanford. We wanted to help students who had an idea, a team, and sometimes an early product figure out if they wanted to work on their company full-time. It started as a 10-week program where student teams would learn from speakers and mentors who were VCs, entrepreneurs, and operators, with a pitch day at the end. The structure is largely the same today, but on a bigger scale — more than 100 student companies have graduated from it.
Founding and working on Cardinal Ventures was hugely helpful to us in getting into VC. We were able to meet a lot of awesome investors in the context of the program—this is how we originally met the team at CRV. While running the program, we also got to interact with hundreds of student founders, and worked pretty closely with a few dozen of the companies that went through the program while we were the directors. This helped us start to develop a framework around evaluating early stage startups.
Many people argue that consumer investing is oversaturated. Why did you decide to focus on consumer? What consumer trends are you most bullish on today?
We love being consumer investors! It’s a really interesting mix of psychology, economics, and technology, and we get to spend our days looking for things that make our lives better, easier, or more fun. Compared to other areas like enterprise or healthcare, we also think we have an advantage here as young investors without operating backgrounds.
There are a lot of consumer trends that we’re excited about today. To name a few: We’re excited about synchronous and interactive experiences on mobile that go beyond passive content consumption (HQ Trivia was an early example of this). We’re also excited about the creator economy, as more millennials and Gen Zers are monetizing their skills and personal brands outside of a traditional job. And we’re always looking for vertical social networks or marketplaces that are “unbundling” platforms like eBay and YouTube.
What’s your greatest consumer investing hot take?
With the exception of a few investments we’ve made, we have a pretty hard time with consumer businesses that are real estate or physical product-intensive, which have been receiving a large share of the consumer venture financing recently. We tend to be pretty focused on unit economics and LTV/CAC, and so it’s often tougher for these kinds of businesses to pass our “bar” in terms of metrics given how they usually grow. We do think that there is huge venture opportunity for software businesses that provide infrastructure to these companies—we’ve written in the past about our excitement around the D2C infrastructure space.
A lot of people are interested in venture but don’t feel like they’re sufficiently qualified or connected to “break in.” How did you nail your VC internships, and then your transition from Goldman Sachs to CRV?
As a VC intern, the best way to add value is by proactively sourcing companies or identifying spaces for the team to spend time. Many interns are assigned tasks around things like market research, product diligence, and increasing the firm’s brand on campus, but you make yourself a lot more memorable if you bring in something new that could lead to an investment.
Being successful in a full-time role in venture is similar—it’s all about being able to identify companies that a partner will want to invest in. You need to be able to understand the types of deals that your firm is looking to do and make compelling arguments for the companies you feel strongly about.
In your experience, what’s the most-impactful way to position yourself as a future investor, and why? What are some strategies you’d suggest avoiding?
The advice that we always give people looking to break into venture is that there are parts of the job you can start doing now. We do a lot of our sourcing online on platforms like LinkedIn, AngelList, and even Twitter. If there’s a trend or space you are excited about, do some research and put together a deck highlighting what you think are the most promising startups. Publishing this online or using this in your outreach to VCs can be hugely helpful in showing your ability to do the job.
We don’t want to be too prescriptive in terms of “no-no’s,” because there’s many different ways to break in. But the strategy of sending a generic cold email to a bunch of funds is generally not very successful. We often advise people to do some thinking about the type of investing they’re excited about (e.g. stage, sector, location), make a list of funds that are relevant, and then try to find an “in” to those teams. This is where developing content can help you stand out from the pack and get a meeting, even if a firm isn’t actively hiring.
Much is said about the importance of relationship-building in VC. As a relatively young person in the industry, what are your best suggestions for developing and sustaining meaningful relationships beyond your own fund?
One of the things that surprised us most about being junior investors is how collaborative it can be across funds. We’ve done deals that were initially sent to us by a friend at another firm, and we’ve sent deals to our friends that weren’t a fit for us at CRV that they’ve done. Because there are so many venture funds now that operate at different stages and in different verticals, we’ve found that we don’t directly compete with many of our peers, and can instead be helpful to each other.
When we first got to CRV, we had a ton of meetings with basically everyone we knew in the industry. Over the last two years, we’ve developed a shorter list of people that we have similar interests to that we can catch up with more regularly and talk about companies we’ve seen or founders we are excited about.
Your brand is heavily tied to being a twin—you share the same Twitter and Medium accounts, went to the same school, work in the same office. What are the greatest parts about working with a sibling?
Differentiating yourself as a junior investor is hard, so being twins has been helpful—it seems to make us more memorable. We worked together all throughout college on Cardinal Ventures and other projects, and really enjoy it. Since we know each other so well and don’t have to worry about offending each other by being direct, we can collaborate pretty efficiently.
People who work with us tend to be surprised by how much we disagree. We often walk out of a meeting with different perspectives on a company, and we have different strengths when it comes to sourcing and doing diligence. So having both of us at the same firm is less duplicative than it may originally seem. Being able to debate about something between the two of us before bringing it to a broader group usually helps us make our positions stronger.
How do you think early-stage venture investing will change over the next 5-10 years?
Over the last few years, building a brand in venture has become increasingly important as capital has become somewhat of a commodity. We expect this to continue, but believe we’ll see less “fluff” and more deep content from subject-matter experts that is truly valuable to founders. There’s already clearly been a bit of backlash against more generic and surface-level venture content, as evidenced by all the VC meme accounts.
We think data will become increasingly important in early stage venture, especially at the Series A. There’s already a number of services now for firms to get data on things like app downloads, conversions to paid subscriptions, and retention. We think this data will become much more widely used and expect it to become “table stakes” for consumer investors.