when we talk about early stage startups, we tend to focus on the internal – and understandably so. It’s easiest to delve into the things you can control: developing products, building a team, finding the right investors.
All of them are, of course, important and fundamental to developing a startup. But as much as we’d like to believe that the right product, developed by the right team, is enough to ensure the success of a business, things in this world are never that simple.
When Cathy Gao closed out our Early Stage event last week, she had one big word on her mind: volatility. The Sapphire Ventures partner has a lot of experience on both sides of the fence. In addition to her work as a VC, she currently sits on a number of startup boards, including SafeGraph, Involve.ai, and Medable.
Prior to her time at Sapphire, Gao led finance, strategy and product at Gusto during the Series B round of the fintech. We tend to have short memories when it comes to things like volatility and instability, especially now that we are well into the second year of a pandemic. But Gao is quick to point out that the world struggled with both before COVID took hold. When she worked at Gusto 2016, there was already a lot of uncertainty.
“Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States,” she noted. “Brexit happened, the oil price plummeted and the world battled a Zika virus. Overall, 2016 was a very volatile year for the markets. … Because of all the market volatility that year and a lot of alarming news headlines internally in the finance team, we said, ‘Winter is coming’, and we were prepared for market volatility. In the end, winter never came.”