Startup Starter Pack
By Vela Wood
Pop quiz time.
- What is the difference between a Series A round and a Series AA round?
- If you are an employee who goes over the one-year cliff, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
- Is a startup better off as a Unicorn or as a Narwhal?
The answers are:
- Series AA is an earlier round than Series A
- Unlike in Thelma and Louise, getting over the cliff is actually a good thing
- Trick question, a Unicorn is an American startup company valued at more than $1 billion, and a Narwhal is the same thing but in Canada.
If you answered all three of those questions off the cuff, congratulations! You’re a business-savvy, cutting-edge, startup-terminology whiz (or you’re well on your way). If you looked at those questions and started to sweat, then you’re just like most people outside of the startup world (or me, seven weeks ago). Never fear: Vela Wood is here to help.
First, check out our Startup Central page. It’s full of valuable links and resources to help you understand the venture world. We’ve written dozens of startup blog posts to address all kinds of issues from Angel Investors in Texas to International Entrepreneur Rule. The rest of the sites, podcasts, shows, and books in this starter pack can provide insight to everyone. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur with a game-changing idea or just a dedicated Silicon Valley viewer who just wants to understand the ups and downs of Pied Piper, we’ve got resources to help you get there.
Level One: The Casual Observer
You don’t have an idea that you think would disrupt an industry and change the world, but your sister-in-law is a venture capitalist and you want to sound smart at Thanksgiving. Or maybe you do have an idea, but you have no idea if it’s viable and you want to find out before you and your buddies file any legal documents. Here are some resources to help you scratch the surface:
- Venture Glossary: This page features nearly 500 terms that are common parlance in the startup world, from Accelerated Vesting to Zombie. Bookmark this one for those times when you know that a VC or a founder is speaking English, but it’s not any English you’ve ever heard.
- How I Built This: On NPR’s How I Built This Podcast, Guy Raz talks to all sorts of founders and visionaries to find out how they got where they are now. Pick your favorite brand or store—Airbnb, Sam Adams, Patagonia—and find out how it came to be, and what its founders learned along the way. VW Associate Lara Bubalo Manor’s favorite episodes are Mark Cuban, Drybar, Spanx, Instagram, Warby Parker, and Barbara Cochran.
- Silicon Valley: This show follows a timid founder named Richard Hendricks through his tumultuous startup process, with all of the systemic and legal bumps along the way. Showrunner Mike Judge ruthlessly satirizes the tech industry today just like he did with white-collar day jobs in his 1990s classic Office Space. We do feel obligated to inform you that Silicon Valley is very much an HBO show, so plan your viewing audience accordingly. If you want to get more out of the show, see our Silicon Valley Review podcast entry below.
- StartUp: When This American Life producer/Planet Money co-creator Alex Blumberg left NPR to found his own podcast network, he had no idea how to take any of the necessary steps to get there. Luckily for us, he recorded every step of the way for the network’s first podcast, StartUp. If you start at the beginning of season one, you can hear Alex bumble his way through an important pitch, awkwardly work out how much equity to give his business partner, almost doom his network with several terrible names, expand by adding a new podcast, and work through the fallout from a big mistake. The (spoiler alert) now-successful Gimlet Media invites the listener in for a frank, accessible, and entertaining look at making your idea work.
- Planet Money: Speaking of Alex Blumberg, his and Adam Davidson’s Planet Money podcast is a semiweekly journey into the overlap of business, finance, and human interest. Even the least financially savvy can enjoy episodes about offensive trademarks, the year women stopped coding, and the economics of love. Planet Money is an excellent gateway drug to the world of economics.
- Recode Decode: Preeminent tech journalist Kara Swisher is brilliant, frank, and charming, which makes her the ideal person to interview industry leaders like LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti, and Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. But Swisher’s interviewing talent extends far beyond tech; she gets the best out of Broadway producers from Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, showrunners from The Handmaid’s Tale and Silicon Valley, directors from Iron Man and The Jinx, and celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Kim Kardashian. In every interview, Swisher uses her years of Silicon Valley experience to bring industry issues to the surface. Whatever you’re into, Recode Decode has an episode and a tech connection for you.
Level Two: The Aspiring Entrepreneur
You’ve got an idea. Maybe you’ve even got a pitch deck or a rollout plan. But you still need to get funding, and you want to avoid the classic mistakes that cause 90% of startups to fail. These resources will help you mature your idea and avoid common pitfalls.
- Silicon Valley Review Podcast: You already watch and love Silicon Valley, but every now and then you find yourself wondering how to avoid massive Terms of Service oversights like the one Dinesh made, what Erlich meant when he said they’re “recapping” the company, and if anyone in the real Silicon Valley has a Blood Boy (spoiler alert: they do). Look no further than our Vela Wood Silicon Valley Review Podcast. Our founding partner Kevin Vela and senior associate/resident pun-master Aaron Terwey mine each episode for real lessons that startups can use, as well as real mistakes they can avoid. If you’re watching Silicon Valley without listening to our podcast, you’re only getting half the story… although we’d still advise against writing off your HBO subscription as a business expense.
- The Pitch: Each episode of Gimlet Media’s The Pitch features a founder presenting to the show’s team of four investors… but don’t compare it to the low-investment, high-reward drama of Shark Tank. The Pitch is a real meeting between a real founder and real potential investors. Listening to others pitch their ideas to VCs can help you learn what to do (see: the preparedness and poise of the founder in Episode 2.1) and what not to do (see: a founder’s refusal to listen to the VCs’ advice in Episode 2.2).
- Startup Lifecycle Infographic: Have you ever wondered if your startup is where it should be? The Startup Lifecycle Infographic can help you measure where your product is against what your funding should look like, how much marketing you should be doing, and how many employees you should have. From working out of your mom’s basement to killing it out of a tricked-up office space with ping pong table and kegerator, the Startup Lifecycle Infographic makes sure you’re on track.
- Zero to One: In 2012, business giant Peter Thiel taught a startups class at Stanford. One of his students took such good notes that the two of them were able to turn them into a book. Zero to One offers a high-level view to help you refine your ideas as you would in a classroom. And Thiel is exactly the kind of professor you’d expect him to be – encouraging going-against-the-flow and referencing all sorts of public figures, from Euripides to Lady Gaga.
- Term Sheet: Erin Griffith’s daily Fortune newsletter talks all things “deals and deal-makers.” In a world full of hot takes, Erin’s simple breakdowns and frank writing style help you cut through the noise to find out what happened today in the business world.
- She Did It Her Way: Ever feel like the venture world is an impermeable boys’ club? She Did It Her Way is a podcast for female founders and entrepreneurs, about female founders and entrepreneurs. Host Amanda Boleyn talks about topics like leadership, entrepreneurship, and doing what you love with women in all different types of fields. The website also provides blog posts and a Facebook community of female founders so you, too, can do it your way.
- Which Insurance Does My Startup Need?: Why should you spend your hard-raised cash on insurance? And if (hopefully when) you do, what kind should you get? Founding partner Kevin Vela offers a primer on a few types of insurance coverage that may make sense for your business, an issue that’s best to think about long before you need it.
Level Three: The Up-and-Coming Founder
You know the terms. You may even have your founding documents in place. Now you’re looking to be a part of the startup community and to grow your company in a healthy and productive way. Here are some resources to help you level up successfully:
- Venture Deals: Ever wanted a step-by-step guide through the venture life? Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson lead you through all of the basics, from raising money to working out your founding documents. Even though we’re less than flattered by the subtitle—which promises to make you “smarter than your lawyer and your venture capitalist”—several lawyers in our office swear by this book. If you hate reading alone, listen to our Venture Deals Review podcast! Kevin and Aaron are using the time between Silicon Valley seasons to read and discuss Venture Deals chapter-by-chapter. It’s like being in a book club, except that Kevin and Aaron won’t shame you if you’re not caught up on the reading (well, they probably won’t).
- This Week in Startups: This Week in Startups (or TWiST) brings you in on discussions with investment big-timers, including Chris Sacca, Tim Ferriss, and Kevin Rose. Hear stories from the world of entrepreneurship: the good, the bad, and the downright insane. Whether you’re looking for tips of the trade, VC perspectives, or cautionary tales, you can find what you seek in TWiST.
- Mattermark Daily Newsletter: The Mattermark Daily Newsletter is a roundup of articles about and from people in the startup world, including investors. VW Associate Caroline Fabacher recommends the “From the Operators” section for all kinds of articles by successful startup operators.
- a16z: The a16z podcast invites industry experts, business leaders, and other big thinkers on to discuss tech and culture trends as “software eats the world.” The rotating a16z panel talks about everything from cryptocurrency to flying cars to tech politics. Whatever part of the industry you want to know more about, this podcast can get you into a room with some of the leading experts for an in-depth conversation about it.
- The Twenty Minute VC: Every episode, host Harry Stebbings interviews one prominent venture capitalist for (you guessed it) twenty minutes. After two years and over 350 episodes, Stebbings’s enthusiasm and drive can help any founder gain insight into how VCs actually think. And if you really like the show, you can buy Stebbings a drink… as of this summer, when he turned 21.
- The Lean Startup: One-time founder/startup advisor Eric Ries wrote The Lean Startup to bring the Japanese concept of lean manufacturing to Silicon Valley. Here’s a great article about what lean startup methodology is and how it can help you.
These are just a few VW favorites to get you started. Got a favorite podcast, book, or blog that we missed? Leave it in the comments below. Good luck learning, and happy founding!
Special thanks to Vela Wood law clerk, Emily Eby, for her assistance with this post.