Does your startup suffer from the Inner Circle

As a startup grows, one thing that happens most of the time is the development of the founder/ceo’s inner circle.

It’s a small number of folks the founder/ceo relies on for advice, feedback, strategic issues, etc.

To a large extent it’s normal. 

But when the inner circle becomes fortified with a moat around it, well, then you got some problems. Employees and managers not in the inner circle know it immediately. They feel they cannot break though. The best ideas will become diluted. Moral sinks and culture suffers.

I’ve seen some great ways to offset the inner circle. Most importantly the founder/ceo needs to spend time with all members of her management team – not just her favorite ones.

The Friday afternoon company meeting can also be a crucial time to make everyone’s voice heard.

I like how Joel values eating together. So important.  (I’ve actually seen some VC firms where every partner eats alone at their desk behind closed doors. Yikes!). 

But first step is recognizing if your inner circle is causing harm. Get feedback from your team and/or your board. Chances are it is and now you have the opportunity to fix it.

Love to hear in the comments about other ways to deal with this. 


Kanye West and Neutral Milk Hotel – The King of Dark Fantasies

Talk at dinner last night ended up with Neutral Milk Hotel.  So I knew today I would post a NMH song.

However, I didn’t realize it would be a Kanye/NMH mash up.

Kanye Milk Hotel.

Whoa. Where did this come from?!? Perfect.


At Spark Capital, we have always believed that one social graph was insufficient. 

And we have put our money where our mouth is investing in Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Boxee, Svpply, Exfm and others. A passionate focus from the founders + targeted engaged community is something we care a great deal about. 

We like it even better when the service is targeted directly at the user

Boston based RunKeeper is a service that represents all of this goodness.

Jason Jacobs is a man on a mission. He’s completely possessed and his passion is infectious, as anyone who knows him will tell you. 

Jason and his team built one of the first iphone apps just as the as the app store launched. They were focused and built RunKeeper as the best way to keep track of your fitness and wellness. Today they have over 6 million users

The vision was always bigger than an app. Recently the company launched the Health Graph API so third party apps and devices can integrate. Getting the platform in the hands of developers is smart and they are seeing lots of support from the community. 

I’ve also been a big fan Runkeeper as a user.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce that last week we became investors and led a new round of financing. We were joined by Revolution Ventures (founded by it’s Chairman Steve Case and AOL’s cofounder) and existing investor Bryce Roberts at OATV. 

If you haven’t already, give RunKeeper a try! 


In the consumer space, the most important objective should be straightforward.

Build a product that delights the end user. That is the obsession. It likely starts with the founder building something they want to see in the world. But ultimately the self makes room and the company becomes hyper focused on delighting the end user.

That’s the primary objective and then the business model has an opportunity to thrive

For years many entrepreneurs and investors have avoided investing in the education. The barriers were well known: long sales, shrinking budgets, how to train the teachers, decentralized decision making.

The list goes on.

The biggest problem I had with the education market was previously companies were building products and selling them to non-users. They were creating products for one set of users (teachers or students) and then "selling" them to non users (ie administrators and people in the IT department.)


The reason why I’m over the moon excited about opportunities in the education space lately is because startups are building products for their users and they are ignoring the non user. They are ignoring the traditional gatekeeper. 

Skillshare is a perfect example of this. A product and community that is focused entirely on users.

It’s a big deal and opened my eyes.

Same thing is happening in financial services. By focusing on the end user services like eToro are shining a light on the user. Not the instituiional gatekeeper.

This represents a huge opportunity in markets that are still operating under a top down, gatekeeper model. We see it in education, finance and especially healthcare. Too many products and services being built for insurance or hospitals or being sold to the IT department. What about the patient?

Can you imagine what a Skillshare for healthcare might look like?

We also see gatekeepers losing their power in areas like research and the process to publish papers. The whole notion of peer review and process in research journals doesn’t make any sense. Researchers should be able to seamlessly shar ether findings with the world without gatekeepers like Nature or the New England Journal of Medicine in the middle of things.

We have always had gatekeepers in public policy. Top down and with limited access.

Now we see real change happening because tools that serve end users can make a difference in the law of the land.

So when people ask me what gets me excited, this is what I end up talking about a lot these days.

Breaking the status quo and taking down the gatekeeper.

Who’s in.