Hunter Walk is a partner at Homebrew VC. Before Homebrew, he led consumer product management at YouTube, starting when it was acquired by Google in 2006. He joined Google in 2003, managing product and sales efforts for AdSense, Google's contextual advertising business. His first job in Silicon Valley was as the founding product and marketing guy at Linden Lab, which produced the seminal virtual world Second Life. He has also been a management consultant and spent a year at Late Night with Conan O'Brien. He also holds a BA in History from Vassar and an MBA from Stanford University.
You have had such a wide variety of experience—YouTube, Google, Second Life, and now a VC. What sort of changes have you seen in the computer industry in that time, and where do you see it going from here?
I wasn’t trained as an engineer. My interest in tech is grounded first in creativity and community—desktop publishing for my high school newspaper, early Usenet discussion groups. The connective tissue for me between Second Life, AdSense, and YouTube is they’re all bets on people. Giving creative tools to people; creating products and services within communities that serve as both consumers and collaborators; and providing a business model so the creators can realize economic value. You can’t pay rent or buy food with YouTube views alone!
The biggest change I’ve observed over the past dozen years is that the idea of ordinary people actually wanting to create and participate, as opposed to just consume, has become mainstream. When we started Second Life, I had many debates with venture capitalists as to whether “user generated content” was really of value. Today that question has been answered. The idea that we can all leverage technology is a key tenet of Homebrew’s Bottom Up Economy thesis.
Tell us more about the “Bottom Up Economy” and how companies should prepare to compete in it.
The Bottom Up Economy is about the global transition from an industrial economy to a technology-based one. It means there’s not really a single “technology industry”—every industry is being shaped by tech. Out of both opportunity and necessity, new marketplaces, revenue streams and efficiencies are being created. A software developer can use a company such as Layer to easily add communications technology to a mobile app. An etsy seller can spend more time making and less time at the post office by using the magical logistics app Shyp. We invest in lots of “software as a service” businesses—what I call “sexy software in unsexy verticals”—so industries such as commercial construction can empower their teams through tech.
The biggest change for companies is to embrace the technology that individuals and teams want to use, not just enterprise systems vetted by the CTO.
What advice do you give to people wanting to start their own tech company?
Don’t start a tech company just because you “want to do a startup.” Startups are hard! You have to be mission-driven. Be able to understand the “why?” Why do you want to spend, minimally, several years of your life working on a particular problem? If you’ve personally experienced the problem you’re solving, or are connected to it in some meaningful way, you’re more likely to persevere and adapt through the challenges of starting a company.
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