About Sarah Tavel

A General Partner at Benchmark, also a long time blogger. Will share thoughts on tech trends, company building, and startups generally.

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Rolling Thunder of AI Opportunities

2024-04-19 23:19:23

One of the fascinating things about what's happening in AI is that, rather than be a few distinct moments of technological disruption that unlocks new opportunities for startups (e.g., when Apple launched the AppStore, or integrated a GPS chip into the iPhone), I believe we're going to have a rolling thunder of AI breakthroughs that catalyze startup opportunities.

How AI startups offer a 100x + cheaper disruptive value prop that unlock new markets (think: HeyGen, ElevenLabs, DeepL)

2024-04-01 23:50:09

A common trope repeated in the media and behind closed doors is that incumbents, not startups, are best positioned to take advantage of AI. In this line of thinking, AI is a sustaining technology that reinforces the positions of existing players, rather than a disruptive force that empowers new entrants. There is certainly some truth to this perspective, particularly for startups that focused on increasing the productivity of employees pursuing their

A few "Sell Work, Not Software" updated thoughts

2024-01-19 22:34:08

I am grateful for all the conversations I've had with founders tackling "sell work, not software" opportunities. Some follow-up reflections from those conversations.

AI startups: Sell work, not software

2023-08-22 06:32:42

For the past 25 years, application software startups have had a singular focus: increasing company and employee (including developer) productivity. This looked like building software that increased productivity at the employee level, increased collaboration across employees and teams, and/or enabled better oversight and management at the leadership level. More often than not, this software has been priced on a per seat basis, in essence benchmarked against the cost of the headcount itself and increasing that headcount’s productivity.

The Mitochondria in Startups

2023-07-26 00:04:49

On hiring and retaining employees who act more like founders than employees (update to 2016 post)

Benchmark's New General Partner, Victor Lazarte

2023-07-24 23:00:28

Today we’re announcing that Victor Lazarte has joined the firm as our newest General Partner and cofounder. We use this term because the firm remains defined by the simple, clear model of six equal General Partners, each operating with the autonomy and ownership of a founder in the fullest sense — from compensation to decision making authority.

Don't Fall Into the Trap of Taking the Wrong Lessons from Others' Success

2023-07-14 21:35:25

Another reminder on the value of first principles thinking

Time to start cross posting on Threads :)

2023-07-07 02:39:20

fwiw (not very much) quick take

"They're the ones who reached out to me"

2023-05-04 21:28:47

AKA you don't want the plumber who can come right away.

How to escape competition -- Building enduring application-level value with LLMs

2023-04-24 21:00:14

[Fell off the weekly-post horse when the SVB stuff went down, but trying to get back on. Will need to feel out pacing…] It seems clear that over the next 5+ years, any work for which a human is a critical input into the work product is vulnerable to substitution with a software product built leveraging large language models (LLMs) and some of the related technology.

Founding a company? My nudge to choose to be co-located (vs distributed).

2023-03-09 22:00:08

Pre-COVID, a lot of companies that were already scaling got forced to be distributed when shelter in place first hit, and then it was close to impossible to put the genie fully back in the bottle because talent moved everywhere, so they embraced being a distributed team.

My "Two min workout"-equivalent post

2023-03-04 07:29:56

Combination of travel and my 10 month old waking up during my writing time (this morning was 4:30am! sleep training tips welcomed…) means I wasn’t trending towards getting a post out this week. Still, a great message from James Clear in Atomic Habits (and in

10x and cheaper in an AI world

2023-02-22 22:54:21

Almost 7 years ago to the day, I wrote a blog post called "How to build an enduring, multi-billion dollar business: create a 10x product + recast incumbent cost structures". In it I argued that to create a mass-market company, it wasn't enough to create a 10x better product than any substitute. The magic was creating a 10x better product

Taking advantage when a window opens for you

2023-02-18 21:49:53

I remember when I joined Pinterest in 2012, the company still had a relatively low profile. And then things changed - Pinterest got pulled into the PR vortex despite Ben and Evan doing everything they could to keep a low profile. Almost overnight, Pinterest became the darling of the internet world.

Feedback loops, and Google’s home-field advantage with LLMs

2023-02-11 21:50:36

When I was at Pinterest leading product for the Discovery team, we started to leverage deep learning for our recommendations. It was always the case that while deep learning enabled a step-function change in the results (as measured by user engagement), the results got dramatically better once we took that user engagement data and fed it back into the model to further tune the results. We’d go from a place of discontinuous change with each step-function upgrade of the model, to a world with a compounding feedback loop.

Startup weapons against ChatGPT: focus and a tight feedback loop

2023-02-02 22:23:47

In my last post, I explored the possible bull case for ChatGPT eclipsing Google’s dominance. But I tipped my hat also at what I think is the bear case. As I mentioned, ChatGPT’s unbounded interface a bit like as if, instead of DoorDash’s focused launched strategy, DoorDash launched across all US cities and categories of goods, all at the same time, and when you order something, does its best to deliver it. It shouldn’t be surprising then that while ChatGPT can feel like magic for some results, it gets a lot of queries wrong. You can see what’s possible and seemingly eventual, but the interface doesn’t guide the user to what’s best now.

Thinking through the Bull Case for OpenAI’s threat to Google’s dominance

2023-01-24 21:50:31

ChatGPT’s interface is to say the least, bold. A chat interface is unbounded in the requests you can make, and the nature of its singular answer delivered with an “English professor’s writing skills [and] an encyclopedia’s knowledge base”, can leave you in the trance of believing its omniscience.

How to compete against an incumbent: change the atomic unit (even in social)

2023-01-18 21:31:52

I’ve written before that to compete against an incumbent marketplace, re-imagine the atomic unit. I suspect the same is true in consumer social. Indeed, I’d guess you need four things to be true (besides magic!): A new atomic unit that resonates with large enough segment. It’s important than an incumbent that already has distribution doesn’t copy the atomic unit too quickly.

Find a fast current, not a large body of water

2023-01-12 05:16:48

Often we talk about markets as if we were speaking about a body of water — a description of the size or depth. I’ve found it is far more useful to think of markets instead like a river with a current. As a founder (the ship’s captain), your job is to find the current, and then build the best ship (product) and team to ride it.

The Danger of Early Hype in Consumer Social

2021-07-27 22:29:21

The Hype Subsidy – Why Early Hype is Dangerous in Consumer Social For any consumer startup that works, hype — the moment, either organic or manufactured, when the perception of a startup’s significance expands ahead of the startup’s lived reality — is an inevitability. And yet, it’s hard not to view hype with a mix of both awe and fear. Hype applied at the right moment can make a startup, while the wrong moment can doom it.