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Startups Venture Capital

Hunter Walk: Helping Startups Think Big

By Anne Gherini

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Hunter Walk has been called “one of the more interesting investors in Silicon Valley.” A founding Partner at seed-stage venture firm, Homebrew, Hunter’s journey to Sand Hill Road has been anything but traditional. He started his career as a Research Assistant for Late Night with Conan O’Brien when the show was just getting off the ground. After a stint in management consulting and attending business school, Hunter joined Mattel to grow their video game properties. At Mattel, Hunter had a front-seat view into how the internet, and its underlying connectivity and community, was going to forever change the state of gaming—in Hunter’s words, “It wasn’t going to be about buying somebody else's game and playing it as an individual, but it was going to be about people coming for the game but staying for the community.” 

The intersection of paradigm-shifting software and community

After Mattel, in 2000, Hunter became an early employee at Linden Lab, attracted by the idea of creating a space that the players built together. At Linden, Hunter was “director of everything non-engineering”, launching the building paradigm-shifting technology that is Second Life. Walk’s experiences at Linden Lab enabled him to combine this passion for building paradigm-shifting technology platforms with a passion for building software that helps people create communities. Second Life, with its own virtual currency—Linden Dollars—enabled people to not only play games, but also build objects, design clothing, and, most important, build a community.

After gaining firsthand experience launching a business at Linden Lab, Hunter wanted to get experience leading a larger company and potentially have an opportunity to touch millions of people. In 2003, he joined Google, which at the time was about 1000 people, and was just beginning to grow AdSense—now Google’s flagship monetization product. That was also where he met Satya Patel, with whom he’d later cofound Homebrew. 

Hunter was especially passionate about building a technology that would empower people to spin up a website and attract an ongoing large-scale audience on their own—something that, before then, was only really possible for a large media company. Like Second Life, AdSense represented an exciting combination of paradigm-shifting software and community. 

Manufacturing serendipity 

After helping to grow Linden Lab from 0 to about 50 people, and Google from about 1000 to 12,000 people, Hunter wanted to gain experience at a more mid-stage company. And so, in 2006, Hunter joined YouTube, fresh off its acquisition by Google. At the time YouTube was 65 people and was building both a paradigm-shifting software and a technology that forged community in new ways than ever before. Hunter was attracted to YouTube’s bold vision—to create a level playing field for individual creators to amass a TV-sized audience and make TV-sized dollars. At YouTube, Hunter was instrumental in helping the company find ways to ”manufacture spontaneity” and help users find new topics that would keep them engaged.  

Finding the sweet spot at Homebrew 

After gaining experiences at companies spanning different company stages, Hunter decided he was most passionate about the early stage—helping building companies from 0-5, 50, and then 500 people. In 2013, he and former Google colleague, Satya Patel, started Homebrew to do that at scale. At the time, Hunter and Satya—who had prior venture capital experience at Battery Ventures— identified a gap in the market—while there was more and more money available for early-stage founders, often that money was catered to the needs of the investor, rather than the needs of the entrepreneur. As Hunter explained,

“So we looked at it and said, let’s do an old school version of this, which is just the two of us, that only makes eight to 10 investments a year and then works really closely with those companies to Series B.” 

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At Homebrew, the focus is on helping entrepreneurs who are building companies within what Hunter calls the “Bottom Up Economy”, essentially teams of 5 or 50 that are disrupting companies 10 to 100x their size. Some of Homebrew’s notable investments are Chime, Plaid, Cruise, ShieldAI, and Tia. Hunter sees Homebrew—and venture capital in general—as one tool that is available to entrepreneurs. He cautions, “It's not a Swiss Army knife. It's one very specific tool."

Prioritizing mutual self-selection and accessibility

Often due diligence processes rely predominantly on pitches and reference checks. While these are undoubtedly important, Hunter emphasized that the due diligence process should also focus on mutual self-selection. He explains, “It's important that when we're talking to founders about potentially investing, that they spend the time to get to know us outside of one-to-many social media channels”. Hunter adds, “Do we know what it feels like to work together? should always be one of the goals of a funding process.” 

Hunter credits his success to date, in part, to the fact that he’s accessible to founders. He’s built a large Twitter following and is accessible on virtually every channel. Hunter explains, “Folks don't need a warm intro to find me. It’s easy to reach me via email, and on any of the social platforms.” Ultimately, being accessible has a compounding brand effect: “There's a compounding value so that you don’t need to staff a 12-person Communications team.” 

Click below to hear the full interview with Hunter Walk. 

 

Startups Venture Capital