Venture capital is often referred to as an apprenticeship business because so much important learning comes from day-to-day experiences. Yet, as an article published by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) explains, you can shortcut the learning process by learning from experts: “Your learning curve can be shorter—and your results better—if you learn from pros who’ve already mastered key … ... read more
Mar Hershenson: Engineering Great Investments
Long recognized for her contributions to the electrical engineering field, Mar Hershenson has been gaining recognition in the venture capital world. Mar is a co-founder and Managing Partner at Pear VC and has been awarded the renowned T35 Young Innovator Award by MIT, earned a spot on the Midas Brink List of top technology investors, and won the Women in EDA Achievement Award.
While Mar’s success is undeniable, her career trajectory has been anything from clear-cut—it has been the result of several serendipitous interactions.
Coming to the United States almost by accident
Having grown up in Barcelona, Hershenson reflects that she came to the United States almost by accident. When Mar was working towards her engineering degree in Madrid, she happened to listen to a lecture led by a professor from MIT. She was so impressed by the content that, at that moment, she made up her mind to move to the United States. After securing a work visa, she was on her way.
Shortly after moving to the United States, Mar attended a party where she had another serendipitous interaction, this time with the CTO of Linear Tech—a manufacturer of analog integrated circuits, which recently was purchased by Analog Devices for nearly $15 billion. At the party, Mar overheard the CTO lamenting that he had been interviewing people for a new job and none of the candidates had been able to answer one of his technical interview questions. But Mar knew the answer. Shocked, the CTO offered her an internship job on the spot.
As Mar started her internship, she was breaking new ground. She was the first woman that Linear Tech had ever hired on its circuit design team. Reflecting on her first days on the job, she says, “It was a complete shock to their system”. Yet Mar quickly proved—in part thanks to the mentorship of analog guru Jim Williams—that she more than belonged.
After her internship at Linear Tech, Mar was accepted to Stanford to pursue her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. Academic excellence had been instilled in Mar from a young age, as the daughter of a professor of medicine in Barcelona. It was, once again, by partial happenstance that Mar landed at Stanford —largely unaware of its academic prowess, Mar applied to the school that was closest to her then-boyfriend, who lived in California at the time.
Mar quickly recognized that she was surrounded by some of the brightest minds at Stanford. Attending one of her first labs at Stanford, Mar sat in awe at a student presenter who had built silicon chips that could move unassisted. Initially concerned that she didn’t belong at Stanford, her now-husband encouraged her to think differently. He said, “Listen, do you want to be the smartest person at a place or do you want to be the dumbest person. It's always better to play up, right?”
Since that pivotal conversation, Mar has always strived to embed herself in contexts that enable her to “play up”—a sports term that involves a junior player competing in a tournament against older athletes or higher ranked athletes. She reflects,
“That really stuck with me. Wherever I go, I always think okay I'm playing up, there's an opportunity for me to get better. And it's helped me a lot along the way.”
Delving into entrepreneurship
Defending her Ph.D. thesis at the height of the Dot-Com Bubble, Mar decided to turn down a lucrative professor position to start a company. She defended her thesis in March 1999 and had a signed term sheet in hand by April. Her company—Barcelona Design—was based on her Ph.D. thesis and relied on creating a new type of optimization software to design circuits that effectively cut the time involved in designing circuits from days to minutes.
After departing Barcelona Design, Mar went on two found two more successful companies, Sabio Labs, which designs and develops software tools for analog-circuit designers, and Revel Touch, a mobile e-commerce platform company acquired by Yahoo.
While these three founding experiences were deemed very successful, they were riddled with obstacles and failures. Reflecting on these pivotal experiences, Mar learned that,
“Success is overcoming failures because there is no success that comes for free.”
Venturing into venture
In 2013, Mar transitioned from entrepreneur to venture capitalists when she founded Pear VC with Pejman Nozad. Yet it didn’t happen overnight—far from it. After many failed attempts to convince Mar to join him in launching a venture capital firm, Pejman convinced Mar to test the waters and start listening to some entrepreneur pitches at Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto.
It started as a twice-weekly endeavor for a couple of hours at a time and quickly progressed to a day-long activity nearly every workday. Before long, Mar and Pejman were eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the cafe, meeting founder after founder—and loving it! Without any venture background, Mar and Pejman started Pear, with most of their knowledge coming from books they had purchased on Amazon.
From 0 to 1
Since its inception, Pear’s mission has been to help founders go from 0 to 1. This philosophy was inspired, in large part, by Mar’s personal experiences. As the founder of Barcelona Design, Mar was discounted from being the CEO because she was an academic with no work experience.
Both Mar and Pejman wanted to flip the traditional model and to empower technical founders with the resources and confidence to grow their companies from 0 to 1. Mar reflects, “I went through that experience at Barcelona where I didn't have support, nobody believed in me and said Mar you could run this company. That's why I want to teach founders to be the best they can be.” And that’s exactly how Mar measures success today—by how many founders she can help transition from 0 to 1. In Mar’s words,
“That’s how I measure my success. By helping founders from 0 to 1, it will generate great companies, multiple jobs, and so on. But fundamentally, I think growing people is really what makes me happy.”
Mar and Pejman's vision for backing early-stage founder has been an incredible success with early investments in companies like Dropbox(NASDAQ: DBX), Guardant Health(NASDAQ: GH), Doordash, Gusto, Branch and Affinity.
Listen to our interview with Mar Hershenson on the Capital Connections podcast.