The 'Mattress Test' for the Value of Any New Business
How does venture capitalist Ben Lerer decide which opportunities are worth investment? Lerer follows the inevitable path of disruption, targeting areas of the world that have not yet been disrupted by the internet but soon will.
Ben Lerer is a Managing Director at Lerer Hippeau Ventures and co-founder & CEO of Thrillist Media Group. Lerer was among Ernst & Young’s 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year Award Winners, Vanity Fair’s Next Establishments, Crain’s “40 under 40”, Forbes list of “Most Powerful CEOs Under 40”, AdWeek’s “Young Influentials,” Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Top 5 Entrepreneurs of the Year,” and Silicon Alley Insider’s “100 Coolest People in Tech”. He chairs the Board of Directors for the East River Development Alliance, a New York non-profit organization, and is an Associate Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences (IADAS). Mr. Lerer is an active mentor for NYC Venture Fellows, TechStars and E[nstitute].
Ben Lerer: Probably the easiest way to think about how we think about opportunity is any area, any sector, any business that has not yet been totally disrupted by the existence of the internet will be. And so as we meet people who are starting companies, one obvious place to focus on is what has changed about the way that business gets done in that category since the internet has existed and since sort of the world has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller with each passing minute; what has changed and what could change that hasn’t? And so I’ll use a great example of a company I invested in recently. It’s a mattress company and it’s a really — it was a really easy investment for me to make because as I spent time with the founders of this business, the thing I kept going towards in my mind was shopping for a mattress totally sucks and the way that I would shop for a mattress today is basically the same way that I would shop for a mattress five years ago or 10 years ago. Maybe I’ll go online and read some reviews but I don’t trust the places that sell me mattresses. I don’t really understand the difference between them. Lying down on one for 10 seconds at a mattress store does not tell me if it’s going to be a comfortable, good mattress for me long term.
And for us, before we identified that there was — that the solution that this company we invested in — that they had the right solution, what we had first identified is that there was a problem and that the business was solving a real problem. And I think that as we look at companies you always want to make sure that the founders are building a product that solves an actual problem that exists. Make people’s lives better with what you’re building and generally you’re heading in the right direction. You see lots of people starting companies because it’s cool to be an entrepreneur. And a business could exist to do something. The idea between a business could exist and a business should exist — there is a gap between those two things and if you ultimately think about who you’re servicing and if there’s a market where you’re going to make someone’s life significantly easier, that’s probably a pretty good direction to go in. And so I don’t know that we — when we think about investing at LHV we say, "Well we think healthcare or we think financial technology or we think media or we think commerce." We think all of those things. But within those big sectors, there are lots and lots and lots of solutions to problems that need to be invented. And so as long as we stay diligent about making sure that the companies we invest in are truly solving problems, I think we’re going to win more often than we lose.
How does venture capitalist Ben Lerer decide which opportunities are worth investment? Lerer follows the inevitable path of disruption, targeting areas of the world that have not yet been disrupted by the internet... but soon will. Lerer seeks out sectors with glaring problems, major holes that need to be filled. By projecting the path of eventual disruption, savvy investors can make prescient decisions ahead of the curve. They're also able to identify startups set on solving real problems rather than existing for the sake of existing.
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