September 2, 2021

Providing founders with deep support: the first Operator in Residence

Todd Busler
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Providing founders with deep support: the first Operator in ResidenceProviding founders with deep support: the first Operator in Residence
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Editor's note: 

Founders and early-stage company builders know about the excitement — and challenge — of being the ‘first’ to do something. I’ve recently joined Unusual Ventures as the first “Operator in Residence,” which might sound a little daunting. But then again, I love firsts, and I love doing it here alongside operators and founders who share that passion. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to dive in on engagements, learn from colleagues on Unusual’s operator team (what we call the Get Ahead Platform, or “GAP”), and interact with multiple founders, it’s clear what’s so special about this role, this firm, and the founders we work with.

In my years of working with founders I've seen that it's often not hard to know what to do; it's knowing HOW to do it day in and day out that's the challenge. Founders understand they need to talk to customers, conduct market research, and get early customers. But the “how” is typically vague: Where do we even start? What’s the order or operations? Whom do we target first? What’s our beachhead? 

What founders typically struggle with — and what Unusual does really well — is understand the method for taking a company from zero to one (and beyond). Unusual has a proven approach to quickly get to product-market fit, identify design partners that convert to customers, and a tried-and-true approach to determining how and when to pivot or iterate.

Company building is what I love to do. My learnings from being part of three new product launches at Square and close involvement in many key decisions as the team grew to 50+ reps have given me a unique perspective. I applied these lessons as part of the core Heap team when it grew from 5 employees to 250+ and over $100M raised. I’ve seen what it takes to build momentum and a narrative that attracts customers and investors, positions new products, and builds winning teams.  

Where does the OIR fit in Unusual’s offering to founders?

The OIR role at Unusual is truly unique. Unlike other firms, where advice, connections, and access to a network and (some) distribution is commonplace, to my knowledge it's much rarer for a venture firm to have more operators than investors, and for those operators to be fully deployed for long-term, day-to-day building within a portfolio company.

In my short time here, I’ve realized that the OIR at Unusual is a role that is stitched in —  not bolted on — to an organization. Whether I am trying to improve the responses for customer development conversations, testing adjacent or new use cases for technology, improving the recruiting process or helping to evaluate talent, or simply building pipeline and moving prospects through a sales funnel — I appreciate contributing as an everyday operator, not a distant advisor. It feels very similar to my previous roles as a full-time employee and moves the needle for the organization. 

This model works well for people who love building companies in the earliest stages. True early-stage operators see problems and work through them until there’s a solution. They take on challenges even if they're beyond the scope of their role, and work collaboratively to find a solution — no matter what. They have a passion for not only influencing decisions, but then taking action on those decisions to drive impact for the business.

Every engagement is a building block

I once had a mentor of mine tell me that after you go through the early-stage of building a company, you aren’t 2x better the next time, but more like 10x better. I believe this rings true in the engagements that the Unusual team conducts with its portfolio companies. When I watch anyone on the team, it’s evident that they not only learn from each other, but more importantly, are rigorous about improving the overall process based on learnings from each portfolio engagement. 

As the number of engagements increases, the mindshare and experience that Unusual offers to founders gets even better. Imagine having a great idea and founding team, and then filling your ranks with proven operators from world class companies like Databricks, Okta, and MongoDB that have done exactly what you need — dozens of times.

As I see more and more early-stage companies, I am starting to think about and form methods of my own. If you are an early stage founder or operator and want to talk about any or all things sales and early-stage GTM, I’d love to chat.

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