A key secret to Silicon Valley’s success is its professional class of employees who help build hit startup after hit startup in its formative stages. This know-how in engineering, product design, growth, business development, sales and a range of other roles allow the founders of a hot company to hire fast and quickly mature their new ideas into big, real businesses.
Josh Elman is one of the best examples I can think of, as he’s been leading a broad range of product efforts across Valley leaders for the last 15 years. Now he’s becoming a full partner at Greylock, moving up from his job for the past year or so as a principal there.
What has he done? Lots of things you’ve probably heard of. At Real Player back in the 90s he helped create the RealJukebox and the canonical RealOne multimedia player. Then at professional network LinkedIn, as employee 15, he worked on early growth and virality, as well as the first version of its Jobs feature. From there he moved over to online retailer Zazzle, where he led product and grew its marketplace.
His most recent stints are at the top social sites of our day, Facebook and Twitter, during their formative years. For the former, he helped lead platform and launched the first versions of Facebook Connect, that feature where you log in to other sites using your Facebook ID and then connect with your Facebook friends on those sites. It’s one of the most successful parts of the platform to date.
From there he moved over to Twitter in the Ev Williams era, helping to grow the site to more than 10 times the size when he joined.
Having covered him since his Facebook days, I’ve known Elman to be a very energetic, savvy and scrappy force for the companies he works with. After joining Twitter, for example, he was involved with Twitter’s move to show you other Twitter users on Facebook. It would have been a great way to get more Facebook users on Twitter in the brutally competitive era of 2010, which may have had something to do with Facebook immediately disabling the feature.
He left Twitter as part of a product shakeup after Williams departed and Jack Dorsey took over product leadership, landing at Greylock and immediately getting on the investor grind — I seem to see him at most tech events I still make it out to these days. He has become deeply involved with Nextdoor, for example, a fast-growing neighborhood networking site backed by the firm.
“We couldn’t be luckier to work with Josh,” serial entrepreneur and Nextdoor founder Nirav Tolia tells me by email. “His unique combination of strategic and product expertise has made him an invaluable advisor and partner for Nextdoor. Having Josh on the team can make the difference between a good trajectory and a breakout success.”
“Obviously, we’re very pleased given that I hired Josh both at Linkedin and Greylock. (And advised on Facebook, Twitter!),” LinkedIn founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman adds.
What is Elman going to be doing as a full partner at one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and successful firms today? Stay deeply involved in product, as he has with Nextdoor and some of the other Greylock portfolio companies already. “I want to be the kind of person who is a part of the team, working to help the founder and leadership succeed,” he says by phone this morning, “whether that’s joining product meetings, a/b tests or growth — the things I’ve done over the past 15 years.” The difference, he says, is that he won’t be working with the same company every day.
What about his investment focus?
“There are still huge opportunities around social platforms, communication tools, new media, marketplaces and mobile experiences,” he explains. “Computers are so new that we haven’t even figured out how they’ll all fit together. There’s lots of things that still have to get built. Look at what’s happening with longer form content, longer form videos. When I turn on my tablet, it doesn’t help me figure out what to watch or read. We’re not investors in Flipboard but they’re a good example. Nextdoor is another, where I’m heavily involved — neighborhoods are a whole new area, even though people think social is done.”
[Notes: A previous version of version of this story described Dorsey coming in as CEO at that time, whereas his actual title was executive chairman, with a particular focus on product. Seriously knew that. I also added a comment from Reid Hoffman after publishing.]