Over the past few years, the role of design has become increasingly important to startups, as they try to optimize their products and appeal to new users. It’s also becoming clear in the venture capital world, where more firms are investing in design talent to help with their portfolio companies.
You can now count Greylock Partners among those firms making a commitment to design, as it’s hired former Facebook product designer and angel investor Bobby Goodlatte to join its consumer team in a hybrid role as associate and designer-in-residence.
From 2008 through 2012, Goodlatte served as a product designer at Facebook, where he worked on a number of initiatives around user experience and growth at the then-burgeoning social network. That included working on improving user registration and signup flow as part of Chamath Palihapitiya’s growth team, as well as Facebook Chat (before it became Messenger) and Facebook Photos.
After Facebook went public, Goodlatte took some of his newfound wealth and became an active angel investor. “I was very fortunate to do reasonably well at Facebook,” Goodlatte told me. “It seemed insane to me to take what I made there and put it into an index fund.”
He’s made about 20 personal investments since then, including companies like Coinbase, Artsy, FlightCar, and Balanced, among others. More than just putting money into those companies, Goodlatte says he’s tried to help founders improve their own designs and website flows when possible.
“I like to go in and work with founders on design stuff… I spend a lot of time helping them design the first 15 mins of the user experience,” Goodlatte told me. While how much he helps out will vary from startup to startup, he said sitting down and mocking up designs is one way to provide more pointed feedback to companies even if he doesn’t invest in them.
At Greylock, Goodlatte will be able to combine his talents in a new role aimed at taking advantage of them. There he will be working with the consumer team to identify interesting startups and also to support them with hands-on design help once they’ve become a portfolio company.
The hybrid role at Greylock is a little different from how most other firms support their portfolio companies with design help. While some have hired operations partners or even have an in-house design team to work with companies, Greylock is looking for Goodlatte to actively look for investments as part of its consumer team.
Having Goodlatte on the team will bring a new type of operating expertise to a firm that is built around it. Greylock prides itself on having partners who have experience building and operating companies — whether it be as CEOs or in the trenches as product leaders.
Josh Elman, who joined Greylock three years ago and was promoted to partner about 18 months ago, is one example of that after serving in key product roles at LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. In a brief phone conversation, Elman said the team is thrilled to have Goodlatte on board, but also reiterated the importance his experience will have while working with companies that Greylock invests in.
“We want to be an investor partner and help them build their companies,” Elman said. But he added, “The fact that we’ve been in that seat and lived and breathed it, we think, is a better way to be partners.”