Talia Goldberg didn’t know what venture capital was, growing up around professionals in the medical field whose favorite dinner-time game was to describe a symptom, then ask those around the table to guess the diagnosis.
Goldberg, who half-kiddingly describes herself today as a hypochondriac, says things changed during her college career at the University of Pennsylvania, where she entered into its liberal arts program but wound up spending increasing amounts of time at the business school. “I kind of recognized that business was happening at a faster pace than ever and started getting excited about the technology” driving that momentum.
Goldberg says she became particularly fascinated with how the internet was changing behaviors, including how people communicate, “though I was approaching at the time from an econ and marketing perspective.” It was around then that she discovered First Round Capital, the Philadelphia-based seed-stage firm, which had decided during Goldberg’s senior year in 2012 to open an office on Penn’s campus. It was the site of the firm’s first Dorm Room fund, a $500,000 vehicle for 11 students at Penn and Drexel to invest in student-led startups, and Goldberg, one of the founding partners, was soon hooked. Though she worked at Foursquare as a business development associate while still at school, she knew that if she could, she’d prefer to keep investing.
Luckily, an introduction to Bessemer Venture Partners followed, along with a job offer for to join the firm as an analyst. She signed on, assuming the gig would last two years, after which she would either join a portfolio company or perhaps launch her own company. But she fell even further in love with the VC business.
Apparently, Bessemer thought she had a knack for turning that passion into interesting deals. She was paired with Jeremy Levine, a partner who joined Bessemer more than 17 years ago. and he closely mentored Goldberg while also encouraging her to learn her own style and approach, she says. “I was very fortunate that Jeremy was in the New York office and that he offered me the opportunity to work alongside him as an apprentice for years. That kind of mentorship is super rare, and that’s really where I learned the craft of VC.” (Indeed, many firms today eschew the apprenticeship model, preferring to hire either seasoned investors or else successful founders as partners versus hiring graduates directly from MBA or undergraduate programs.)
In fact, fast-forward six years and Goldberg, who joined Bessemer in 2012, today becomes its newest partner, a move that owes to numerous deals she has either sourced or spearheaded, including the home services software giant ServiceTitan, Korea’s top payment app Toss and the password management startup Dashlane. Goldberg has also supported the firm’s investments in Pinterest, Collective Medical Technologies and Wikia.
Asked what she has learned from being immersed in the world of VC, the list is long, including that price does matter, and so does having a prepared mind. She also notes that more than ever, she appreciates the importance of patience. “You always have to stretch for great companies, but the culture at Bessemer is that when there’s something that seems expensive, we’re not under pressure to act in any way that’s unnatural.”
Goldberg has also been in the business long enough at this point to watch portfolio companies go out of business. “I’ve definitely been involved in situations like that, and they’re never easy.” It underscores the importance of picking the right partner, she adds. “When things are going up and to the right, it’s easier for everyone to be nice. It’s during hard times, when things become more challenging, that you see people’s true colors and realize that not everyone is there to support you.”
How does she handle it? “When we need to, we give the hard feedback. Having an intellectually honest relationship is crucial, because when you see that things aren’t working, making changes sooner than might feel comfortable is almost always the right decision.”