Working for Early Stage Companies: Conversation with Sam Dore of Madrona Venture Labs

Madrona Venture Labs (MVL) has built its stellar reputation on identifying the next big idea and transforming it into a thriving business. MVL works with the investment side of Madrona to build companies with founders from day one. However, it’s not enough to just have the right idea; the key is finding the people who can scale that vision successfully. MVL understands the importance of sourcing the right people to lead successful companies. Sometimes, MVL acts as a matchmaker, pairing ideas with the right people in its domain of expertise: enterprise AI.

MVL’s Sam Dore collaborates with founders to build winning teams. Dore helps with founder recruitment and idea evaluation.  Often, this means identifying a co-founder so that the nascent organization is helmed by a pair with complementary skill sets and the magic “special sauce” that means success. A fantastic visionary can be paired with a technical cofounder or a technical genius paired with a person with the business and fundraising know-how to scale the vision.

The past year has brought much change to the VC and tech worlds in Seattle and beyond. As some tech professionals found their roles eliminated by the big companies, some are looking anew at early-stage companies.

“Recent rounds of layoffs have opened people’s eyes that roles at big companies that used to be relatively stable are now less so,” says Dore. “We’re seeing a definite uptick in people who were part of (or whose teammates were part of) restructurings looking to join an early-stage company or found their own thing.”

She also rejects the notion that there is a “big company mindset” that can be applied across the board to people coming from large companies into entrepreneurship. “I think ‘big company mindset’ is a lazy term,” says Dore. 

There are myriad reasons why someone could take a role at a big company, from people who need a safety net for various reasons, especially women and minorities, to those who have visa restrictions to first-generation tech professionals navigating the professional world with little support. 

The key to making the move to an early-stage company is “force of will.” Can they get stuff done? Are they innately curious? Are they coachable? Do they really want to dig in and solve a problem? Can they take advice? These are the things that an early-stage company needs. “People think it’s the idea or the quality of the idea, but there will always be a competitor,” says Dore. “The true differentiator is: can you execute?”

Dore is looking ahead to 2024 and thinks that the investing and funding environment for new companies will be similar to 2023. There is clearly a trend for funding technologies based on generative AI applications or large language models. She believes companies that invest time and resources into developing protective data moats will be the ones to rise above competitors. 

For people who are interested in founding a company but are unsure where and how to begin, she suggests getting some experience working in one first.  “For some people, founding a company is the right next step for them, but others do it because they believe it’s the next flashy thing to check off on their career checklist,” says Dore. “That’s the wrong reason to be a startup founder. For people in the latter category, there is lots of value to joining at an early stage, Seed or even after a Series A, and getting a taste of that first.”

Our advice: Keep an eye on the companies that MVL is funding. If you’re interested in working for an early-stage company with potential, you can’t do better. 


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