Addie Lerner, Pod Leader of the Week

Addie Lerner (center), Principal at General Catalyst 

Addie Lerner (center), Principal at General Catalyst 

What about your career has surprised you the most?

Ten years ago I didn't know what a venture capitalist was, and had no idea I would become one. At Princeton I was a Middle East policy major studying Arabic and thought I was going to graduate and move to D.C. to pursue a long career in public policy. But I quickly came to realize that policy / politics alone isn't enough to address the world's biggest challenges -- and that private sector companies and individuals must play a real role. I wanted to understand how I could leverage private sector resources and efficiency to bring about change, so I began my career learning how to invest in growth stage companies in the Private Capital investing team at Goldman Sachs and then later as part of the Internet & Technology team at General Atlantic.

Over the last few years I found myself continuing to gravitate towards the earlier stage founders and businesses I encountered, and I sincerely enjoyed the networking and prospecting parts of my role.

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This past spring when I was introduced to General Catalyst (through Parity Partners -- thanks, Beth & team!) I felt as though I'd found my dream role.

I'm now a Principal on the GC team based in New York and get to spend my days meeting with brilliant and determined early stage entrepreneurs and companies. 

I'm spending a lot of time in the health & wellness, media, and retail & commerce sectors, so if you know of any awesome founders in those spaces, please let me know! I had no idea I'd be here today, and that makes me even more excited to see where I'll be in another 10 years -- likely doing something else I can't even conceive of today.

What about the future excites you?

The more time I spend with early stage founders who are truly obsessed with solving a problem in their respective industries, the more excited I get about what the future will look like. I feel incredibly fortunate to get to work with entrepreneurs who are shaping the future with their ideas and their ability to see around corners.

Which piece of media has had the most significant impact on your life and why?

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In today's world of amazing content I think fantastic TV can be as powerful as a great book. The West Wing series, which I watched in high school (after it was on air!), fundamentally changed how I thought about the world, my career, and my broader personal ambitions over the course of my life. I fell in love with the characters and their idealism, and became truly inspired to have a meaningful impact on society, both professionally and personally.

What tool do you use everyday that is invaluable?
I recently (quite belatedly) joined the Evernote bandwagon and am a total convert. Being able to access my To Do lists and trackers anywhere anytime on any device (and be able to share notes with colleagues) is crucial for staying organized and on top of my relationships and deals.

If you woke up and had 1,000 emails in your inbox and could only answer 100, how would you choose which ones to answer?

Whenever I am overwhelmed with email (which is often!) I focus on answering anything crucial from family/friends first, then I prioritize responding to a) my partners at General Catalyst, then b) portfolio companies, then c) emails regarding live deals and from founders I'm actively working to partner with, and then d) everything else.

If we could arrange a dinner for you with one person in your industry, who would you want to invite?

It would be fascinating to spend time with Mark Zuckerberg and understand the evolution of his strategic vision for Facebook, which started out as an exclusive social network and has become the leading destination for online content consumption (and thus one of the biggest destinations for ad spend). I'd love to ask him how he thinks about the current and future state of Facebook's relationships with (i) publishers and their advertisers, and (ii) digitally native brands, both of whom are increasingly relying on Facebook for eyeballs and customer acquisition, respectively.

I spend a lot of time thinking about digital media companies and their reliance on Facebook for content views, as well as understanding customer acquisition dynamics for direct-to-consumer brands and their reliance on Facebook for (increasingly less) cheap / efficient customer acquisition; it would be extremely interesting to understand how Facebook is thinking about their long term positioning as one of the most important channels for both of these constituents. I'd also want to ask Mark about his strategy for Instagram, and his effective use of Snap as Instagram /Facebook's R&D platform, and how he's been able to so successfully create a better product out of very similar features.

The best advice I’ve received is to try to make the most out of your day-to-day experience (keep learning, build relationships, become the best at whatever you are doing in your current role, AND make sure you invest in your relationships and life outside of the office), while also frequently reassessing your 1 year, 5 year, and 10 year goals to make sure you are positioning yourself to have the most number of and best options / choices going forward.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you've received from a mentor?

Careers (and our lives) are very long, and truly the only thing we can expect is the unexpected. The best advice I've received is to try to make the most out of your day-to-day experience (keep learning, build relationships, become the best at whatever you are doing in your current role, AND make sure you invest in your relationships and life outside of the office), while also frequently reassessing your 1 year, 5 year, and 10 year goals to make sure you are positioning yourself to have the most number of and best options / choices going forward.

I've found long-term goal planning extremely helpful to make sure near term career (and life) decisions are getting me where I want to be doing down the line. But -- it's also important to know there are many, many different ways to get from A to Z. I've always loved the adage "it's about the journey, not the destination." The detours and unexpected moves and changes are where it gets the most fun.