How To Be An Investor at Blackbird
Last year, we built out a growth framework for being an investor at Blackbird.
We wrote down every task a Blackbird investor does and tried to capture the skills, traits and qualities that ladder up to making someone a great investor here.
We are sharing it here publicly for the first time to help anyone who wants to become an investor start thinking about what skills they might need to develop as they build their investing careers.
We’re also sharing what we’ve learned about the framework since launching it. This is a live document we continue to refine, and we welcome your feedback.
BLACKBIRD’S INVESTOR GROWTH FRAMEWORK
Between 2020-2021, we grew our investment team from 4 to >10 as our funds grew in size and our founder community expanded into the hundreds.
As we grew, we realised our coaching and feedback processes were too ad-hoc and ambiguous.
We all agreed on the things that mattered, like:
🧠 Intellectual Curiosity
❣️ Taste and investment judgment
👍Being a reliable board member and strategic partner to a founder
✍️ Writing and analysis
😍 Founder empathy
❓Experience, gut feel
But what each of these meant precisely was in people’s heads.
The problem wasn’t that we didn’t know what we loved in each investor, their strengths and why they were performing, but more that we had never sat in a room together to nut out what good actually looks like.
We had a sense or feeling for it, but it was hard to articulate clearly and share consistently.
With a bigger team, this meant it was hard for individuals to benchmark themselves, build a growth plan and see what areas they might need to develop to round out a complete investing skill set.
Feedback might be helpful but inconsistent and could differ partner-by-partner by preference or style.
We couldn’t give clear enough feedback.
With the framework now in place, we have a tool that we use across Blackbird to set out the capabilities we expect to be demonstrated at each level within each function, and we’ve expanded it out to other functions like funds finance, accounting, operations, people and data roles.
We now use it in our performance cycles to benchmark performance and growth and set development plans.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Growth frameworks are not a new phenomenon but are surprisingly rare in VC.
Some of our biggest learnings have been:
- The framework has to be so clear (and granular) that we could easily differentiate what demonstrates growth at each level, e.g. leads vs supports.
- The framework is not a checklist or tickbox exercise, but rather it's the clearest form of guidance around what you need to show to prove performance at the next level.
- No framework can - or should - be perfect. There are always special traits that make a person and an investor unique, with quirks we love and want to foster. We continue to reward out-of-the-framework performance where someone sets a new standard. A growth framework should anchor performance, not stifle it. A framework should be a floor, not a ceiling.
- Nuance is everything. There’s no one-size-fits-all investor, and the same goes for a growth framework. We’ve learned it should be applied as one tool, to point out areas of potential development, rather than penalise for non-performance of 100% of the criteria.
- Buy in, buy in, buy in. Without buy-in on the purpose, why and intention of the framework, it falls flat. We spent 3-4 weeks iterating versions of the draft with the team and taking feedback to make sure people understood the intention until we reached a point of finalisation.
- A framework is important for equality. It’s important to have an objective framework to support equitable, fair systems by which to judge and reward people.
SO WHAT NOW?
To us, being a Blackbird investor means having a certain set of technical skills combined with a set of particular values: our “Blackbird Operating Principles”.
We’re sharing this framework because we believe transparency can change perspective. We want this to help shine a light on what investing really is at Blackbird.
VC can be mysterious, and for us, this framework has provided a base for which we can have clearer conversations about performance, growth, hiring and succession.
For you, it might provide clarity or inspiration around what it takes to be a Blackbird investor. With this framework now in place, we are also moving to an ‘always on’ hiring process for our investment team.
We know the best investors often pop up outside of our usual hiring cycles. So, from today, applications are open for any investment role at any time. You can use the growth framework to determine which role and which level you think you’re at right now.
What are you waiting for?
Investment notes: Aquila
We've led the seed round into Aquila, led by Will Jeremijenko and Nelson Smith and their vision to revolutionise renewable energy.
Investment Notes: Bardee
We’ve invested in Bardee to reshape the global food system with insects.