Brett Andersen is Head of Operations at Bullish, a Venture Capital fund that leads key brand management, strategic and creative initiatives on investment and agency-led partnerships. Brett received her BA from the University of Virginia and her MBA from Harvard University. In this interview Brett shares some important lessons that she has learned throughout her six year long career at Bullish and during her MBA. Brett is an inspiring figure for anyone who wants to work in the VC world.
Interview by Pietro Bini, BRV Fund Manager 2022-2023.
Q1 – You started your career in advertising and you received an MBA from Harvard University. What are some important lessons that you have learned in class and outside of class that helped you to your role today?
The first thing (and it’s not so much a lesson, as it is a reminder) is to have confidence in yourself. During an MBA, you have conversations about topics you are not comfortable with. You hold presentations in front of 70 highly intelligent individuals and a Professor who has a career in whatever you’re talking about. That’s a pretty terrifying thing. But when you do it every single day for two years, you get used to it. So have confidence and remind yourself what you’re worth.
The second lesson is asking other people for help. I love Harvard’s case method. One of the advantages is that you cannot do the workload alone. You need the help of people who have specific expertise (in building a business model, a marketing plan) and you need to ask these people for help because otherwise you can’t get done what you need to get done. And the same applies to your professional career. If you are on a deal and you don’t know something, you need to ask for help. It doesn’t make you look weak or incompetent. What it does is get others to feel empathy for you and realize you are not too arrogant to assume you know everything. Because you don’t.
The third is to ask for a multitude and diversity of voices when attacking a problem. Different people approach the same problem differently. It’s something that I learned in class, during my MBA. I come from a background that is very creative, very marketing, very brand-design focused. And I would be in a classroom with people with Finance and other quantitative backgrounds. We approach and break problems in exceptionally different ways and that multitude of thinking just helps you to get to a more interesting answer than the one you would get to yourself.
Q2 – You had a great career at Bullish: you started working there before your MBA and came back after receiving it. How did your day to day life change from associate to today, as director of operations?
When I first started I was very much that classic “individual contributor” where I was given a task and I did the thing in front of me. Most of my work was handed to me and was rather predictable: I knew what I was supposed to do at any given point. So it’s much more of a sort of rhythm that you’re getting into and starting to learn how things are done. Getting that repetition is really important: you learn how a deal is structured and how the mechanics around it work.
Now my day to day is very different, I am the person who is actually taking a problem and solving it. There isn’t a playbook in front of me and the biggest change that I’ve seen is in the type of questions that I have to ask, and the voice in the room that I am. Who are the people in this room? How do I give them room to listen and speak? How do I not speak over them? When we have founders in the room, what is the objective that they’re really looking for?
Q3 – I understand that there is no universal recipe to evaluate a company. But, in general what are some of the key items you evaluate when looking at a potential investment?
There is definitely no one-size-fits-all when it comes to investing, especially when you’re investing as early as we are: we invest pre-product, pre-revenue. Sometimes, it can be exceptionally difficult. But within that there are things that we look for at Bullish.
First and foremost, the founder. Who is driving that team forward? Are they going to be the catalyst to create change? Are they going to hire the right people? Do they have empathy? Do they care about what they’re building? It needs to be the right founder for that business they’re building – therefore there are a multitude of personalities and backgrounds that make an exceptional founder.
At Bullish we also look at some other specific things related to the fact that we are an early-stage consumer investment fund and a brand agency. We are marketers by trade. So we often ask if the sector has demand-side potential and brand differentiation opportunity. We are the best partner to the venture when we can connect on caring for the brand.
Of course there are many other things like market analysis, etc. But I think any investor would likely agree with those things.
Q4 – Are there any recent additions to your portfolio that you are particularly excited about?
It is not a new addition, but I am exceptionally excited about Bubble: a Gen. Z skin care Company. The founder and I frankly just connected the first meeting. The reason I am so excited about Bubble is that this is a brand that was developed with a great amount of consumer insight at its core. You had a group of ‘Gen-z-ers’ who were helping the founder to build the product. She [the founder] had meetings with them almost every day and that, I think, is exceptional because it shows the deep care for the customer. In fact, when you look at the lists of the 10 best skin care products for different age groups, etc., Bubble is always the only one that is a brand built for, by, and with Gen. Z in mind. I love that she has created something that no one is doing, and I can’t wait to see what happens.
Q5 – What are three tips that you could provide to professional students who are interested in working venture capital?
One is people, two is passion, and three is perseverance.
People. I just think this is the reality of VC. You have to know the business that you’re getting into and when it comes to VC, your business is investing in people. Your business is co-investing alongside people. And, depending on where you’re starting out, your business is also to find deals and convince your partners to also champion those deals.
Passion. The best investors are people that have a true passion for something and they focus on that. I think that it is great to come to a fund and say: ‘I have done a ton of personal research both qualitatively and quantitatively, and I really get this space.’ This shows that potential, because you are seeing things that other people aren’t. This is also important because as an investor you want to be able to ask exceptionally smart questions. The founder is way smarter than you, so you have to try to be an outsider, and ask them the right questions.
Perseverance. Some day, you are going to be told no. As a student either for an internship, or for a full-time job. And when you are an actual investor, from a deals perspective. If you’re not able to persevere through that and have confidence in yourself, it can get emotionally draining.
One last important tip is to take care of yourself: take breaks, enjoy life, enjoy school.
Maybe you are not going to remember the weird conference that you went to, but you’ll remember that dinner with friends. So remember what’s important, and remind yourself that sometimes you need to take a break.