Ashley Brasier is a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, based in the Bay Area. Prior to Lightspeed, she was a Category Manager at Thumbtack. You can follow Ashley on Twitter @ashleybrasier.
What drew you to venture capital and working with startups?
I was first exposed to venture capital when working on the product team at Thumbtack (a marketplace for local services based in SF). Within a few months of joining the team, I did some market analysis for a fundraising pitch deck. VC piqued my interest because of the ability to look into the future - to identify and fund trends before they become established. I learned more about the VC industry while taking classes at Stanford GSB, including Angel and Venture Capital Financing for Entrepreneurs and Investors, Entrepreneurial Finance, and Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital from the Perspective of Women. I am excited by the ability to partner with entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into reality. As an entrepreneur and creator myself, I love the process of ideation and prototyping and am not afraid of pivots.
Why early stage consumer? Why Lightspeed?
Consumer was an easy choice for me - during my time at Bain and Thumbtack I spent a lot of time on consumer behavior research projects (e.g., consumer surveys, focus groups) and loved every minute. I find it fascinating that what consumers say they do and what they do in reality is often very different. I like peeling back the layers to understand why this is the case and what is driving the actual behavior. I also like translating consumer insights into action - through a more targeted growth strategy or curated set of product features. Joining the Lightspeed consumer team was an easy choice - I’ve long admired my partners Jeremy Liew, Nicole Quinn, and Alex Taussig. I’d also had several positive interactions with Lightspeed-backed entrepreneurs (Max at Faire, Jake at Jumprope) and worked with a Lightspeed portfolio company (BetterUp) the summer before I was recruited.
Prior to VC, you worked as a consultant at Bain and manager for Thumbtack’s Events & Weddings business. What key things did you take away from these experiences that have been helpful as an investor so far?
It’s important to spend time with the customer - and it’s not enough to just ask them questions. To truly understand customer behavior you should observe their daily routine, go shopping with them, and then ask follow-up questions.
Product and marketing teams should work closely together to develop integrated growth strategies. It’s not enough to build a product in a silo and then have marketing push the product through established channels. The best startups create their own channel by building a flywheel into the product.
One of your investment areas is older consumers and you describe the most attractive subset as “Middlers” - independent and tech-savvy older adults. Many VCs have said they’re looking at products and services for the elderly, so what makes the Middlers so compelling as consumers?
Middlers are older adults living with great vitality - they have time and money to spend, yet there’s a dearth of brands that are creating solutions specifically tailored towards them. Today’s Middlers are not looking to retire - they’re looking to transition. Often this transition involves part-time work, volunteer activities, or family-oriented caregiving responsibilities. Consequently, Middlers are still a very powerful driver of the economy, even if the majority are no longer working full-time. I’ve written a blog post on the topic here.
What has surprised you the most in your first year at Lightspeed? How have you learned and leaned on the other partners?
I’ve been surprised by the sheer volume of email and daily communication with founders. My favorite emails to write are introductory emails between founders. A nice benefit of being in VC is that you meet lots of folks working on similar problems, but in different and non-competitive ways. It’s always fun to make the connection and see what comes of it.
What other investment areas are you excited about?
IRL experiences and communities - I’m seeing a desire for folks with similar passions and interests to meet up in real life to do things together. From fitness to gaming, the pendulum for social interaction is swinging away from purely digital relationships.
Holistic wellness - We’re excited about consumer health solutions that consider the whole person - mind, body, and soul. We’ve noticed an increasing interest in ayurveda and other eastern medicine practices.
Concierge solutions - The internet is great because it gives us a ton of choice, however at some point that choice can become overwhelming. We’re noticing an uptick in concierge-like solutions - for home, travel, and health.
Lightspeed has a summer fellowship for entrepreneurs. What makes Lightspeed’s program attractive? Why should an entrepreneur participate in the program?
The Lightspeed summer program provides entrepreneurs with direct access to the Lightspeed partnership and a close 1:1 mentor relationship with one partner that has relevant expertise in their particular industry. This coming summer will be my first time participating in the program. I’m excited to meet with my team on a weekly basis and also look forward to getting to know the other teams.
What advice would you give to a young woman interested in venture?
I’d recommend spending some time in an operating role before moving into venture. Before joining Lightspeed I worked for a few years at Thumbtack and also did short consulting stints at BetterUp and Fundbox. My operating background helps me better connect with founding teams and enables me to give advice based on my own experiences. I feel fortunate to have worked at Thumbtack at the time when the company was experiencing a big growth inflection. These years showed me the importance of being scrappy, prioritizing team culture, and continuing to move forward in the face of ambiguity.