Transcript – 20MP – Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners

Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Mercedes Bent, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. In this episode, Mercedes and Daniel discuss learning cycles, cultivating happiness, and the definition of success.
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December 17, 2021
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Mercedes Bent has two Masters degrees from Stanford, in Business and Education.
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Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Mercedes Bent, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. In this episode, Mercedes and Daniel discuss learning cycles, cultivating happiness, and the definition of success. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here

“As the world is changing faster and faster, one of the things we need as any professional to get better at is to improve the speed at which you are able to learn about new things, because the world ain't changing any slower.” – Mercedes Bent

Mercedes Bent is a Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, where she invests in early-stage businesses, including forage, Stori, Flink, and Outschool. She was previously Vice President at Upload, a news and education provider in the VR space, General Manager and Product Manager at General Assembly, and a Financial Analyst at Goldman Sachs. She has degrees from Harvard and Stanford GSB, and served on the Board of Birthright AFRICA.




20 Minute Playbook: Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners


Daniel Scrivner:

Mercedes Bent, I am thrilled to have you on 20 Minute Playbook. Thank you so much for making time and joining me.


Mercedes Bent:

Thanks for having me.


Daniel Scrivner:

So this should be a lot of fun. I'm going to try to ask you as many questions as possible in 20 minutes, we try to keep these episodes under 20 minutes. Are you ready?


Mercedes Bent:

Let's do it.


Daniel Scrivner:

Okay. So I wanted to start with just a little bit of your background. I know today you're a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. And we're going to talk about a little bit of your background, but I just wanted to start with the question, what brought you to venture capital?


Mercedes Bent:

I would say there's a lot of reasons I came to VC. But chief amongst them was, I love startups. I worked at several venture backed startups, I also started two of my own. And I realized after starting two on my own that maybe I'm not as good at the zero to one as I am at the one to 100. I helped scale general assembly from two million to 100 million in revenue. I was running P&Ls as a product manager. And so I realized, "Hey, if that's my better skillset, I can either go back to operating and be a startup person again or I could try my hand at helping a lot more companies at once." And given there weren't a lot of people like me in VC, I felt I just had a little bit of a different perspective and maybe a little bit of a different outlook that was missing in VC. So I said, well, if not me then who? I think I have a lot to contribute to the startup in VC world.


Daniel Scrivner:

And what has that experience been like for you? Because I spend the majority of my time in early stage, I find it really invigorating for a ton of reasons. What do you love about the day to day?


Mercedes Bent:

I love the period of, okay, you've just started to see the early signs of product market fit. Now, oh my goodness, how do we scale an organization around it? Everyone says, you'll know when you have product market fit. And it's true, you'll know. The phones start ringing off the hooks. There starts being all these things that you have to build for it to support the sales and the growth of the company. And I love that chaotic, messy, super fun part of organization building as soon as you've found and tapped this resource and reservoir of success.


Mercedes Bent:

And so I love working with my founders as they try to build the plane while they fly it. And they are figuring things out the day before, sometimes days later than when you needed to figure something out. And so having someone who's been around the journey, who's done this a couple of times before, can be really helpful for those operating teams. I wish I had more of it back when I was operating. So I just love being able to be that person and say, "Okay, you're dealing with OKRs and you've run into that issue where you realize that setting OKRs for engineers doesn't work well." I'm like, "Oh yeah, duh, I've run into that problem a billion times. Let's talk about it. Let's figure out some other alternative goal setting that can work for you." Yeah, I love that.


Daniel Scrivner:

I love the note you made there. I think for anyone that's been an operator before too, if you get into venture capital, you just have so much sympathy and empathy for what founders are going through and how challenging it is. And it's fun to be on the other side of the table when that happens, because you can truly help. So we're going to go back to your background in a little bit, but I want to now head to more of our typical questions. And one question we ask everyone is what you've been excited or fascinated about recently. So any recent fascinations? Can be literally anything.


Mercedes Bent:

Okay. Well as a VC, I have a lot of fascinations. So it's like asking a VC do they get excited by shining candy, shining objects? Yes we all do. So I'm a consumer investor and I'm always obsessed with what's driving pop culture, what's the current day's zeitgeist and what is making people go out of their way to participate, sometimes paying exorbitant amounts to become part of history, to get involved and grasp those emotions of whatever's happening at the moment. And in the last year we've seen a lot of these. We've seen retail investing in the meme stocks, we've seen crypto and NFTs. We've seen people just this past week buying the US Constitution. We saw gaming and Metaverse with Travis Scott performing in Fortnite on Epic Games, which we're an investor in. And I think there's just so many examples of these moments that reach this cultural tipping point.


Mercedes Bent:

And I love paying attention to what are the undertones, what are the long ground swells and what are the similarities between them all? Because actually, all of those things I talked about are very tied to one another. Ownership economy is driving them. The little guy being able to fight back against the institutions is driving a lot of this. The idea that social media is going from more of a asynchronous, this is how I appear in posture to more of a, it's cool to be different, it's cool to be anonymous, it's cool to be a little more nerdy and to be more interactive and synchronous with people. All of those trends are across everything I just said. And so I love thinking through, wow, this is actually the changing nature of human psychology and how humans interact. So if you're into anthropology and stuff and you think about how do we get from the 1950s to people buying JPEGs of apes for $39 million, you have to watch all of these breadcrumbs as they converge. So that's been really fascinating me recently.


Daniel Scrivner:

Yeah. That's a fascinating overview and a great way to tie that together. Focusing on you for a second, this is one of my favorite questions, which is just around, what do you think your superpowers are and how do you harness those and use those every single day?


Mercedes Bent:

One of them is managing through uncertainty. That's something that served me really well when I worked at startups. It's what makes me love the chaos and what makes me love diving in. And even in VC, I know a lot of people say the VC job can be really difficult for someone starting out because of companies you could go after as enormous and huge and you have to make sense of all of that. For me, it's always been about the engineering mindset. I can take any big problem, make it really, really small.


Mercedes Bent:

And so okay, if I want to be, for example, just in VC, if I want to be a really successful VC in 20 years and that's dependent on investments I make today, but I won't know the outcome of them for 10 years. What can I do to give myself shorter and shorter feedback cycles and how can I structure my strategy and my plan and my thoughts to be able to chunk it down to, okay, this is exactly what I need to be doing this quarter, this week, this day. And I have it all in my head mapped out in a way that makes sense to me. It's probably a lot of wrong stuff, but that managing through uncertainty has always served me pretty well.


Daniel Scrivner:

That's fascinating. And no one has brought that up yet. And even just hearing you talk through that, it makes complete sense. And it does seem like a superpower, especially in a chaotic ever-changing environment, like venture capital. On the flip side, what do you struggle with and how have you improved or worked around those things over time? So this can be stuff you just struggle with personally. It can be, I don't know, modes of working, anything there.


Mercedes Bent:

Okay. So I have a much longer list on this side. When I was reading the questions, I was like, "Oh, I can only think of one on the strength and I can think of 20 on the things to improve." So things I struggle with. A couple that to mind, one is imposter syndrome, always feeling like you're not necessarily part of or really you shouldn't be doing the job you're doing. I think about this all the time as a VC. I'm like, how am I fooling everyone that I kind of know how to do VC? I don't.


Mercedes Bent:

Another one is being knowable. It's something that actually, I couldn't even articulate until probably the last two years. But I always just noticed like, huh, other people are really good at expression and sharing lots of things about their life with other people. And in terms of core circle, I have a very, very small one. And although I do a lot of brand oriented stuff, I love writing, I love speaking on talks, of being there. I know that I'm bad at actually sharing details about my personal life, that would get someone to know me.


Mercedes Bent:

And then what else? I think another thing I'm pretty bad at is keeping up with a wide network of people really consistently. I do think that's a superpower, some people have. But you'll meet these people. They're connectional intelligence about, "Oh, this person, that person. Here and there," and da, da, da, da. It's a skill as a VC that would be very useful. And I have to structure it so much for myself to even try to do baseline minimum of it. It's like out of sight out of mind. I love thinking about ideas, reading books, writing, and that comes first to me before, who are all the people in my life I haven't talked two in three months?


Daniel Scrivner:

Going back to your 20 year roadmap, I think those are all things you'll have plenty of time to work on over that period. And I don't think it all take nearly that long. On the habits and routine sides, what habits, what routines have you experimented with that have had a positive impact on your life and performance? This can either be, if you're someone who lives a super optimized life, what does that look like daily? If you're somebody who just aspires and appreciates that, what are things you've tried that you just try to incorporate whenever you can?


Mercedes Bent:

There's two different life philosophies or habits that come to mind. One is around learning and another one is around identifying what makes me happy and being very aware of that and just doing those things. On the learning side, I actually wrote a tweet about this the other day, which is I love really thinking about how I can improve my speed of learning. As the world is changing faster and faster, one of the things we need as any professional to get better at is to improve the speed at which you are able to learn about new things, because the world ain't changing any slower. And I have a specific way I do this, which is around, okay, how do I shorten my cycle from consuming to analyzing, to creating and then even teaching other people about this new topic that I've just learned about?And I'll sit down on weekends, I'll sit down on evenings and I'll really try to go through these a lot faster. So that's one area. It's a habit I tried and I actually really enjoy forcing myself to do.


Mercedes Bent:

And then on the other side, in terms of identifying what makes you happy, there's this little framework I had found maybe five years ago around identifying objects, people, places, and activities that make you happy. And I write them down. I always know what they are. And when I think about what is the best weekend experience, it's a time where I could do all four of those things. And so I really try to relax on the weekend. I know I love being in the sun, outdoors, reading a book, talking to one of my best friends on the phone and walking. If I can do those four things, it's such a simple activity, but just being able to appreciate the simplicity is something I love doing.


Daniel Scrivner:

That's so interesting that framework. Do you know where you got that from? Do you remember if that was an article or a book?


Mercedes Bent:

It was definitely some articles I was reading, but I can't remember. It was five years ago. I can't remember which one. But I remember there was a point in time where I was like, "I am not as happy on a day-to-day as I would like to be." As someone who's very ambitious, very type A, I told you a 20 year, I don't have a 20 year strategy, but I have 20 year goals, it's really easy to get overly focused on goals and orientation. And so probably about five years ago, I was like, "I need to figure out how to just be way more appreciative and grateful and happy about the day-to-day, no matter what happens." And so I actually, using the learning frameworks, sat down and focused on it. I read everything I could read about the topic and came up with this is the one I liked the best.


Daniel Scrivner:

Yeah. Super interesting. Going to that incredibly ambitious type A personality, I have to ask this question. So obviously looking at a little bit of your background and not only have one master's degree, you have two master's degrees. You have an MBA and also a master's in education from Stanford. What compelled you to get both of those degrees? And what do you feel like you think about, or just carry with you from both of those? Because those are both very, very in depth, obvious coursework programs for both of those individually, let alone doing them together. So what do you carry forward after going through all those?


Mercedes Bent:

I did both of those. The business side was because I realized early in my career, I was probably going to be a generalist. I didn't have a specific functional skill set that I was so much better at whether marketing or sales or product or design. I did all of those jobs, even HR. When I worked at startups, I tried them all out. And I realized I just liked all of them. And I like strategy and I like managing the full P&L experience. And so okay, if you're going to be a generalist, you should probably study general business principles. And an MBA really is a generalist skillset. So I went to Stanford GSB, and one of the top things I got out of that though was in addition to a couple of tactical skill sets, I didn't know how to do financial modeling, when I went in, the bigger thing I got is Stanford really teaches how to be a vulnerable leader. They have these classes called touchy feely, it has a more formal name, but that's what everyone calls it.


Mercedes Bent:

And they have these classes that really teach you about what is your authentic leadership style? How do you align your internal perception and outward perception and make sure that's as strong as possible? So that was one of the best things I took away from there. Coming out of Stanford, I felt like my purpose was so clear and crystal, it made it super easy to execute on once I got to VC. And that came from that vulnerable and purposeful leadership. And then on the masters of education side, why I wanted to do that one is I've always believed education is the great equalizer. My family has always believed this.


Mercedes Bent:

I have grandparents who are immigrants and came from really, really modest settings, basically no money and went on to become doctors and professors and all these crazy things. And so for me, it's just remembering that's the great equalizer. That is the family version of it. And then I also worked at general assembly. I helped people get careers after being some of our students were homeless and were making $15 an hour. And then they would go on to make six figures as a software engineer. And so for me, I wanted to dive in, even deeper into this field that had given me such of a mission and purpose in my family.


Daniel Scrivner:

It's so interesting. I don't know firsthand, but I'm sure that shows up in the way you work with founders and the way you show up as you're one, not only getting to understand what problems they're going through, connecting with them emotionally, empathizing, but then obviously being able to help them figure their way out. On the fitness side, do you have an approach to diet, exercise, sleep? Is that something you've spent a bunch of time on optimizing in your life?


Mercedes Bent:

I am very inconsistent on this topic. So depending on which year or core order you catch, man, I will have totally different answers growing up. I was super hardcore about fitness and exercise. I played soccer, I ran track. In college I ran half marathons. And then in 2011 I ran a half marathon that I didn't train for. And I haven't run more than a mile since, it's been 10 years. So some people know me as a super intense fitness person. Other people know me as the lazy girl who never goes to the gym. And right now the current line of thinking is having a portfolio of lots of different fitness activities and switching them up. So I have dance classes. I have Peloton and biking rides. I have this suit, EMS suit, that does pulses in my muscles. I do walking. I do a bunch of weight lifting and squats now. But if you asked someone who knew me a year ago, they would say I did nothing because that is what I did a year ago.


Daniel Scrivner:

In fact, now she literally does nothing. She just eats.


Mercedes Bent:

That was true a year ago.


Daniel Scrivner:

It's so interesting. Who makes that suit? I don't know if I've come across that.


Mercedes Bent:

Oh yeah. There's this company called Katalyst, with a K. It's one of the newer suits that's been coming to the US, and I just got to start trying it out and it's a really cool device.


Daniel Scrivner:

That's amazing. We'll find that link to it in the show notes. So typically we ask a question, just super broad, around books, posts, news letters, podcasts, things you enjoy. I'm going to tailor that a little bit more for you, but you can take this question anywhere you want. With somebody that is working with, obviously you're working with a lot of your peers that are investors, you're also working hands on with a lot of entrepreneurs. Do you find that there are books or resources or people that you point founders to over and over and over again or that you just give away?


Mercedes Bent:

I used to work at Goldman and I went crazy trying to get into the startup world, like reading every single startup book out there. Funny enough, I don't tend to recommend any books these days. I tend to recommend resources and areas they can find in information. And so a little more teach a man to fish versus giving them the fish. I'll say, "Okay, you probably want to set up a learning portfolio where you have a peer group of founders who are 12 to 18 months ahead of you who have already gone through the challenges you're going through. And you also want to have that group 12 to 18 months behind you. So the ones ahead of you, you can learn from them. You can figure out what's around in the corner and the ones behind you, you can teach it because teaching is one of the highest forms of cementing knowledge." I'll tell them to go on VC Twitter, startup Twitter, FinTech Twitter, whatever variation they're in. The long story short, I basically just recommend them to go to blogs, and that's mostly it.


Daniel Scrivner:

I love that framework though. That framework is one and I haven't heard anybody give that specific advice. And I love just the note of obviously by teaching one, you're saying pass it on. If you're learning from other people, make sure that you're teaching others. But also I love the purpose, which is yes, you're passing it on, you're passing it forward, but you're also cementing that learning for yourself. I think that's super interesting. On the software and tool side, you seem like somebody that spends some time here. I don't imagine that you live your life in 20 different apps. So on this software and tool side, is there anything, any software that you love that you use daily, and this is stuff for managing work, task, time or any physical tools that you love and rely on, anything there?


Mercedes Bent:

I don't know. I don't use any ones that are not traditional. I use Gmail. I use Notes on Apple. Those are probably my two biggest tools by far. I use a lot of different communication channels to get in touch with different people, whether it's Discord or Telegram or obviously iMessage, WhatsApp. I invest in LATAM, so when I'm speaking to my LATAM founders, I've invested in companies like Flink and Stori there. I will reach out to them on WhatsApp. And if I'm talking to my more gaming, NFT, crypto people, and like we invested in a company called Haku or I invested in a company called Fan Controlled Football, I'll reach out to them on Telegram. There's certain platforms that are better for certain people. So that's how I end up thinking about divvying up my tools. But I don't really keep anything that's beyond notes or email, that's like a management tool.


Daniel Scrivner:

Do you write out a task list on paper at all, or do you live basically purely just in notes and email?


Mercedes Bent:

Pretty much just in notes. Yeah. It's syncs between my phone and my computer and that's the number one feature I could ask for.


Daniel Scrivner:

Totally. That way you can be responding to emails 24/7, as fast as possible.


Mercedes Bent:

I do email at midnight and 6:00 AM all the time.


Daniel Scrivner:

Same here. On the personal growth side, one of my favorite questions to ask is if you have a favorite failure? And if that doesn't resonate, take this question anywhere. But I think what we're trying to get out of that is something you pursued, some goal you were after attaining that for whatever reason you didn't end up achieving, but that experience propelled you in a better direction or you took things away from that, that ended up making it just a super positive experience, longer term. Anything for you there?


Mercedes Bent:

I think in some ways, when I was younger, once again being very type A, I thought the trains are always running on time. This is supposed to happen at one age and then this is supposed to happen at another age. And it was actually a lot of those goals that didn't happen that made me realize you can live life however you want and it doesn't have to happen on anyone's schedule and there know you're supposed to do this thing at this time. So everything from the going to business school at, I think I started business school when I was 29, so I didn't graduate until I was 31. I didn't think I was going to be graduating from business school in my thirties and people when they met me, I looked quite young. So a lot of people in my early thirties thought I was in my early twenties.


Mercedes Bent:

And so having to counteract with that, like, no, I have 10 years of experience type of thing. So it wasn't a failure per se, but it was just that life has gone in a different direction. Same thing with relationships, mid thirties, not married yet, although I am engaged, and thinking that would've happened in the twenties. And so you're like, there's all these little things like that, that happened. So yeah, maybe I can come back to you on this one in terms of what's a favorite failure.


Daniel Scrivner:

It's a hard one.


Mercedes Bent:

It's a hard one because I don't really regret anything. And so I feel like if it didn't work out, that was just supposed to happen. But I can't even remember what didn't work out anymore.


Daniel Scrivner:

I think that says a lot about you in a good way. So that's a good answer. What is your definition of success? So flipping away from, if it's not focusing on misses or failures or that, for you, how do you think about what success is? And obviously, I'm sure you have a definition professionally. Do you have a definition professionally and personally, or just like a personal vision of what success looks like?


Mercedes Bent:

Totally. I think on the personal side, I think it's being able to identify and achieve your purpose and be happy. And a lot of the most important relationships in your lives, whether that's family or friends or significant other are going to be a big portion of what makes you happy, and doing right by them as well. And the purpose piece too is around, there's a lot of ways you can live life and we're actually on the earth for a very short amount of time, but it feels very long. And so what do you choose to do with the time you're here? To me, I could go live on a beach somewhere. That would be pretty cool too.


Mercedes Bent:

But what are the things that I feel are important that I've identified to, when you look back, they always talk about those time travel books. You go back in time and one thing changes and the whole course of the trajectory of the world is off. I want to do something that is impactful enough that if it went back, and I wasn't there, then the whole course of the trajectory is off. Not because it'll be so big, I don't expect to pass any huge laws or anything like that. But just because you were a part of the growth of society and development of where things went. So to me that's a big piece of it, just having some type of impact in whatever area it is.


Daniel Scrivner:

I love that time travel analogy. It's super, super interesting. It's almost like the goal is to make a dent in the universe so much. So if you were to travel back, try to scrub that from time, wouldn't work.


Mercedes Bent:

100%. Beyonce has a song called I Was Here, and I just love that song because it symbolizes the whole to me, the meaning of life, which is you were here, you made your mark, you were not just nothing, you did something. And it can be anything you want, but that's really what I think of as success.


Daniel Scrivner:

That's so cool. Last question. What are you most grateful for in this phase of your life?


Mercedes Bent:

Really, I'm a grateful for so many things. I think I live a very, very privileged and wonderful life. I'm so grateful. I probably should be more or grateful for my health. I don't hardly ever think about that. So that is something I should be 100% grateful about. I'm really grateful that I have a job that allows me to do such cool things like partner with my founders. Some of them I mentioned in terms of like Flink or Stori or Forage or Outschool, these category defining companies that I'm so lucky to be a part their journey.


Mercedes Bent:

And I also think I'm just really grateful for having life figured out a little bit. I'd say early twenties, once again, going back to that whole train analogy, I had a lot of anxiety about, would things work out? Am I going to be successful? Am I going to make it? It was when I went to business school that I started telling myself, I was like, "Okay, you have to stop being so anxious about whether or not you're going to make it." Also I was at Stanford, it's a pretty great place. I was like, if you're here, I wrote down a little sticky note and I put it on my wall, like you've already made it. The rest of life is going to be fine. You can't mess it up. And I was like, "Oh, that's just such a relief." So I'm so grateful for that feeling.


Daniel Scrivner:

That's so cool. So people can find you online. Obviously you've got a website, you have a few articles on there that are really interesting, as well as an about page. They can find that at mercedesbent.co. And then I know people can follow you on Twitter, @Mercebent. Thank you so much for the time. It's been amazing to have you on 20 Minute Playbook.


Mercedes Bent:

Thank you.




On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

Explore all episodes of Outlier Academy, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

Daniel Scrivner and Mighty Publishing LLC own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Outlier Academy podcast, with all rights reserved, including Daniel’s right of publicity.

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