#123 Steve Vassallo of Foundation Capital: My Favorite Books, Tools, Habits and More | 20 Minute Playbook

In Episode #123, we deconstruct Steve Vassallo's peak performance playbook—from his favorite book to the tiny habit that's had the biggest impact on his life. Steve is General Partner at Foundation Capital. We cover translating non-human languages, enlightened procrastination, and his insatiable curiosity.
Last updated
July 22, 2022
5
Min Read
Steve has helped fund the Earth Species Project, which works to decode non-human language, such as that of Gelada monkeys.
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About Steve Vassallo

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“Go deep, go early, go big.” – Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo has been a general partner at Foundation Capital for the last 15 years. At Foundation, he's led the firm's investments in Stripe, Cerebra, Sunrun, Loft Orbital, Solana, and many other incredible firms. Steve is also the author of The Way to Design, which is a guide to how companies of all sizes should approach design. The book is a compendium of interviews with more than 50 designers, design scholars and tech founders who have gotten design right from day one.

Steve began his career at IDEO where he worked closely with IDEO's founder, David Kelly, to research design and deliver innovative products and services across industries. Because of Steve's early experiences at IDEO he's drawn to product-centric founders and has a wonderful knack for bringing design and engineering together to create incredible products.

In this episode, we cover why Steve has been fascinated with the wicked problems that exist in Crypto and why he thinks we're still in the earliest innings there. He talks about his work with the earth species project, whose goal is to decode non-human language in mammals of all sizes from whales to monkeys. Talks about how he combines insatiable curiosity and a deep love of building hard things in his investing work. He shares his advice for founders and investors, and he shares his favorite books, including why he loves Thinking Fast and Slow and Poor Charlie's Almanack.

For more, explore the transcript of this episode.


Chapters

In this episode, we deconstruct Steve Vassallo’s peak performance playbook—from his favorite book to the tiny habit that's had the biggest impact on his life. In it we cover:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:03:52 – Translating non-human languages
  • 00:06:35– Having insatiable curiosity and a deep love of building hard things
  • 00:08:27 – Investment philosophy can be distilled down to conviction
  • 00:10:21 – You can always find a way to build something you’ve already sold, but you can’t always sell something you’ve already built
  • 00:12:08 – Enlightened procrastination
  • 00:14:44 – Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • 00:17:10 – Invest in people you want to work with
  • 00:21:01 – Take stock of what you’re granting your attention to

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Castbox, Pocket Casts, Player FM, Podcast Addict, iHeartRadio, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

An Idea Worth Trying

Steve reminds us that our inbox is really a list of other people’s tasks, not our own. View your inbox with an eye for what you really want to spend your time on before diving in and sending responses.

Our Favorite Quotes

Here are a few ideas we'll be thinking about weeks and months from now:

  • “Really take stock of what you're granting your attention to. I have to remind myself every time I open my inbox that this is really somebody else's to-do list, not mine. And I have to choose what really matters to me.”
  • “I just love focusing on what I think about as 'wicked problems,' and crypto has a lot of these, whether it's elliptical curve cryptography or zero knowledge proofs.”
  • “I get excited about a project, or a founder gets excited about working with me, I think it really is because of a combination of insatiable curiosity and a deep love of building hard things that matter.”
  • “I get excited about a project, or a founder gets excited about working with me, I think it really is because of a combination of insatiable curiosity and a deep love of building hard things that matter.”
  • “In the venture ecosystem, oftentimes it's in your best interest to not snap to a judgment, particularly to the negative side of the spectrum. Because things change, founders find their way through the fog, the market shifts in a little way. And so it really, I think, does pay you to be a little bit more flexible in your thinking.”
  • “Don't fear the partner that makes a bad investment decision—a decision that doesn't work out—but you really need to fear the partner that keeps you from investing in the ones that turn out to be huge winners.”

Books Mentioned

The following books came up in this conversation with Steve Vassallo:

Selected Links

We covered a lot of ground in this interview. Here are links to the stories, articles, and ideas discussed:

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