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          15歲時賺錢就比父母還多,保加利亞美女如何成長為硅谷風投家?

          Polina Marinova 2019年10月24日

          達菲娜·托切瓦的硅谷之路,注定是條不平凡的路。

          U.S. Venture Partners的普通合伙人達菲娜·托切瓦。圖片來源:Courtesy of U.S. Venture Parnters
          ?
          ?

          和筆者一樣,托切瓦出生于保加利亞。她的幼年時期,恰逢保加利亞處于蘇東劇變后的經濟轉型期,雖然她的父母都是醫生,但他們的月收入只有150美元。

          每年夏天,她都是與祖父母在他們的煙草農場里度過的。他們要在那里伺候土地、采摘煙葉。她回憶道:“可以想象,這是一項需要大量動手的、勞動密集型的工作,滋味很不好受。”

          不過就是在這個農場里,她的祖母給了她一個建議,令她終身受益。一直到她后來移民到美國,從哈佛大學和斯坦福大學畢業,進入了殘酷的投行圈,她也始終記得祖母的這番話:“如果你不想靠雙手討生活,就要投資你的腦袋。”

          托切瓦說道:“她的建議最終幫助我成長為一個獨立、自立、自強的成年人,而這些也正是我希望在創業者身上看到的品質。”

          1998年,拿到哈佛大學全額獎學金的托切瓦從保加利亞來到美國。后來,她成了微軟的軟件工程師,接著在斯坦福大學讀了一個MBA,再后來在Vernock創投獲得了投行圈的第一份工作。她也是科技公司Cloudflare的第一個機構投資者。Cloudflare是舊金山的一家網絡性能和網絡安全公司,最近剛剛上市。

          最近7年,托切瓦一直在風投機構U.S. Venture Partners中從事網絡安全和企業軟件方面的投資。上周,她被公司提升為普通合伙人。最近,筆者對托切瓦進行了專訪。

          以下是我們的談話。

          《財富》雜志:當你15歲的時候,你做過一次花生生意,據說賺的錢比你父母的收入加起來還要多。能詳細說說嗎?

          托切瓦:我出生在冷戰時期的保加利亞。但在我的性格形成期,這個國家正試圖重新定義自己,擁抱資本主義,向全世界開放。在1989年的社會、政治和經濟劇變后,保加利亞經歷了一段十分動蕩的時期。

          有些具有創業精神的人便試圖利用這種變革來創業。我們身邊的很多人都開了小型的夫妻店——除了我父母。他們是醫生,他們的職業也限制了他們的選擇。所以我當時想:“我的父母花了這么多時間學習,對事業這么投入,對工作這么擅長,但仍然只能勉強維持生計,這太不公平了。”我想幫他們的忙,所以我決定嘗試自己創業。創業對我來說,意味著勇氣、自由、創造力和成長。因此它在我心中有一種非常高尚、非常積極的意義。

          所以我開始從當地的農場買花生,將他們烤熟并且包裝好,然后通過批發商賣給連鎖餐廳。整件事都是我和我弟弟做的。就靠這樣一個簡單的生意,我賺的錢就比我父母加起來還要多。這就是我追求獨立、自立的開始。賺到了錢,固然令人興奮,但同時我也有一種幻滅感,畢竟我受到的教育和人生經驗遠遠不如父母,卻能比他們賺到更多的錢。

          你為什么決定移民到美國?

          在我童年時期,有一件事對我很有意義,那就是我的父母很重視教育、道德、堅持和個人的成長。我母親是耳鼻喉科醫生,我父親是神經科醫生,然而他們的收入仍然入不敷出。雖然每個人都應該是平等的,但這種平等對我沒有意義。我不希望一輩子過這樣的生活。

          在蘇東劇變之后的變革時期,保加利亞的很多年輕人將美國視為資本主義和精英社會取得勝利的象征。作為一個想過上更好生活的青少年,去美國是一個自然而然的理想,但實際上,想去美國是非常困難的。

          真正讓我產生赴美留學的想法的,是一個年輕的美國志愿者,當時他在我的家鄉教英語。通過他,我了解到我可以申請美國的學校,而且這些學校還可以為外國人提供經濟補貼,這樣我才有了去美國的可能性。申請留學的過程非常漫長,我聯系了100多所美國院校,并且請求所有學校免除我的學費,同時提供獎學金。幸運的是,我獲得了12所學校的全額獎學金。

          于是,我1998年到了美國,開始在哈佛大學學習計算機科學。不過在此之前,我自己連一臺電腦也沒有,所以學習明顯落后于其他同學。不過我認為,科技產業是一個增長中的市場,市場對軟件工程師的需求是真實存在的。在哈佛求學期間,我一直在做助教的工作,后來又利用暑期在微軟實習,最終于2002年正式成了微軟的一名軟件工程師。

          最近對資本主義的批判越來越多,有批評人士認為,對資本主義應該進行重大改革,以更好地為社會服務。你是否認為資本主義需要改革?

          我認為,我們有一些挑戰需要克服。

          資本主義讓很多人產生了幻滅感。貧富差距越來越大,而且已經形成了惡性循環。我有必要說一下,我很欣賞當下正在進行的討論,尤其是像瑞·達利歐和杰米·戴蒙這樣的資本家都談到了人才向上流動的問題。我認為這是一次很好的討論,是一種與時俱進發展資本主義的方式。

          你是怎么進入風投界的?

          我在微軟做了四年工程師和產品經理,期間主要從事安全產品方面的工作,后來我決定去讀商學院。于是我去了斯坦福大學,由此過渡到風投行業。第二學年快結束時,我被介紹到了Vernock創投,當時我主要負責幫助團隊尋找企業軟件和網絡安全方面的投資機會。

          在Vernock做創投期間,你領導了對Cloudflare的第一輪機構投資,最近這家公司剛剛上市。當時,這家公司和其團隊在哪些方面給了你這么早就進行投資的信心?

          距離我投資Cloudflare已經整整10年了。當時有三件事讓我印象深刻。當時他們正在研究一個十分痛苦的問題,那就是,有50%的流量都是不真實的,甚至有可能是惡意的。當時他們在追蹤一個完全被忽視的客戶群體,也就是網絡的“長尾”。他們表示要建立一項服務,從“長尾”開始清理流量——而且他們愿意免費做這件事,然后找其他方式去賺錢。這與大多數網絡安全公司的想法大相徑庭。大多數安全公司會建立一個產品或者服務,并且試圖把它賣給最大的客戶——因為他們的錢包最鼓。而他們的做法很反常,但又很有道理。

          這個團隊非常深思熟慮,而且堅持不懈,對自己想要構建的東西清晰的愿景。我對他們的執行力充滿信心,看到他們目前取得的成績,我感到非常高興。看到他們上市了,我也很欣慰他們沒有辜負我的信任——雖然起初他們一無所有,甚至連一行代碼都沒有。

          所以對我來說,首先我會看他們的創始人,以及他們的愿景是否清晰,對目標是否堅持。這種性格判斷確實很難用語言解釋,但這也是早期投資的最重要的方面之一。

          你怎么知道一個創業者是真的有遠見,還是只是在妄想?

          這其實很難分辨。同一個人可能二者兼而有之,甚至很多人都是兩者兼而有之,所以這兩者很難區分。我認為執行力很重要,可能這就是二者的區別所在。成功的創業者都有出色的表現力和執行力。

          我也很重視透明、誠實、事實求是和自我認知等品質。另外,現實主義和實用主義也很重要。一個團隊沒有這些品質,就幾乎沒有辦法與之合作。

          現在最讓你感到興奮的領域或者公司是什么?

          我在USVP主要關注企業技術的領域,但我最感興趣的是網絡安全問題。我認為,安全問題與安全威脅的發展速度,幾乎比任何其他行業的問題發展得都快。安全威脅是具有侵略性的,它們發展得很快,幾乎有無限的變異可能。因此,網絡安全是一個非常具有挑戰性的問題。

          技術過時的速度也是很快的,所以企業的創新周期也必須很快。即使是在經濟困難時期,其他所有預算都被削減的情況下,網絡安全預算仍在以每年10%的速度增長。因此,它是一個非常有吸引力的市場,吸引著我繼續投資。

          你怎么看比特幣和其他虛擬貨幣等新興資產?你投資過做區塊鏈的公司嗎?

          我們沒有對比特幣或區塊鏈技術進行過任何投資。這是一個我密切關注和研究的領域,但我還沒有做好在這方面進行投資的準備。在區塊鏈生態系統的基礎架構構建中,肯定會有一些投資的機會。但我認為,作為一個行業,區塊鏈仍然處在“版本1”的狀態。未來將有更多的迭代,投資者在這個領域也會有更多的參與機會。

          你認為區塊鏈技術會對網絡安全有影響嗎?

          這是一定的。我認為,區塊鏈作為一種技術,一旦應用在網絡安全領域,可能會很有意思,反之亦然。安全對于這些資產的存在和增長來說,是一個非常重要的因素。安全問題是一個基礎的層面,必須在(虛擬資產)被主流廣泛采用前加以解決。

          你進入風投行業已經有10多年了。自2008年和2009年以來,行業的生態系統發生了怎樣的變化?你認為在這樣一個貌似有無限的資本的世界里,資本效率有多重要?

          這10年間的變化是驚人的。在我剛進入風投界時,行業里只有少數幾家種子基金,而現在則有了幾百家。另一方面,大基金變得越來越大。晚期投資的資本極為充裕。因此,一些晚期投資的公司估值趨于膨脹,公司保持私有化的時間也更長了,等到它們上市時,其IPO規模也是相當巨大的。

          在資本充裕的時代,資本效率變得更加重要。我認為資本效率最終是自由的。它給了你選擇的權利,也給了創業者發揮的自由,使他們不必局限于燒錢率。大基金經常說要不惜一切代價地增長,卻很少提及資本效率。我認為,從長遠來看,高效率和負責任的增長要重要得多。現在我們發現,有些公司上市后,利潤低到了失控的地步。公開市場投資者也不認同“不惜一切代價增長”是決定一家企業是否成功的最重要的因素。

          說到上市,Snap公司的首席執行官埃文·斯皮格爾最近表示,上市是一次非常具有挑戰性的經歷。他說有一點非常重要,那就是要每季度都要發布季度指南,使公司對投資者更透明。現在,一些習慣了低調行事的私營企業,正在適應更加透明的公開市場,對此你怎么看?

          每家公司都有自己的董事會,每個董事會都有不同的預期。它不像公開市場那樣嚴格或明確。我注意到,當一家公司表現良好且快速增長時,私人投資者往往有更高的容忍度,他們往往變得不那么警惕。而公開市場投資者則要苛刻得多,遠遠沒有私人投資者那么寬容。

          這是兩種不同的心態,所以,這實際上取決于公司已經習慣了私有階段的哪一種董事會風格。有些私營公司的董事會和公開市場投資者一樣,要求很嚴格,而且注重細節。但對一些人來說,上市之后他們會覺得很震撼,首席執行官會突然發現,竟然還有另一種全新的做事情的方法。(財富中文網)

          譯者:樸成奎

          ?

          She grew up in Bulgaria (like me!) during a turbulent time of change when the country was struggling to emerge from communism. Although her parents were doctors, they each earned only $150 a month.

          Toncheva spent summers with her grandparents on their tobacco farm where they would pick tobacco leaves and work the land. “As you can imagine, it was just very manual, labor-intensive, and unpleasant work,” she said.

          But it was on that farm where her grandmother gave her advice that Toncheva would carry with her as she immigrated to the United States, graduated from both Harvard and Stanford, and entered the cutthroat world of venture investing. Her grandmother said, “If you don’t want to make a living with your hands, you need to invest in your brain.”

          “Her advice ultimately help me grow into an independent, self-sufficient, and self-reliant adult,” Toncheva said. “And those are also the qualities I look for in the founders I back.”

          Toncheva moved from Bulgaria to the United States in 1998 on a full scholarship to Harvard University. From there, she worked at Microsoft as a software engineer, went on to get an MBA from Stanford, and joined Venrock for her first job in venture capital. She became the first institutional investor in Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based network performance and cybersecurity firm that just went public.

          Toncheva has spent the last seven years investing in cybersecurity and enterprise software companies at early-stage investment firm U.S. Venture Partners. Last week, she was promoted to general partner. I recently caught up with Toncheva about all of this and more.

          Below is our conversation.

          TERM SHEET: When you were 15 years old, you created a peanut business that generated more revenue than the combined income of your parents. Tell me about that.

          TONCHEVA: I was born in a communist country, but my formative years were spent in a country that was trying to define itself, embrace capitalism, and open up to the world. It was a very turbulent time after [communism fell in] 1989 socially, politically, and economically.

          There were entrepreneurial-minded people who tried to take advantage of the change by starting businesses. Many people around us were opening small mom-and-pop shops — except for my parents. They were doctors and they felt very limited by their careers. So I remember thinking, “It’s kind of unfair that my parents spent so much of their lives studying, investing in their careers, and being good at what they do, yet we’re still barely making ends meet.” I wanted to help, so I decided to try and start something on my own. What entrepreneurship started to mean to me was courage, expression of freedom, creativity, and growth. It had this very noble, very positive connotation in my mind.

          So I started buying raw peanuts from local farms, and I began roasting them, packaging them, and selling them through wholesale retailers to restaurant chains. I created a real operation that was powered by me and my younger brother. With that very basic business, I made more money than my parents combined. That was the beginning of my self-sufficiency and independence that my grandmother always talked about. It was both exciting, but also disillusioning in some ways to know that I can make more money than my parents with a lot less education and experience.

          Why did you decide to immigrate to the United States?

          One of the things that was so defining for me in my childhood was that my parents valued education, ethics, persistence, and commitment to personal growth. My mother was an ENT (ears, nose, and throat) surgeon, and my father was a neurologist, yet they still barely made ends meet as a family. That was the reality of communism — where everyone was supposed to be equal — that made no sense to me. I knew I didn’t want my life to end up like that.

          During that time of change in post-communist Bulgaria, many people of my generation saw the U.S. as the symbol of meritocracy and the victory of capitalism. It was a very natural place for me as a teenager who wanted to build a better life to end up, but getting to the U.S. was very difficult.

          The person who opened my eyes to studying in the States was a young American volunteer who was teaching English in my hometown. Through him, I learned that I could apply to schools in the States, that they give financial aid to foreigners, and that it’s a real possibility. It was a long process, but I ended up contacting over 100 schools. I asked all of them to waive the application fee, and I applied for financial aid at every single school. I was very lucky to get into 12 schools on full scholarship.

          So I moved here in 1998, started at Harvard, and studied computer science even though I had never owned a computer and was very clearly behind all of my classmates. I thought technology was a growing market, and there was a real need for software engineers. I worked the whole time while I was at Harvard as a teaching assistant, later did internships with Microsoft during the summers, and ultimately, ended up working for Microsoft as a software engineer in 2002.

          You mentioned capitalism. There’s increasing backlash against capitalism with critics saying it needs a major overhaul to better serve society. Given your experience growing up in a country where you witnessed the effects of communism, do you think capitalism needs to be reformed?

          I firmly believe that we live in the best place in the world, and I say that unapologetically. That being said, I also realize that we have some challenges we need to work through.

          On the other hand, capitalism has left many people disillusioned. The equality gap is wide and widening, and it’s become a vicious, reinforcing cycle. I have to say I do appreciate the discussions going on especially by capitalists like Ray Dalio and Jamie Dimon who talk about ways to create more upward mobility. I think these are good discussions to be had, and it’s a way to evolve capitalism with the times.

          How did you end up in venture capital?

          I spent four years at Microsoft as an engineer and a product manager. There, I worked on security products and then decided to go to business school. I attended Stanford, and that’s how I ultimately ended up in venture capital. Toward the end of my second year, I was introduced to Venrock, where I was focused on helping the team source investment opportunities in enterprise software and cybersecurity.

          While you were at Venrock, you led the first institutional investment round in Cloudflare, which just went public. What did you see in the company and the team that gave you the confidence to back them so early?

          I invested in Cloudflare exactly 10 years ago. There were three things that stood out to me. They were going after a really painful problem, which was that 50% of traffic is not authentic. It could be malicious. They were going after a customer group which was completely ignored, which was the long tail of the web. They said they would build a service that cleans up traffic to web properties from the long tail of the web — and they would do it for free and find other ways to monetize the business. That was very counterintuitive to how most security companies think. Most security companies would build a product or service and try to sell it to the biggest customers — the ones that have the biggest budgets. It was very contrarian what they were trying to do, but at the same time, it made a lot of sense.

          The team was thoughtful, persistent, and they had a clear vision around what they wanted to build. I just had a lot of faith in them that they would execute, and I’m really happy with how far they’ve come on this journey. Seeing them go public made me feel validated in my belief in them from Day 1 when they didn’t have anything — they didn’t have a single line of code.

          For me, it starts with the founders and how clear and persistent they are in their vision. It really is a character judgment that’s very difficult to explain, but it’s one of the most important aspects of early-stage investing.

          How do you tell if an entrepreneur is a true visionary or just completely delusional?

          It’s really hard. I think the same person can be both, and probably many of them are both, so it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two. I think the ability to execute is so important, and that’s where the distinction lies. Successful founders stand out in their ability to perform and execute.

          I also value transparency, honesty, respect for the facts, and self-awareness. I think a grasp for reality and pragmatism has to be there. If those things aren’t there, it’s almost impossible to work collaboratively with the team.

          What sector or company are you most excited about right now?

          I work on several areas at USVP focused on the enterprise tech space, but the one I feel most excited about is cybersecurity. I think security problems and security threats evolve faster than issues in almost any other industry. Security threats are aggressive, they evolve really fast, and their mutations are almost infinite. Because of those dynamics, cybersecurity is a very challenging problem to solve.

          Technologies become obsolete very quickly, and innovation cycles have to be very rapid. Even in the worst of times when budgets get cut for everything else, cybersecurity budgets continue to grow 10% year over year. That makes it a very attractive market for me to continue investing in.

          What do you think about emerging assets like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? Have you invested in any blockchain companies?

          We have not made any investments in Bitcoin or blockchain technology. It’s an area I’m following closely and studying, but I don’t feel prepared to make investments in it just yet. There are definitely opportunities in the infrastructure building in that ecosystem to make investments. But I also think as an industry, it’s still in Version 1. There will be more iterations and more opportunities for investors to play in that space in the future.

          Do you think blockchain technology could have implications for cybersecurity?

          For sure. I think blockchain as a technology could be quite interesting when applied to security, and also the other way around: Security is a very important consideration for the existence and acceptance for the growth of those assets. Security is a foundational layer and it has to be figured out before [crypto assets] become broadly adopted by the mainstream.

          It’s been a little more than 10 years since you started in venture capital. How has the ecosystem changed since 2008 and 2009, and how important do you think capital efficiency is in a world of seemingly unlimited funding?

          It’s incredible how much things have changed in 10 years. When I started, there were only a handful of seed funds, and now, there are hundreds of seed funds on one end of the spectrum. On the other end of the spectrum, the large funds have become even larger. The abundance of capital on the late-stage is just enormous. As a result, we’re seeing inflating late-stage company valuations, companies staying private longer, and massive IPOs by the time they go public.

          In a time of abundant capital, capital efficiency has become even more important. I think capital efficiency is ultimately freedom. It gives you choices. It gives you options. It gives entrepreneurs the freedom to operate and not be imprisoned by their burn rate. Bigger funds talk a lot about growth at all costs and very rarely mention capital efficiency. I think efficient and responsible growth is way more important in the long-term. We’re starting to see some of that with companies going public that are wildly unprofitable. Public investors don’t seem to agree that the growth at all costs is the most important factor in determining whether a business is successful.

          Speaking of going public, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel recently said that going public was a very challenging experience. One specific thing he said that’s made a big difference is being more transparent with investors by providing quarterly guidance. How do you see some of these private companies that are used to keeping things quiet adapt to the more transparent nature of the public markets?

          Different companies have different boards with different expectations. It’s not as strict or clear cut as it is in the public markets. I have noticed that when a company is doing well and growing rapidly, private investors tend to forgive more. They tend to become less vigilant, while public investors are a lot more strict and much less forgiving.

          It’s a different mindset, so it really depends on what type of private board a company has been accustomed to. There are private boards that are just as demanding and detail-oriented as public investors. But for some, being public may come as a complete shock when the CEO realizes there’s a whole new way of doing things now.

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