DRF Partner Feature: UPenn’s Josh Lee — Philly’s Managing Partner & Design Guru
Just like you, all our investment partners at Dorm Room Fund are students just as passionate about startups coming from different backgrounds! Today, we’re featuring Philly’s Managing Partner Josh Lee.
Bio: Josh is currently a Junior at Penn, studying Visual Studies. You’re most likely to find him working in some coffee shop on campus (or at First Round). Josh has done design work for organizations like the White House, Facebook, and Prayas Analytics (a Dorm Room Fund company). He joined Dorm Room Fund freshman year and is now one of the Managing Partners on the Philadelphia team. Connect with him on Twitter @lee94josh.
How did you first get interested in startups?
Reading Twitter. Seriously. God bless that addicting, beautiful mess of a product.
The first “tech” internship I ever held was at Red Antler, a design firm in Brooklyn. They do awesome work and it was a great environment to learn in. But, because I was just out of high school and had zero actual skills, I was delegated to Social Media intern. This meant that, among other things, I basically spent all day scrolling through Twitter (I have since refined and mastered this skill. By the 10,000 hour rule, Malcolm Gladwell would certainly deem me an expert.).
While I had long been interested in technology, it was that fall — scrolling through the infinite space-Twitter continuum — that I started to truly follow the ins-and-outs of the startup world. I ate up every funding announcement, read every blog post I could, and, probably most importantly, tried to identify and interact with the people who seemed like the key players in the space.
For better or worse, anything I know about about technology I’ve probably learned 140 characters at a time.
What was your experience like working in the White House this past summer?
Inspiring! And really fun.
I think a lot of people go into public service driven by the knowledge that the work is important and vital for our society. And getting involved for that reason alone is so admirable.
What I didn’t realize was just how fun and exciting the work would be as well. I think I had this idea before that there was this trade off between fun work and important work, and that doesn’t seem to be true. My work this summer was faster paced and provided more interesting creative challenges than any other role I’ve held. The people I worked with were not simply good; they were world-class technologists, and I learned an immense amount from simply being in the same room as them.
I will never disparage someone who goes to work for a technology company that some may deem as “silly” or “unhelpful”. Value is created and derived in many unexpected and hard to measure ways. I’ve worked on seemingly “silly” projects before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. That said, now more than ever, I’d love nothing more to see a little more of our vast and expanding pool of tech talent aligned towards public service. Everyone doesn’t have to go. But just a little more. I think the resource allocation just isn’t that great right now.
Why did you join Dorm Room Fund?
I never thought I’d want to be in VC and I didn’t apply to Dorm Room Fund hoping to get into VC. But, after 2 years of talking with inspiring founders, investing in awesome companies, and working under one of the best seed-stage investment firms in the world… well, I still don’t want to be in VC. I think it’s really cool, just not for me.
I joined Dorm Room Fund to learn more about startups and to surround myself with people much smarter than I am. Even now, I still don’t think I fully appreciate how much I’ve learned from all the founders and other partners on our team I’ve had the chance to interact with.
Also, the network. And I don’t mean “network” as a dirty work. “Community” and “relationships” would also do the trick. When you join Dorm Room Fund, either as a founder or a partner, you are instantly plugged into the startup scene on your campus, in your city, and around the country. I’ve made extremely close friends while on Dorm Room Fund and feel like I could land in most cities around the country and have people within our community to grab coffee with. That’s awesome.
What do you look for in startups and student founders?
First off, commitment. Yes, in some ways, starting a company in school is great. There are resources and support systems that don’t exist once you give up your .edu email address. You also have a built in safety net which, while arguably counterproductive in some cases, does provide some people with the freedom to take risks that they couldn’t otherwise.
That said, in other ways, starting something in school is harder. Putting something into the world that people need is hard enough without layering on a full course load, clubs, and the social aspects of college. With this in mind, I try early on to gauge a founder’s commitment to the project and their motivations, as well as past evidence that a student is able to get stuff done.
For startups, I get excited when I see a company has an actual, strong thesis on… something. Even when I disagree with it, I love to see founders come in and say: we have this belief of the world, so we’re building X accordingly. If you can come in and clearly state your problem, what you believe, and what you’re building… it sounds so simple, but it would put you ahead of most people.
What is the one thing that gets you excited?
I love the process of making stuff. It’s so brutal and beautiful and there’s no way around it. The first version of everything sucks. You have no option but to iterate, edit, and work your way through it.
Taken further, I love thinking about what productive constraints can be put on your process. For example, I’ve started writing my first drafts in bullet points to relieve some of the pressure to get things perfect the first time. Thinking through that stuff really gets me going.
Is there anybody you look up to?
President Obama. Probably a cliche answer, but oh well. He’s such a nuanced thinker at a time when that’s not rewarded. I not only aspire to be like him in many ways, but would, at some point down the road, love to work under him in whatever he ends up doing next.