Monday, October 19, 2015

Meet Venture Capital’s Teenage Analyst

By Christopher Mimms

In Silicon Valley, a place where the college-dropout startup founder—think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg—is lionized, it is hard to stand out on account of precociousness or youth. But as she takes me on a tour of Binary Capital, the venture-capital firm where she is an analyst and an associate, Tiffany Zhong manages to.

That’s because Ms. Zhong, or Tiff as everyone calls her, is 18 years old.

Ms. Zhong has a job at venture-capital firm Binary Capital that is usually reserved for a startup founder or an M.B.A. And yet, if you spend enough time with her, you discover that she seems no less ready to step into her new role than people a decade older and with many years more hands-on experience.

In a business in which relationships are all-important, Ms. Zhong has already managed to accumulate a set of contacts that would be the envy of anyone charged with finding the next hot consumer-tech startup—the only kind in which Binary Capital invests. Her mentors include Stewart Butterfield, chief executive of Slack, and Steve Sinofsky, former head of Windows at Microsoft Corp. and a board partner at venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

But even more important for Ms. Zhong’s “deal flow”—the startups she finds that Binary Capital, which manages $125 million, will invest in—are the young entrepreneurs with whom she is connected. One of her advantages with the freshest crop of startup founders in the Bay Area is that many of them are the same age as she is, or even younger.

“I’d show you where I live, but they don’t allow journalists there any more,” says Ms. Zhong, as she finishes her dinner at Mau, a noodle shop in San Francisco’s hip, rapidly gentrifying Mission district. Her abode, called Mission Control, is just across the street, and as a sort of high-price commune for extremely young hackers—the oldest resident is 22, she estimates—it has been the subject of many profiles.

Before Binary Capital, Ms. Zhong was an intern at Product Hunt, the hot startup that crowdsources a daily digest of the latest apps and tech gewgaws. While her classmates were worrying about what college they would get into (Ms. Zhong was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley, but deferred) she spent every spare moment helping manage the site. Before that, she was involved in various hackathons and their corresponding Facebook Groups, where she met many of the people who formed the nucleus of her personal and professional network.

Ryan Hoover, founder of Startup Hunt, thinks of Ms. Zhong as being in the same cohort as many of the young entrepreneurs he sees announcing products on his site.

“There’s a lot of similarities between artists and musicians from 20 years ago and entrepreneurship today,” says Mr. Hoover, who repeats the same thing everyone in tech says nowadays—that it is easier than ever to build a product. “They can launch things the same way someone would once be playing guitar when they were 13 or 14.”

Read the rest here.

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