Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Ventures on Nuclear Reactors, Failure and Asking Questions

Here is an excerpt from David Gelles’ profile of Rebecca Lynn for The New York Times. To read the complete article and check out others, please click here.

Credit: Mike Cohen for The New York Times

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The venture capitalist talks about going from “being a player on the field to being a coach” and what it’s like to see your company lose 98 percent of its value in one day.

“I think society is going to have a come-to-Jesus moment about what the true state of privacy is,” Rebecca Lynn says. “It isn’t existent today, and I think people are just sort of blissfully ignorant of that fact.”

As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, from which she graduated in 1996, Rebecca Lynn had an unusual campus job: she worked at the local nuclear reactor. She says her time there — assisting with cancer research — helped inspire her ultimate career trajectory.

Today, Ms. Lynn is a partner at Canvas Ventures, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, where she invests in early-stage companies doing work in artificial intelligence, digital health and financial technology. She was named one of the top-20 venture investors by CB Insights in 2016, and this year ranked 31st on the Forbes Midas List.

Her best known bet was an early investment in Lending Club, the peer-to-peer lender that went public in 2014. That deal was initially a financial success, but has had a messy aftermath. In 2016, the chief executive, Renaud Laplanche, was ousted after an internal investigation found problems with the company’s lending process.

Before joining Canvas Ventures, Ms. Lynn worked at Morgenthaler Ventures, NextCard and Procter & Gamble.

This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted in New York City.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in a small town. My parents farmed in the Midwest: corn, soybeans, that kind of stuff. Neither graduated from college. My grandparents were around and they had cattle. So we got to feed baby cows and do all of that. Now I’ve bought a ranch. I have a baby cow in the front lawn, and a pony and chickens and a peacock in the back yard. It’s really important for my kids to know where food comes from.

What did you study in school?

I went to Mizzou and studied chemical engineering. I don’t know if anyone goes in there thinking, “God, I want to be a chemical engineer.” I mean, you make drugs, bombs, booze and oil. But I worked at a nuclear research reactor when I was there. Mizzou has the highest-powered nuclear research reactor in the country, and so what comes with that are some really cool geeky things, like the space crystals from NASA and the O-rings from the space shuttle and all kinds of super magnets and semiconductors and all that great stuff. It probably informs my being a V.C. today. I’d just go look at all the amazing research, talking to these world-class scientists, and I learned a ton.

After school you worked at Procter & Gamble. What did you learn from your time there?

“Profit and God.” I loved working there. So many things that I learned at P&G I sort of grudgingly learned at the time, like how to write a memo or how to give a presentation. I look at that now, I’m like, “Thank God they taught me how to do that.” You think V.C.s are hard? It’s nothing compared getting grilled at P&G when you do presentations.

But there’s a certain amount of commonality within everyone there. People work very hard, they’re very ethically kind of focused, and they’re very Type A and data-driven and quantitative.

Is that kind of uniformity a good thing?

There are times when it’s a good thing, when it’s more a momentum play, perhaps. But I don’t think it’s good for innovation. P&G really struggled with innovation and how to do brand-new things. If you get group think going, it’s really hard to break out of that.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Gelles writes the Corner Office column and other features for The New York Times’s Sunday Business section, and works with the Well team to expand The Times‘s coverage of meditation.

To learn more about him and his work, please click here.


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