At USV we believe in the power of network effects. This belief weaves heavily into our investment strategy, how we help our companies think about building businesses, and naturally, in the post-investment stage in how we think about building our portfolio network. We also believe that the most successful networks have super users as they provide a lot of kinetic energy to the network. We are constantly looking for ways to leverage these super users to bolster the effectiveness of our portfolio network overall.
In line with this thinking, two years ago we launched a program that would focus on these super users – our Network Leaders Program. Since launch, we’ve learned a lot and thought we’d share some insights from building a program to support and empower these leaders.
The goal of this inaugural program was to empower exceptional employees within the portfolio to amplify their voices, strengthen their communities, and increase awareness of their companies, roles, and areas of interest. During the time of launch, the USV network had approximately 9,000 – 10,000 employees across more than 10 countries and 20 cities. In two years, we now have over 85 active portfolio companies and 10,000+ network members so the pool is ever changing and always growing.
Here’s what we’ve learned from the two years we’ve been running this program:
- Leaders want to spend time with other leaders. We underestimated how much these leaders would want to interact with each other. They not only wanted to be an ambassador within the USV portfolio, but also were really excited about the opportunity to engage with other high performing leaders. There is a mentorship element and “local chapter” style format that could make this more impactful.
- Events are only one way to engage a community. Other areas that are just as important include successful online engagement (ie Slack) and content aggregation and curation.
- People are incredibly busy. Core to building a successful program is making sure participants are bought in. Incentivizing buy-in with some (but not too much) upfront work aligns expectations and creates a cohesive experience.
Since its inception, this program has evolved to better meet the needs of our network. Here is an overview of each phase thus far:
Program 1: Fall 2017 – Spring 2019
Initially, we thought network leaders might be best served in helping us coordinate and lead our most demanding network function — our programming and events. Within six months, each leader managed 2 events, from ideation to execution and tapped into the USV team for marketing and broad, portfolio outreach. Over the course of 18 months, we facilitated over 40 Network-Leader events that engaged over 500 individuals. One group of Network Leaders collaborated and built a 5 day event series called “Level Up” in San Francisco. This program alone engaged over 300 individuals!
Program 2: Summer 2019 – present
We learned that events are one way to build a community, however they can be time consuming and challenging to plan and execute. Therefore, the second version shifted to a communications and content-driven focus. Having recently restructured our network programming into 12 specific functional tracks, we hoped these network leaders could serve a new purpose. These network leaders will be ambassadors within their respective functional area and will help surface pertinent news and articles in person and online, increase engagement on and offline, and be the “connective tissue” for that track.
We are still early in the process of building out this program and discovering what works and what needs tweaking. Again, since we believe that successful communities support and empower their super users (ie network leaders), this program is one example of how we’re trying to strengthen the USV portfolio network. Our network leaders say it best in that “it’s a very special opportunity to leverage access to so many brilliant people, to create something larger. I hope that it can be a beacon for what these kinds of professional “networks” can be.”