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Benchmark investor Sarah Tavel on her time at Pinterest



Sarah Tavel
Benchmark General Partner Sarah Tavel spent three years
at Pinterest.


  • A few years at a high growth startup will teach you as
    much as 20 years as a venture capitalist, according to
    Benchmark General Partner Sarah Tavel.
  • In an interview with Fortune, Tavel said that after her
    three year sprint at Pinterest, she’s no longer “frazzled” or
    “running for cover” when there are little bumps in the
  • Working at a high growth startup has also helped her
    empathize more with founders and how hard it is to scale a

Sarah Tavel, a general partner and investor with well-known
venture firm Benchmark, has a secret weapon: She knows what it’s
like to work at a high-growth startup. 

In an
interview with Fortune
published Thursday, Tavel jokingly
compared herself to a grizzled war veteran in a World War II
movie, unphased by the chaos going on around her. 

“They would be sitting there, smoking their cigarettes when a
little bomb goes off. All the new recruits run for their guns or
jump for cover, while the veterans are still smoking their
cigarettes,” Tavel told Fortune. “By the end of your experience
at a high-growth company, you’re the veteran smoking the

“And that’s who you want on your board,” she added. “You don’t
want the person who is going to be jumping for their gun or
running for cover when there’s a little bump in the road because
there will always be bumps. You want the person who
isn’t frazzled by it and is always focused on the long-term. You
can get that from 20 years of being a venture investor or from a
few years of being an operator.”

[These 23 venture capitalists are picking the winners and shaping
the future of work]

For Tavel, that startup experience came from Pinterest, which she
joined in 2012 as a product manager. She first met the Pinterest
team when it was just five people. She was an investor at
Bessemer Venture Partners and participated in its Series A
funding round. 

She believed in Pinterest so deeply that she briefly left the
world of venture capital to help scale the startup.

In her three years on the ground, Tavel said the biggest lesson
she learned was just how hard it is to run a company. And she
thinks she’s a better investor as the result.

“One, you have an immediate level of empathy for the founders
because it’s so freaking hard. Two, I’m much more interested than
I used to be in the thought process that got to the metric
they’re focused on today because that reflects how they’re
running their company,” she told Fortune. 

“As a VC, you can take that process for granted and not see all
the strategic thinking that goes behind figuring out what the
company should focus on,” she said. “From the outside, you see
the manifestation of all the small decisions that happen without
realizing all the work that goes on behind it.”

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