Why Venture Capital Needs Operators with Operator Collective’s Mallun Yen

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This is a podcast episode titled, Why Venture Capital Needs Operators with Operator Collective’s Mallun Yen. The summary for this episode is: <p>There’s an “aha” moment when you’re teaching someone something. You become more clear in your own point of view and you realize how much you know about that particular topic.</p><p><br></p><p>That moment of realization is exactly what happened to this week’s guest, Mallun Yen. Mallun is the the Founder and General Partner of Operator Collective, a VC fund and community comprised of tech’s most sought-after operators from diverse backgrounds.</p><p><br></p><p>Her “aha” moment led her to approach the unapproachable world of Venture Capital in a whole new way: through the lens of an operator. In our conversation, we explore that “aha” moment behind The Operator Collective, why venture didn’t feel accessible to her and Operators like her, and how we all can become like the 137 Operator LPs in Operator Collective’s fund.</p><p><br></p><p>Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Sean and Mallun on Twitter @Seany_Biz @mallun and @DriftPodcasts</p>
How Mallun is pulling together a community of Operators
02:05 MIN
How starting as an operator can help you venture later in your career
01:38 MIN
Utilizing Data: How Mallun and team might start leveraging their collective superpowers in the future
03:25 MIN

Sean Lee: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Operations, the show where we look under the hood of companies in hyper- growth. My name is Sean Lee. There's this pretty amazing thing that happens when you have to teach somebody something. By forcing yourself to articulate what it is you're trying to teach, you both become more clear in your own point of view about that thing. And you realize, " Wow. I actually know a lot about this topic." That moment of realization is exactly what happened to our guest today. And her aha moment led her to approach the unapproachable world of venture capital in a whole new way, through the lens of an operator. Our guest today is Mallun Yen, the Founder and CEO of the Operator Collective, a VC fund and community comprised, not of the typical VC prognosticators that you'll find on Twitter, but instead, populated by tech's most sought after operators from diverse backgrounds. Mallun is a former intellectual property attorney, turned enterprise operator, turned VC. In our conversation, we're going to talk about that aha moment behind the Operator Collective. We'll explore why VC didn't feel accessible to her and operators like her. And we'll learn all that we can about the 137 operator LPs in the Operator Collective's fund. To start, I asked Mallun to take me back to the catalyst for starting Operator Collective in the first place, and how she arrived at the point of view that operators were best positioned to help growing companies.

Mallun Yen: Originally, there was not a grand plan, which is like, " Aha. You know what, I know that operators are needed." It wasn't actually that conscious. So my background is I have the, probably, oddest background for someone who has started a VC fund. I actually started out my career as an intellectual property attorney. How many of those have you had on the show?

Sean Lee: Zero. I'm pretty sure.

Mallun Yen: One now, okay? And so it's a little bit of a long answer to your question, which is my first startup was a nonprofit that I started on the side because there were very few women in patent law actually at the time. And that ended up growing to 5, 000 members in 22 chapters around the world. The second one was actually a venture back startup in the patent risk reduction in insurance space. Because I only do like sexy industries like that. And we grew that from zero to 100 million in public in less than three years. But I was such an outsider to venture. I didn't realize there was anything actually unusual about that. And then the third one was having a front seat from the ground up at SaaStr. So a lot of these companies that are now going public were just getting off the ground. This is when people were asking like, " What does SaaS stand for?" And like, "Ew, why are you into enterprise software? Could anything be boring than that?" And so Operator Collective is the culmination of all those experiences, but it wasn't like, " Oh, I see what's happening. Here's what I'm going to do." What happened is that venture back company was a very niche, it was a very strange company to be public. So 10 years after the company was started we took it private again. And after we sold the company and took it private, I had a moment to step back and for probably the first time in my life or career to step back and say, " Hey, what do I want to do?" And I knew I loved working with startups and I loved working with founders but I always felt a bit of an outsider. I wasn't part of the in crowd of the VC world and always felt like, " Oh wow, like they can do all these things. They know how to invest in the next Twitter. They know how to do this and they're always tweeting to each other. They have these huge presences on social media. And here I am." which is, I mostly identify as an enterprise operator. but as I started to dip my toe into saying, " Hey, I'm trying to figure out what I want to do." It turned out that a lot of the wanted to talk to me and a lot of the VCs wanted to introduce me to their portfolio companies because it actually turned out that not that many people had grown revenue basically from the ground up to 300 million in the enterprise. But when you're so immersed in something, you sometimes don't realize that you actually know things that other people don't. And so my aha moment was sitting there talking to probably my fifth founder, knowing also I didn't have the net worth to be able to just invest in all these on my own or the time to advise. And the first few times it happened, I'm like, " Wow. They think everything I'm saying is so helpful and brilliant." I'm like, " This is second nature." But then when I step back, what I realized is, " Well, of course it's second nature to me. I live my life in the enterprise and then sold to the enterprise." But a lot of these founders and some of the VCs as well, they're super smart, they're super motivated and hardworking and determined. But a lot of them have never actually bought enterprise software, sold enterprise software, used enterprise software, been in an enterprise. And when you haven't been in an enterprise and also built large teams... And so if you haven't been in an enterprise, it's actually hard to get the training you get. I actually tell sort of people coming right out of school, " Actually, you should go to big company because you'll get great training that you otherwise can't really to get elsewhere." And so, that was the aha moment which is wow. First of all, it was like, " Oh they want to talk to me." And it's like, " Oh, they think what I'm saying is really interesting." And it's like, " Oh, well of course they do because they're smart. They know that once you put that initial idea and you muscle it off the ground..." You can't just hire a bunch of natural athletes to grow and scale your company. You actually need people who have been there done that. And so that was when I said, " Of course they need people like me, but I just didn't realize it because venture felt so unachievable and unattainable. And then I realized that, well, because you tend to know a lot of people like you... I knew a lot of enterprise operators who had built and scaled up companies like... My company was Cisco and Salesforce and Google and Stripe and beyond. And that they were also feeling like me, which is they are working a huge day job, climbing the corporate ladder. A lot of us were 40 and over, trained to juggle raising a family. And most of us were women and people of color as well. And so my moment was, " You know what, if we could..." And I'm also an operator, so I hate inefficiency. So I would hate for everyone to have to inaudible

Sean Lee: I have to solve this void.

Mallun Yen: Which is if I solve it for myself which is... I spent a year sort of meeting with people and trying to understand what the issues were. And then I was like, " Oh, I've solved it for me. Why don't I just share it with everyone else? So I also knew that if we could find a way to bring all this extremely talented operating talent into the venture ecosystem in a way that was accessible to these busy, busy operators who have these humongous day jobs, then we would be able to pretty much invest in all kinds of great companies. And at the same time, what we'd be doing is we'd expand wealth creation. So it wasn't that same group of individuals, the homogenous dominant group, who, again, and again, are deciding which companies will be successful, which companies will be funded, what the culture looks like, what it looks like when those companies grow in scale. And so, is about expanding wealth creation and literally bringing our natural, more diverse networks into the venture ecosystem. So we change the tech industry from the ground up because forced diversity doesn't work. If we could align financial incentives, expand wealth creation and make it natural for these networks of people that don't intersect. I was an example. I was in the tech industry. I had been a part of the founding team as this venture back startup that we had grown up. I'd been part of SaaS from the early days, but I totally felt like an outsider, venture was not accessible to me. I wasn't a long time angel investor, was not engaged in all these companies because I just didn't feel like that was something that I had the skill set to do. So that is why, which is I didn't have that grand plan at the beginning. But as I went through this own experience for myself, I realized there's an opportunity here to, not just bring operators in for the sake of bringing operators in for the sake of helping founders. But yes, we want to do that, but it's a deeper mission of literally changing the face of, hopefully, the tech industry and beyond from the ground up in a way that expands the power dynamic by expanding wealth creation.

Sean Lee: The mission part of what you guys do is just so admirable. Hearing you explain it and looking backwards, it feels so obvious. And yet, it's taken a long time to actually leverage the expertise of these operators inside of these fast growing companies, inside of the folks that have been there, done that. Do you think it's because of simply what you said around people felt like there was just too big of a barrier to entry or there wasn't that overlap between the worlds. Because now to hear you explain, it's like, " Why weren't people doing this a long time ago?"

Mallun Yen: Yeah. Lots of reasons for that, Sean, including that, sort of at a larger level, it's because the venture world was not set up to be friendly to busy operators. Just like the corporate world. And I actually think that one of the upsides to COVID is that you no longer have to have this rigid construct of going into a corporate day job from 8: 00 to 5: 00. Which doesn't work when you don't have a stay at home spouse or doesn't work very well when you have the childcare situation that you have in the United States and you don't have... When you're starting out your career and etc. And so it was the same with venture. It was like, " How are you supposed to meet these founders that you're supposed to invest in?" You either go get a computer science degree at Stanford, or go to the GSB or something like that. Or you go to these happy hours where you try to meet people, because it is all about relationships. But the last thing that people like me who are trying to juggle it all, want to do at 5: 00 PM is like go to a happy hour to meet a bunch of 20 something year olds to figure out what to invest in. It's just not our scene. And so what I wanted to do was, instead of making all of these incredibly talented, mostly women and people of color and immigrants fall in the category... I call them women for shorthand but I encompass sort all these categories. Which is, instead of saying, " Okay, you women need to conform busy lives and your priorities into this rigid construct of how you typically source for deals and how you typically will meet with founders." I was like, " That's not going to work." Because one, I don't want to do that. And two, I would say they have their priorities straight. What they want to do at the end of the day is go home to their families or their friends, or maybe get some exercise. And so, what I want to do with Operator Collective is, if I could build something that was so compelling, the venture world would come to us. And we could do it on our terms. And also the way I set up Operator Collective as a... and I'm a builder of products and new businesses and so it's like, I also had to build something that was friendly for the operators. And so because in some ways, our product is our operating talent and our operating network and our customers are founders. And we've always built it that way. We run this like a company not a typical venture fund, even though it's a fund and structure. And so, that was the idea behind it, was to make it accessible because it's like you kind of want to do it, but how do I get in? And this was not about just angel investing for the sake of angel investing or investing for the sake investing. This was about investing in the best companies and making a shit load of money for the people who aren't engaged in this wealth creation right now. And then the other thing was to concentrate that effort into this community that we have mutually aligned incentives. And make sure that the people who are involved in this... Or do our best to make sure that people are all values aligned. So the companies that we're helping to accelerate and make more successful are those that we think are making the world a better place, not by having the next great soup kitchen software or something like that. But because you treat people well because you value culture, because you value diversity because you value pushing the limits beyond, sort of the typical usual suspects. And so, that was the idea behind it. And then on one more point, and you might be surprised when you look at our website and you see our 137 and operator LPs who were part of fund one in the launch. Over 70% had never invested in venture before. And you look at these people, you're like, " Well, why not?" And we actually surveyed them before we launched. And it was because, " Never been asked. Didn't think I was qualified. Didn't have time." But a lot of them just weren't asked. And so the idea behind Operator Collective was always to have this be an access point to venture to say, " Hey, you are an investor. You have a lot to add. Let's make it easy for you, but let's not just do it like make you recreate the wheel." Like I did for my year off or my year of exploration. But to say, " Here's all the things. Here's the tools, here's some new intros." And then also we do things like collectively diligence things. Ultimately, the fund makes the decision on what we invest in, but it's a way of working across the community to figure out what are the best companies? And so that's why. Now it seems obvious like, " Of course, you need these people." But remember when I started Operator Collective, this is back in 2018, operators were not like, " Oh, you're an operator." They were not. They were somehow in this world of venture. VCs have put themselves at the top. I actually have no idea why VCs are at the top. VCs should actually be at the bottom. And yes, I recognize I am a VC, but I mostly identify as an operator. It's really the founders and the operators who should be at the top. The VCs are there to support, but this doesn't work. Money is easy to come by these days. And so it is about the founders. And the founders very, very quickly realize, " I cannot do this without the operators." But back in 2018, it's like everything was around the VCs and the founders tweeting to each other and having all these events and things like that, putting each other on these lists and stuff. And us operators who were focused... And I mostly talk about just enterprise because that's what we do. It's like just, " Oh, you just work for a big company." Or you've helped do that but you are employee 500 at Salesforce. You aren't part of the early team. But now I think people were realize more than ever the value of it.

Sean Lee: It's crazy to hear Mallun talk about the word operator as almost this dirty word in that context. But looking back at just her story, it's clear the trajectory and transformation operators have undergone in such a short period of time. When you hear it in its entirety, Mallun's story and the Operator Collective's mission are things to marvel at. But here's the thing. If you're listening to this show, what she's saying doesn't just apply to her. It likely applies to you as well. If you've worked in a fast growing company or seen specific parts of a company's journey before, it's really hard for somebody else to replicate that in any sort of training. Founders, VCs, everybody wanted to talk to Mallun and found what she had to say interesting and valuable. I want to spend some more time on the 137 operator LPs that Mallun mentioned. Because if you're like me, you're listening to this and thinking, " Wow, I want to be one of them someday." Mallun and the team at the Operator Collective are finding values aligned companies that treat people well, value diversity, and oh by the way, aren't shy about the fact that they are there to create wealth for their partners in an industry that felt inaccessible to them. I wrote down her stat that 70% of their operator LPs hadn't invested in venture before. If you look at the roster of people on their website, that stat will floor you. So who are these people? What did Mallun mean when she said she was putting together a community of operators? She said that when they launched, they actually had to define what an operator was.

Mallun Yen: So venture funds have limited partner investors who are investors in the fund. And your typical venture fund, it was institutional investors, high net worth individuals, family offices who put in millions and millions of dollars. And then certain venture funds would then ask the portfolio CEOs who'd gotten a big exit to say, " Do you want to invest?" And so only a select few people had been able to invest. And usually the buy- in number is at least$ 250, 000, which is a lot of money for... Just it's a lot of money. And so, what I started with was not the CEOs actually, although we have a number of CEO who are in it. We have a number of CEOs and founders, what I joke, but I'm only sort of joking, which is if you're a founder you can be part of Operator Collective and you can be an operator if you're founder who can scale. So operators are sort of a heightened level of, "Are you someone who knows how to build and scale?" And I joke because I do love all of our founders and CEOs in our portfolio. They're hyper talented, do a very good job. Anyway, so what I started with was actually not the CEOs, even though we, like I said, we have a number of phenomenal CEOs, like Eric and others. But I started with the people who are really building and growing and scaling these, really the most admired companies in the world. So the COOs or the people who are on the ground floor in building up Salesforce and Stripe and New Relic and CloudFlare, etc. And then we actually ended up with some CEOs along the way too. But really, we started with the people who are on the ground actually building this stuff and running this stuff on a daily basis and have felt the pain and have... Because those are the people who really weren't participating. The CEOs had a lot of those opportunities. And so that's who we started with.

Sean Lee: And I know you are now encouraging other folks. One of the reasons why I reached out to you was you were publicly saying, " Look, I have a lot of people asking for my advice about how to break into this industry." And your kind of go- to advice at this point is, " Go be an operator." And so I'm curious, if you want to see these candidates learn and grow and come out the other side, what is it that you want them to walk away from their operating experience with such that they can then ultimately provide value to Operator Collective portfolio companies someday?

Mallun Yen: So this is a problem because I'm hiring for our investing team. And so I was interviewing a number of associates and super smart, really, really phenomenally talented associates. But every time I ended the conversation, especially for those who would never operate before, I'm like, "Are you sure you really want to do venture? You really should think about operating because you can always go to venture later if you want to. But if you really want to truly understand the founder journey and the startup journey go to operating and think about it. And if you're interested in operating, let me know because we'll put you somewhere in our network." And so I guess for better or worse, all of those people have come back to me to say, " I thought about what you said and I'm going to look for a job operating." So the pitch for anyone who's listening on the podcast is now we still need to hire that associate because everyone I've been talking to, I've been telling to go back to operating. Doesn't mean that everyone should. And I just think that you should have some operating experience. It gives you some context for whatever you do later in life. And it can range from being at an early stage startup, if that's what you love. It could be actually getting some really phenomenal training at a high growth startup, late stage growth startup. Or maybe a it's going to a big company. I was at a big company, even though Cisco has felt like a startup when I was there. There were already thousands of people, but a lot of times even those big companies have startup aspects of them layered on top of really phenomenal training.

Sean Lee: And I would have to imagine too, just with the community that you've built, you now have this kind of very broad network of companies that have these operational superstars at them. That if you want people or know people who want to get that experience, you now have this network that you could potentially either place or introduce these people to because they're all the LPs in your fund, right?

Mallun Yen: Yeah. And that's what this was trying... This was deliberate. There's a lot of things that the original idea, I didn't know back in 2017 that, " Okay, I'm going to build a fund that has a bunch of operators and this is why." That came more fluidly. But when I knew that I wanted to build this, everything was deliberate about how we set this up. You don't build a community by accident. This is my fourth community. I know how to build communities at this point. And so it's very deliberate. And so what I wanted this to be was values aligned really talented, amazing people professionally. But also I think that they also see this as there's this humility too, across our community. And it was meant to be the operators, the operator investors in our fund, the operator LPs and all of their networks too. And it is about saying, " Okay, yes. We're invested in and we concentrate... We try to concentrate our efforts on our portfolio companies, of course. But it is also about, " Okay, we've had probably a dozen or more people who have gotten jobs from this. Some who are operator LPs, some are friends of operators who have come in. We've had a number of board seat placements. We've had a number of C- suite executives, Layla Seka, for instance, who is phenomenal and my partner. She first started when she was at Salesforce and had known her... She was like the only woman in SaaS for a long time. I'm sure you know Layla. And so she started out as an LP because she was an EVP and GM at Salesforce at the time. And after she decided to leave Salesforce after over 10 years, I was like, " Hey, why don't you come hang out with us for a while?" And luckily she did. And she stayed with us full time for two years. And at the end of two years, when she was ready to go back to operating, there was a portfolio company that she had spent literally once a month, at least, with the CEO for two years, helping him. And it became very natural when they were ready and she was ready to go back to operating for her to join. And now that's phenomenal because you know what, if they had tried... It's Jason Bay Megan and Iron Clad, it's a phenomenal company. And I would say if Jason had tried to recruit Layla blind out of LinkedIn to be like, " Hey, my startup's better than the next one and you should join me."

Sean Lee: Oh, out of Salesforce, right?

Mallun Yen: Yeah. And everyone wanted Layla. It's like, would she really have joined? Probably not. I know because even before she joined Operator Collective full time, she had some offers to be CEOs. And so by having the opportunity to work together for two years, you build this trust. You have a deep understanding of the company and the opportunity and the challenges. And so, when the time came, it was very natural for her to decide to take the COO role there. And of because I miss her on a daily basis and I give Jason all kinds of crap for it. She is always part of Operator Collective. She's the chair of our board, I talk to her all the time. And it becomes this where we're concentrating all this phenomenal talent into these values aligned companies, where we are helping them grow and scale as part of this community. So those are things that happen kind of along the way. And sometimes people have ended up with... We have a number of people have ended up in board seats, their first board seats. We've also do mentor matches, which is, " Hey, at the end of the day, everything falls on the CEO's shoulders." And the CEO often hasn't done all of these things that her team is doing. And so what we have done is, " Okay, we need someone who knows how to scale inaudible offs, let's just say that, from series seed to be." So we match them with a mentor who has done that. And it's incredibly helpful because the CEO probably hasn't done that before either nor does she have the time. And so those are all sort of the different ways that the operator... Some of the ways that the operator network is engaged. It's not just about like Sean just giving his advice on how do you do sales ops. It actually goes beyond that. It's what connections do you have, who do you know in your network that might be looking for a job or might be open to an opportunity? And when you have that contextual background and that credibility to say, " Hey, we've worked with this company for two years. We know what their trajectory is. You should take this phone call." That is what makes a difference. This is what I mean about everything about Operator Collective was meant to be deliberate because it is at the end of the day about relationships as opposed to just like I'll go ping someone randomly on LinkedIn, which by the way can work. But it's not particularly efficient.

Sean Lee: You can't stress enough Mallun's point that it's the operator LPs and their networks too. This isn't just a community. It's a community and an advisory and a recruiting placement group and a mentorship matchmaker all rolled into a VC firm. And if you're listening carefully, none of that is by a mistake. When you have this snowballing network effect, all the folks whose attention Mallun was trying to draw in the first place will naturally be drawn to them. Founders, other VCs and operators alike will all have reasons to pick their heads up and pay attention. Now, if you've ever listened to this show before, you'll know that I love talking to people who have as many data points to draw from in their day to day as possible. And so, with this expanding network at their disposal, I was wondering how Mallun and the team at the Operator Collective might start leveraging their collective superpowers in the future. Will they have playbooks for just about anything an operator like us might need? What's next?

Mallun Yen: I'm all about, as you can see, efficiency and shared knowledge as opposed to having people recreate the wheel. And so, absolutely right. What are real operators using now? What are the things that are the best? And one of the things when we make introductions to companies in our portfolio it's, " By the way, we looked at everything in this space. We think that this is going to be the winning solution. And also, we diligence it across, really, users." And because we try and also screen, the other question that we ask beyond, " Is this going to be a great company?" Is this going to make us expand wealth creation and generate great returns? Because we're a business, this is not a nonprofit. This is about making this, hopefully, one of the most successful venture funds around. Is that we also ask the question of, would we refer our friends to work there? Because that's actually what we do. And if we wouldn't, why would we do that? We also ask the question of, would we want our kids to work there someday? Because if we don't, you're not making the world a better place. And we do have the power and the ability to accelerate the success of these founders. And we can't do it for them, right? The founders always do it for themselves but we have the ability to accelerate by... Ambrosia who was also very early on with us, she's phenomenal, Ambrosia Vertesi. And one of our CEOs needed to talk to her about something. And he told me afterwards, he's like, " An hour with her just saved me three weeks of spinning my wheels." And when you can do that... And then another time is a company that... During our diligence process, what we do is we introduce them to a number of potential users that are generally LPs or in our operator network. And based on that feedback, we give them feedback. We tell them to give the founders feedback. And I'm also very blunt about it, I'm like, " By the way, they're going to try and sell you a product. And you can buy it if you want, you don't have to."

Sean Lee: Of course.

Mallun Yen: And of course the founders, they should absolutely try to sell them the product. And so in this one case, we made these intros to three large enterprises. Went in through our operator LP, who made the introduction to the right person within the company. Because a lot of times it's that warm intro. And so it can came back very, very positive. We ultimately decided to invest in the company. And then based on the strength of that, because now they were on their path toward PLCs with these three major enterprises with very strong buzz out there, three weeks after we funded the seed, they got a preemptive A from multiple companies. And so, those are the kinds of things that we've done. But at the end of the day, it is about how do you know... We also are obsessive about data gathering. So we track everything. And so your question about, is there sort of a future version of this where we share that back out even more broadly than our own portfolios? Yes, that is a plan, but we're a startup like every other startup. And so the first version of any startup is prove the model and does this work? The good news is, it works and it works well. Because if it didn't work, it's like, why would there be an act two? We might zig and zag and do something else.

Sean Lee: Shocking that a fund run by operators is going to be well set up to gather data right from the beginning. I can't imagine that have happened.

Mallun Yen: You know, you're an operator. It's like, execution's hard. You can have the best idea, but execution is really, really hard. And frankly, Operator Collective is a success because so many people believed in this when it was just an idea and like a PowerPoint deck just barely and nothing else. But it is thanks to people who believed in it, who believed in it early, who were willing to put real money into it, were willing to put their time into it and continue to do so. So yes, no surprise, but in some ways also, there's no way it would exist without the collective.

Sean Lee: Before we go at the end of each show, we're going to ask each guest the same lightning round of questions. Ready? Here we go. Best book you've read in the last six months.

Mallun Yen: Oh, Love in the time of Cholera. I used to only read nonfiction for a long time and I'm trying to go back to fiction.

Sean Lee: Nice. Favorite part about working in ops.

Mallun Yen: Team, people, love working part as a team.

Sean Lee: Least favorite part about working in ops.

Mallun Yen: The grunt work that we all have to do. We all have it as part of it, but can't be helped.

Sean Lee: Someone who impacted you getting to the job you have today?

Mallun Yen: That would be Dan Shyman who's an advisor to the fund, a longtime mentor of mine. He was one of the first people I talked to about this idea. Because I had a couple of other ideas and he was like, " Eh." This one he was like, " You're onto something. Keep going."

Sean Lee: That's awesome. All right. Last one. I'm going to tweak this one a little bit for you. So normally I ask one piece of advice for people who want to have your job someday. Because of the audience for this show are a lot of operators inside of hyper growth companies who could potentially be the types of folks who could be future LPs at a place like Operator Collective in the future. What's one piece of advice for them to be on that track to be part of your community one day?

Mallun Yen: Some of this may sound a little bit sort of cliche or obvious but it's true, which is surround yourself with the people that you can learn from and want you to succeed. I think sometimes it's like, " If something doesn't feel right, it's like, " Oh, I can go change things." But sometimes, especially if you're an operator in a big company, there's little you can actually really change. And I hate to sound sort of Debbie Downer about that. But I think what I've been fortunate is I've been surrounded by people who wanted me to succeed. For people who saw things in me before I even did. And in fact, sometimes I go back to them like, " Why, why? What did you possibly even see?" And so people who will see things in you that you don't see. And then it is about getting as many skills as you can. I used to complain when I was at Cisco, like, " Oh my God, I'm getting trained again in like this training and that training. How am I supposed to do my work?" I am so grateful for that training. Take full advantage of it. And so for whether you want to go on and be a VC or you want to go on and be founder, or you want to go on and be the CEO of a public company focus on doing and learning and doing the best job you can at what you're doing. And then when you have those phenomenal people around you, who are your sponsors, who are your mentors, who will lift you up, who will look for opportunities to do so, you don't have to sit there from the time that you've just graduated from college to say, " Oh, I'm just going to build a brand." Get the skills first. And I do believe when you surround yourself with the right type of people, you can enable the rest to come. And also, obviously, taking advantage of the opportunities that arise.

Sean Lee: Thanks so much to Mallun Yen for joining us on this week's episode of operations. If you liked what you heard, make sure you are subscribed to our show. It comes out every other Friday wherever you get your podcasts. Also, if you took something away from today, let us know. Leave us a review, leave us a six star review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Six star reviews only. All right, that's going to do it for me. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you next time.


There’s an “aha” moment when you’re teaching someone something. You become more clear in your own point of view and you realize how much you know about that particular topic.

That moment of realization is exactly what happened to this week’s guest, Mallun Yen. Mallun is the the Founder and General Partner of Operator Collective, a VC fund and community comprised of tech’s most sought-after operators from diverse backgrounds.

Her “aha” moment led her to approach the unapproachable world of Venture Capital in a whole new way: through the lens of an operator. In our conversation, we explore that “aha” moment behind The Operator Collective, why venture didn’t feel accessible to her and Operators like her, and how we all can become like the 137 Operator LPs in Operator Collective’s fund.

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Sean and Mallun on Twitter @Seany_Biz @mallun and @DriftPodcasts

Today's Host

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Sean Lane

|VP Field Operations, Drift

Today's Guests

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Mallun Yen

|Founder, Operator Collective